Monthly Archives: January 2017

Corker quip: Senate Democrats wouldn’t support the Pope

A brief from Politico’s daily notebook on Washington doings:

Corker not impressed: Asked about whether Tillerson had done enough to avoid any potential conflicts of interest with Exxon, Foreign Relations Committee Bob Corker said he was “satisfied” and suggested Democrats were engaged in a purely political fight. “If the Pope were nominated right now as secretary of State, he likely would not get any Democratic votes right now or very few,” the Tennessee Republican quipped to reporters.

Corker’s latest official press release praising Rex Tillerson is below.

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Hundreds protest as Haslam delivers State of the State speech

While Gov. Bill Haslam delivered his State of the State speech Monday evening, hundreds of protesters were on hand outside the House chamber and their chants were sometimes audible within, reports WPLN.

Their mantra was “We are watching you,” delivered in a slow, hushed chant — like a group whispering en masse — holding signs with intense eyes. The vow of demonstrators was to keep tabs on state lawmakers on a range of hot-button subjects, such as abortion, guns and religious freedom.

…Much of the demonstration keyed off of moves made by President Donald Trump and federal policies. But some, like William Moore, 44, of South Nashville, also oppose state measures.

“They can’t keep passing hate-filled regulations under the auspices of faith and belief,” he said. “We won’t stand for it.”

Moore, who described himself as a recovering addict, specifically spoke of a Senate bill that he worries will meddle with regulations for counselors.

Demonstrators also sang songs and occasionally cheered for some lawmakers as they entered for Haslam’s speech. But another message was clear when the elected officials departed, as the chant turned to a raucous, “You work for us!”

The governor did not touch on the subjects that were fueling demonstrators — like the president’s refugee ban.

Later, Democratic lawmakers called the turnout “unprecedented,” and asked for ongoing participation, including in elections.

“I thought you did an excellent job getting your message out,” Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, told a group of demonstrators afterward. “We know you are watching, and we want to do what’s best for the people of our state, from the rural areas to the urban areas, to folks of all income means and folks of all status of life.”

Haslam budget gives pay raises to teachers, state employees; spends $655 million on building construction & maintenance

Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposes spending $37 billion in the 2017-18 fiscal year, which is about 4.8 percent more than in the current fiscal year. The money includes about $18 billion in federal funds.

Here are some of the highlights:

–There’s new money (about $100 million) to cover a 4 percent pay raise for K-12 public school teachers, if spread across the board to all – though school systems can distribute the funds so some get bigger pay raises than others.  Schools would also get an extra $22 million for English language learning programs.

–There’s funding for all state employees (including those in higher education) to get a 3 percent pay raises if handled across the board plus $23 million for “market adjustment” pay raises in some job categories.

–There is $655 million for building construction and maintenance across state government and higher education.

–As announced before, $279 million extra would be spent on highway construction and maintenance with money generated from an increase in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes. Another $135 million from revenue overcollections would go to road construction on a one-time basis as a “payback” of money taken from the road fund in previous years.

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Haslam proposes expanded free tuition plan, $37B budget in ‘State of the State’ speech

(Note: Full text of the governor’s speech is HERE.)

News release from the governor’s office

NASHVILLE – In his seventh State of the State address to the General Assembly, Gov. Bill Haslam introduced his proposal to make Tennessee the first state in the nation to offer all Tennessee adults without a degree access to community college tuition-free – and at no cost to taxpayers.

If the Tennessee Reconnect Act is approved, Tennessee would become the first state in the nation to offer all citizens – both high school students and adults – the chance to earn a post-secondary degree or certificate free of tuition and fees.

“Just as we did with Tennessee Promise, we’re making a clear statement to families: wherever you might fall on life’s path, education beyond high school is critical to the Tennessee we can be,” Haslam said. “At the end of the day, there is no higher potential for providing more opportunity for our citizens than increasing access to high quality education. And the point is, we’re doing it while maintaining discipline and responsibility to the taxpayer – keeping taxes and debt low and saving for when the economy ultimately slows.”

Launched in 2013, the Drive to 55 is the governor’s effort to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate to 55 percent by 2025. Currently, Tennessee needs 871,000 post-secondary degrees or certificates to reach 55 percent, but mathematically there’s no way to reach that goal by only serving high school students. There are 900,000 adults in Tennessee that have some college but no degree.

Tennessee adults without a certificate can already attend Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology (TCATs) tuition-free under the Reconnect program, and the governor’s Tennessee Reconnect Act would add community colleges into the program. Click here for information on the Reconnect proposal. (And there’s an ‘infographic’ HERE.)

The governor also unveiled tonight the Tennessee STRONG (Support, Training and Renewing Opportunities for National Guardsmen) Act, establishing a four-year pilot program for eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard to receive a last-dollar tuition reimbursement toward a first-time bachelor’s degree.

The Reconnect and STRONG acts are the final two pieces of NextTennessee, Haslam’s 2017 legislative agenda aimed at building and sustaining economic growth and the state’s competitiveness for the next generation of Tennesseans.

The governor also released his Fiscal Year 2017-2018 budget proposal. The $37 billion proposal makes significant investments in teachers, K-12 schools, higher education, state employees, the state’s Rainy Day Fund and the tax cuts included in the governor’s IMPROVE Act. For a second year in a row, and the second year in Tennessee recorded history, the state budget does not take on any new debt.

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A third guilty plea in Rutherford Country sheriff corruption case

John Vanderveer became the third defendant to plead guilty in the Rutherford County sheriff’s corruption case on Monday, reports the Daily News Journal. Vanderveer is the nephew or former Sheriff Robert Arnold, who pleaded guilty earlier, along with Joe Russell, who was a chief administrator in the sheriff’s office.

Vanderveer pleaded guilty to one count of witness tampering for trying to convince a sales representative to destroy documents tied to Arnold and Russell.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, the recommended (sentencing) guideline range is 18 to 24 months in prison, prosecutors said.  Vandereer also faces a $250,000 fine and supervised release of not more than three years. He will also be required to repay the county $52,500 from electronic cigarettes revenues from the JailCigs business.

His sentencing hearing will take place at 2:30 p.m. on May 19.

Arnold, Vanderveer and Russell had faced a 14-count federal grand jury indictment since late May accusing them of illegally profiting from inmates at the Rutherford County Jail by selling Jail Cigs.  A jury trial had been scheduled Feb. 7 prior to the hearings on the guilty pleas.

Arnold pleaded guilty to wire fraud, honest services fraud and extortion on Jan. 18, and Russell pleaded guilty to the same three charges Jan. 20.

Former state Rep. Bill Carter dies, age 91

William Lacy “Bill” Carter Jr., owner of a Chattanooga beer distributor who served as a state representative in the 1970s, has died at the age of 91.

Republican Carter served two terms in the state House, then ran for the state Senate in 1976, losing to Democrat Bill Ortwein. He was founder of Carter Distributing Co. and in 2011, while still active in the business, was honored by MillerCoors with a “Legacy Award.”

Excerpt from a Times-Free Press article:

Bobby Wood, also a former state representative, said he first ran when Carter was running for the state Senate in 1976.

“He’s always been an inspiration to me because of his dedication and devotion to public service,” he said.

Wood said he recently spoke with Carter about their time in politics and told him he missed “being a part of it and having an opportunity to make a difference and do something for the state.”

He said Carter responded by saying, “Bobby, there’s not a day goes by that I don’t miss it.”

“I thought that was a pretty strong commitment to make and dedication to the job and to service. That’s the thing I’ll always remember from him,” Wood said.

Note: The full obituary is HERE.

‘Super PAC’ (TN version) to aid Green’s run for governor

A new political action committee has been established to help state Sen. Mark Green’s bid for the 2018 Republican gubernatorial election through independent expenditures. Named Leading the Way, the PAC reported raising $47,500 in its initial financial disclosure filed last week.

Green, R-Clarksville, is the first candidate to file a campaign committee to run for governor in 2018, though multiple politicians have declared an interest in doing so. Green reported raising $193,000 for that account in its initial report, including $23,000 from the PAC he operates himself.

As initially reported by The Tennessee Journal, Leading the Way PAC is spearheaded by Charles Cato, an attorney, former lobbyist and financial advisor who was active in fundraising for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ unsuccessfully campaign for the Republican presidential nomination last year.

Says Cato in an email:

I did indeed form Leading The Way PAC in early November last year as an uncompensated volunteer working with a group of politically interested Tennesseans who wanted an independent vehicle to support the nomination and election of a limited government Constitutional conservative as Tennessee’s next Governor in the upcoming 2018 election cycle. My associates and I believe very strongly that Senator Mark Green is that candidate and that he stands to be a truly transformational Governor for the people of Tennessee.

Although Tennessee does not officially recognize a class of multi-candidate political committee called a “Super PAC”, Leading The Way was set up to operate in practice as a super pac.  We anticipate making no direct or in-kind candidate contributions. Instead, we’ll make only Independent Expenditures in support of, or possibly in opposition to, various candidates in the Governor’s race as the campaign proceeds between now and the election. We are not affiliated with nor will we coordinate our spending or voter contact plans with any candidate or candidate committee. As a result, we are able to accept contributions without dollar limitation. As a multi-candidate political committee in Tennessee, we are able to be involved in races for other state offices, i.e. the General Assembly. Our total focus for the 2018 cycle, however, will be in the Governor’s race – initially of course in the August 2018 Republican Primary election.

In the few months since our inception I’ve focused on assembling a team of seasoned political campaign professionals to handle the day to day political operations of the pac, We now have under contract, or are in late stage negotiations with, a general political consultant, a polling firm, opposition research vendors, direct mail design and production people, data analytics specialists, media production and placement firms, fundraising consultants, etc. Our focus for much of 2017 will necessarily be on fundraising – as I imagine it will be for the candidates themselves – with possibly some internal polling and research later in the year for purposes of planning, assessment of the overall political landscape in Tennessee, and for future message development. Beyond that, we’ll proceed as seems appropriate based on how the race develops and the availability of funding to support our initiatives.

…My intention is to run a very lean operation with a very high percentage of our donors’ funds going toward direct voter contact efforts, or what I call “putting lead on target.” Unlike some “dark money” political entities, Leading The Way PAC will be financially transparent regarding both the sources and the uses of any funds we’re dealing with. In my role as the unpaid “general contractor” for the group I have no financial interest whatsoever in any of the groups or vendors who we may have under contract.

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Alexander, Corker draw protesters, offer comment on Trump refugee order

Tennessee’s two U.S. senators, Republicans Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both sent statements to media Sunday offering mild criticism of the way President Trumps executive order on refugees was handled.

Also Sunday, hundreds of protesters showed up at the Corker and Alexander offices to offer criticism in more strident terms with Mayor Megan Barry offering supportive comments, reports the Nashville Scene.

Alexander statement: “This vetting proposal itself needed more vetting. More scrutiny of those traveling from war-torn countries to the United States is wise. But this broad and confusing order seems to ban legal, permanent residents with ‘green cards,’ and might turn away Iraqis, for example, who were translators and helped save lives of Americans troops and who could be killed if they stay in Iraq. And while not explicitly a religious test, it comes close to one which is inconsistent with our American character.”

Corker statement: “We all share a desire to protect the American people, but this executive order has been poorly implemented, especially with respect to green card holders… The administration should immediately make appropriate revisions, and it is my hope that following a thorough review and implementation of security enhancements that many of these programs will be improved and reinstated.”

Start of the Scene report:

Hundreds (maybe even more than a thousand — News Channel 5 was told 1,500) gathered outside U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander’s West End offices this afternoon to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees and immigration. Between chants of, “No wall, no ban,” speakers shared their own stories about coming to Nashville and finding a welcoming home here. Some opened up about how the executive order affects their lives, including taking away their ability to visit family during school breaks.

Mayor Megan Barry also spoke and supported the protesters, urging Nashvillians to create a place that’s welcome to everyone. “America is stronger and better when we have each other’s back. And we have each other’s back in Nashville,” Barry said.

After the cheers, Barry was asked if Nashville would be a sanctuary city, a place that would protect undocumented immigrants. She couldn’t give the crowd the answer it was hoping to hear — which, as someone near me said, would be, “Hell yes!” — but she did say, “I would ask you to help me help the state legislature understand the power that we need here in Nashville. And I will tell you that a sanctuary city, you can use the language, but it’s about the action. The action is in the words and the words are the fact that in Nashville we are not going to make our police immigration officers. They’re not gonna do it.

Note: Politico says Corker and Alexander join a number of other Republican officeholders unhappy with the refugee moves, HERE. There was also a protest march in Chattanooga, reports the Times-Free Press. The Tennessean has a report on the Nashville doings HERE. (Both newspapers include the above Alexander and Corker comments.)

TN lobbying news notes

The limit on value of gifts that can be provided by lobbyist employers to legislators – typically food and beverages at receptions and dinners deemed “in-state events” in lobbying laws– was increased to $61 per day or $121 per year effective Jan. 1, according to the Tennessee Ethics Commission website. When the state’s main lobbying ethics law was enacted in 2006, the ceiling was $50 per day, but the law calls for a cost-of-living adjustment every two years. Before the January adjustment, the limit was $59 per day.

-The Ethics Commission also has an updated “Tennessee Lobbyist Manual” for 2017. It’s HERE.

-Cullen Earnest, who works for Advance Financial, has been elected the new chairman of the Tennessee Lobbyists Association. He succeeds Jill Talbert, who has multiple clients.

-The Tennessean interviewed several lobbyists for a front-page story bearing the print edition headline, “The Power of the Lobbyist” with a sidebar headlined, “In Tennessee, lobbyist employers face few disclosure rules.”

Excerpt from the former, which pegs AT&T “at the top of the influence list” with 16 lobbyists registered so far this year:

AT&T spent between $650,000 and $800,000 on lobbyist compensation during the first six months of 2014, 2015 and 2016 combined, the time of year when the Tennessee legislature meets. In addition, AT&T spent more than $82,000 in 50 campaign contributions before the 2016 state primary election. The company also spent thousands in a third key area, called lobbying expenses excluding lobbyist compensation, which includes money spent on items such as brochures, advertising campaigns and polling.

“If you were to ask me who has the most lobbying influence at the state, I would say without even batting an eye AT&T, and they’ve built that up over a long period of time,” said one Tennessee lobbyist, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about the company.

Excerpt from the latter:

Under Tennessee law, there’s no way to find out exactly how much money companies spend on lobbyists and lobbyist-related activities.

State law allows companies and organizations to report how much they paid lobbyists and how much they spent on other related expenditures as a range, not specific amounts. For example, organizations spent between $14.3 million and $29.6 million on lobbyist compensation during the first half of 2016, according to a Tennessean analysis of state data.

Note: Disclosures for the second half of 2016 are due Feb. 14.  In the 2015 Ethics Commission annual report, the reported lobbyist compensation range was $14 million to $28.8 million for the first six months; $11.6 million to $25.5 million – or a minimum of $26.6 million for the calendar year and a maximum of $54.3 million. The combined total of “lobbyist-related expenditures” for 2015, meanwhile, was a range of from $3.5 million to $19.7 million. And another $1,194,169 was paid out by lobbyist employers for “in-state events.”

AT&T in 2015 reported lobbyist compensation payments of between $200,000 and $250,000 in both the first half of the year and the second half for a total range of $400,000 to $500,000. (Lobbyist contractual arrangements for payments vary considerably – many get a flat fee, paid in advance before the session starts and thus not counted in disclosures for the first six months of a given year.)  AT&T’s lobbyist-related expenditures in 2015 calendar year were in the range of between $20,000 to $50,000 in the two reports combined.  The company also hosts a reception at the start of each legislative session, reported as an in-state event, and it’susually one of the more expensive gatherings of the year. In 2015, AT&T reported its reception cost $57,297. In 2015, it was $43,261.

Mary Mancini unanimously reelected TNDP chair

The Tennessee Democratic Party’s Executive Committee has decided to stick with the status quo in leadership for the next election cycle.

Mary Mancini was reelected unanimously Saturday to a new two-year term as chair of TNDP “despite one prominent donor’s call for her to be replaced following last year’s election results,” as the Associated Press noted.

Democrats lost a seat in the state House as Donald Trump overwhelmingly carried Tennessee in November. The failure to gain back seats in the General Assembly led real estate investor Bill Freeman to call for Mancini’s replacement as leader of the party.

Freeman, who came in third in Nashville’s mayor’s race despite spending $3.5 million of his own money, has been mulling a bid for governor next year.

John Litz of Morristown, a former state representative and now a member of the party’s executive committee, was reelected vice chairman.

Further from The Tennessean:

Mancini, who said she was “incredibly honored and beyond thrilled” with the outcome, had originally faced two challengers who had announced bids. But by the time voting got around it was an uncontested race.

“The Republicans didn’t get elected overwhelmingly in Tennessee overnight,” Mancini said. “It took several election cycles, maybe 10 years. We are two years into that rebuilding cycle. We’re going to continue recruiting candidates. And now, it’s amazing because there are more people than ever that want to come and participate and run as Democrats.”

…Jamie Isabel, a former Nashville councilman who had pursued the chair position, withdrew his name from consideration Saturday ahead of the vote. Isabel claimed he had counted 26 vote commitments among executive committee members, but that still wouldn’t be enough to capture the chairmanship. He said he sought “party unity” instead and put his support behind Mancini.

John Pointer, also of Nashville, a former state government employee who most recently owned a Sears store in Columbia, announced a bid as well this month but he received no nominations Saturday.

… “The stakes are so high right now that there’s not really time for internal squabbling,” said state Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, who voted for Mancini. “Anybody that thinks that the party in and of itself is responsible for the state of things doesn’t know much about politics. It’s clear that it’s going to take a lot more than just the party to turn things around.”

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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