Former TV reporter leads effort to rebuild TN Conservative Union

Gary Loe, chosen in February as chairman of the Tennessee Conservative Union, is working to rebuild the 40-year-old political organization after the death of founder and longtime leader Lloyd Daugherty in October of 2014, reports Georgiana Vines.

The one thing Loe said he wants to make clear about the group, since it spent quite a bit of time trying to defeat U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander when he was governor and a candidate for U.S. president in the 1990s, is that it is not a branch of the Republican Party.

 “It is not a Republican organization. The organization is proud to have conservative Republicans, Democrats and Independents,” he said in a phone interview.

Note: The TCU news release on the appointment of Loe, a businessman and former TV reporter who once ran unsuccessfully for the state House, is HERE.

Trump schedules Nashville rally on Andrew Jackson’s birthday

President Donald Trump will hold a rally at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium Wednesday — the 250th anniversary of President Andrew Jackson’s birth. Trump has occasionally likened himself to populist president from Tennessee who Democrats generally regard as a founder of their party.

It will be Trump’s first visit to Tennessee since the campaign season. He won the state both in the Republican primary and the general election.

Statement from Tennessee Republican Chairman Scott Golden:

“I am very excited about President Trump’s Nashville visit next Wednesday. In November, Tennesseans decidedly aligned with his America First agenda giving him a 26 point margin of victory. That agenda is off to a great start with the American private sector adding over half a million new jobs in the first 2 months of 2017. I welcome him back to the Volunteer State as he continues his efforts to show us he is a President for all Americans.”

A posting on Trump’s campaign website says the event will begin at 6:30 p.m. and invites people to sign up for tickets. Admittance begins at 3:30 p.m.

Fall Creek Falls privatization postponed; Democrats declare victory

The Haslam administration has abruptly abandoned the Thursday deadline originally set for companies interested in taking over operation of Fall Creek Falls State Park to file bids with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, reports the Times-Free Press.

Eric Ward (TDEC spokesman)…  said today in response to a Times Free Press (inquiry) that “the RFP has been postponed to incorporate amended process language which will be made available soon.”

It was not known how long the proposal would be postponed or what the specific issues leading to it are.

There was no immediate elaboration but the administration’s process has been under fire from the Tennessee State Employees Association as well as several lawmakers who have raised questions not only on that issue but the effort to privatize hospitality services at the park, which straddles Van Buren and Bledsoe counties in a remote area of the Upper Cumberland Plateau.


Democrats opposing privatization opponents promptly sent a statement declaring victory. It’s  below.

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Multi-question MTSU Poll: Obamacare repeal, school bus seat belts, vouchers, etc.

News release from Middle Tennessee State University

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Tennessee voters dislike Obamacare and want it repealed, but not until they’ve seen details of a replacement plan, the latest MTSU Poll shows.

They also support banning immigration from “terror-prone regions” but think illegal immigrants already here should be able to stay and apply for citizenship, and they split about evenly over believing, doubting or not knowing what to think about President Donald Trump’s repeated claim, without supplying evidence, that millions of illegal voters prevented him from winning the popular vote during the 2016 election.

“Most of these opinions divide sharply along political party lines,” said Ken Blake, Ph.D., director of the poll at Middle Tennessee State University. “But there are some perhaps surprising areas of cross-party agreement.”

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Three big TN dams — Boone, Center Hill, Pickwick — getting repair work

Seven years after an historic flood underscored threats to dams across Tennessee, three of the state’s largest water-control structures face millions of dollars in needed repairs and improvements to deal with hazards ranging from earthquakes to sinkholes, reports the Commercial Appeal.

Although none is in as dire shape as the flood-damaged Oroville Dam in California, the federally operated Boone, Center Hill and Pickwick dams are being significantly reinforced through long-term projects, with water levels lowered in two of them. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which runs the Boone and Pickwick dams, and the Corps of Engineers, which operates Center Hill, say they have adopted aggressive safety measures to protect downstream residents.

The three dams are among the largest — and potentially most dangerous — in Tennessee. But they’re not the only ones that have raised concerns among dam-safety officials. Flash floods that swept across 49 counties in May 2010 led to the failure of seven dams statewide and caused damage at several others. More than a dozen dams in West Tennessee alone required significant repairs.

All told, there are more than 1,200 dams in Tennessee, including 273 rated as “high hazard” because their failure likely would lead to the loss of life. But nearly half of the state’s dams, including 69 rated as high hazard, are exempt from regulation and government inspections because they’re classified as farm ponds.

Former AG Cooper chairs new TN ‘think tank’

Former Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper and Shanna Singh Hughey, who was senior advisor to Karl Dean when he was mayor of Nashville, have launched a nonprofit think tank, reports the Nashville Post.

It’s called Think Tennessee (website HERE). Cooper is chairman; Hughey president.

The ostensibly nonpartisan entity hopes to develop and promote “pragmatic public policy” — think something like the Brookings Institution on a much smaller scale and with much briefer and more accessible white papers. Cooper and Hughey have been working on the plan for over a year, visiting leaders across the state, to figure out the best way to be able to provide reliable research and policy analysis. The organization will be, at times, partnering with larger national think tanks for data.

“Think Tennessee fills a gap in the public policy debate in our state,” Cooper said in a press release. “Our state has benefited from moderate, pragmatic ideas for generations. This new think tank will help ensure those ideas continue to play a role in shaping public policy.”

The first project of the agency is a dashboard showing how Tennessee ranks on 88 different subjects, from obesity to voter turnout to broadband access. Underway is an analysides and how it is projected to keep changing in years to come.

Note: The Tennessean has published an article by Cooper and Hughey  on the new organization, HERE.

Corker hails committee approval of Tillerson

News release from Sen. Bob Corker’s office

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today joined a majority of committee members in voting to favorably report the nomination of Rex Tillerson to be Secretary of State to the full Senate for consideration.

“I personally have no doubt that Rex Tillerson is well-qualified,” said Corker. “He’s managed the world’s eighth largest company by revenue with over 75,000 employees. Diplomacy has been a critical component of his positions in the past, and he has shown himself to be an exceptionally able and successful negotiator who has maintained deep relationships around the world.”

Complete text of Corker’s opening statement at the business meeting is below.

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New state auto insurance verification system implemented

The Tennessee Department of Revenue has a new online system in place to implement a law enacted by the 2015 Legislature with the goal of reducing uninsured drivers in the state, reports WTVF-TV.  The insurance verification system, which becomes operational in January, will match vehicle identification numbers to all registered auto insurance policies.

If you are unable to provide proof of financial responsibility (insurance), you can face fines or the risk of having your vehicle registration suspended.

…Law enforcement agencies have access to the system too. Instead of checking for insurance coverage during vehicle registrations, officials can review them randomly at anytime of the year.

“If you’ve never been out of compliance then you probably won’t see a difference,” State Representative William Lamberth (R-Portland, House sponsor of the 2015 law) said. “If you are one of the drivers on the roadway uninsured, then you will get caught, and before you get tags renewed, you’ll have to have insurance on that vehicle.”

…According to Lamberth, one in five Tennessee drivers are without insurance.

“We have had individuals in our state that have been hurt and killed by uninsured drivers that never should be driving to begin with,” Lamberth added.

The state stresses that drivers still need to carry the proof of insurance. Drivers should make sure their VIN is correct on registration and insurance documents.

Note: The Department of Revenue press release on the system is HERE. And there’s a department webpage on insurance laws HERE.

Sevier fire update from AP, TEMA: Three dead, others missing, National Guard helps firemen

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (AP) — Wildfires fueled by high winds killed three people near the Great Smoky Mountains and authorities went door to door Tuesday to check on the well-being of residents and visitors of the popular tourist area.

The fires burned to the doorstep of the Dollywood theme park, destroyed a resort and chased thousands of people from their homes.

National Guard troops arrived to help overwhelmed firefighters, and Mother Nature provided a little relief as the winds calmed and rain fell in some areas. Forecasters said it would not be enough to end the relentless drought that has spread across the South and set the stage over the past few weeks for wildfires in Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina.

Linda Monholland, who was working at Park View Inn in Gatlinburg, said it was about 9 p.m. Monday when she left her workplace with about five other people. Surrounded by flames the whole way, they walked for about 20 minutes to a trolley to evacuate.

“There was fire everywhere. It was like we were in hell. Hell opened up,” said Monholland, who was staying Tuesday at Rocky Top Sports World, an 80-acre sports facility that has been turned into a shelter. “Walking through hell, that’s what it was. I can’t believe it. I never want to see something like that again in my life, ever.”

Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters confirmed the deaths but said he didn’t have any additional details. Officials were still conducting search-and-rescue missions.

“We have not been able to get in all of the areas,” Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller said. “We pray that we don’t experience any more fatalities but there are still areas that we are trying to get to because of down trees and down power lines.”

Photos of the popular tourist area showed scorched cars and buildings, and soot-covered debris littered across roads in the Gatlinburg area. A smoky haze hung in the air, obscuring picturesque views of mountains in the fall, awash in trees with leaves of red, yellow and gold.

Firefighters were still battling hotspots and a few structural fires, and officials were keeping an eye on strong winds forecast for Tuesday night.

Full AP story HERE. 

A Tennessee Emergency Management Agency update is below.

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Corker squabbles with Trump critic during hiking encounter

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and David George Haskell, a University of the South professor, had a political discussion during an encounter while hiking over the weekend, reports the Times-Free Press. Haskell says Corker responded to his criticism of Donald Trump with “attacks on my character and complaints about the uncivil way that I was disrupting his restful Sunday walk ‘in nature’ .. and suggested Haskell leave Tennessee.

“I greeted [Corker] then told him how deeply ashamed I was to be from a state where our senator will not denounce Trump for boasting of sexual assault,” wrote Haskell, who confirmed his account later in a telephone interview. “Corker has been silent on this matter and on the racism and hate that the T-monster has spewed into our country these last months.”

And Senate Foreign Relation Committee Chairman Corker’s response?

“If you don’t like it, then you should leave the state.”

But the senator’s office, however, offered a much different account of what transpired.

“While hiking alone yesterday afternoon on Stringer’s Ridge, Senator Corker was aggressively approached by Professor Haskell, who was hiking with three other individuals,” Corker spokeswoman Micah Johnson said in a statement.

She said the professor “began shouting at Senator Corker in a profanity-laced tirade while pointing a finger in his face and told the senator that he was embarrassed to live in a state where the citizens voted to overwhelmingly elect Donald Trump.

“Senator Corker calmly suggested to the professor that he did not have to live in Tennessee if he did not wish to do so,” Johnson continued before adding, “Senator Corker believes that if the leadership of Sewanee witnessed the exchange, they would be sorely disappointed in the behavior of someone tasked with leading students.”

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

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