Tennessee Officials Confirm First Cougar Sighting in 100 Years
Civil asset forfeiture: 'It's a state license to steal’
State lawmakers are holding hearings this afternoon to look into whether Middle East terrorists will disguise themselves as refugees and sneak into Tennessee. They’d like to score a few political points and do some grandstanding and exploit people’s fears of terrorism. So far, their witnesses aren’t cooperating.
After the Paris attacks, Tennessee became one of 31 states whose governors sent letters to the White House to protest letting Syrian refugees into this country. But Associate Attorney General Bill Young told the joint State and Local Government Committee that states can’t stop it because the Constitution gives authority over immigration to the federal government.
Next witness: David Shedd, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation who you’d think you could count on to whip up a little hysteria. Instead, he wouldn’t even give a terrifying risk assessment. He said it’s not zero, but that’s about as far as he’d go.
Republicans kept asking what they should tell their fearful constituents who want to know if they can sleep safely and not stay up nights worrying about the threat of terrorism.
“I guess I’ve never had this much feedback from citizens concerned about the situation as it is today,” Sen. Jim Tracy said. “Is there anything we can do as state senators, state representatives and the General Assembly here to try to ensure that our citizens are going to be safe from a terrorist that infiltrates the refugee system?”
“Let me move to the positive,” Shedd replied. “As those refugees eventually do come in … and as a federal matter it looks like that’s going to proceed, the idea of assimilating them and embracing them and welcoming them as soon as possible and as much as possible is absolutely critical.”
“Do you get the risk down to zero? You never get there,” Shedd said, adding that it’s important not to leave the refugees to live in little enclaves and become resentful and possibly radicalized because their new country is treating them disrespectfully. Nashville Scene
Tennessee Officials Confirm First Cougar Sighting in 100 YearsIn late November, a trail camera caught sight of a cougar in Humphreys County, Tennessee, 70 miles west of Nashville, News Channel 5 reports. There have been other big-cat sightings in West and Middle Tennessee this year that the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency has verified, as well. TWRA spokesman Don King says that a cougar “[had] not been confirmed by state authorities in Tennessee in perhaps 100 years” until these recent reports. Speculation about Tennessee mountain lions has been a source of myth and lore in the region for about as long.
Historically, locals referred to the cats as “panthers,” and their existence in the past is well known. In June of 2015, however, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finally deemed the Eastern cougar extinct, with the exception of the Florida panther, which still roams some parts of southern Florida. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the last indigenous Tennessee cougar was killed in 1930, and biologists assert that the cats responsible for the recent spottings have migrated from the West, through the Midwest, and now into the Southeast.
This makes sense considering that a separate sighting occurred in Obion County, Tennessee, in October, two months prior to the Humphreys County sighting. Obion County rests in the northwestern part of the state, near Missouri, and the photos taken in Humphreys County suggest that the cougars are continuing to roam southeasterly. According to biologists and the TWRA, these sightings do not confirm that Tennessee holds a breeding population of the species, and that Western cougars have already been spotted in Missouri, Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, and even Connecticut. Field And Stream
Lawmakers wrong to bloviate on UT diversity postsUniversity of Tennessee, Knoxville guidelines on Secret Santa parties and transgender pronouns are riling up state lawmakers.
Some are calling for UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek’s head. Many promise to give the school special scrutiny during next year’s legislative session because of posts from its diversity office.
Yet this bloviating on Facebook and Fox News by officials ranging from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey to Congressman John J. Duncan is much ado about nothing.
No one’s rights are being violated. The Office for Diversity and Inclusion merely shared best practicesfor creating an inclusive environment, acknowledging that the university does not have an official policy.
If legislators are serious about scrutinizing the university, they should place their focus on things that count: Academics, athletics and campus safety. Tennessean
Expert Says Changes to University Governance Take YearsA higher education expert told lawmakers on Tuesday that big changes such as those Gov. Bill Haslam is proposing for six state universities take years to implement effectively.
Haslam last week said he will introduce legislation to create local boards for Austin Peay in Clarksville; East Tennessee in Johnson City; Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro; Tennessee Tech in Cookeville; Tennessee State in Nashville; and the University of Memphis.
The schools currently are governed by the Tennessee Board of Regents, which also governs 13 community colleges and 27 technical colleges.
At a meeting of the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee on governance Tuesday, no one specifically addressed Haslam's proposal. Aims McGuinness, a senior fellow with the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, said there is no one gold standard for college governance. But big governance changes are disruptive, he said. They require careful planning and take a number of years to implement, he said.
Haslam hasn't said how quickly he wants to move to a new governance system.
Board of Regents Chancellor John Morgan also spoke at the meeting, describing for lawmakers how the system works currently and defending its achievements. Morgan said the system is on track to meet the goals of Haslam's "Drive to 55" initiative. That aims to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with college degrees or certificates to 55 percent by the year 2025. Associated Press
As Ted Cruz Rises in Polls, He Is Banking on the SouthSen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is rising to the top tier of the Republican presidential primary field in Iowa, is plotting a protracted nomination fight through Southern states that are playing bigger roles than in prior elections.
It is a region where his antigovernment, evangelical conservative message plays well, and he has quietly been building a far-reaching political organization to take advantage of that.
If it works, Mr. Cruz could become one of the biggest beneficiaries of the party’s decision to hold primaries in 12 states—half in the South—on March 1. A strong showing by one candidate could provide a burst of momentum at a key moment in the race.
Tennessee is one of the South’s three biggest prizes. As early as August, Mr. Cruz was there touring the state and drawing big crowds. He has dispatched his father Rafael Cruz, a well-known evangelical pastor, to campaign for him multiple times. He has courted legislative endorsements and recruited pastors.
It is a playbook he has used effectively in Iowa, where two polls show him gaining momentum. A Monmouth University Poll of likely GOP caucusgoers released this week showed Mr. Cruz at the top of the field after a steep collapse in support from evangelical Christian voters for retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson. A separate CNN poll showed him moving into second place in the state behind businessman Donald Trump.
Showing momentum nationally as well, Mr. Cruz for the first time Wednesday moved up to second place behind Mr. Trump in the average of national polls by the Real Clear Politics website. That puts Mr. Cruz in a good position to benefit if Mr. Trump loses support over his controversial proposal to ban Muslims from entering the U.S.
Beyond Iowa, Mr. Cruz’s Southern strategy could help him avoid a pitfall that has plagued other conservative candidates like former Sen. Rick Santorum in 2012 and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in 2008 who won the Iowa caucuses, but didn’t have as big an opportunity to build momentum in the South because many states in the region voted late.
The Cruz organization in Tennessee is an example of how he is preparing to avoid that fate. With the state’s filing deadline looming Thursday, the Cruz campaign is prepared to field a full slate of delegates that includes tea-party members, antiabortion activists, and evangelical Christians, as well as disaffected voters who have been on the political sidelines. Wall Street Journal
How Donald Trump United America
The most vulgar, embarrassing campaign of the century is teaching us that underneath it all, we’re actually a decent people.Trump has achieved the seemingly impossible with his bigotry: He has brought the two most popular strains of political thought together and reminded us that, for all our faults, Americans are pretty decent folk who, when called upon, can extend respect and civility to cultures that are different than our own. Without Trump's provocation against Muslims, it's hard to imagine Speaker Ryan standing before the press corps’ video cameras to disassociate himself, his party and the country from Trump’s hysteria. “This is not conservatism,” Ryan said emphatically.
“I have a temperament where I bring people together,” Trump agreed in September. He was talking about his skill at filling auditoriums with cheering supporters, of course, but it turns out he has an even greater skill at uniting practically everybody else from both parties against him. Trump’s cheering supporters are actually few, relatively speaking. He pulls from 25 percent to 35 percent in polls of Republican and Republican-leaning voters, but as Nate Silver wrote recently in FiveThirtyEight, this translates into “something like 6 to 8 percent of the electorate overall, or about the same share of people who think the Apollo moon landings were faked.” In October, when the Washington Post’s Philip Bump took his own yardstick to the polls, he estimated that Bernie Sanders commands more supporters than does Donald Trump.
Early in the summer, as Trump launched his candidacy and started his rise in the polls, many speculated that he was a double agent dispatched by the Democrats (namely, his wedding guest Hillary Clinton) to sabotage the Republicans with a presidential campaign that barnstormed the country like a parody of a Tea Party rally (a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, perhaps). As John Fund wrote in National Review, what do you make of a “Republican” who “sees links between autism and pharmaceutical companies,” “revived ‘birtherism’ in 2011,” espouses crony capitalism and embraced the idea of Oprah Winfrey as his running mate? I never bought the idea that Trump was a plant deployed to destroy the Republican Party. But now that he's gone completely loopy, I'm beginning to think that he's actually doing the GOP a favor. He's ensuring that whichever candidate comes out of the Republican National Convention as the nominee will look mainstream, sane and electable compared to Trump.
In recent years, the pundit class has embraced the concept of the “Overton Window” to analyze the competition among policy initiatives. It also helps explain why the Trump candidacy is not likely to triumph. According to the Overton Window theory, only a narrow range of policies can be considered in the political arena at any given time, so politicians tend to avoid discussing ideas that might be considered “unthinkable” or “radical” by the public and instead pursue “sensible,” “popular” and “acceptable” notions that have a better chance of succeeding. But from time to time, politicians attempt to move or expand the Overton Window, so what once seemed “unthinkable” or “radical” grabs some daylight, and appears in the “acceptable” part of the window. Suddenly, it’s a policy that could happen.
Earlier this year, Trump tested the edge of the Overton Window by proposing the mass deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants, something most regard as technically impossible, if not unthinkable. Now comes his Muslim ban, which is equally unthinkable and possibly evenunconstitutional. The speed with which Trump's opponents in both parties have denounced him and his “unthinkable” proposals have all but removed them from consideration, and that's a good thing. To sustain interest in his campaign, Trump will have to find another unthinkable proposition to loft. Now that right-wingers and left-wingers are united in opposition to his ugly decrees, the window will be slammed shut on him even faster the next time he pitches.
The overwhelming response from both parties to Trump's demagoguery reminds us of our basic American decency. I don’t mean to suggest that we should fear and denounce every unthinkable idea proposed, or that the parties should join hands in a bipartisan fashion to destroy anything outside our usual comfort zone. For example, gay marriage and marijuana legalization—long considered unthinkable—were ultimately embraced after a long and substantive debate, and we’re better for it. But our rational response to the short-fingered vulgarian’s latest stunt shows that we are, in the end, the masters of our animal spirits. To that I can say only one thing: Thanks, Trump! Politico
Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey says we need tighter border controlTennessee's second in command wants to place a moratorium on immigration for those coming from countries with terrorism ties. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says we need to take take a long hard look at securing our borders. This all comes on the heels of Donald Trump's statement to ban all Muslims from entering America.
Ramsey took to his Facebook page to propose his own border security plan.
Back in 2010 when Ramsey was running for governor, he was quoted as saying he thought the Muslim religion was a cult and Local 8 News didn't have to go far to find others that agree right here in East Tennessee.
LeeAnn Bailes says, "I don't believe in that religion. I believe in Jesus Christ. I don't believe in Muslims. I don't mean to offend anybody, but it's kinda like a cult."
Now on his Facebook page, Ramsey said America needs to get serious about border security and quickly.
Bailes says, "We need tighter because we don't let immigrants in with ties to terrorism."
Ramsey went on to say, "While I would not favor an explicitly religious test, I do think it is time to place a moratorium on immigration from a long list of countries with ties to terrorism."
Shane O'Hare says, "I am nervous wondering if Ireland would be off the list, and I'm from Ireland and we've had terrorists before, so do we fall into that bucket?"
Karen Horton says, "There are good peaceful Muslims. I have friends and like any group, there are extremists."
Caitlinn Petty says, "They're just humans, like we are, just trying to make it and make our lives better."
Ramsey also says it is time to seriously rethink our visa, refugee resettlement and immigration policies. WVLT
Why I caved on guns when I ran for governor of TexasI wanted the campaign conversation to be about education funding, equal pay for women and access to health care—not guns. But this was Texas. Fifty-eight percent of voters in the state think gun restrictions should be either loosened or left alone. Texas is home to more licensed gun dealers than any other state in the country, and Lone Star State Sen. Ted Cruz tops the list of senators who have received the most money from the NRA. The gun lobby reigns supreme in the state legislature and has the power, at a moment’s notice, to rile up its passionate member base. Earlier this year, the state House passed a bill to allow members to install panic buttons in their offices after open carry advocates confronted a lawmaker in his.
Members of my team had long memories of what it meant to go against these folks, having watched Democrat Ann Richards lose her 1994 gubernatorial reelection campaign after she vetoed a concealed carry bill. In the wake of that election, it became conventional wisdom that vetoing a gun bill would bring a Texas governor’s career to an end—the “Ann Richards Rule,” as it became known in the state’s political parlance. At a packed campaign event in deep-blue Travis County, I posed for a photo opportunity after Richards’ adult children gave me her shotgun—a keen reminder of how fresh the lessons from that loss still are, especially for Texas Democrats.
Against that backdrop, I chose to do something that was cleverer than it was wise. I decided to take a position in favor of open carry, one which would include the caveat that any property owner who wanted to opt out should be able to do so, whether it be a school, hospital or a private business. Understanding that most of these property owners would likely take advantage of an opt-out provision if the legislature were ever even to agree to pass such a diluted version of the law, I thought I could go forward with a clear conscience.
Such was the dictate I gave my team from the Denver airport. But, as I hurriedly finished the conversation before boarding the airport terminal train, I couldn’t shake the shameful feeling that I had just done something I had never done before—I had compromised my deeply held principles for the sake of political expediency. Politico
Civil asset forfeiture: 'It's a state license to steal’
Brewing fight over Tennessee’s right to confiscate, keep your moneyThe drugs in Kathy Stiltner’s car were over-the-counter antacids. The $12,000 in cash was from an inheritance. Still, police took the money – quite legally – and are still fighting to keep it, even after the drug charge was dropped.
It’s a story playing out in Tennessee and across the United States as law enforcement is allowed to seize cash and property without having to charge them with a crime.
And it’s attracted an unlikely coalition – the ACLU, the conservative Beacon Center and the Koch brothers political activism arm Americans for Prosperity – trying to persuade legislators in Tennessee and other states to change what they see as a law with “serious due process issues,” according to Hedy Weinberg, executive director of ACLU-Tennessee.
Stiltner was originally stopped on suspicion of drunk driving in July 2014. Even after Sevierville Police dropped a drug charge (antacids) against her in General Sessions Court and conceded she owned the money legitimately, the state still tried to keep the cash using Tennessee’s civil asset forfeiture law, says her attorney, Bryan Delius of Knoxville.
“It was an absolutely absurd power grab by the Department of Safety,” Delius says.
Stiltner’s East Tennessee case provides ammunition for groups across the political spectrum that want to repeal the state’s civil asset forfeiture law – or modify it dramatically – to provide more protection for people and stricter reporting requirements for law enforcement.
Currently, Tennessee law allows police to confiscate and keep property without ever charging the owner with a crime.
In the Stiltner case, police authorities took her cash with the justification that it had been involved or could be involved in illegal activity at some point. In essence, the property is charged with a crime, and if retained by law enforcement, is used in crime prevention. Nashville Ledger
Crockett Policy Institute