Environmental group says Tennessee water regulation swirling down drain
Gloria Johnson will seek state House seat she lost to Rep. Eddie Smith in 2014
Only So Much Durham Could Blame on Media
TN Democratic Party Unhappy With Investigation Into Durham Allegations
Tennessee Lawmakers Likely to Maintain Inaction on Rural Broadband
The Nashville Republican emphasized to reporters after a speech to the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business that she has not yet made up her mind about a run for governor in 2018.
“I’m looking at it; I think a number of good people are,” she said. “I’m looking at it, but it’s a little early to decide right now.”
Harwell said she has been working toward a “cultural change” at the state Capitol after allegations of inappropriate behavior by Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, toward women at the Legislature.
Durham has denied any wrongdoing, but last week stepped down as House majority whip and later withdrew from the House caucus before announcing a leave of absence to seek medical and pastoral help.
Harwell last week called on Durham to resign and ordered an overhaul of the chamber’s sexual harassment policies for the first time in 19 years. Associated Press
Gloria Johnson will seek state House seat she lost to Rep. Eddie Smith in 2014Former state Rep. Gloria Johnson, a Knoxville Democrat, plans a rematch this year with Rep. Eddie Smith, the Republican who defeated her by 182 votes out of 13,278 votes cast in their 2014 race.
Johnson announced her candidacy Tuesday for Knoxville's sprawling the 13th House District seat, which she held for one two-year term. She worked for 25 years as a special-education teacher in the Knox County school system until retiring from Holston Middle School last April when she became Tennessee field director of Organizing for Action, the national nonprofit group working to advance President BarackObama's agenda.
She made it clear she's running on traditional Democratic themes of health care and education.
Johnson said she will work to win approval of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's Insure Tennessee plan, which would extend health coverage to 280,000 uninsured working Tennesseans. It has been blocked for two years by Republican opposition. Johnson participated in a rally for Insure Tennessee when the Legislature opened its 2016 session last month. Knox News/Subscription
There’s an 8th District Congressional Race!"I have decided not to seek re-election to the 8th Congressional District seat this year," the Republican congressman and well-known gospel singer said, in a prepared mid-morning news release. "I am humbled by the opportunity to serve the people of West Tennessee, but I never intended to become a career politician. The last six years have been the opportunity of a lifetime, and I am honored to have been given the chance to serve."
But, while political observers were still scratching their heads in amazement, a small host of ambitious Republican politicians swung into action. Almost instantaneously came an announcement from radiologist/radio magnate George Flinn, who has sought the seat before, that he would be a candidate in the 8th again this year.
Flinn, a former Shelby County commissioner and frequent candidate for several other positions, suggested he had intended to challenge for the seat even before Fincher's announcement and, by implication, might have influenced the incumbent's decision: "I have been traveling in West Tennessee for the past few months and listening to citizens talk about their lives, what is happening in our community. The overwhelming facts are that Congress has not been doing enough to address our needs. I have heard all of our concerns, and I am convinced that we must act. We are headed in the wrong direction, but we can fix things. That is why I am running for U.S. Congress in the 8th District of Tennessee."
In rapid-fire order came announcements from other hopefuls, most of them clearly ad hoc statements prepared in haste.
There was this from former U.S. Attorney David Kustoff, who had previously run for Congress in the 7th District, much of which is now in the 8th District: "I want to thank Congressman Fincher for his service to our country and for fighting for conservative values in Washington. I strongly believe our state deserves a congressman who will continue the fight for Tennessee values and principles, and that is why I will be candidate for the 8th Congressional District. "
And, not long after that, came word from Shelby County Register Tom Leatherwood, who had also previously sought election from the 7th. Said Leatherwood, who was already trying out the rudiments of a campaign speech: "I am throwing my hat into the ring for the 8th congressional seat. I believe I have a very strong, proven conservative record which will resonate in the district, having served two terms in the state Senate, where I helped kill a state income tax twice. I also served on the Senate Finance Committee, where we had to tell people no in order to balance the budget. This is the type of discipline I can bring to Washington."
Virtually back-to-back announcements then came from state Senator Brian Kelsey and Shelby County Commissioner Steve Basar that they intended to seek the 8th District seat as well. Memphis Flyer
Yes, you may legally vote in another party’s primary under Tennessee law.It’s election season! In addition to junk mail and jingles, if there’s anything that’s absolutely guaranteed to take place in Tennessee this time of year, it’s an unresolved dispute over whether or not it’s illegal to vote in another party’s primary election. So is it?
According to the Bernie Sanders campaign, whether you’re a Democrat or not, voting in the Democratic primary is legal. “Tennessee has open primaries. Tennesseans can vote for Bernie Sanders regardless of their registered party,” his website declares. In sharp contrast, however, during several past election cycles, others have taken a markedly different view. In May 2014, for example, Maury County’s Election Commission formally censured one of its Democratic members for voting in the local Republican Primary. “Contrary to many public pronouncements by various people, a party primary is not open to anyone to come and essentially make a mockery of the process,” proclaimed Commission member Jason Whatley. “People who disagree with that are disagreeing with the law and they’re demonstrating a gross misunderstanding of what the law says.”
Despite protestations from many in Commissioner Whatley’s camp, however, the reality of Tennessee law is quite different. Specifically, unless your party membership has been formally challenged under an obscure procedure that is virtually never utilized, voting in the primary election of a party with which you are not typically affiliated is not illegal at all. The reasons why, however, require considerable explanation.
In the election law world, the practice of voting in the primary election of a party with which a voter is not traditionally affiliated is known as “crossover voting.” Alternately considered insidious or a laudable expansion of democracy depending on who is benefiting from it, voters frequently engage in crossover voting for any number of reasons. For example, a Republican voter might be so disgusted with her party’s candidates in a particular election that she decides to affiliate with the Democratic Party for a single election cycle instead. Other voters—particularly those who live in highly gerrymandered districts—might vote in an opposing party’s primary in order to exert meaningful influence (called “hedging”) in the ultimate selection of their representatives, given that the winner of the opposing party’s primary is likely—or, in many cases, guaranteed—to win the general election down the road. Alternatively, a Democratic voter might try to bolster his party’s chances of winning a general election by crossing over and voting for a weak Republican primary candidate who is comparatively less likely to prevail against his Democratic candidate of choice—a tactic known as “raiding.”
With respect to this latter tactic, it’s worth noting that supporters of both parties have a rich history of organizing “crossover raiding” drives in an attempt to sabotage their opponents’ chances of winning a general election victory. In 2012, for example, in an effort to bolster Rick Santorum’s chances of becoming the Republican nominee for President over Mitt Romney, liberal activist Markos Moulitsas generated national media attention by encouraging Democrats to crossover to the Republican Primary and vote for Santorum. Similarly, in 2008, conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh encouraged Republicans to crossover and vote for Hillary Clinton in their respective states’ Democratic primaries when then-Senator Barack Obama began surging ahead in the polls. Although neither of these efforts turned out to be effective, successful crossover raiding has been blamed for primary victories of candidates in any number of elections, including Presidential primary victories in Michigan by George Wallace, Jesse Jackson and John McCain. A successful crossover voting campaign was also given credit, in part, for the controversial 2008 primary victory of former Tennessee State Senator Rosalind Kurita over challenger Tim Barnes, which was ultimately vacated under internal party procedures by the Tennessee Democratic Party. Daniel Horowitz/ Supreme Court of Tennessee Blog
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Yarbro Slaps Senate Wingnuts for Opposing Soto ResolutionSen. Jeff Yarbro dropped by the Legislative Plaza pressroom a few minutes ago and gave the mighty Senate Republican supermajority some serious grief for refusing to adopt the resolution honoring Nashville’s beloved Renata Soto for her appointment as chair of the National Council of La Raza.
Yarbro, who is the Senate sponsor, says GOP leaders told him before today’s session that his resolution probably would fail—as crazy as that might sound—so that’s why Yarbro agreed to delay it until Monday.
“The majority leader asked for a delay so that he could work and talk to other people in his caucus, and I wanted to respect that,” Yarbro said. “I would rather that it pass than score cheap points. But this will come to a vote and it is important that we recognize the contributions of someone like Renata Soto.”
Soto was the Scene’s Nashvillian of the Year in 2013, so we like her a lot. But Republicans apparently see her as some kind of commie rat and La Raza as way too wild and radical.
Here’s more from Yarbro:
Renata Soto is someone who has given tirelessly to this community, helping people across the city and across the state, and if that’s not the type of citizen we should recognize in resolutions, I don’t know why we’re doing this.
It’s a longstanding senatorial courtesy to recognize individuals who are engaged in their community, and we usually don’t get into the substance of what their advocacy involves. That’s why it’s so disappointing to see this change of direction and I hope that over the weekend the majority will reconsider their position.
There’s no question that Renata Soto is among the citizens that we should be recognizing. We’ve honored people for making it into reality shows like The Voice. We’ve honored people for winning first prize at the county fair. We’ve honored people for all sorts of things here, and when you’ve got somebody like Renato Soto who has literally given her time to help people file their income taxes, to learn how to speak English, to start small businesses, it’s just perplexing that the majority would have any hesitation on this issue. Nashville Scene
Term Limits? Balanced Budgets? Tennessee Lawmakers To Demand A Major Rewrite Of The ConstitutionSince the Bill of Rights, there have been just 17 changes to the U.S. Constitution.
But Tennessee lawmakers could decide as soon as Thursday to demand a major rewrite.
The state House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a resolution formally calling for a "convention of the states" to propose new amendments to the Constitution. They're making use of a clause buried in Article V of the Constitution, after those creating Congress, the presidency and the Supreme Court.
That language gives states the power to call a constitutional convention — just like the one that took place in Philadelphia more than 200 years ago.
"If there was ever a time in the history of our republic that states need to take advantage of having that constitutional authority, it is now," says Columbia Republican Sheila Butt, one of the lawmakers spearheading the effort.
Butt says a convention could take place as soon as next summer.
Four states, including Florida and Georgia, have already called for a second constitutional convention. Thirty-four could by the end of the year — enough to trigger a convention. Supporters include the American Legislative Exchange Council, tea party groups and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. WPLN
Environmental group says Tennessee water regulation swirling down drainAn environmental group is questioning why the Haslam administration's water quality enforcement against polluters appears to be disappearing down a drain. The Tennessee Clean Water Network said its study shows water quality enforcement orders by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation against water polluters dropped from 219 in 2007 to just 15 during 2015.
That's a 93 percent drop the group warned. And it impacts protection of state waterways "that are the source of drinking water for millions of Tennesseans."
"The question is why?" Renee Hoyos, executive director of the group, said in a news release Tuesday as she raised concerns about operations in TDEC's Division of Water Resources.
She said federal Environmental Protection Agency records show "there are 255 permittees in Tennessee in violation of their permits. And out of that number, TDEC only issued 15 enforcement orders to clean up the rivers and lakes. That is unacceptable." Times Free Press
Tennessee Lawmakers Likely to Maintain Inaction on Rural Broadband
Advocates of rural broadband service will ask state lawmakers today to break a seven-year roadblock and pass a bill this year to let Tennessee municipal electric utilities extend broadband service into areas not served by commercial, for-profit providers.
But House Speaker Beth Harwell said Tuesday she doesn't see that happening this year. Harwell (R-Nashville) told a group of small-business owners at a National Federation of Independent Business meeting that the legislature will likely wait until after the state Department of Economic and Community Development (ECD) completes a study it launched last month before taking action.
The Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association and other groups will visit the State Capitol today to press for action before the General Assembly adjourns its 2016 session in late April.
An estimated 422,000 households across Tennessee don't have access to landline internet speeds that meet the Federal Communications Commission minimum standard for high-speed broadband. Another 1.6 million Tennessee households have access to only one provider, according to the association.
An opponent of the bill, a telecommunications business owner, raised the issue with Harwell at the NFIB gathering. "I have many thousands of feet of fiber-optic cable undeployed in my business yard in Dayton, Tennessee, where I desperately want to deploy fiberoptics. But I fear competition from my government more than AT&T. What can be done to settle this issue so I can go ahead and invest?" David Snyder said.
"I would love to settle this issue. We're tired of it," Harwell said "I think you have a very legitimate concern. It's just a tough call because businesses like to provide the service where there's high clientele and they can get quick customers. Where our problem does exist is in some of these remote areas ... that would be financially difficult for a private company to reach out and make a profit providing to those areas. That's what we're trying to balance.
"But we continue to work on it. We're waiting for that study. There are bills put in every year so I can't promise you anything is going to be done this year in the legislature," she said.
Afterward, Harwell told reporters she wants to see the ECD study before deciding. "My preference would be that the private sector take this over. We'll see if they can come to the plate and offer enough services to our rural areas. If they can't, then I do think it becomes necessary for the public to enter." Government Technology
Only So Much Durham Could Blame on MediaIt’s little wonder state Rep. Jeremy Durham had to take a two-week break from the General Assembly.
He was probably feeling faint from the evolution of his own devolution as a leader in the House Republican Caucus.
With his head spinning from the constantly-shifting developments surrounding sexual harassment allegations, he needed to see his doctor, talk to a counselor and, more than likely, make amends with his wife, if he hadn’t already.
In a matter of a month, he went from being a valuable member of the House’s Republican supermajority to an outcast, barely a legislator, but not without considerable resistance.
The strategy of denial works sometimes. But in this case, the stonewalling by Durham and his own caucus led to his embarrassing situation.
This could well fit the classic definition of a tragedy: The failure of an otherwise honorable man to recognize a personal weakness, which leads to his demise. Or, maybe it’s just the old standby from the King James translation of Proverbs: “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
A month and a-half ago, hardly anybody was talking publicly about the Franklin rep’s situation.
But Capitol Hill reporters – and nearly anybody with connections at the General Assembly – knew about allegations of inappropriate behavior with interns along with talk Durham might have had an affair with a state representative who resigned from the Legislature after only one session.
After days of speculation about improper text messages Durham allegedly sent to women at the Legislature (thanks to a report by The Tennessean, which granted them anonymity), Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey dropped the big bomb when he said the press didn’t force anyone to send text messages after midnight asking women for pictures.
Nor did the media force anyone to have an affair with another state representative and cause their resignation.
Ramsey said he couldn’t confirm Durham’s alleged affair, but he said everybody knew what he was talking about. The lieutenant governor can be quick to judgment sometimes, but it’s highly unlikely he hadn’t thought deliberately about this before making a public statement.
Clearly, the disgraced legislator wasn’t Ryan Haynes, who left to become chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, or Mike Harrison, who quit to work as a county mayors’ lobbyist.
That leaves former West Tennessee Rep. Leigh Wilburn, who stepped down last year “due to unforeseen circumstances involving my immediate and extended family and business,” according to reports.
Early on, Ramsey said he thought Durham should step down as Republican Caucus whip, then he said the representative should resign from the Legislature.
Ramsey probably should have made the statement a month early, but give Ramsey credit for one thing – directness.
Gov. Bill Haslam danced around the topic initially, but later said he didn’t see how Durham could continue to represent his constituents effectively. Memphis Daily News
TN Democratic Party Unhappy With Investigation Into Durham AllegationsOfficials with the Tennessee Democratic Party held a press conference Wednesday, saying they were disappointed in how the allegations surrounding Jeremy Durham have been handled.
Democratic Party chair, Mary Mancini, said Speaker Harwell and Governor Haslam needed to be called out on their mishandling of the case.
Mancini even went so far as to say Speaker Harwell needed to step down.
Representative Durham has been accused of sending inappropriate text messages to 3 women on Capitol Hill.
He's also accused of having an affair with a former state lawmaker who resigned last year.
These accusations were only recently made public, but Mancini said Speaker Harwell has known about the sexual harassment rumors since November, and has done little to deal with the situation.
“If speaker Harwell, who is in place now can't say she doesn’t have any responsibility over behavior of her members - look this is politics we all know they do have responsibility and they can course correct them she's not willing to do this so we'd like to see new leadership,” said Mancini. Newschannel 5
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