Friday, January 8, 2016

Buzz: Chancellor of TN Board of Regents Resigns Calling Haslam Plan "Unworkable"

Prison chief: New definitions mean assault totals to rise

Haslam taps Page for state Supreme Court

Chancellor John Morgan Leaves Tennessee Board Of Regents With Parting Shot At Haslam

The head of Tennessee's largest public college system is resigning — and he's speaking his mind.
After five years as chancellor, John Morgan says he does not want to lead the Tennessee Board of Regents when the state is considering a plan to split off its four-year schools. Morgan has already publicly showed skepticism for that proposal, which the governor touts as a way to give universities more autonomy and community colleges more support.
Last month, Morgan confirmed to reporters that the restructuring of TBR was not his idea.
"This is very much the governor's vision of what will help move the state forward," he said.
But his letter announcing an early retirement was more scathing: Morgan calls the plan "unworkable" and says it will "seriously impair" the goals of the state and TBR system. He says he cannot, "in good conscience, continue as chancellor." WPLN

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AP’s here-comes-the-legislature story

Tennessee lawmakers return Tuesday for the second session of the 109th General Assembly with an eye toward quickly disposing of their business and heading home for election season.
All 99 House seats are up in November, along with 16 of 33 Senate seats. Given the overwhelming Republican advantages in both chambers, the April 7 candidate filing deadline will be key to incumbents looking to avoid primary challenges.
In the past, politically difficult bills have been pushed until after the filing deadline to give lawmakers without serious opposition the freedom to cast tough votes. But given the recent trend of wrapping up the session in mid-April, there wouldn’t likely be much time left to tackle controversial issues.
One major issue giving election-minded Republicans heartache is Gov. Bill Haslam’s push to increase funding for the state’s roads, most likely through Tennessee’s first gas tax hike in more than 25 years.
Haslam told reporters this week that he still hasn’t made up his mind whether to make the road funding proposal this year or next — though he acknowledged that several lawmakers have told him the case hasn’t been made to the public for why the state needs more money to maintain and build roads.
“There’s a lot of sentiment out there that folks say we need to do a better job of explaining to citizens around the state why we need to do something different than we are now,” Haslam said. “My main point to legislators has been that this is not something we can put off for five years.” Associated Press

Prison chief: New definitions mean assault totals to rise

For months staff and inmates have complained to The Tennessean, other media and lawmakers about incidents that should be classified as violent but are instead deemed "staff/inmate provocations" in TDOC's reporting.
During that same time, Schofield and Gov. Bill Haslam have pointed to assault numbers trending down in recent years as proof that reports of increased violence in prisons are overblown.
From 2008 to 2015, department data shows the number of assaults dropped from 604 to 350. During that same period, the number of staff/inmate provocations increased from 390 to 937.
Schofield also said the department won't go back to review old incident reports to see if they would qualify as assaults under the new definitions. He likened that to reviewing prison time for an offense if a new law changes the amount of time someone can receive for that offense.
Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, thinks it's clear the changes show the outgoing system helped the state downplay the amount of violent incidents in Tennessee's prisons.
"I think eliminating the ambiguity and the possibility to classify violent incidents as provocations will inevitably lead to the reporting of more assaults, which confirms what we've expected all along: that the governor's claim that assaults were down was based on faulty information," Yarbro said.
"It's hard to assess whether this was just an oversight or a willful oversight, but I think it will be good to start looking at accurate information again." Tennessean (Subscription)

Candidates Already Gearing Up For August Elections

There are no statewide primaries for Tennessee governor or U.S. Senate in 2016, races that usually lead to higher voter interest and turnout.
The August ballot will be dominated by the congressional primaries for Districts 8 and 9, the two districts that cover Shelby County.
Republican U.S. Rep Stephen Fincher is expected to seek re-election for District 8, which consists mainly of counties in rural West Tennessee.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen has already indicated he will be running for re-election in District 9, which takes in most of Memphis and ventures into northern Shelby County.
State Sen. Lee Harris is considering a challenge of Cohen in the August Democratic primary.
Harris isn’t risking his Senate seat if he runs since his four-year term in the Tennessee Legislature runs through 2018.
The two state Senate seats in Shelby County on the 2016 ballot are District 30, represented by Democrat Sara Kyle, and District 32, represented by Republican Senate leader Mark Norris.
All 14 state House seats covering Shelby County are on the ballot in 2016.
The last time legislative incumbents were in serious peril as a group was in 2012, when redistricting changed some boundaries and put several incumbents in the same districts for primary elections.
The most serious challenges to state legislature incumbents are usually in their own primaries because of the way the legislature draws its own district lines once a decade.
Aside from those districts with two incumbents in the redrawn borders – usually both of the same party – most districts are redrawn with heavy Democratic or Republican majorities.
The last legislative incumbent to get picked off was Democratic state Sen. Ophelia Ford, who was upset by Harris in the 2014 primary elections.
The primary winners this August advance to the November ballot topped by the presidential election. Memphis Daily News


After a long series of election beatdowns, Knox County Democrats are at their lowest ebb ever, and Republicans are prepared to administer the coup de grĂ¢ce in 2016.
Not one single countywide elected officeholder is a Democrat. County Commission is down to two Democrats (in the center city first and second districts) and the only Democrat left in the county’s legislative delegation, Joe Armstrong, is facing trial in federal court.
So why would Cameron Brooks, a young guy with a full-time day job, want to spend 2016 chairing the Knox County Democratic Party?
His answer is simple:
Fighting uphill battles is what he does.
“Throughout my life I’ve felt like an underdog,” said Brooks, who took office in 2015, and spent his rookie year recruiting County Commission candidates – a distinct change from the Democrats’ usual practice of allowing those races to be decided in GOP primaries. He’s also planning a vigorous attempt to take back the 13th District House seat that fell to Republicans in 2013, and there will be Democrats on the ballot in six of the seven contested commission districts, leaving Republicans to fight it out amongst themselves only in the deep red eighth district of East Knox County where Dave Wright now serves.
“The first thing I wanted to do was make sure we recruited candidates to run in as many open slots as possible. The Republicans have targeted the first and second districts, but we’ve recruited great candidates, and they’re going to have to spread their resources out. I don’t know what the result will be, but they will not sweep us out,” Brooks said. Halls Shopper

Haslam taps Page for state Supreme Court

fter letting a seat on the state's highest court bench collect five months worth of dust, Gov. Bill Haslam has named Roger Amos Page of Madison Conty to fill a vacancy on the Tennessee Supreme Court.
This is Page's second promotion from Haslam, who appointed him from a circuit court judge in the 26th Judicial District to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals in 2011.
"We are fortunate to have someone with such a depth of experience for this important position," Haslam said in a statement. "Judge Page has a distinguished career both as a judge and an attorney, and Tennesseans will benefit from having him on the Supreme Court."
The appointment comes after Justice Gary R. Wade retired in September. Page comes from a pool of three finalists recommended by the Governor's Council on Judicial Appointments, all of whom won previous appointments from Haslam to intermediate apellate courts.
But exactly how to go about confirming Page's appointment is unclear. After voters agreed to give the legislature authority to confirm judicial appointments in 2014, state lawmakers have yet to agree on how to go about doing that. A resolution is expected during this year's legislative session, which begins Tesday.
Apparently, the governor may not have much of a problem convincing the legislature to go along with his pick. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey quickly congratulated Page on his Facebook page Thursday.
"Tennessee will soon have its very first Republican majority on the Supreme Court in modern history. I am looking forward to getting back in session next week and confirming this excellent and historic choice by Governor Haslam," Ramsey said. Nashville Post

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