Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Buzz: TN Legislature Back In Session...Time to Hide Women, Children, and Checkbooks

(Someone has to ask the question..."Why was Jeremy Durham elected Majority Whip, given his criminal past, and what does he have on GOP leadership that has prevented them from getting rid of him?")

Speaker Harwell and the Wimp Factor

Bill would allow private schools to allow guns on campus

Legislature Convenes, 'Unusual Meetings' Ensue

Undisclosed dollars dominate campaign spending

AP on Durham’s past ‘questionable behavior’

When Republican members of the Tennessee House gather Tuesday to decide whether to oust embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham from his leadership post, it won’t be the first time that two-term lawmaker has had to answer for questionable behavior.
Until now, the 32-year-old has managed to come out on top of each situation that threatened to sink his career. The vote will determine whether Durham, who has sworn off speaking to reporters and did not respond to an interview request, can keep the streak alive.
Durham was arrested in 2003 on charges related to breaking into the home and vandalizing the car of the new boyfriend of a woman who had broken up with him a week earlier.
The former girlfriend told officers that Durham, then a sophomore at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, had been upset to learn of her new boyfriend and insisted she show him where he lived.
An officer who went to interview Durham at his fraternity house found him bloodied from several cuts on his hands and arms from breaking into the home. The officer said Durham quickly “confessed to burglarizing” the home and divulged where the stolen items were.
Durham was charged with aggravated burglary, vandalism and theft. But prosecutors and school officials ultimately decided not to pursue legal or disciplinary action in what Durham later described as a “second chance in life,” allowing him to pursue a career in law and politics. Associated Press

Legislature Convenes, 'Unusual Meetings' Ensue

The Tennessee legislature Is back today for a whirlwind election-year session. God, guns, gays, abortion, Secret Santa (and helping rich people in every possible way, of course)—it’s all on the crowded agenda. Good times!

But regrettably, before lawmakers can roll up their sleeves and get down to the important business of the people—and coincidentally grease the skids for their own reelections later in the year—they must deal with the embarrassing misbehavior of one of their own, i.e.,Rep. Jeremy Durham.

House Republicans are caucusing this afternoon right after the session’s opening gavel to decide whether to remove Durham from his leadership position as majority whip for a series of (mostly unmentionable) transgressions that have made him a major media target and real pain in the ass at the Capitol.

The AP’s Erik Schelzig is the latest to profile Durham and catalogue some of his lifetime of shenanigans, which include this gem: Within 16 months of breaking into the home of the new boyfriend of his old girlfriend in Knoxville in what he later dismissed as a boyish prank, the young Durham declared himself a candidate for UT student body president on a campus law-and-order platform.

In typical Keystone Kop fashion, legislative leaders have managed to screw up this whole affair so badly that just about any conceivable conclusion for today's caucus makes all House Republicans look ridiculous. Durham still could let them off the hook by quietly resigning and apologizing and promising to do better. But don’t hold your breath. Jeff Woods/Nashville Scene

Tennessee Legislature Opens 2016 Session on Capitol Hill

The Tennessee General Assembly's 2016 session will be a short one, likely done by early April. The gavels fall in the House and Senate chambers in Nashville at noon Tuesday, Jan. 12, opening the election year session.
Expect the Legislature to focus on an estimated $500 million in surplus funding the state is expected to collect in tax revenue, how Congress’ passage of a five-year federal road program will affect Tennessee’s $6 billion backlog of road projects, and perhaps a plan to better fund local school districts.
“Whenever you have more money, it’s much more difficult,” said state Senate majority leaderMark Norris last month as legislative leaders began meeting in Nashville to prepare for the 2016 session.
“We’ll be somewhere north of half-a-billion dollars, which is a good thing,” the Collierville Republican added. “It shows we’ve done a good job of budgeting.”
Norris said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam could have more to say in his state of the state address, to be presented sometime after the Legislature opens this week, on increasing state funding to local school districts.
That follows a set of lawsuits by several school systems, including Shelby County Schools, over the state’s less-than-full funding of the Basic Education Program – the formula that determines how much state money each local school district gets. The state funding, including federal pass-through dollars, is the largest block of revenue that funds Shelby County Schools and other school districts across the state.
Congress’ unexpected approval of a long-term federal surface transportation act in December makes it much less likely the Legislature will feel the need to increase state funding to road projects in some way.
Haslam has stopped well short of pushing for a gas tax increase. But he has rejected any change in the state’s pay-as-you-go method of funding road projects. Memphis Daily News

Bill would allow private schools to allow guns on campus

Private K-12 schools and higher education institutions in Tennessee would have the ability to create policy that would permit qualified people to carry handguns in all buildings and on all campuses owned and operated by the private school, according to a newly filed bill by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville.
The legislation, which was filed on Monday, would require the chief administrative officers of private K-12 schools and higher education institutions to set a policy on carrying handguns on the property and buildings of each school and institution.
According to the legislation, qualified persons include anyone not prohibited from possessing a handgun and who also has a valid Tennessee handgun carry permit.
Although Bell's legislation would not require a private school to allow all qualified people the ability to bring their guns into a building, it would mandate the school's chief officer to create a policy. The private institutions are given the ability to decide who is allowed to carry a weapon on the premises.
Bell told The Tennessean the bill is not a direct reaction to state Attorney General Herbert Slatery's opinion that was issued last September in which the attorney general said people can't bring guns to a church, religious entity or private school if the property is being used for a school event. Tennessean (Subscription)

Speaker Harwell and the Wimp Factor

With the legislature returning to Nashville this week, state Democratic Party chair Mary Mancini is calling out House Speaker Beth Harwell for failing to reign in all the many rowdy wingnuts and various miscreants in her party’s caucus.

Mancini could have cited any number of misbehaving House members (don't worry, we'll get to Rep. Jeremy Durham in a little bit) but she picked Rep. Andy Holt, who earned the nation’s scorn—but not Harwell’s—bytweeting support for the armed militia occupying that federal wildlife refuge in Oregon. In her press release, Mancini referred to $177,000 in fines levied against Holt by the EPA last year for dumping pig waste from his farm—another transgression that went unnoticed publicly by Harwell.

It's been almost a week and Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell still refuses to condemn the reckless and irresponsible statements made by Rep. Andy Holt (R-Dresden) supporting the armed extremists in Oregon and telling President Obama to ‘Take your gun control and shove it.’ This isn't the first time she has refused to show any leadership and hold her members accountable for their bad behavior, either. The Speaker's House has been out of order since she refused to acknowledge the conflict of interest and ask Rep. Holt to resign his leadership position on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee while serious environmental charges against him are pending. It’s time for Speaker Harwell to lead and implement oversight for her members.
Mancini is trying to take partisan advantage of this situation, of course, but she makes a good point. Harwell has been loath to exercise her considerable power in her five years as speaker. The governor’s main ally, she presides over a mighty supermajority, yet she seems unwilling or unable to do or say much of anything when leadership is required. Case in point: Jeremy Durham. Pith in the Wind

What to expect from Obama’s final State of the Union address

President Obama promises his last State of the Union will be unorthodox.
“The last State of the Union is all about legacy,” said Dr. Jeremy Mayer, policy, government and international affairs professor at George Mason University. “I expect this State of the Union to look back at where President has taken the nation and to look forward with urgency. There’s just a few things the man can do between now and November.”
Mayer also expects the President will defend his executive action on guns and new steps taken to fight ISIS. He is also expected to speak broadly, rather than focusing on many specific pieces of legislation.
“It’s about what are the last few things you can do in your presidency that will make a difference, and how can you burnish your legacy so that historians will remember well,” Mayer said.
The President will likely review this year’s victory for same-sex marriage, an increase in jobs and possibly the nuclear deal struck with Iran.
Not to mention, one of the seats next to First Lady Michelle Obama will be left open to symbolically honor victims of gun violence. WATE

Undisclosed dollars dominate campaign spending

Big-money outside groups have spent more than $143 million in the presidential race in the six months since any of them were required to reveal their donors, according to a POLITICO analysis of campaign and advertising records.
The origins of some of that cash will never be revealed, while the rest of it won’t become known until midnight on Jan. 31 ― meaning that voters won’t know who funded the majority of the ads in the presidential race until just hours before Iowa voters head to their state’s pivotal caucuses.
The opacity is emblematic of the new political reality in which presidential candidates’ allies are spending an increasing amount of cash in ways that push the bounds of campaign finance rules rendered rickety by recent federal court decisions, regulatory inaction and congressional neglect.
Through Monday, super PACs and other big-money outside groups had spent nearly four times as much on ads in the presidential race as the candidates’ own campaigns, which had spent $42 million since the beginning of July, POLITICO’s analysis found.
And supporters of Hillary Clinton, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush, among other candidates, have pioneered new ways for their campaigns to work with those outside groups that test key assumptions set forth in the Supreme Court decision that paved the way for super PACs and other big-money groups.
The decision, Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission ― the sixth anniversary of which is next week ― cleared the way for corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums on campaign ads. The new spending wouldn’t lead to corruption because it would be independent from candidates and transparent to voters, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.
But Ann Ravel, a member of the Federal Election Commission, said it’s become increasingly clear that the justices “did not understand what the implications were going to be of what they did.” Politico

Crockett Policy Institute

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