October 26, 2009
Let's Be Blount About Education
Tonight in Maryville, a group of concerned citizens hosted a candidate forum dedicated to the subject of improving education in Tennessee. Several of the men and women running to be our next governor were in attendance. Here are a few status updates, and there will be more as it comes across the wires.
"Really enjoyed the Blount education forum tonight. The BEI is a great example of grassroots movement in support of education." — @BillHaslam
"Big day in E Tn-raised 175K tnght in Knox w/ John Rich who came to Blount 4 education evt. Will hve enough money 2 win/make Tn even better!" — @zachwamp
Hat tip: Brian Hornback
Do We Need County Primaries?
Officials in Putnam County, Tennessee are looking into that question, according to a report by Nashville station WSMV. Not surprisingly, the local Democratic and Republican parties are saying "not so fast." Naturally, they seem to like having the taxpayers foot the bill for their internal candidate selection processes.
It is debatable whether voters in populous counties like Shelby, Davidson, or Hamilton, which have partisan elections for all but school board posts (the latter being limited to nonpartisanship by state law), possibly benefit from having primaries. (However, if elected positions like Trustee, Court Clerk, and Register of Deeds—I mean, come on: Register of Deeds—were stripped of their party labels, that might change.)
Small and mid-sized counties certainly do not need to take on this cost, and so I approve of the Putnam County Commission's actions. Be sure to read all the comments at Post Politics.
October 23, 2009
Chattanooga Tea Party to host Speaker Ramsey
The Chattanooga Tea Party group is meeting-up with Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey, a Republican candidate for Governor of Tennessee in 2010, today at 3 p.m. at the Country Place Restaurant on Shallowford Road.
October 21, 2009
How to win favor with the party during a primary
Political parties tend to adopt a neutral stance in primary races—unless, of course, there is a clear need to purge a wayward member and her heresy from the pure body of true believers. The party will be there to aid the eventual nominee in the general election.
That said, there may be a way for a candidate to influence the hearts and minds of those most likely to encourage their friends and supporters to vote in a primary: by sending cash.
The Hill published a story about the variety of ways current members of Congress are using their federal campaign accounts when running for state or other offices. Some are allowed to simply transfer the money to another campaign account, but state laws vary on this practice. Some have to get creative, like U.S. Reps. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) and Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), who are refunding money to donors in hopes of getting it sent right back to their gubernatorial campaigns.
Among the shrewdest moves, perhaps, is this one:
In Tennessee, gubernatorial candidate Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) has sent $22,000 to the state Republican Caucus. He also sent smaller donations to four county Republican parties and Reps. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), among several other House colleagues.
The article doesn't say which four county parties were the recipients, but one can reasonably assume that they include Shelby and Hamilton; Williamson is another likely target, I would think. And by giving to the Republican Caucus, Rep. Wamp is issuing a direct challenge to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey for the title of "it's me vs. Haslam."
Senator Roy Herron at SETPAC
Last Friday, state Sen. Roy Herron, a Democrat from Dresden who is running for governor, spoke to the Southeast Tennessee Political Action Committee. I was unable to cover the event, but Judy Frank was there, and has this report at Chattanoogan.com.
If politicians and school officials here don't stop trying to economize by using outdated mid-20th Century approaches to educating children, Sen. Herron warned, there's no way those young people can acquire the strong math and science skills they will need to succeed in the highly competitive 21st Century economy.
October 15, 2009
Special Election Primary Today in Germantown
There is a state Senate primary today in addition to the Memphis mayoral election. District 31, where former Senator Paul Stanley resigned after being blackmailed about photos he took of a legislative intern, covers the cities of Bartlett and Germantown, along with a slice of Memphis proper and some unincorporated areas of Shelby County. Here's a map.
Former Rep. Brian Kelsey, who recently resigned his House seat in a move designed to keep it from potentially being filled by a Democrat-controlled Shelby County Commission, is considered a heavy favorite for the Senate seat. At the very least, he faces no viable primary opposition, as his House colleague Rep. Steve McManus decided not to run.
The general election for the Senate District 31 seat will be held on December 1, the same day a primary will be held for Kelsey's former District 83 House seat. Kelsey will face Democratic Party member Adrienne Pakis-Gillon.
There are quite a few candidates in the Memphis special election, but unless something strange happens, the likely winner is current Shelby County Mayor A.C. Wharton. We'll know tonight.
The Senate primary is a waste of time, since there is only one candidate in each party. But it is a legislative election, according to the law, and that is why it gets a mention on this blog today.
How Not to Recruit Candidates for Critical Elections
Maybe it's just me, and I'm not a political strategist by any stretch (in fact, I adopt a wary stance at the whole profession), but this:
When [Curt Cobb] told me he was stepping down, I [Rep. Mike Turner] asked him who he was going to get to take his place, and he said, ‘I’ve got a man who’s more popular than I am.’ And I said, ‘Who?’ And he said, ‘My brother.’ I said, ‘Sounds good to me.’ And we kind of went from there.
...just doesn't sound like a solid plan, given the stakes for the recent House District 62 special election, as perceived by those in, you know, the business.
October 13, 2009
Rejected House 62 Special Election Headlines
As you know, the special election held today in the 62nd District of the Tennessee House of Representatives has been unofficially won by Republican Pat Marsh. To help him celebrate his victory, I have come up with a list of rejected headlines about the results.
(Readers will recall some mention of Marsh's political androgyny.)
Which ones did I forget?
Oh, and I hope to have some serious commentary in the near future. Thanks for indulging me the moment of levity.
An Extra-special Election: State Party Showdown
Today, voters in the 62nd House District will elect a replacement for former Rep. Curt Cobb. These off-cycle elections are usually little-noticed and attended only by activists, but not this time.
More political observers than I can list or link here have pointed out that control of the next General Assembly means having the upper hand in the next redistricting round, when all state and federal legislative districts will be redrawn.
Some say that that pressure, taken with a virtual tie among Democrats and Republicans in the House, makes this a critical test for state party leaders Chip Forrester and Chris Devaney. Such is the combined opinion of Rep. Stacey Campfield and Nashville Scene writer Jeff Woods, as reported by Tom Humphrey.
However, David Oatney cautions us not to see this election as a bellwether for the 2010 cycle.
Whatever the case, it will probably be a long time before voters in Bedford County and the other areas in District 62 see this much attention placed on their state House seat.
The candidates are:
Chris Brown (I (Constitution))
Ty Cobb II (D)
Pat Marsh (R)
I'll put up links to election results tonight.
October 9, 2009
Open Thread on the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize
I'll get it started: if (and I'm just assuming here) the spirit behind awarding President Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize was that an Obama presidency, by itself, significantly increases the prospect of "improved international diplomacy" over that brought by its precedent, then I contend that the award really belongs to those U.S. voters who made this presidency possible, as I find no worthy actions thus far in the President's catalog. He is but the symbol of our intent.
I'll gladly surrender my two-cents share of the monetary prize in return for recognition of my role.
Also: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton must feel doubly robbed right now.
October 8, 2009
Coffee with the Candidate: Mike McWherter
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter is making a noticeable effort to involve bloggers and other non-traditional media types in getting his message out. (This is not an endorsement, but an observation, of which I invite other campaigns to take note.) To that end, his Nashville headquarters contacted me and asked if, since Mike was going to be in Chattanooga for other visits, I would like an interview opportunity. "Of course," I replied.
We met at a local Starbucks last Wednesday. Campaign aide Jed "Meat and Three" Brewer was along for the ride. (Full disclosure: none of us actually had coffee. I enjoyed a white tea, while my two guests drank bottled water.)
Even though I have a fairly good grasp of the Volunteer State's political demography, I sometimes still wonder aloud, as I did then, that almost all of the Democratic candidates for governor come from West Tennessee, and that the Republicans, by contrast, hail from East Tennessee. Mike McWherter calibrated my knowledge by stating that it is rural Middle Tennessee that historically holds the deepest Democratic Party support.
I started the "official" part of the meeting with a question about jobs (as no reasonable candidate fails to mention job creation as a top priority). I asked whether McWherter's focus would be on attracting more new businesses to the state, or working to create and/or sustain homegrown operations. He said that he would be committed to maintaining businesses that have already either started or moved here, by assessing what they need and working to provide it. He echoed comments I noted earlier about broadband internet being today's infrastructure equivalent of what roads were "twenty years ago."
We talked for a moment about the "smart grid" technology being rolled out in the Chattanooga area by EPB, and Brewer reminded me that McWherter is a board member of Jackson, Tennessee's public utility (JEA), which has its own similar (including broadband) initiative. McWherter says that it is a combination of programs like these with existing providers (such as AT&T and Comcast) that will deliver the widespread access needed to support business growth in the state.
I then asked if, as a pro-business candidate and a CEO himself, he anticipates any friction with organized labor, which is one of his party's bastions of support. He stated that he has met with labor leaders across the state about how they can work together. He went on to emphasize that he supports Tennessee's "Right to Work" law, and feels that it (along with the absence of a state income tax) is a major advantage toward attracting employers. He said that labor organizations, such as the Tennessee Education Association, are great policy communication vehicles, and in that regard, he views them as a positive influence.
I had asked TennesseeTicket readers to submit questions for this interview. The following are excerpted from the questions submitted.
Do you support a proposed ban on unmarried (including gay) couples adopting children?
McWherter does support the ban, and feels that having parents of the opposite sex is better for a child. He says that the Department of Children's Services reports to the governor, so as governor, he would be responsible for children in need of this service. I followed up by asking if he felt that foster care by an opposite-sex couple was better than adoption by a same-sex couple, and he said that he did.
Are you more like Al Gore or Phil Bredesen?
(Emphatically) "Phil Bredesen."
October 7, 2009
NCSL Gives Tennessee Legislature Web Site Top Honors
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has honored the Tennessee General Assembly with its Online Democracy Award for the best legislative Web site in the country. The annual award recognizes a legislature, legislative chamber or caucus whose Web site stands out for making democracy user-friendly.
The Tennessee Web site, www.capitol.tn.gov, stood out for its ease of navigation, depth of content and openness, and availability of information to the public. Key features of Tennessee's Web site that contributed to this year's award include:
* Prominent educational resources;
* Well-organized information;
* A simple, fresh design;
* Integration of archived streaming video clips with agendas and bill information.
I know I have not said enough to give the General Assembly credit for the overhaul, so let this post be an installment on that debt.
UPDATE: Knoxville News-Sentinel reporter and blogger Michael Silence points out an embarrassing fact about the whole "openness" thing. (HT: Post Politics)
The Annexation Gambit
It's very possible that someone, somewhere in Hamilton County is saying, "well played, Mayor Littlefield." There are other sentiments being expressed as well, like WGOW News Director Kevin West's rhetorical question: "'I'll stop the annexations IF you consolidate our [governments].' Political blackmail by Mayor Littlefield?"
If one looks at it the right way, it can seem that a strong arm is being flexed. Or, as one reader writes, "Mayor Littlefield has a gift for proposing things that I would normally support, but will most likely wind up opposing simply because of the tone he used in proposing it."
I don't happen to view this move as "blackmail." I tend to side with those who view it as more shrewd than blunt.
It's possible that there is another explanation. Maybe the mayor wasn't ready to go for metro government, but the City Council's refusal to authorize one of three proposed annexations sent him to a "plan B." But let's be realistic—by turning to a fairy tale.
I happen to have become familiar with the musical theater version of Disney's Beauty & the Beast. (Aside: I'm playing French horn for the current local production; the show continues through this weekend at the Chattanooga Theatre Centre.) There is a parallel in that story to this one, in that the eccentric inventor, Maurice (played by Hamilton County Asst. District Attorney Rodney Strong), is threatened with commitment to an insane asylum. His daughter, Belle, is suddenly presented with a way out by a spurned suitor (Gaston): if she'll but marry Gaston, as he had asked previously, he'll step in and make sure the men in white coats go away without dear old Dad in tow. Spoiler alert: turns out Gaston put the whole plan together to begin with, after Belle turned away his advances.
Maybe one could say that this suspension of annexation proceedings in return for consolidation talks is a "tale as old as time."
October 6, 2009
What Do You Call Hundreds of Campaign Signs in the Dumpster?
Did you read this Chattanoogan.com entry yesterday?
Phil Spencer, candidate for the Catoosa County Utility District board of commissioners, has filed a police report saying all his campaign signs were stolen.
Mr. Spencer said, "Overnight on Saturday night to Sunday morning, 'all' of our campaign signs have been stolen and removed. These several hundred signs were placed around Catoosa County."
The candidate is offering a $500 reward for information that would help solve this crime. I wonder how much someone got paid to do the deed. Unless it's an extremely personal matter (which is possible in small-town politics), it was likely a cash (or, um, goodies) deal.
I have long felt that campaign signs along streets and roads—not placed in front of a home or business, where they signify literal support—are barely more than litter, so it wouldn't bother me to have them all removed. What does a sign tell you about a candidate, other than his or her name? If you depend on that medium to inform yourself as to who's running, you've got bigger problems.
(Full disclosure: I have planted roadside political signs in the past, but I have since changed my perception of their usefulness.)
But back to the story at hand: is a seat on the county utility district board of commissioners that important? What would motivate someone to carry out this attack? There's probably another chapter to this story.
October 1, 2009
Bill Haslam at SETPAC Part II
Below is my distillation of remarks given by Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam at the September 18, 2009 SETPAC luncheon, first in his general address (aka "stump speech") and afterward when he took questions from the audience.
The three largest challenges facing the next governor of Tennessee, according to Bill Haslam, who is running for the GOP nomination in 2010, are:
1. "A massive state budget issue." The state receives about $16 billion from the federal government, and another $13 billion comes from state revenue: sales taxes, fees, etc. The current budget faced a $1.3 billion shortfall, and got balanced by using stimulus funds and raiding the rainy day fund. These are one-time sources of money, and do not address recurring expense problems. Since we can't increase revenue by imposing a state income tax ("take it off the table") or by increasing sales taxes (ours are already higher than most of our many border states') we must figure out ways to lower expenses. Haslam says that the City of Knoxville's debt has been reduced 25% during his tenure, and its rainy day fund has tripled.
2. Unemployment is pushing 11%, and is especially high in rural counties. Haslam is "all about jobs." Bringing business to the state that creates good jobs helps alleviate the aforementioned budget problem. There are four key advantages on which the state should rely to attract industry: our right-to-work law, the absence of a state income tax, our work ethic, and our geography. Knoxville was ranked in the top ten cities for job recruitment. Haslam believes he has an advantage in attracting business because, as CEO of his family retail fuel chain, he "knows from personal experience why Tennessee is a great place to build a business."
3. We need to "drastically improve our performance in K-12 education." Tennessee is near the bottom of national rankings. Also, when the standardized student testing method changes from TCAP to the national standard, some are predicting that only 25% of our students will then be considered proficient. Haslam applauds the Tennessee Diploma Project, but would focus on what needs to be done differently, as this performance challenge is "one of those 'once-in-a-lifetime' chances."
SETPAC members and guests then asked these questions (again, paraphrased by me):
SETPAC: Where would healthcare rank on your to-do list? What would you do to change the situation facing citizens who are disabled and uninsured?
Haslam: TennCare is a very important concern. Of course we have to wait to see what the federal government does or doesn't do. If the current version of healthcare reform were to pass, Tennessee would face $600-700 million in additional responsibilities to provide. As Gov. Bredesen put it, that's the "mother of all unfunded mandates."
SETPAC: (Sets background that local public education expenses are ~$7500 per student, but private schools arguably do a better job with about half that.) If you could only do one thing for education as governor, what would that be?
Haslam: Introduce a new strategy for getting the best teachers into the classroom. Expensive technology and other nice-to-have components don't matter if the teacher is mediocre.
SETPAC: What would you do as governor regarding the Georgia water issue? Would you work with them to allow access to the Tennessee River?
Haslam: I am "fully in favor of being good neighbors," but no. They can fix the problem themselves.
SETPAC: What would you do to keep gas prices down?
Haslam: Oil is traded as a commodity, and prices fluctuate based on real and perceived issues. No governor can take control of this, even if we changed our economic system, because it's a truly global market.
SETPAC: Would you have vetoed the bills allowing guns in restaurants and parks?
Haslam: I would not have vetoed allowing licensed gun owners to carry into restaurants. "Guns in parks" is a little more complicated. In the Knoxville City Council, we had to vote on "guns in Little League fields." I firmly support everyone's Second Amendment rights. I believe the state should make it legal to carry overall, but allow local governments greater leeway in determining laws that speak to what those local citizens care about.
SETPAC: What sets Bill Haslam apart from the other Republican candidates?
Haslam: There is not a bad guy in the race. "They are good men." But being governor is an executive job, not a legislative one. It's important to have executive experience.
SETPAC: How much money will have to be raised in this campaign?
Haslam: "Somewhere north of 5 million dollars." A week's worth of statewide television advertising is $400-500 thousand. Bob Corker raised about nine million each on his primary and general election campaigns.
In closing, Haslam stated that in order to win, name recognition is important, and a candidate has to raise enough money to accomplish that; but beyond that, it's important to build strong county organizations, to "know what you're talking about," and to work hard.
Family Name No Guarantee in Politics
unless, perhaps, the name is "Kennedy." The Christian Science Monitor notes Beau Biden's (son of Vice President Joe Biden) likely U.S. Senate candidacy, and goes on to mention a few more "political dynasties in the making" around the nation, including some Tennessee neighbors—the Carnahans and Blunts in Missouri, and Rand Paul in Kentucky—as well as one right here at home: Mike McWherter, son of former Governor Ned Ray McWherter, is running for the Democratic Party nomination in the 2010 gubernatorial race.
It's not always advantageous to run for office from within a political family, says the article:
Being a son or a daughter of a prominent politician does not always make someone a shoo-in. “Some famous names don’t last for long,” says Senate historian Donald Ritchie.
Franklin Roosevelt Jr. served in the House of Representatives from 1949 to 1955, but lost his bid to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for New York governor. And when House majority leader Richard Armey (R) of Texas announced his retirement in 2002, his son, Scott lost his primary election bid to replace him.
Closer to home, we've seen electoral successes and failures by Tennessee politicians' offspring—and some mixed results, as had by former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr., who won his father's House seat with no problem, but did not capture the statewide vote in his run for the U.S. Senate. Former Congressman Bob Clement comes to mind as well.
TennesseeTicket was given the opportunity to sit down with Mike McWherter on Wednesday, and a separate post is in the works that will recap the interview.