Steve Cohen seems to have his priorities in order. The still-unresolved fiscal-cliff crisis caused him to rush back to Washington on Sunday — forgoing both Monday’s Liberty Bowl and, most likely, his scheduled role as featured speaker-role at City Councilman Myron Lowery’s annual New Year’s Day breakfast.
But the 9th District congressman appeared stoical about it all, intermittently even jaunty, as he talked to reporters at Memphis International Airport, saying, “I’m a member of the United States Congress, and I’m looking forward to saving some of my constituents from deep cuts that would hurt them and tax increases that would hurt them as well. I would rather spend New Year’s Eve in Memphis, but I’m glad to be representing Memphis.”
Cohen said that Memphis, as a metropolitan area with one of the nation’s highest poverty rates, is “deeply, deeply, deeply dependent” on federal programs that will be harmed if no deal is reached between Democrats and Republicans and a “sequestration” agreement, via an earlier debt-ceiling compromise, should go into effect automatically by default.
The congressman blamed the current congressional “dysfunction” on Republican members elected in 2010: “They don’t want to work with anybody. They want to shut down the government, starve programs, and cut the programs that help the people who have suffered the most from the recession.”
Expressing respect for former Democratic national chairman Howard Dean, Cohen nevertheless disagreed with comments made by Dean Sunday on ABC’s “This Week” to the effect that a rumored deal in the making would increase the deficit and do more harm than good.
“I’m more in line with [columnist] Paul Krugman, and I think we need to get the economy moving and create jobs. That’s our first concern and not so much the deficit,” said the congressman, who allowed himself to wax a bit wistful as he closed out his remarks to the reporters.
“It’ll be a strange way to celebrate New Year’s Eve, right there on the edge of the fiscal cliff with a glass of water,” Cohen said.
Even so, a press release has been dropped into our email by “The Action — TN ,” evidently the Middle Tennessee chapter of a national advocacy group, and those locals who well remember the congressman (her preferred term) from Brentwood, might be interested to learn of the following event, taking place on Thursday of this week (today, as we speak) and entered here without comment:
Local Taxpayers to Hold Rally Delivering Letters Calling On Rep. Marsha Blackburn to “Stop Pushing the Middle Class Off the Fiscal Cliff,” Avert Looming $2,200 Tax Hike on Middle-Class Families
Among those delivering letters will be Retired Lieutenant Colonel, Bob Washko and local small business owner, Earik Beann. Both will deliver remarks calling on Congresswoman Rep. Marsha Blackburn to stop putting millionaires ahead of the middle class , stop blocking the middle class tax cut extension that would avert a looming tax hike on Middle-Class families and small businesses.
Franklin, TN — On Thursday, December 27 at 2:00 pm., local taxpaying constituents will hold a “Don’t Drop the Ball on the Middle Class” rally outside of Rep. Blackburn’s office in Franklin, asking Congresswoman Blackburn to stop pushing the Middle Class off the Fiscal Cliff by blocking the extension of Middle Class Tax Cut Extension that would avert tax increases on 98% of Americans beginning in January. If Rep. Blackbnurn fails to act immediately, taxes will go up on every family in America at the beginning of next year. In fact, a typical middle-class family of four would see its taxes rise by $2,200. That means less money to buy groceries or fill a prescription. That means a tougher choice between paying the rent and paying tuition. That means fewer goods and services being purchased and as a consequence, jobs eliminated.
Laura Beann, a local volunteer organizer of the rally: “All I want for the holiday season is to not ring in the New Year with a huge tax hike, and I’m definitely not alone. Congresswoman Blackburn needs to do her job before a lot of people in Franklin lose theirs or are forced to make sacrifices with thousands of dollars less in their pockets. Congresswoman Blackburn needs to stop holding middle class tax relief hostage to protect tax breaks for the richest 2%, folks like Donald Trump and Paris Hilton that don’t need another tax break. All Congresswoman Blackburn has to do is approve the bill already passed in the Senate bill to immediately extend tax relief to 98% of the American people and 97% of small businesses.”
Retired Lieutenant Colonel, Bob Washko: “I’ve served my county my entire life, I’m asking Rep. Marsha Blackburn to start serving the middle class instead of millionaires. Stop this attempt to put more of a burden on the middle class, seniors, students, veterans and the most vulnerable Americans while asking too little of the wealthiest Americans. I’m asking Rep. Blackburn to pass the middle class tax cut extension and end the Bush Tax Cuts for the richest 2% so we are all paying our fair share and pulling our weight.”
Earik Beann, Small Business Owner: “Any real small business owner will tell you they don’t need tax cuts to make their businesses grow, they need customers. That’s why passing the middle class tax cuts immediately is what’s important.”
Middle class families want action — and will blame Congresswoman Blackburn and her Republican colleagues for inaction. A recent Washington-Post poll found that a majority [53 percent] of Americans say that if the country goes over the fiscal cliff on Dec. 31, congressional Republicans should bear the brunt of the blame. Thursday’s rally follows a string of similar events happening all across Tennessee asking every elected official to stop putting millionaires ahead of the middle class. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is no exception, she too has local constituents holding her accountable if taxes go up in January because of her failure to act. [Media coverage across Tennessee highlights mounting pressure on Republicans to stop putting millionaires ahead of the middle class: http://bit.ly/ActionTNPress]
Small businesses want action: An American Sustainable Business Council survey in February found a majority of small business owners believe Congress should let tax cuts on taxable income over $250,000 a year expire as scheduled on December 31, 2012, while only 40% said they should be extended.
• What: Local Taxpayers to Hold Rally Calling On Congresswoman Blackburn to “Stop Pushing the Middle Class off the Fiscal Cliff,” Avert Looming $2,200 Tax Hike on Middle-Class Families
• Who: Groups of volunteer activists and tax paying constituents from Franklin
• When: Thursday, December 27th at 2:00 p.m. CT
• Where: Office of Marsha Blackburn 305 Public Square Suite 212, Franklin, TN 37064
The Action — TN is one of over 150 national, state and local organizations part of The Action — a grassroots movement calling for the end of the Bush-era tax breaks for the richest 2 percent that have for too long shortchanged critical investments that create and sustain jobs. December 1 marked the first major national day of action of the movement, with over 100 events taking place in 30 states pressuring Members of Congress to put middle class before millionaires.
Fear not. Shelby County government is on the case. That’s the message from the office of County Mayor Mark Luttrell, anyhow, as warnings of inclement conditions abound in the local media and via official weather sources.
Here’s a release from Luttrell’s office:
Shelby County Public Works crews are prepared for sleet and snow predicted for the area tomorrow morning.
Trucks with salt and sand will be on Shelby County roads once freezing conditions develop.
"All of our division directors are on alert. We want to ensure citizens stay as safe as possible," said Shelby County Mayor Mark H. Luttrell, Jr.
Shelby County's new Emergency Operations Center at 1075 Mullins Station Road will be activated should there be large-scale power outages or roads become impassable.
"We'll be monitoring the weather throughout the evening and will be calling in staff if conditions warrant," said Bob Nations, Director of the Shelby County Office of Preparedness.
A Winter Weather Advisory from the National Weather Service is in effect until 9 o'clock tomorrow morning.
Forecasters say one to three inches of snow could accumulate in the Shelby County area.
Maintaining that he was making a “business” decision, not a political one, Governor Bill Haslam ended several weeks of suspense by announcing Monday that Tennessee would not operate its own healthcare exchange under the Affordable Care Act.
The governor’s decision does not mean that the elements of the Act will not be accessible in Tennessee, only that they will be operated exclusively under federal auspices and under federal regulations.
Conservative Republicans in Tennessee, including several members of the legislature, had recently mounted demonstrations against the concept of a state-run exchange, although, from the point of view of those who opposed “Obamacare,” it was a six-of-one/half-a-dozen-of-the-other situation. Haslam’s decision eliminates whatever state control could have been exercised in the operation of the Act.
The governor’s decision was conveyed in the following news release:
HASLAM ANNOUNCES STATE WILL NOT RUN HEALTHCARE EXCHANGE
Decision on Affordable Care Act made after thoughtful consideration
NASHVILLE — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday the state will not operate a state-based healthcare exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act. Haslam made the following statement on the issue:
“Tennessee faces a decision this week about health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.
“I’m not a fan of the law. The more I know, the more harmful I think it will be for small businesses and costly for state governments and the federal government. It does nothing to address the cost of health care in our country. It only expands a broken system. That’s why I’ve opposed it from the beginning and had hoped we would be successful in court and at the ballot box this year.
“Now we’re faced with the fact that the law remains, and it requires every state to participate in an insurance exchange. Our decision is whether the state or federal government should run it, and the deadline for that decision is Friday.
“I’ve said that I think Tennessee could run a state exchange cheaper and better, and my natural inclination is to keep the federal government out of our business as much as possible. What our administration has been working to understand is whether we’d have the flexibility for it to be a true state-based exchange, how the data exchange would work, and if it would work.
“Since the presidential election, we’ve received 800-plus pages of draft rules from the federal government, some of which actually limit state decisions about running an exchange more than we expected.
“The Obama administration has set an aggressive timeline to implement exchanges, while there is still a lot of uncertainty about how the process will actually work. What has concerned me more and more is that they seem to be making this up as they go.
“In weighing all of the information we currently have, I informed the federal government today that Tennessee will not run a state-based exchange. If conditions warrant in the future and it makes sense at a later date for Tennessee to run the exchange, we would consider that as an option at the appropriate time.
“This decision comes after months of consideration and analysis. It is a business decision based on what is best for Tennesseans with the information we have now that we’ve pressed hard to receive from Washington. If this were a political decision, it would’ve been easy, and I would’ve made it a long time ago.
“I believe my job is to get to the right answer. That’s what Tennesseans expect of me and elected me to do.”
It's true. The cast and crew of the hit TV "reality" show America's Got Talent will be in Memphis this week looking for talent. And, just in time, two local politicians got their auditions ready, karaoke-style, at last week's annual Christmas Party of the Shelby County Democrats.
City councilman Myron Lowery did an inspired version of "Under the Boardwalk" with partner Willie Nelson (no, not that Willie Nelson) at the party, held at Withers Museum on Beale.
"Under the Boardwalk 1":
According to Eric Schelzig of the Associated Press, Governor Bill Haslam said Tuesday that he expects to see a compromise measure passed in the forthcoming session of the General Assembly but one that precludes storing firearms in vehicles on college campuses.
A bill allowing guns to be kept in locked cars in parking lots was vigorously pushed by the National Rifle Association in the 2012 session but encountered stiff opposition from major business interests in the state, including FedEx in Memphis, and was never called up for a vote. State Rep. Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville), then the GOP caucus chair, was blamed by the bill’s supporters for blocking it in the House, and the NRA played a major financial and organizational role in getting Maggart defeated for reelection in this year’s Republican primary.
According to Schelzig, Haslam indicated his administration would not intervene in any renewed controversy unless college campuses were included in such a bill.
The governor’s remarks came a day after Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey had told educators at a luncheon meeting in Blountville that he expected a guns-in-parking-lots bill to pass in 2013.
Hank Hayes of the Kingsort Times-News quoted Ramsey as saying, "I've already got it drafted ...The (newspaper) headline will be 'Guns On Campus,' but that's not what we're talking about," Something is going to pass this year. I want to put this behind us and forget about it.”
Ramsey spoke to the terms of a likely compromise. “We may exempt out schools, that's fine, but even then we're talking about public parking lots. ...There's got to be a way to keep it in a car legally.”
There may still be serious opposition among lawmakers in the Republican majority to a guns-in-parking-lots measure, however. As state Senator-elect Frank Nicely (R-Knoxville), who was regarded as one of the more conservative members of the House during several terms there, said, ““If a property owner tells someone you can’t bring a yo-yo on his property, much less a gun, you can’t bring it on that property.”
In the course of last summer’s Democratic convention in Charlotte, the Tennessee delegation was — as its chairman Chip Forrester and others rightly boasted — the most “diverse” in the state’s history, up to and including a transgendered delegate.
But on account of several consecutive elections that proved disastrous for Democrats — at least statewide — the delegation was somewhat poor in elected officials (although Memphis certainly supplied its share).
As a compensation, the delegation did have actress Ashley Judd on hand — a Kentucky native and sometime Tennessee resident who spent convention week with the contingent from Tennessee, which she proudly referred to as her “co-home state.”
And, in speaking of Tennessee and Tennesseans that week, Judd inevitably used the pronoun “we” — most spectacularly when — as pictured here — she cast the delegation’s votes for Barack Obama on nomination night. (She did so, it will be noticed, in the company of some of the state’s — and Memphis’ — finest; State Representative Larry Miller, 9th District Congressman Steve Cohen, and Mayor A C Wharton.
Needless to say, Judd’s prominence in the delegation encouraged hopes that she might take a personal interest in the state’s politics. It was a subject much touched upon in Charlotte.
But, if Tennessee Democrats want her — say, for a U.S. Senate race in 2014 — they better be quick about making their bid. If an item this week in the online periodical Slate is accurate, Judd is now considering a run that year against U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Again, that’s her other “co-home state.”
Here was Judd as spokesperson for Tennessee last summer in Charlotte:
It was 2012 legislation by Norris (in tandem with state Rep. Curry Todd) that was just found unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays, thereby halting immediate efforts by six Shelby County suburb s to create their own municipal school districts. The six suburban municipalities are on, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington.
And it is the final section of the 2011 legislation known as Norris-Todd — the part which authorizes the six suburbs to initiate efforts toward such municipal districts, but only after city/county school merger occurs in August 2013 — that Mays continues to withheld judgment on.
Even as that judicial riddle plays itself out, a new legislative player has made a move: Senate Democratic leaderJim Kyle, newly reelected (but just barely) by his diminished tribe of Senate party-mates as Norris’ opposite number.
In a press release Monday from Kyle’s Senate office in Nashville, Kyle announced that he had asked Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman “ to act as an independent, honest broker in the organizational restructure of Shelby County Schools” and claimed that he had Norris’ support for the approach to Huffman.
“We have seen what happens when we divide on ideology; it is unproductive. The political dynamics are what brought us to this point, and will drive us back if we do not choose to act differently.”,” Sen. Kyle said in the press release, excerpting a portion o his letter to Huffman.. “
Contacted Monday about his initiative, Kyle insisted that he was not taking a position one way or another in the ongoing schools controversy — neither on behalf of a countywide Unified School District nor on behalf of the municipal-school movement. He said he regarded Huffman as “an independent honest broker in the organizational restructure of Shelby County Schools” and an ideal go-between to get the two contending sides into a meaningful discourse.
Kyle said he believed his thoughts on the current stalemate were similar to those expressed last week by Governor Bill Haslam in Memphis. The governor referred to Mays’ ruling as “a fairly clear decision” and said, "I think at this point in time. I want to be encouraging everybody let's leave the courtroom behind and let's go sit down and have conversations that we need to prepare “
But that tiny remnant of a once dominant party proved large enough to indulge a little fratricidal bloodletting when it came time in Nashville on Wednesday to elect officers for the forthcoming 2013 legislative session.
Senator Reginald Tate of Memphis launched a challenge to Jim Kyle, also of Memphis, the party’s longtime leader in the Senate and a onetime possibility to become Speaker before the recent drastic shrinkage of Democratic fortunes in Tennessee.
The vote was 4-3 in favor of Kyle, who acknowledged later on that he was “disappointed” — either by the narrowness of the margin or by the mere fact of the challenge, which may have been the result of residual bitterness among some of the surviving Democrats stemming from the 2012 primary race between Kyle and fellow Democratic incumbent Beverly Marrero.
Kyle would also voice a suspicion that Tate might have been encouraged to run against him by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, the Republican Speaker of the Senate, with whom Tate has enjoyed cordial relations. More than most Democrats, Tate has proved willing to accept Republican initiatives — particularly on some of the school issues Democrats have tried to mount a resistance to in the last two sessions.
The vote was taken by secret ballot; so how the balloting went was subject to some guess work later on. Tate himself seemed fairly sure, though, of who the swing vote for Kyle was. At the Cannon Center in Memphis on Thursday night, where he made a brief appearance at the Memphis Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Tate was asked about his narrow loss.
“Yeah, it was Ophelia Ford,” he said, with a shake of the head sidewise.
A state judge in Louisiana has just struck down a voucher system in that state whereby public funds were allocated for private institutions.
Critics of voucher programs maintain that they subvert public school education and divert needed funding from established school networks.
Tennessee is right up on the cutting edge of this issue, with a long-pending voucher bill from Germantown state Senator Brian Kelsey certain to get serious consideration in the forthcoming 2013 session of the General Assembly. A “task force” convened by Governor Bill Haslam has reportedly already conferred its approval of the voucher process as a component of Haslam’s educational reform agenda.
The major question remaining would seem to be how soon and just what would be in the bill. Here’s an item from this week’s Tennessee Journal on the shape of things to come from Ron Ramsey, the state’s lieutenant governor and speaker of the state Senate, and the most influential state official other than Haslam himself..
Vouchers. Ramsey did say that in appointing the Education Committee, he plans to make sure there are sufficient votes for an “opportunity scholarship,” or voucher, program.
Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), who attended an education conference in Washington this week, is expected to sponsor a voucher bill. A task force on the issue submitted its report Thursday to Gov. Bill Haslam, who may offer legislation.
The task force agreed any voucher bill should target low-income students. It found consensus in some areas but in others simply laid out a range of options.