Thursday, March 7, 2019

Tami Sawyer Announces Mayoral Candidacy

Posted By on Thu, Mar 7, 2019 at 9:26 AM

Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer
  • Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer

Confirming weeks of rumors, Tami Sawyer, well-known progressive activist and member of the Shelby County Commission, announced this morning that she is, as much advance speculation had it, running for mayor of Memphis.

In an online post, Sawyer says, “I’m running to be the next Mayor of Memphis. On our 200th anniversary as a city, we can’t wait any longer for equity and opportunity to be the values that drive our city forward. Let’s do this together, Memphis.

She then attaches a “launch video to hear why we can’t wait”:

A native Memphian, Sawyer has in recent years become a major force in civic and political affairs as an activist leader who spearheaded a grass roots movement to remove Memphis' downtown Confederate monuments as improper images for the future of the city as she and others saw it.

Her ever-mounting influence and reputation among progressives became the platform from which she launched and won a campaign for the District 7 seat on the Shelby County Commission in 2016.

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Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Text of Governor Bill Lee's State of the State Address

Posted By on Tue, Mar 5, 2019 at 3:02 PM

Governor Bill Lee, giving the State of the State Address - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Governor Bill Lee, giving the State of the State Address
On Monday evening, March 4, Governor Bill Lee delivered his first State of the State address in the chamber of the state House of Representatives in Nashville. Below is the complete text of his remarks:

Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Casada, Speaker Pro Tem Haile, Speaker Pro Tem Dunn, Members of the 111th General Assembly, Justices, Constitutional Officers, friends, guests, fellow Tennesseans:

Tennessee's voters and its constitution have given me the responsibility of delivering this address evaluating where we are as a state and recommending action to make us even better.

I am grateful for this opportunity to serve, and it is my high honor to be here tonight.

There's a scripture that encourages us to consider others as more important than ourselves.
Before I begin tonight, I'd like to acknowledge the woman in my life who embodies that most, my wife and the first Lady of Tennessee, Maria.

You and I have a First Lady who is deeply committed to serving this state purposefully and she challenges me every day to likewise govern with purpose.

Thank you, Maria. I love you.

And let me say welcome and thank you to my Cabinet, and my staff; you're doing an excellent job and you make us all proud.

The year my oldest daughter Jessica turned 16, she and I took a father-daughter trip for her birthday. We had both been through some very personal and tragic struggles and we decided to do something that would be "overcoming."

We travelled to Wyoming to the Grand Teton National Park to climb one of the tallest mountains in the United States.

We travelled to Wyoming to the Grand Teton National Park to climb one of the tallest mountains in the United States.

It's a difficult and technical climb, and we spent months preparing both physically and mentally.

The apex of our trip would carry us to 14,000 feet above sea level. Our first day we hiked up to 11,000 feet to make our camp for the night.

As we neared the basecamp, our guide, probably sensing my nervousness, pulled me aside and said something very important.

He said, "You need to make a decision that you're going to make this climb before you get to the base camp.

"Because when you get there you're going to look up at the Grand Teton, and it'll look like a massive granite spire that sticks straight up higher than you ever imagined, and you'll feel very intimidated.

"If you have the tiniest doubt in your mind that you can do it as you're hiking up there today, then once you stand at the base camp tonight and look up, you'll be convinced that you can't possibly climb that thing."

He told me I needed to decide right then and there whether I was going to finish the climb.
I did decide, and we did finish and let me tell you, like everything that's difficult, the view from the top was well worth the climb.

As a state, our challenges, too, are difficult, and the climb will require great effort, but Tennessee is a remarkable place, with remarkable people.

Now, I think we can all agree that while important things happen in the halls of government it is actually what happens outside these walls that makes Tennessee truly great.
Nearly every Friday since we took office, Maria and I have left this building to meet Tennesseans in their communities to learn more about what makes our state work.

We met a soybean farmer in Lauderdale County who navigates the Mississippi floodwaters to pull in a harvest and carry on our proud agricultural tradition.

We met a third-grade teacher in North Nashville who works over time to ensure their students are reading at grade level and continue to be the fastest improving students in the nation.

We met a small business owner in Jamestown who employs fellow neighbors and keeps the backbone of the Tennessee economy running strong.

And so, as a lifelong Tennessean, when I reflect on our state, I see her people and I am filled with pride.

To our elected leaders in this room and the many Tennesseans watching from their homes, I am proud to report after seeing with my own eyes: the state of our state is hopeful, prosperous, and strong.

God has truly blessed us — our economy is growing, our schools are improving, our natural resources are abundant and beautiful; indeed, we are the envy of many states.
But while our prosperity should be celebrated, it should not be taken for granted, for it was not granted to us.

Our prosperity has been hard won. From the first settlers in the 1790's to the leaders of past and present, many have contributed to the success we now enjoy.

Our military veterans living, and remembered, deserve the most honored place among those we thank for serving.

We recognize the service of our heroes, and I'd like to talk about one family in particular who has embodied that service and sacrifice.

U.S. Navy Lieutenant Richard C. "Tito" Lannom of Union City was reported missing as of March 1, 1968 during the Vietnam War.

The Obion County native was assigned to Attack Squadron Three Five aboard the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier and was on an A-6A aircraft on a night mission over North Vietnam.

Like many, he did not come back.

Lannom and the pilot were declared missing after a search and rescue mission failed to locate their plane.

He was 27-years old.

In 2017, the Vietnamese excavated a crash site on Tra Ban Island and were ultimately able to identify Lannom in September of last year.

This past weekend, our state had a memorial service for him.

After more than 50 years, Lieutenant Lannom's final resting place is home, on Tennessee soil, where he belongs.

Please join me in pausing to remember Lt. Lannom and the sacrifice he and so many others have made for our country.

Now, please join me in recognizing the family of Lt. Tito Lannom who has come from across Tennessee to be with us — thank you all for the sacrifices you've made and for being here tonight.

Indeed, this is a remarkable state with remarkable people, but past success should not be taken for granted and future success should not be assumed.

We can be glad for the things we've done that have brought us to this point, but we must also recognize that new accomplishments will be required from the leaders of today if we are to reach our full potential tomorrow.

Maybe the key question before us is whether we will stand here and enjoy the view from this far up the mountain or push ahead to new heights and new prosperity.

My encouragement to you — to all of us — is that we press higher.

A stronger education system; a better prepared workforce; a system of justice that lives up to its name; and safe neighborhoods across our state.

These and more goals are within our reach if we unite behind a common vision.

In addition to delivering this address, I have the task of proposing to you a state budget.
By God's favor our state is in a strong financial position, and I believe my proposed budget reflects that.

Managing a budget is one of the most important jobs of government and proposing a fiscally responsible budget is one of the most important jobs of a governor.

And as a conservative businessman, I know a good budget needs to pay for what is needed, take on zero long-term debt, and, perhaps most importantly, save for a rainy day.

As our state continues to grow, we are committed to remaining among the most fiscally sound and best managed states in America.

We live in prosperous days, but it's precisely during these times when we must build up our storehouses for when times may not be as good.

For that reason, I am particularly proud of this: in my budget, we are making the largest single contribution to our Rainy Day Fund in the state's history.

When this budget is implemented, our Rainy Day Fund will be $1.1 billion — the largest it has ever been in both real dollars and as a percentage of our overall revenue.

This budget is fiscally conservative and stays within the Copeland Cap, which as you in this room know is in our state's constitution as a guardrail against out-of-control government spending.

I have said many times that Tennessee can and should lead the nation, and this budget will help us do that.

In particular, there are four things in my budget and legislative agenda that I believe we must do if that goal to lead the nation is to become a reality.

First, Tennessee must deliver a world class education and that education must be aligned with the needs of the job creators of today and tomorrow.

To accomplish that, our students need more guidance, our teachers and principals need more support, and our parents need more choices.

I've spoken often about the four out of ten students will not attend college.

For them, we must vastly strengthen our vocational, technical, and agricultural offerings to make sure they are career-ready.

After 35 years in the private sector, I know the job market can change quickly and education must stay in sync with industry.

When companies like Google, Apple, and IBM no longer require a college degree for many high-skilled jobs, we know we need to think differently about how we approach preparing our kids for careers.

Elementary and middle schools need to begin skills training earlier and, from top to bottom, high school needs to look a lot different.

In that spirit, I'm proposing the Governor's Investment in Vocational Education — the GIVE Act.

The GIVE Act is a $25 million investment to increase the number of young adults earning an industry certification and entering a career within one year of high school graduation.

Another one of our goals is to put Tennessee in the top half of states for technology sector job creation by 2022.

To that end, I recently announced the Future Workforce Initiative, a $4 million effort to increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics — STEM — training in K-12 schools.
The Future Workforce Initiative will add 100 new CTE programs, grow the number of teachers qualified to teach work-based learning and computer science classes, and expand access to AP courses and early postsecondary options for high schoolers.

We are also investing in agricultural education by allocating new recurring funding for both FFA and 4-H youth programs.

These programs and others like them are so important, and it takes the work of dedicated teachers and principals to make sure our students are being well prepared.

One such teacher is Dan Smith from Dyer County and he's an example of the thousands of dedicated teachers we are fortunate to have in this state.

Dan, a horticulture and agriculture teacher at Dyer County High School and is a former agriculture Teacher of the Year, because of his exemplary work with students.

He has coordinated massive plant sales, integrated master gardeners and landscaped his entire school, and that's just the beginning.

He's a pillar in his community. He embodies the term — Agricultural Education.

He is with us here today, and please join me in thanking him for his years of dedicated work to improve the lives of the students of Tennessee.

Many students will go to college, and for that group we want to provide world-class higher education options across our state.

We must continue to invest in our outcomes-focused approach to funding higher education, which is why we've set aside $34 million new dollars in this budget to fully fund our higher education institutions.

We will also invest more than $12 million dollars in financial aid to add nearly 7,000 students in need to those we help attend college or obtain a certificate here in Tennessee.

We are also adding resources to help prepare disadvantaged students for college, so they can best take advantage of the opportunities they earn.

We're making CTE a major priority, but we also want to do other things well.

I fundamentally believe that every child ought to have access to a great, traditional public school.

And so even as we consider expanding options in this state, we must re-double our efforts to make sure that public schools in Tennessee are well-resourced and that Tennessee teachers and principals are the best and most celebrated in the business.

First and foremost, we are fully funding the Basic Education Program and recommending $71 million for a well-deserved 2.5% pay raise for teachers.

Additionally, to support educators and school leaders, we are proposing investments in the professional development of rural principals and expansion of the Rural Principal Network.
In response to the increasing needs of our lowest-performing 5% of schools, we are investing $5 million into improving student and teacher support in our priority schools.

Across our state, we have qualified educators and leaders who are making the sacrifice to serve on local school boards and bring their ideas to the table.

Later this month, I will send a letter to every school board member and superintendent in this state, seeking their input on what is working and what should still be done to make Tennessee the home of the best public schools in America.

To those of you listening today, please know I look forward to personally reading your responses.

In my budget, I propose a three-year pilot program to provide critical student support services to high school students in our 15 distressed counties.

These funds will be matched by private donations and will allow us to provide meaningful support while also measuring the positive effects of this pilot program.

I've often said that education is about more than a test score, but test scores can provide valuable data to both teachers and students when used properly.

Later this month, tens of thousands of students will be completing their end of course testing to help ensure that they are receiving the quality education they deserve.

There has been lots of frustration around the administration of the state test in recent years, and I share in that frustration.

My Commissioner of Education is working tirelessly to prepare for this year's test, but more importantly to finalize the procurement process for selecting a new test vendor for next year and beyond.

But while the execution must get better, we must remain committed to the notion that you can't improve what you don't measure.

Going forward, our focus will be on executing a testing regimen that is trustworthy, helpful, and on time.

Whatever else happens in the classroom, the safety of our children and teachers is paramount for my administration and for all of our elected leaders.

For that reason, I am asking the legislature to join with me to fund an additional $30 million investment in our school safety fund and to prioritize the districts with schools who currently have no school resource officers on duty.

Together, we can make sure every school is a safer place for our children.

In my inaugural address, I said that Tennesseans would have to be bold, courageous, and strong in the face of today's biggest challenges.

One of those challenges is closing the gap between the quality of education offered to students regardless of their zip code.

Tennessee has led the nation with important K-12 education reforms over the last decade, and we have seen the payoff: our student outcomes have been among the fastest improving.

But sustained improvement requires constant innovation, and we must keep looking for the next game-changer.

Parents need more choices with respect to the education of their children and those options should be well-funded and highly accountable.

Students have different needs and abilities, and our education system should mirror that diversity as best as possible.

I believe highly accountable public charter schools are a great model for expanding choice without sacrificing quality, and I've seen firsthand how they can dramatically impact the life and trajectory of a student.

In my budget, we are doubling the amount of public charter school facility funding and I will support legislation this year that makes it easier to open good charter schools and easier to close bad ones.

But we should do even more.

Nearly one in three students born into poverty does not finish high school, and a student that doesn't finish high school is much more likely to stay in poverty.

Low-income students deserve the same opportunities as other kids, and we need a bold plan that will help level the playing field.

We need to change the status quo, increase competition, and not slow down until every student in Tennessee has access to a great education.

We're not going get big results in our struggling schools by nibbling around the edges.
That is why we need Education Savings Accounts in Tennessee, this year.

ESAs will enable low-income students from the most under-performing school districts to attend an independent school of their choice at no cost to their family.

I know there's concern that programs like this will take money away from public schools, but my ESA plan will invest at least $25 million new dollars in public schools in the first year to fill the gap when a student transfers to another school.

My ESA plan will strengthen public schools and provide choices for parents at the same time.
Creating competition will provide a new incentive for schools to improve and provide new opportunities for thousands of students.

Members of the legislature: now is the time.

Let's make this the year that every student in Tennessee has a chance at a great education, no matter where they live.

Another important issue in education is curriculum.

We should continue to root out the influence of Common Core in our state, but there's another issue we should be mindful of as well.

During the past two years of traveling on the campaign trail, an issue I was constantly asked about was civics and character education.

At face value, this may seem like a small issue.

However, in the last year it was reported that young people between the ages of 18 and 29 in this country have a more favorable view of socialism than capitalism.

And last week I read about a recent study that said in 49 of 50 states a majority of residents would fail the U.S. citizenship test.

I can't help but feel that these two statistics are somehow connected.

President Reagan said that freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.

This demands answering an obvious question; how will our children know of our cherished American values if we do not teach them?

We all desire a more perfect union, but we cannot expect future generations to build upon the incredible progress our country has made if we fail to teach them the history and values that made it possible.

So, let me say this: whatever may be going on in other states or in our nation's Capital, in this state, our children will be taught civics education, character formation, and unapologetic American exceptionalism.

We are beginning that effort by creating the governor's civics instructional seal which will recognize schools that excel at teaching civics education.

I said there are four things we must do if we want to lead the nation. First, we must build a better education system. Second, we must build a criminal justice system that is tough, smart, and above all, just.

For decades, this country has been too willing to fight crime on the surface alone — "lock 'em up and throw away the key."

Now, in more ways than one, we're paying the price for that.

Tennessee is currently incarcerating more people for longer than we ever have and the population in our county jails is growing daily.

In fact, at the bottom of this hill begins the most incarcerated zip code in America.
Incarceration can have a generational impact.

Children with an incarcerated parent are at greater risk of being incarcerated themselves.

And besides the human cost, there's the actual cost.

Incarcerating an adult in Tennessee costs $28,000 taxpayer dollars per year.

Incarcerating a juvenile for a year can cost many times more than that.

And for all the trouble and cost, what are our criminal justice outcomes?

Violent crime is up. Recidivism is high. Jails are struggling to make ends meet.
Let me be clear, the punishmment for violent crime must be swift and severe, but we must also get better at helping those who will be released prepare to re-enter society, not re-enter prison.

It's past time that our state's elected leaders speak with one voice on this important issue: when it comes to reforming our state's justice system, the cost of doing nothing isn't zero.
Crime victims pay the price. Families pay the price. And taxpayers pay the price.

In my proposal to the legislature this year, I recommend a series of smart reforms that will make a big difference.

One area of reform my administration will address is our use of community supervision for low-risk offenders.

Community supervision allows us to provide the corrections oversight necessary to hold someone accountable for their crime without incurring the economic and social cost of incarceration.

It costs about 20 times more to incarcerate someone than to put them under community supervision, and the latter leads to better outcomes.

One of the first things we will do is add funds to the Electronic Monitoring Indigency Fund and add the use of GPS monitoring so that low-risk, non-violent individuals can keep their jobs and provide for their families instead of spending unnecessary time in jail.

Of those who are incarcerated, 95% are not serving a life sentence and will eventually come out and we need to be sure they are prepared for that.

Why? Because every successful reentry means one less crime, and one less victim.
My commitment to having fewer crime victims in this state is reflected in a proposed expansion of education and re-entry counselling opportunities in our prisons.

Educational attainment for incarcerated people can reduce their risk of recidivism by up to 43%.
Another important part of successful re-entry is stable employment.

For that reason, we have introduced a bill eliminating the expungement fees for those already eligible under the law to alleviate the cost burden of getting back on their feet.

We must also take bold steps to stop the scourge of drugs illegally trafficked into our state.
I pledged to make Tennessee a state that drug traffickers fear, and I will make sure that our prosecutors and our law enforcement have the tools they need to make that a reality.

We are increasing the penalties on dangerous drugs like fentanyl and making it clear that we will have no leniency on high level drug dealers who target the residents of this state.

And we need more than just strong laws to keep our communities safe; we also need strong law enforcement.

It is no secret that Tennessee lags other states on law enforcement and corrections pay, which impacts our hiring and retention rates.

We are increasing investments in correctional officer pay and training opportunities, and this budget calls for new investments in our law enforcement capacity, improving the in-service training pay supplement, and provide new funding to support the increased demands of our Drug Overdose and Violent Crime Task Forces.

Furthermore, tomorrow morning, I will sign an Executive Order creating a task force to address the growing fiscal and social costs of incarceration.

I appreciate the focus placed on these issues by members of the General Assembly and our Supreme Court in recent years, and it is time to move forward in a comprehensive way.

This task force will be led by Judge Brandon Gibson from my office and will include crime victims and their families, members of the general assembly, state agencies, law enforcement, community and faith based programs, and, yes, even former inmates.

Fundamentally, this task force will recommend legislative and budgetary changes that will help reduce recidivism, make our communities safer and save tax dollars.
I know we can do things differently, because I've been involved with groups who have made a difference.

Nonprofits like Men of Valor in Nashville are helping those who enter prison be better prepared to reenter society.

The recidivism rate of Men of Valor's program graduates is less than one of third of the statewide average.

One person who benefited from this group is a man named Marcus Martin.

Marcus was incarcerated for five years.

By his own admission, he was on a quick path back to prison, until he got involved with Men of Valor.

Now, on the outside for 16 years, Marcus is a full-time prison minister, helping and making a huge impact on those still on the inside.

Marcus Martin is here with us tonight — Marcus, please stand and be recognized.

Marcus, thanks for what you're doing.

My fellow Tennesseans, this is a story of redemption, this is a story of Tennesseans helping other Tennesseans.

It's also a story of fiscal responsibility . and common sense.

We need more of these stories, and when we get them, it won't be surprising to see that our crime and recidivism rates start going down.

And my administration will do more than talk about how important we think these issues are.
We intend to be national innovators and leaders in showing how people throughout our state — the volunteer state — are willing to partner together to serve one another.

Tonight, I'm proud to announce that we are launching the Volunteer Mentorship Initiative to equip Tennesseans throughout our state to mentor fellow Tennesseans who are currently in prison.

And I'm signing up tonight as the first volunteer.

This initiative will begin by working with Tennessee-based non-profits to pair degree-seeking inmates with mentors on the outside as they seek better opportunities for themselves during their time in prison and their first days back in their communities.

I am pleased to announce that Senator Mike Bell and Representative Michael Curcio have graciously agreed to be the honorary co-chairs of the Volunteer Mentorship Initiative.

And I am even more proud that every member of my senior staff has enthusiastically agreed to join this program as our first batch of new mentors.

Tonight, I'm asking members of our General Assembly and every Tennessean who desires to prayerfully consider volunteering to join this effort.

As our state has shown before, we can change the course of history and the destiny of people when we step up, volunteer, and serve one another.

The challenge ahead of us is great, but the urgency of the situation is greater, and I know we will rise to meet the challenge.

For this issue, the admonition to we public servants is clear: do justice, love mercy, walk humbly.

First, education. Second, justice. And third, every Tennessean should have access to high-quality health care they can afford.

This is an ambitious goal that no state has accomplished, and Tennessee will not accomplish it overnight.

We will work with patients, providers, and payers to establish Tennessee as a world-class health care market for our people using transparency and competition.

To begin this process, I have asked our Finance and Administration Commissioner, Stuart McWhorter, to chair a Healthcare Modernization Task Force that will work closely with private sector stakeholders, policymakers, and communities across the state to develop a list of reforms and critical investments.

In the short-term, there are several things we can do to move Tennessee toward having better health outcomes.

So that more uninsured Tennesseans have access to quality primary and preventative-care services, we are providing additional funding to our health care safety net which supports community and faith-based care centers serving those who do not have health insurance coverage.

We will continue to work with the General Assembly and with Washington to look for waiver opportunities that help us increase insurance coverage without big government strings attached.

We will also be exploring ways to build off the important efforts of the Trump administration to promote price transparency.

Another way to lower health care cost is to combat Medicaid fraud.

Tackling fraud in Medicaid is particularly important as we work to prevent the fraudulent distribution of opioid medications.

To support that effort, we are creating 24 new positions in the state's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

Together these efforts will place downward pressure on the cost of coverage.

I am also committed to working with our rural communities to ensure that they have quality healthcare that meets their current and future needs.

Despite the closure of rural hospitals across the state and country, there are many opportunities to transform care in these communities through smart reforms, increased innovation, and a new business model.

Addressing these challenges requires a long-term approach, and we have already taken steps that will deliver real progress this year.

For one, I'm proposing $20 million to boost broadband accessibility which will make technology like telemedicine more accessible and practical.

We are increasing, by as much as $8.6 million, funding for graduate medical education at Tennessee's medical schools and critical incentive programs that provide financial support to resident physicians who commit to living and working in our rural communities.

By increasing the supply of care that reflects the needs of rural communities we will be driving down the overall cost of care.

Our focus on economic development and vocational education will also drive better health outcomes as individuals are increasingly able to get higher paying jobs that provide greater stability and access to coverage.

Too often, the conversation around health care focuses exclusively on physical health.

Physical well-being is important, but a national conversation around mental and behavioral health is long overdue.

Nearly 300,000 Tennesseans are facing serious mental health challenges, and far too many are slipping through the cracks.

I made a vow on the campaign trail to strengthen the mental health safety net and I intend to do just that.

In this budget, I am recommending an increase of $11 million in recurring funds to our Behavioral Health Safety Net and our Regional Mental Health Institutes.

These investments will help us serve thousands more of our most vulnerable Tennesseans, most of which do not currently have health insurance.

Tennessee's suicide rate is 20% higher than the national average.

For that reason, I'm proposing a $1.1 million investment that will expand the state's partnership with the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network to establish a new regional outreach model and increase the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services' efforts.

To truly be champions of mental and behavioral health, we must put everything we have behind defeating the opioid crisis in Tennessee once and for all.

We must continue to make progress in preventing addiction, and I will defend the smart limits on prescriptions passed by this legislature.

In this budget, we'll also work to address the other victims of the opioid crisis — the dependent children of those addicted.

We recommend expanding our investment in the Safe Baby Courts initiative to support vulnerable infants and are including $5 million dollars in new funding to address a rising caseload in our Department of Children's Services.

Also, as we begin to see an increasing rise of students entering kindergarten facing challenges from prenatal drug exposure, I recommend that we invest an additional $6 million dollars in our Early Intervention Services for schools.

These investments will make Tennessee a healthier state, and when we're healthier it's good for Tennesseans and it's good for the bottom line.

Fourth and finally, when we have accomplished these and many other goals, what remains expected of us is that government be operated with integrity, effectiveness, and as little cost as possible.

Fundamentally, we believe government exists to protect our liberties — not to grant favors, not to build kingdoms, and not to needlessly interfere with the lives of our citizens.

To be sure, the voters did not send us here to create more government.

No, they sent us here to protect their freedoms and protect their hard-earned money.
I've long believed that Tennessee's most precious natural resource is our people.

Many of our people can be found at non-profits in this state who are doing, with excellence, jobs that government cannot or should not do.

So, to help protect taxpayer dollars and to engage some of our under-utilized citizens, one announcement I am particularly excited to make is the Governor's Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives.

This office will leverage the non-profit community and help us unleash the potential of all Tennesseans to get involved to not only make lives better for their fellow citizens but to reduce the responsibilities and ultimately the size of government.

I'd like to close tonight with two short stories.

This last month we have seen record rainfall across our state.

Many areas have flooded, others have dealt with mudslides, water treatment plants have failed, and some of our neighbors have lost loved ones.

Our hearts are with those hurting families, and with all others who are still cleaning up, even tonight.

And we're grateful to the first responders, state employees, and everyday citizens who were there during the storms and who are supporting that clean up.

A few weeks ago, amid some scary moments, one state employee jumped in to help.
When the flooding started in Dickson County Lt. Travis Plotzer of the Tennessee Highway Patrol was at a flooded roadway on Highway 48.

He went in to chest deep water to help rescue motorists stranded on top of their vehicles.
He didn't hesitate to be the first one to help.

He showed what it really means to be a public servant; he showed what it really means to be a leader.

Please join me in recognizing Lt. Travis Plotzer from Dickson County.

For 35 years prior to becoming governor, I worked in a family-owned company that I led for 20 of those years.

Last month, for the first time in 35 years, I missed our annual, all-employee gathering.
I'll be honest with you — it was bittersweet.

But that same day, Maria and I had the privilege to host at our new home the Governor's Excellence in Service Award winners from each of Tennessee's 23 departments.

We went around the room and listened as each one introduced themselves and explained their jobs but what struck me most was not what they did, but the passion with which they did it.

Those dedicated individuals and others like them that I've met since remind me that government itself is not a solution to our problems; "we the people" must solve our own problems.

And while our state government is far from perfect, one thing I have learned during my first two months in office is that Tennessee has the most committed, hard-working group of state employees in the country and I am proud to be serving alongside them.

As my daughter and I neared the end of our climb up the Grand Teton, we came to a place famous for its very narrow ledge.

To make it worse, there's a section in part of the ledge that has a 1,000-foot "exposure," which is evidently climber-speak for a 1,000-foot fall if you mess a step.

The point is, the only way to get across it was to set your face forward against the mountain and step sideways across the gap — and whatever you do, don't look down.

As a state, we find ourselves in a very strong position, with a very nice view.

We can choose to sit here and enjoy it, or we can choose to step across the ledge and move to higher, better ground.

But if we decide to go higher and farther, we must resolve to not look back, and not look down.

If we lead Tennessee well, Tennessee may well lead the nation.

My prayer is that we will all work together to do just that.

May God bless you, and may God bless the great state of Tennessee.

Thank you and good night.

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Monday, March 4, 2019

Mixed Messages on Gambling Legislation

Bill allowing sports books gets tentative look-see, but Memphian's measures on casinos, impact study are warned off.

Posted By on Mon, Mar 4, 2019 at 10:50 AM


Although a bill that would allow betting through sports-books in Tennessee  advanced in the state House Departments and Agencies subcommittee last week, other measures to liberalize gambling were headed off, two of them via pressure from Governor Bill Lee, according to a Memphis legislator.

As a direct response by an alleged intervention by Lee, two bills that were to be heard in a House committee on Wednesday, both sponsored by state Representative Larry Miller, were delayed, and one, HB 130, proposing a Constitutional Amendment to allow the legislature to authorize casinos, was taken off notice.

The other Miller measure, HJR 142, which would authorize the state comptroller to conduct a study of the financial impact on Tennessee of legalized gambling in adjacent states, was “rolled” a week, and is scheduled to be taken up at the subcommittee’s meeting this coming Wednesday.

Asked about the two bills, Miller said essentially that he'd been warned off by a liaison person from Lee's office, who visited him last Tuesday on the governor's behalf, "flagged" the Constitutional Amendment (which is to say, warned him off); Miller says that he intends to bring the Constitutional Amendment bill back, but only after some serious organizing of support.

Miller says his decision to delay HJR 142, calling for the impact study, was also related to the word he’d received from the governor’s emissary.

“It just seemed to me that this was not a good moment to be asking for a decision on measures involving gambling. I’m going to try to build up some more momentum,” said Miller, who indicated that he intends to bring back a version of HJR 130 at some point and to go ahead, as indicated, with consideration next week of the financial-impact measure.

Apropos Miller’s foreboding about timing, Representative Bruce Griffey (R-Paris) got a turndown on Wednesday in the Department and Agencies subcommittee on another bill for a Constitutional amendment to allow bingo games for charity (HJR 102).That measure was turned down on voice vote after Griffey received an admonition from subcommittee chairman Bill Sanderson (R-Kenton) that legal bingo had a “tragic history” in Tennessee and that a former Secretary of State [Gentry Crowell] had committed suicide [in 1959] at a time when his office was under investigation for corruption in relation to regulation of bingo games.

Sanderson identified the scandal as being “Tennessee Waltz,” but that FBI sting came later. The one in 1959 was designated “Operation Rocky Top.”

Griffey asked for a roll-call vote on the subcommittee, but Sanderson ruled that his gavel had already come down and that the matter could not be renewed.

There was no indication that Griffey’s experience was in any way related to gubernatorial intervention, but it did perhaps underscore the climate for such bills right now and Miller’s reluctance to put his bills up for grabs.

A spokesperson for the governor was unable to confirm that Governor Lee had intervened with Miller concerning either of his measures.

Meanwhile, HB 1, the aforementioned sports betting measure allowing sports-books and online sports betting received a tentative okay in the Departments and Agencies subcommittee and was passed along to the full State Committee. The bill would allow local-option voting on the creation of sports books and would allocate some proceeds to vo-tech education.

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Thursday, February 28, 2019

Lee to Spread Out State of the State Addresses

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2019 at 3:42 PM

Governor Lee
  • Governor Lee
As follow-ups to his scheduled State of the State address in Nashville on Monday, Governor Bill Lee announced plans to give regional addresses in Memphis and Knoxville next week.

The Governor’s Memphis speech, billed as “State of West Tennessee,” will be given at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 7, in the University Center Ballroom at the University of Memphis. His “State of the State” address will have taken place at 6 p.m. on Monday, March 4, in the House Chamber of the state Capitol in Nashville. Lee will present a “State of East Tennessee” address at 6 p.m., Tuesday, March 5, in the Clarence Brown Theatre at UT-Knoxville.

All three events are free and open to the public but require tickets, which are available at

Block Grants Bill Advances Despite Memphians’ Protest

Measure would require Governor to insist on state control of Medicaid funding, give legislature ultimate approval.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2019 at 3:11 PM

Dwayne Thompson musing during block grant hearing - JB
  • JB
  • Dwayne Thompson musing during block grant hearing
NASHVILLE — Two Memphis Democrats, state Reps. Dwayne Thompson and Larry Miller, did their best on Wednesday to put the brakes on a proposal, emanating from the Republican leadership of the General Assembly, insisting that federal Medicaid funding to Tennessee be in the form of block grants.

But, like it or not, and there is no indication that Gov. Bill Lee is opposed to the concept, HB1280, which requires that the governor request the state’s Medicaid funding via block grants, advanced a step closer to him on Wednesday in newly strengthened form.

The bill was amended in the TennCare Subcommittee on Wednesday by voice vote and is on its way to the full House Insurance Committee with an amendment from the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Timothy Hill ( R-Blountville), requiring legislative approval of any block-grant arrangement reached with the federal government. Meanwhile, SB1428, the Senate version sponsored by Senator Paul Bailey (R-Sparta), is pending before the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.

In the TennCare Subcommittee, Reps. Thompson and Miller objected to the amendment and then to the bill as amended. Thompson had asked sponsor Hill how many other states received their Medicaid funding via block grants and when Hill professed not to know, Thompson supplied the answer: “I understand that it’s zero.” He then asked why Hill was proposing that the state pursue the “experiment” of block grants.

Hill alluded to the state’s volunteer tradition. “It’s the Tennessee way,” he answered. “Why not?”

Rep. Jason Zachary (R-Knoxville) responded similarly. “Let’s be the first. Let’s be the precedent,” he said.

Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Matthew Hill (R-Jonesborough) then indulged himself in what he himself branded as a “joke” by saying, “Chairman Hill, this is a great bill!” He went on to express enthusiasm that Tennessee, “known for innovation,” could by passing the bill, escape the “fetters of federal intervention” and maintain control of Medicaid spending at the state level.

In a brief question-and-answer session with reporters afterward, Hill exulted that his measure had passed its “first hurdle” and was presumably on its way to full passage. He acknowledged that there was some opposition to the bill, to be expected “whenever you’re proposing something that’s cutting edge.”

Asked whether there was polling to suggest popular support for his bill, Hill said he hadn’t conducted any. But he expressed confidence that the bill has “broad support...certainly with this supermajority” and would pick up more support “as we go along.”

He said he had “sat down” with TennCare officials but could not say what their opinion on the measure was. He acknowledged that the terms of the bill could alter the way TennCare operates but did not elaborate.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Confederate Statue Issue, Millington Fireworks Go Forward

Actions in State Capital on Tuesday

Posted By on Wed, Feb 27, 2019 at 9:22 AM

Greenspace president Van Turner looks over legal notes. - JB
  • JB
  • Greenspace president Van Turner looks over legal notes.

NASHVILLE — Shelby Countians interested in a pair of issues got no final answers to their concerns on Tuesday, as both the still simmering issue of Confederate statuaries and the prospect of legal fireworks sales in Millington advanced another notch toward resolution.

1) The saga of the deposed Memphis monuments that once honored Confederate heroes Nathan Bedford Forrest, Jefferson Davis, and one Captain Harvey Mathes proceeded through one more skirmish on Tuesday as a three-judge panel of the state Court of Appeals heard arguments for and against a continued injunction against further action by Greenspace, Inc. to relocate the statues it uprooted last December 20.

Allan Wade represented the City of Memphis in the proceeding, Chris Vescovo represented Greenspace, and Doug Jones represented the Sons of Confederate Veterans Nathan Bedford Forrest Camp 215. The judicial panel — composed by Richard Dinkins, Frank Clement Jr. and W. Neal McBrayer took the case under advisement.

The injunction was issued last year by Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle, per a request by the Sons of Confederate Veterans chapter .pending a final disposition by the Tennessee Historical Commission. Greenspace, inc., is an ad hoc nonprofit headed by lawyer Van Turner, who doubles as chairman of the Shelby County Commission.

The issue of the city’s right to sell the parks containing the monuments to Greenspace has previously been resolved in favor of the sale, though the Confederate side continues to  seek to relitigate that aspect of the matter on further appeal. At some point and in some form the case is almost certain to go to the state Supreme Court.

2) If the rest of the way goes as easy for adherents of fireworks sales in Millington as it did in the state House Commerce Committee on Tuesday, you can expect a fair share of future “rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air” to have emanated from a point of sale is Millington.

As various pro-fireworks individuals looked on in Commerce, HB 106 (by Rep. Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis) was approved by voice vote. The bill next goes to the House Finance Ways and Means Committee for approval. No one spoke against the bill in the Commerce Committee, but, according to Billie Howard of Millington, one of the bill’s supporters, its progress forward has been “something of a struggle.”

It has already passed the Senate, however; so its prospects have clearly improved. As of now, fireworks sales are legal across the state line in Mississippi and in Lakeland, which was grandfathered in before prohibitive legislation was passed some years ago.

Greenspace president Van Turner looks over legal notes. - JB
  • JB
  • Greenspace president Van Turner looks over legal notes.

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Thursday, February 14, 2019

Prospects Exist for Modest Legislative Cooperation between the Parties

But there is no bridging of the gap on major issues -- notably Medicaid expansion and abortion.

Posted By on Thu, Feb 14, 2019 at 1:41 PM

Democrats  Stewart, Akbari, and Camper - JB
  • JB
  • Democrats Stewart, Akbari, and Camper

NASHVILLE — Huge partisan differences remain between Republicans and Democrats on key issues before the Tennessee General Assembly — in particular, Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which Governor Bill Lee and legislative Republicans continue to oppose — but there are glimmers here and there of possible bipartisan cooperation.

As she indicated in two press conferences this week, House Democratic Leader Karen Camper of Memphis is convinced that there are areas of potential joint action with Lee and Assembly Republicans on medical issues. One of them, which other members of the Democratic legislative leadership concurred with in general at a post-session media availability on Thursday, was the concept of the state’s availing itself of closed hospital facilities as centers to cope with the opioid-addiction crisis in Tennessee.

As Democratic Caucus chair Mike Stewart of Nashville observed, there are sufficient reserves available in state's general fund to endow such facilities without the necessity to enact new legislation.

There was no bridging the partisan gap, however, between Democratic support for Medicaid expansion under the A.C.A. and the general opposition to it among Republicans, tempered by proposals that the state seek a waiver from the C.M.S. (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) to allow distribution of A.C.A. funds to the state as a block grant.

Sen. Raumesh Akbari, of Memphis, the party’s caucus chair in the state Senate, pointed out that there is no legal or congressional basis for distribution of Medicaid expansion funds, and she was seconded on the point by Stewart and Senate Democratic Leader Jeff Yarbro of Nashville. The Democratic leader salso agreed that efforts to allow Governor Lee to act on the issue without the legislative approval now required would be pointless, given his own declared resistance to the A.C.A.

The other point of potential cross-party agreement that emerged from the Democrats’ media availability session on Thursday concerned a bill proposed by Republicans Steve Dickerson of Nashville in the Senate and Michael Curcio in the House on the subject of streamlining restoration-of-voting-rights procedures for released felons. Akbari has offered similar legislation but said she would be willing to subordinate her effort to that of the two Repubicans’ effort, given the gathering support evident for the latter.

Party ranks closed fairly tight, however, against another Republican proposal, this one announced on Wednesday by GOP Senator Dolores Gresham of Somerville and Republican Rep. Susan Lynn of Mt. Juliet. Their bill, supported by the entire legislative Republican caucus, would return Tennessee to a legal position outlawing abortion if and when the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

Lynn had suggested that some Democrats might support the proposal as well. Asked about that on Thursday, there were no takers among the four ranking Democrats — Stewart, Akbari, Camper, and Yarbro —though Camper did say that “abortion is a personal matter, and people have personal reasons for their views,” and she did not discount the hypothetical possibioity of there being a Democrat or two who might support the measure.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Shelby Countians in New Early Education Caucus

Posted By on Wed, Feb 6, 2019 at 1:58 PM

From left: Reps. DeBerry, Ragan, and White, and Senator Gresham - JB
  • JB
  • From left: Reps. DeBerry, Ragan, and White, and Senator Gresham

NASHVILLE —Three Memphis-area legislators are key members of an education-minded group that on Wednesday announced the formation of a new bipartisan, bicameral caucus focusing exclusively on early education policy — concentrating on pre-K through third grade — as a means of enhancing the state’s ongoing efforts to improve public education in Tennessee.

The three Shelby Countians are state Representatives Mark White and John DeBerry and state Senator Raumesh Akbari. A fourth co-founder, state Senator Dolores Gresham, hails from Somerville in Fayette County. Akbari and DeBerry are Democrats; the others are Republicans. White and Gresham are the chairs of the House and Senate education committees, respectively.

White and the others, joined by state Representative John Ragan (R, of Oak Ridge), Ron Gant (R-Rossville), and Dennis Powers (D-Jacksonville), unveiled their intentions at a press conference in the Cordell Hull Building.

The new caucus as yet has no specific agenda, White said, other than to gather as much information as possible on the strategies, new developments, and best practices of early education, from the best speakers and researchers available. He said the inspiration for forming the caucus came from DeBerry, a member of the House education caucus, who, in the face of studies showing that only 37 percent of Tennessee third-graders were reading at their grade level, opined, “We’ve got to go nuclear.”

The Early Education Caucus is open to all members of the House and Senate and will hold its first post-organizational meeting on Thursday of this week, following the week’s final floor sessions.

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Cohen, Blackburn: Contrasting Views on Trump's SOTU

Posted By on Wed, Feb 6, 2019 at 1:51 PM

Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) watched President Trump’s second State of the Union message to Congress on television at his office in the Rayburn House Office Building  in Washington and released the following statement:

“I declined to attend this evening’s address because I want to hear the truth about the State of the Union from a President of the United States. The current president has no respect for the truth and is the subject of numerous investigations regarding his administration, his campaign, his foundation, his business and his inaugural committee. He has disgraced the presidency and does not deserve the respect and attention from Congress and the public that this address has historically received.
Rep. Steve Cohen
  • Rep. Steve Cohen

“We are all for border security but we will continue to disagree whether a $5.7 billion border wall is the answer. Diversity is our strength in this country and the President’s dog whistles about the nation’s golden yesteryears, his call to make America great ‘again’ is a false narrative to millions of Americans who fifty years ago did not enjoy the rights we now recognize for women, for minorities, for people with sexual and gender identity differences and for people with disabilities. We should not go backwards on women’s reproductive rights, voting rights, labor rights or health care.

“The initiative to stop the spread of HIV by 2030 is an admirable goal and I hope that we as a nation achieve it. I’m skeptical however of a plan to deal with this scourge from a President who would cut major safety net programs, like Medicaid, which delivers much AIDS care, and proposed cuts to the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program to give tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy.

“As a senior member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I welcome the President’s call for a major infrastructure plan, but its value will be seen in its details.

“I was pleased to see Alice Johnson of Memphis, whose commutation request I supported, in tonight’s crowd, but I have suggested pardons and commutations should follow a deliberative, prescribed procedure, and be delivered to thousands of people, not to a few dozen people with celebrity sponsors.

“The President tonight called for an end to ‘decades of political stalemate,’ but he has helped create it by attacking House Democrats, Speaker Pelosi and even Republicans like my former Senator Bob Corker who disagree with him. It would be a step in the right direction if members of the President’s own party weren’t routinely blind-sided by ill-conceived, pundit-inspired policies out of right field.

“I’m concerned about the state of the union and hope we can return to making progress on climate change affecting not just our country but the world. We need to have sensible gun reform. We must do more to protect people with pre-existing conditions, those living in poverty and hunger, our veterans and working families. That’s what will keep America great.”

Senator Marsha Blackburn Releases Statement Following State of the Union

Washington, D.C. – Tonight, Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) released this statement following President Donald Trump’s State of the Union Address before Congress:

“President Trump conveyed an inspiring message and a hopeful vision for our country in tonight’s State of the Union message. He expressed confidence in our nation’s future and extended a hand to Democrats to work together, in unity, to produce results for all Americans.
Marsh Blackburn - JACKSON BAKER
  • Jackson Baker
  • Marsh Blackburn

“Bringing Knoxville Fire Chief D.J. Corcoran as my guest was a true honor. He and his wife, Wendy, who attended with Congressman Tim Burchett, lost their 22-year-old son, Pierce, in late December when he was killed by an illegal immigrant. The Corcorans are faith-filled Tennesseans who love their country, their family and their God. They have taken the tragic loss their family experienced and spread a message of hope that no American should have to experience the anguish of becoming an Angel Family. I am incredibly thankful they accepted our invitation to attend as our guests.

“As the president communicated in his speech, the state of our union is strong. Our nation is well-positioned to address our challenges in a way that meets the needs of the 21st century. I look forward to continuing to work with President Trump and with my colleagues of both parties to build on our success for the American people.”

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Cohen Takes Mild Umbrage at Lee's VoTech Plan

Posted By on Wed, Feb 6, 2019 at 8:27 AM

Rep. Cohen
  • Rep. Cohen
Memphis Democratic congressman Steve Cohen was decidedly lukewarm on Tuesday about the program of accelerated K-12 vo-tech education announced earlier in the day by Bill Lee just before the governor left Nashville for the State of the Union address in Washington.

That’s because the congressman has never been fond of state programs that have used lottery scholarship money for funding, and that’s precisely what the governor intends to do.

In releasing the broad outlines of his proposal to step up K-12 vo-tech programs in Tennessee, Lee did not reveal his estimate as to the program’s cost. “We know the real numbers,” he said, “ but we have to let the legislature see it. ... These funds will come from the same funding pool that the other programs funded from the lottery are."

The Tennessee Lottery was a project Cohen labored for more than two decades as a state senator to bring into being, and its original, and still chief, purpose was to provide HOPE scholarships for students needing a source of additional funding for their college education.

The text of the press release containing Cohen’s statement on the governor’s wish to tap the lottery fund follows: “Vocational and technical education are areas in which Tennessee lags, and they can help open job opportunities. But the people of Tennessee voted in 2002 for a Georgia-like HOPE scholarship that rewarded the more meritorious and the more needy. This is what scholarships should do, aim at merit and need. I ‘hope’ someone will recall that and increase HOPE and Aspire Award scholarships.”

All things considered, and Cohen being Cohen, that was fairly accommodating.
The “other programs” mentioned by Lee that have since tapped the lottery fund include Tennessee Promise, which pays for Tennesseans' community college tuition, and TNReconnect, a subsidy for adults continuing their suspended education, both programs cited by Lee as precedents. When the Haslam administration first proposed diverting lottery proceeds to fund these programs, Cohen was critical, insisting that the funds should remain committed solely to their original purpose. But his disapproval was expressed in a much more animated way than was his statement about Lee’s proposal on Tuesday.

The congressman’s reaction to Lee was almost one of resignation, as if he realized that, having lost battles regarding the earlier diversions, he was unlikely to prevail on this newest front of the funding war. Hence his concession regarding the value of increasing vo-tech education and his final sentence, expressing a wish for separate measures to increase the HOPE and Aspire scholarships.

It is still too early to forecast how things turn out. Lee can count on the “honeymoon” effect in expecting lawmakers to accede to his wishes. But few can be as determined as Cohen in pressing a case. It will likely take a while to work out a solution amendable to both officials, but on the strength of what was said by both of them on Tuesday, it can’t be considered impossible.

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Friday, February 1, 2019

The Trump Tariffs and the Memphis Electrolux Disaster

Posted By on Fri, Feb 1, 2019 at 12:17 PM

A Wednesday announcement by U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander of his co-sponsorship of a bill to return control of American tariff policy from the president to Congress ironically highlights the news, a day later, of the Electrolux Corporation’s decision to abandon its Memphis plant.

One section of Alexander’s press release analyzes the probable deleterious effects of President Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs on manufacturing plants in Tennessee:

“In general, steel and aluminum tariffs put in place for national security purposes are a big mistake. No state is likely to be more damaged by these tariffs than Tennessee, because in many ways we are the nation’s number one auto state. One third of the manufacturing jobs in Tennessee are auto jobs. We have more than 890 automotive suppliers — almost all of which use aluminum and steel — in 88 of our 95 counties.

“Just last year, the largest employer in Springfield, Tennessee — Electrolux, which makes home appliances — put a $250 million expansion on hold. Electrolux buys all of its steel from U.S. suppliers, but, of course, when you raise the price on imported steel, the price of U.S. steel also goes up, and Electrolux concluded that it could not be competitive in the U.S. market with these higher prices. Now, if we were moving toward a policy of reciprocity — do for us what we do for you — there would be zero tariffs, and the people of Springfield would have a $250 million plant expansion and the jobs that come with it instead of a 25 percent tax on the U.S. steel that Electrolux buys.”

On Thursday, the day following the press release containing this analysis, residents and officials of Memphis were shocked by the news of a pending shutdown by Electrolux of its plant in Memphis, constructed under a 2010 contract calling for nearly $190 million in state and local government incentives without the protection to taxpayers of a “clawback” agreement.

The giant corporation’s plans were presumably affected by such other circumstances as the recent bankruptcy of Sears, for which Electrolux was a major supplier of home appliances. It seems clear that the same arguments put forth by Alexander regarding effects on the Springfield plant of Electrolux might also have had decisively adverse consequences on the company’s plans for the Memphis plant’s future.

The bill co-sponsored by Alexander would require Congressional approval of tariffs proposed by the president under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 to address threats to national security.

As the Senator’s press release notes, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives Congress authority to regulate trade with foreign nations and to impose tariffs.

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Friday, January 25, 2019

ACLU, Governor Speaking “Same Language” on Justice Reform, Weinberg Says

Posted By on Fri, Jan 25, 2019 at 11:39 AM

Hedy Weinberg at Rotary Club of Memphis - JB
  • JB
  • Hedy Weinberg at Rotary Club of Memphis

Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, wants it on the record: She is confident that Governor Bill Lee is “very committed to criminal justice reform” and that “we speak the same language” on that issue.

Weinberg made the declaration as part of an ACLU goals review on Tuesday of this week in a luncheon address to the Rotary Club of Memphis. And, after she had concluded her remarks, she submitted to a question-and-answer session and was asked by Rotarian Otis Sanford of The Daily Memphian and the University of Memphis if she was “confident” that Lee “will follow through on this and make a difference with this very ultra-conservative legislature.”

Weinberg answered in the affirmative: “I don’t agree with [him on] everything, but I do have confidence and will be very happy to partner with him.”

In his inauguration address last week, Lee addressed the goal of “safe neighborhoods” and promised to be “tough on crime and smart on crime at the same time.” He elaborated: “[H]ere’s the reality. 95 percent of the people in prison today are coming out. And today in Tennessee, half of them commit crimes again and return to prison within the first three years. We need to help non-violent criminals re-enter society, and not re-enter prison.”

In her remarks to the Rotarians, Weinberg praised Lee as well as the Tennessee County Services Association, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce,(the Tennessee Association of Goodwills, and the Beacon Center of Tennessee as partners committed to provide progressive remedies to issues of recidivism, non-violent crime, and what she termed Tennessee’s current policies of “over-incarceration.”

The General Assembly has in recent years seen an increasing incidence of cooperation between legislators of the left and right in bills aimed at criminal justice reform. Though she noted remaining islands of obstruction among legislators, Weinberg hailed what she saw as a dawning era of bipartisan agreement on reform issues.

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Covington’s Rose Easily Wins GOP Nomination for State Senate District 32

Posted By on Thu, Jan 24, 2019 at 10:41 PM

On a flood of Tipton County votes, most of them from 
THE AGONY OF DEFEAT: Lonnie Treadaway, who recently lost his bid to join the Memphis City Council, consoles Heidi Shafer as she confronts the numbers at her election-night party at Exline's Pizza on Stage Road. Shafer was one of three Shelby Countians to lag behind GOP nominee Paul Rose of Tipton County in voting for the Republican nomination for state Senate District 32. - JB
  • JB
  • THE AGONY OF DEFEAT: Lonnie Treadaway, who recently lost his bid to join the Memphis City Council, consoles Heidi Shafer as she confronts the numbers at her election-night party at Exline's Pizza on Stage Road. Shafer was one of three Shelby Countians to lag behind GOP nominee Paul Rose of Tipton County in voting for the Republican nomination for state Senate District 32.
early voting, Covington businessman/farmer Paul Rose easily won the Republican nomination to succeed federal judge Mark Norris in the vacated District 32 state Senate seat.

Three Shelby Countians —former County Commissioners George Chism and Heidi Shafer, and former state Representative Steve McManus — brought up the rear behind Rose, all trailing the Covington candidate even in Shelby County. In Tipton County, Rose’s margin was 83 percent. Cumulatively, he won something like two/thirds of the overall vote in both counties.

None of the Shelby County candidates had anything but marginal vote totals in Tipton. Rose won 4,132 of the 4,632 votes cast there. In Shelby the vote went this way: Rose, 2,266; Chism, 1,512; Shafer, 1,322; McManus, 1,055.

Given the fact of the much larger overall pool of voters in Shelby County, it would seem obvious that a much higher turnout rate in Tipton County, coupled with an apparent determination of voters there to elect one of their own, figured large in the outcome.

Democrat Eric R. Coleman, with 377 votes in Shelby County and 166 in Tipton County won his nomination without opposition and will be matched against Rose on the March 12th general election ballot.

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Saturday, January 19, 2019

In Brief Address, Governor Bill Lee Takes the Oath in Nashville

Posted By on Sat, Jan 19, 2019 at 2:16 PM

Franklin businessman Bill Lee was sworn in as Tennessee’s new Governor on a rainy Saturday in War Memorial Auditorium and delivered a brief inaugural address that reflected his modest, down-to-earth gubernatorial campaIgn.

After thanking his predecessor, Bill Haslam, for leaving him “a foundation to build on,” Lee said Tennessee was “the envy of many states” for the progress of its institutions. He then paid homage to family relations ranging from his wife, Maria, to an ancestor, Charles Braxton Lee, one of Tennessee’s earliest settlers, and vowed to meet the state’s challenges and further its goals.

And he offered a dutiful tribute to “the favor of God Himself.” (One of the hallmarks of his address was the aforesaid brevity; all things considered, it was not much longer than the official prayers: the invocation, offered by Pastor Steve Berger, and the benediction, which included an authentic chant in Hebrew from Dr. Don Finto.)

Lee provided summary once-overs rather than detailed positions, as he set forth a minimalist concept of state government, the purpose of which, he said, was “to protect our rights, our safety, and our freedom.”

He promised to lift Tennessee to “the top tier of states” in education and to combat such social ills as the currently raging opioid epidemic and the rising rate of violent crime. (As for non-violent crime, Lee endorsed the currently modish view that advocates preparing nonviolent offenders for re-entry into society rather than imprisoning them.)

The new governor concluded his address with the words “Thank you for this honor. God bless each one of you, and God bless the great state of Tennessee.”

The inaugural ceremonies were followed by numerous receptions around the capital, including one at B.B. King’s of Nashville sponsored by “the Memphis and Shelby County legislative delegation, cabinet members, deputy to the governor Lang Wiseman, and Department of Children’s Services Commissioner Jennifer Nichols.

Sponsors of the reception included Memphis City Council chair Kemp Conrad, state Senator Brian Kelsey, state Reps. Mark White and Joe Towns, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, FedEx president and CEO Richard Smith, and David Upton.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

No Surprise: Strickland Announces for Reelection

Brandishing a new and favorable poll, Memphis' mayor says he'll have another go at it in the city election of 2019.

Posted By on Wed, Jan 16, 2019 at 12:43 PM

Mayor Strickland - JB
  • JB
  • Mayor Strickland

The least surprising piece of news, surely, of this still young century was officially communicated to the Memphis public Tuesday morning with the announcement that Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland will … run again.

The word “officially” is no metaphor. Strickland’s intent to seek reelection was delivered via a full-page (and front-page) article in The Commercial Appeal complete with a flattering portrait-sized photograph and a respectful recitation of the mayor’s claimed accomplishments in office that might as well have been written by His Honor himself. The total effect was that of a souvenir guide to a ceremonial coronation.

This is not a “sour grapes” response. Regret at not being first with a significant announcement — even a long-anticipated one — is an acknowledgment of the inherent priorities of the news-gathering profession. Nor is it a dis of the lucky reporter who harvested this item; a capable pursuer of information, she is not to be faulted merely because this story was delivered to her via the proverbial silver platter. When asked at a lunch meeting with this runner-up scribe later on why he opted for this means of revelation — as against, say, an open-to-all-comers press availability  — Strickland answered simply, “We judged this to be the best way of getting our story out.”

Which is something to keep in mind the next time we are expected to cluck away in compassionate sorrow at the supposedly dwindling fortunes of our city’s long-lived morning daily — still in possession, apparently, of a circulation list to be envied, and shepherded by the big-bucked Gannett operation against the prospect of corporate adversity.

And despair not. The rest of us will still have some scraps to share — like the poll results of a fresh sampling of voter opinion taken for the mayor by Public Opinion Strategies.

Among its findings:

*That, contrary to what might be assumed, this male white mayor has his lowest approval rating — at 68 percent — among white men and his highest among African-American women, at 74 percent. (Other approval numbers: 73 percent among white women; 72 percent, among black men).

*That Strickland’s “job rating” is adjudged at essentially the same level of approval by almost all sectors of the population. To wit: 71 percent by Republicans, 73 percent by independents, and 72 percent by Democrats; 67 percent by conservatives, 78 percent by moderates; and 66 percent by liberals; 71 percent by Memphians with no college experience and 73 percent by those who have such experience; 72 percent by those whose origins are in the North and 72 percent among native Southerners.

The poll also assigns an ever-rising percentage figure, from 2014 onward, to those who regard Strickland favorably: 33 percent in November 2014; 45 percent in August 2015; 48 percent on September 8, 2015; 56 percent on September 22, 2015 (these last two figures were arrived at just before Strickland’s first election as mayor); and 78 percent in December of 2018.

The Public Opinion Strategies poll was taken of 400 likely voters between December 11th and December 14th and claims a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.9 percent. The polling group is the same one that provided what turned out to be on-target samplings for Strickland four years ago, and it was arranged, as in 2015, through the auspices of consultant Steven Reid.

In lunch conversation on Tuesday, both Strickland and Reid laid special stress on such talking points as the upward trend of police and fire hires and the administration's plans to achieve universal pre-K instruction within two years without need of a tax increase.

For all his polling numbers, Strickland seems to have maintained an unassuming attitude toward his image in the community. Asked whether he thought he was readily identifiable by the public, he gave the matter a test, asking the waitress at Tug’s, where we ate, if she knew what he did for a living. “You’re the mayor of Memphis,” she answered, bearing the smile of one who had just answered successfully on a quiz show.

Strickland seemed pleased, but not overly so. He reiterated a statement he has made previously — to the effect that he rarely reads the resident media, except in the case of informed commentary regarding an issue laid before him for action. And he maintains that he never reads social media at all.

That means he would have missed a Facebook thread from last week, one featuring a chorus of criticism from a corps of the the mayor's designated dissenters. In the case at hand, their complaint was not so much with Strickland per se, as with the reportage of what he said at his annual New Year’s Eve prayer breakfast — specifically the mayor’s verbal embrace of causes and occasions close to the hearts of many of his African-American constituents.

To the dissenters, this was all malarkey, and to report it without a litany of clarifying dispraise amounted to giving Strickland, in the words of one kibitzer, a “big wet sloppy kiss.” If the Public Opinion Strategies poll is as accurate an eye on reality as those done by the same firm for Strickland during his successful campaign of 2015, the would-be debunkers might owe the world a re-think.

They will, of course, have the available put-up-or-shut-up remedy of disproving the poll by providing a viable opposing candidate to Strickland, who vows that this year’s election contest will be his last one, ever.

We’re open to being convinced as to alternate outcomes. And, as noted in its opening paragraphs, this article does not purport to be an official or semi-official account from the horse’s mouth. To embroider upon the elegant metaphor of the aforementioned critic, it is but a case — with no salacity intended — of sloppy seconds.

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