News

Democrats Elect First African American Leader

The five-member Senate Democratic caucus elected Memphis Sen. Lee Harris to the post of minority leader Tuesday, making him the first African American to serve in that role. Harris, a freshman legislator who unseated Ophelia Ford in the August election, beat out longtime Sen. Reginald Tate for the job in a secret ballot. Sen. Jeff Yarbo of Nashville was elected to the No. 2 position of caucus chairman. Both leaders are lawyers. The Nashville Post has more.

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Third Anonymous Email Urges Harwell’s Ouster

Tensions between House Republicans are growing as an image depicting Speaker Beth Harwell as a puppet of House Clerk Joe McCord is circulating among legislators, the Nashville Post reports. The image is the latest of three sent to lawmakers in recent weeks – all from anonymous email accounts. They all have urged members to reject Harwell for being weak on conservative issues. The latest image, though, also calls on members to support Rick Womick for the leadership post.

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Former State Rep. Emmitt Ford Dies

Former Tennessee state Rep. Emmitt Ford died last night at Methodist Hospital in Memphis, Action News 5 reports. Ford, who was 70 years old, was elected to the state House in 1974 as a representative of District 86, which includes Memphis and parts of Shelby County. He resigned in 1981 after being convicted of insurance fraud and tax evasion. Funeral arrangements were not available at press time.

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Report: Carr Mulling Bid for GOP Chair

Former state Rep. Joe Carr, who in August won 41 percent of the vote in his primary challenge of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, says he is mulling a bid for chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party. The Chattanooga Times Free Press first reported Carr was considering running against current Chairman Chris Devaney for the job because of what he called a “growing and unsettling division within the Republican Party.”

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Amendment Votes Challenged as Illegal

Opponents of two constitutional amendments approved last week are questioning the state’s process for counting votes on the measures. John Jay Hooker, an opponent of Amendment 2, predicted that a challenge to that measure’s vote total would be filed this week. Opponents of Amendment 1 filed suit Friday. In yesterday’s Tennessean, Frank Daniels writes that 1,352,608 Tennesseans voted in the governor’s race while 1,385,178 (32,570 more) cast ballots on Amendment 1 and 1,365,071 (12,463 more) cast ballots on Amendment 2. Under Article XI, Section 3 of the Tennessee Constitution, amendments must be approved by “a majority of all the citizens of the state voting for governor.” The Secretary of State's office, however, says that provision has never been interpreted to exclude votes on a proposed amendment.

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Campfield Drains Account with Final Constituent Letter

A week before the end of his term in office, former state Sen. Stacey Campfield emptied his taxpayer-funded constituent communications account by spending $2,248 on a farewell letter to people in his district. He also transferred funds to three colleagues. Sen. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, received $500, while Sens. Steve Southerland, R-Morristown, and Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, each received $250. Richard Briggs, who beat Campfield in the Republican primary and went on to win the general election, will inherit a balance of $15.39, Knoxnews reports.

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Former Rep. Rich Takes Seat on Parole Board

Former state Rep. Barrett Rich is starting a new career in public service as a member of the Tennessee Board of Parole, the Associated Press reports. Rich, a native of Fayette County, represented the 94th House District from 2008 to 2014. He was named to the board in August but could not take office until his term officially ended on Nov. 4. Rich will serve through Dec. 31, 2019. The Memphis Daily News has the AP story.

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Candidates Lining Up for Democratic Party Chair

Mary Mancini, who lost a close state Senate primary race to newly elected Jeff Yarbro, and Gloria Johnson, the Knoxville state representative who lost her re-election bid last week, have announced their intentions to run for state Democratic Party chair, Knoxnews reports. Knoxville lawyer Terry Adams, a U.S. Senate candidate who lost his primary race, also is expected to join the race, the paper says. Today, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported that former congressional candidate Lenda Sherell is considering a bid as well.

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Haslam Establishes Council for Judicial Appointments

Gov. Bill Haslam announced today that he has issued Executive Order No. 41 establishing the Governor’s Council for Judicial Appointments – a group of 11 members that will recommend candidates to fill vacancies for state trial and appellate courts. The action follows approval of a constitutional amendment establishing a new method for selecting judges on the state Supreme Court and intermediate appellate courts in Tennessee. “This council will allow us to select men and women of the highest caliber to ensure a fair, impartial and independent judiciary,” Haslam said. “The people have spoken in approving the constitutional amendment, and Tennesseans can feel confident about our judiciary under this process.” The new council replaces the commission Haslam previously established. The AOC has more.

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Womick to Challenge Harwell for House Speaker

State Rep. Rick Womick of Rockvale announced yesterday that he is running for speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, the Daily News Journal reports. Womick will challenge incumbent Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville to lead the House in the 109th General Assembly. The chamber is set to vote on new leaders Dec. 10.

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State Announces Twitter Feeds for Election Night

Secretary of State Tre Hargett has released six Twitter channels his office will be using next Tuesday for those interested in following election results. For updates on the success of four constitutional amendments follow @tnconstamend. For state Senate races follow @tnsenategen. For state House races follow @tnhousegen. And for U.S. congressional seats, @tnussenate will track Senate candidates while @tnushouse will report on House candidates. For general election news try @tngovelection. The TBA will also be providing election news on its Twitter channels, @TennesseeBar and @TennBarJournal.

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Hooker Questions How Votes are Counted

John Jay Hooker is raising concerns that the method for counting votes does not pass constitutional muster, the Tennessean reports. The longstanding interpretation of the state constitution has been that to be ratified, proposed amendments must receive a majority of the number of votes cast in the governor’s race. Hooker, who is one of the leading opponents of efforts to write the state’s plan for merit selection of appeals judges into the Tennessee Constitution, argued in a letter to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday that only voters who both cast actual ballots in the governor’s race and vote on the amendment should have their votes counted on the amendments.

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3rd District Candidates Go Head to Head

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann and Democratic challenger Mary Headrick met for a one-on-one debate just a week before the Nov. 4 election. The two are battling for the 3rd Congressional District seat, which Fleischmann has held for the last two terms. The candidates tackled issues ranging from sending U.S. troops to fight ISIS, health care reform, abortion law and veterans’ affairs. The Chattanooga Times Free Press has more.

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Daschle, Baker Donelson Form New Policy Group

Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle has joined with the law firm of Baker Donelson to form The Daschle Group, a new public policy advisory group, the firm announced today. “Launching The Daschle Group in affiliation with Baker Donelson gives us the opportunity to provide first-class strategic counsel with the support of one of our nation’s leading law firms,” Daschle said. The group will be located in Baker Donelson’s D.C. offices. The Nashville Post has more.

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House Speaker Open to Governor’s Bid

Republican state House Speaker Beth Harwell is open to a possible run for governor, the Tennessean reports from the Associated Press. In an interview with the Paris Post-Intelligencer, Harwell said she would “certainly be interested” in running for statewide office. Harwell became the state’s first female House speaker when she was elected by the chamber in 2011.

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Ballot Language Vexes Voters

Hamilton County election officials say confusing ballot language has been the only hiccup during early voting for the Nov. 4 election. Hamilton County Election Administrator Kerry Steelman said while confusion about the four amendments on the ballot is "not pervasive," it has been "the most common concern vocalized this election." According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the amendments include arcane legal language and reference changing parts of the constitution without saying what is being replaced, and, in the case of Amendment 4, don't give voters any indication of what the amendment aims to accomplish.

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Judge: Partisan Politics Have No Place in Judicial Elections

Rutherford County General Sessions Judge Ben Hall McFarlin writes in a guest column about his experience running for office recently, urging that judicial races should not include partisan politics. "In a judge's deliberations and administration of state law, political party considerations simply have no role and should not," he writes in the Murfreesboro Daily News Journal.

Opinion: Amendment 2 Preserves Voters' Judicial Retention Rights

In an opinion piece in the Jackson Sun, attorney Bradford D. Box urges voters to support Amendment 2 in the Nov. 4 election and explains why the amendment is needed. "Our appellate judges must be accountable to the people they serve, and Amendment 2 gives Tennesseans a strong voice in every step of the process: we elect the governor, we elect the legislature and we vote for the judges in retention elections." Amendment 2, he writes, "strikes the proper balance between maintaining accountability to the people and continuing to ensure that we have the qualified, fair and impartial judiciary Tennesseans want and deserve."

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Votes in Governor's Race Will Affect Outcome of Amendments

Voters have differing opinions on who they should support in the upcoming gubernatorial race, and they realize that voting at all is important to the outcome of the proposed amendments to the state constituion. This is true since the bigger the turn-out in the governor's race, the more "yes" votes will be required for any amendment to pass. Two of the state's top Democrats disagree on who should get their votes. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis has urged fellow Shelby County Democrats to vote for John Jay Hooker, the Democratic nominee for governor in 1970 and 1998 who is running as an Independent this year. State Democratic Chairman Roy Herron said in an interview that he will personally vote for the official Democratic nominee, Charles V. “Charlie” Brown, 72, a retired construction worker from Morgan County. Read more about the politics of voting to raise the threshold needed for the Constitutional amendments in Knoxnews.com and in the Daily News Journal.

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Haslam, Bredesen Voice Support for Amendment 2

In an opinion piece in the Tennessean this past weekend, Gov. Bill Haslam and former Gov. Phil Bredesen write that "passing Amendment 2 will bring clarity and certainty to the way Tennesseans choose the 29 appellate court judges who serve statewide in Tennessee." Haslam, a Republican, and Bredesen, a Democrat, have come together with others to support it, "because there have been numerous legal challenges in recent years to the way we select appellate court judges in our state. Although the courts have repeatedly upheld Tennessee’s system as constitutional, these challenges, and the confusion and uncertainty they create, persist."

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TBA Survey on Court-Appointed Attorneys Closes Soon

Respond by Wednesday to take part in the TBA's survey on court-appointed work and the filing of related fee claims with the Administrative Office of the Courts. Your feedback will help shape policy, so please take a few minutes to fill out the SurveyMonkey questionnaire about your experience with court-appointed work. All responses will be kept anonymous. In addition, if you would like to be a part of the TBA’s efforts to change the rate of compensation for court-appointed attorneys or speak to your legislator about the issue contact TBA Public Policy Coordinator Josie Beets, (615) 383-7421.

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Grand Jury Recommends Criminal Charges for Ramsey, Harwell

A grand jury in Nashville has recommended criminal charges be filed against Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, for failing to appoint enough women and minorities to the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, the Associated Press reports. The grand jury found that the pair “willfully and arrogantly ignored the law requiring these appointments be made in proportion to the population of the state,” but did not specify which laws were violated. Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk is reviewing the grand jury report and will make the final decision on whether to file charges according to his office. The Johnson City Press has the story.

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Alexander, Ball Agree to Candidate Forum

Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander and Democratic challenger Gordon Ball will both attend a candidate forum hosted by the Tennessee Farm Bureau Oct. 16, Nooga.com reports. The forum will be held at Tennessee Tech University in Cookeville on the same day early voting begins.

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Sen. Summerville Arrested for Public Intoxication

Outgoing state Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, was arrested on one count of public intoxication last Friday, the Tennessean reports. Officers responded after witnesses said an intoxicated male was walking down the street with a lawn chair. Summerville was booked at the Dickson County jail and released on $2,000 bond. He also was cited for carrying an open container. Summerville was first elected to the state legislature as a Republican in 2010 and lost his primary re-election bid in August. His term is scheduled to end in January.

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Panel Begins Discussion of Criminal Justice Reforms

Legislators and law enforcement officials are talking about criminal justice reform this week, WRCB reports. The Senate Judiciary Study Committee met today at the Legislative Plaza in Nashville to start the work. Presenters were to include Tennessee Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield, Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, as well as city and police officials, district attorneys and criminal justice advocates. 

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