News

Election Panel Dismisses Complaint Against Haslam

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance voted today to dismiss a complaint against Gov. Bill Haslam for failing to disclose how much he paid outside adviser Tom Ingram. The panel voted 3-1 to throw out the complaint filed by former state Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester. Ingram was Haslam’s top campaign adviser during his successful 2010 bid for governor. After his election, Haslam paid Ingram out of his own pocket for political and policy advice. Forrester argued that Ingram's political advice was inherently related to Haslam’ re-election effort and should have been disclosed. The Memphis Daily News has the story from the Associated Press.

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Memphis Lawyer Wins Primary for Deberry Seat

Memphis lawyer Raumesh Akbari has won the Democratic primary special election for Tennessee House District 91 – the seat held by Lois Deberry until her death this past summer – the Memphis Daily News reports. Akbari will face James Tomasik, an independent candidate and chairman of the Libertarian Party of Tennessee, in the general election Nov. 21. Akbari earned her law degree in 2009 from the Saint Louis University School of Law.

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Sen. Chambliss to Speak at UT Law Next Week

U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, a 1968 graduate of the University of Tennessee College of Law, will speak at the school Oct. 4 at noon in the Baker Donelson Classroom (Room 132). Presented as part of the Joel A. Katz-Sun Trust Lecture Series, Chambliss will reflect on his 18 years on Capitol Hill, which included eight years in the U.S. House of Representatives and 10 years in the U.S. Senate where he has focused on homeland security, intelligence and agriculture issues. The event is free and open to the university community. Read more about the event and Chambliss’ background on the law school’s website.

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Sen. Norris Elected Chair of National Government Group

Tennessee state Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, was elected chair of the Council of State Governments at the group’s annual meeting held recently in Kansas City. Norris, the Senate Republican majority leader, is the first Tennessean to chair the group, The Commercial Appeal reports. The council is a national bipartisan professional association composed of members of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of state governments. “It is an honor to lead this organization and continue the tremendous work that it has done throughout the United States and North America,” Norris said. He will ascend to the position in December.

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Early Voting Starts Wednesday for DeBerry Seat

Early voting opens tomorrow in the Democratic primary for State House District 91 and runs through Oct. 3, with regular voting following on Oct. 8. The winner in the seven-way primary to fill the seat vacated by Lois DeBerry will advance to a Nov. 21 special general election and face Jim Tomasik, who is running as a Libertarian. No candidates filed in the Republican primary. The Democratic primary race shrank by one earlier this week when Dwight DeBerry, who claims he is related to the late legislator, was disqualified based on a conviction for aggravated robbery and assault in 1992. The Memphis Daily News has more on both stories.

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McWherter Won’t Repeat Run for Governor

Former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter says he will not make a repeat run for governor next year, though he claims that incumbent Bill Haslam has brought a “culture of corruption” to state government. McWherter lost to Haslam in the 2010 election. Though he may not run, there may be another McWherter campaign afoot. The paper reports McWherter is trying to recruit his wife, Mary Jane McWherter, to seek the state Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson. The Memphis Daily News and Knoxnews have more on the story.

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Burks to Retire from State Senate

State Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, will retire at the end of her current term, the Herald-Citizen reports. Burks has represented the Upper Cumberland area since 1998 when she made history as the first ever “write-in” candidate to win a Senate seat following the death of her husband Sen. Tommy Burks. Much of her focus in office has been in the areas of education, domestic violence and children’s issues. Burke has been an eight-time recipient of the “Legislator of the Year” award from the Tennessee Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence and achieved national recognition from the U.S. Attorney General’s Foundation for the Improvement of Justice. To show appreciation for the constituents of her district, Burke will host a reception Oct. 10 at the Leslie Town Centre in Cookeville from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.

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More States Now Have 2014 Ballot Items Affecting the Courts

An updated special edition of Gavel to Gavel again reviews the eight states now confirmed to have 2014 ballot items substantially affecting the courts. The publication notes that Tennessee’s case is interesting in that there is no back up system in place in case the quasi-federal system SJR 2 is rejected by voters and there is no longer merit selection in place.

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Kookogey Withdraws from Tea Party Forums

Former Williamson County Republican Party Chairman Kevin Kookogey is calling himself an “unannounced candidate” for the U.S. Senate, The Tennessean reports. Kookogey made the announcement after attending the first of several forums designed to identify a tea party challenger to take on Alexander. “Thank you for inviting and allowing me to participate in the Beat Lamar forum yesterday in Nashville,” Kookogey wrote. “As an unannounced candidate, however, I have decided to withdraw from the remainder of the scheduled events, lest my attendance confuse your process.” Kookogey did not respond to inquiries as to when he might officially join the race.

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Book Review: COUP

The Day the Democrats Ousted Their Governor, Put Republican Lamar Alexander in Office Early, and Stopped a Pardon Scandal

By Keel Hunt | Vanderbilt University Press | $27.50 | 248 pages | 2013

This review gives you two opinions — one from Judge Walter Kurtz and one from Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle.

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11 File for Seat in Special House Election

The line up of candidates seeking to fill the state House seat held by the late Lois DeBerry now includes 10 Democrats and one Libertarian, the Memphis Daily News reports. After DeBerry’s death in July, Gov. Bill Haslam ordered a special general election for District 91. The Shelby County Election Commission has set Oct. 8 for a primary and Nov. 21 for the special general election.

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Pair to Introduce Hemp Farming Bill

Following Kentucky's lead, Tennessee may be seeing the start of a pro-hemp farming contingent in the state legislature. According to the Associated Press, two Republican lawmakers, Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains and Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden, are drafting legislation to legalize commercial farming of hemp. The duo plan to introduce the measure in the next legislative session. Kentucky and six other states have passed measures legalizing hemp though federal law prohibits it. Niceley, a farmer, said introducing the measure would "put pressure on Congress" to repeal the prohibition. The Clarion Ledger has a link to the story.

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Carr Switches Races, Will Challenge Alexander

State Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, has dropped out of the race to challenge U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais and refocused his sites on the U.S. Senate and the seat of incumbent Lamar Alexander. Carr announced the move today but the campaign got off to a rocky start, The Tennessean reports. The word “Senate” was misspelled on the campaign website and Carr’s campaign director Chip Saltsman resigned. “I signed up to help you run for Congress, not the Senate,” Saltsman said in a letter announcing his departure. “It is because of Lamar Alexander that people like you have the honor of serving in the majority of the state legislature.” Saltsman went on to say he was supporting Alexander's reelection. Meanwhile, state tea party leaders welcomed Carr to the race but said others will likely step forward as well.

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National Bar Leaders Focus on Judicial Merit Selection

Bar leaders from across the country learned about challenges to judicial merit selection and retention in Tennessee and other states at a presentation today during the National Conference of Bar President's annual meeting in San Francisco. TBA Executive Director Allan Ramsaur moderated the session, which featured TBA Immediate Past President Jacqueline Dixon, along with Iowa State Bar Immediate Past President Cynthia Moser and Gwynne Young, immediate past president of the Florida Bar. While much of the debate to date in Tennessee has taken place in the legislature, both Florida and Iowa were recently involved in extensive public campaigns leading up to elections.

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Holleman Launches 70-Mile Walk for Senate Campaign

Nashville Metro Councilman Jason Holleman launched a 70-mile walking tour of Senate District 21, exactly one year from the democratic primary election. Holleman says he plans to spend the next seven days meeting with voters and visiting local businesses, the Tennessean reports. Holleman faces attorney Jeff Yarbro in the race to replace longtime state Sen. Doug Henry.

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Opinion: Judicial Selection Proposal Creates ‘Politically Charged’ System

Former Sevierville judge Charles S. Sexton writes in Saturday’s issue of Knoxnews that the legislature’s current proposal for selecting appellate judges is a “politically charged system where a few powerful members…can exert their influence to ensure their preferred candidate is placed before the governor without regard to judicial temperament, legal abilities, peer review and an impeccable reputation for honesty and integrity…” Sexton also argues that while House and Senate leadership say the issue is about electing judges, the plan under consideration does not require direct elections.

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Wyrick Urges Members to Call a Legislator

"Our legislators are not actually hearing from very many members of our profession," TBA President Cindy Wyrick writes in her August TBJ column. "On the other hand, they are hearing from a large number of doctors, dentists and business owners. … Life is about relationships, and those who influence us the most are those with whom we have built relationships of trust and respect. Your legislators are no different from the rest of us. … The time is now for our 12,000 members to take the steps necessary to become a powerful voice for our profession."

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No Third Term for Finney

Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, will not run for re-election when his second term in the legislature ends, Nashville Public Radio reports. Finney, who chairs the chamber’s Democratic Caucus, said “change is good” in making the announcement. The 37 year-old lawyer praised those who serve for decades but said "there are other things in life to consider at this point" including spending more time with his family.

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Legislators Tout Favorable Tennessee Rankings

Tennessee’s top rankings for everything from low debt to net job growth were showcased by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and other Northeast Tennessee lawmakers at a Kingsport Chamber of Commerce Legislative Barbecue Tuesday night, the Times News reports. “Tennessee is getting award after award and recognition after recognition for the way we’ve run the state,” Ramsey, R-Blountville, said at the event attended by about 150 business leaders at the Kingsport Farmers Market.

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Funeral Arrangements Set for Late Rep. DeBerry

The family of the late Tennessee Rep. Lois DeBerry announced plans for her funeral today. Family members are invited to a graveside service at Elmwood Cemetery Saturday at 11 a.m. A public “legacy celebration” will follow at noon at First Baptist Church Broad, located at 2835 Broad Ave., Memphis 38112. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, the National Black Caucus of State Legislators’ Lois M. DeBerry Memorial Fund or Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church. The Commercial Appeal reported the details.

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Memphis Lawmaker Dies from Cancer

Lois DeBerry, the longest serving member of the Tennessee House of Representatives died Sunday (July 28) from pancreatic cancer. DeBerry, 68, was the first black woman from Memphis to be elected to the House and climbed the ladder higher than any other African American woman in the chamber, earning the title of Speaker Pro Tempore. She served for more than 40 years. The Commercial Appeal and the Memphis Flyer have more on her life. Donations in DeBerry's honor may be made to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network at www.pancan.org. Funeral arrangements were pending at press time.

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Tenn. Black Caucus Calls for Review of 'Stand Your Ground' Law

In response to the not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the state legislature’s Black Caucus last week called for a review of the so-called “stand your ground” statute Tennessee has on the books. "Over the next few months, we will work with our fellow Representatives to review Tennessee’s ‘stand-your-ground’ law to determine whether portions of the law need to be repealed or replaced in order to ensure the safety of all Tennessee residents,” Rep. Larry Miller, a Democrat from Memphis and chairman of the Black Caucus, said in a July 17 statement. The Murfreesboro Post has the story.

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Political Consultant Made Campfield ‘Robo Calls’

The head of a Knoxville political consulting firm has admitted responsibility for an automated telephone survey asking voters their opinion of state Sen. Stacey Campfield. But Ben Farmer, owner of Cyragon LLC, maintains that he had no intention of harassing voters or attacking Campfield, Knoxnews reports. In an interview with the TBI, Farmer explained that the survey was an internal test and a computer glitch caused 2,000 targeted voters to receive multiple calls. The TBI has been investigating the “robo poll” at the request of District Attorney General Randy Nichols. Campfield said the explanation for the calls was “ridiculous” since Farmer is a supporter of Richard Briggs, a Knox County commissioner and physician who has declared himself an opponent to Campfield in the 2014 Republican primary.

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Fitzhugh Will Not Challenge Haslam

The lone Democrat to voice interest in running against Gov. Bill Haslam for governor said he will not mount a gubernatorial challenge but stick to running for re-election to his West Tennessee House district instead. “I’m committed to continuing as leader and trying to run for my representative position again,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh told The City Paper. Fitzhugh also said he wanted to focus more of his energy on getting Democrats elected to the state House of Representatives.

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TBA President Sets Record Staight on Judicial Selection

In a guest column in the Memphis Commercial Appeal today, TBA President Cindy Wyrick defends the state’s judicial selection system and corrects several mischaracterization made in a recent opinion piece from Washington, D.C., lawyer Stephen A. Vaden. Wyrick writes that the current system “provides a balance of accountability to the citizens and insulation from undue political influence and pressure, which are both very important to the selection of a well-qualified and diverse bench.” She also expresses opposition to a constitutional amendment that voters will consider in 2014. “If the … amendment … is adopted, a single individual — the governor — will be free to select whomever he wishes for the bench, without the input of anyone. The governor’s choice would then be subject to confirmation by the members of both houses of the General Assembly, which would certainly politicize the process.” Wyrick concludes by calling on readers to “contact their legislators and ask them to retain our merit selection system.”

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