News

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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Slatery Named New Tennessee AG

Herbert Slatery has been unanimously selected the new Tennessee Attorney General by the state Supreme Court. Slatery is currently chief legal counsel to Gov. Bill Haslam. Prior to that appointment, he was in private practice in Knoxville with Egerton, McAfee, Armistead & Davis PC for 30 years. A Knoxville native, Slatery earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia and law degree from the University of Tennessee. The Nashville Post reports Slatery said he was humbled and "profoundly grateful" for the apppointment and promised "no quick wholesale changes" to the office. Soon after the announcement current Attorney General Robert Cooper released a statement congratulating his successor and expressing his gratitude to those who served with him.

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Ramsey Cites Favorites for AG, Comments on Election

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he is monitoring the attorney general selection process and has talked to three of the candidates – Republicans Doug Overbey, Herbert Slatery and Bill Young. “Between those three … I don’t have a favorite. I hope [the justices] just choose the most qualified one.” Speaking to The Nashville Scene and other reporters for the first time since his unsuccessful campaign to unseat three of the state’s Supreme Court justices, Ramsey praised the court for holding an open hearing of the candidates, but was critical that the final decision is going to be made “behind closed doors.” Ramsey also talked about the judicial selection vote, saying, “The people spoke. That’s what it’s all about. Their message that we don’t want partisan politics in the judiciary won out, even though I do think that’s almost comical because I do believe there’s partisan politics in the judiciary.”

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Appeals Court Reinstates Defamation Suit Against Campfield

The Tennessee Court of Appeals reinstated a defamation lawsuit against Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield yesterday, finding that the lower court erred in throwing out the $750,000 lawsuit filed by former Roger Byrge, a Democratic candidate for the state House in 2008. The appellate panel also found that the facts of the case might justify a finding of “actual malice” by Campfield, the Johnson City Press reports. The case stems from a blog post Campfield wrote claiming that Byrge had multiple drug arrests and that the mug shots were “gold.” It was later determined the arrest record belonged to Byrge’s son. Campfield was defeated in the Republican primary last month but his term does not end until after the general election in November.

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Howell Takes Oath as New State Representative

Republican Dan Howell of Cleveland was sworn in early as the new state representative for House District 22 in a ceremony yesterday, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee administered the oath of office in the House chamber. Howell will fill the two months remaining in the term of former Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, who was elected Bradley County sheriff and took office earlier this month. Howell won the GOP primary and faces no opposition in the Nov. 4 general election.

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Kyle Gets Democratic Nod, Will Face GOP's Flinn

Shelby County Democratic Party leaders yesterday selected Sara Kyle as the party's nominee in the special election for state Senate District 30. Kyle is the wife of Jim Kyle, who resigned the seat when he was elected to the Shelby County Chancery Court in August. She also is a former member of the Shelby County Public Service Commission and the Tennessee Regulatory Authority Commission. Kyle beat former Democratic state Sen. Beverly Marrero by two votes. Former Memphis City Council member and state Rep. Carol Chumney had applied for the nomination but withdrew just before balloting began. Kyle will face former Shelby County Commissioner George Flinn, who was selected by Republican Party leadership. Local party members were tasked with choosing nominees because there was not time for a primary election under state law. The Memphis Daily News has more.

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Sen. Norris: Attack on Supremes Leaves ‘Bad Taste’ for Amendment 2

Tennessee Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris says that last month’s heated fight to unseat three Supreme Court justices has likely shot Amendment 2 in the foot, the Nashville Post reports. Aggressive advertising aimed at unseating the justices in the August primary election hurt both those who wanted to push out the justices and those urging voters to constitutionalize much of the state’s method of selecting them, he said. “If you get an ad that says, ‘Oh, we don’t want this in Tennessee,’ when that’s exactly a plateful of what we were just served, that can backfire,” Norris stated.

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Rep. Howell to be Sworn in Monday

Dan Howell will be sworn in during an official ceremony on Monday as the new state representative for House District 22, filling the remaining term of Republican Rep. Eric Watson, the Chattanoogan reports. The ceremony will be at 1 p.m. in the House chamber in Nashville. Howell won the Republican primary for the seat in May and will not face a Democrat challenger in November.

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Kyle Seeks AG Opinion on Succession

State Sen. Jim Kyle is asking the Tennessee Attorney General for a legal opinion on how the process will work for putting his Senate seat on the November ballot and how party nominees should be chosen. Kyle is leaving the legislature two years into a four-year term after he was elected this month to the Chancery Court. In seeking the opinion, Kyle cites “the confusion and the ambiguity of the statute” that governs the process. In related news, the Shelby County Democratic Party executive committee had been set to select a nominee for the Senate seat tomorrow but have put off that meeting until more guidance is available. The Memphis Daily News has both stories.

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Witnesses Announced for Criminal Justice Hearing

State Sen. Brian Kelsey today released the names of 26 witnesses scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee Sept. 15-16 regarding proposed state criminal justice reforms. The witnesses include Attorney General Robert Cooper, Court of Criminal Appeals Judge John Everett Williams, TBI Director Mark Gwyn, Department of Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons, Parole Board Chair Richard Montgomery, and several academics, mayors, district attorneys, public defenders, attorneys and law enforcement officers. See the full list on Chattanoogan.com.

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Tracy Concedes Primary to DesJarlais

State Sen. Jim Tracy today conceded the Fourth Congressional District Republican primary to U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, giving up on a nearly two-year campaign that he lost by just 38 votes. While he said he saw evidence that the race was even closer, Tracy said he did not want to hurt the party by prolonging the election any further. The Tennessean reports that while Tracy did not explicitly endorse DesJarlais, he made his loyalty to the party clear. DesJarlais will face Democrat Lenda Sherrell in the November general election.

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GOP Lawyers ‘Eyeing Possibility’ of AG Appointment

A recent article in the Tennessee Journal suggests that a number of Republican lawyers are “eyeing the possibility of becoming the first Tennessee attorney general to carry the party’s label since Reconstruction.” Among those being mentioned as challengers to AG Robert Cooper are Bill Young, director of the Administrative Office of the Courts; Herbert Slatery, counsel to the governor; state Sen. Doug Overbey; Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris; Tom Lawless, chairman of the Governor’s Commission on Judicial Appointments; and Safety Commissioner and former Memphis district attorney Bill Gibbons. Of the group, only Overbey has said he plans to apply, according to the journal. Knoxnews reporter Tom Humphrey also looks at the topic, suggesting that the justices likely will have to evaluate attorney general candidates through a political lens and select the applicant in their best political interest.

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