Archive for the ‘Tennessee’ Category

GOP Overreach

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

It’s crystal clear that Tennesseans have soundly rejected the extremist GOP agenda rammed through the state legislature this year.

A new, statewide Vanderbilt University poll found that support for the Republican-led state legislature has “plummeted 20 percentage points since January.

The GOP honeymoon is over and Tennesseans are riled up like never before over lawmakers stripping teachers of their right to collectively bargain for smaller class sizes, school supplies, and text books while cutting millions from public and higher education budgets.

Attacking teachers and our public schools is outrageous!  Please contribute $5 or more to help us fight back.  A generous Democrat will match your gifit dollar-for-dollar making your donation go twice as far.

Teachers and public education weren’t the only targets of the GOP.

Since January we have seen a systematic assault on Tennessee values:

  • IGNORED JOBS CRISIS. In 2010, Republicans campaigned on a platform of jobs, jobs, jobs. Less than one year later, the majority party buried its head in the sand and ignored the crisis facing 300,000 Tennesseans looking for work. And since the GOP took charge, Tennessee’s unemployment rate has climbed to nearly 10 percent.
  • LAVISH RAISES. Gov. Bill Haslam made cuts to important health programs while handing out more than $250,000 worth of raises to his top cronies, all of whom already made six-figure salaries. One commissioner even got a 32% raise — in his first week on the job!
  • PROTECTED PREJUDICE. The GOP gave into the radical right-wing of its party, bowing to demands to overturn Metro-Nashville Council’s CANDO ordinance that required businesses with city contracts to employ non-discrimination hiring policies.

Click here for a more complete look at damage done by Republicans this year.

In short Republicans junked their promise to strengthen the state economy and create jobs in favor of ideological pet projects that harm our families and the least among us.

This poll shows that Tennesseans regret giving Republicans a chance behind the wheel and have quickly become sick of their reckless driving.

Tennesseans are not interested in political retaliation against teachers, they want good schools for their children.

Tennesseans are not interested in the anti-woman demands of the far right, they want to make sure their mothers, sisters and babies are healthy and well cared for.

Tennesseans are not interested in protecting reckless corporations from the damage they do, they want to protect victims and hold corporations responsible for their actions.

Republicans have given us no reason to think they will come to their senses in 2012. Last month Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey bragged on Facebook:

“This year was just an appetizer. Next year, and in the years to come, you will see the main course.”

Whatever Ramsey has in mind, you can rest assured it won’t be good for Tennessee.

If you want to stop the GOP’s radical agenda and put Tennessee on a  path to a thriving economy where prosperity is shared by all, a path where a good education is available to every student, regardless of their circumstance, a path where government serves the people and is not beholden to moneyed special interest then stand with us.

Your gift of $5 or more will be matched dollar-for-dollar, doubling your effort to take back our state for working and middle class Tennesseans.

We can win this fight, but we can’t do it without your support.

 

An Overview of the 2011 General Assembly

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

After just five months of Republican control in the General Assembly and the Governor’s mansion, things in Tennessee are getting worse.

“How bad is it?” Wendi Thomas of The Memphis Commercial Appeal wrote. “It’s so bad I may have to say I’m from Mississippi.”

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Help Tennessee Democrats fight back against this extremist agenda by making a $5 gift to the TNDP

In short, this year Republicans junked their promise to strengthen the state economy and help people find work in favor of ideological pet projects and radical social engineering that takes the wheels off the notion of responsible governance.

Democratic State Sen. Andy Berke summed it up this way:

“There are many things that we’ve done this year that are going to hurt Tennessee, and ultimately, the people who passed them will pay a cost for that… [Tennesseans] don’t want to see the radical agenda that is being pushed through.”

The Jobs Con

In 2010, Republicans campaigned on a platform of jobs, jobs, jobs. Less than one year later, the majority party buried its head in the sand and ignored the crisis facing 300,000 Tennesseans looking for work.

Since Republicans took charge, Tennessee’s unemployment rate has climbed to nearly 10 percent — even while across the nation, the jobs picture in 47 states has stabilized or improved. [Bloomberg, 5/20/11]

The response? Republicans systematically killed a dozen Democrat-sponsored jobs bills aimed at boosting the economy, including a popular sales tax holiday for small business purchases.

Then Governor Bill Haslam and Republicans slashed funding and fired 60 business recruiters at the Department of Economic & Community Development — the organization that lured international corporations like Volkswagen, Nissan, Amazon.com, and Hemlock to Tennessee, securing more than 200,000 jobs and $34 billion in economic investment.

And even further, Republicans endangered 3,900 new jobs and potentially two more Amazon.com distribution centers by threatening to renege on agreements made between the state and Amazon.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press:

“Legislators passed not a single bill that would improve job creation or put people back to work… The notion that lawmakers could leave Nashville celebrating such reversals and derogation of the needs of ordinary working people across the state is stunning. The only reason we can be glad that lawmakers finished the session is that it prevents them from wreaking more damage.”

Damage, indeed. Here is what happened:

ATTACKS ON TEACHERS & PUBLIC EDUCATION: The attacks on teachers and public education defined the Republicans first legislative session in power of both state houses.

“Last year we had Race to the Top. This year we have dive to the bottom.” – Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga

The session’s most contentious legislation was the Republican-led effort to repeal the collective bargaining rights of public school teachers. Teachers rallied by the thousands against measures that unfairly targeted them and the millions worth of spending cuts to public schools.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said the changes would be damaging for Tennessee students:

“Republicans have taken away the job security of our veteran teachers, stripped their ability to negotiate for things like text books, janitorial services & basic school supplies, opened the door to for-profit charter schools and nearly ripped millions from the public school system with a voucher proposal.

“Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey & his counterparts call this reform, but our teachers & the people of Tennessee know better. This is not reform; it’s regression.”

COLLECTIVE BARGAINING BAN: Republicans repealed the Education Professional Negotiations Act ending an era of teacher solidarity, one in which the TEA had bargained with school boards across a wide range of matters in most of the state’s school districts. As a result, our teachers are angry, demoralized and tire of being blamed for the problems facing our education system.

CHARTER SCHOOLS EXPANSION: Gov. Haslam and Republicans expanded charter schools, potentially hurting our neediest children and families by draining traditional public schools of top performers and resources.

VIRTUAL SCHOOLS: Virtual schools, online education run by for profit corporations that  poach millions of tax dollars from public schools. Online schools could be gateway to school vouchers.  Rep. Mike Stewart said it sets “a dangerous precedent” and  will lead to public school money being siphoned off by private for-profit corporations.

CAPS ON HOPE SCHOLARSHIP HOURS: With the cost of tuition increasing at Tennessee colleges and universities, the legislature decided to cut funding for student scholarships. The cap on the 120 hours paid for by the lottery scholarship has students and parents worried about how to pay for degrees that go over the limit.

LAVISH RAISES. Gov. Bill Haslam made cuts to important health programs while handing out more than $250,000 worth of raises to his top cronies, all of whom already made six-figure salaries. One commissioner even got a 32% raise — in his first week on the job!

LT. GOV. RAMSEY GAVE SECRET PAY RAISES TO STAFFERS, TOO: Not to be outdone by Gov. Haslam, Channel 4 News discovered that Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey approved pay increases for 18 senate staffers at the same time salaries were frozen for the other 42,825 state employees.

Channel 4 News: They just got it because Ramsey felt they deserved it. “There’s nothing wrong with that — nothing,” said Ramsey. [Channel 4 News,5/23/11]

WINED & DINED BY LOBBYISTS AT $500,000 WORTH OF PARTIES: Special interest groups spent at least $519,000 this year wining and dining state lawmakers. Last year, even though the legislative session was longer, only $390,000 was spent.

The view of Sen. Andy Berke:

“Special interests play an outsized role in our government and especially in our legislature… It’s difficult not to look at what goes on in the legislature and worry about the individual citizen having his proper say, also.”

TRIED TO CUT TAXES FOR WEALTHY FRIENDS: Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey filed a bill that would have gave his millionaire friend and campaign donor a $270,000 property tax break on high-end real estate in Rutherford County. [The Daily News Journal, 4/10/2011]

USED TAX DOLLARS TO BUILD ROADS FOR SPECIAL FRIENDS: Days into office, Gov. Haslam brokered a backroom deal to have the Tennessee Department of Transportation build a private road to a well-heeled Republican business owner. Seeing it as a waste of taxpayer money to build a road for the benefit of a single business, Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen refused to pay for the road for six years. [KnoxNews.com, 4/3/11]

PROTECTED PREJUDICE: The GOP gave into the radical right-wing of its party, bowing to demands to overturn Metro-Nashville Council’s CANDO ordinance that required businesses with city contracts to employ non-discrimination hiring policies. Major businesses, such as Nissan and FedEx, criticized Republicans for their overreach, stating that their companies are committed to equal rights and protections for all Tennesseans. Furthermore, the Senate passed Stacey Campfield’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill which, as originally introduced, would make it illegal for teachers to even mention homosexuality before the 9th grade, even if to address bullying at the school. [WPLN, 5/24/11]

ATTACKS ON VICTIMS: By setting an arbitrary cap on the damages a citizen jury can award, Republicans put a price of $29 a day on the lives of victims who suffer horrific injuries at the hands of reckless corporations or medical malpractice.

Tennesseans are not interested in protecting reckless corporations from the damage they do, they want to protect the rights of victims and hold corporations responsible for their actions.

Caps on jury awards was Haslam’s pet project — perhaps because his multi-million dollar business is tied up in a lawsuit stemming from a citizen being killed at a Pilot gas station owned by the governor. [WSMV.com, 3/2/11]

ATTACKS ON WOMEN’S PRIVACY: If the constitutional amendment Senate Joint Resolution 127 is approved by voter referendum in 2014, Tennessee’s constitution would no longer protect a woman’s right to an abortion — even in cases of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother.

ATTACKS ON WOMEN’S HEALTH: In a partisan witch hunt Republicans defunded Planned Parenthood in Tennessee. The callous decision will cut more than $1 million worth of funding that provides medical exams, cancer screenings, tests and treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, family planning, counseling and birth-control services for more than 5,000 residents every year.

ATTACKS ON THE OUTDOORS: Republicans killed common-sense legislation that would outlaw the destructive practice of mountaintop removal in Tennessee and preserve our scenic vistas, the water we drink, and the air we breath for generations to come.

ATTACKS ON RELIGION: In an affront to the American principal of religious tolerance, Sen. Bill Ketron’s “anti-terrorism bill,” originally outlawed some practices of Islam and sparked demonstrations by Tennessee Muslims. The bill was amended twice — once to delete any references to religion and then again to merely restate what’s already in federal law.

ATTACKS ON LOCAL GOVERNMENT: In a move that would seem to contradict their constant calls for limited government, Republicans expanded government control over cities by blocking the Memphis City Schools-Shelby County Schools merger that was passed overwhelmingly by a voter referendum and overturned Metro-Nashville Council’s CANDO ordinance that required businesses with city contracts to employ non-discrimination hiring policies.

ATTACKS ON ACCOUNTABLE ELECTIONS: House Bill 386 gutted the Voter Confidence Act, a law that was passed with broad bipartisan support to protect the integrity of our electoral process. The Voter Confidence Act made it mandatory for county election commissions to use voting machines that produce a verifiable paper trail in case of a recount.

ATTACKS ON FREE ELECTIONS: Republicans reduced the number of days in early voting and passed a photo ID requirement that has been called an unconstitutional “poll tax.” The photo ID requirement will make it harder for seniors, students and those who don’t drive to exercise their voting right.

ATTACKS ON FAIR ELECTIONS: On the same day the Senate passed a bill to allow corporations to donate to individual candidates, it banned the Tennessee Education Association from collecting political dues. Corporations were given more of a voice while teachers were silenced. Loud and clear, Republicans said: “Corporations deserve a bigger say in Tennessee elections than people.” Tennessee will now have contribution limits among the highest of any state.

NEXT YEAR

Haslam and Republican leaders have nearly eight months until the 107th General Assembly reconvenes in January to conspire new ways to put special interests before the interest of Tennesseans.

Rep. Mike Stewart on the upcoming legislative session in 2012:

“A lot of this stuff was just pushed off to next year. There’s no chance that we won’t be back arguing about guns on college campuses, anti-union measures again next year.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey confirmed our worst fears:

“Tennessee Republicans have talked a lot about what we would do when we took power. Now we are showing what we can do. This year was just an appetizer. Next year, and in the years to come, you will see the main course.”

RADICAL LEGISLATION YOU CAN EXPECT TO SEE IN 2012

CLASS SIZE INCREASES: Governor Haslam is already on the record of saying he is in favor of lifting the cap on class sizes. To handle more students, all you need is a “great teacher,” Haslam says. As if Tennessee didn’t already have great teachers.

PRIVATE SCHOOL VOUCHERS: Sen. Brian Kelsey sponsored a bill that failed this year to allow taxpayer money to be spent on private schools (including parochial schools), poaching money away from students in public schools.

GUNS ON CAMPUSES: A bill uniformly opposed by ALL Tennessee universities and university police departments would allow guns to be carried on campuses, potentially putting students at risk.

ARIZONA STYLE IMMIGRATION LAWS: We will likely see a new version of House Bill 1380, which was inspired by the controversial Arizona law. The law would give state and local law enforcement officers unprecedented authority over our civil rights by allowing an officer to make a determination if you look like an American. The Arizona law has brought on expensive legal battles and cost the state millions of dollars worth of lost tourism.

A TAKE OVER OF MEDICARE: The state Senate voted recently to take the first step toward ending Medicare as we know it in Tennessee by calling for a radical plan called a “health-care compact.” Such a plan would handover Medicare to the state, potentially leading to thousands of seniors losing benefits, being denied coverage, or simply falling through the cracks.

Gov. Haslam’s Comments On Class Size Will Trouble Teachers

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

One second Governor Bill Haslam applauds Tennessee teachers. The next moment Mr. Haslam subtly paints Tennessee teachers as broadly ineffective.

Recently Mr. Haslam gave us more of the later.

Addressing a group of young women, the governor said that class size doesn’t matter. He followed it up by saying, “having a great teacher with 25 students is better than having a mediocre teacher with 18 students.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 6/1/11]

Doubling down on this thinking, Mr. Haslam said his goal is “to push our education [system] toward making sure we have a great teacher in front of every classroom regardless of the classroom size.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 6/1/11]

Is the hunt for “great teachers” an implication that the majority of Tennessee teachers are not “great teachers” — regardless of classroom size?

And he says there’s no morale problem.

The Chattanooga Times Free Press chastised Haslam for his plan to increase classroom size:

In fact, relying on the myth that “quality teachers” are all that matters will only add to teachers’ burdens.

Gov. Haslam’s comments came in an address in Nashville to hundreds of rising seniors attending the Volunteer Girls State leadership program. He also used the “quality teachers” theme to justify the authority he successfully secured from the Legislature this spring to tighten teacher tenure standards.

He said those standards, which both extended the time needed for teachers to receive tenure from three to five years, and made tenure more conditional, were key to his efforts to “push our education (system) toward making sure we have a great teachers in front of every classroom regardless of the classroom size.”

That’s gimmickry baloney. In reality, his tenure bill, like his charter school initiative and the Legislature’s new ban on teachers’ bargaining rights and political action committees, are political ploys, not education improvements. As a practical matter, it will take much more to pull Tennessee’s public education ranking out of the cellar.

While no one denies that a great teacher can do wonders in a child’s education, lower class sizes can have an across the board positive impact on student achievement.

The amount of research done on the effects of class size is extensive, and all of it comes to the same conclusion. Smaller class size is a concrete, measurable, and replicable way to increase student achievement.

QUESTIONS LINGER

Mr. Haslam’s comments open the door for many questions about his education agenda for next legislative session:

»   Do you plan on increasing class size limits or eliminating the caps?

»   Do you plan on extending the school year?

»   Do you plan on pay raises for “great” teachers?

»   Who decides which teachers are “great”?

»   How would you entice more of these “great teachers” to Tennessee? Pay? Benefits? Job security?

»   Larger classrooms means fewer teachers. What is the plan for firing teachers who are not “great”? Should mass layoffs be on the table?

»   Is the relentless “reforming” of education an effort to solve a problem that could be caused, indirectly, by other factors you’re not addressing, i.e. 300,000 jobless Tennesseans, poverty, etc.?

Democratic Party Chairman Urges Governor to ‘Act Responsibly’

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 17, 2011

$60M in Federal Jobless Benefits for 28,000 Tennesseans Lost if Republicans Fail to Act

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester issued the following statement urging Gov. Bill Haslam and Republican legislators to pass law to reinstate jobless benefits for 28,000 Tennesseans:

Partisan politics shouldn’t threaten the economic future of 28,000 Tennesseans who can’t find work due to a recession that was no fault of their own.

Gov. Bill Haslam and Republican legislators haven’t lived up to their promise to create jobs, and now their negligence is jeopardizing critical financial support that is keeping children fed, bills paid and families out of foreclosure.

We’ve seen harmful bills that rob citizens and teachers of their rights get all the attention this session. Now Republicans have a chance to make an actual difference by fixing their screw up.

Mr. Haslam needs to prove he’s serious about governing – not scoring political points. The livelihood of nearly 30,000 citizens is on the line. Republicans owe it to these hurting families to act responsibly.

FACTS:

US Department of Labor estimates unemployment benefits give taxpayers a 2-to-1 return on investment. For the modest expenditure of less than $2 million, Tennessee would receive $60 million, which translates to $120 million of economic activity, according to a study commissioned by the labor department. The study suggests these dollars are injected quickly into the local economy and could potentially add more than $5 million directly to state sales tax collections. [US Department of Labor, 11/10]

Democrats scramble on to revive jobless benefits that Republicans failed to prioritize. Republicans, who control the General Assembly and set the legislative schedule, failed to pass a law to extend unemployment benefits for 28,000 jobless Tennesseans. Now legislative Democrats are pushing to reinstate the benefits, with House and Senate committees scheduled to meet Monday to consider last-minute bills to resurrect the program. Success would bring nearly $60 million in federal funds to pay up to 20 more weeks of benefits for Tennesseans unable to find jobs in a still-fragile economy. But it’s unclear whether Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and the Republican-controlled General Assembly will go along. [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 5/15/11]

GOP Sen. Mark Norris says Haslam administration signaled they wouldn’t pursue bill to extend jobless benefits. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris said today that state Employment Security Administrator Don Ingram last week “made it very clear that the administration’s position at least had been that they didn’t intend to pursue it.” [Chattanooga Times Free Press, 5/16/11]

 

Haslam’s move on economic development abandons past success

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

By State Sen. Lowe Finney

State Sen. Finney

State Sen. Lowe Finney

Gov. Bill Haslam’s announcement concerning the restructuring of the Department of Economic and Community Development came as a surprise to both of us, as well as to our constituents. The department is generally recognized as one of the best in the country, and Tennessee has repeatedly been named one of the top places in the nation for businesses, entrepreneurs and relocations. Now, Gov. Haslam indicates that his changes will make Tennessee the best place in the Southeast for jobs. We fear he is lowering the bar to claim success.

When Governor Phil Bredesen took office in 2003, one of the biggest criticisms of the previous administration was its inability to attract jobs from outside the state. So Gov. Bredesen focused on leveling the playing field for businesses to invest in Tennessee, no matter where they were from. As a result, the department brought in 200,000 jobs and more than $34 billion in economic investment. It is directly responsible for luring Volkswagen, Hemlock, Nissan, Wacker Chemie, Electrolux, Bridgestone and numerous other businesses to Tennessee. In a recession, Tennessee was creating jobs and attracting companies. As the national economy recovers, one would expect such efforts to reap even greater rewards.

But Gov. Haslam says that he can do better at growing jobs by cutting positions and focusing on in-state businesses, rather than attracting businesses from across the country to Tennessee. He has every right to do so, and we are cautiously optimistic that his plan will create jobs across the state. To be fair, however, we must note that Gov. Haslam is talking about focusing on the very companies that Gov. Bredesen attracted. Now, the governor is saying that if such opportunities present themselves in the future, he will not make it a priority to attract them to Tennessee. It’s the wrong message to send.

Our unemployment rate remains stagnant while the national rate declines. The administration just celebrated its first 100 days in office — yet if you lost your job on the day Gov. Haslam won his election, your unemployment benefits expired this week. There is no time for celebration. We should be doing everything we can to grow jobs in Tennessee, through a combination of working with established companies while continuing to convince new businesses to relocate here. Instead, the governor is cutting 71 positions, more than half of whom are community planners who typically assist communities in developing long-term economic plans. These services are invaluable in rural areas we serve, many of which have double-digit unemployment rates.

Gov. Haslam has not indicated how he will administer these services under his plan, and there has been no mention of whether cutting staff equates to cutting expenses. The governor has already given huge pay raises to many of his cabinet members, and he insists that it is the right thing to give these increases to them instead of veteran jobs-growth officials. We hope that he will at least save Tennessee taxpayers some money in the process.

When it comes down to it, the governor’s announcement is not a jobs plan. Instead, it amounts to chair shuffling in an attempt to refocus the state on job creation, while drawing attention away from bills that propose a state currency for Tennessee, attack teachers and disenfranchise voters. There is no doubt that such a move is needed during a legislative session that has been about anything but jobs. But never forget that when watching a magician perform, it’s not the hand he is waving so dramatically that is performing the trick. It is his other hand that is creating the illusion. In the case of the governor’s proposals, the hand he is not waving is in your pocket.

Democratic Businessman Mike McWherter Launches “Out of the Blue”

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

April 20, Democratic businessman Mike McWherter rolled out a daily news service for Tennesseans looking for news that covers the fight to provide opportunity for all Tennesseans.

We’re excited that Mike is using his strong voice to speak to these important issues.

You can read the announcement and sign up to receive emails from McWherter’s new website BlueTN.com:

Tomorrow you will be receiving a daily e-mail from me titled “Out of the Blue.” It is designed to summarize the “Daily Buzz” of events happening around the state. It is not designed to be an “editorial,” but rather a short version of comments by others from around the state on current affairs. Of course, with the legislature in session, many of the comments will center on their activities for now. My hope is this information will be useful in generating “coffee shop” talk throughout our state and provide you with commentary to engage in meaningful dialogue with your friends and acquaintances. Please feel free to forward this information onto others with whom you wish to share.

During my campaign for Governor, I realized a need to capture traditional and new media content in an easily accessible format to measure the thoughts of various constituencies. I am truly grateful to my supporters from the gubernatorial campaign, and in launching this communication tool, my goal is to help keep them informed. Many of you may be like me in finding it difficult to have the time to navigate all the different sources available online. This is an attempt to summarize the “daily buzz” from around the state. Trace Sharp, former newspaper editor and social media expert, has graciously agreed to staff this effort. I hope you find it useful and informative.

So many candidates walk away and “fold the tent” following their races. I want to remain an active Democrat and do everything I possibly can to promote the values our party. Due to the recent illness of my father, Governor Ned McWherter, we were forced to delay this venture, but now we are moving forward. Let me assure you, this is not an attempt to usurp any efforts by our leadership, but merely to help enhance communication efforts. United we can stand and develop an environment in our state which serves everyone, not just a privileged few.

To sign up to receive Out of the Blue use the form on the right.

Sincerely,

Mike McWherter

TNDP Statement on the Passing Gov. McWherter

Monday, April 4th, 2011

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester, who served on Gov. McWherter’s first gubernatorial campaign, issued the following statement Monday:

“I’m saddened by the loss of one of Tennessee’s great Democratic leaders. I had the high honor of serving in his first campaign for governor and count him as one of my true political mentors. His gift of understanding what working people cared about and his vision for what Tennessee could become has inspired me my entire political career. Gov. McWherter was every man and he was bigger than life. We have a lost a great one.”