Tags: Tennessee

Adding a Layer of Accountability to Judicial Appointments in Tennessee


“You want two things in judges,” Justin Owen, president of the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a told me in a recent interview. “You want them to be independent and you want them to be accountable.”

This is the goal of supporters of the effort to pass Amendment 2 to the Tennessee constitution. Amendment 2 enjoys bipartisan support with current Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen endorsing it.

If voters pass Amendment 2 this November, the Tennessee general assembly would have the authority to confirm a governor’s nomination of any supreme court and appellate-court judges.

Currently, the governor selects state judicial replacements from a group of nominees presented to him by a selection committee. Justices go on to serve an eight-year term, after which they may seek another term in a general voter-retention election.

Under this system, only one supreme-court justice, since 1971, has been removed from the bench.

In August, all three justices on the ballot were retained, each garnering more than 55 percent of the vote.

“This adds an important new check and balance on the current system,” John Crisp, communications director for the Yes on 2 Committee, told me.

Amendment 2 challenges the legitimacy of the retention election process, something several lawsuits — including one brought by the Beacon Center — failed to do, Owen says.

The Tennessee constitution simply says, “The judges of the supreme court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.” Owen and others have argued the current process of retention elections does not satisfy this requirement.

“The question then became: Do you continue the court battles to fight the system, or do you work to amend the constitution?” Owen explains.

Support for Amendment 2 is far from unanimous.

Former Democratic nominee for governor, John Jay Hooker, agrees the current method for judicial selection is unconstitutional, but wants the selection process and not the constitution changed.

“My great grandfather was part of the constitution convention in 1871,” Hooker told me. “They debated for three days about whether judges should be appointed like the federal system or elected. Their decision is very clear.”

“The state constitution says that judges shall be elected by the qualified voters,” Hooker told Tennessee Watchdog reporter Chris Butler. “It’s pretty hard to misunderstand that language.”

This Tennessee Plan adopted by the legislature in 1971 allowing the governor to appoint judges is “preposterous” and has always been illegal, Hooker says.

“It’s like someone steals a car, gives it to you, you know it’s stolen, but you drive it any way,” he says.

Hooker, however, thinks the language of Amendment 2 makes it difficult for voters to understand what language in the state constitution they are being asked to change.

“Shall Article VI, Section 3 of the Constitution of Tennessee,” the ballot question begins, “be amended by deleting the first and second sentences…. ”

“They are being asked if they want to change Article Six, Section 3, but aren’t even being given what the language is,” he says.

But, Crisp argues that, “it would be like reading a book on the ballot” if the constitutional language relating to all the proposed amendments were given to voters at the polls.

“With four constitutional amendments on the ballot, I think the legislature decided to present all of the amendments as directly as they could, with the replacement language clearly spelled out for voters to review,” he countered. 

Hooker argues Tennessee should adopt the direct election process currently utilized by 22 other states across the country. 

Tags: Tennessee

GOP AG Chair ‘Guardedly Optimistic’ about Nov.


Alan Wilson, chairman of the Republican Attorneys General Association told me in a phone interview he is feeling “very good” about GOP incumbent attorneys general holding onto their jobs this November.

Of the 25 seats Republicans currently hold nationwide, 17 are up for election this year. On Monday in Tennessee, the state supreme court appointed Republican Herbert Slatery.

Wisconsin, Colorado, and Arizona are the only red states in which the incumbent is not running for reelection. Races in those three are very competitive, said Wilson, South Carolina’s AG.

“We have a great slate of candidates in these states and believe that we will be able to hold just about every red state,” Wilson said. “We are guardedly optimistic about our chances in those three states. We have strong candidates in each that are doing very well in their campaigns.”

With Democrat AGs in Nevada, New Mexico and Arkansas not running again, Wilson is hopeful Republicans can make some inroads.

Wilson told me he is very proud Republicans have women running for AG in New Mexico and Arkansas.

“Right now, Florida is the only state with a female Republican AG,” Wilson said. “We have the opportunity to increase that number to four if Riedel, Rutledge, and Coffman are successful this November.”

Susan Riedel is running in New Mexico, Leslie Rutledge in Arkansas, and Cynthia Coffman in Colorado.

“Over the last six years, the states have lost ground to the federal government and it is the state attorneys general who stand in the delta between the people and the federal government,” Wilson said. Wilson emphasized the critical nature of these elections. “This is why we need strong rule-of-law AGs who will fight in the courts and represent [the people of their states].”

Tags: South Carolina , Wisconsin , New Mexico , Arkansas , Nevada , Colorado , Tennessee , Arizona , Florida

Bob Cooper Replaced as Tennessee Attorney General


Rejecting incumbent Democrat Robert Cooper, the Tennessee supreme court has selected Herbert Slatery III, the first Republican in state history to serve as the state’s next attorney general, the Tennessean reports.

Slatery, 62, served as Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief legal counsel prior to his appointment to the AG’s office which will become effective immediately.

Cooper has served a single term since 2006. Cooper and Slatery were among six finalists from which the supreme court made its selection.

Tennessee is the only state in the country giving its supreme court the power to choose the attorney general.

Republican Lt. Gov. Rob Ramsey and several conservative organizations challenged the court’s appointment power as a system rigged to favor Democrats.

Conservatives led an unsuccessful campaign to defeat three Democrat justices in last month’s retention election.

With Democrats still controlling the state’s high court, the fate of the AGs office was left “in the hands of judges originally nominated by trial lawyers in an unconstitutional manner,” Grant Everett Starrett, president of Tennesseans for Judicial Accountability said.

Ramsey, however, applauded the court’s selection Monday. “Slatery will be a strong advocate for the people of Tennessee and a vigilant defender of Tennessee’s conservative reforms,” he said.

The Republican Attorneys General Association also released a statement shortly after the announcement congratulating Slatery on his appointment.

“We are very pleased by the appointment of Mr. Slatery. His previous experience in private practice coupled with his current role as legal counsel to Governor Haslam will make the transition to Tennessee Attorney General seamless,” RAGA chairman and South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said.

RAGA also notes that with the selection of Slatery, Republicans now hold 25 attorney general seats across the country.


Tags: Tennessee

The 2014 Governors’ Races That Aren’t Really Races


From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

The 2014 Governors’ Races That Have No Actual Races

Yesterday I mentioned that Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval heads into 2014’s general election with no major competitors on the Democratic side. There are two other 2014 governors races where, so far, the state Democratic Party has effectively chosen to concede.

In Tennessee, incumbent Republican Gov. Bill Haslam faces a primary challenge… from a guy whose primary issue is that he wants the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to return his pet raccoon. You see, he really enjoyed showering with his raccoon, and no, that’s not some obscure metaphor.

Presuming Haslam can survive that challenge, he’ll head to the general election Democrats have two guys no one has ever heard of and who have no web sites, and Mark Clayton. No, not the Miami Dolphins receiver from the 1980s.

He’s run before, and embarrassed the state party last cycle, too:

In Tennessee, Clayton’s policy ideas set him apart from many other Democrats: He is unusual in opposing abortion rights and same-sex marriage, but he’s downright exceptional in saying that the Transportation Security Administration “mandates [transsexuals] and homosexuals grabbing children in their stranger-danger zones.”

He has been a volunteer for Public Advocate of the United States, a Falls Church-based organization that was branded a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-gay rhetoric.

During Clayton’s failed Senate run in 2008, his Web site suggested that the U.S. government might be replaced with a “North American Union” and that Google was working against him at the behest of the Chinese government.

Heck of a pick, Tennessee Democrats! I can see why you love this guy! The state’s filing deadline is April 3, and the Tennessee primary is August 7.

What’s really remarkable is that from 2003 to 2011, Democrat Phil Bredesen lived in the governor’s mansion, and he won 68 percent in his reelection bid in 2006. Breseden departs, and the bench is empty.

It’s a similar story in Wyoming, where incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Mead is still missing a Democrat opponent. (Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill is challenging Mead in the GOP primary.) Some may scoff, “it’s Wyoming, the state of the Cheneys, of course the Republicans are dominant” – but Mead was preceded by Democrat Dave Freudenthal, who won narrowly in 2002 and then by a wide margin in 2006. Here we are, eight years later, and the Democratic bench for the top of the ticket race isn’t just weak; it’s nonexistent.

For comparison, in Idaho, Democrats are running a member of the Boise school board against a two-term incumbent. At least he’s done something and his campaign platform isn’t primarily about fighting the vast conspiracies out to get him.

There’s one state where Republicans are still looking for a candidate:  Vermont, where incumbent Peter Shumlin can pretty much schedule his inauguration ceremony for next year. For prespective, he’s pledging the state will have single-payer by 2017, even though it’s missing deadlines – sound familiar? – and other state Democrats are publicly expressing worries.  Emily Payton’s web site lists her as a “Republican/Independent” but she clarifies on her blog, “After the primary she will continue as an Independent for Governor representing De Udder Party candidate.” She also “insists a complete overhaul of US [sic] monetary systems is needed,” which is a tall order for an aspiring governor of Vermont. The Green Mountain State already has a declared Marijuana Party candidate for governor.

There are blue states where Republicans have some little-known candidates carrying their flag in the gubernatorial races, but few where their dearth of talent compares to the Democrats in Nevada, Tennessee, and Wyoming.

In Maryland, where Martin O’Malley is term-limited, Republicans have county executive David Craig and state delegate Ron George, as well as businessman Larry Hogan and Charles Lollar. All underdogs, but at least some of those guys have run and won races before; Lollar’s currently serving as a Major in the Marine Corps Reserves as an Intelligence Officer. Serious guys.

In Massachusetts, where Deval Patrick is term-limited isn’t running for a third term, Republicans have 2010 nominee Charlie Baker, a former state cabinet official under Governors Weld and Cellucci, and former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, as well as Mark Fisher.

In Rhode Island, where technically-independent Lincoln Chaffee announced he wouldn’t seek a second term, Republicans have Cranston Mayor Alan Fung and entrepreneur Ken Block. Fung, the first Asian-American mayor in the state, running Rhode Island’s third-largest city, has been elected mayor three times and before that won a seat on the city council race.

In California, Republicans have State Assemblyman Tim Donnelly and former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Neel Kashkari. It’s understandable Republicans might want to write off a state that rejects Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman for Barbara Boxer and Jerry Brown, but neither one of these guys is likely to be an embarrassing amateur.

(You know who else is running for governor in California? Cindy Sheehan. I wonder if she wonders where the media went, and why they never call her anymore.)

Anyway, this gubernatorial crop is a good sign for Republicans; you want your best players out on the field, no matter the odds, because you never know when that heavy favorite might suddenly have a gaffe, get caught in a scandal, or somehow otherwise implode. 

Tags: Vermont , Tennessee , Nevada , Wyoming

A Clear, Direct Campaign Slogan: ‘This Is All About the Raccoon.’


Who says Tennessee Republicans don’t have a wide variety of options?

A Tennessee man who lost his pet raccoon after a video of him showering with his other raccoon went viral on YouTube is running for governor in order to get back his faithful companion.

Mark “Coonrippy” Brown will take on Governor Bill Haslam in the Republican primary this August in a bid that he hopes will get Rebekah away from state wildlife officials and back into his arms.

“This is all about the raccoon,” Brown said.

I would love to see a poll of Tennesseans asking them what they think the state government’s top priority ought to be: economic growth, tax reform, environmental protection, health care, or “the raccoon.”

Tags: Tennessee

Dramatic Shifts in Early Voting in Tennessee, North Carolina


Charles, a Campaign Spot reader in Tennessee, took a look at the totals after the first day of early voting in his state:

All Obama Counties in Tennessee

2008: 36,144

2012: 25,317

Change: -30%

All McCain Counties in Tennessee (except Henry which has not reported 2012EV totals):

2008: 71,846

2012: 94,588

Change: +31.7%

Data for 2008 early vote by county can be found here; data for 2012 early vote by county can be found here.

He concludes:

While Tennessee is not competitive in 2012, these results show a complete shift in voter enthusiasm from 2008 to 2012.  Total voter turnout statewide on day one of early voting was up about 10 percent compared to four years ago, but voter turnout increased 31 percent in McCain counties while it dropped 30 percent in Obama counties.

Meanwhile, Jeff Dobbs takes a similar look at North Carolina, and finds:

Total Votes: 50,674

Dem: 13,887 = 27.4%

Rep: 27,455 = 54.2%

Unaffiliated: 9,255 = 18.3%

Libertarian: 77 = 0.2%

Compare that with 2008:

Dem: 51.4%

Rep: 30.2%

Other: 18.5%

He concludes:

The 2012 numbers are breakouts by registration, not by vote cast (of course, you can’t vote for unaffiliated!). But certainly if some assumptions are made — it appears there has been a complete flip of the parties, at least at this point. But we are in the early part of early voting.

Tags: North Carolina , Tennessee

Making Progress in Tennessee


Tennessee is closer than ever to adopting a method of judicial selection that every Tennessean could be proud of. 

Yesterday afternoon, the Tennessee Senate approved by voice vote an amendment (SJR 710) that would bring Tennessee’s judicial-selection method more in line with the U.S. Constitution, by allowing the governor to appoint judges with confirmation by the legislature. The amendment seeks to obviate the criticism most frequently leveled against the federal method — that it facilitates obstruction — by establishing that “confirmation by default occurs if the Legislature fails to reject an appointee within sixty calendar days of either the date of appointment.”

The measure has the support of Governor Haslam and House Speaker Harwell, who requested some of the particular language. Before final passage, it must be read twice more in the Senate and approved by the House. In the Senate, Lieutenant Governor Ramsey and Senate Majority Leader Norris have both pledged to pass SJR 710 as part of a deal with Leader Norris. The House is expected to take action on and conform a companion to SJR 710 in committee today, with further action on the floor soon thereafter.  

As I have been reporting, state officials in Tennessee have been engaged in a very intense debate over the direction the state should take when it comes to picking judges. Some want elections, some want the Missouri Plan, and some want the federal method. A broad coalition of organizations have weighed in to support a modified federal method, believing that it is the consensus option and the only method that can garner the level of support necessary to amend the state constitution.  

We are happy to be part of that coalition, which includes traditional-values advocates like the Family Action Council of Tennessee and the Tennessee Eagle Forum, free-market advocates Americans for Prosperity–Tennessee, and the non-partisan business coalition Tennesseans for Economic Growth. I expect others from the business community and the conservative community to join in support of SJR 710 as it advances.  

We will know a lot more in the next few days. If all comes to fruition as we hope, conservatives across the country should thank Governor Haslam and Tennessee’s legislative leaders for taking a principled position on the important issue of judicial selection. 

Tags: Tennessee

TN Dem Says Pelosi Should Step Down


Like most Democrats this year, Tennessee congressional candidate Brett Carter would like to distance himself as much as possible from the party leadership. But Carter is taking that sentiment to a whole new level, saying it is “incumbent” on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to step down:

In an interview with POLITICO Thursday evening, Carter slammed Pelosi as a polarizing figure whose leadership of the Democratic Caucus imperiled the party’s House majority and said it was time for someone else to take her place.

“She has become a lightning rod who is keeping us from getting our message out,” said Carter, who also criticized Pelosi for her support of the financial bailout package. “This takes away a baseball bat that Republicans are using to beat us over the heads incessantly.”
“We’re going to lose control with the position we’re in now,” he said. “This is something that a lot of Democrats aren’t saying but are thinking.”
Carter is running against Republican state Sen. Diane Black for the seat held by Rep. Bart Bordon (D., TN-6), who is retiring. Carter faces an uphill challenge in a district that voted 62 percent for McCain in 2008, but for Democrats looking for a way to appeal to voters this fall, he may be onto something.

Tags: Tennessee

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