Kyle Addresses TN Federation of Democratic Women Convention
Senate Leader Discusses Past Successes, Bright Future of Party
Murfreesboro, Tenn.—Democratic Senate Leader Jim Kyle told a capacity crowd of Democratic women that they have been the backbone of the party in Tennessee during their 50 year history, and will be the engine of political change for our future.
“We are facing tough times in our current political climate, but these are not the first tough times we have seen,” said Kyle. “In the 1970s, we had a Republican governor and two Republican senators, but lucky for us we have risk takers who were willing to put themselves on the line and take back those seats.”
Kyle also pointed to the cities of Tennessee as a great building block for the future of the Democratic Party.
“The 6 largest cities in Tennessee have Democratic mayors at the helm,” Kyle said. “These executives have the proven ability to handle budgets, promote growth, and can be the deep candidate bench we need to draw from for future statewide races.”
Sen. Kyle spoke at the Tennessee Federation of Democratic Women Convention that was held on Saturday at the Embassy Suites in Murfreesboro. The group, which boasts over 2500 members in Tennessee, gathered to elect new officers and discuss their platform for the year. The theme of the convention this year was “Politics and Pearls.”
State Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis says Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly are becoming like “Dixiecrats” – the Southern segregationist Democrats in the U.S. Congress in the late 1940s who formed their own party for a time.
“They sound like Dixiecrats … in the sense that we disagree with the federal government’s position on a major policy issue – health care – therefore we are going to claim states’ rights and say that’s not what we ought to be about,” Kyle said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.”
His comments came Friday, April 26, during a discussion including Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown about the just-ended yearly session of the legislature.
“We had the same things happen in the ’50s and ’60s,” Kyle added on the program hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News.
The program can be seen on The Daily News Video, www.memphisdailynews.com.
Kyle was responding as Kelsey talked about legislation he sponsored, and which was passed, that ended prevailing wage and living wage ordinances approved by local governments including those in Shelby County.
“I don’t think that it’s inconsistent with principles of federalism. I think it (Kyle’s reasoning) is a misunderstanding of federalism,” Kelsey said. “Cities and counties did not band together to fight off the British to create their own state and then preserve certain rights to local governments. It was the states that did that and when they created the U.S. Constitution they preserved certain rights to the states.”
Kyle said the result in the case of the state law allowing for the creation of municipal school districts in Shelby County and about two dozen other communities in the state is a different kind of conservatism and a state government that is now accountable for local education.
“That is the biggest change we’ve had in government since the Republicans have become the super majority,” Kyle said. “We have taken more and more away from local governments if we don’t agree philosophically with what local government wants to do. It’s a redefinition of conservative Republicanism in Tennessee, I’ll tell you that.”
Kelsey maintained it is a legitimate use of power.
“There are no powers and rights that are reserved to local governments under our U.S. Constitution and really under our state Constitution with one or two exceptions for home rule,” he said. “The states decided to create cities and counties and they can abolish them at any time. And if they are doing things that are antithetical to the actual citizens who live in those cities and counties then I think absolutely the state should step in.”
Kelsey and Kyle also clashed on the proposed expansion of Medicaid, which in Tennessee is known as TennCare.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said no for now to an expansion of Medicaid that would start in 2014 and be funded for the first three years entirely by the federal government and 90 percent in the second three years.
Haslam said this month he is still talking with President Barack Obama’s administration about possible terms including the ability to buy private health care insurance. But in an interview with The Daily News, he characterized the talks so far as a “difficult path.”
Kelsey had legislation pending this year to forbid Haslam from ever saying yes to such an expansion under any terms.
Kelsey called TennCare “a broken system.”
“TennCare is not a broken system, Brian,” Kyle responded. “TennCare is a managed health care situation for people who are sick. Just because you want to pass a bill that says we are not going to participate in the Medicaid expansion doesn’t mean that people are not going to be at the emergency room at The MED being paid for through Shelby County property tax dollars.”
Both Kelsey and Kyle were legislators when Gov. Phil Bredesen cut the rolls of TennCare. Kyle sponsored the legislation and said Kelsey’s belief that such cuts could be necessary again because of changes in federal funding aren’t likely.
“When was the last time that ever happened?” Kyle asked.
“1981,” Kelsey replied. “The federal government had to balance its budget and so they just pulled back on the percentage they paid for Medicaid and that’s exactly what will happen again.”
State Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, the Democratic leader of the Senate, sees things at the legislature these days he does not like.
But he knows there is not much he can do, other than raise public attention.
With just seven Democrats and 26 Republicans in the Senate, Kyle says, “our goal is not be marginalized.”
Some issues facing the state are vitally important, and he believes Democrats should be heard.
Among them is an expansion of Medicaid in Tennessee under the new federal health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare.
“It’s an issue of life or death,” Kyle said of the expansion. “Without it, people will die.”
Under the new plan, the federal government would initially pay 100 percent of the cost of expanding Medicaid to include more Tennesseans who currently have no medical insurance. In subsequent years, that funding would be reduced to 90 percent.
Many Republicans oppose the expansion and have filed legislation to stop it. Some have voiced the fear the federal government will not make good on its promises of continued funding, and Tennessee taxpayers will ultimately be stuck with an unaffordable bill.
These Republicans, Kyle said, remind him of the Dixiecrats who split from the Democratic Party in opposition to integration.
“They are putting ballot-box politics ahead of people,” he said. “They fear being attached politically to an unpopular program.”
The problem in denying the expansion, Kyle said, is that it would financially hamstring hospitals, which have long been reimbursed by the federal government for treating patients without medical insurance. But that pot of money is going away under the Affordable Care Act, which assumes everyone will have medical insurance.
Without Medicaid expansion, Tennessee hospitals would face a large population without insurance but no source of funds to pay for their care. Dozens of hospitals could close, Kyle said.
Kyle, the second longest-serving lawmaker in the General Assembly, first came to office 30 years ago.
As a college student in the early 1970s, he took an interest in the presidential campaign of George McGovern. After earning his law degree from the University of Memphis and setting up a law practice, Kyle decided to run for a state Senate seat.
“When I started, I had two votes – mine and my brother’s,” he says. “I worked hard. But I lost.”
His fortunes changed five years later. The incumbent senator resigned, and Kyle won a special election to fill the seat.
“People remembered me,” he said.
Over the next three decades, Kyle worked with Republicans and Democrats on a variety of issues. He was deeply involved in education and correction reforms, and developed what he calls “a working knowledge” of the state budget – “the one real bill” the legislature passes each year, Kyle says.
But, he says his proudest achievement as a legislator was being elected as the Democratic leader by his peers.
“I am not a back slapper,” Kyle said. He does like to solve problems, he adds, and “I do know how to move the ball down the field. I think the other members saw me as someone who could help them get things done.”
So he looks askance at some of the issues now drawing public attention in the legislature. He sees the effort to create student vouchers and expand charter schools as little more than an effort to reward private vendors of such things as books and curricula, at the expense of public education.
Charter schools are not better than public schools, he said. They thrive only because parents are more involved in their children’s education, he adds.
Kyle also has little patience for a controversial proposal to allow wine sales in grocery stores.
“There is no problem with access to wine in Tennessee,” he said, while liquor store owners, who would be financially hurt by the proposal, are oftentimes pillars of their business communities.
I really enjoyed discussing government and politics with host Pat Nolan on Inside Politics on NewsChannel 5 in Nashville. We discussed the state of the Democratic Party, legislation coming through the General Assembly, and how our party and state moves forward in these trying economic and political times.
The Tennessean columnist Gail Kerr wrote a piece on Monday on legislation that I am sponsoring this session to ensure that children battling autism have the insurance coverage they need. This is bi-partisan legislation that has been implemented in 34 other states. It is time for Tennessee to stand up for the families affected by autism. I encourage anyone affected by this disease to contact my office and share your story with my team.
NASHVILLE – Democratic leaders from both chambers joined U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s call for less interference from Washington, and hoped state leaders could apply his advice to their dealings with cities and counties.
Sen. Alexander addressed the 108th General Assembly on its second day and said the best thing Washington, D.C. can do for Tennessee is get out of the way.
“(Education) is hard enough to do without a federal employee peering over the shoulder of the local school board,” Sen. Alexander said.
“We could not agree more with Sen. Alexander, and the same is true of state government,” House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh said. “We hope members of his party will take his message to heart when they’re making decisions that cities should make at home.”
Republican legislators in Tennessee are expected to file legislation that would allow the state to authorize charter schools over local objections. Hundreds of parents in Nashville have already organized to keep their education decisions local. In past years, Republicans have moved to stop cities from adopting anti-discrimination policies and from raising the minimum wage.
“Republicans applauded Sen. Alexander when he talked about local control, and I hope the governor and the Republican members will heed his advice,” Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle said.
“We should not substitute our judgment for that which is closest to the people.”
Rep. Craig Fitzhugh represents Crockett, Haywood and Lauderdale counties. Contact him at email@example.com or (615) 741-2134 or 33 Legislative Plaza, Nashville, TN 37243-0028. Visit his website at http://craigfitzhugh.com.
Senator Jim Kyle represents Memphis. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (615) 741-4167 or 309 War Memorial Building, Nashville, TN 37243-0028. Visit his website at http://senatorjimkyle.com.
NASHVILLE – State Sen. Jim Kyle pushed for greater transparency in the 108th General Assembly during the first day of session, by moving to apply the Open Meetings Act to the state Senate.
Sen. Kyle’s motion would have amended preliminary Senate rules to apply the act, applying the same standard to Senate caucuses that’s followed by local governments, Senate committees and the Senate itself. Sen. Kyle withdrew his motion when Rules Committee Chairman Mark Norris agreed to take up the issue.
“If Republicans want open government, they can join with us and support this proposal,” Sen. Kyle said. “By amending the rules, their deliberations will be subject to public scrutiny, as should be the standard in state government.”
Under former Lt. Gov. John Wilder, the majority caucus meetings were open to the public, but that has not been the case under Republican control.
“We seven Democratic Senators represent not only our constituents, but the 2.5 million Democrats in Tennessee,” Sen. Kyle said. “Fighting for their values means fighting for open government. It levels the playing field for ideas, so that they are judged on merit, not politics.”
Senator Jim Kyle represents Memphis. Contact him at email@example.com or (615) 741-4167 or 309 War Memorial Building, Nashville, TN 37243-0028. Visit his website at http://senatorjimkyle.com.
Suburban leaders look to 2014 for municipal school dreams
Sen. Jim Kyle has asked Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman to mediate the schools dispute in Shelby County.
Tuesday, Huffman told Kyle, D-Memphis, he would consider the possibility.
Kyle mailed a letter to Huffman last Wednesday, a day after a federal judge ruled that the suburbs could not start municipal districts next year, saying the situation “requires an honest broker” and urging the Department of Education to step in.
Two days later Kyle, the Senate minority leader, sent letters to dozens of elected officials here, including legislators and school board members, telling them he had reached out to Huffman and that it’s time “to stop thinking political terms and starting thinking in educational terms.”
Kyle said he has received no comment from elected officials, but he expects many received the letter Tuesday and “are still chewing on it.”
Unified school board chairman Billy Orgel said he is willing to work with municipal leaders to “further the education of the children across the whole community,” but points out that the school board is not at odds with the suburbs.
“The school system and the municipalities are not in the midst of a dispute. In fact, the school system is not even a party to the lawsuit. We have been a bystander in the lawsuits.”
School board member Martavius Jones doesn’t see “how the commissioner of education can address or redress what is a constitutional issue. If the general assembly opens municipal schools statewide, then every elected official is sworn to uphold the laws of Tennessee. Those laws right now prohibit the formation of new municipal school districts.”
If Huffman gets involved as mediator, school board member David Pickler says it will mean Gov. Bill Haslam wants the merger to be successful.
“The future of the governor’s education reform agenda may well depend on a successful resolution of the very complex issues in play in Shelby County,” Pickler said.
“Any intervention by Nashville” needs to happen within several weeks “before Judge (Samuel “Hardy”) Mays is asked to rule again,” he said.
Suburban leaders haven’t given up the idea of creating municipal school systems, several suburban mayors said after emerging from a closed-door meeting with attorneys Tuesday that lasted about 90 minutes.
With the possibility of being able to try again for municipal schools in 2014, Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald said leaders are looking at what “options” they have regarding control of schools in the meantime.
“We’re still confident that at some point in the future we’ll have control of our school systems,” said McDonald. “We’ll continue to have discussions, legislatively as well as judicially, toward that end. Exactly what that’s going to look like, we don’t know. We’ll have several meetings in the future to flush that out.”
State Sen. Mark Norris, in attendance at the meeting, said he “wanted to have an opportunity to talk with some of the parties in this litigation about the prospect of meeting with the Commissioner of Education to discuss alternatives, options and so forth.”
He mentioned achievement districts, charter districts and virtual districts as legal alternatives to municipal districts.
The judge’s ruling last week voided Aug. 2 referendums to create municipal school districts in all six suburbs and the subsequent Nov. 6 election of the respective school boards, but Collierville Mayor Stan Joyner said all the work completed this year has helped to shape the town’s vision for the future.
“It’s not like we’d be starting from ground zero,” he said. “The citizens’ groups that have been put together and those people who ran for school boards, they’ve not been sitting around twiddling their thumbs, so to speak. They’ve been working really hard. We’re much further ahead than we were a year, six months ago.
“We want to send a message again of cautious optimism to our residents that we’re moving forward.”
Kyle Asks State Education Commissioner to Intercede in School Stalemate
Newly reelected state Senate Democratic leader wants Kevin Huffman “to act as an independent, honest broker in the organizational restructure of Shelby County Schools;” claims GOP majority leader Norris backs move.
Up to this point, the major moves in the Tennessee General Assembly regarding the merger/municipal-schools issue have come from Mark Norris, the Collierville Republican who serves as majority leader of the state Senate.
It was 2012 legislation by Norris (in tandem with state Rep. Curry Todd) that was just found unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Hardy Mays, thereby halting immediate efforts by six Shelby County suburb s to create their own municipal school districts. The six suburban municipalities are on, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington.
And it is the final section of the 2011 legislation known as Norris-Todd — the part which authorizes the six suburbs to initiate efforts toward such municipal districts, but only after city/county school merger occurs in August 2013 — that Mays continues to withheld judgment on.
Even as that judicial riddle plays itself out, a new legislative player has made a move: Senate Democratic leaderJim Kyle, newly reelected (but just barely) by his diminished tribe of Senate party-mates as Norris’ opposite number.
In a press release Monday from Kyle’s Senate office in Nashville, Kyle announced that he had asked Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman “ to act as an independent, honest broker in the organizational restructure of Shelby County Schools” and claimed that he had Norris’ support for the approach to Huffman.
“We have seen what happens when we divide on ideology; it is unproductive. The political dynamics are what brought us to this point, and will drive us back if we do not choose to act differently.”,” Sen. Kyle said in the press release, excerpting a portion o his letter to Huffman.. “
Contacted Monday about his initiative, Kyle insisted that he was not taking a position one way or another in the ongoing schools controversy — neither on behalf of a countywide Unified School District nor on behalf of the municipal-school movement. He said he regarded Huffman as “an independent honest broker in the organizational restructure of Shelby County Schools” and an ideal go-between to get the two contending sides into a meaningful discourse.
Kyle said he believed his thoughts on the current stalemate were similar to those expressed last week by Governor Bill Haslam in Memphis. The governor referred to Mays’ ruling as “a fairly clear decision” and said, “I think at this point in time. I want to be encouraging everybody let’s leave the courtroom behind and let’s go sit down and have conversations that we need to prepare “
The state legislature’s Democratic leaders on Wednesday demanded that Republicans in charge of the state’s election offices hold off certifying the results of this month’s election after some Davidson County voters were given ballots for the Republican primary by default.
“There is good reason to believe that the results of the August election are in doubt,” Sens. Jim Kyle and Lowe Finney and Reps. Craig Fitzhugh and Mike Turner wrote to Secretary of State Tre Hargett and Mark Goins, the state’s elections coordinator.
The lawmakers also called for a full-scale investigation of Davidson County’s issues. Some voters, including Sheriff Daron Hall, an elected Democrat, were given ballots for the Republican primary because the new machines the county used at some precincts were defaulting to the Republican ballot.
Blake Fontenay, a spokesman for Hargett and Goins, said election results are certified at the county level.
“Mark Goins will announce the nominees (Thursday) based on the numbers certified to him from the counties,” Fontenay wrote in an email. “As for the call for an investigation, we’ve been looking into this matter since Aug. 16 and continue to do so.”
The Democratic leaders said Republican turnout for the Davidson County primary was 19,714 voters, a huge leap from the 6,439 who voted in 2008, the last presidential election year.
Earlier Wednesday, Albert Tieche, the county’s election administrator, said the technology has been reprogrammed to avoid a repeat of the Aug. 2 issues.
Tieche also vehemently denied that he had sat on a letter from Hall — who said he was a victim of the technology’s failures — instead of immediately reporting it to state officials.
“This idea of trying to cover something up is not true,” Tieche said.
Tieche and his staff started using electronic poll books in 60 of the county’s 160 voting precincts on Aug. 2. Hall and a handful of other voters have said they were given the wrong ballots.
Goins said the Republican primary was listed first in the poll books, which state law required because the GOP is in power in the General Assembly. He said the Republican primary also was highlighted, and poll officials either failed to ask some voters if they wanted to vote in a primary or, if they did ask, they failed to highlight the Democratic primary once voters expressed that preference.
Tieche said the Davidson County Election Commission was aware of the problem early on election day but couldn’t fix the machines in the middle of voting. They’ve since been changed “so that it cannot happen in future primaries,” he said, and the commission plans to use the machines in every precinct during the November general election.
“The electronic poll books are a good piece of equipment,” he said in a statement he read to a reporter. “They save time and money, and they reduce — yes, reduce — opportunities for human error. We did an initial rollout in two polling places in the Oak Hill municipal election in June. Then we did a limited rollout in the August election. They performed well. I was pleased with the results. I still am.
“Did we remove every opportunity for human error? No. Was it possible for the poll official to incorrectly issue a ballot without asking what primary the voter wanted? Yes. Would it issue a Republican ballot if the poll official failed to ask which primary? Yes.”
“We are sorry for the error,” the statement concluded.
Goins declined to comment on Tieche’s remarks.
Goins said Tuesday that Tieche did not tell him about Hall’s voting problem. Hall wrote a letter to Tieche dated Aug. 9, but Goins said he first heard about the issue from an anonymous tipster on Aug. 16, prompting him to call the sheriff and confirm the story.
But Tieche said Hall’s letter actually arrived at his office on the same day Goins got the tip — a day when Tieche was out of the office. He sent The Tennessean a scan of the date stamp on Hall’s envelope, showing it was received by the election commission at 2:16 p.m. on Aug. 16. He said he read it after returning to the office the next day.
Goins said this week that the state plans to look at the voting histories of Davidson County voters who participated in the Republican primary to help determine if voters were routinely given the GOP ballot by default. Kyle, Finney, Fitzhugh and Turner said all 19,714 voters in the GOP election should be sent the same letter and given a chance to correct errors made by poll officials who didn’t ask their party preference or machines that defaulted.
“We don’t know how many people were affected,” they wrote.