- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

August 10

Tennessean, Nashville, Tennessee, on school reform:

Education reform has reached the grass-roots level in Tennessee, and the results of Thursday’s general elections in Davidson, Williamson and Sumner counties bear that out.

No longer is all the pressure to adapt and boost students’ educational attainment coming from the federal or state government. Ordinary citizens and local officials are choosing sides.

- Take Metro Nashville’s school board election. Voters split the races for four of the body’s nine seats, returning two status quo board members (Jo Ann Brannon and Anna Shepherd) but turning out Cheryl Mayes (who was also the board chair) for a school-choice advocate, Tyese Hunter, and electing choice supporter Mary Pierce over traditional-school proponent Becky Sharpe.

The fact that board members differ on charters is not a bad thing, if it achieves a balance of inclusion and innovation. But discussions must not descend into chaos, as in the past two years.

- In Williamson County, the school system could see an even more dramatic shift. Three incumbents lost to political newcomers who appear to be determined to make big changes in everything from textbook selection to Common Core State Standards.

Not that local boards can affect Common Core - it’s a state-administered program - but the anti-government backlash to the standards helped the winners get elected.

- In Sumner, the dispute is over funding. When county commissioners and school board members could not agree on funding in summer 2012, it caused a delay in the start of the school year.

Strong Schools’ message is direct: If you care about children’s education, you make sure to allocate enough money to operate the schools. The old guard accuses the group of pushing an unnecessary increase in property taxes. But the fact that the county’s schools started nine days late in fall 2012 would seem to sway that argument.

No amount of rhetoric about fiscal responsibility can justify setting kids back at a time when Tennessee schoolchildren can ill afford to lag behind.




August 8

The Post-Intelligencer, Paris, Tennessee, on U.S. stance in Iraq:

Is it right to kill in order to prevent greater killing?

A “yes” answer to that question was behind the atomic bomb decision that ended World War II. It is a common dilemma for those who can order troops into battle.

Now President Barack Obama has authorized “targeted airstrikes” if they are needed to protect the lives of Americans in Iraq. The president also approved airdrops of food and water to religious minority groups who are trapped on an Iraqi mountaintop by Islamic militants.

“Today, America is coming to help,” is how Obama put it.

Calling the airstrikes “targeted” makes them sound precise, almost surgically clean. But bombing, like any tactic of warfare, is never clean. It’s always a messy business, and we can be prepared for repercussions.

The Obama decision marks a significant escalation of U.S. involvement, one which the president has been pondering for weeks. But he took pains to assure us that it’s not the first step toward a new ground war in Iraq.

U.S. congressional leaders of both parties expressed support for Obama’s action.

On Thursday, USA Today reported, three low-flying U.S. military cargo planes dropped meals and water to trapped civilians facing dehydration and starvation. They were escorted by two fighter jets.

Civilians trapped on the mountaintop apparently were trying to reach a Kurdish region to the north.

Airstrikes will depend on whether militants directly threaten U.S. personnel and facilities, Obama said.

The U.S. decision to act points to the growing strength of militants in the region. The political entity known as the Islamic State has become “a formidable force,” one military analyst said.




August 10

Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel on partisan attack:

A majority of Tennessee voters saw through the slickly packaged misinformation, innuendoes and outright lies about three esteemed state Supreme Court justices and voted Thursday to retain them.

Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee each received new, well-deserved eight-year terms after winning solid majorities in their retention elections.

Under Tennessee’s system, justices and appeals court judges initially are appointed by the governor and at the end of their first terms - and any subsequent terms - must prevail in yes-or-no retention votes.

Retention votes are nonpartisan and typically uncontroversial. Only one justice has ever been kicked off the bench by voters. This year, however, an unprecedented partisan effort to oust Wade, Clark and Lee - respected judges recommended for retention by the state’s Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission - turned into a bare-knuckled brawl.

Republican Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, aided by out-of-state special interest groups, accused the justices of being too liberal because they were appointed to the High Court by former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat. Bredesen governed as an old-school moderate Democrat, but voters relying on the justices’ opposition for their information would never know it.

Mailers and television ads depicted the justices as being soft on crime and in lockstep with President Barack Obama on health care. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

The Tennessee Supreme Court has never ruled on any aspect of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which is a federal law outside their jurisdiction. The only connection to the Affordable Care Act is so tenuous that it barely exists.

In Tennessee, unique among the states, the state Supreme Court appoints the attorney general. Once appointed, however, the attorney general is an independent officeholder who does not report to the justices.

Attorney General Robert Cooper declined to join other states seeking to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

The opponents’ tactics outraged many in the legal community, Republicans and Democrats alike. Former Chief Justice William “Mickey” Barker, a Republican, pulled no punches in his assessment of the justices’ opposition: “I use this word very advisably: They are lies,” he told the New York Times. “And I’m sorry to say that our lieutenant governor is the main culprit. All of it goes back to him.”

In a victory for judicial independence, Tennesseans rightly rebuked Ramsey and the special interest groups at the polls. A majority of the state’s citizens value fairness, experience and legal acumen over partisan bias on the Supreme Court and sent a clear message by retaining Wade, Clark and Lee.





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