- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

July 8

Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel on Gov. Haslam’s new hire:

Six months into his second term, Gov. Bill Haslam has named a well-respected veteran of state political wars to be his new chief of staff.

Children’s Services Commissioner Jim Henry will take over management of the governor’s office from Mark Cate. With the 2016 legislative session shaping up to be at least as challenging as this year’s session, Haslam could not have made a better choice at this stage of his governorship.

Henry, 70, is a former state Republican Party chairman, former state House Republican leader, former Kingston mayor and lifelong advocate for people with disabilities. He ran for governor in 2002, but lost in the GOP primary to Van Hilleary.

This marks the second time Halsam has turned to Henry at a critical juncture. During his first term the governor tapped Henry to take over the turmoil-shaken Department of Children’s Services. Warren Wells, meanwhile, has been promoted to the administration’s director of legislation.

The failure of Insure Tennessee, Haslam’s alternative approach to Medicaid expansion, got Haslam’s second term off to a shaky start. Insure Tennessee had much in its favor - it would have expanded coverage to about 280,000 people at no cost to the state and enjoyed solid support from the public. Still, Senate Republicans prevented floor votes by killing the measure in committees both during a special session and in the regular session.

In May, Haslam announced Cate’s intent to return to the private sector. Cate, who went to Nashville without prior state government experience, was instrumental in Haslam’s education initiatives. The administration’s relations with the GOP supermajority in the Legislature, however, at times have been strained. Henry has the legislative experience and respect of lawmakers to transform the Capitol dynamics.

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, whose decision not to sponsor Insure Tennessee was widely seen as a slap at the administration, welcomed Henry’s appointment.

“The chief of staff’s job is one that can make or break a governor,” Norris said in a statement. “Candor, competence, and communication, including the ability to listen, are critical. So is a fundamental understanding of the legislature and an appreciation of the process, both of which Jim Henry has.”

Henry likely will need to use all his powers next session. Insure Tennessee deserves consideration on the floor of both houses of the Legislature, and if anyone can get Republican lawmakers to revisit the proposal, Henry can. In addition to the possible resurrection of Insure Tennessee, Haslam has indicated he would push for an increase in the state’s fuel taxes, which have been unchanged since 1989. The fuel tax revenues, coupled with federal funds, pay for highway and bridge construction. The state has had to put vital projects on hold because the revenues are insufficient - the result of much more fuel-efficient vehicles and higher construction costs.

In Henry, Haslam will have a top aide whose experience, skills and personality should translate into greater legislative success in his final three years in office.




July 7

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on non-government sectors:

Government, for a variety of reasons that include tight finances, can sometimes move at a glacial pace when it comes to finishing large quality-of-life projects.

The city has more pressing issues that command its attention, such as enhancing public safety or paving streets.

Because of that, it is bonus for residents when the private and philanthropic sectors step up with finances and, frankly, the know-how to speed up completion of the projects.

The Wolf River Conservancy is fulfilling that role in taking the lead, in cooperation with the city of Memphis, to finish the entire 22-mile Wolf River Greenway. The paved trail will run from the Mississippi River to Germantown.

The conservancy is a 30-year-old conservation group that works to protect the Wolf and promote its environmental significance and recreational potential. It has focused primarily on purchasing and preserving land for a protective buffer along the river, including acreage on which the greenway is being built.

The group has raised about $23 million in private donations, including a $5 million challenge grant from the Hyde Family Foundations and $16 million from an anonymous donor. It has a goal of raising $40 million for the project.

The initial money will be used to build four more segments of the Greenway, with an ambitious goal of completing the project within five years. Memphis’ timetable was sometime beyond 2030.

That is not a knock on a cash-strapped Memphis. The city administration recognizes the importance of having a massive trail system. The trails promote a healthy lifestyle for residents and serve as a quality-of-life lure for young professionals.

The Shelby Farms Greenline and a $70 million upgrade of Shelby Farms, projects ramrodded by the Shelby Farms Conservancy, are proof of the desirability of the paved pedestrian and bicycle trails.

In fact, the Greenline and the city’s expansion of bike lanes along city streets have garnered the city national recognition.

Memphis and Shelby County are fortunate to have the private and philanthropic sectors willing to step up to provide money and organizational expertise to complete projects like the Wolf River Greenway.




July 8

Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on churches and same-sex marriage:

Our contentious society can use religion as a tool to get around the law.

So, for instance, can the tax-exempt status of a group that calls itself a church be challenged if the group refuses to marry a same-sex couple?

It’s not a simple question. How do you define a church, anyway? Does just attaching the word “church” to a group’s name make it one?

And on the other side of the coin, shouldn’t religious liberty permit a church to decline to perform a marriage?

Does a bona fide church have the right to say “no”? And if it does, can’t a couple wanting to wed simply go somewhere else?

Tennessee is one of 15 states whose attorneys general have asked Congress to guarantee the tax-free status of churches whose doctrine bars a same-sex marriage.

Protection of religious freedom applies both to organizations and to individuals.

The tried-and-true definition of individual freedom is that your freedom to swing ends where my nose begins.

Freedom of same-sex couples to wed does not mean that anyone who is licensed to perform marriages can be compelled to act against principle.

That would seem to say that any “church” that says no can’t be penalized by the government for its doctrine.



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