- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

June 12

Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel on state playing big role in GOP primary:

No Tennessean of either major political party is seeking the 2016 presidential nomination, but that only means the Volunteer State will be fertile ground for politicians to campaign and get their message out without deference to a favorite son.

It also means that Tennesseans will have every reason to pay attention to the debates and discussions, study the issues and cast a meaningful vote in the March primary and again in the general election in November, eight months later.

The battleground scenario likely will apply more to Republicans than Democrats. That’s because the GOP field is up to about 15 declared and expected-to-declare candidates, and because Tennessee has voted firmly in the red - Republican in presidential elections - consistently since 2000.

March 1 has been designated Super Tuesday in the primary, and Tennessee is among a dozen states in which voters will cast ballots on that day. Only four states will precede the Super Tuesday: caucuses in Iowa and Nevada and primaries in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Figures remain tentative at this point, since some states - New York the largest among them - haven’t determined when they will hold primaries.

The field might be thinned by March 1, but not too much. There should be plenty of names remaining on the ballot to make the campaign interesting.

Most Tennessee members of Congress are keeping their powder dry, but two already have endorsed presidential candidates. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, is keeping a promise to support former secretary of state and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton in her bid for the Democratic nomination. On the Republican side, U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah, is backing former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee as the GOP standard bearer.

Other elected officials from Tennessee are, for now at least, waiting or will not endorse anyone until after the primary.

Not having a Tennessean in the pack is a bit unusual. It is the first time since the 1972 and 1976 elections that a Tennessean has not sought either the Democratic or Republican nomination for two elections cycles in a row. Former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson’s brief bid for the 2008 GOP nomination marked the last time out for a Tennessean.

And it is certainly not for lack of talent. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander has tried twice but now is one of the nation’s most respected senators. Ditto for Sen. Bob Corker, who wields plenty of clout in Congress by heading the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and was mentioned as a possible presidential candidate earlier this year. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam also was identified as a possibility, but is heavily involved in projects - Tennessee Promise, for example - that will affect the state in the years ahead.

In addition to being an interesting eight more months, the focus on Tennessee as a campaign ground hopefully will enable candidates to more clearly explain their issues and allow Tennesseans to better understand the political process, as well as develop a keen interest in the issues and the people who are asking to lead the nation.




June 12

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on local autonomy versus state authority:

For a state that ostensibly operates under a home rule system, Tennessee has been successfully exercising its authority over local governments an awfully lot recently.

You can have all the local autonomy you want, the General Assembly seems to be saying, as long as you make the decisions we want you to make.

Gov. Bill Haslam says if local governments don’t like it, they’re just going to have to gear up and get more engaged in the legislative process.

That was Haslam’s message in a recent speech to more than 400 local officials at the Tennessee Municipal League’s annual conference, delivered in the governor’s customary low-key style.

Not to make too much of the address, but it does suggest that the cities may have a quiet ally in Nashville.

Haslam, a former mayor, hasn’t exactly been obvious about where his sympathies lie. This is the same governor who signed the infamous bill prohibiting cities from banning guns in their parks, playgrounds and sports fields.

But in a state where gubernatorial vetoes can be overridden by a simple majority, that doesn’t mean, for what it’s worth, that he necessarily endorses the legislature’s bullying tactics.

We still maintain that the governor could have demonstrated leadership by simply refusing to sign bills like that if he really believes, as he said in his speech to the TML, that “local government really is where, of everything we do, as many decisions as possible can be made.”

But we agree with his assertion that local governments “have to be actively engaged in Nashville in what happens in the State Capitol.”

Launching a unified effort to achieve what’s best for local governments and the people they serve doesn’t always work. Local governments and business interests across the state could not have been more united or vocal in support of Insure Tennessee, the governor’s plan to expand health insurance to almost 300,000 low-income working Tennesseans that was rejected by the legislature this spring. If it had passed, the program would have brought an additional $1.77 billion in federal spending to the state and a $190 million reduction in uncompensated care.

But what might have happened, one must wonder, if more vigorous efforts had been made to oppose such heavy-handed legislative takedowns of local government as the ban on a local minimum wage, the prohibition against writing anti-gay discrimination clauses into city contracts and other employment measures and a mind-boggling proscription on the ability of local police departments to destroy confiscated guns?

Haslam was correct to note in his speech that Tennessee is not alone in its experience with more assertive legislatures. One doesn’t have to look far beyond the state line to find similar battles being played out, usually pitting relatively progressive municipal governments, which usually lose, against increasingly conservative suburban and rural interests in the legislature, which more often come out on the winning side.

This is more than a simple disagreement between liberals and conservatives, however. It’s about the ability of the smaller units of government - the city halls and courthouses that lie close to the people they serve - to adequately represent the wishes of their constituents.

If proponents of local autonomy want to be successful, it’s not enough to sit back and wait until the pendulum swings in their favor. They have to give it a push.




June 16

Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on U.S. deal with Iran:

Tennessee’s Sen. Bob Corker usually makes a lot of sense in his pronouncements.

He’s done it again in a warning to President Barack Obama about being too lenient with Iran in nuclear negotiations.

It would be better to abandon the whole subject than to settle for a flawed agreement, Corker said in a note to the president on Monday.

Corker said he’s concerned about recent reports that the administration may be backing off on its original demand that Iran must submit to inspection of its nuclear sites at any time.

He said it’s “breathtaking” to see how far from original demands that negotiators have come.

“Six of the world’s most important nations have allowed an isolated country with roguish policies to move from having its nuclear program dismantled to having its nuclear proliferation managed,” Corker wrote.

Other American politicians of both parties have expressed fears that a weak deal would only empower Iran, destabilize the region and threaten Israel, USA Today reported.

But it quoted a National Security Council spokesman who said the administration is prepared to abandon the negotiations if the terms don’t include “vigorous inspections” and the ability to restore sanctions if Iran violates terms of a deal.

The West is negotiating from a position of strength. It should stick with its demands.



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