- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:


July 20

The Johnson City Press on a law against texting while driving:

A new law went into effect on July 1 aims to crack down on drivers who text and drive in Tennessee. Those convicted of texting behind the wheel will now face a much tougher penalty for engaging in this dangerous behavior.

For years now, Tennessee has had a law expressly prohibiting drivers from text messaging while behind the wheel of a moving car. The law carries a $50 fine and an additional $10 for court costs.

Previously, the offense was treated as a non-moving violation, which meant no points were added to the offender’s driving record.

That will no longer be the case. Earlier this year, the state General Assembly voted to enhance the penalty for texting and driving. In addition to the current fines and court costs, violators will see four points levied against his or her driver’s record and be required to complete a driver’s education course.

The points are the same as those assessed for careless or negligent driving. Tennessee suspends the driver’s license of motorists who collect 12 or more points a year.

Using a hands-free device to text is not considered to be a violation of the new law.

A study released in 2014 by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found two out of 10 drivers admit they have texted while driving. A majority of that number are teenagers and young adults.

Texting and driving is very dangerous and should be treated as a serious problem. Cracking down on drivers who text behind the wheel is simply a no-brainer.




July 19

The Knoxville News Sentinel on State Rep. Jeremy Durham:

State Rep. Jeremy Durham treated many women working in the Legislative Plaza as potential sexual conquests, relentlessly and brazenly making unwelcome sexual advances toward them, according to an investigative report released last week by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III.

The report also depicts a culture in the Capitol of fear and intimidation so pervasive that no one, including at least 10 legislators present during inappropriate encounters initiated by Durham, filed official complaints about his misbehavior. As House majority whip, Durham wielded considerable power, which for years allowed him to escape scrutiny.

According to the report, the married Williamson County Republican sent inappropriate text messages and made unwanted sexual advances to legislative staff members, interns and lobbyists, and conducted a brief affair with a 20-year-old college student that began with an alcohol-fueled tryst in his office. On more than one occasion he implied to lobbyists he would vote for bills their clients supported in exchange for favors.

The report chronicles Durham’s shameful behavior from 2012, when he was first elected, to the beginning of this year. Investigators uncovered interactions with 22 women ranging from unwelcome flirting to sexual contact.

For the most part, the women deflected his comments or made up excuses not to meet him outside work. Lobbyists either refused to work with him or would go to his office only if accompanied by a colleague. Staffers told investigators they feared for their jobs if they reported him and lobbyists said they feared for their bills.

Those fears were justified. A female lawmaker who described herself as Durham’s “best friend” fired a female staff member after she became the target of Durham’s attention. A male lobbyist told a female colleague that putting up with a male legislator’s advances was part of a female lobbyist’s job.

Durham’s behavior was well known in the Legislative Plaza for years, according to the witnesses. The report refers to 10 legislators, none of them identified by name, who were present during some of the encounters or were told about them. Other than some cursory inquiries by one lawmaker, nothing was done. The director of legislative administration spoke to Durham about the “rumors” last year, but the discussion did not curtail his behavior.

Durham’s arrogance has continued unabated after the release of the report. Durham did not consent to an interview with investigators, and then had the audacity to criticize the report as unfair. He has suspended his re-election campaign but has not resigned his seat. The House committee that asked for the investigation took no action, leaving it to Williamson County voters to decide. They should repudiate him at the polls.

That Durham could make sexual advances toward so many women for nearly four years without drawing some sort of rebuke is troubling. Only media reports of his actions, first reported by The Tennessean, prompted disciplinary action. A new sexual harassment policy is now in place, but policies are meaningless if not enforced. The Capitol’s culture must change as well.




July 15

The Commercial Appeal on U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and Donald Trump:

Many Tennesseans surely were relieved to learn this week that the state’s junior senator will not be campaigning across the land on the same ticket as one of the most divisive presidential candidates in history.

Bob Corker’s departure from the list of Donald Trump’s potential running mates frees Corker to retain, for now, his influential and prestigious role as the chamber’s leading voice on foreign relations.

As soon as Corker ended his flirtation with second fiddle on the Republican ticket, in fact, he was back in the saddle as skeptic-in-chief with respect to the nation’s warming of relations with Iran.

A new bill introduced this week by Corker would impose mandatory sanctions against individuals and entities involved with Iran’s ballistic missile program, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and cyber threats and espionage efforts.

ISA, the expiring Iran Sanctions Act, would be renewed through 2026, imposing trade, energy, defense and banking sector sanctions over Iran’s nuclear and missile activities.

Iran’s financial institutions would be prohibited from engaging in dollar-based financial transactions with banks in third-party countries.

Much of the proposal’s impetus arises from the warnings issued by Corker and other critics of the nuclear deal negotiated last year by the Obama administration.

It has little bipartisan support, an unsurprising void during an election season that is accentuating the deep partisan split over the Iran agreement.

But it stands as an assertion by Corker and other leading Republicans that Congress has an equally important role with the executive branch in foreign affairs, which could become an even more important issue if the assertive Trump ascends to the presidency.

One of its provisions would make sure Congress has to approve any future deals with Iran before they can go forward.

Corker’s departure from vice presidential consideration, of course, does not mean he could not put his considerable experience in state and local government - as well as his strong business background - to use as a member of a Trump cabinet.

It’s difficult to argue with the assertion by the former Chattanooga mayor and state finance commissioner that the vice presidency is not the right job for him.

But his meetings with Trump and his team have well positioned Corker as secretary of state, Treasury secretary or other crucial role in a Trump administration, none of which would require him to defend the indefensible claims and proposals of candidate Trump.

And as the possibility of the Trump candidacy morphing into a Trump presidency becomes thinkable, it has become more apparent that the nation may need practical and energetic politicians such as Corker as part of the administration’s inner circle.

That could become the most important part of the senator’s distinguished career.



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