Gov. Bill Haslam's chief of communications, Alexia Poe, is leaving the administration to consult in the private sector, according to the governor's office.
Poe began with Haslam early on in his first term and is credited for being a senior advisor and strategist to the governor, cabinet members, senior staff and state departments.
"Alexia has been an integral part of our senior team," Haslam said in a prepared statement. "She is a strategic thinker and savvy communicator who brings a lot of insight into policy, politics and how government works. I will miss her but wish her the best in starting her own business."
Her tenure in government includes being the second female and youngest person in Tennessee history to serve as a governor's press secretary during Gov. Don Sundquist's administration. Her career has taken her to through the White House serving First Lady Laura Bush and on Capitol Hill leading communications for U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander. Prior to shifting to the governor's office, Poe worked in Mayor Karl Dean's administration as director of economic and community development and led the department's public campaign for the Music City Center.
"I look forward to cheering on this administration as it continues to move the needle on education, attracting and growing high-quality jobs, and making state government more efficient and effective in serving Tennessee taxpayers," she said.
Poe's tenure on Capitol Hill was not without controversy. She ripped into the Capitol Hill Press Corps, of which this reporter is current chair, after reporters penned a letter to the governor complaining a rash of normally public events were going missing from his schedule. Poe contended groups the governor was speaking to wanted their meetings closed and the governor did not have the power to make them open.
Poe's departure marks the second cabinet member to part ways from the governor's office this summer. She follows the announcement from Chief of Staff Mark Cate, who is leaving later this summer for the private sector.
As the governor plans his trip to talk about gas tax, Americans for Prosperity are planning their own sojourn to argue against an increase:
Haslam appeared undaunted that the group that helped defeat Insure Tennessee is once again lining up against him on the gas tax.
“Have at it,” the governor said. “That’s how democracy works.”
The governor says legislatures have changed:
Haslam told reporters after the speech that once powerful institutions like lobbyists, the media, chambers of commerce and hospitals no longer carry as much sway with the General Assembly.
“We have a changing Legislature and the old ways of doing things won’t necessarily work,” Haslam said. “So I think you’ve got to be visible and present here.
“It’s just a different world,” said Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor. “You can’t rely on sending a rep to do what they’ve always done and expect the same results.”
Known for his role as a strong arm in the governor’s office, Chief of Staff Mark Cate plans to step down from his post after this summer to launch a strategic consulting and management firm, according to the governor’s office.
Cate, who began as a special assistant to Haslam, took the role of chief of staff in 2012. A press release from the governor’s office describes Cate as a top advisor, strategist and negotiator for the administration.
“Mark has been a key player and a valuable part of our team since my first campaign for governor,” Haslam said in a statement. “He is talented at keeping a lot of balls in the air at the same time and keeps us moving forward as a team. I wish him and his family all the best in his new endeavors. I will miss having him in the Governor’s Office.”
Cate managed Haslam’s initial gubernatorial campaign and, in state government, has overseen large projects including the civil service reform known as the TEAM Act, worker’s compensation reform, and the Drive to 55 initiative, including Tennessee Promise.
GOP lawmakers have quietly expressed frustration with Cate over the last few legislative sessions, describing his tactics as hardball and aggressive. Announcement of Cate’s eventual departure comes at the same time some legislators are complaining about the administration releasing details of their health plans to the media. Asked if there is a link between the two matters, Haslam spokesman David Smith said, "None whatsoever."
Cate will continue in his position until the summer and a replacement has not yet been named, according to the administration.
Nearly two-thirds of Tennesseans support Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan to expand Medicaid coverage, according to poll released by Vanderbilt University, and even a higher percent said the full legislature ought to vote on the governor’s proposal.
The poll of 1,001 registered voters launched the day after the legislature adjourned found 64 percent of those polled support the governor’s plan. Another 19 percent oppose and 13 percent indicated they neither support nor oppose Insure Tennessee.
Democrats make up the largest support for Insure Tennessee, with 85 percent of Democrats polling in support of Insure Tennessee. Nearly half, 49 percent, of self-identified Republicans also said they support Insure Tennessee, as did 42 percent of Tea Party members and 65 percent of independents.
Opposition to the program — which failed twice in legislative committees this year — largely comes from Tea Party members and Republicans. Forty percent of people who said they belong to the Tea Party said they oppose Insure Tennessee, as did 28 percent of Republicans. Another 17 percent of independents also oppose the plan, as does 8 percent of Democrats.
Seventy-eight percent of people surveyed said the full legislature should vote on the governor’s proposal, compared to 15 percent who said a vote isn’t needed.
More than two-thirds, 68 percent, of Tea Party members said they would like to see a full vote by the legislature on the plan, as did 73 percent of polled Republicans. More than four in five Democrats and Independents also said the legislature should vote.
The survey was conducted by Vanderbilt University’s Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions from Apr. 23 until May 9. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.
Gov. Bill Haslam said he’s sensing additional pressure from the federal government to expand Medicaid, and he doesn’t like it.
Haslam this year failed to convince the legislature to go along with his Insure Tennessee plan to expand Medicaid to 280,000 people in the Volunteer State, but he said a recent phone call from the federal government to the Department of TennCare gives him pause.
“Obviously, I believe Insure Tennessee is the right thing to do,” Haslam told reporters. “My sense is... the way they’re approaching this feels awfully heavy handed. 'OK, well, if you don’t do that, then we’re going to restrict that, the pool money that we give you for indigent care.’”
The federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services called TennCare Director Darin Gordon last Thursday to check in on the Volunteer State’s soon-to-expire TennCare waiver, according to a department spokeswoman. The call came around the same time other states like Florida and Texas received warnings that CMS could withhold funds from health care providers if Medicaid is not expanded. Haslam has asked Gordon to dig further into the federal government's messages to other states.
“I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but I have concerns about what feels like a heavy-handed approach and I’m the one that’s pushing Insure Tennessee. I don’t think that’s what the federal government should be doing,” Haslam said.
The phone call to Tennessee was not out of the ordinary, according to department spokeswoman Sarah Tanksley, who said the conversation grew from tension brewing in Florida and Texas between the federal government and the state for refusing to expand Medicaid. Tennessee's TennCare waiver expires in June of 2016.
“It wasn’t a warning from CMS or anything, but it was a beginning conversation about the uncompensated care pools in Tennessee, and how those might compare to other states,” said Tanksley. “We’re not concerned it was a warning shot or a threat or anything.”
It took the House 45 seconds to non-concur with legislation that would allow gun carry permit holders to bring their firearms into the Capitol and Legislative Plaza.
In a swift vote without debate, the House voted 74-17 to reject the amendment added by Senator Jeff Yarbro, a Nashville Democrat looking to foil a largely Republican plan to allow guns in parks despite the objections of local governments.
“I would prefer that it go to conference (committee) and iron out some things that I think need to be addressed,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell who said she wants to see the capitol complex taken out of places where guns would be allowed and expects Rep. Jeremy Durham to suggest ironing out language about how close guns can be to parks used by schools.
The legislation, which removes local government’s authority to ban guns in their parks, now moves back to the Senate which approved the amendment 28-0. The upper chamber will likely also vote to non-concur, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris told the Associated Press.
“Well, Gardenhire feels like a sitting duck down there. He needs all the protection he can get,” Norris laughed to Post Politics before the evening's floor session.
Gov. Bill Haslam, not a fan of the legislation in either form, told reporters Monday he has “major concerns” with the bill but stopped short of staying he would consider a veto.
A Senate vote can come as soon as Thursday but may not happen until Monday, according to the Senate clerk’s office.
A week after a handful of school districts sued the state over education funding, the governor found about $29 million to begin shoring up teacher health insurance costs.
The boost stretches the state's contribution of health insurance costs to 11 months, up from 10 months. According to the Basic Education Program Review Committee, the state should be providing its share of health insurance costs for 12 months.
"This is a good faith effort to try to move in the right direction. It doesn't mean we'll be able to do the twelfth month next year but at least we hope to get the eleventh," Larry Martin, commissioner of the Department of Finance & Administration, told Pith.
With the House voting overwhelmingly to allow guns in all parks and the Senate expecting to pass the plan later this week, Gov. Bill Haslam will have to decide soon whether he’ll pull the trigger on a veto.
The decision could come just as members of the National Rifle Association converge in Nashville for its annual conference.
"Of course, we wanted to show that we were supportive of them and their agenda, so yeah, we pushed the bill today," said House Speaker Beth Harwell who abstained from voting on the bill and added the governor would be wise not to veto it. "Well, I think you saw the count. It would be overridden," she said.
The House voted 65-21 to strip local governments’ power to restrict guns in its parks Monday evening after defeating 11 amendments proposed by Democrats to add exemptions to the bill.
While the measure passes with nearly a supermajority, nine Republicans skipped the vote, including two members from Knoxville, two from Maryville and others hailing from Nashville, Memphis, and scattered throughout Tennessee.
The measure is up for a vote in the Senate Wednesday morning.
The governor’s office is opposed to the bill for philosophical reasons, namely from a safety and education standpoint. Haslam has cited "major concerns" to similar legislation proposed last year and this month, the legislature shot down his attempt exempt parks and greenways adjacent to schools.
"The governor has raised concerns about the legislation. If it comes to his desk, he'll review it in its final form like he does all legislation before taking any action on it," said David Smith, the governor's spokesman.
Republicans voting “present” included Reps. Harry Brooks, R-Knoxville; Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville; Eddie Smith, R-Knoxville; Mark Swan, R-Maryville; and Mark White, R-Memphis. Those present for the day’s business but not casting a vote included Reps. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain; Andy Holt, R-Dresden; Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton.
Rep. Kevin Dunlap, D-Rock Island, was the only Democrat to bow out from the vote. Rep. John DeBerry, D-Memphis, and Rep. John Mark Windle, D-Livingston, voted in favor.
Harwell, a Nashville Republican, passed on voting on the bill, but said he would have voted against the measure because her constituents don't want guns in parks. Here’s what she had to say to reporters:
Question: On the guns in parks vote, you decided not to vote on that.
Harwell: Well, I did vote for the state guns in state parks and I know that our caucus is strong Second Amendment and I also believe strongly in the Second Amendment. I also have to tell you that our local governments have addressed this issue. We do have some local parks that currently allow guns in them and there have been no incidents with our permitted carry holders so they have proven themselves responsible. And so I didn’t necessarily have a problem with the bill but you have to listen to the will of the people who sent you and my district doesn’t want them.
Reporter: So, why didn’t you vote no?
Harwell: A pass is the same. If I have a Republican in the well I don’t like to vote against a fellow Republican, but there were a lot of fellow members that did the same as me. Those were members who represented more urban areas. That’s what you saw with those members passing on that bill.
Reporter: What’s your understanding of West End Middle, the situation there. Would this bill allow guns in that park or not?
Harwell: Those with a carry permit would be allowed to, is my understanding. But then there are some that will argue that since it’s so close to school it would. It’s my feeling we have kept them out of our schools but again, I’m not the expert on it. I guess it would be up to interpretation.
Reporter: So you’re not sure whether or not it would allow on that park?
Harwell: You’d have to ask a scholar on it. My understanding is that it would not, but I’m not for sure on that. It’s the distance away from it and I think that would fall too close to a school.
Reporter: The NRA is going to be in town next week and there’s been a lot of talk of wanting to get this bill passed before they get here. What’s your thought on that driving the timeline for this legislation?
Harwell: I join Mayor Dean. Mayor Dean is excited about having the National Rifle Association here. We love to show off our city. Over 90,000 people will be coming to this city. Certainly, that’s a wonderful hit, wonderful for our city and our state. And of course, we wanted to show that we were supportive of them and their agenda, so yeah, we pushed the bill today. Of course, it still has another couple steps. It has to go to the governor next.
Reporter: What kind of message do you think does this send to the governor? The governor has flagged this legislation, he’s tried to amend it to take out parks near schools. What message does this send.
Harwell: You have a very strong pro-second amendment state legislature and I think it’s now ultimately his decision. He approaches it as an urban person as well and as a former mayor so he might see it a little bit differently than a legislative body does..
Reporter: Do you think there’s any chance he vetoes it?
Harwell: I wouldn’t recommend it, no.
Reporter: Why not?
Harwell: Well, I think you saw the count. It would be overridden. So, yeah.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he still has the same concerns about a plan to expand health coverage to low-income Tennesseans, but adds he won’t meddle with a Democrat bill fighting its way through the Senate.
The measure, which mirrors the governor’s Insure Tennessee plan, won approval by the Senate Health Committee on Wednesday in a 6-2 vote and is now set for a Senate Commerce Committee hearing next week. In a special session held earlier this year, lawmakers in a specially assigned Senate Health Committee rejected Insure Tennessee on a 7-4 vote.
“Nine members of Commerce Committee, I can honestly say I have not influenced them one way or another, nor did I [do so] in special session,” Ramsey told reporters Thursday. “Members need to vote their conscience based upon the facts that they hear and we’ll see what happens in Commerce. I couldn’t predict right now.”
SJR93, sponsored by freshman Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, picks up where the governor left off on his plan to expand health care coverage to an estimated 280,000 people through the Affordable Care Act by reaping $2.8 billion from the federal government.
The new version seeks to address issues lawmakers had with the governor’s first proposal, largely by building in provisions locking out people who fail to pay their premiums; requiring a memorandum of understanding from the governor ensuring the program will not go into place until the U.S. Supreme Court decides the King v. Burwell case concerning the Affordable Care Act; and that the federal government puts in writing that the state can opt out of the program if the state begins to incur costs.
Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Thursday morning it’s a positive to give the bill more time before lawmakers, even if it does not pass.
"I don't think it's a bad thing at all for it to be discussed every chance that it gets to be discussed," Haslam said. "Obviously we're hoping it passes, but if it doesn't pass, there's still that much more airtime for the issue and for people to understand it."
POSTDATA: WARRANTY DEEDS