Tuesday, February 23

Tennessee governor says next year or two of economic growth could be ‘significant’ (WZTV-TV Nashville) Speaking to the National Federation of Independent Businesses on Monday, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee says he believes “the next year or two of economic growth could be significant.” Gov. Lee said being a small business owner drives much of the decision making he has made when balancing the pandemic with regulations and economic decisions. Gov. Lee said “it was balancing lives and livelihoods” to provide an appropriate level of care for Tennesseans but the state was still one of the last to shut down and first to open. LINK

Lee joins call for Biden to withdraw moratorium on oil and gas exploration on federal land (TN Journal) Tennessee’s Bill Lee is joining 16 other Republican governors in calling on Democratic President Joe Biden to rescind an executive order placing a moratorium on oil and gas explosion on federal land and offshore. Most of the governors signing the letter come from major fossil fuel producing states like Alaska, Texas, and Wyoming. By comparison, Tennessee is a bit player in oil and gas exploration. According to 2014 information from the Tennessee Oil and Gas Association, most of the oil and gas drilling activity was concentrated in 11 counties in the Eastern Highland Rim and the Cumberland Plateau. The biggest producers were Overton, Fentress, Pickett, Morgan, and Clay counties. LINK

Utah governor, 16 others sign letter to Pres. Biden opposing oil and gas leasing ban (KTVX-TV Salt Lake City) Utah’s governor has signed a joint letter with 16 other Republican governors opposing the oil and gas leasing ban to President Joe Biden. Governor Spencer Cox joins Governors Mark Gordon, Wyoming; Kay Ivey, Alabama; Mike Dunleavy, Alaska; Doug Ducey, Arizona; Asa Hutchinson, Arkansas; Brad Little, Idaho; Eric Holcomb, Indiana; Tate Reeves, Mississippi; Mike Parson, Missouri; Greg Gianforte, Montana; Pete Ricketts, Nebraska, Doug Burgum, North Dakota; Kevin Stitt, Oklahoma; Kristi Noem, South Dakota; Bill Lee, Tennessee; and Greg Abbot, Texas in signing the letter. LINK

Republican governors fight energy executive order (KIFI-TV Cheyenne) Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon is leading a coalition of 17 Republican Governors asking President Joe Biden to withdraw an executive order banning new oil and gas development on federal land or offshore waters. Gordon says the order is having a negative economic effect on western states with large tracks federal land. He claims the order had the effect of chasing away capital investment for long-term economic growth and undermining public services. LINK

Gov. Lee may soon have the authority to open all Tennessee schools for in-person learning (WZTV-TV Nashville) A law moving through Tennessee legislature would allow the governor to override local school board decisions regarding in-person or distance learning. The state Senate approved the law Monday afternoon and it now moves to the State House of Representatives. The bill would allow local school boards have the authority to make decisions about their district instead of local health leaders, but the governor could override local decisions and open all schools across the state through an Executive Order. LINK

Tennessee bill allowing governor, local school boards authority to open schools clears Senate (Tennessean) A bill granting local school boards in Tennessee the authority to open and close schools during a state of emergency passed the state Senate on Monday. If the bill becomes law, local school board members, as well as the governing body of charter schools, could consult health officials but would have the authority to determine whether to open or close schools during an emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or a natural disaster. The governor would also hold veto power to mandate school openings under the bill. LINK

Senate passes bill to allow Tennessee gov. to reopen schools during public health emergency (WMC-TV Memphis) A bill that would give Tennessee’s governor the authority to open and close schools during a public health emergency cleared the state senate Monday. The bill, sponsored by Senators Brian Kelsey of Germantown and Kevin Vaughan of Collierville, gives local school boards the power to open and close as they see fit. It also gives the governor the authority to mandate school openings. Kelsey called the senate’s approval a, “victory for students and parents as every Tennessee family deserves the choice of in-person learning.” LINK

Bill would give school boards sole authority to open/close schools during public health emergency (WSMV-TV Nashville) The Tennessee Senate passed a bill on Monday that specifies that local boards of education and governing bodies of public charter schools have the sole authority to open or close schools during a public health emergency. The passage of SB 103 would allow the governor in Tennessee the authority to issue an Executive Order requiring all schools to offer in-person learning. State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and state Rep. Kevin Vaughan, R-Collierville, were the primary sponsors of the legislation. LINK

Tennessee Senate passes bill allowing governor to force schools open (Daily Memphian) School superintendents and local public health officials may lose some of their power under a bill that passed by a party-line vote in the Tennessee Senate Monday, Feb. 22. The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), allows local school boards to “consult” state and local health departments, but the boards have “the sole authority” to open and close schools. Kelsey’s bill also gives the governor the power to force schools open by executive order during a state of emergency. Kelsey and his Republican colleagues argued the power over schools should rest not with health officials and administrators, but with politicians. LINK

Governor could require in-person learning under new GOP bill (AP) Tennessee’s Senate has advanced legislation that would allow the governor to issue an executive order requiring schools to offer in-person learning. The GOP-dominant chamber easily passed the measure Monday on a 27-5 vote, with only Democratic senators opposed. The bill comes as Republican leaders have lobbed criticisms against Shelby and Davidson counties for declining to provide an in-person schooling option for months amid the COVID-19 pandemic. LINK

‘Let’s test’: Tennessee pushes ahead with in-person testing during pandemic (Chalkbeat/Daily Memphian) While at least six states are seeking to cancel student testing this spring as the pandemic grinds on, Tennessee isn’t wavering in its plan to give tests in person to most of its nearly 1 million students. “Let’s test and see where we are,” said House Education Committee Chairman Mark White, calling the results crucial to understanding how much students know after a year of learning disruptions. “I think it will help us in the long run.” His enthusiasm is shared by Gov. Bill Lee and most Tennessee policymakers who are trying to figure out how to target support for students who have fallen behind. LINK

Educator calls for in-person standardized testing to be put on hold (WBIR-TV Knoxville) Tennessee policymakers are pushing forward with in-person standardized testing for students this semester. They’re citing the need to know where students stand after a year of learning that’s been unlike any other. It’s a decision some educators can’t get behind. “This needs to be a year of grace and forgiveness and put that test on the shelf and save it for another day,” said Tanya Coats with Knox County Education Association. LINK

Tennessee Highway Patrol Troopers Could Have Body Cameras Soon (WPLN Radio Nashville) The state troopers who deal most often with the public may soon be outfitted with body cameras. The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security is asking the legislature for $2.3 million in funding to make this happen. Currently, the Tennessee Highway Patrol owns 84 body cameras, but Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Jeff Long told lawmakers Monday he wants to purchase about 700 more. “Our immediate plan is to try to get them on the troopers here at the capitol and the ones who are on the road,” Long said during a committee hearing. LINK

12 Tennesseans die in winter storms (WTVF-TV Nashville) Tennessee’s winter storm death toll has increased to a total of twelve. Even though the weather event is over, some Tennesseans are still without power. As of Monday afternoon, about 2,000 customers were still without power statewide with the most outages being reported from Upper Cumberland Electric, which has less than 500 customers without power. LINK

Tennessee moves to next phase of COVID vaccinations; teachers, 65 and older group now eligible (Tennessean) Tennessee has moved into its next phase of COVID-19 vaccinations, adding teachers, child care workers and those aged 65 and older. However, individual counties, including Davidson, are moving at a different pace. Metro said it would begin vaccinations for those 65 and older once they make more progress with the 70 and older group. Brian Todd, director of communications for Metro Public Health, said Nashville will remain in 70+ phase “for a few weeks.” LINK

COVID-19: Statewide seven-day new case rate at lowest point since June (Johnson City Press) Tennessee reported 952 new novel coronavirus (COVID-19) infections on Monday, bringing its seven-day average for new cases down to its lowest point since June 30 — a span of 237 days. As of Monday, Tennessee was averaging 1,075.4 new cases per day, the lowest since the state’s average was 1,029.2 on June 30. Tennessee hasn’t seen its seven-day new case average fall below 1,000 since June 29. Over the last seven days, the state had just three days with more than 1,000 new reported cases, fewest since the week between Sept. 19-25. LINK

Lab confirms South African variant present in Memphis (Daily Memphian) A single case of the South African variant in Shelby County has been sequenced and confirmed by the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. “We just got the confirmation,” Dr. Scott Strome, executive dean of the College of Medicine at UTHSC, said Monday afternoon, Feb. 22. This is the third variant of the SARS CoV-2 virus to be confirmed in the county. The first was the U.K. strain, B.1.1.7. It its considered to be 30% to 40% more contagious and was identified here in early February. A week later, the U.S. Biocontainment Laboratory at UTHSC confirmed that it had also sequenced the genome of the Brazilian variant. LINK

New COVID-19 variant enters Shelby County as health dept. deals with vaccine woes (WMC-TV Memphis) Shelby County health leaders confirm that the South African COVID-19 variant is in Shelby County. One person tested positive for the variant after a trip to Colorado. The person was diagnosed on Jan. 24, however it doesn’t appear that there is community spread. The news comes as frustration continues to grow as people are trying desperately to sign up for appointments. LINK

‘We’ve seen how masks work’: Local businesses still requiring masks as county mandates end (WJHL-TV Johnson City) Months-long mask mandates are now being lifted in several Northeast Tennessee counties. Last week, Washington, Carter, and Unicoi counties ended their mandates. Now Greene County and Sullivan County’s mandates are set to expire on February 27th. County-wide mandates or not, many businesses are still requiring face coverings for customers and employees. In Washington County, mask requirements aren’t going anywhere at Mahoney’s Outfitters. “It’s not going to change much at all here. We’ve seen how masks work,” said store owner Dan Mahoney. LINK

How rural Tennessee counties are vaccinating their teachers (WTVC-TV Chattanooga) Tennessee’s vaccine access is expanding Monday to include teachers and school staff statewide. Last week, Mayor Jim Coppinger said the county isn’t setting aside any of their doses for Hamilton County teachers. However, that’s not the case in the surrounding counties. We’ve found that teachers having permission to get a vaccine across Tennessee beginning Monday is consistent. Whether or not individual school districts were ready to distribute vaccines to teachers directly is what’s different. Director of Marion County Schools Mark Griffith said the district may have to wait another week to receive the vaccines their county health department is setting aside for teachers because of weather delays. LINK

State looking into why, how doses expired (Daily Memphian) Shortly after the Shelby County Health Department reported last Friday that it had tossed more than 1,315 doses of expired vaccine, the state dispatched the Governor’s Unified Command Group to look into what happened. According to Tennessee Department of Health, the group is offering support, reviewing handling procedures and assessing the local Health Department’s inventory of vaccine. The state Department of Health is expected to release more information at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 23, in a briefing led by state Health Commissioner Lisa Piercey. LINK

After 1,300 vaccine doses expire, state to ‘review handling procedures’ in Shelby County (Commercial Appeal) After more than 1,300 COVID-19 vaccine doses expired and had to be thrown away last week, the Tennessee Department of Health has deployed personnel to Shelby County to “review handling procedures and assess the Shelby County Health Department’s inventory of vaccines.” State health department commissioner Dr. Lisa Piercey will release more information about the expired doses on Tuesday afternoon, according to a statement from the department. On Friday, Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said 1,315 vaccine doses expired and had to be discarded amid the week-long spell of severe weather. LINK

In rebuke to health department, Shelby County Commission calls for state vaccine aid (Commercial Appeal) The Shelby County Commission on Monday passed a resolution that calls for the state of Tennessee to help the local health department with COVID-19 vaccine logistics. The vote was 13-0, and its unanimous passage is a clear rebuke to the local health department, which has recently dealt with high-profile mixups in the vaccination process. Earlier Monday, several county commissioners criticized county health department officials for recent missteps, including ongoing problems with COVID-19 vaccine signups, a contradictory set of announcements last week about water-related restaurant closures, and recent loss of more than 1,300 COVID-19 vaccine doses due to spoilage. LINK

State officials probing Shelby County’s wasted 1,315 vaccines (WREG-TV Memphis) Days after the Shelby County Health Department revealed that 1,315 doses of the Pfizer vaccine had to be thrown out because they had expired, the Tennessee Department of Health has announced that it will be investigating the matter. Friday, Dr. Alisa Haushalter, who heads the Shelby County Health Department, said that the expired vaccines were discovered the previous Friday. Haushalter said a Regional One Health pharmacist that is contracted to handle the county’s Covid vaccines had taken the doses out of the freezer in preparation for vaccinations, but when planned vaccinations were canceled due to weather, didn’t notify the health department that the 1,315 were out of the freezer and spoiling. The Pfizer vaccine lasts for just five days once removed from a freezer. LINK

More than 1,000 vaccines discarded in Tennessee due to expiration (WZTV-TV Nashville) Health officials in Shelby County got rid of more than 1,000 COVID-19 vaccines due to expiration, the Tennessee Department of Health reported Monday. Shelby County Health Department officials said the vaccines were discarded Friday, after rounds of winter storms closed vaccination sites. COVID-19 vaccine appointments were pushed back across the state due to weather. Around the country, crippling winter weather forced the cancellation of appointments and delaying vaccine deliveries just as the federal government rolled out new mass vaccination sites aimed at reaching hard-hit communities. LINK

1,000 COVID Vaccine Doses Allowed To Expire In Memphis (WPLN Radio Nashville) Public health officials in Tennessee had to work to use up COVID vaccine doses during last week’s snow and ice. But at least one batch of more than a thousand doses went bad. On Friday, Shelby County disclosed to state officials that the doses had to be “discarded due to expiration.” Once thawed, Pfizer’s shots go bad in less than a week. Gov. Bill Lee’s office sent health personnel to help and review handling procedures, according to a statement Monday from the Tennessee Department of Health. LINK

Could you be forced to get the coronavirus vaccine in Tennessee? (WZTV-TV Nashville) A plan to keep companies and schools from forcing the public to get the coronavirus vaccine is making its way through the Tennessee legislature. Right now, religious exemptions are in place for those who don’t want to get vaccinated. But the religious exemption is null and void during an epidemic as the law is currently written. State legislators are sponsoring two bills to change the law. Gary Humble with Tennessee Stands says it’s about constitutional rights more than anything, “We’ve seen this past year our government operate in different ways. People are thinking a little bit differently. about what does the law actually say the gov can and cannot do.” LINK

Study shows Tennessee ranks low in the country for COVID-19 vaccine rollout (WZTV-TV Nashville) Tennessee mother Kristi Cornett says for now, wearing masks is her family’s only defense from the coronavirus while they wait for the vaccine. She says they thought they’d have the shot by now. “We were scared to catch the virus. We don’t know what the outcome would be because of our comorbidities,” said Cornett. Cornett suffers from heart trouble and she and one of her kids has asthma. She says she’s upset but not surprised to learn Tennessee ranks in the bottom five of the country for its vaccine rollout, according to data gathered from the CDC. LINK

Charter schools receive more per student in federal COVID aid (WTVF-TV Nashville) When it comes to how federal education relief money was distributed during the pandemic, an analysis by NewsChannel 5 Investigates found charter schools were able to get a larger share than traditional public schools. The federal CARES Act was passed at the beginning of the pandemic and designated $16 billion in emergency education relief for schools across the country. LINK

‘You don’t lose until you give up’: Live event industry calls for Covid relief inclusion (WZTV-TV Nashville) FOX 17 News is getting answers after some say the live event industry hasn’t gotten the Covid-19 relief it needs. While Save Our Stages is a good start, some say the majority of businesses that contribute to live shows don’t qualify for that relief. Michael Strickland didn’t imagine himself spending the past year doing testifying in front of the Senate, lobbying lawmakers, and writing thousands of letters. However, that’s what his day to day work has turned into to save his industry. “You don’t lose until you give up and that’s the truth,” Strickland said. He owns Bandit Lites, a company that does lighting for major concerts and other live events. LINK

Tennessee school districts are required to increase diversity among teachers (WSMV-TV Nashville) Tennessee is requiring every school district to come up with a plan to increase diversity among teachers by the start of the 2021-22 school year. Research shows all students benefit from having teachers of color. Even if districts were to hire every qualified teacher applicant of color, it wouldn’t be nearly enough to close the diversity gap. The problem will take years to fix. The research is clear. Students who have just one teacher of color reap the benefits. It’s also true for white students. “Because the relationship with a teacher is a close relationship, it gives them the opportunity then to challenge common stereotypes,” said Dr. Wayne Lewis, Dean of the School of Education at Belmont University. LINK

Advocates raise awareness about financial aid as fewer students fill out FAFSA (WTVF-TV Nashville) If you’re a parent, you’ve probably heard of the Financial Aid Federal Student Aid, or more commonly called FAFSA. It’s the first step to getting financial aid for your college student. The pandemic has created financial hardships for a lot of people and so getting help to pay for college is more important than ever. Yet the number of people who have filled out the FAFSA this year is down 10% from this time last year. LINK

MTSU program aims to lower cost of textbooks (WTVF-TV Nashville) A new program at Middle Tennessee State University aims to counteract the rising cost of textbooks, by saving students money. The university received $100,000 in grant money from the Tennessee Board of Regents at the end of last year to support the use of more Open Educational Resources (OER). LINK

Cyntoia Brown Long to speak at UT law school (WATE-TV Knoxville/WKRN-TV Nashville) Cyntoia Brown Long, the Tennessee woman who’s sentence was commuted two years ago by Gov. Bill Haslam, will be a guest speaker this week at the University of Tennessee’s College of Law. Brown Long will discuss the challenges of re-entering society after prison. Her attorney, Charles W. Bone, will speak about the legal strategy involved in the case that helped achieve clemency.She was a 16-year-old victim of sex trafficking who was arrested and convicted for killing a man who had solicited her for sex. For years, she maintained that she had acted in self-defense. LINK

Memphis water pressure ‘turning the corner’ but boil advisory remains, for now, officials say (Commercial Appeal) Memphis Light, Gas & Water declined to say how much longer customers can expect to remain under a boil water advisory, citing multiple factors still in flux that affect pressure levels in the water system. “We can’t predict a timeline right now, the best we can do is give you daily updates,” said Nick Newman, the utility company’s vice president of engineering and operations. The utility company issued a boil water advisory on Thursday after extreme temperatures gripped much of the Mid-South. LINK

Thousands in Memphis impacted by MLGW’s boil water advisory still in effect (WHBQ-TV Memphis) About 260,000 customers across Memphis and parts of Shelby county remain under a boil water advisory following last week’s unprecedented winter weather conditions. FOX13 spoke with MLGW spokesperson Gale Jones Carson about when the boil water advisory could end and why customers should continue conserving water. She said the company hopes the issue will be fixed in a few days, but could not give a time that the advisory would end. LINK

Memphis families with little access to water cope as best as they can (WHBQ-TV Memphis) Families are still trying to cope the best they can with little access to water in the Bluff City. Some people, who were turned away after the supply ran low at a water giveaway, said they were not sure where to turn next. City Councilman J.B. Smiley and other volunteers gave away 400 cases of water at the Orange Mound Community Center Monday. Although people said they were grateful, many just hoped to see more communities get access to bottled water. FOX3 spoke with a woman who got one of the last few cases. LINK

Memphis, MLGW ask to intervene in federal dispute over TVA’s transmission lines (Commercial Appeal) The city of Memphis and Memphis, Light Gas and Water filed briefs in a regulatory dispute between the Tennessee Valley Authority and four local power companies who are looking to leave the federal power provider and want to use its transmission lines. Memphis, and Memphis, Light, Gas and Water have filed motions to join a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission proceeding over whether utilities that leave the Tennessee Valley Authority can force TVA to bring electricity to them electricity if they leave TVA. The four utilities have sought clarity from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on whether federal regulations allow for them to leave TVA and then have TVA use its vast transmission network to bring them power from a competing power source. LINK

What are the best hospitals in Tennessee? (Times Free Press) CHI Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga ranks as the second best hospital among the 133 hospitals in Tennessee, according to a new analysis of hospital performance by U.S. News and World Report. Only Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville ranked higher than Memorial in the new magazine study of hospital outcomes and services. CHI Memorial, which included both Memorial’s main hospital in Glenwood and the CHI Memorial in Hixson, received a ‘high performing’ rating in eight surgical procedures and chronic conditions evaluated by U.S. News: abdominal aortic aneurysm repair, COPD, colon cancer surgery, heart bypass surgery, heart failure, hip replacement, knee replacement, and lung cancer surgery. LINK

Company to bring fiber internet to rural Tennessee (WBBJ-TV Jackson) Tennesseans will have the opportunity for reliable internet source, especially for those working from home during COVID-19. TEC, a fiber broadband provider, will be soon proving fast fiber internet to parts of Carroll, Benton, and Henry counties. TEC won over $200,000 in funding from a FCC auction to build internet access for Tennesseans. Executive Vice President for TEC, Joey Garner says their goal is to minimize the digital divide for Tennesseans by providing high quality and affordable internet solution. LINK

Nashville ranks third in country for fastest-selling homes (WKRN-TV Nashville) We’ve now entered what’s being called the strongest seller’s market in decades. According to the latest RE/MAX National Housing Report, Nashville ranks third in the U.S. for fastest-selling homes. The average Nashville home sells in an average of 21 days. Nashville is tied with Cincinnati, where homes also sell in 21 days. Two cities with homes selling at a faster pace are Boise, Idaho (19) and Omaha, Nebraska (18). LINK

Political vendor Phoenix Solutions tied to Sen. Gardenhire’s campaign (Times Free Press) A Republican political campaign vendor whose firm received $202,600 in payments from Tennessee House Republicans during the 2020 election cycle was also involved in independent expenditures aiding at least two Senate GOP incumbents last fall, records show. Registered in late 2019 as a business entity in Sante Fe, New Mexico, Phoenix Solutions LLC and its head, Matthew Phoenix, have come under public scrutiny since the Jan. 8 raids by the FBI on the offices and homes of certain Tennessee legislators. One common thread among the players being investigated has been their dealings with Phoenix and another new political entity, the Faith Family Freedom Fund. LINK

May student athletes kneel without repercussions? Tennessee lawmakers clash (WJHL-TV Johnson City) State representatives voiced disagreements with university team members kneeling during the national anthem at a joint general assembly meeting Monday morning. The interjection occurred during an update on the University of Tennessee’s Title IX when Sen. Mark Pody (R- Lebanon) wanted to expand the discussion to that of peaceful demonstrations at school athletic events. This follows one week after the East Tennessee State University men’s basketball team took a knee during the national anthem to raise awareness to systemic racism. LINK

Bill created by Tenn. senator would bar US from using taxpayer dollars in Paris agreement (WZTV-TV Nashville) Senator Marsha Blackburn has introduced a bill that would prohibit the United States from using taxpayer dollars in the Paris climate agreement. The U.S. officially rejoined the Paris accord on Friday, a move from the Biden administration that takes aim at cutting greenhouse gas emissions in the worldwide fight against climate change. While many applauded the steps toward progression, not everyone agrees it’s the right move. Blackburn, a Republican, says recommitting to the pact would “kill another 400,000 jobs and lead our country away from energy independence.” LINK

Rep. Cohen asks president to rescind permit for Byhalia Pipeline (WMC-TV Memphis) In a letter, Congressman Steve Cohen of Tennessee is asking President Joe Biden to rescind a permit for the Byhalia Pipeline. The Valero Energy pipeline would cut through southwest Memphis and North Mississippi. Residents here have been protesting the pipeline since late last year. Cohen says it could cut over the Memphis Sand Aquifer and could potentially contaminate the City of Memphis’ source of drinking water. The letter reads: “Southwest Memphis is already burdened by dozens of industrial facilities, and subjecting those Black communities to more environmental degradation is wrong.” LINK

Former U.S. Senator Bob Corker to Speak at FreightWaves’ Global Supply Chain Week (WDEF-TV Chattanooga) Freight Waves starts their Global Supply Chain Week this Monday. Over a span of eight days, Freight Waves will discuss a variety of subjects including impacts from COVID-19 and recent weather events. Last week’s winter storm across the south delayed numerous truck deliveries of groceries and vaccinations. “Weather has a really tremendous impact on freight movement on a regular basis. We see it during hurricanes, we see it during flooding, we see it during fires and certainly highlighted with the weather storms in Texas this week. Transportation as an industry in supply chains as a job function are constantly dealing with these disruptions,” says Craig Fuller. LINK

Trump-appointed Nashville U.S. attorney to resign; Biden will name replacement (Tennessean) Nashville U.S. Attorney Don Cochran will resign at the end of the month, his office confirmed, clearing the way for President Joe Biden to appoint a prosecutor to handle federal cases in Middle Tennessee. Cochran was tapped to lead the Nashville office in 2017 by former President Donald Trump. He formally announced his plans to step down in a letter last week to Acting U.S. Attorney General Monty Wilkinson. His resignation is effective Feb. 28. LINK


Column: Reader impressed with Tennessee president Randy Boyd, and it’s good news for Smokey, too (Tennessean/USA Today Tennessee) College administrators seldom receive much attention from the general populace unless something goes wrong. For example, former UT president John Shumaker made headlines for his international travel and exorbitant purchases, like a $7,000 Persian rug, which he apparently thought would spruce up his presidential living quarters. Among most reasonable UT followers, Shumaker’s extravagances qualified as “something going wrong.” LINK

Tennessee Voices: A conversation with Tre Hargett (Tennessean) Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett spoke with Tennessean opinion editor David Plazas. LINK

Guest column: Make this military hero the first inducted into proposed Tennessee service gallery (Tennessean/USA Today Tennessee) Last year, state Rep. Sam Whitson, R-Franklin, published an op-ed stating that Tennessee should establish a special state museum gallery for our military heroes. I believe that this is an excellent idea, and I have a candidate for induction who became first a military hero, then a political profile in courage. William Robert Anderson was born in Humphreys County in 1921. He attended Columbia Military Academy on scholarship, then graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1942 and qualified as a submarine officer. He received a Naval citation and the Bronze Star for his conduct in the war in the Pacific. LINK

David Plazas: Tennessee is weighing bills to make voting harder or easier. Go for the latter. (Tennessean) Tennessee citizens deserve elections that are free, fair, secure and accessible. The year 2020 saw a record number of Tennesseans register to vote in the Nov. 3 election even during a pandemic that officials feared would dampen voter turnout. More voters than ever cast an absentee ballot: 210,428 or 7% of the vote compared with 64,199 in 2016, or 2.5% of the vote in that election, according to the Tennessee Secretary of State’s website. LINK

Tennessee Voices: Lt. Gen. John Castellaw, US Marine Corps (retired) (Tennessean/USA Today Tennessee) During his nearly four decades in the U.S. Marine Corps, retired Lt. Gen. John Castellaw spent three tours in Washington, D.C. He happened to be in the nation’s capital on Jan. 6, 2021 — the day of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Castellaw reflected upon this attack upon a “hallowed place” during his drive back to his farm in Crockett Mills, Tennessee. LINK

Guest column: A willingness to learn is the best weapon against Tennessee’s opioid epidemic (Leaf-Chronicle) Most of us have heard about the opioid epidemic afflicting the United States. The numbers are truly mind-boggling: Over 450,000 Americans have lost their lives to an opioid overdose in the last 20 years. Drug overdoses recently became the leading cause of death in the United States for people under 50—claiming over 72,000 lives last year. That’s enough victims to fill up Nissan stadium and then some. Opioids are involved in over two-thirds of all drug fatalities. And in Tennessee, overdose deaths continue to rise. LINK

Guest Column: One man, one vote, but no choice: Gerrymandering is destroying democracy (USA Today Tennessee) Nearly 60 years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in the case of Baker v. Carr. The decision soon came to be known to both journalists and Constitutional scholars alike as the “one man, one vote” decision. In time, that decision would be regarded as “the most important and sophisticated political reform in American history.” In Baker v. Carr and a series of related decisions, the nation’s highest court addressed the issue of the apportionment of representatives for state and congressional legislative bodies. LINK

Bishop Joseph W. Walker III: Leaders can feel lonely even as they help others. They shouldn’t feel ashamed (Tennessean) It is inevitable that each of us will experience some form of loneliness during the course of our lives. Whether it is the isolation of a pandemic, the loss of a loved one or the solitude of leadership, loneliness can have an immense effect on us. Former surgeon general Vivek Murthy said loneliness is such a significant health issue that it has the potential to shorten a person’s life by 15 years. At a time when so many people have experienced significant loss, leaders have been called upon to console them through the complexities of their grief. It is an interesting paradox given that leadership itself is a lonely business. You have no doubt heard the saying, “It’s lonely at the top.” Never has that statement been more true than during the COVID-19 pandemic. LINK

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