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It’s campaign forum season! Here’s a schedule…

Campaign forum season starts Tuesday, October 2 with the League of Women Voters of Oak Ridge forum for City Council and school board, 7 pm at the amphitheater classroom in Oak Ridge High School. Candidates will speak briefly and field questions, with LWV volunteers enforcing limits intended to keep things fair for all.

Thursday, October 4, 7 pm – LWV Forum for 3rd District Congressional and state legislature candidates (Anderson and Roane County districts), same time and place.

Tuesday, October 9, 7:30 am – Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce candidate forum at the Chamber — for City Council and School Board.

Tuesday, October 9, 7 pm – Democracy for East Tennessee candidate forum, Oak Ridge Civic Center rooms A & B. This forum is less formal than the others. After introductions, people can talk with candidates one on one.

Monday, October 15, 7 pm – Elks Lodges Candidates Night at the Elks Lodge on Emory Valley Road.

Added October 7:

Monday, October 15 at 4 pm, Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce forum for candidates for State House Districts 32 & 33.

Thursday, October 18, 5:30 pm, Candidate meet and greet for City Council and School Board, clubhouse at the Preserve at Clinch River (formerly Rarity Ridge)

All of these events are open to the public.

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HB 0368/SB 0893 is harmful to the interests of Oak Ridge and Tennessee

My email to State Senators Randy McNally and Ken Yager:

As a scientist and an elected official in the city of Oak Ridge, which trades on its scientific reputation, I urge you both to vote against SB 0893, the “critical thinking” bill.

Professional science teachers and the scientific community as a whole correctly interpret this as a bill to legitimize the teaching of creationism, intelligent design, and other non-science-based worldviews as science, by relabeling the real science as “debate”. (Science teachers already can and do discuss the fact that scientific teaching may be at odds with what children have learned at home or in Sunday school — passing a new law won’t help them.)

Mere discussion of this proposed legislation is making Tennessee a laughingstock in the scientific community, both nationally and globally. Passing it will do real harm to the ability of Oak Ridge and the state of Tennessee to continue to represent ourselves as leaders in science and technology. Please vote against this, in the interest of the economic future of the city of Oak Ridge and the state of Tennessee.

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Governor Bredesen’s education initiative

E-mail from State Representative Jim Hackworth’s office urged me to read the proposals that Governor Bredesen presented to the General Assembly yesterday (here’s the press release) and give him my views. Education is not one of the topics I typically contact my legislators about, but the governor’s proposal to transform the state’s education system has gotten my attention, so I wrote to Rep. Hackworth about a couple aspects of the proposal:

The state’s education system is embarrassingly poor — and it’s in everyone’s interest to improve it. (Not only does it limit the next generation’s horizons as individuals, but it hurts the whole state economically.)

Tennessee’s kids aren’t stupid, but too many of them are not learning effectively. I think that a large part of the problem is that our citizens as a whole do not place high enough value on education. A new government program can’t overcome that attitude problem “overnight” (or even in 5 years). However, measures to reward teachers for their effectiveness in helping kids learn (regardless of where the kids are educationally when they arrive in the classroom) seem promising as a way to increase the effectiveness of our education system. Go for it!

Additionally, I share the governor’s view that our state colleges and universities are letting bureaucratic jealousies get in the way of educating our young adults effectively. If his plan forces them to coordinate and collaborate, it’s worth a try.

People will get hung up on many of the details of implementing these transformational initiatives (and there’s good reason to get hung up on some of those details), but it makes sense to commit to these major policy changes quickly (to qualify for the federal incentive) and hassle the details later.

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Tennessee: Please don’t take these two backward steps

I expected the state budget to be the main topic Monday morning at the League of Women Voters’ monthly Breakfast with the Legislators, and I was right (as Bob Fowler reported in the News Sentinel). I didn’t predict the discussion that occurred over reauthorization of the Tennessee Plan (the procedure that Tennessee uses to select judges for the state’s highest courts) and proposals to return to the days when most school superintendents were elected, not appointed. When asked about these topics, neither State Senators Randy McNally or Ken Yager gave clear and forthright statements of support for the status quo. Both hemmed and hawed a lot, and Yager’s comments suggested that may be leaning toward returning to direct election of appellate court judges (but only in non-partisan elections — he said he opposed having appellate judges elected in partisan elections) and that he might want to let counties go back to electing school superintendents.

I found myself with the sinking feeling that the Republican majority in the State Senate is committed to restoring direct elections for these positions, and that our two local Senators were reluctant to say anything contrary to their party’s position.

Direct election of senior judges and school superintendents is a bad idea. We need to maintain an independent judiciary that makes decisions based on the law, not on popular opinion or the wishes of big campaign contributors. Also, we need for our public schools to be run by professional educators who are motivated by the needs of children, not the need to be re-elected.  I hope the General Assembly members recognize that changing back to direct election of these offices would be a major step backward — no, make that two steps backward — for Tennessee.

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Lobbyist contracts renewed

As the local newspapers have reported, on December 17 Council voted 6-1 to renew the Ferguson Group lobbying contract (I was opposed) and 7-0 to renew the contract will Bill Nolan Associates.

There was little discussion of the matter at the meeting, but it appeared that other Council members’ votes on the Ferguson contract were influenced by the staff recommendations, by the amount of money that staff said Ferguson had helped bring in, and by the fact that experience with Ferguson was far for the city than the experience with the Baker-Donelson law firm had been earlier.

As I’ve said earlier, I continue to believe that the city could gain federal funds for local needs without the services of a lobbyist. Further, the fact that this firm is serving us better than Baker-Donelson does not mean that we need their service.

However, now that Ferguson Group is on board for another year, I look forward to working with them to further Oak Ridge’s interests.

The Council Intergovernmental Relations Committee will meet January 9th (4pm in the municipal building training room) to review and make recommendations on the city’s federal and state “agenda,” which the full Council will consider on January 28th. There’s time for citizen input. Equity for local contractor retirees (see this earlier blog post) is one of my highest federal priorities for the city, but there are plenty of other potential wish list items on both the federal and state level.

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