Archive for October, 2011

Haslam’s Policy Suppresses the Rights of All Tennesseans to Peacefully Assemble

Sunday, October 30th, 2011

by Rep. Mike Stewart

There is no more fundamental American freedom than the freedom of speech.   The right of the people to exchange ideas and to protest government actions they find unwise is enshrined in the both the United States and Tennessee Constitutions.  Defending such essential American rights should be the very first job of [...]

New voter law will suppress legitimate voting |

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

The following column appeared in the Sunday, October 23, 2011 edition of The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Posted in bill haslam, chip forrester, Latest News, Sidebar, statewide, voter id | Comments Off on New voter law will suppress legitimate voting |

New voter law will suppress legitimate voting |

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

The following column appeared in the Sunday, October 23, 2011 edition of The Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Tennessee voters are more likely to be struck by lightning than to have their vote stolen at the ballot box.

Millions of citizens cast ballots in Tennessee elections; more than 6 million votes have been tallied in the three previous statewide elections in Tennessee alone.

Still, state Election Coordinator Mark Goins told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he can point to only one, possibly two, instances of someone being convicted of impersonating someone else when trying to vote.

One — “possibly two” — cases out of a number far greater than 6 million.

By any measure, Tennessee elections are a success story. Over the years, our electoral process has virtually guaranteed your right to be a voter and have your vote counted.

Few systems of any kind could boast such high rates of success, yet for years Republicans have trumpeted claims of rampant voter fraud.

Though every effort — local or national — to demonstrate widespread fraud at the ballot box has failed to produce evidence that such fraud exists, Republicans persist in such claims for cynical and partisan reasons: The assertion of “voter fraud” is the perfect bogeyman for those who want to enact photo ID laws like the one we’ve seen passed in Tennessee.

The reality is that photo ID laws result in unnecessary costs and disenfranchisement of the elderly, the young, the poor and minorities — individuals who are least likely to have government identification or to be able to afford to get it.

No one wants to see the system abused, but the problem with combating “voter fraud” with photo ID requirements is that these laws exclude and deter people who are otherwise legal voters.

Whether you’re in favor of voter ID laws or opposed, it should be just as disturbing to think someone could abuse the system as it is to think that someone could be excluded from it.

In Chattanooga and elsewhere in Tennessee, we’ve

already seen the real effects of the voter ID law. The plight of Hamilton County’s Mrs. Dorothy Cooper, a 96-year-old African-American woman who has voted without issue for seven decades until the new voter ID law, has received national attention.

Mrs. Cooper’s story directly disproves the Republican argument that all law-abiding voters have a photo ID.

In fact, according to the Department of Safety, there are around 675,000 voting-age Tennesseans — about one in 10 — who are just like Mrs. Cooper and lacking the picture ID now needed to vote.

To be a voter on Election Day, a majority of these citizens must obtain a photo ID from a driver service center.

So why don’t they just get one? Good question. Republicans have volunteered you to pay the bill.

A cost analysis of voter ID implementation costs in other states puts the estimated price tag for Tennessee taxpayers between $8 million and $24 million over the next four years. Republicans have decided to spend limited state resources chasing mythical claims of voter fraud rather than investing tax dollars back into our communities, creating jobs and improving education.

Even with taxpayers subsidizing the program, there are still unnecessary costs and hurdles for those who want to obtain a government-issued voter ID.

First, a whopping 53 of 95 Tennessee counties have no driver’s license center, meaning some rural residents will have to travel as far as 60 miles to get a proper ID — a significant burden for the working poor, the elderly and disabled voters.

Second, news reports from Memphis indicate that some voters have spent as much as four hours waiting in long lines to get an ID — only to be turned away on trivial technicalities, like Mrs. Cooper was, for not having enough documentation.

For some voters, these burdensome barriers to the ballot box will be just enough to rob them of their constitutional right.

In an effort to scuttle the concerns of citizens ranging from preachers to U.S. senators, Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration has rolled out a modest effort to educate voters about the new requirements. Haslam’s plan includes asking some county clerks to issue photo IDs, opening up express lanes for ID seekers and running several public service announcements.

As of Oct. 5, the Department of Safety reported to The Tennessean that a mere 214 voter ID cards had been issued.

If the number of issued voter ID cards does not increase dramatically before March’s primary election, it will be impossible for Republicans to whitewash the voter-suppressing effect of this law.

There is a growing movement seeking a full repeal of the voter ID law. We support that action to ensure the voting rights of all Tennesseans.

The debate we should be having is how to encourage more participation in our elections — not less. At the Democratic Party, we are committed to making sure every law-abiding Tennessean who wants to be a voter can be without barriers.

Chip Forrester is the chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party and an executive committee member of the Democratic National Committee. He may be reached by email at

New voter law will suppress legitimate voting |

Sen. Ketron, meet Virginia

Friday, October 21st, 2011

Add Mrs. Virginia Lasater, a 91-year-old woman in Rutherford County, to the list of known Tennessee seniors who are struggling to comply with state Sen. Bill Ketron’s new Republican voter ID law.

Mrs. Lasater went to a driver testing center in Mufreesboro to get a state-issued photo ID so she could vote, but ran into a problem. From The Daily News Journal1:

Aided by a walking cane to get around, she quickly decided she couldn’t stand up long enough to wait and her son could find no chairs available for her to sit. (Her son) Richard estimated at least 100 people were in the building, and workers were “way overworked and way understaffed.” He was told at the help desk there was nothing they could do but wait.

They left, upset about the law and the long lines.

“I’m just afraid people will say it’s too much trouble,” said Mrs. Lasater.

With Republican plans on the table to gut Medicare and privatize Social Security, it’s not a wonder why Republicans are making it harder for senior citizens to be voters.

This past legislative session, Tennessee Republicans passed a voter ID law—written by big, corporate specials interests—that requires all voters to have a government-issued photo ID at the polls.

The law sounds reasonable on its face. But there’s a huge problem: 675,000 Tennesseans, who, like Mrs. Lasater, are law-abiding citizens and eligible to vote—have no state-issued photo ID.

This law was passed in a hasty manner with insufficient funding and absolutely no mechanism in place to efficiently educate voters and distribute hundreds of thousands of state-issued photo IDs.

With only 19 weeks until the Primary Election, we’re running out of time. Since July, according to the article, the state has only issued 561 new voter IDs.

It’s almost guaranteed that some citizens who have voted for years without a problem will be turned away in next year’s elections when the discriminatory law goes into effect.

Would it bother Sen. Ketron if the votes of law-abiding citizens like 91-year-old Mrs. Virginia Lasater were not counted because they couldn’t wait in an hours-long line for a state-issued picture ID?

Ketron said, “NO… I’m not that concerned about it.”2

This is the difference.

The Tennessee Democratic Party won’t stop fighting until every law-abiding Tennessean can be a voter and participate in this democracy. Republicans like Bill Ketron, well, they just aren’t that concerned about it.

If you have a problem getting a state-issued photo ID, we want to help. Click here to share your Voter ID Story.

Your fellow Democrat,

Chip Forrester
on behalf of YOUR Tennessee Democratic Party

1. “After long wait, no seat , voter, 91, quits on ID,” The Daily News Journal.

2. Ketron says he’s not concerned about uncounted votes. The Daily News Journal.


Democrats Announce First Phase of Job Creation Legislation

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

jobs tour

Democrats announce first phase of jobs package to put Tennesseans back to work.


Plan includes $15 million investment in state technology centers

NASHVILLE – Tennessee House and Senate Democrats announced the first phase of their job creation plan Thursday, which includes calling for $15 million for new equipment and program expansion at the state’s 27 technology centers.

“We heard about the success of our skills training across the state during our jobs tour, but the one thing we heard again and again was the need for more skilled workers,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “This investment would enable our technology centers to train more workers faster and get them a good education with an even better job.”

The state’s technology centers’ average completion rate is 75 percent, and the job placement rate is 85 percent. They have been recognized as a national model, but currently only 4 percent of all higher education students in Tennessee attend a technology center.

“The thousands of manufacturing jobs that have come back to Tennessee need a highly skilled workforce. We have the structure to provide that workforce, but we must provide the resources to meet the capacity needs,” said House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh. Now is the time to make this investment, because it will pay dividends for our workers and our state for a generation.”

Other legislation discussed by Democrats Thursday included:

  • The creation of a commercial properties database for prospective employers to quickly identify potential areas for relocation and expansion;
  • Doubling the capacity of the West Tennessee solar farm by 2013 to keep up with national competition;
  • Providing small businesses a sales tax holiday of up to $5,000 for equipment purchases and upgrades;
  • Fully funding the West Tennessee megasite, in order to give the Grand Division the same opportunities afforded Chattanooga with Volkswagen and Clarksville with Hemlock;
  • Providing a New Entrepreneur Tax Credit for new business owners to recover startup and expansion costs; and
  • A program modeled after the Georgia Works initiative that allows employers to train Tennesseans receiving unemployment benefits, with the goal of providing trainees expanded job opportunities and the potential for a full-time job.

Democrats noted that the initiatives discussed Thursday were only the first phase of an ongoing, bipartisan process to identify ways state government can play a role in job creation.

“We are in a jobs crisis right now, and we need all hands on deck to help sail the ship through these choppy waters,” said Senate Democratic Chairman Lowe Finney. “It’s going to take all of us working together to put Tennesseans back to work.”