Tag Archives: Lowe Finney

It’s Our Rivers And Mountaintops, Not Corporations


There is a story coming out of North Carolina about Riverkeepers who have been watching a coal ash spill on Cape Fear River. (No, really.)

Here’s a little piece of history for you: regarding how Ned McWherter and NC got into a spat back in 1988.

The controversy centered around the Champion Paper Mill in Canton, NC located ten miles upstream from the Tennessee state line in Cocke County. For over 80 years, the paper mill had discharged industrial waste into the river, destroying wildlife habitat and recreational areas downstream. Residents of Newport, TN and Hartford, TN complained about the negative economic and health consequences of the pollution, including higher cancer rates in areas along the Pigeon River.

In the late 80’s, opposition to the Champion Paper Mill in Tennessee reached a political boiling point, with newspapers and elected officials calling on Governor McWherter to deny the renewal of a water quality variance needed by the paper mill to continue operations. During the debate, Champion threatened to close the mill and layoff over 2,000 workers, which sparked heated debate across state lines.

Early one September morning, Governor McWherter, legislative aide Billy Stair and an agent from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency loaded up in a canoe just north of the paper mill where the waters were vibrant and pristine. As they floated past the Champion operation, the clear headwaters turned into a black discharge that bubbled around their canoe. Just past the paper mill, a local sheriff stopped the group and informed them they were trespassing on “Champion’s River.” The sheriff did not realize he had stopped the Governor of Tennessee, but he did solidify Gov. McWherter’s decision to deny the variance request. On Christmas Eve of 1988, Gov. McWherter called on his Deputy Governor Harlan Matthews to deliver the news of the variance refusal to North Carolina Governor Jim Martin. Governor McWherter’s refusal of the variance request was met with much praise in Tennessee and solidified his legacy as a steward of Tennessee’s natural resources.

I realize that link is a presser but the altercation has been reported not only in Ned’s book but in Dark Waters.

We all need water and when we blow off the tops of mountains, they don’t grow back, campers. And the bottom line is that last week, a bill that would help Tennessee called the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Gloria Johnson and Sen. Lowe Finney had a few setbacks. I’ll let Johnson explain:

Last week, big corporate special interests unfortunately won another delay of the “Scenic Vistas Act.” This measure would protect our mountains — and thousands of tourism jobs — from the destructive practice of mountaintop removal. This legislation is supported by Republicans and Democrats, and according to polling, a vast majority of Tennesseans agree we should save our mountaintops, yet the supermajority refuses to hear our voices

Ned threw an awkward punch at NC, documented in the biography of his life in office by Billy Stair:

When the Environmental Protection Agency ordered Champion to upgrade the plant to meet Tennessee’s water quality standards, the company threatened to close the plant and lay off all 2,000 workers. East Tennessee residents held demonstrations, and asked that Governor McWherter not renew the plant’s water quality variance. Legislators from both states traded barbs, cars with Tennessee license plates were vandalized in North Carolina, and McWherter’s office was flooded with calls from angry North Carolina residents.[7] Following an unscheduled trip to Canton, where he was confronted by a sheriff who told him he was “trespassing on Champion’s River,” McWherter announced on Christmas Day, 1988, that would not renew the plant’s water quality variance.

The environment is important, folks. And having people actively watch corporate entities who are damned determined to milk our planet leaving nothing behind should be celebrated, not vilified.

It’s up to us to make our leaders accountable but to also support our elected officials fight the good fight when they are trying to take care of our state. Sadly, their biggest enemy now is that these issues aren’t always hitting the media, and the biggest enemy is not getting a bill out of committee for discussion.

Milan Would Be Devastated

Vintage Photo of Downtown Milan

Milan, TN is a small town roughly 20 miles north of Jackson. It has a Wal-Mart and various fast food restaurants and a small strip mall that houses a Dollar Tree, a shoe store and a Rave21. Each fall, purple signs line the main highway  and backstreets supporting the high school’s football team, the Milan Bulldogs, who’ve taken home more state championships than I can count. A Perkins Restaurant opened last month and the news of the chain restaurant made the newspaper and the parking lot remains packed with waiting for a seat understood and they are proud of it. The newspaper office sits across the street from the small movie theater. For many years, when you would visit the editor, his dog would be lying patiently at his feet as his human prepared the weekly paper.

Small towns have their own rhythm and their own vibe.  Milan is no different. It is unique in its own way, proudly and painstakingly caught up in traditions and social mores created over multiple generations.  I find urban dwellers see rural towns in the light of seeing “the forest for the trees” but each tree has its own exquisite and individual qualities that make them special.

Milan is a town that has faced some adversity recently. Straight line winds sent a rain of trees to the north side of Milan back in May just one week after floods and tornados swept through the entire state. To drive through the area it appears that the community was rained on by 100-year-old Oak trees.

The community is facing another attack though not by mother nature but by the possible loss of the Milan Arsenal. I don’t know how long the munitions plant has been there other than my grandmother worked there at one time during WWII. The Arsenal, throughout the years, has been mysterious for those of us traveling through Milan and the only thing anyone really knows about it is that there are grenades and mortar shells made in the distance from the road in a building hidden behind trees in the distance. Gates keep people and vehicles out and keep the work they do in.  Old-timers used to call it BulletTown although I haven’t heard that term since my grandfather passed away in 1981.

The town of roughly 7,500 people was the first southern town to have little league baseball. True story.

Signs now line the road in red with white lettering in capital letters begging to save the Milan Arsenal. If the plant were to close, there would be a loss of 500 jobs. With only 3,000 families as a whole living in the town, no one would go unharmed with the loss. To make matters worse, there has been quite a bit of discussion on using the Arsenal as a nuclear waste facility. Legislators Sen. Lowe Finney and Rep. John Tanner have been fighting the proposal and Gov. Phil Bredesen is also intervening and offering assistance.

From a detailed editorial this morning in the Jackson Sun:

State Sen. Lowe Finney and U.S. Rep. John Tanner have led the way in fighting for the arsenal jobs. Other state lawmakers who represent the area also have joined the fight. Adding Bredesen to the mix ensures their requests will be taken seriously and that state lawmakers and the Milan-Gibson County communities are not going to sit by while 500 jobs disappear.

The initial report provided by American Ordnance to the Army indicated the proposed changes would have little impact. But lawmakers argued that the report lacked details. For a rural community the size of Milan, the loss of 500 jobs cannot be taken lightly. It would be disastrous to the local economy.

Another part of the arsenal proposal is that future use of the facility would be for storage of depleted uranium. Turning the arsenal into a dumping ground for radioactive waste is a poor tradeoff for losing 500 manufacturing jobs. The arsenal already has spent years fighting for remediation of ground water contamination and other environmental hazards from many earlier munitions operations at the facility dating back to World War II. The idea that it would now be used to store radioactive waste is unacceptable.

Let’s also take into consideration which is mentioned in the news editorial that the workers are specific to their skill set. It would not be easy to go and find another job easily. Where do you transfer to exactly when you make weapons?

And nuclear waste? It’s good to see legislators coming together to try to save Milan but it’s also indicative of how small towns are forgotten sometimes.  How it had to get to this point for a small town to keep what they have had for decades.

The story has been brewing for weeks and the signs have multiplied.  The fear of job loss and the community being used as a uranium landfill is very real.

In May, we shouted from the rooftops “We Are Nashville” and now it might be a good time to use that voice again citing “We Are Tennessee!” and we don’t want this anywhere in our state.

Sen. Lowe Finney On The Milan Arsenal

From the presser:


MILAN, Tenn. – Gov. Phil Bredesen said Tuesday that he would work with State Sen. Lowe Finney (D-Jackson) and other federal and state lawmakers to keep more than 500 ammunition production jobs at the Milan Arsenal.

“Gov. Bredesen has brought thousands of jobs to this state, and he told me today that he is just as intent in keeping them here,” Finney said after wrapping up a Monday afternoon conference call with Governor Phil Bredesen and other state officials regarding the arsenal.

An Army proposal would move the jobs to Iowa and replace them with depleted uranium to be stored at the Milan facility. The exchange is an unfair one for Gibson and Carroll counties, which are already suffering with double-digit unemployment.

“Here you have rural counties that could use some help, and now they’re talking about taking away more jobs,” Finney said. “I’m not going to sit back and let that happen. We need to show that we’re serious about keeping these jobs.”

Bredesen told state officials Monday that he would submit a letter of support during public debate on the matter to keep the jobs at the Milan Arsenal. Bredesen also said he will ask for a new and improved environmental impact study, to be conducted by an independent third party.

Lawmakers have roundly criticized a previous study for its lack of detail and an apparent conflict of interest concerning the company that prepared the study. They were also critical of claims that storing nuclear waste at the facility would bring jobs back to the area.

“No one wants this facility to be used as a dumping ground, especially at the expense of so many good paying jobs,” Finney said. “I’m glad Governor Bredesen will help spearhead our state’s efforts at keeping these jobs in West Tennessee.”

Related: Braisted breaks it down.

Finney Proposes Addition To Ag Enhancement Grant Program

From the presser:

NASHVILLE – State Sen. Lowe Finney (D-Jackson) will propose $10 million be added to the state’s agriculture enhancement grant program when the state Senate takes up the budget this week.

“We have farmers in West Tennessee who rely on these grants, especially given the devastation of the floods this month. Now is not the time to leave our farmers out in the cold,” Finney said.

Finney will propose $10 million to be dedicated to the grants, which provide cost share funds for long term investments in livestock and farming operations. Participation allows producers to adapt to changing market situations, increase farm efficiency and make a positive economic impact in their communities.

The budget proposal passed Thursday in the Senate Finance Committee includes $6.3 million in agriculture grants that would be scheduled to disappear next year. That’s not even close to the original $17.5 million farmers would have received in Gov. Bredesen’s budget proposal, Finney said.

Finney’s amendment would take $10 million out of a total $50 million designated for employee buyouts that wouldn’t take effect until June 2011.

“We are putting $50 million into a program that may or may not happen, for people whose positions may or may not be eliminated. The needs of these farmers are immediate, and we need to help them now,” Finney said.

Senators will take up Finney’s amendment as part of the budget discussions scheduled to take place on the Senate floor as early as Wednesday, June 2.

Odom, Finney And Registered Voters

Both chambers passed a bill today, sponsored by Rep. Gary Odom and Sen. Lowe Finney, “[providing] that no voter may be purged due to a deficient registration form once the administrator has declared the person a registered voter, unless the administrator later determines the voter knowingly made or consented to false information being placed on the registration form or failed to provide a valid signature.”

J.R. Lind has the presser.

Odom Calls Shenanigans

Gary Odom is not too happy about the recent purges of voters since Republicans took over Election Commissions statewide. To help combat the purges, he and State Senate Sponsor Lowe Finney have introduced HB 3456/SB 3392 which “requires voter registrations that are considered inactive to only be purged two years after a federal census of population has been taken.”. The Chattanooga Time Free Press takes up the story from there.

House Minority Leader Gary Odom, D-Nashville, asked the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation in a letter to probe what he later called a “witch hunt.”

“I know firsthand that some of these voters have been registered to vote in Tennessee for more than 48 years,” wrote Rep. Odom, who said he has also been told that 70,000 Memphis voters and 50,000 Nashville voters have been purged.

During the hearing, Benton County Election Administrator Mark Ward, a Republican, said his mailings were aimed at rectifying incomplete records he discovered when he took over from his Democratic predecessor.

House Assistant Republican Leader Gerald McCormick, of Chattanooga, charged that Rep. Odom was insinuating wrongdoing without having facts, calling it “the kind of thing McCarthy did in the ’50s.”

Despite the flareup, the bill passed.

Finney Proposes Freezing Per Diems

From the Presser from the  Tennessee Senate Democrats.  Sen. Lowe Finney is going to be making points on this one.

NASHVILLE – Sen. Lowe Finney (D-Jackson) is calling for a freeze on lawmakers’ per diem rate until 2014, saying that legislators shouldn’t receive an increase in per diems until Tennessee’s economy fully recovers.

“Tennessee families are struggling to make ends meet, and lawmakers have no business demanding an increase in taxpayer money for personal use,” Finney said.

Finney’s bill (SB3650) would freeze the current per diem rate until 2014, when Tennessee’s economy is expected to return finally to pre-recession levels, according to presentations to lawmakers by University of Tennessee economist Bill Fox.

Currently Tennessee lawmakers are eligible for $185 per day – one of the highest rates in the country – to cover travel and living expenses. The state faces a tough budget year that could include layoffs and cuts to TennCare.

Tennessee lawmaker per diems are increased automatically when the federal government’s per diem increases, meaning state legislators don’t have to vote on the matter. They can, however, put a freeze on the per diem.

Last October the per diem increased from $171.  Under Finney’s bill, the freeze would go into effect Nov. 2010 and would expire in Nov. 2014.

“I hope that my colleagues will join me in supporting this freeze.  Families across the state are setting priorities every day,” Finney said.   “We should do the same.”

Finney plans to introduce his bill next week in the Senate.

Editorial: And the Democrats in the Lege Wonder Why Bloggers Get Angry

Ok, then, as our friend R. Neal occasionally says.

What the hell is the Senate Democratic Caucus thinking here?  Why did the un-aptly named Tennessee Health Care Freedom Act pass with DEMOCRATIC votes like those of Senators Lowe Finney of Jackson and Eric Stewart of Belvidere?  Why did some of my very favorite people like my own Senator, Beverly Marrero, vote PRESENT, NOT VOTING???

If there is a good reason that can be given to voters, I’d sure as hell love to hear it.  This is yet another example of our Democrats in Nashville trying to be too cute by half because some dumbass consultant has told them NOT to push a Democratic agenda because the rurals don’t like it.

Are they really that sure?  And just WHOM are the consultants listening to, anyway?

You see, if there IS a reason, those of us who blog on the side and support liberal/left positions need to know about this.  We need to be able to get the damned message out, if it’s a message that will be recognizable to the average voter.

They don’t give two hoots in hell about the inside-baseball stuff, all they know when they see this is that Democrats in our State Senate have either voted for or did nothing to stop an attempt to make Medicare illegal in Tennessee.

Yes, you read that right.  And, as ACK reports, the Goopers are doing the cabbage-patch dance in the halls of the Capitol.  Why shouldn’t they, they kicked our asses all over the Senate floor, why NOT celebrate?

You see, our legislators, or at least the leadership, is infected with Nashvilleitis, the belief that the only things that matter happen in their chambers.  There are exceptions, but some of THEM didn’t bother to vote on this idiotic bill.

So WHAT if this bill is unconstitutional?  Yes, it makes the Goopers look even more nuts than they are, but at least the Republicans ADVANCE THEIR AGENDA!!!!!

Can any of our readers tell me just what the hell the Democratic Agenda HAPPENS TO BE at the current moment? Do we HAVE one?

You see, folks, I look up there and see a lot of TIRED Democrats who are not ready for the fight that is coming this fall.  They KNOW they’re about to get their asses kicked, and they have neither the strength or energy to fight this fight.  The average age of Democratic legislators is several years older than the average age of Republicans in the General Assembly.  They don’t know any other way than they way they grew up with, a way which worked up until 2001 but does no longer, and they just have not figured it out.

They also haven’t bothered to find any replacements, either, because they never imagined that they would EVER be in this position.  Because of this, Ron Ramsey will continue to be Lt. Governor and, even worse, we could have Jason Mumpower and not Kent Williams as Speaker of the House.  If you live in West Tennessee, bend over and kiss your hiney goodbye, because they’re going to give us the Ned Beatty treatment.

You know, that’s really kind of why STP came to be, because we saw a generation gap in Democratic leadership, and in our own crazy way, we’re trying to inspire people who believe in Democratic principles (see Wellstone, Paul or Bumpers, Dale) to get off their butts and help us figure out where to go from here.

As much as I love our folks, it just might be time for them to think of something else to do.

Rant over.