Views from elsewhere in Tennessee
The following is a roundup of recent editorials from Tennessee members of The Associated Press. In some cases, the editorials have been edited for length. They do not reflect an editorial position of the AP but represent the opinions of the newspapers from which they are taken.
The Jackson Sun, Dec. 10
State Sen. Jerry Cooper, a Morrison Democrat, did the right thing when he submitted his resignation to Gov. Phil Bredesen. The resignation completes the downfall of the once powerful lawmaker, but in the long run, it is the best thing for his constituents.
Cooper has had a rough time in recent years. Most recently, he was hit with a record fine of $120,000 by the Registry of Election Finance for moving $95,000 in campaign funds into his personal account between 1999 and 2001. Then, there was the federal land fraud trial earlier this year in which he was acquitted. And there was the no-contest plea to drunken driving charges after a one-car accident on I-24.
Clearly, resigning was the best thing Cooper could have done, both for himself and his constituents. To put it bluntly, his reputation was in shambles. His poor choices in recent years had rightly called into question his judgment and his fitness for office. The people of Senate District 14 deserve someone they can have full faith in to represent them, someone without the distractions and pressures of political scandal.
Still, as sad as Cooper’s situation is, it is appropriate to point out that things weren’t always this way. Cooper began serving in the Senate in 1985. From 1998 until earlier this year, he had served as chairman of the powerful Commerce, Labor and Agriculture Committee. He helped broker a $1 billion tax increase that passed the General Assembly during a partial government shutdown in 2002.
And it was recently announced that Warren County had received state funding for a $3.7 million rural water project Cooper had been working on. Cooper has his had his problems. But he also has done a lot for the people of his district and the people of this state.
The Warren County Com-mission should move quickly to fill Cooper’s seat until a special election can be held so that residents can continue to have representation. As for Cooper, we wish him luck in picking up the pieces of a once-thriving political career and moving on.
The (Clarksville) Leaf-Chronicle, Dec. 9
Gov. Phil Bredesen and House Republicans disagreed this past week over how to go about executing prisoners in Tennessee. Bredesen had the better argument this time around.
The governor has said a pending Supreme Court case coupled with a federal judge’s ruling likely will delay any executions until this summer. That includes Paul Dennis Reid — convicted of killing seven people in Nashville and Clarksville — who had been scheduled to die on Jan. 3.
Two Kentucky death row inmates have appealed their death penalty sentences to the high court on the grounds the three-drug lethal injection protocol amounts to cruel and unusual punishment. In effect, those appeals have put all executions on hold across the United States. A U.S. district judge also has ruled Tennessee’s method of injection is unconstitutional.
For their part, the state House Republicans have said they intend to introduce legislation in the upcoming session to change the state’s lethal injection to a one-drug method.
Although it’s understandable why many Tennesseans want to see the death penalty carried out, there’s no use at this time for Tennessee to try to enact a new law, which also undoubtedly would end up being challenged in the courts.
Let’s see how the Supreme Court ruling shakes out and then decide where to go.
Bristol Herald Courier, Dec. 9
The Johnia Berry Act passed the Tennessee legislature with much fanfare, but apparently without the money to implement it.
The act expanded Tennessees DNA testing program to include accused criminals, not just those actually convicted of a felony. Supporters hope this expansion will help solve cases that might otherwise have gone cold.
The law has potential. Without full funding, that potential wont be realized. Lawmakers need to rectify this oversight when the General Assembly meets in January.
The funding issue came to light last week when Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director Mark Gwyn testified before a state budget committee. Gwyn said his agency needs $1 million a year to fully implement the law.
In theory, the additional samples in the states DNA database will increase the likelihood of a so-called “cold hit.” In a “cold hit,” DNA from a crime scene is matched to the DNA profile of someone in the database who was not a suspect in the crime.
It was this potential to solve crime that led the parents of Johnia Berry, a Bristol, Tenn. woman who was slain in Knoxville, to push for the expansion of Tennessees DNA database.
An arrest was finally made in Berrys slaying several months after the law change took place. DNA played a role in that arrest.
At the time that lawmakers were considering the Berry Act, its costs were discussed. A fiscal note — which is prepared for all legislation — indicated the TBI would need more than $1 million in additional funding each year to cope with the laws demands. Much of the money would pay to hire five additional DNA analysts.
Yet, somehow, lawmakers forgot to put the funding in the budget. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has said it was a “miscommunication.”
House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower has a slightly different take; he said the TBI signed off on the bill as it was passed, adding that he felt “misled.”
Without the money to make it work, the law is just words on a page. It wont solve any crimes or make Tennessee any safer. Lawmakers must find the money to fund the program.
Published in The Messenger 12.14.07