A look at the AP’s top Tennessee stories of 2019
Here is a look at the top 10 Tennessee stories of 2019, according to an Associated Press survey of reporters, editors and broadcasters.
1.) CASADA CONTROVERSY: Rep. Glen Casada resignedas House speaker in August amid multiple scandals, including explicit text messages, after a vote of no confidence from fellow House Republicans. The move prompted an August special session in which Rep. Cameron Sexton was voted in as speaker. The scandals first resulted in the resignation of Casada’s former chief of staff, Cade Cothren, due to the sexually explicit text messages about women he and Casada exchanged, among other controversies. Tennessee had not seen a speaker resign early since 1931 in the Senate.
2.) SCHOOL VOUCHERS: Republican Gov. Bill Lee narrowly secured a victory on school vouchers in the Legislature in May. The legislation will divert tax dollars to private education and allow participating families to receive debit cards worth up to $7,300 in state education money each year only for Davidson and Shelby county students. The House passed the measure initially by a single vote after House Speaker Glen Casada refused to accept a 49-49 tie for 40 minutes and was able to switch one vote his way. The ordeal sparked accusations of vote-buying attempts, which Casada has denied.
3.) EXECUTIONS: Continuing to buck the national slowdown in executions, Tennessee put three inmates to death in 2019 and Attorney General Herbert Slatery asked the state Supreme Court for permission to execute another nine people on death row. Since Tennessee resumed executions in August 2018, four of the six prisoners put to death have chosen the electric chair, a method no other state has used since 2009. Slatery has also sought to reinstate a death sentence for Abu-Ali Abudur’Rahman, a black man who was resentenced to life in prison in August after raising claims that racism tainted the jury selection process. His execution date had been April 2020.
4.) TENNCARE BLOCK GRANT: Republican Gov. Bill Lee’s administration shipped off a plan in November for the federal government to consider, requesting to become the first state to receive funding in a lump sum for its Medicaid program, TennCare. The block grant proposal, which lawmakers called for under a new state law, drew plenty of concerns that the plan could compromise care for the state’s most vulnerable low-income and disabled citizens. Lee has insisted it won’t.
5.) CYNTOIA BROWN: Fifteen years after Cyntoia Brown was charged with murder, the woman who says she was a 16-year-old sex trafficking victim when she killed a man in 2004 was released from prison in August after former Republican Gov. Bill Haslam commuted her life sentence in January. Brown drew celebrity support for her clemency plea and has published a book since her release from prison.
6.) VOTER REGISTRATION PENALTIES: New restrictions on voter registration groups advocated by Republican Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett cleared the Legislature and GOP Gov. Bill Lee signed off on them, only to see the penalties blocked by a federal judge before they would’ve taken effect. In a first among states, the law includes fines for groups with paid workers that submit too many incomplete registration forms. Groups could also face misdemeanors if they don’t comply with new administrative rules. The restrictions aren’t scheduled to face trial until February 2021, likely keeping the penalties blocked through the 2020 elections.
7.) VOLKSWAGEN UNION: Workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga in June voted against forming a factory-wide union, handing a setback to the United Auto Workers’ efforts to gain a foothold among foreign auto facilities in the South. The failed attempt followed a similarly close 2014 vote that came up short of organizing the facility under the United Auto Workers. The vote followed an announcement in January that the Chattanooga factory will be the focus of an $800 million investment in the company’s manufacturing of electric vehicles in North America. The company broke ground on the expansion in November.
8.) NASHVILLE NFL DRAFT: Nashville transformed its downtown to draw about 600,000 people over three days for the NFL Draft in April, smashing the previous record when Philadelphia drew 250,000 fans over the three days of the 2017 draft.
9.) INMATE ESCAPE: Tennessee convict Curtis Watson was charged with sexually assaulting and strangling female corrections administrator Debra Johnson at West Tennessee State Penitentiary before escaping prison grounds on a tractor in August.
10.) RURAL KILLINGS: Michael Cummins was charged with killing eight people in rural Westmoreland in April, including his parents, uncle and a 12-year-old girl. Six victims were found dead in a rural trailer. At the time of the slayings, Cummins was close to being arrested for probation violations. He was on probation after serving just 16 months of a 10-year sentence on a conviction for attempting in September 2017 to burn down a neighbor’s house and assaulting her when she tried to put out the fire. A prosecutor has indicated he plans to seek the death penalty against Cummins.
Here is a look at the top stories of the previous five years:
— 2018: Former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry revealed in January that she had a prolonged extramarital affair with her former bodyguard. The two pleaded guilty separately to felony theft charges related to the affair, and Barry resigned.
— 2017: Republican Bob Corker engages in a war of words with President Donald Trump and makes a surprise decision to retire from the Senate after two terms.
— 2016: Wildfires roar out of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, torching hundreds of buildings and leaving 14 people dead.
— 2015: Four Marines and a sailor are shot and killed in Chattanooga.
— 2014: Voters approve constitutional amendment to give Tennessee lawmakers more power to restrict abortions.