State Constitution Amendment 2
Vote yes to Amendment 2 and keep Tennessee Supreme Court justices and appellate judges above the partisan politics fray.
The heart of this question is about who chooses judges.
Currently, the state constitution says it's up to voters to choose judges in the Supreme and appellate courts, but that's not how it's really done because in recent years there have been numerous legal challenges to the way Tennessee selects appellate judges. A legislative fix since 1994 has been a "merit-selection system" by the state's Judicial Nominating Commission. Under this system, the governor selects state judicial replacements from a group of nominees presented to him by the commission. Justices go on to serve eight-year terms, after which they may seek another term in a general voter-retention election. Only one Supreme Court justice, since 1971, has been removed from the bench.
Meanwhile, the continuing legal challenges, and resulting confusion, weakens the system.
Although it may be easy to have a knee-jerk reaction that judges should be elected, it's not really practical to have 29 appellate judges on the ballot every election. And it's especially not practical in today's political environment when out-of-state interest groups are looking to "buy" state courts and influence the selection of judges.
These are people the public almost never knows and pretty much can't learn about because being a judge often means those individuals can't be very public on issues in the way that mayors and governors can. Espousing opinions on policies diminishes their appearance of impartially.
So what Amendment 2 aims to do is walk the fine line of keeping voter input for our highest judges but not open those judges to modern-day politics as usual -- complete with "for sale" signs for campaign donors and special interests.
If voters OK the amendment, justices would be appointed by the governor who is elected by voters, approved by a two-thirds majority of both state houses whose members are elected by voters, and retained or fired at the end of their eight-year terms by voters.
Amendment 2 is supported by bipartisan big names like former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, current Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and former Tennessee Republican Sen. Fred Thompson. It is endorsed by the Tennessee Bar Association, Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation, Tennessee Sheriffs' Association, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry, Beacon Center of Tennessee, NAACP of Tennessee, League of Women Voters of Tennessee, Tennessee Business Roundtable, Tennessee Bankers Association, Tennessee Fraternal Order of Police, Women's Political Collaborative of Tennessee and the Tennessee Hospital Association.
Our own William "Mickey" Barker, a retired justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court, also supports passage of the amendment, which preserves the best parts of the current system and improves it by adding new checks and balances from the General Assembly and the voices of Tennesseans.
Vote yes on Amendment 2.
State Constitution Amendment 4
The reason we have a state lottery is that it supports education. If Amendment 4 passes, the law would then require the legislature to vote on which other nonprofit organization events -- specifically veterans' hall fundraisers -- could host charitable gambling events as they did some 25 years ago before the Tennessee Lottery bill was passed.
Some think veterans groups weren't included in the 2002 constitutional amendment on lotteries because the Rocky Top scandal -- the widespread charitable bingo industry scam of the 1980s -- was still fresh on voters' minds. Including veterans groups might have harmed passage of a lottery to fund education. Others think vets' groups were just overlooked because they have an unusual tax code different from the well-known 501(c)(3) status already included in the existing law.
Legion leaders claim they need gaming -- even if for just one event a year -- to support veterans and their families with student scholarships and to promote such causes as veterans' health care.
The individual fundraising events must be approved on an individual basis by two-thirds majorities of the House and Senate -- a body that has difficulty voting on statewide needs, let alone individual legion fundraisers.
On one hand, it is clearly hypocritical to allow church charity gaming (the 501(c)(3) tax code) and not allow veteran charity gaming. On the other hand, we do remember Rocky Top and, in fact, gambling charges were brought recently against 48 people at the the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post on Riverside Drive. On Friday, authorities announced they will agree to drop the felony charges to misdemeanor charges but keep the $9,000 confiscated there.
Much of life is a gamble, but it's a good bet that there's still too much room for corruption in charity gaming. Vote no on Amendment 4.