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Tennessee editorial roundup

May 16, 2018

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

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May 16

Cleveland Daily Banner on state Rep. Kevin Brooks leaving office:

Twelve years is a long time to do anything, and when it’s doing something you love then saying “goodbye” can be tough.When it involves public service it can be even tougher.

We speak of state Rep. Kevin Brooks who is ending his time in the Tennessee House of Representatives. First elected in 2006 to succeed former District 24 legislator Dwayne Bunch — who moved on to the Senate — Brooks has made plenty of memories while serving under two governors, Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam.

Most of the memories have been good ones. Obviously, he has seen setbacks that have taught him new lessons in patience and humility.

He spoke of the first one — occurring in his opening year in office — during a recent interview with the Cleveland Daily Banner.

“The first bill was . my first failure,” Brooks reflected. “It was to name Veterans Memorial Parkway in Cleveland. I came up here to do that first thing. I called the Cleveland Daily Banner and they sent David Davis (former writer and managing editor) up here. We were going to have the bill pass, and embarrassingly it did not pass.”

He added, “I was devastated and embarrassed.”

The problem? In Nashville, it was a simple one: Money. The proposed bill came with a fiscal note. The road’s naming would require a $600 expense for two road signs.

Brooks remembers the lesson well.

“If it costs one dime in the House, it has to go through the Finance Committee and it can be stopped,” he recalled.

That’s what happened. It went to the state House’s fiscal leaders, and it died.

That led to a story in the Cleveland newspaper, and from there it became a rallying cry. Hearing of the dilemma, a popular Cleveland banker and veterans advocate offered to pay the expense himself. George R. “Bobby” Taylor, a World War II veteran and co-founder of the Bank of Cleveland, and also a personal friend to Brooks, said he’d pick up the tab for the signs.

Still, the initiative stalled when Brooks learned private funds could not be used for public works.

It didn’t end there. Seeking counsel from a fellow legislator, Brooks was directed to the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, who pledged to “make it happen.”

It happened, and the naming in Cleveland occurred.

Life is not easy in the halls of a state capitol where no legislator can work alone. He, or she, always . always . requires the votes, and the support, of others.

Certainly, Brooks’ 12 years in state lawmaking resulted in far more positive experiences than negative.

“I hope over the 12 years I have been able to convey to the people of Cleveland how unbelievably humbled and honored I am that they allowed me to serve,” the legislator told our reporter.

Given that Brooks has returned to Cleveland in order to seek the office of city mayor in the coming August election, it would be natural for readers to assume this to be an editorial of endorsement.

It is not. This newspaper does not endorse political candidates.

Brooks faces a formidable opponent in retired Cleveland High School educator Duane D. Schriver. Both are good men. Each is capable of running this community, and working closely with the city manager and city council to make decisions that are good for the future of our hometown.

We wish them both our best in the coming campaign.

Because Brooks is ending a long career in state government, he has enjoyed a higher profile than his opponent in recent weeks due to his farewell circuit that has taken him to many civic clubs and public forums. However, in days to come our newspaper will feature Schriver in a one-on-one interview in the interest of balanced coverage and campaign fairness.

It is ironic that Brooks and Schriver share something very much in common: As retirees in state government and education respectively, both have left a positive impact on those within their surround. This is why both are quality men and well deserving of the chance to lead City Hall.

But as Brooks leaves state government, it is proper that we recognize his many accomplishments in Nashville, and that we thank him for his dedicated service.

He has represented the people of Cleveland and Bradley County well, and he is deserving of the community accolades bestowed upon him.

Now, we look forward to the mayoral campaign featuring two good men, two big hearts that want the best for our city, and two visionaries who seek to become an integral part of Cleveland’s future.

Online: http://clevelandbanner.com

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May 12

The Memphis Daily News on the role of grocery stores in communities:

The business of food is in a cycle of change from farm to table - whether it’s blowing up the Memphis barbecue stereotype or how we get our groceries.

All parts of that chain are to be found in Memphis business and culture.

This is where Clarence Saunders innovated the modern supermarket concept with self-service Piggly Wiggly stores, a new experience for shoppers who were used to having a neighborhood grocer fill their orders and have them ready for pickup or doorstep delivery.

In many ways, we’ve come full circle: With the few clicks of a mouse, we can order groceries online and - depending on the service - either pick them up at the store or have them delivered to our homes. (FedEx, another Memphis innovation, has the doorstep delivery option down pat.)

The latest evolution in the grocery-buying process isn’t an improvement for all of us.

Supermarkets are opening in clustered areas, pockets of activity where customers can choose from several grocers, depending on their preference or selection.

Other areas of the city, meanwhile, are classified as food deserts because they lack access to a retail source of a wide variety of food - particularly produce and other fresh products. In our city, this isolation is made worse by the lack of a viable and vibrant public transportation system.

When Kroger closed its stores in Southgate and Orange Mound earlier this year it became even clearer how essential these businesses are to a community’s ability to sustain itself and grow. The closings also demonstrated the hard decisions businesses make in an industry where profit margins are historically narrow and as a result, it doesn’t take a whole lot in the way of losses to force action by the front office.

As those stores closed, new experiments that are more grocery store than supermarket are underway in Binghampton, along with existing templates like the South Memphis Farmers Market, which works with grocers as suppliers for a limited range of products that the market otherwise couldn’t offer at competitive prices.

These are smaller-scale operations that don’t have all of the bells and whistles of a big-box supermarket where shoppers can buy everything they need in one location.

Food is not just any business. It’s one of those businesses that has a relationship with the growth of a community. Existing growth, along with the potential for more, draws the interest of business owners. And their presence guarantees even more interest and development.

These are difficult deals to land, and it’s likely many more fall by the wayside than come to fruition.

Business owners generally aren’t community builders. That may be a byproduct of what they do, but they rarely take a chance on locating in an area unless they have some indication the neighborhood is stable or growing.

Communities are a bigger lift that require more hands and shoulders and backs. And there’s a role for government in offering tax breaks and other incentives that are smaller and more targeted than the ones normally associated with such projects.

Creating communities isn’t easy work. Businesses, including small-scale operations, are an ingredient - just like neighborhoods and parks and schools - that plays a crucial role in our civic bottom line.

Online: https://www.memphisdailynews.com/

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May 11

The Chattanooga Times Free Press on rising health care premiums:

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., held a figurative mirror in front of congressional Democrats earlier this week. If they had any self-respect, they would have paled at the image that stared back at them.

Our senior senator, tired of crafting repairs, fixes and bridges for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and vexed that his party was being blamed for something it had nothing to do with creating, unleashed a measured tirade that every lawmaker across the aisle from him ought to have heard.

“About 10 days ago,” Alexander said, “Sen. (Charles) Schumer came to the Senate floor and warned that very soon, health insurance companies will begin to announce their proposed rates for the year 2019 in each state across the country, and that when they do, many health insurance companies will propose rate increases. Today, several Democrat senators made the same charge. And of course they blame President (Donald) Trump and Republicans in Congress. It’s a little like if you sold someone a house with a leaky roof and you tried to blame the new owner for that leaky roof.”

Insurance rates have risen every year since the markets for the government-regulated health program began. For most of those years, the high double-digit increases were proposed when Barack Obama, the man under whom the health care law was created, was president. Trump only took office last year.

For one Tennessee farmer Alexander used as an example, rates have increased 176 percent since 2013, the year before the ACA marketplaces opened.

Indeed, Democrats have had a difficult time admitting they created a flawed system but take every opportunity to blame Republicans for the problems.

“Democrats built this house with a leaky roof,” Alexander continued in his remarks on the Senate floor. “They built these individual insurance markets where no one can find insurance. They wrote the sloppy law and they failed to make the markets competitive, they erased the ability of consumers to have choice, they didn’t follow the law when they paid out the cost-sharing reduction payments, and — this is the very worst — when Republicans hadn’t reached agreement on repeal, and were prepared instead to stabilize these markets and lower premiums by as much as 40 percent next year — Democrats blocked our efforts. So not only are they complaining about the slow pace of repairs, they are blocking the repairs from happening.”

Many insurance companies jumped at the chance to offer the government-guided policies after the health care law was passed in 2010. Why not? It meant more business for them and perhaps an opportunity — if consumers liked their product — to buy other insurance from them.

But the health care scheme never worked like it was planned. Young people never bought into it like the government expected. The cost for care for older people was higher. Insurance companies didn’t receive the cost-sharing payments from the government as promised. In time, many of the companies were losing their shirt on that portion of their business.

So, insurance companies increased their rates to try to make a go of it. When they couldn’t, one by one, state by state, they began dropping out of the program. Sure, the potential for the law’s repeal last year and its changes this year have added to the volatility for insurance companies. But the increases remain more a function of the frailty of the law rather than what’s happened since Trump was inaugurated.

Meanwhile, Alexander, with bipartisan support after four bipartisan hearings and four roundtables, offered three proposals that experts said would have shored up states, increased flexibility and lowered premiums. But Democrats blocked those measures from being included in a March omnibus spending bill.

“By their words and by their actions,” he said in his address, “what Democrats really were saying was: ‘We won’t change one sentence of Obamacare, even parts that obviously are not working, and even when most of their caucus supports the changes.’ ... Democrats could have worked with us to lower premiums by as much as 40 percent, but instead choose to cling to an unworkable law.”

Alexander said there are further rules the Trump administration has or can propose to provide some flexibility to help lower premiums, but he suggested it is time the American people place the responsibility for the high cost of insurance premiums where it belongs.

“So if you have an insurance premium that is going up 40 percent next year, on top of an over 105 percent increase since 2013, you can thank a Democrat,” he said.

“If you’d like greater choice, and the opportunity for lower premiums, you should support Republicans.”

The statesmanlike Alexander is one who is rarely pointed about criticism, preferring instead to reach out and find workable, bipartisan solutions. But on this issue he’d repeatedly done just that and gotten doors slammed in his face.

The coda of his remarks should again make the point that it’s important who governs.

Online: http://www.timesfreepress.com

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