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Sexton, Cochran talk Dobbs ruling, inflation response

Two statewide elected officials reacted to a historic court ruling and surging inflation and gas prices on Friday.

Tennessee House of Representatives Speaker Cameron Sexton and State Rep. Mark Cochran (R-Englewood) spoke with The Advocate & Democrat late last week, on the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, which limited states’ ability to regulate abortions.

The court’s decision in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization held that Roe was wrongly decided in 1973 and that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee a constitutional right to abortion. Instead, the court announced in Dobbs, the issue should be left to state legislatures to determine abortion’s legality.

“This is very exciting news,” Cochran, who represents parts of Monroe County, said. “I’ve always been very openly pro-life. In Tennessee, we’ve already done the groundwork. We passed a trigger law two years ago that said if this were to come where Roe v Wade were to be overturned, except in the case of a medical emergency, abortion is banned.”

The trigger law is set to go into effect 30 days after the decision was announced. It criminalizes the performing of an abortion or the attempt to perform one and charges a person with a Class C felony. It does not levy charges against the woman who seeks the abortion.

“In Tennessee we’ve been committed to saving the lives of the unborn for a long time and have had those measures in place,” Cochran said. “It doesn’t appear we need to go into a special session or anything like that.”

Sexton added that even though he was on the road Friday, he was still able to get Gov. Bill Lee’s reaction to the news.

“I talked to the governor on my way over here and he’s excited,” Sexton said. “It’s his legislation that’s the trigger — it takes place 30 days after the decision. The governor sent out a memo with guidance for what (the Dobbs ruling) means. We’re waiting for the attorney general to tell us exactly what was passed and what it means.”

While this announcement didn’t come as a shock to most people — the draft decision was leaked a few months ago — it still wasn’t something that was long expected by the general populace.

“I think when we had a 5-4 court ideologically, I always thought it was a longshot to take up the necessary case to on that precedent or that they would rule in such a broad sense,” Cochran said. “When we saw more conservatives appointed — when it got to that 6-3 margin — I think it gave me some hope.”

Sexton agreed with that assessment, saying that he thought Chief Justice John Roberts’ concurrence, which upheld a ban after 15 weeks in Mississippi but did not favor overruling Roe, was a more realistic expectation.

“I don’t know if I can sit here and say I saw where they would give it all back to the states,” Sexton said. “Most of us thought it’d be what Roberts said, where it’d be a certain number of weeks reduction. That’s where it looked like all the legislation was going.”

He pointed out that the Dobbs decision was the cap of a series of major rulings by the court over the course of the week, which included overturning a requirement in New York to show “proper cause” to be able to carry a concealed weapon as well as ruling that if state funds go to fund some private schools then the state cannot discriminate against religious schools by not allowing funds to go to them.

“It’s been interesting watching the decisions of the court move on some of these issues and what does that mean for the near future,” Sexton said.

Another major topic being dealt with nationally, as well as locally, is the increased cost of living through inflation and increased gas prices. Reports have indicated that inflation has risen nearly 9% in the past year and talk is widespread about how to deal with it.

“We have to stay the course, enacting policies that make Tennessee the most business friendly state in the nation,” Cochran said. “During the pandemic, we were only one of seven states where the economy grew.”

He said he believes while inflation and high gas prices have hurt state residents, the difficulty isn’t as great as some other areas.

“We passed policies that allow citizens and businesses to keep more of their money and they can put that money to work for them,” he said. “Keeping taxes and regulations low, even when we’re facing some global restrictions when we’re talking about inflation and the global market in general, we have to make sure we remain competitive.”

On gas prices, the idea has been floated by some to give a holiday on gas taxes in the hopes of that giving some relief. However, both Cochran and Sexton were skeptical about that as a good option here.

“In Tennessee, it’s a tax on wholesalers rather than a direct gas tax at the pump,” Cochran said. “We could repeal that tax, but it’s not necessarily a guarantee the consumer is going to see that savings.”

Instead, Sexton said the General Assembly favored a different path than affecting gas prices.

“We went to sales tax on groceries,” he said. “That’s collected at the cash register, so you will see those savings. When inflation is high and gas prices are high, people will limit their travel, but they still need to eat. We felt like taking the grocery tax to 0% the whole month of August, we would get just as much to give to people on tax relief as we would have trying to do the wholesaler tax on gas.”

Sexton also argued that the reports on the rise of inflation aren’t quite accurate.

“The Biden administration saying that inflation is 8% is hogwash,” Sexton said. “It’s 15-18%. Look at grocery store prices, look at gas prices — they’re using an average, but on things you’re really using, it’s double what they say it is.”

Sexton said the core of the problem was an overreaction followed by a delay in action.

“The federal reserve missed the boat, they didn’t start soon enough to try and control inflation,” he said. “The government overspent a ton of money, which caused the inflation. Then there’s supply chain problems because things can’t get into the U.S. and that’s causing a cost adjustment.”

He said mistakes by President Joe Biden also impacted gas prices. The Biden administration has largely blamed high gas prices on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“You’ve got refineries not going in full because the Biden administration won’t let them,” Sexton noted. “Biden taking away the (Keystone XL) pipeline makes us more reliant on the Saudis and Russia, which we don’t want to be. He’s only using the reserves to do incremental change, not long term change. They’re not really doing anything to control it.”

Sexton added that he believes decisions at the state level will help residents going forward.

“The good news for people in Tennessee is we don’t have an income tax, so there’s not that extra burden on you,” he said. “We’re set up so your dollar can go further even during inflation. We can manage our way through this and not every state can. We’re very cautiously optimistic about the next 18 months, but we’re prepared to power through it if we need to.”

Former Sweetwater High School student achieving a first at West Point

A graduate of Sweetwater High School will soon be starting at the United States Military Academy West Point.

Ty Ezell expressed his excitement to be able to start his educational and career journey through West Point.

“I am very excited,” he said. “It has been a long year waiting to get in, so this is nice.”

Ezell started his application to enter West Point during his junior year of high school in 2019.

“I found out, about the middle of May, during my senior year that I wasn’t going to be accepted into West Point but I had the opportunity to enter a civil prep program,” he recalled. “It allowed me to go to a junior military college for a year and then reapply.”

Ezell went to a Georgia Military College for his civil prep program before reapplying to West Point.

“I want to go to West Point because they teach and train the best Army officers and I have always wanted to be in the military, so it makes sense to go and try to be the best,” he expressed. “This means a lot. It is a dream come true and it is very surreal to have the opportunity to go to such a prestigious school. I get to learn from the best professors in every board and it is just going to be a real eye opener in seeking knowledge to advance myself.”

Ezell hopes to graduate with a degree in advanced and strategic studies with a minor in economics.

“From there I would like to be in the military, go through Ranger school and go to the 75th Ranger Regiment, which is special forces, and make the military my career,” he stated. “The military career has been a life goal that I have had since I was a little kid and I know this is something that I have always wanted to do.”

He hopes to bring honor to his high school in being the first graduate of Sweetwater High School to attend West Point.

“This makes me feel ecstatic,” he expressed. “I had no idea that I was the first student from Sweetwater to attend West Point and this helps out the school as well. Sweetwater High School helped make me who I am and prepared me for what I want to do.”

He discovered he was the first person from Sweetwater High School to attend West Point after speaking to a West Point graduate who grew up in Sweetwater but didn’t attend the high school.

“He graduated from Tennessee Institute back when it was a school and he said that he had never heard of anybody graduating from Sweetwater High School attending West Point,” Ezell recalled. “I spoke with some administration from Sweetwater High School and they stated that they couldn’t find anybody who had done so.”

He hopes that others will be inspired by his perseverance and will strive to reach their own goals.

“There are going to be hard times and you are going to struggle,” he expressed. “Set little goals to keep yourself motivated and stay in the fight. Eventually you will get it if you really want it bad enough.”

Madisonville prepares for 4th of July celebration on Saturday

The City of Madisonville is set to host its annual 4th of July celebration on the 2nd this year.

According to Madisonville Main Street Director Karen Carey, town officials are “very excited” to host this event.

“This is one of the biggest events that Madisonville puts on every year,” Carey expressed. “Hundreds of people come out and have a great time, so we are always excited for this event.”

Carey has been working along side Madisonville City Recorder Sherri McCrary and Streets and Parks Commissioner Scott Hunt to organize this event.

“It will kind of be the similar to how it was last year with vendors, food trucks and live entertainment,” Carey noted. “There will also be entertainment for the kids. We will have a water slide and the electric animal cars.”

The car show will be from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. with pre-registration to enter being currently available for $10 or participants can register day-of for $15.

“Pre-registration can be done at city hall and the awards for it will be people’s choice awards,” she stated. “The Gweed will be playing golden oldies during the car show and the actual celebration will start at 3 p.m.”

The event will go from 3 p.m. until after the fireworks display, which will continue to shoot from their traditional location.

Music will be played on 104.7 WGSM in time with the fireworks display.

“In addition that day will also feature a cornhole tournament that will begin at 3 p.m. Anyone who is interested in participating in the cornhole tournament should contact Danny at 423-210-1107,” Carey said. “We also have a great lineup of entertainment for that day, starting with Greg Moses who will start at 3:30 p.m. and go until 4:30 p.m., following him will be Walker Wilson, and more with our headliner starting at 7:30 p.m.”

The event is set to start at Memorial Park and will go down the street to the courthouse.

“In my experience, I think the community has been ready to get out for some time now and now that COVID has died down everyone is really feeling the need to get out and be with family and friends and you can really tell it with these events,” she expressed. “That community spirit is really here and everybody is really showing here.”

Carey expressed her gratitude to everyone who helped make this event possible.

“I said it before and I’ll say it again that our village is the best out there,” she said. “It definitely takes a village to put these events together.”

Unemployment rises half a percent in May for Monroe County

The unemployment rate for the month of May rose half a percent from the previous rate in Monroe County.

According to the State of Tennessee, the unemployment rate for the month of May was 3.3%, which is a 0.5% increase from the previous rate of 2.8%.

Tennessee Statistical Analyst Patrick Todd stated the increase was a little higher than he had expected.

“If we go back to May of 2019, which was the last normal May we have had, it showed a similar increase, so I guess this isn’t altogether unprecedented,” Todd said. “Whether this is a cause for concern or not we will not know for a couple of months. If this trend continues then it would be cause for concern but we will have to see.”

He noted that the rate is still exceptionally low, so seeing an increase probably isn’t detrimental.

“Monroe is exactly where it was in 2019 so it has a little play room,” he noted. “Overall this is a pretty favorable rate.”

The labor force slightly rose in Monroe, according to Todd. The labor force is a measure of how many people are either employed or seeking jobs. As it rises, it means more people who previously weren’t are now seeking employment.

“We may see the rate go up next month due to schools being on their summer break,” he noted. “That tends to affect June numbers. I’d say we may see it go up by another half or 1%.”

While schools finish up for the year in May, it’s not until the June rates that the impact of non-year-round employees technically not being listed as employed shows up in the numbers. That number generally drops back down again when schools return to session in the fall.

The unemployment rate for the State of Tennessee for May was 3.4%, which was a 0.3% increase from the state’s previous rate of 3.1%.

That was a bigger increase than the nation saw, as the national rate grew from 3.3% to 3.4%.

Across the state, the rate didn’t lower in any county and it climbed in all 95. That leaves the rate at less than 5% in 93 counties and between 5% and 10% in two counties — 5.5% in Perry County and 5.1% in Bledsoe County.

Around the area, Blount County jumped 0.4% to a rate of 3%, Loudon County rose 0.3% for a rate of 3.1%, McMinn County jumped 0.4% for a rate of 3.8%, Meigs County increased by 0.4% for a rate of 4% and Polk County hopped 0.4% to a rate of 3.6%.