Incumbent Overbey disputes challenger’s claims
By Joel Davis | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Incumbent state Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, who faces a challenger for the Republican nomination for the 2nd District state Senate seat, is disputing claims by his opponent, Seymour resident Scott Hughes.
Hughes provided The Daily Times with an email outlining his concerns about some of Overbey’s campaign claims, and Overbey responded to the allegations during a telephone interview on Tuesday.
In his email, Hughes alleged that Overbey attempted to weaken Senate Bill 1522, the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011, which revised portions of the law regarding civil lawsuits for injuries.
“In Sen. Overbey’s mailers and on his brochure, he claims that he ‘was proud to work to pass Governor Haslam’s tort reform law,” Hughes wrote. “This is also rather inaccurate. The truth is Sen. Overbey did vote for the bill, but only after he made a series of attempts in the Senate Judiciary Committee to scuttle the bill and water it down.”
Overbey offered an amendment that would have raised the caps on noneconomic damages from $750,000 to $1.25 million and would have raised the cap in catastrophic cases from $1 million to $2.5 million.“I was always supportive of Gov. Haslam’s tort reform proposal,” Overbey said. “What I was trying to offer was something I thought might improve the bill and make it less likely the General Assembly would come back in several years to amend or repeal. I offered some amendments in the Judiciary Committee. They were not accepted. It was in no way an effort to kill the bill or weaken the bill, but to make it stronger.”
The http://www.howdougvotes.com website launched by the Hughes campaign alleges that, “As a career trial lawyer, Doug Overbey has a long record of joining with the Democrats and consistently blocking any efforts to cut down on frivolous lawsuits or enact tort reform.”
Contrary to this statement, however, in a September 2011 press release from the Senate Republican Caucus, state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris pointed out a 2008 medical tort reform law, which he sponsored with Overbey, as successfully reducing nonmeritorious claims in the state by 50 percent.
Hughes is also targeting Overbey’s votes on state budget matters. “In his brochure, Sen. Overbey claims that he is a staunch advocate for ‘balancing the budget,’ and that he used his position on the Finance Committee to fight for a balanced budget,” Hughes wrote.
“Here again, Sen. Overbey fails to mention that Tennessee is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget each year. There is no fight needed, it is a requirement of state law that a balance budget be passed each year.
“The truth is, that same part of the Tennessee Constitution also outlines a budgetary spending cap, commonly referred to as the ‘Copeland Cap,’ which states that ‘In no year shall the rate of growth of appropriations from state tax revenues exceed the estimated rate of growth of the state’s economy.’
“The problem is, this spending cap can be overridden by a simple majority vote. As we outline on the website, Sen. Overbey has voted eight times to break the spending cap and voted twice against amending the cap to require a two-thirds vote to override it.”
However, official records contradict the allegations about Overbey’s actual votes concerning two separate bills to require a two-thirds majority vote to override the Copeland Cap. When it comes to the most recent legislation, during a Judicial Committee vote on Senate Joint Resolution 0682, official records indicate that Overbey did not cast a no vote and was recorded as “present but not voting.”
In 2001, on the earlier bill, House Joint Resolution 397, Overbey joined with a majority of members of the state House of Representatives to table consideration of an amendment to require a two-thirds majority.
Such a requirement can be used in ways detrimental to spending restraint, Overbey said. “I researched that and what I found is that, typically, in other states where you had to have a two-thirds vote, folks who are wanting to spend more money will hold the rest of the body hostage until they get their pet projects in the budget. I think (the two-thirds vote) would have the opposite effect of what is intended, which is to keep our state operating as efficiently as possible and save the taxpayers money.”
The Overbey-sponsored legislation that created and then expanded the TNInvestco Program is also a subject of criticism from Hughes. It provides investment capital to small, medium and startup businesses in Tennessee.“In his speeches and in his mailer, Sen. Overbey is always quick to talk about how successful and ‘job-creating’ the TNInvestco legislation he sponsored was,” Hughes wrote. “... The numbers just don’t back that it has been successful.
“According to the 2011 TNInvestco Annual Report, the TNInvestco program has only created about 110 jobs after spending $200 million in government tax credits. That’s almost $2 million of government money spent per created job.”“This statement is just ridiculous,” Overbey said. “There he goes again. The TNInvestco Program has been very successful and has been a model for other states. We need to remember it didn’t go into effect until July 1, 2010. It’s only been in effect less than two years.
“I believe at this point, about $65 million, out of the pool of $200 million, has been invested in new and startup businesses. I think that attests to the programs being handled in a conservative and prudent fashion. “According to the last report, it was close to 300 jobs have been generated. I think it is going as planned. The majority of the pool is still available, and I think it’s good we’re moving slowly and that the TNInvestcos are making prudent and responsible investments.”
Overbey’s campaign recently released the results of a survey conducted in May by North Star Opinion Research of 300 likely Republican primary voters in the district. With a margin of error of plus or minus 5.66 percent, the survey results were:
• Overbey’s favorable-unfavorable rating among these Republican primary voters was 70 to 6 percent.
• Overbey had a 66 to 7 percent favorable-unfavorable rating among voters who consider themselves “very conservative.”
• Overbey led Hughes by a 69 to 9 percent margin, with 22 percent of voters undecided.