published Saturday, May 18th, 2013

Political Notebook: Gov. Haslam signs whiskey bill

Bill Haslam
Bill Haslam
Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law a bill changing liquor distillery laws and opening the way for Chattanooga Whiskey Co. to begin manufacturing its product in the city it calls home.

Online legislative records show Haslam signed the bill Thursday.

Hamilton County was excluded from a 2009 law that made it easier to begin producing alcohol in counties without first holding a voter referendum for approval.

Under the new law, distilleries will be legal in any city where voters have approved both liquor by the drink and retail package store sales. Chattanooga voters did that years ago. Distilleries also are legal in unincorporated areas of counties where any city has approved by-the-drink and package sales.

The law is effective July 1. Cities or county commissions have 45 days after that to vote to opt out of the law if they don't want to allow distillers.

Chattanooga Whiskey owners pressed for the changes, but other forces were at work as well. There was a nasty legislative fight between an existing Gatlinburg distillery and another firm that wanted to operate there.

Chattanooga Whiskey's product now is made in Indiana. Elsewhere in Tennessee, distilleries are a booming business with tours and on-site sales.

Joe Ledbetter, Chattanooga Whiskey co-owner, was rejoicing Friday night.

"I'm in Chattanooga, drinking a whiskey sour, quietly celebrating a wonderful man's signature," he said by telephone.

The business is hosting a celebration block party May 31. Ledbetter said 2,700 people so far have said they will attend. He said he's hoping the bill's sponsors, Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, and Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, will be there.

First lady speaking in Nashville

Graduating seniors at Nashville's Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet School will get something extra with their diplomas today.

Students and faculty alike are excited over having first lady Michelle Obama deliver the commencement address.

The school's Latin teacher, Nancy Howell, said everyone's "very pleased and honored" to have the first lady. "Many people have worked very hard for this to come together. It has been an interesting learning experience to see how an event like this comes together."

Some of her most excited students play in the band and will perform. Some are a wee bit nervous about squeaking clarinets.

Howell said she's been telling them, "You'll be fine, sweetie, you'll be fine."

Virginia GOP welcomes governor

While Democrat Michelle Obama is in Nashville, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam this morning is scheduled to attend and speak at the Republican Party of Virginia Convention's breakfast in Richmond.

Now why would Tennessee's governor be there?

"Didn't you hear he's a GOP rising star?" emailed Haslam spokesman David Smith, referring to an extremely flattering profile on the governor several weeks ago in Politico.

Carr gets House backing for Congress

State House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, and GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, of Thompson Station, are backing state Rep. Joe Carr's 4th Congressional District bid and encouraging colleagues to do the same.

In a joint fundraising letter, the leaders said: "We are proud to be advocates of Joe's campaign for Congress and encourage your endorsement and campaign account contribution up to the $1,000 limit. You may also contribute personally up to the $2,600 giving limit."

Carr is opposing U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., in the 2014 4th Congressional District primary. State Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, also has announced.

The embattled DesJarlais, a Jasper physician, reported weak first-quarter fundraising following revelations last year that he had affairs with patients and others and encouraged one patient with whom he had sex to seek an abortion in 2000.

Compiled by staff writer Andy Sher. Contact him at 615-255-0550 or asher@times freepress.com.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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