How Far is Too Far for Republican Conservative March?

(Note: This column also appears in Sunday’s News Sentinel.)
At the outset of the current legislative session, it was expected that Republicans would roll over the opposition to enact social conservative agenda items thwarted in the bygone days when Democrats still had influence.
The question was, and still is as the session approaches what is (hopefully) its midpoint, how far can they go? Or is anything too far?
As to the latter question, the answer appears to be a yes. As for drawing the line on how far to go, that’s still fuzzy.
“Overreaching is possible on anything,” acknowledged state Rep. Glen Casada, former House Republican chairman, after losing what amounted to a test vote last week on a bill built upon a social conservative foundation. Maybe that’s an example.


The measure was inspired by the Metro Nashville City Council’s vote to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by companies that hold contracts with city government. The city’s current ordinances prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender and such – as do state statutes – but not on sexual orientation.
Casada had expanded the bill to include prohibition of local government actions to set requirements for minimum wages, health care and family leave policy as well.
Two Republicans and former House Speaker Kent Williams, an independent, joined four Democrats in voting against the bill. There are obvious arguments against it, most revolving around the Legislature dictating to local governments what they can and cannot do.
There are obvious precedents for such dictation. Cities and counties are prohibited from enacting anti-smoking ordinances that are stricter than state law. And earlier this session, Republicans rolled over Democrats to intervene in the local matter of Memphis school structure.
And one can argue that there’s some inconsistency in conservative legislators arguing, on one hand, that they must stand up to federal government intervention in state affairs while on the other that the state must intervene in local government affairs.
At any rate, it was a bridge too far for a House subcommittee. By one vote. So maybe that’s somewhere near the line (Casada may revise the bill and come back for another try).
Now, there are some ideologically-oriented measures that do appear too far already.
An example is Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron’s resolution calling for a legislative study committee to meet this year and come back next year with recommendations on Tennessee setting up its own currency system, so as to be ready for the “likely” collapse of the Federal Reserve System.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey was asked about that one and replied he was not familiar with the proposal, but “I can’t imagine we’re anywhere close to that.” Since the lieutenant governor has a pretty good sense of Republican mood, we may assume that one goes a bit too far.
On the other hand, Ramsey said he thinks a proposal by state Sen. Stacey Campfield to establish a legislative committee to recommend federal laws that should be nullified by Tennessee is “an excellent idea.” So that one is not necessarily past the line of going too far in the conservative states’ rights agenda.
Similarly, the Health Care Compact, allowing states to opt out of federal health care laws, and the Health Care Freedom Act, which says the national health care laws can be ignored, appear to enjoy solid GOP support. So they’re not too far.
A sidelight of all this is the new Democratic willingness to fight against the Republican proposals in a fairly aggressive fashion. At the outset of the session, many Democrats seemed willing to try to get along as best they could with Republican agenda items.
That has changed and the minority Democrats, with some rare exceptions, are striving to make more noise painting the Republicans as extremists. The partisan line is growing sharper.
This, in turn, may make the Republicans more united. Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle says that moderate Republicans are intimidated by their more conservative colleagues, fearful of opposition in GOP primaries if they fail to go along with even “weird” ideas.
If that’s the case, the line may be drawn further to the right than would otherwise be the case should bipartisanship break out.
It’s all on the drawing board.

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