NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam on Tuesday urged lawmakers in both parties to tone down their rhetoric as they prepare to take up a series of education proposals.
The Republican governor told reporters after a speech to the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce that he’s been disturbed by the level of discourse at the Capitol in recent few weeks.
“There has been more of a partisan divide, which I don’t think is healthy for solving problems,” he said.
Haslam has proposed bills to make teacher tenure more difficult to obtain and to lift a cap on charter school enrollment. But he has remained neutral on a contentious bill to strip teachers of their collective bargaining rights, which has made him the subject of criticism from both supporters and opponents of the proposal.
“You hear criticism from people on all sides,” he said. “But in the end I’m going to try to solve problems and fix things. That’s why Tennesseans elected me to be governor.”
The governor’s comments came a day after freshman Republican Sen. Jim Summerville of Dickson warned teachers in a floor speech that they shouldn’t try to stand in the way of Republican-sponsored changes to public education.
“Make no mistake, the final responsibility is ours –and we are warriors,” said Summerville, who went on to paraphrase a speech from Shakespeare’s “Henry V.”
“We will bend public education to our awe, or break it all to pieces,” he said.”
Democratic Sen. Andy Berke of Chattanooga said Summerville’s comments were misplaced.
“Our education policy is best when we work with teachers, as opposed to telling teachers: ‘here’s what you’re going to do,'” Berke said. “Our language up here does matter.”
Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville said he saw nothing wrong with what Summerville said, and launched his own criticism of Berke.
“He’s bought and paid for by the teacher’s union, that’s quite obvious,” he said. “So I guess that’s his job on the Senate floor … And all this from a fellow that never spent one day in public schools.”
Berke said Tuesday that he attended a public elementary school and that his two young daughters are enrolled in public schools.
“I would urge Speaker Ramsey to heed Gov. Haslam’s call for meaningful discussion, not baseless political attacks.”
Tennessee Education Association lobbyist Jerry Winters said he hopes Summerville’s comments in the Senate don’t indicate how the debate will move forward.
“I think the senator was just trying to give his first good speech on the floor and chose his words incorrectly and got challenged on it,” he said. “This not a time to be talking about conflict and warriors. It’s a time to move education forward.”
Note: Post Politics has transcribed Summerville’s referenced remarks HERE.