With the Legislature out of session and our sitting governor being a generally dull fellow insofar as generating controversy for Tennessee political junkies, interest has turned this summer to such weighty matters as:
_Rep. Julia Hurley, R-Lenoir City, has acknowledged carving her initials, JCH, on a desk in the House chamber during the early morning hours of the last day of the legislative session, triggering amazing array of commentary by bloggers around the nation.
“I wasn’t thinking straight,” she said.
From Time.com to Wonkette.com, most of the postings were less than complimentary of the lady lawmaker who once was a waitress at a Hooters restaurant and wrote an article about her experiences.
As a sample, here is the first paragraph of Wonkette’s offering:
“OMG REP TN 4 LYFE” is what Hooters girl-turned Republican Tennessee Rep. Julia Hurley wanted to carve into her desk in the state House chamber, but she only got to her initials before she saw something shiny and got distracted. And now she has to pay for her vandalism, even though she does not understand what the big deal is, you guys.”
On the other hand, Hurley had her defenders, notably including conservative East Tennessee blogger David Oatney. From his posting:
“Some of the most important decisions ever made that effect our lives were made by our State legislators, and yet our history books often forget their contributions. What is so wrong with such a small marker of historic time(?) … Initials on a desk can mean a lot for the sake of history, and whether some people want to admit it or not, Julia Hurley has made Tennessee history by her presence in our House of Representatives.”
Oatney observes that U.S. senators have a tradition of carving their names on their desks – though the senators put the names inside a drawer, not on top. Also, many are written in pen, not carved with a knife.
House Speaker Beth Harwell, predictably, took a moderate, middle-of-the-road position. She said Hurley made a mistake “in the excitement of being a freshman at the end of session,” but should pay for restoring the desk to pre-initialing status.
Coincidentally, on the same day Hurley’s carving made the news, Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons announced via news release that Barbara Ann Smith, 37, of Murfreesboro, had been charged with felony vandalism for writing the words “RIP TONY AL” and “WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE” with spray paint on the outside of the state Capitol building. The House chamber with Hurley’s desk is inside.
Smith probably will tell the judge that she just wasn’t thinking straight that night.
A video surveillance camera caught someone wearing a hood doing the spray painting and an investigation ensued that led to the arrest of Smith, who was already in jail on a separate vandalism charge.
Apparently, there will be no further investigation of Hurley’s indiscretion, despite rumors that another legislator may have provided her with a pocket knife used in the carving.
Gov. Bill Haslam has stricken the names of hundreds of people – including, by the Associated Press report, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, his mother and 74 state legislators – from the list of people receiving his daily news clips via email.
Disclosure note: I still get the clipping service, which is a daily compilation of media reports on matters involving state government and politics. (A couple of reports on Hurley’s desk carving -and on the news clip cutting – made the clips.)
“I don’t understand the logical reason behind that,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who is still on the list and whose staff has started passing the clips along on request to anyone who wants them. The Senate Democratic Caucus is doing the same thing and posting them on its blog site.
A Haslam spokesman says that no money is being saved by trimming the list of recipients, but the list is now more “manageable.”
That seems a bit lame. Probably, a more truthful answer would be that the governor, or someone on his staff, just wasn’t thinking straight .
Disclosure note No. 2: I’ve felt the same way on occasion.
Note: This post was written as a Sunday column for the News Sentinel and is also available HERE.