TN Evolution Bill Continues to Draw National Attention

Tennessee and Gov. Bill Haslam get prominent mention in a New York Times piece on social issue activism in state legislatures around the country, which some Republicans fear could hurt the party in national elections.
Tennessee enacted a law this month intended to protect teachers who question the theory of evolution. Arizona moved to ban nearly all abortions after 20 weeks, and Mississippi imposed regulations that could close the state’s only abortion clinic. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin signed a law allowing the state’s public schools to teach about abstinence instead of contraception.
The recent flurry of socially conservative legislation, on issues ranging from expanding gun rights to placing new restrictions on abortion, comes as Republicans at the national level are eager to refocus attention on economic issues.
Some Republican strategists and officials, reluctant to be identified because they do not want to publicly antagonize the party’s base, fear that the attention these divisive social issues are receiving at the state level could harm the party’s chances in November, when its hopes of winning back the White House will most likely rest with independent voters in a handful of swing states.
One seasoned strategist called the problem potentially huge. But others said that actions taken by a handful of states would probably have little impact on the national campaign.
…Tennessee enacted a law this month intended to protect teachers who question the theory of evolution. Arizona moved to ban nearly all abortions after 20 weeks, and Mississippi imposed regulations that could close the state’s only abortion clinic. Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin signed a law allowing the state’s public schools to teach about abstinence instead of contraception.
The recent flurry of socially conservative legislation, on issues ranging from expanding gun rights to placing new restrictions on abortion, comes as Republicans at the national level are eager to refocus attention on economic issues.
Some Republican strategists and officials, reluctant to be identified because they do not want to publicly antagonize the party’s base, fear that the attention these divisive social issues are receiving at the state level could harm the party’s chances in November, when its hopes of winning back the White House will most likely rest with independent voters in a handful of swing states.
One seasoned strategist called the problem potentially huge. But others said that actions taken by a handful of states would probably have little impact on the national campaign.
….After Tennessee’s Republican-led Legislature passed a bill to protect school teachers who review “the scientific strengths and weaknesses of existing scientific theories” in areas including “biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning,” it drew denunciations from a number of scientists and civil libertarians. Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, decided this month to let the bill become law without his signature.
Mr. Haslam said in an interview that the law had passed by a wide margin, so the Legislature could have easily overridden a veto. And he said that while he feared that the law would muddy state policy for teachers rather than clarify it, he had been assured by state education officials that it would not actually change the way science is taught in Tennessee.
But he said he also worried that the law could damage the reputation of a state that was home to another famous legal battle over the teaching of evolution, the Scopes “monkey trial” of 1925.
“One of the things as governor, you’re always out — I’m out selling Tennessee all the time to businesses and other folks,” Mr. Haslam said during a recent visit to New York, adding that the state had heavily focused on the teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics in recent years. “So you worry about misperceptions, sure. I wouldn’t be honest if I said I didn’t do that. But if I thought it was actually going to harm the scientific standards, I would have vetoed it.”

Leave a Reply