Some Legislative Performance Awards, 2012

Some legislative superlatives from the 2012 session of the 107th Tennessee General Assembly (slightly expanded from version appearing in the News Sentinel):
Bringing Home the Bacon Award: Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who in fiscally conservative fashion got two big earmarks in the state budget for his district, $8.6 million to preserve Doe Mountain and $500,000 to help build a “Birth of Country Music Museum” in Bristol, Va. (Well, Bristol, Va., isn’t actually in his district, but it’s really close.)
Against the Wind Award: Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, who cast the sole no vote against Gov. Bill Haslam’s legislation authorizing direct cash grants to companies expanding their business in Tennessee, describing the move as “crony capitalism.”

House Freshman of Year, Republican: Rep. Cameron Sexton of Crossville, who displayed a willingness to fight against long odds for constituents, as in opposing the administration’s move to close the Taft Youth Center, which is in his district. At one point, he came close to succeeding, to the alarm of Haslam’s lobbying team. Sexton also adeptly handled other matters, adapting when advisable — as with a measure that initially required photos on driver’s licenses of everyone over 60, but gained a ‘grandfather’ clause of sorts.
House Freshman of the Year, Democrat: OK, so Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis was the only Democratic freshman of the 107th General Assembly. But he managed to pass some bills — an accomplishment for any Democrat in the current environment — including a measure to tighten laws on tattoos and mandating rapists serve 100 percent of their sentence. And he stirred a lot of interest in getting parents involved in their children’s education with a voluntary parental “report card.”
Senate Freshman of the Year: Sen. Kerry Roberts of Springfield gets the nod, if for no other reason than the fact that he is the only Republican effectively thrown out of office by the Republican redistricting bill. Robert’s home county, Robertson, is now in the district of another senator, Jim Summerville, who has two years to go on his term. So Roberts cannot seek re-election. He introduced 17 bills during his tenure, passing seven of them. That includes the “Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act,” which he got through the Senate, though it didn’t pass in the House. None of the others involved any controversy. Ergo, Roberts ends his career without responsibility for any law that anyone would reasonably claim damaging to the citizenry — a significant accomplishment. (Note: the 107th had no Democratic freshman senator.)
Lobbyist of the Year: John Harris, president of the Tennessee Firearms Association, started things off by describing legislative leadership as the “axis of evil” and wound up specifically targeting House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart as warranting political crucifixion. His main objective was passage of the so-called “guns in parking lots” bill, a matter that Republican leaders preferred to dodge since the business lobby doesn’t like it. His astute lobbying (Harris doesn’t register as a lobbyist because he says he’s not paid) gave Republicans a great reason to unite in dodging a vote. It also gave all the business lobbyists, who are paid, a chance to brag about beating down the bill their employers deemed bad.
This clearly makes Harris the most effective lobbyist of the year, albeit he was effective in helping the other side and isn’t officially a lobbyist.
Best Performance Under Misdemeanor Indictment: Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, charged with DUI earlier this year, stepped down from his committee chairmanship but nonetheless remained highly visible in supporting or opposing various bills. Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, charged with domestic abuse, gave up his committee chairmanship and was subsequently rather silent. Todd is a rather more outspoken fellow than Hawk in general, but it’s interesting that Todd has no opponent for re-election while Hawk has three Republicans in the primary and a Democrat waiting in November.
Holy Warrior Award: In a session where religion and politics very much intermingled, the leading crusader for Christian values — in the face of much competition — has to be Rep. Mark Pody, R-Lebanon, who sponsored the “Vanderbilt bill” vetoed by the governor and made a speech on the need to stand up for Jesus and his followers in support of the measure.
Oops of the Year Award: Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who sponsored the Senate redistricting bill but didn’t notice that Tipton County, which he represents, was left out of the measure — and thus was without a senator. After the omission was discovered, the Senate had to go back and amend to assure that Tipton will, in fact, have a senator.
The Tennessee Journal also has a fine list of awards in its current issue. While it wouldn’t be appropriate to lift them all from the subscription-only publication, here are some samples:
The Stacey Cup. The inaugural presentation of this award goes to the senator for whom it is named, Stacey
Campfield (R-Knoxville), for making sure those on government relief get to relieve themselves — in a cup.
Extraordinary Service to the State Medal. This is presented with great appreciation to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. On behalf of Virginia.
H.L. Mencken Medal for Monkey Business. The winner is Sen. Bo Watson (R-Hixson), who made sure science teachers may critique the theories advanced by Charles Darwin, Al Gore, and with some imagination Sheldon Cooper. Watson’s bill made Tennessee a worldwide center of attention.
Timing is on My Side Plaque. In one of the few Democratic victories of the session, the conference report on the controversial Health Care Compact bill failed to win House approval in the final minutes of the session, receiving 17 fewer votes than the bill itself had a few hours earlier. During a sometimes bitter debate, Republicans were unable to muster enough votes to call the question on the bill. Then Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) moved the question, and lawmakers in both parties went along. Quite a few Republicans had gone home by then. It wasn’t clear how many had gone and how many were simply outside the chamber, but Fitzhugh’s timing was perfect. The report failed, the House adjourned for the year, and he wins the award.

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