Sunday Column: Musing on Mother Jones’

Mother Jones magazine, a decidedly liberal publication, last week provided the capstone to a year filled with national media lampooning of the Tennessee General Assembly by declaring it the worst in all 50 states.
The article is not too serious and certainly not scholarly. It begins with a declaration that Tennessee got “bonus points” for inspiring “a news story with the phrase ‘gateway body parts’ and ‘governor signs’ in the same paragraph.”
In fact, the article is inaccurate and misleading in some respects.
It says, for an inaccuracy example, that a bill to “provide cover for teachers who question evolution and climate change in their classrooms” was vetoed. Actually, the measure critics called “the monkey bill” was not vetoed. The governor refused to sign it, but it became law without his signature.
And for a misleading example, the article credits state Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, with sponsorship of a bill that would have prohibited persons who have gone through a sex change operation from using rest rooms for persons of their newly-chosen gender. Actually, credit belongs to state Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga. Watson killed the transgender bathroom bill by withdrawing it — after initially signing on as Senate sponsor, at Floyd’s request, without reading it.
But, hey, we can’t expect nationally-oriented folks to keep up with such details in reviewing 50 different states.
On a broad brush basis, the evaluation doubtless reflects what folks in other states hear about legislative doings outside their home turf — and most of what they hear about is the social issue shenanigans that are unusual enough to attract special attention.
So, we’re No. 1. And some can be proud that a liberal publication has rated us the worst, which to them equates to the best. And some can be chagrined or embarrassed. Most, if they care at all, will just have something to mention in a water cooler conversation.

Along the latter lines, there is some speculation that the 2013 edition of the General Assembly, with its new Republican supermajority, will provide even more material for TV’s Comedy Central. All the lawmakers who sponsored bills mentioned by Mother Jones are back, joined by a couple dozen freshmen, many of them doubtless full of new ideas.
Legal liquor: Of 32 local votes on liberalizing liquor sales in last month’s elections, 25 passed, according to a tally compiled by Tennessee Town and City, the Tennessee Municipal League newspaper. In Pigeon Forge, where liquor by the drink passed on its third try, the results of the election are being challenged.
The Town and City article suggests that the vote reflects “local governments thirsty for new revenue” from alcoholic beverage taxes. It may also reflect diminished influence of prohibitionist sentiment in the Tennessee electorate and, if so, that may be reflected in the Legislature as well.
House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey have both made recent public declarations of support for selling wine in grocery stores, with Ramsey going so far as to suggest he’ll assure a Senate committee is set up to support the bill. Harwell has not gone so far.
Anti-alcohol legislators, interested in restricting sales, have traditionally aligned with the liquor lobby, interested in keeping sales just where they are without more competition, in opposing wine in supermarkets. It’s been a formidable alliance.
The liquor lobby PACs contributed more than $300,000 to legislator campaigns in the recently-completed election cycle, which brought the two dozen new lawmakers to office. It remains to be seen how many of the new folks are anti-alcohol on moral grounds.
It’s a business life-or-death issue to 500 liquor retailers, most of whom make a point of getting to know their legislator. It’s a matter of convenience for the typical consumer — or maybe a water cooler conversation topic — and the grocery store lobby’s PAC folded a while back.
The upshot is that odds favor the no-wine-in-groceries status quo — unless the speakers get really serious about stacking committees.
Fiscal cliff: U.S. Sen. Bob Corker’s proposal for deficit reductions to avoid the “fiscal cliff” includes ending what he calls “a massive bed tax gimmick the states use in Medicaid to bilk the federal government of billions.” Tennessee is among those states.

Note: This also appeared in Sunday’s News Sentinel, given prominent display on the website (something of a novelty) and triggering an outpouring of comments — some from Sen. Stacey Campfield. You can read through them at the bottom of the story HERE.
Also, see David Hunter’s commentary on the same topic.

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