More superlative performances from the 2014 session of Tennessee’s 108th General Assembly:
-Supermajority Legislator of the Year — Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, whose finger was in many a legislative pie during a session notable for expanding the General Assembly’s authority. Bell annoyed Gov. Bill Haslam by leading efforts to reduce gubernatorial appointive powers on boards and commissions, not to mention moves to undermine administration efforts on teacher licensure and state employee layoffs. He annoyed University of Tennessee administrators by prodding them, via resolution and rhetoric, on UT Sex Week. He successfully sponsored a bill to legalize switchblades and long knives, having last year stripped local governments of knife control. With less success, he dabbled in campaign finance and open government reforms, and took the heat — prior to an astute retreat — on legislation declaring some businesses can refuse to serve same-sex couples..
-Superminority Legislator of the Year — House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh, who continues to develop his effectiveness as spokesman for the underdogs of Legislatorland and in the occasional strategic maneuver to go beyond rhetoric into accomplishments. He’s also the only member of top Democratic leadership who is planning to stick around for next year. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville and Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson are retiring to consider running for mayor of their home cities, while Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis is running for a judgeship and, if elected as most seem to expect, will leave his Senate seat.
-Back to the Future Award — Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, who boldly pushed to make daylight saving time permanent in Tennessee and achieved an initial subcommittee success as confused colleagues were briefly lost in time. Honorable mention to Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, the not-quite-as-bold Senate sponsor who failed to make a timely presentation of her bill. They’ll surely be time travelers again next year. Or was that last week?
-Retiring Legislator Who Will Be Most Missed — Unquestionably Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, who began serving in the General Assembly as a House member in 1955, setting a record for legislative longevity in state history. Despite being passionate for causes ranging from fiscal responsibility to child welfare, Henry has been a gentlemen of such extraordinary civility and thoughtfulness that it’s safe to say he has no enemies in politics as he leaves — an amazing lifetime accomplishment.
-Freshman of the Year, Republican — Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin, a lawyer who argued with eloquence (and sometimes with a bit of bombast) for causes both conservative and curious. Examples range from bills that could have curbed taxpayer-funded lobbying and made it a crime to tether a dog improperly (both losers) to a bill that broadens the legal definitions of bribery, extortion and rioting to cover more union activities (which passed). Oh, and there was the “Stop Obamacare Act.”
-Freshman of the Year, Democratic — Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, a teacher who actually won approval of a bill again this year, a measure authorizing school systems to operate “community schools” after regular school hours, on weekends and during the summer, so long as funded by private rather than public monies. The supermajority shot down the rest of her proposals, including a bill requiring those contracting with the state to hire mostly Tennessee employees and the annual effort to ban “mountaintop removal” coal mining. But she tried, which is more than some Democrats do these days.
-Symbolic Gesture of the Year — To U.S. Senate candidate and state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, for a resolution condemning a federal judge for granting a preliminary injunction that required Tennessee to recognize the same-sex marriages of three couples wed in other states and urging the attorney general to “vigorously and zealously” fight the ruling on appeal. Honorable mention to Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, who offered an amendment to change “vigorously and zealously” to “half-heartedly and lackadaisically.” Jones’ amendment was defeated and the resolution passed the House. But, since it was a “joint” resolution and was never considered by the Senate, it was officially ineffective to condemn or urge anything. (The same was true for other resolutions that got more attention — inviting Sean Hannity to move to Tennessee, for example, and two resolutions condemning UT Sex Week.)