Beacon Center of Tennessee striving to reach across ideological lines

Robert Houk writes about the Beacon Center of Tennessee after a conversation with Mark Cunningham, director of marketing and communications for the group:

It evolved from what had been the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, a creation of a 1997 Science Hill High School graduate, Drew Johnson, who now writes for the Washington Times.

I’ve read reports that the Koch brothers are benefactors of the Beacon Center. Officials with the think tank will not disclose its donors, except to say 90 percent of the center’s funding come from Tennessee. When I put the question directly to Cunningham last week, he declined to confirm or deny that the Koch brothers have anything to do with the Beacon Center.

Cunningham did tell me, however, that the Beacon Center strives to reach across partisan and ideological lines to push it’s agenda in the state General Assembly. In that regard, he said his conservative organization has joined hands with the American Civil Liberties Union to oppose “policing for profit,” a term given to the practice of law enforcement agencies seizing cash or property without due process.

The think tank expects both Republicans and Democrats to support a “school choice” voucher bill that it says will actually result in an increase to the state’s per pupil funding for local schools. Cunningham also believes his organization will receive the greatest bipartisan support for legislation the Beacon Center has dubbed the “right to try” bill that would allow terminally ill patients to try experimental drugs prior to their full Federal Drug Administration approval.

One issue where the Beacon Center is not likely to see a great deal of support from Democrats, or Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is its opposition to Medicaid expansion. A special session of the General Assembly will be held next month a to consider the governor’s call for an expansion of TennCare under the Affordable Care Act.

Most Republicans lawmakers are fiercely opposed to the idea, even though the University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research said last week expanding the health care program would create 15,000 jobs and bring $1.14 billion in new spending to the state. Even so, the Beacon Center argues that it would make it “more difficult for Tennessee’s most vulnerable” to receive health care. I guess the think tank believes poor people using emergency rooms as their primary care givers is a better system.

Cunningham also called Medicaid expansion “immoral.” Personally, I think sending our share of these federal dollars to other states while talking about raising Tennessee’s gas tax is immoral.