Columnist: Tuition equality debate shows there are still a few GOP ‘compassionate conservatives’ in TN

The term “compassionate conservative,” once popular in GOP circles, has fallen into disfavor, says Otis Sanford, though it could still be applied to a few Republicans. Excerpt:

Yet, there remains a handful of Republicans — even in conservative stronghold Tennessee — who continue to embrace the concept as part of their political philosophy. Gov. Bill Haslam certainly does. At times, so does Mark Norris, the majority leader in the state Senate.

And as quiet as it’s kept, Republican state Rep. Mark White of Memphis has emerged as one of the precious few GOP voices in the House crying out for compassionate conservatism. White supported Haslam’s plan to expand Medicaid to some 280,000 working poor in Tennessee when most of his colleagues refused to even consider it because it would somehow link them to the Obama administration.

Now White again finds himself on the losing end of another issue that has compassion as part of its aim. The House last week rejected by a single vote a bill to allow undocumented immigrant high school students who have lived in Tennessee most of their lives to pay in-state tuition to attend state colleges and universities.

…White was the bill’s House sponsor and thought he had about 55 yes votes as late as Wednesday morning. “I guess some lost their nerves and that’s what hurts,” White told me later in the day.

Most of those who voted no couldn’t get past the illegal immigration issue. One potential yes voter told White that a spouse persuaded him to change his mind out of respect for a relative who came to this country legally. Another lawmaker even said that voting yes would tie him to Obama. But the bill had nothing to do with immigration rules or Obama, and everything to do with giving deserving youngsters a chance at an affordable education.

White said the bill applied only to students who are under 16 years old and were living in Tennessee before 2007. That means they were 8 or younger when they were brought here.

“This is about education. This isn’t about any kind of immigration reform,” White told his colleagues during an hour-long debate. But not enough of them agreed.

…“The sad thing is, we’re hurting our state moving forward because the best way to make our state better is with education.” White said.

It’s also sad that we have people representing us in Nashville who — as First Baptist Church-Broad pastor Keith Norman said — want to make the Bible the state book, but don’t want to do what the Bible says.

In other words, compassionate conservatism as a political ideal is now officially dead in the water. In Tennessee, it has already sunk to the bottom of the river.

Haslam and White aside, most of the conservatives who govern our state don’t give a hoot about people who are perceived as not being a part of their voting base. In this case, that means Hispanic voters.

It also means another step backward for Tennessee.