Columnist on Sen. Rusty Crowe in ‘full Pander Bear mode’

In a Johnson City Press column, Robert Houk says state Sen. Rusty Crowe was in “Pander Bear mode” when he suggested that state employees who oppose marriage equality should have the right to refuse service to same-sex couples… and it’s not the first time.

Crowe told his colleagues in Nashville last week that he had received an email from a public official who was uncomfortable with performing his duties as an employee of ALL the citizens of Tennessee. Rather than telling that state employee he ought to find another job, Crowe launched into full Pander Bear mode.

And we’ve also seen him do that many times before.

Instead of discussing the disastrous impact their refusal to expand Medicaid is having on Tennessee hospitals, state lawmakers are carping about the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling on gay marriage. Perhaps these Republicans should follow the sage advice they gave to Democrats back in 2000 when the Supreme Court ruled in Bush v. Gore:“Get over it. Move on.”

Crowe’s fans (and even some of his critics) are often quick to defend him by saying: “Rusty’s heart is in the right place.” And both his supporters and detractors agree Crowe sometimes has feet of clay. Even so, Crowe is this region’s longest-serving member to the state General Assembly. His longevity must be based on something, but what?

Is it his easy-going style? Or is it he is a chameleon — a Leonard Zelig of politics — who seems to take on the identity of any group he speaks to? Maybe it is his dedication to the job he’s been doing it for 25 years.

Crowe has had a controversial career in the Senate. He first got on the ballot in 1990 after winning a write-in campaign for the Democratic nomination. Months later, he defeated former Rep. Bob King, R-Johnson City, to win his first general election.

…This September marks the 20th anniversary of Crowe’s defection to the Republican Party. Both he and the late Milton Hamilton Jr. of Union City switched parties at the same time, which gave the GOP control of the Senate for the first time since Reconstruction.

Many Democrats have never forgiven Crowe for switching parties. Likewise, some Republicans have never fully welcomed Crowe to the fold. All the while, Crowe keeps on making headlines.