Sunday column: TN matters of much ado, nothing done in 2015

While Tennessee newspaper pages and blog postings were filled at year’s end with rehashing of the biggest news stories of 2015, they mostly ignored several issues and events that were much ballyhooed at times in the past 12 months and will likely get some attention in the months ahead.

The neglect is understandable, given that, in hindsight, these once-weighty matters wound up as much ado about nothing, insofar as actual accomplishments.

Remember Insure Tennessee? If not, that was Gov. Bill Haslam’s effort to launch a modified expansion of Medicaid in Tennessee, heavily promoted early in 2015 only to be summarily shot down in February by the Legislature’s Republican supermajority, primarily because it apparently had something to do with the much-despised Obamacare.

Insure Tennessee made the Associated Press list of Tennessee’s top 10 news stories of 2015, based on voting by news business folk around the state, but might have been No. 1 instead of No. 3 except, well, nothing happened.

And Haslam seems to pretty much have forgotten about it as a lost cause. Still, we can expect to hear more about it in 2016 from superminority Democrats, who see the Republican rejection as a potential positive in a handful of legislative campaigns, and health care advocates — along with some business lobbyists — who thought it was a really good idea.

A list of the most inconsequential uproars in 2015 for Tennessee politics — with a potential 2016 reprise — would surely include Insure Tennessee. Some other candidates:

-The new state logo. The Haslam administration quietly spent $46,000 in development of a simplistic design, bringing a temporary torrent of ridicule and condemnation when it was revealed. But the governor marched steadily ahead and now the little red square with the letters TN in white appears all over the state website, stationery and other administration-overseen places — but nowhere else. So nothing much happened. Still, legislators are pushing bills for 2016 that would declare the old “tri-star” that appears on state flag as the official Tennessee state symbol, a sort of symbolic gesture of defiance.

-The University of Tennessee Office for Diversity and Inclusion, which committed the Tennessee political faux pas of the year by urging students not to have holiday gatherings that could be seen as “Christmas in disguise” after earlier urging the use of gender-neutral pronouns. An extraordinary outburst of outraged rhetoric followed in 2015 and UT retracted the language. But many supermajority legislators are now ready to go to war during the 2016 session against inappropriate diversity efforts and in defense of Christmas.

-Outsourcing expansion. After great success — at least from the gubernatorial perspective — in turning over management of many state government buildings to a private company, the Haslam administration quietly plotted a huge expansion of the effort — and when it was revealed another uproar ensued. The governor insists there’s really no plan (contrary to statements of administration officials in emails) and he’s just thinking about it as a concept. He’s still thinking and, while nothing happened in 2015, further uproar may be reasonably anticipated in the months ahead.

-Gas tax road shows. The governor toured the state — as did Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Tracy — for a public display of hand-wringing over the lack of money to finance highway projects. While some suspected this might be a prelude to seeking a gas tax increase, nothing was proposed and nothing was done. Tracy has officially proclaimed nothing should be done about taxes in 2016. The governor has assured everyone he had no plan — but he’s still thinking about it.

-Historical figures. Hours of broadcast time and maybe acres of newsprint were devoted during 2015 to discourse on Nathan Bedford Forrest, much of it dealing with whether the Confederate cavalry general’s bust should be removed from the state capitol building (privately managed but publicly owned).

State Democratic Chair Mary Mancini, meanwhile, called for a conversation on whether to stop calling the party’s annual fundraising dinner “Jackson Day” in tribute to President Andrew Jackson — and got criticism about the possibility of being too politically correct for Tennessee tastes.

Nothing was decided, but the historic conversations will doubtless continue. And maybe in 2116 they’ll be talking about the Haslam bust?

Note: As originally posted, this column incorrectly said Insure Tennessee was omitted from the AP’s top 10 stories list of 2015. It was not.

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