More ramblings on Ramsey: cheers and jeers

Right-wing legacy
Excerpt from an Otis Sanford column in the Commercial Appeal:

Ramsey’s retirement announcement last week was followed by effusive bipartisan accolades for a guy who was the key to turning a legislature long dominated by Democrats into a Republican supermajority.

It’s no secret that Ramsey never had any love for Memphis, and the feeling was always mutual. Yet, Sen. Lee Harris of Memphis, the Senate minority leader and one of only five Democrats left in the upper chamber, called Ramsey “a true statesman and, really, a role model on authenticity in public life.”

High praise for sure, and politically expedient as well.

The truth is, Ramsey has been a powerful and effective leader for the causes in which he believes, from anti-abortion to pro-guns. To his credit, he opposed the effort to allow people to go armed in public even without a handgun-carry permit. But once the straight shooter from Blountville in upper East Tennessee brings down the gavel on his last session, he will leave a legislature that is arguably more conservative and less compromising than even he imagined.

It is also a legislature that often is out of control. That creates a challenge for Ramsey’s successor, particularly if it’s Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville.

For the moment, Norris is not talking about his interest in the job. But he has to be considered a leading candidate. The problem is, I don’t believe that Norris, deep down, is nearly as conservative as many of his legislative colleagues. Plus, he lives in Shelby County and, as far as I know, has not sworn a blood oath to hate Memphis.

That alone may disqualify him for the job. But that’s a topic for another day. Right now, it’s appropriate to pay homage to Speaker Ramsey, who more than anyone set the tone for right-wing conservative politics to thrive in Tennessee for years to come.

‘Ron, don’t go’
Excerpt from a Robert Houk column in the Johnson City Press

It was hard for me to believe our state’s own straight-talking, cowboy boot-wearing and shoot-from-the-lip legislative gunslinger was calling it a day.

“Ron, don’t go. Come back!”

How can we possibly ever find another self-professed “straight-shooter” to replace him? Who will step up to the plate like the time Ramsey shrugged off concerns about Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans for outsourcing state jobs at college campuses, prisons and parks.

“Obviously we as senators are going to hear from that squeaky wheel, the 10 people who work at the golf course — who may be hired back,” the Senate speaker said.

…Who can we rely on now to make the most politically outrageous statements imaginable on social media and stand by them with the passion that Ramsey has? Like the time Ramsey went on Facebook to urge “fellow Christians who are serious about their faith to think about getting a handgun carry permit.”

Ramsey has also been a straight-talking hero on Twitter. Like the following tweet on the 12th anniversary of 9/11: “As the President attempts to ally w/ Al-Qaeda in Syria’s civil war, we must always remember who attacked us on our soil 12 years ago.”

Thank goodness it will be a while before Ramsey actually rides off into the sunset to spend more time with his grandchildren. Normally, when a politician makes such a surprising announcement and cites a desire to be with his family, the cynics among us think the worst.

In Ramsey’s case, however, I don’t think this is code for something else. The Blountville Republican has never been one to hide his feelings, even when it might have been politically wise to do so.

A list of not-so-great accomplishments?
Along the same lines as Houk, but with more length and sarcasm, Jeff Woods lists Ramsey accomplishments. An excerpt:

As the Senate’s leader, Ramsey personally intervened session after session to kill legislation to stop coal companies from blowing the tops off our mountains. Meanwhile, he was raking in heavy campaign contributions from coal companies— $200,000 in a single year. How’s that for an accomplishment?

Ramsey always took the long view. Back in the Great Recession, when lesser humans worried about people losing jobs and making ends meet, Ramsey was wringing his hands because the feds were sending so much stimulus money here. In particular, he said he hated the idea of extra cash for food stamps because, as we all know, that could unreasonably raise the expectations of hungry people that they might have enough to eat for a while.

Another super Ramsey quality: His unmatched audaciousness. He helped shove through new restrictions on voter rights, insisting the photo ID law was aimed at curtailing voter fraud and not minority turnout. Never mind that he couldn’t identify any fraud that it ever would have stopped. Then he ridiculed critics as “a small, vocal, unscrupulous opposition who believe they are entitled to their own set of facts, their own reality.”

On this and many other issues, the truth for Ramsey was whatever happened to pop into his mind. He resided blissfully inside his own little goofy world. Should we say it? Yes! He was Reaganesque!

This session his claim to fame is his prime sponsorship of one of the most extreme anti-refugee legislative efforts in the whole USA—a resolution demanding that the state file a crackpot lawsuit against the federal government to try to stop Syrian refugees from resettling in Tennessee.

Then there’s the creme de la creme of Ramsey’s illustrious career. That’s the senator’s critical role in preventing the expansion of Obamacare in Tennessee. The state’s dreamy do-gooders call it a mean-spirited and historically stupid decision, since it tosses away billions of dollars in federal health care cash and denies coverage to roughly 300,000 of the working poor. But who cares what they think?

Praise from Fowler
David Fowler, former senator and current head of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, reminiscences about Ramsey’s rise to power and wind up with this in a blog commentary:

What changed was what everyone now knows as Ron’s mantra, “It matters who governs.” Up to that point, Republican leadership in the Senate had reached a truce with Democrats under what was known at the “Wilder Coalition.”

…Perhaps the Wilder loyalist never thought they’d see the day when Republicans could win enough Senate seats to be the majority party, or perhaps it just didn’t matter because personal loyalty to Wilder meant more to them than party control. But that was the beginning of the end for the Democratic Party in the Senate and eventually in the state Legislature.

…That’s some history about Ron’s journey to speaker and why his tenure is rightly seen as historic. Now I want to close with something about Ron’s retirement that is historic in another sense.

Few people attain to such a powerful position in political leadership, and if we look to modern history, most who leave their political positions do not leave of their own volition. Power is just too hard to give up. In the House, Speaker McWhorter became governor and his successor as speaker, Jimmy Naifeh, was defeated as speaker when he couldn’t pull together his own form of a Wilder Coalition. Of course, Speaker Wilder was defeated.

At the end of the day, the ultimate values I believe Ron ran for office to protect were the values that called him home. He listened when they called and let go of political power. That is historic. For me, it defines who he really is. And it’s a great example for others to follow.