Some more suggestions of standout achievements during the 2016 legislative session:
Furor Resolution Award: Remember the uproar preceding the legislative session over fears of Islamic indoctrination in Tennessee schools? Probably so. Remember what happened a result? Probably not.
What happened was a bill, sponsored by Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, and Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, that basically restates what is already standard procedure and declares that the educational bureaucracy publicly notify people about that procedure. Maybe the centerpiece is a declaration that teachers and schools systems cannot “proselytize” when discussing religion, though it can be mentioned in history or social studies. They cannot do so now, but that word wasn’t used in the code before.
The measure, after amendments, was so innocuous that it passed almost unanimously with nobody paying attention. The Family Action Council of Tennessee, the state’s leading Christian conservative lobby, didn’t even mention it in its ratings of legislators this year. In other words, much ado resulted in nothing much, but angry constituents were appeased without triggering a lawsuit and without anyone canceling planned trips or conventions in Tennessee. As it’s said in the unofficial state book, blessed are the peacemakers.
Therapist of the Year: Gov. Bill Haslam, of course, who once likened being the state’s chief executive to serving as senior pastor at a big church. The governor counseled legislators against passage of a bill allowing therapists to reject clients whose actions would run counter to their sincerely held principles. They passed it anyway.
He counseled them against demanding the attorney general file a lawsuit against the federal government for sending refugees to Tennessee. They passed it anyway.
He counseled them against defunding the University of Tennessee’s diversity program. They did anyway.
He advised that fiscal therapy principles entail not repealing the Hall tax on investment income without something to replace the revenue. That was ignored, too.
Yes, he also counseled them against making the Holy Bible Tennessee’s official state book. They did anyway, but, after further counseling from the governor, repented and upheld his veto of that one.
The supermajority by and large heeded him on most other matters, especially anything involving direct spending of state money. And even when the objective of his pastoral advice was ignored, members of the supermajority modified their behavior through amendments — dropping the idea, for example, of putting the motto “In God We Trust” on Highway Patrol cars with savings from the diversity program cut.
The governor has demonstrated that, despite personal principles, one can still act as a counselor to those who think otherwise and maybe improve inappropriate behavior in the process. Blessed are the meek, especially in political counseling services..
Golden Goose and Gander Honors: Jointly to the House caucus chairmen, Democrat Mike Stewart and Republican Glenn Casada, for showing that filing floor amendments can be the political equivalent of chasing wild geese on a gender-neutral basis. Named for Casada’s favorite phrase in proposing GOP amendments to derail Democrat-sponsored bills in retaliation for Democrats proposing unwanted and politically-charged amendments to Republican-sponsored bills: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
Stewart maybe gets the edge in partisan gamesmanship for bringing an assault rifle to committee to goose Republicans on a gun control bill. Honorable mention goes to Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, who, upon taking a gander at Stewart with a gun, questioned his knowledge of firearms safety.
Times-have-changed Appreciation Award: For Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, who was exiled from the Legislative Plaza after being accused of sexually harassing women and sent by House Speaker Beth Harwell to the nearby Rachel Jackson Building to avoid any harassment of women in the legislative arena. The building is named after the wife of former President Andrew Jackson, who on May 30, 1816, killed in a pistol duel a man who had insulted her in a sexually related matter, adultery.