Tag Archives: commentary

Sunday column: Speeding legislators, secret pre-meetings and public opinion

As appropriately noted by some Tennessee Republican legislators last week, secret meetings are by no means a new development in Legislatorland.

Why, the state constitution enshrines the principle of secrecy for lawmaking, which, as widely understood, is rather like making sausage and thus something people don’t need to know about.

Article II, Section 22, proclaims: “The doors of each house and of committees of the whole shall be kept open, unless when the business shall be such as ought to be kept secret.”

Note this effectively applies only to floor sessions and “committees of the whole” — that’s when all members of the House or Senate meet together as a committee, a provision that is never used these days despite the interesting possibilities for doing so in supermajority situations. Committees of less than the whole, and that’s all functioning committees today, are not included.

Further, the constitutional provision effectively lets legislators decide what “ought to be kept secret.” And when legislators enacted the sunshine law requiring city councils, county commissions and the like to meet in public, they exempted themselves from doing the same. It would have been unconstitutional to do otherwise, of course.

So legislators basically have unfettered and unlimited discretion to meet secretly whenever they want — if public opinion and dissension within legislative ranks does not interfere. It does, occasionally.
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Sunday column: Seeking a balance in state vs. local supremacy

Since Republicans gained control of the Tennessee General Assembly, there has been a marked tendency toward assertion of greater state control over local government affairs that, as critics have noted, stands in contrast to a tendency for deploring federal meddling in state affairs.

In the current session, these tendencies continue. But just maybe there are some signs of moderation in the notion of state supremacy, at least insofar as dealings with local governments go. Or maybe a better phrase would be “a re-thinking of relationships,” given that moderation is a word that makes many members of the Republican supermajority cringe.

Consider, for a leading example, that last year the House Local Government Subcommittee summarily killed all bills granting city and county governments the authority to impose or increase local hotel-motel taxes. This year, the subcommittee has been approving such bills, while giving a cold shoulder to a hotel-motel industry proposal imposing new restrictions on such levies.

State law generally requires that a local government get the General Assembly’s permission for imposing such a tax. Once the bill passes, then the local city council or county commission must approve it by a two-thirds majority. So it’s actually decided at the local level.

Such bills have been a point of conflict in the past. Former Gov. Don Sundquist once famously refused to sign such measures, declaring himself “irrelevant to the process,” after it became popular to attack incumbent politicians as supporters of tax increases when they went along with the levies. When Lamar Alexander ran for president, attack ads in the New Hampshire Republican primary declared he had supported sixty-something tax increases as governor — mostly based on his signing of such bills as governor.

Thus, the matter basically pits the idea of local control, which as a principle enjoys widespread popularity, against the fear of political repercussions from being unjustly branded as an advocate for tax increases.

House Speaker Beth Harwell may be credited with the subcommittee’s change of heart. She substantially overhauled the panel for this session, both in membership and leadership. The new sub chairman is Rep. Dale Carr, R-Sevierville, a veteran of service in local government. Last year’s chairman was then-Rep. Joe Carr, who subsequently ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate against Alexander.

On the flip side, a bill to repeal a 2009 law that lets city and county governments decide whether to ban the carrying of guns in their local parks appears headed for approval this year. The Senate voted last year to strip local governments of such authority, but the bill died in the House Budget Subcommittee. This year, the chairman of that sub — Rep. Mike Harrison, R-Rogersville, appointed to the post by Harwell, of course — is sponsor of the bill.

Again, there may be seen here a balancing of the principle of local government control with political considerations. The National Rifle Association, which inspires almost worshipful political respect within Republican ranks, is having its national convention next month in Nashville, where guns are banned in local parks. The NRA strongly backs repeal of local government authority over pistol packing, favoring state supremacy in the matter for sake of uniformity.

So the tilt in this case is toward the political considerations — a notion more or less denounced last week by Gov. Bill Haslam. Passage of the bill will leave Haslam with a decision on whether to try a veto, creating another confrontation with prevailing supermajority sentiments that could be likened to his failure in pushing Insure Tennessee.

Be that as it may, the attempt at a balancing act between political considerations and policy principle is underway this session. There are several other bills where this comes up. For example, a measure (SB412) advancing through committees says counties cannot regulate the weight of trucks traveling county roads if they’re hauling agricultural supplies, but they can continue to do so if the trucks are hauling other stuff.

Overall, there does seem to be more thought toward balance this session. From the local-control perspective then, maybe things are better than they were.

In terms of the general level of respect from Tennessee legislators, locals are at least ahead of the federal government.

Comments on defeat of Insure TN

Coalition for a Healthy Tennessee: “We are deeply disappointed that the Senate Health Committee rejected a chance to reform a health care system that virtually everyone agrees is broken. Governor Haslam presented legislators with a conservative, market-based health insurance plan that Tennessee’s health community agreed would improve health outcomes for working Tennesseans, reign in runaway costs and demonstrate that Tennessee could do health reform better than Washington.

“Their failure to advance Insure Tennessee will have consequences that are bad for our state. Tennessee has severe health care problems – we are ranked 45 of 50 states in health of citizens, and our rural health care centers are in financial crisis that threatens the economic stability of communities and the people who live there. Without a reform measure such as Insure Tennessee, those problems will only grow worse.

“For the past two days, legislators heard abundant and irrefutable testimony about the broken system and the burden it is for their constituents. Now that the General Assembly has rejected Insure Tennessee, we are eager to learn their plan to tackle this enormous problem.

“The Coalition is proud of Governor Haslam for doing what he was elected to do – provide leadership and solve problems confronting our state. We are also proud of House and Senate leadership and particularly House Leader Gerald McCormick and Senator Doug Overbey for valuing policy of politics.”

Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville (one of the 4 committee yes votes): “Lawmakers have spent two years trying to find a solution to expand access to health care in our state, but it took only two days for the legislature to vote it down,” state Sen. Jeff Yarbro said. “It’s disheartening that seven Senators can make this decision for 6.5 million Tennesseans.”

“This conversation isn’t over,” Sen. Yarbro said. “Democrats will continue to make the case for expanding access to affordable health insurance in Tennessee. We will continue to work with the governor and with common-sense members of both parties to move past politics and do what’s right for Tennesseans.”

Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield
(one of the 7 no vote — via AP): “This was a very agonizing decision for everyone on that committee.”

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh: “When 280,000 Tennesseans are just hours away from getting insurance, Republicans get cold feet and walk away. This is an insult to Governor Haslam, a betrayal of our constituents and proves that Republicans are totally incapable of governing. In my 21 years of service, I cannot recall being more disappointed than I am today.

I hope no Republican has the audacity to file for per diem, because they wasted three days looking for an excuse to vote against Insure Tennessee. For my part, I will return all mine later this week. Going forward I hope the Governor calls us back into special session again and again until we get this right. This isn’t over.

Beacon Center of Tennessee: The Beacon Center applauds legislators for rejecting a Medicaid expansion in Tennessee. Instead of supporting this extension of Obamacare in our state, lawmakers stood with the Beacon Center and fought for what was right, choosing taxpayers over special interest groups.

While the Beacon Center disagreed with Governor Haslam’s plan, we do want to thank him for bringing an important issue to light and trying to come up with a unique Tennessee solution to this issue. We also believe those who supported “Insure Tennessee” had the best of intentions, and we look forward to working with them in the coming months to find a responsible, cost-effective, free market solution that will truly benefit low-income Tennesseans.

“While stopping the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare was a necessary first step, it is still our responsibility as Tennesseans to find affordable healthcare solutions for our most vulnerable neighbors,” said Beacon CEO Justin Owen.
To that end, Beacon is calling for passage of right-to-try legislation that would allow terminally ill patients to access potentially life-saving medicine. Beacon will also work with state leaders to expand access to charity care, reduce the costs imposed by health insurance mandates, and allow Tennesseans to purchase health insurance across state lines.

“There are many things we can do to make healthcare and health insurance more affordable and accessible for all Tennesseans,” said Lindsay Boyd, Beacon Director of Policy. “We look forward to rolling up our sleeves and getting to work helping those most in need.”
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Harold Ford Jr. explains why voters love Common Core

Under the headline “Why voters love Common Core,” former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr. writes for the Daily Beast that one of the most striking lessons from the midterm elections was “the clear message voters sent about education standards: don’t abandon them,”

An excerpt:

Given the intense discussion around the country over Common Core Standards, one may have expected an undoing of a lot of what’s going on in states. After all, opponents of Common Core spent this past election season distorting and misrepresenting the progress going on in the classroom. But, voters, many of them parents, listened to both sides of the debate and ultimately voted for candidates who supported level-headed policy. In fact, November’s results show parents want to continue with implementation of high standards and the results they promise.

… Interestingly, some of the opponents—many of whom I believe are genuinely confused about Common Core’s development and purpose—assailed the standards as too difficult, not difficult enough, or as a federal takeover of local education. They couldn’t decide. Fortunately, on November 4 a majority of parents decided it’s hard to deny success in the classroom.

And to be sure, classrooms are seeing measurable improvements under Common Core Standards.

For example, in Tennessee—one of the earliest adopters of the Common Core Standards—college-readiness rates among high school students saw the biggest improvement this year since the state began testing. And last year, 4th and 8th grade students showed the biggest math and reading gains in the country.

“The hard work of teachers to implement higher academic standards is having an impact,” said Kevin Huffman, Tennessee’s outgoing education commissioner. “We’re starting to see the upward trend.”

Here are some more takeaways from Election Day. In only four states—Arizona, Colorado, New York and Pennsylvania—did the Common Core Standards emerge as a major issue, and in three of those races the most supportive candidates won. Twelve incumbent governors who publicly support Common Core easily won re-election. And, in the 44 states where Common Core is used, only 6 governors and 4 superintendents said they wanted to change course on Common Core.

The opponents of Common Core may be louder than supporters, but the big gains achieved by students are what counted in voters’ minds when they went to the polls. To believe the narrative advanced by Common Core opponents is easy—because they enjoy headline momentum—but simply wrong.

Sunday column: Some voters inspired, others uninspired by amendment campaign

Pages from a Tennessee political notebook on election eve (almost), 2014:

Going by participation in early voting, it seems that Tennessee turnout has tumbled more dramatically this year than in a more modest 2012 decline that has drawn some recent national attention.

A federal General Accounting Office study found voter turnout generally declined nationwide in 2012, but the dropoff was greater in Tennessee and Kansas, two states holding their first elections since enacting laws requiring a photo ID for voting.

In Tennessee, the 2012 drop was about 4.5 percent when compared to 2008, the last presidential election year. This year the early voting decline, when compared to the last non-presidential election year of 2010, is approaching 20 percent.

The GAO concluded the 2012 Tennessee decline, more pronounced among black and youthful voters, could be attributed to the then-new photo ID law. Secretary of State Tre Hargett disputed the conclusion, in part because the comparable states had some hot-button issues on the ballot to drive up voter interest that was lacking in the Volunteer State.

As an example, he cited Alabamians voting that year in a referendum on repeal of state constitution provisions, already unenforceable under federal court rulings, including one that requires segregated schools. (It was narrowly defeated.).

This year, Tennessee has four constitutional amendments on the ballot, including one on the hot-button issue of abortion. So why hasn’t that inspired an uptick instead of a tumble in Tennessee turnout?

A psychologist acquaintance, also a political junkie, suggests that the amendment may actually be a turnoff for a substantial number of voters. While inspiring passionate views among activists on both sides, others are ambivalent or conflicted enough that they prefer to avoid discussing the topic, much less vote on it. While Amendment 1 inspires some people to get to the polls and vote, it is a turnoff to turning out for others.

n Two of the amendment referendums present voters with the odd situation of dealing with issues pretty much on their own, without coaching from TV and radio ads, direct mail attack pieces or anything else.

Amendment 3, which would prohibit a state income tax, has prompted formation of campaign committees both pro and con. The two Amendment 3 committees combined have not reached six-figure spending — excluding one curiosity.

That was the Yes on 3 committee reporting as an “in-kind” contribution the $200,000 spent by a Missouri company for a 200-foot “airbus” in Nashville where about 200 people looked at it and heard speeches on the evils of a state income tax.

The Amendment 3 opponents have had their equally curious, albeit dramatically less expensive, event — a series of movie showings at different locations around the state loosely tied to a “teleconference” where people talked about the evils of taking decisions away from future generations and forcing them to rely on sales taxes or a new statewide property tax.

Amendment 3 probably will pass since it refers to banning a state income tax and most folks have heard about that and don’t like it. A Republican who opposes it says it’s a bad idea, though, because it will deprive future politicians of the opportunity to vow their everlasting opposition to an income tax. In the long term, he says, it could be worse than losing President Barack Obama as an attack target (and voter turnout generator) in 2016.

n The average voter, showing up at the polls out of a sense of civic responsibility without prior research, will likely be utterly perplexed by Amendment 4. There are no campaign committees either for or against, thus zero voter education.

The question he or she will face: Do you want to insert USC 501(c)19 into the state Constitution? The logical average citizen response — “Huh?” — may inspire many to skip answering the question and lead to failure of the amendment, given the requirement that constitutional amendments be approved by a majority of those voting in the governor’s race.

Then again, only the most enlightened and passionate voters are turning out this year and they will figure this out to make the right decision. Who cares what all those other folks think? They aren’t voting, with or without a photo ID

Sunday column: Plagiarism ploy brings ‘politics of nothing’ to TN

The current issue of Time has an article on the “politics of nothing” trend and, as often is the case in these days of cookie-cutter partisan campaigns, that which rings true on the national level may apply here in Tennessee.

The proposition is that the two major parties both have accomplished much of their biggest goals.

Republicans don’t have much of an agenda beyond opposing anything President Barack Obama supports because they’ve been winning battles on taxes, welfare and crime since Ronald Reagan days.

Democrats don’t have much of an agenda either, thanks to Obama’s first-term success on education reforms, Wall Street reforms and, of course, the Affordable Care Act.

So now there’s partisan gridlock in Washington with no real chance for that changing, leaving the parties to fight over “relative scraps” —or creating inconsequential issues in attempts to rally their respective bases.

Examples of the latter include an Iowa uproar over a Democratic U.S. Senate candidate squabbling with a neighbor over trespassing chickens, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell taking heat in Kentucky for featuring Duke University basketball players instead of University of Kentucky basketball players in a television commercial, and an Illinois gubernatorial candidate paying $100,000 to join a wine club.

Here in Tennessee, well, at least we have the Great Gordon Ball Plagiarism Controversy.

In case you missed it, state Republican Chairman Chris Devaney is demanding that the Democratic U.S. Senate nominee abandon his “fraudulent campaign” because a bunch of stuff on Ball’s website was copied from Democratic senators in other states.

Ball says that the cut-and-pasting, initially pointed out by BuzzFeed, was done by a volunteer staffer and that he read and approved the material with no idea that it came from other Democrats. And, doubtless to Devaney’s amazement, he’s not going to quit the race and endorse re-election of Republican Lamar Alexander by acclamation.

The proclaimed plagiarism seems fairly boilerplate rhetoric on such things as a balanced budget amendment, “putting Americans back to work,” investing in infrastructure and the like. Alexander would likely agree with a good bit of the copied commentary if it were provided him without attribution.

Instead, he joined Devaney in declaring Ball was embracing the “Obama agenda.” Coincidentally, of course, an oft-repeated campaign mantra of Alexander and the state GOP chief in discussing Ball is that he would be “one more vote for the Obama agenda.”

This is not exactly a novel concept. A standard GOP tactic for years has been to cut and paste pictures of Obama and place them beside any Democratic opponent. Heck, in some Tennessee Republican primaries for state legislative seats this summer, Republicans were accusing one another of supporting the Obama agenda in one way or the other — complete with cut-and-paste pictures.

Indeed, a quick Google search finds a recent PAC news release that begins: “Freedom Partners Action Fund announced today that it is launching a new six-figure ad campaign in Kansas showing that a vote for Greg Orman is one more vote for President Obama’s reckless agenda.”

Has someone plagiarized someone here? Surely not.

A similar standard Lamar line in the current campaign is to declare that Ball, if elected, will “put his desk right over there next to Harry Reid and make it one vote easier for Barack Obama to lead our country in the wrong direction.”

There’s an echo here from Alexander himself a dozen years ago when he was running against Bob Clement, repeatedly declaring the Democrat would move Alexander’s desk, if elected, from the Republican side in Senate seating “over between Hillary Clinton and Ted Kennedy and go off in the wrong direction.”

Can you plagiarize yourself? Surely not. And maybe Senate seating arrangements could be categorized as politics of something instead of nothing.

Ball, meanwhile, might be accused of stealing issues from Joe Carr, who was defeated by Alexander in the primary. Echoing Carr, Ball contends that Alexander is for amnesty and Common Core, while he is opposed. For some reason, Alexander hasn’t yet pointed this out.

Interestingly, there are a couple of “relative scraps” on the issue front that separate the opposing Senate candidates in Tennessee this year. Ball would vote to raise the federal minimum wage, for example, while Alexander opposes.
At the state level, the Republican supports Amendment 1 the November ballot to amend the state constitution so the GOP Supermajority can enact more stringent anti-abortion laws. The Democrat opposes.

At least that’s something.

Note: This is an unedited version of a column written for Sunday’s News-Sentinel. The edited version is HERE.

Today’s Supreme Court retention election opinion roundup (it’s all about crime — or not)

From state Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, writing in the Chattanooga TFP
It is the height of irony that the loudest defenders of retention elections are generally the staunchest critics of a growing grassroots movement to urge voters to reject some of the judges on the ballot this year. Whether it is the Trial Lawyers Association or the Chamber of Commerce, any group, liberal or conservative, should have the right to inform the voters of their views. It is an election, isn’t it?

Since the retention vote system was implemented in 1971, only one judge has not been retained. It was not on the basis of partisanship. That vote was primarily due to a controversial decision regarding the death penalty. This year, crime is again the issue. Two cases specifically have garnered media attention. In one case, the actions of the Supreme Court removed Arthur Copeland, a cold-blooded contract killer, from death row. Copeland was subsequently released from prison. Two years later, he was arrested for a violent rape.

In another case, the court vacated the death sentence of Leonard Smith, who admitted killing two elderly shopkeepers in one night during a crime spree.

And there are more. We are talking about horrific and monstrous murders committed in Tennessee. The majority of Tennesseans have made clear they want the death penalty implemented for the most heinous crimes in our state. But the Supreme Court remains reticent.

From Frank Cagle’s column in Metro Pulse:
The three sitting justices are, by all accounts, excellent jurists. You can always pick through cases and find something to argue about. I think it is a mistake to try and paint these justices as “soft on crime” or “anti-business.” If you want to oust them then just come clean. The Republicans are in charge and they want their own team at the court. Because the other team has had control for 100 years.

It is being suggested that the current justices are too concerned about legal niceties when it comes to executing prisoners. Given the case of Paul Gregory House, the Union County man who spent 22 years on death row until DNA evidence cleared him, don’t you want to have justices that are careful about who gets executed?

I firmly believe that while we have three good justices on the court at present, I also believe that there are three equally good Republican justices-in-waiting.

To suggest it is a gross miscarriage to turn them out seems to conveniently ignore your basic argument. People get turned out of office every election cycle, some of them good people, but the voters wanted a change. It’s how our democracy works.

Koch’s commentary
Retiring Tennessee Supreme Court justice William Koch, who will soon become dean of the Nashville School of Law, wants to keep politics and the justice system, reports the Tennessean. His comments came Wednesday in Lebanon after a speech to the 15th Judicial District Bar Association.

“When we start getting into partisan races or contested races, that is going to introduce the issue of campaign funding, and in other states where there is campaign funding people think justice can be bought,” Koch said. “I don’t think justice should be bought.”

The debate has been fueled by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey’s support to not retain three Democratic Supreme Court justices, appointed by then Gov. Phil Bredesen, who are up for retention election in August.

There is a constitutional amendment on the November ballot proposing a selection system similar to the current system for selecting and retaining judges. It would give the legislature authority to confirm the governor’s selection and would keep retention elections.

“I think the current system is a good one,” Koch said. “I think the system being proposed in November is good and can work as well.”

Sunday column: Campfield becoming a primary target of the Republican establishment

The Republican “11th commandment,” popularized by the late President Ronald Reagan, was flagrantly violated last week by some very prominent Tennessee Republicans, indicating a new height in the state GOP’s intraparty strife.

Or at least that lines are being drawn.

The 11th commandment provides, “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.”

The inspiration of the violation was a blog post by Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield that said: “Democrats bragging about the number of mandatory sign ups for Obamacare is like Germans bragging about the number of manditory (sic) sign ups for ‘train rides’ for Jews in the 40s.”

While Campfield seemed to add a new twist to the popular GOP pastime of bashing Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act, it was not entirely novel. Back in January, Idaho state Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll got some attention by comparing — via Twitter and email — insurance companies signing up to participate in Obamacare to “Jews boarding the trains to concentration camps.” The Idaho Spokesman-Review reported that she took some criticism, but not from fellow Republicans. One GOP leader is quoted as saying, “When we are emotional about something, sometimes we use hyperbole to get across our point.”
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A satirical swat at the governor’s business-friendly approach to a corporation

By way of Knoxviews, Mark Harmon has a pretty biting satire column on Gov. Bill Haslam’s business-friendly efforts. It starts like this:

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam leaned against a brick wall under a red light in a seedy part of Nashville. Slowly he sauntered up to a global corporation as it approached him.

“Hey there, you big powerful corporation. You looking for a date, er, state?” he propositioned.

“Uh, maybe,” murmured the corporation.

“I know the Supreme Court says you have First Amendment rights,” said Haslam as he slipped his hand into the corporation’s jacket. “But I know you have other needs as well.”

The corporation froze motionless as Haslam flicked his tongue near the corporate ear. “Trust me, baby,” Haslam cooed. “I am so business friendly.”

More superlative performances in the 2014 legislative session

More superlative performances from the 2014 session of Tennessee’s 108th General Assembly:

-Supermajority Legislator of the Year — Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, whose finger was in many a legislative pie during a session notable for expanding the General Assembly’s authority. Bell annoyed Gov. Bill Haslam by leading efforts to reduce gubernatorial appointive powers on boards and commissions, not to mention moves to undermine administration efforts on teacher licensure and state employee layoffs. He annoyed University of Tennessee administrators by prodding them, via resolution and rhetoric, on UT Sex Week. He successfully sponsored a bill to legalize switchblades and long knives, having last year stripped local governments of knife control. With less success, he dabbled in campaign finance and open government reforms, and took the heat — prior to an astute retreat — on legislation declaring some businesses can refuse to serve same-sex couples..

-Superminority Legislator of the Year — House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh, who continues to develop his effectiveness as spokesman for the underdogs of Legislatorland and in the occasional strategic maneuver to go beyond rhetoric into accomplishments. He’s also the only member of top Democratic leadership who is planning to stick around for next year. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville and Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson are retiring to consider running for mayor of their home cities, while Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis is running for a judgeship and, if elected as most seem to expect, will leave his Senate seat.

-Back to the Future Award — Rep. Curry Todd, R-Collierville, who boldly pushed to make daylight saving time permanent in Tennessee and achieved an initial subcommittee success as confused colleagues were briefly lost in time. Honorable mention to Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, the not-quite-as-bold Senate sponsor who failed to make a timely presentation of her bill. They’ll surely be time travelers again next year. Or was that last week?

-Retiring Legislator Who Will Be Most Missed — Unquestionably Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, who began serving in the General Assembly as a House member in 1955, setting a record for legislative longevity in state history. Despite being passionate for causes ranging from fiscal responsibility to child welfare, Henry has been a gentlemen of such extraordinary civility and thoughtfulness that it’s safe to say he has no enemies in politics as he leaves — an amazing lifetime accomplishment.

-Freshman of the Year, Republican — Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin, a lawyer who argued with eloquence (and sometimes with a bit of bombast) for causes both conservative and curious. Examples range from bills that could have curbed taxpayer-funded lobbying and made it a crime to tether a dog improperly (both losers) to a bill that broadens the legal definitions of bribery, extortion and rioting to cover more union activities (which passed). Oh, and there was the “Stop Obamacare Act.”

-Freshman of the Year, Democratic — Rep. Gloria Johnson of Knoxville, a teacher who actually won approval of a bill again this year, a measure authorizing school systems to operate “community schools” after regular school hours, on weekends and during the summer, so long as funded by private rather than public monies. The supermajority shot down the rest of her proposals, including a bill requiring those contracting with the state to hire mostly Tennessee employees and the annual effort to ban “mountaintop removal” coal mining. But she tried, which is more than some Democrats do these days.

-Symbolic Gesture of the Year — To U.S. Senate candidate and state Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, for a resolution condemning a federal judge for granting a preliminary injunction that required Tennessee to recognize the same-sex marriages of three couples wed in other states and urging the attorney general to “vigorously and zealously” fight the ruling on appeal. Honorable mention to Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville, who offered an amendment to change “vigorously and zealously” to “half-heartedly and lackadaisically.” Jones’ amendment was defeated and the resolution passed the House. But, since it was a “joint” resolution and was never considered by the Senate, it was officially ineffective to condemn or urge anything. (The same was true for other resolutions that got more attention — inviting Sean Hannity to move to Tennessee, for example, and two resolutions condemning UT Sex Week.)