Tag Archives: commentary

More commentary on winners, losers, blessings, woes during 2014 legislative session

On blessings and woes of Legislatorland
Maybe from a bit left-of-center perspective, David Waters lists legislative doings in the categories of ‘blessings’ and ‘woes,’ finding a mixed message in each. A sample:

Blessing: A House subcommittee killed a bill to let gun owners carry their weapons openly, without a background check, training or a permit.
Woe: The House had to kill it because the Senate already had passed it 25-2.

In a letter urging House members to support the bill, Rep. Micah Van Huss cited Ephesians 6:13: “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground.”

Mixed message: Do not resist an evil person, unless you can blow his head off?

Ramsey a winner, Haslam a loser?
Rocky Top Politics, a decidedly right-of-center blog that’s fairly new on the scene and written anonymously, has an entertaining list of session winners and losers – mostly (but not completely) devoted to bashing establishment Republicans.

Leading the winners list are Ron Ramsey and Americans for Prosperity. Leading the losers list are “Common Core and S.C.O.R.E” along with Bill Haslam. (Note: These folks are not fans of “Kevin ‘I voted for Obama’ Huffman”.)

Democrats disappointed, but…
House Democrats gave their post-session review at a Nashville news conference with Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh deeming Republicans “flippant disregard” of Medicaid expansion benefits the biggest disappointment.

On the other hand, reports Richard Locker:

They said there were cracks in the GOP’s supermajority rule through which they were able to work with dissident Republican factions — notably for the defeat of school vouchers and Common Core’s student testing regime, and the reversal of a plan to tie teacher licensing to student test scores.

“We’re not saying that Republicans had all the bad ideas and that Democrats had all the right ones,” said Turner. “There were some moments you saw some bipartisanship this year for the first time since this administration and the supermajority took over.”

TEA declares victory
The Tennessee Education Association declares victory – actually “many victories” – in the 2014 legislative session.

Thanks to the many calls, emails and visits by educators statewide and the tireless work of TEA’s government relations team, many important bills were passed and several damaging bills were defeated.

The full TEA rundown is HERE.

And some media bashing
The Media Matters blog is chastising state media outlets – television types in particular – for not reporting on “dark money Tennessee takeover.

The Koch brothers, through their political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), have been at the forefront of the Tennessee takeover, pushing tax cuts, measures to block public transportation, and anti-Medicaid legislation among others. While some of Tennessee’s newspapers have been quick to connect the questionable legislation with AFP, local television coverage rarely mentions the outside influence.

…Tracking the Koch brothers’ outsized influence has recently been a popular endeavor among national news sources, so the billionaires’ leap into Tennessee sounded the alarm across national media outlets. Local and state media have been slower to point out AFP’s influence in state politics. While Koch pressure in Tennessee is nothing new, the state chapter of AFP opened last year, making this year the first legislative session with active local AFP participation.

And TNReports reasonable review is HERE.

and TNRepo

Supermajority railroad: Senate hands on the throttle, House foot on the brakes

Time and again in the 2014 legislative session, the Senate has established itself as the throttle on the Republican supermajority railroad while the House has become the brakes.

The bill to legalize the open carrying of pistols without a permit, roaring through the Senate last week on a 25-2 vote with no debate, provides an example. In the House, the companion measure has been parked in a subcommittee under circumstances that would normally mean it’s dead.

Now, it is possible that the brakes on that one could loosen in the last moments as the session lurches to adjournment this week and strange things start to happen. But they were applied and, to venture a guess, they will hold.

They were also applied on the Senate-passed bill to override local government ordinances to permit guns in city and county parks. The guess there is that the brakes will be lifted at the last moment.

Indeed, it has been widely speculated that several senators were relying on the House brakes when they voted for the “open carry” measure. In doing so, they would have bragging rights with the pro-gun crowd while not having to worry about the bill really becoming law, which might upset unaware citizens when they see pistol-packing on the streets.

An even more striking example of this House braking phenomena last week came with a bill to cut the lifetime maximum payment of welfare benefits from five years to four. The bill sailed through the Senate, where the floor debate focused on whether exceptions to the new limit were too liberal.
Continue reading

On the growth and fame of TN’s ‘Tin Foil Hat Caucus’

Robert Houk, in his weekly column, explains how to make a tin foil hat as part of a commentary on the “Tin Foil Hat Caucus” at the Legislature.

Even though its membership and fame has grown in recent years, the THC rarely turns anyone away.

In fact, it has a “big-tent philosophy” when it comes to over-the-top conspiracy theories. And if you have an idea for a bizarre piece of anti-intellectual or anti-establishment legislation, then the THC definitely wants you to join its ranks.

You say you are against Common Core? Well then, you’re just the kind of person the THC is interested in. It’ll be a nice to have a list of problems with Common Core that you can use to help THC in its attempts to derail or stall the next phases of this important education reform plan. These can easily be found on most tea party websites and in emails passed around by like-thinking friends and fellow conspiracy theorists.

Be careful, however, to avoid fact-checking websites, such as Snopes.com, which purportedly debunk such fine information. They are nothing more than liberal shills funded by George Soros.

…Of course, THC members know President Obama and the federal government aren’t the only threats to our constitutional freedoms. The United Nations, too, wants to enslave the hearts and minds of God-fearing Americans. That’s the reason members of the THC, including some legislators who represent our very own corner of the state, have taken aim squarely at the United Nations.

Earlier this month, the state House of Representatives approved legislation to bar those rascals from the U.N. from coming to Tennessee and messing with our local elections. The bill was sponsored after someone told someone else that they had read something somewhere about a U.N.-affiliated group conspiring with liberals to accuse Republicans of “human rights violations” in regard to how elections are held here in Tennessee.

THC members have been proactive in passing legislation to make sure that can’t happen. It’s legislation like this that earns a THC member his or her stripes. There’s no telling how far the sponsor of this bill can now go in the GOP leadership.

Trending now in Legislatorland: Just don’t vote

There’s a long Legislatorland tradition of “taking a walk” when an uncomfortable voting situation appears, but that seems to have been largely replaced by the increasingly popular practice of sitting on hands.

The old way of dodging a vote requires a legislator, upon seeing a troublesome voting decision at hand, to physically exit the scene, perhaps declaring the need for a rest room visit or some such so that he or she is not present when the roll is called. This requires a public exit, which may be noticed and pointed out by colleagues, and has thus been a fairly infrequent occurrence.

Hand sitting requires no physical activity whatsoever. The practitioner simply pretends he or she is not there, and it seems nobody ever notices or points this out.

A fine example would be the House floor vote a few days ago involving whether to prohibit employers from dismissing employees who hold handgun carry permits for having a gun stashed in a locked car on the company parking lot. Setting aside the political and procedural situation, the vote was recorded as 45-29-1 in House records.

Observe that 45, the number of yes votes; plus 29, the number of no votes; plus the one (that was a “present and not voting” or PNV in Legislatorland abbreviation lingo) adds up to 75. There are 99 members of the House.

So what happened to the other 24 ladies and gentlemen elected to vote their conscience and/or represent their constituents in making decisions on state policy and law? Well, they were officially not there. Or, if they were, they sat on their hands.
Continue reading

TN legislature moving to take control over everything?

Excerpt from Frank Cagle’s column this week:
These days the Republicans have a supermajority, filibuster-proof, relatively homogeneous group of conservatives in charge of the Legislature. There are two types—conservative and more conservative. They can really do whatever they damn well please and I think it pleases them to do quite a bit.

I suspect they have only just begun.

They have begun transferring power from the governor’s office to themselves as they assume more responsibility. By the time Gov. Bill Haslam leaves office, the governor’s job may be reduced to ribbon-cutting and the state of the state address.

…A governor in Tennessee needs a strong personality and the ability to play hardball with individual members in order to keep the Legislature in check. I don’t sense any Republican legislators being scared of Haslam.

…So what happens when the Legislature appoints the attorney general and has veto power over who gets on the court and then takes away gubernatorial power? We won’t have three branches of government; we will have one branch of government running the other two.

..It might be better for the Republican Party and the state if the Republicans just hold what they have or even lose a few seats this coming election year. It might make them realize they are not invulnerable and maybe they need to exercise some restraint and discipline. It may lead to a slowdown in the effort to transfer power from the executive to the legislative branch. If they are fighting among themselves, they may not be able to make a concerted effort to grab more power.

Not everyone is happy with Haslam

While Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s confident the Legislature will approve his “Tennessee Promise” plan to provide free community college tuition to all Tennessee high school graduates and most legislators are praising it, there are dissenting voices.

Excerpts from some recent samples:

From Wendi C. Thomas:
If Gov. Bill Haslam’s Tennessee Promise plan, which would give free tuition to any two-year state school for high school graduates, sounds familiar, it should.

It already exists. It’s called tnAchieves, which is in 27 counties, including Shelby County.

What would his proposal, which was greeted with bipartisan cheers during his State of the State address Monday, give Shelby County’s students that they didn’t have?

Nothing, unless you count the 25 percent cut in the Hope Lottery scholarships for freshmen and sophomores.

Note: At the bottom of Thomas’ column, she has collected some interesting tweets sent out while the governor was fielding questions from the Commercial Appeal editorial board.

From the Speak to Power blog comes a broader blast at Haslam’s SOTS speech. It begins:

After a year of dithering on his stated aim to increase post-secondary graduation rates to 55 percent, Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday finally proposed a program to move toward accomplishing this goal.

Along with it, his budget includes college tuition hikes and scholarship cuts for freshman and sophomores.

Haslam has been using this kind of political doublespeak since he began running for governor four years ago and his State of the State speech Monday night was riddled with more of the same.

And, Robert Houk has been talking with educators in Northeast Tennessee, leading to his weekly column bearing the headline, “Gov. Haslam leading the assault on state public education.”

Public schools are under siege in this country, and Tennessee is one of the key battleground states. That’s the message I heard last week from area teachers and school administrators who are trying to get the word out about drastic changes in the way educators are evaluated.

They believe the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System is part of a coordinated assault on the traditional American model of public education. TVASS, along with programs like charter schools and vouchers that take limited tax dollars away from local schools, are all designed to weaken public education.

Denise Brown, the director of Unicoi County Schools, said bluntly “there is a clear agenda here,” and one that’s “bigger than Tennessee.” Brown believes Gov. Bill Haslam considers his leadership of this national reform to be his “legacy,” and something he will “stand on” in his future political endeavors.
“If we don’t stand up now, in 10 years public education as we’ve known it will not exist,” Brown said.

ACLU’s ‘Countdown to Colbert’ gets columnist’s attention

The American Civil Liberties Union in Tennessee is hosting a “Countdown to Colbert” website devoted to counting the days until the state Legislature gets mentioned on the Comedy Channel’s show starring Steve Colbert. Robert Houk, in his weekly column, predicts there won’t be many – though on Thursday, 17 days had passed without a joke on the Tennessee Legislature. (Note: the website is HERE.)

Excerpt from Houk’s column:

It’s an effort “to raise awareness about pending legislation in Tennessee that could limit our freedoms, and to engage Tennesseans in taking a stand against the kind of bills that land us on political comedy shows,” Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-Tennessee’s executive director, said in a recent news release.

…I would wager we won’t have to wait very long before Tennessee is mentioned on a comedy show.
It’s just weeks into the session and lawmakers have already filed bills to do away with lunch breaks for service employees and allow local school boards to do their part to defend pupils from the so-called “War on Christmas.”

My money is on Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville. His skill for legislative buffoonery is unequaled in the General Assembly.

Last year, he was thoroughly lampooned on “The Daily Show” for his “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Campfield also had a memorable appearance on MSNBC, where he defended his bill to reduce welfare payments to families with a child failing in school by saying that while he doesn’t expect poor children to be “rocket surgeons,” he does believe they should be getting good grades.

It’s only a matter of time before Campfield’s antics are mentioned again on “The Colbert Report.”

Miscellaneous TN political news and opinions

On DesJarlais, Tracy and a Muslim cemetery
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais is taking a swipe at the decision to allow a cemetery at a Rutherford County mosque — and perhaps also his opponent in this August’s Republican primary, observes In Session:

DesJarlais drew fire from Muslim activists and others for a post Friday on his official Facebook page in which he seemed to lament a recent vote to let the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro build a cemetery.

“Although this is a state issue, I am deeply concerned over the impact it might have on our community,” he wrote. “Unfortunately the Tennessee Religious Freedom Act, passed by the TN General Assembly, may have played a key role in allowing this cemetery to be approved.”

…DesJarlais appears to be referring to a 2009 law, the Tennessee Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that was meant to protect religious groups from burdensome regulations. The mosque, arguably, has benefited from that law, as activists in Rutherford County have tried unsuccessfully to stop, first, the building’s construction and, then, the cemetery.

DesJarlais has said little about the mosque until now, but he has an incentive to take a shot at the law. His main opponent in August, state Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, was one of its co-sponsors.

Well, we’re not at the bottom
Politico has done a “best states/worst states” rating based on 14 criteria all averaged together, more less. Mississippi comes out at the bottom; New Hampshire at the top. Tennessee is 48th.

Former Rep. seeks GOP SEC slot
Former state Rep. Julia Hurley, who represented the Legislature when she lived in Lenoir City, is seeking to become a member of the Tennessee Republican Party’s State Executive Committee in the 5th Senate District, which includes Loudon and Anderson counties and a portion of Knox County.

Since being defeated in the GOP primary two years ago by state Rep. Kent Calfee of Kingston, Hurley now lists 119 Lee Drive in Knoxville as her address. As of Friday, no other candidate had picked up a petition for this position in any of the three counties.

Georgiana Vines full column, with more on party executive committee races, is HERE.
Continue reading

Columnists bash Beavers, Campfield on health care, guns

Apparently trending in critical commentary from newspaper columnists are state Sens. Mae Beavers and Stacey Campfield, judging by this sampler from the weekend:

From Gail Kerr in The Tennessean:
If Sen. Stacey Campfield is king of the unnecessary legislation, Beavers is queen. Beavers, like Campfield, is prone to fly off the handle and file stuff that makes little sense and, in some cases, would be illegal. That’s the case here.

Beavers has filed a new bill that would bar state and local governments, and possibly the companies with which they do business, from buying health insurance through the federal website, HealthCare.gov.

We get it. Beavers is constantly running for re-election. Trying to prove she is the rightest of the right is the outcome she seeks, not good legislation.

…Beavers copied the bill from South Carolina and Georgia. She calls her version the Health Care Freedom and ACA Noncompliance Act.

A more accurate title would be “The Mae Beavers is Running for Re-election Act and Wanted Some Attila the Hun-style Publicity.”

In which case, thanks to statewide media coverage, she has succeeded beautifully.

From Otis Sanford in the Commercial Appeal, focusing on Campfield’s sponsorship of a bill that would require city and county governments to allow handgun carry permit holders to take their weapons into local parks (which, incidentally does have a House sponsor, too):

State Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville (it would be him, wouldn’t it?), introduced the bill that would fundamentally change a state law enacted in 2009 allowing handgun-carry permit holders to take their weapons into state and local parks.

To quell opposition, the 2009 law included an opt-out clause for cities and counties that don’t want to turn over their parks to gun-toters who don’t wear badges.

Naturally, Memphis chose to opt out of this silly law. The last thing this city needs is more people running around willy-nilly carrying guns.
Lest you think this was an example of a city mostly controlled by Democrats controverting the wishes of the Republican-controlled legislature, Memphis wasn’t the only local government to opt out. Germantown, which is as Republican as it gets, chose to continue banning guns in its parks. So did Shelby County government, where Mayor Mark Luttrell, the most popular Republican in these parts, holds forth.

…No one from Knoxville — who wouldn’t know Riverside and Audubon parks from Rosa Parks — should be telling local governments what to do.
If state lawmakers don’t want federal government interference on decisions involving health care and the minimum wage, they should keep their noses out of local affairs.

It’s just that simple.

Meanwhile, Scott McNutt in a News Sentinel column envisions a talking pistol advocating people’s rights in a satirical shot at gun-loving legislators. Before he gets to that part, there’s this:

For guns’ rights, state Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Guns Are People Too, wants to prohibit prohibitions on handgun permit holders taking their sidearms into city and county parks; Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Have You Hugged Your Guns Today?, wants to prohibit cities and counties from enacting any ordinances whatsoever on ordnance; and state Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Nullification Fantasy Land, wants to make enforcing federal gun laws in Tennessee a felony.

Will Popakapeneu, spokesman for Gunners United to Advance the Rights, Divinely Decreed, of Our Guns (GUARDDOG) praised the proposed measures as “a good start toward ensuring guns in Tennessee are treated with the loving care and esteem they deserve, as useful members of society.” However, he told an audience outside the State Capitol Building in Nashville that GUARDDOG would continue to push its agenda of wider gun freedoms in Tennessee.

“These bills are a good start, but they are not enough,” he said. “We will not rest until there are guns in the streets, guns in cars, guns in bars, guns in schools, guns in businesses where businesses don’t want them, guns in day cares, guns in hospitals, guns in neonatal wards, and guns in the hands of embryos, so they can protect themselves from reckless mothers-to-be.”

And, there’s a Chattanooga Times editorial bashing both Beavers and Campfield, bringing in legislation mentioned in the pieces above and some other stuff – Campfield’s “Merry Christmas” bill, for example, and Beavers’ “redneck advocacy” for continued over-the-counter sales of medications containing pseudoephedrine.

The editorial opens with this line:

The Tennessee General Assembly apparently is doing its best to audition for the next redneck reality television show.

A call for higher education consolidation

Warren Neel, who has served both as state finance commissioner and as dean of the University of Tennessee School of Business, writes in an op-ed piece that there’s an obvious way to achieve cost savings and promote efficiency in Tennessee’s higher education system.

Tennessee has a unique issue that must be addressed. The two competing systems, the Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee Trustees, report to a third board, the Higher Education Commission.

This structure has added expense by having unnecessary duplication of administrators, academic programs and capital budgets that reflect the political balance between the two systems. One of the two systems, for example, uses its own legal counsel and architects that add unnecessary cost, since such is available in the state administration. Together, both spend more than $1 million a year in advocacy to the legislature in Nashville. Tennessee is unique with its duplicative boards reporting to a third one.

Creation of a single higher education board to replace the “three-headed” structure could play a role in reducing costs and duplication of efforts. Such a restructured Tennessee Higher Education Commission would replace the UT and Regents systems and centralize coordination and relationship with the legislature and administration.

…The politics of the changing board structures will be a critical challenge since many key administrators and board members have been Democratic or Republican supporters. Yet state funding has fallen, student tuition has risen and education is, indeed, entering a new era.

The proposed changes in higher education governance principles are found in states where many of the nation’s universities exist. North Carolina, for example, has a superb higher education board structure that has helped reduce administrative costs, prioritize academic sea changes and assist in responding to changes for the growing era of technology. Many other states have a similar board structure for the state and campus level.

Note: Gov. Bill Haslam says he wants to focus on higher education, but he – like governors before him and most legislators – has dodged dealing with the issue of administrative consolidation for efficiency. It’s a fairly safe bet that the trend will continue.