More 2013 supermajority session superlatives (first installment HERE):
Celebrity of the Year: Sen. Stacey Campfield, of course. Hands down. From Jay Leno and Stephen Colbert to Jon Stewart and Piers Morgan on national TV, from TMZ to Huffington Post on the national blogosphere, they all talked with — or at least about — the red-haired Knoxville Republican on the cutting edge of red state conservatism. He’s been there before, of course, but this session his national media stature grew — and much of Tennessee’s media, including bloggers, went into an absolute tizzy, sometimes just to report that national celebrities had noticed the senator or one of his blog posts. With exceptions such as Bill O’Reilly, most of the attention was negative — much amounted to ridicule — and centered on his bill to tie a parent’s welfare payments to a child’s school performance. He never backed down in rhetorical fights, whether on TV or the News Sentinel website comment sections, but did back down from putting the bill to a Senate floor vote this year, perhaps a politically practical and tacit acknowledgment that others fret more about such things than he.
Politico discovered Bill Haslam last week, declaring in a flattering profile piece that he is “the most important Republican governor you’ve never heard of,” a prospective candidate for national office and “at the very least a model for national Republicans groping around for ideas that appeal to the middle class.”
At the same time, the national online political magazine was also running an article about the great divide among Republican governors over Medicaid expansion. The “ideological purists are big-name Southern governors who have all said ‘hell no’ to major pieces of the law, even turning down free federal cash to expand Medicaid in their states,” the article says. Haslam, not being a big-name governor and only recently discovered by Politico, is not mentioned.
He’s also not mentioned among the “more pragmatic governors” who have said yes to Medicaid expansion, risking the wrath of their party’s right wing for doing something that can be construed as embracing the despised Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as “Obamacare.”
But it’s a pretty safe bet that he will be joining the more pragmatic governors after going through a few more motions to soften the ensuring confrontation with the Legislature’s ideological purists as much as possible.
At lunch one day last week, Gov. Bill Haslam decisively ordered the “redneck burrito,” a pork-based specialty at the downtown restaurant that he later said was good but caused a bit of indigestion.
In an interview over lunch, the former Knoxville mayor indicated that the state Legislature may have had a similar effect during his first months as Tennessee’s chief executive..
“Did my life change a whole lot since the Legislature left? Sure,” he said. “The things I’m doing now are the things that I ran for governor to do.”
He ran through a lengthy list of gubernatorial doings in the last 24 hours or so, ranging from a strategy session on education issues to dinner at the executive residence the previous evening with corporate executives considering Tennessee as an investment location. It was one of many such dinners he and his wife, Crissy, has hosted, he said.
Haslam said he was “absolutely astounded” at the number of potential corporate
investments in the pipeline when he took over from former Gov Phil Bredesen and the number has grown. He was almost as surprised, however, at the amount of state incentives or subsidies that the would-be investors want.
That has him contemplating development of a “measurable metric” for calculating whether the incentives granted by the state in any given case are worth the jobs that would be created. It seems the sort of businesslike, managerial thing that Haslam relishes.
(Note: This column also appears in Sunday’s News Sentinel.)
At the outset of the current legislative session, it was expected that Republicans would roll over the opposition to enact social conservative agenda items thwarted in the bygone days when Democrats still had influence.
The question was, and still is as the session approaches what is (hopefully) its midpoint, how far can they go? Or is anything too far?
As to the latter question, the answer appears to be a yes. As for drawing the line on how far to go, that’s still fuzzy.
“Overreaching is possible on anything,” acknowledged state Rep. Glen Casada, former House Republican chairman, after losing what amounted to a test vote last week on a bill built upon a social conservative foundation. Maybe that’s an example.