NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Rep. Curtis Johnson is presiding over the Tennesee House while Speaker Beth Harwell is away to attend to her mother’s funeral.
Harwell, a Nashville Republican, left for Spring City, Pa., on Wednesday. Her mother, Jessie Halteman, was 97.
Harwell’s staff expects her to return next week.
Johnson, a Clarksville Republican, was elected as speaker pro tempore before this year’s session began.
Mother Jones magazine, a decidedly liberal publication, last week provided the capstone to a year filled with national media lampooning of the Tennessee General Assembly by declaring it the worst in all 50 states.
The article is not too serious and certainly not scholarly. It begins with a declaration that Tennessee got “bonus points” for inspiring “a news story with the phrase ‘gateway body parts’ and ‘governor signs’ in the same paragraph.”
In fact, the article is inaccurate and misleading in some respects.
It says, for an inaccuracy example, that a bill to “provide cover for teachers who question evolution and climate change in their classrooms” was vetoed. Actually, the measure critics called “the monkey bill” was not vetoed. The governor refused to sign it, but it became law without his signature.
And for a misleading example, the article credits state Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, with sponsorship of a bill that would have prohibited persons who have gone through a sex change operation from using rest rooms for persons of their newly-chosen gender. Actually, credit belongs to state Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga. Watson killed the transgender bathroom bill by withdrawing it — after initially signing on as Senate sponsor, at Floyd’s request, without reading it.
But, hey, we can’t expect nationally-oriented folks to keep up with such details in reviewing 50 different states.
On a broad brush basis, the evaluation doubtless reflects what folks in other states hear about legislative doings outside their home turf — and most of what they hear about is the social issue shenanigans that are unusual enough to attract special attention.
So, we’re No. 1. And some can be proud that a liberal publication has rated us the worst, which to them equates to the best. And some can be chagrined or embarrassed. Most, if they care at all, will just have something to mention in a water cooler conversation.
Mother Jones, a decidedly liberal publication, has declared Tennessee’s General Assembly the worst state legislature in the nation. Oklahoma finished second and New Hampshire third.
The full story from Mother Jones, aka MoJo, is HERE. And here’s a chunk of what’s said about Tennessee:
MoJo’s cutting-edge algorithm awards a 500-point bonus to any state legislature that inspires a news story with the phrase “gateway body parts” and “governor signs” in the same paragraph. Republican Gov. Bill Haslam accomplished the feat in May when he signed into law a new abstinence-only sex education program that critics warned would prohibit almost any discussion of sexual activity during sex ed. As Bristol’s WCYB dryly reported, “News 5 looked into the bill and learned its language has been mocked across the country…”
The gateway body parts bill was part of a new push to crack down on various other gateways, including gateway words, such as “gay.” GOP State Sen. Stacey Campfield’s bill sought to prohibit the discussion of homosexuality for grade schoolers.
….Things went downhill from there. The legislature passed a bill in April (later vetoed) to provide cover for teachers who question evolution and climate change in their classrooms, along with legislation that classified miscarriages as murder, and a bill cracking down on saggy pants. Democrats complained that the saggy pants bill did not go far enough. Although Haslam declined to sign a resolution, passed by the legislature in May, condemning Agenda 21, a spokesman emphasized that the governor did, in fact, oppose the 1992 UN action plan on sustainable development.
Comedy Central described New Hampshire’s state house of reps as “a bunch of part-time real-estate agents throwing monkey feces at a wall.” But that’s not entirely fair–some of them are lawyers too.
As impressive as the laws it passed were, though, the Tennessee legislature was perhaps defined by its individual acts of #fail. In January, GOP state Sen. Bo Watson introduced legislation designed to crack down on the scourge of transgender citizens, by introducing legislation that, per Think Progress, “would institute a $50 fine for anybody who does not use the public restroom or dressing room that matches the sex identification on his or her birth certificate.” In April, state Rep. Matthew Hill (R) introduced a bill to disclose the names of all doctors who perform abortions in the state, along with demographic information about patients that could possibly be used to identify them. In July, the Huffington Post reported that GOP state Rep. Kelly Keisling “emailed constituents Tuesday morning with a rumor circulating in conservative circles that President Barack Obama is planning to stage a fake assassination attempt in an effort to stop the 2012 election from happening.”
Sen. Roy Herron’s mother and mother-in-law both passed away within a 24 hour period this week. Here’s an email from the senator:
My father’s been gone for 35 years, but yesterday afternoon, I visited my nearly 96-year-old mother in the ICU. Her eyes were open, really open, for the first time since before the ambulance took her to the hospital last Friday.
I leaned close, talked loud, and told her that yesterday, September 10th, was my father’s 100th birthday. She squeezed my hand and then, within three hours, Mother went to join him. She was never one to miss a birthday party.
Last week, Nancy’s mother entered hospice care. Today, less than twenty-four hours after my mother went home, Nancy’s mother — with her two daughters holding her — also went home. She is now with her husband. She didn’t want to miss the party either.
One friend said this is a tough time for our family, but I am overwhelmed with gratitude. When our mothers have been with us for a combined180 years, we can surely be grateful for blessing after blessing, year after year. Their lives were full, and they have filled our lives with love.
Now we will honor and remember two wonderful women, two loving mothers, and two precious grandmothers. For my mother, we will gather in Dresden at the First United Methodist Church for visitation on Friday night between 5:00 and 8:00 p.m. and a Celebration Service on Saturday at 11:00 a.m. For Nancy’s mother, we will gather in Memphis for a Committal Service this Sunday morning and a Memorial Service over Thanksgiving.
As we give thanks, please keep our family in your prayers. And know that we are praying for you and yours.
Congressman John J. “Jimmy” Duncan has a collection of political souvenirs. Georgiana Vines has a report:
The past is reflected in political memorabilia collected during a lifetime, including 23½ years in the U.S. House, and items that belonged to his dad, John Duncan Sr., the late Knoxville mayor and congressman.
Books make up a lot of the collection, written by fellow Republicans, Democrats and others. Duncan, 64, has a reputation as a voracious reader and he can tell stories about and from the books.
He also has items from Air Force One; a statue of Mother Teresa from an Albanian president; flat irons from his father’s collection; a white elephant that belonged to the late U.S. Rep. Howard H. Baker Sr.; and 22 wooden eggs from White House Easter egg rolls, although on the day a News Sentinel photographer and reporter visited, only 20 were on a shelf.
“The (five) grandkids play in here. They (the missing eggs) are probably in the curtains,” he said about the office in his home. “This is a lived-in house.”
Joyce Hicks Burchett, mother of Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, died in her sleep at Tennova Residential Hospice on Wednesday after a three-year battle with heart and lung ailments. She was 87.
From the News Sentinel obituary
She was a Christian, an educator, an airplane pilot and a friend to the “roughnecks” who hung out with her youngest son, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett.
She prayed for people she had never met, she always rooted for the underdog and she once beat cancer.
“My momma was an incredible woman,” the mayor said. “She wasn’t one of those people that you had any doubt about.”