Tag Archives: opinion

Sunday column: On McCormick stepping aside

Gerald McCormick’s decision to step to the sidelines in the legislative theater probably will add another bit of drama to a developing political play over leadership of the Tennessee General Assembly, but it may not be as entertaining as some of the Chattanooga businessman’s past performances.

“You’re a disgrace to this state, pal,” McCormick told then-Rep. Kent Williams on the House floor back in 2009, just after then-Republican Williams had teamed with Democrats to be elected House speaker.

Just a couple of weeks ago, then-Rep. Jeremy Durham declared in an eight-page letter to legislators that McCormick had — during a “heated phone conversation” — used some rather explicit language to suggest that Durham had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior. The letter was a prelude to the House floor vote expelling Durham from his House seat, a move in which McCormick was otherwise instrumental. Continue reading

A TN political junkie reading list, 9/10/16

Special session is the feds’ fault
In separate writings this week, conservative columnists Frank Cagle and Greg Johnson fault the federal government for the necessity of a special Tennessee legislative session to revise a DUI statute enacted earlier this year – albeit with different approaches in doing so. Cagle sees the matter as “the latest example of congressional impotence,” HERE. Johnson decries it as a federal government “defunding mandate,” HERE.

An excerpt from Johnson: “The feds, never content to let the elected officials who actually live and work in the communities affected make decisions on behalf of their neighbors, insist the state fall in line with the federal 0.02 blood alcohol level for underage drinkers.”

Cagle’s conclusion: “If Congress is too spineless to stand up to federal bureaucrats, international trade treaties, Washington lobbyists, executive orders and federal judges, why keep pretending that who you elect to Congress matters?”
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Recent TN political junkie reading list

Demise of Shelby County Democratic Party
Jackson Baker has a review of the decertification and pending rebirth of the Shelby County Democratic Party. HERE.

Trump may be ‘Camfielded’
George Korda likens Donald Trump to former state Sen. Stacey Campfield, who “became known locally and nationally for statements and issue positions the news media followed like a deranged stock car spectator yearning for a wreck.” HERE.

McNally shows lack of judgment
Frank Cagle says Sen. Randy McNally’s support of Rep. Jimmy Matlock for House speaker is puzzling. “It’s hard enough herding cats in your own chamber without getting involved in the House Republican Caucus.” HERE. Also, note Cagle’s column last week, wherein he puts Nashville conservative talk radio hosts atop a listing of losers in the Aug. 4 elections.

Boozing at ASD
Sam Stockard eyes the recent audit of Tennessee’s Achievement School District, starting out with a focus on partying with alcoholic beverages but getting into less intoxicating aspects with perhaps more long-range implications. HERE.

Ketron defends voter ID law
Excerpt from Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron’s op-ed piece in defense of Tennessee’s voter ID law with similar statutes under court challenge elsewhere: The vast majority of reasonable minds agree with Tennessee’s voter ID law. A Middle Tennessee State University poll determined that 81 percent of Tennesseans support voter ID at the polls. Most people agree it shouldn’t be easier to cash a check or buy cigarettes than to vote in Tennessee. Even the Democratic National Convention has required a photo ID to get in and vote.

Alexander on the Smokies
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander opines that, in many ways, things are better today in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park than when it was established 100 years ago. HERE.

Sunday column: More 2016 legislative session standouts

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. Continue reading

Some TN political reading possibilities, May 8, 2016

Akbari, McCormick profiled
The latest in Sam Stockard’s series of profile pieces on Tennessee state legislators: Rep. Raumesh Akbari, who strives to be a worthy successor to the late House Speaker Lois DeBerry, and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, who can be “a little mercurial” on occasion.

McCormick, btw, has written an op-ed piece lauding the accomplishments of the 2016 session. It’s HERE (and not mercurial at all).

Blind man now sees, pushes Congress to aid others
A Nashville man, who was once legally blind, can now see and is helping U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and others to fashion legislation that could help others get the experimental stem cell treatments that helped him, according to Michael Collins.

Reflections on religious counseling
David Plazas got a courtesy call from Gov. Bill Haslam prior to the gubernatorial signing of the religious counseling bill – but he still thinks the governor and the legislature have opened a Pandora’s Box. HERE.

Jack McElroy, meanwhile, suspect there may be more to come in the future on counseling legislation — say repealing the exemption for government-sponsored therapists. HERE.

TNGOP leaders ready to accept Trump spanking?
Otis Sanford likens Tennessee Republicans lining up to support Donald Trump to his childhood days of lining up with others boys to be padded by a teacher. Full column HERE. An excerpt:

Although the teacher was not who we were used to — or even liked — she was in control. And we had to follow her orders.

That is exactly what’s happening now, particularly in red state Tennessee, as entrenched Republican Party leaders come to grips with the reality that someone who is not conservative or Republican by any stretch will be the party’s nominee for president.

Columnist calculates Haslam’s Hall tax savings
Martin Harmon calculates that the 1 percent cut in Tennessee’s Hall tax on investments will save Gov. Bill Haslam a half-million dollars and, when the whole thing is repealed, he’ll save $3 million per year. HERE.

Cagle ready for war
Frank Cagle thinks Tennessee needs to launch a war on gang violence. HERE.

David Fowler: ‘One of the state’s most powerful lobbyists’
For those who would rather listen than read, an NPR audio report — put together by Nashville’s Chas Sisk — on Christian conservative activist David Fowler is HERE. Runs about 5 minutes.

Sunday column: On blackmail and the bathroom bill

Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick perhaps captured the essence of conflict dynamics in the 2016 legislative session when he made an impromptu speech last week on the House floor berating the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce for its stance in opposition to the transgender bathroom bill.

“All these companies who tried to blackmail us over this thing, when they come for their corporate welfare checks next year, we need to have a list out and keep an eye on it,” declared McCormick, whose commentary was echoed by other Republicans and a few Democrats.

The conflict here is between the agenda of social-issue conservatives, who have formed the voter base for electing a Republican supermajority, versus the agenda of business barons, who have provided in substantial part the money used in financing Republican campaigns.
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Sunday column: Harwellcare task force providing political insurance?

House Speaker Beth Harwell left Democrats howling and some fellow Republicans scratching their heads with the announcement last week that she has set up a task force to contemplate how to deal with health care coverage for poor Tennesseans.

Of course, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam proposed in late 2014 his idea on how to deal with those folks after more than a year of contemplation and compromising. It was called Insure Tennessee and was summarily shot down last year by the Republican supermajority, with Harwell waffling, refusing to either support or oppose a plan denounced as part of GOP-despised Obamacare by critics and defended by Haslam as an innovative way to expand Medicaid.

The governor, who has created dozens of task forces to study stuff while avoiding a decision on various matters, was on hand at the announcement of Harwell’s “3-Star Healthy Project” to praise participants for taking a “political risk” in being willing to even talk about such things.

Actually, there doesn’t seem to be much political risk here. Harwell waited until after the qualifying deadline for legislative candidates had passed before setting up the task force. She and all four Republican representatives appointed to the panel now have no opposition in GOP primaries. It may be worth noting, though, that all four — and Harwell — do have Democratic opponents waiting in November. Ergo, any political risk they face is from underdog Democrats.
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Columnist: ‘Durham Affair’ shows ‘institutional malfeasance’

Tennessean columnist Keel Hunt opines that the “Durham Affair” is no longer just about allegations of the misbehavior of one legislator and instead has become “a broader tale of institutional malfeasance, the reaches of the buddy system, and the failure of leaders to lead with speed.”

The circle widened last Monday to touch the top three Republican leaders. Word now is these leaders knew of harassment complaints months ago.

That is a specific echo of Watergate — of Sen. Howard Baker’s simple but devastating question in 1973: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” Today, what did the House leadership know about this current trouble, and when did they first know it?

This legislature is a labyrinth with many layers. The place can be confusing to the outsider, baffling to the visitor who is unschooled in its mysterious ways. Its proprietors claim they are open for inspection, but they are not. Insiders claim the sun shines there, but it doesn’t.

To the mere citizen’s eye, the General Assembly is a bewilderment of back stairs and subcommittees, overlaid with a mossy structure of revered seniority and pecking order.

Forget what you learned in high school about “How a Bill Becomes a Law.” This place is about politics, pure and simple, and some days of the meanest sort.

Granted, the state Capitol and Legislative Plaza have always been shaped by politics — that much is fair game — but today they are characterized more by anger, envy and fog.

…The Durham mess is creepy and alarming — allegations that young women were subjected to shabby and shameful treatment by one or more men feeling entitled, abusing their power. On top of that, it appears the leaders of the House failed to take charge of it all, at the proper time, possibly hoping the ugly stain would fade away.

That is how this labyrinth works — plenty of procedures and traditions to hide behind to escape responsibility. Plenty of hallways to private offices where the door can be closed and nobody can find you.

…House leaders are not powerless. What about censure? What about ouster or expulsion? How about, tomorrow morning, you set the record straight about what you were told and when?

Columnist sees House leaders “bungling” in Durham affair

Tennessean columnist David Plazas sees “bungling” in the way House Republican leadership has handled the allegations about Rep. Jeremy Durham. An excerpt:

Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, who was approached by two women last year, opted not to take their allegations against Durham any further, instead insisting that they file formal complaints. He kept those details private until this week.

In hindsight that was a clear indication why the system to address such allegations is severely flawed and needs to be fixed.

And in an even more deplorable step, GOP House Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, a mentor and friend to Durham, chased rumors by asking women who were statehouse employees about Durham’s behavior toward them.

That has the effect of creating an atmosphere of intimidation, and it’s unlikely any woman would have felt compelled to confide in him.

Both men had an opportunity to ask for an independent investigation, which would have been far wiser.

Speaker Beth Harwell should have done the same, but has all but ceded her power by reacting to events of the day instead of making proactive decisions to deal with a rogue member of the House.

She is the Speaker of the House, and if she fails to use the tools at her disposal, she is essentially powerless.

Harwell said Wednesday night she is looking into expelling him from the legislature. On Thursday after Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, her counterpart in the Senate, told reporters that Durham had an affair with a legislator who resigned, Harwell called for the attorney general’s office to investigate Durham.

The GOP House had a chance to discuss Durham’s leadership, or even consider an investigation, at its special meeting Jan. 12 to discuss his behavior.

Instead of addressing the concerns then, lawmakers played parliamentary procedure games in a closed-door meeting that shielded Durham from any scrutiny.

It is clear that the system for reporting sexual harassment and for investigating sexual harassment is broken.

Columnists: Vouchers leave kids on a sinking ship

Columnists at opposite ends of the state — Frank Cagle in the Knoxville News Sentinel and David Waters in the Commercial Appeal of Memphis — both have written pieces calling for defeat of pending voucher legislation. Both compare public schools to a sinking ship and vouchers as a means to save a few of those aboard, but not the rest.

From Cagle:

Imagine a ship filled with children. It has a hole in the hull and is being kept afloat with pumps and bailing. Imagine rescuers arriving with a few lifeboats. They have two options. They can board the ship, man the pumps and repair the hole. Of they can sit in the lifeboats and allow the most physically fit of the youngsters to climb down to be rescued. Then they sail away and leave the most vulnerable of the kids to their fate.

Let’s call the ship a failing public school and the lifeboats, call them the vouchers.
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