Tag Archives: partisanship

Session-ending games: Democratic goose, GOP gander?

Two Democrat-sponsored bills, seemingly scuttled by Republicans in partisan gamesmanship, were revived and approved during the last days of the session.

One was a measure sponsored by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville that would allow indigent people convicted of driving with a suspended license to pay their court costs and fines through community service rather than cash, subject to local approval.

On a motion of House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada of Franklin, the measure (SB2149) was amended on the House floor to instead increase penalties for people convicted of driving while under the influence of methamphetamine when a child is in the vehicle and then sent back to committee.

The move was in retaliation for Stewart and other Democrats forcing floor votes on amendments that Republicans felt inappropriate.

“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” said Casada.
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On playing partisan games as legislature winds down

A sequence of partisan bickering events last week led to the apparent death in the House — barring a last-minute change of heart by Republican representatives as the Legislature moves to adjourn this week — of a Senate-passed bill (SB2149) allowing indigent people convicted of driving with a suspended license to pay their court costs and fines through community service rather than cash, subject to local approval.

The bill is sponsored by House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart of Nashville, who has played a pivotal role in pushing Democratic amendments to various Republican-sponsored bills that reached the House floor — almost always voted down by the supermajority.

Here’s a rundown on last week’s events, which began with a noncontroversial bill (HB2009) sponsored by Rep. Shelia Butt, R-Columbia, that changes the wording of some education-related statutes:
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House sub shoots down minimum wage, ‘equality pay

Bills to create a Tennessee minimum wage and require “equality pay” for women were killed in a Republican-controlled House subcommittee last week with Democrats complaining the measures — similar to legislation regularly defeated in past years — did not get an appropriate hearing.

Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, brought the “Tennessee Pay Equality Act” (HB1947) before the House Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee, accompanied by Dia Cirillo of Murfreesboro, public policy chair of American Association of University Women in Tennessee.

Cirillo testified that 70 percent of Tennessee women have outside-the-home jobs and, on average, make about 83 cents on the dollar compared to men in the same positions.

The subcommittee chair, Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Old Hickory, took the lead in criticizing the measure. She contended that the “pay gap” between men and women is already narrowing, that federal law on the subject is adequate and that some pay differences are the result of “life choices that women make” — citing herself as a “perfect example” — that give priority to family over careers.
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Sunday column: Splits in the Supermajority

As an aging politician remarked recently, Tennessee is arguably no longer a two-party state in its politics — it’s a two-and-a-half-party state.

Under this view, two of the parties call themselves Republicans and, jointly under that label, they hold a supermajority in the state Legislature, all offices elected on a statewide basis and seven of nine congressional seats. Democrats constitute the half party.

This is a close to a mirror image of bygone days when politicians who called themselves Democrats ruled the Tennessee political roost and often split into two competing factions, sometimes with sub-factions. Every now and then, the half-a-party Republicans got to weigh in and decide disputes between the factions.

Perhaps more than today’s two main Republican factions, the old Democratic differences tended to involve personalities, for example, Ed “Boss” Crump of Memphis versus Estes Kefauver, to go back a few decades. But the current intra-GOP rivalry also seems to increasingly have prominent personalities on display when there are differences of opinion.

For purposes of discussion, if not exaggeration, consider some developments in the past few days that suggest that Gov. Bill Haslam is the leader of one GOP party while Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey leads the other. House Speaker Beth Harwell, meanwhile, floats back and forth, sometimes resolving a dispute.

Some recent situations:

–In what some called a gunfight at the state Capitol corral, Ramsey launched an effort to allow handgun permit holders to pack their pistols in the buildings where legislators meet and other officials, including the governor, have their offices. Haslam said no. Harwell, after initially backing Ramsey, shifted to the Haslam side. Result: a victory for the governor’s faction and, maybe, for the half-party Democrats, who had loudly raged against the proposition.

–Ramsey spearheaded a resolution directing the attorney general to file a lawsuit against the federal government over refugee resettlement within Tennessee borders. With one exception each, the supermajority Republican senators all quickly voted to approve the idea, while superminority Democrats voted no. Haslam demurred, saying, among other things, that the feds were providing ample information on refugees — something that Senate Republicans repeatedly said during debate they were not doing. That situation may indicate that the two factions sometimes don’t even talk to each other these days.

Harwell, meanwhile, got caught in a curious sideshow. Breitbart News, an online political news service with a generally ultra-conservative viewpoint, reported that Harwell was “surreptitiously” collaborating with Haslam to derail the resolution in the House — linking this to Haslam’s support, at the time unannounced, for Marco Rubio in the Republican presidential campaign. The report, mostly quoting anonymous sources and perhaps indicating a lack of knowledge of House procedural rules, was debunked by a spokeswoman for the House speaker: Harwell actually supports the resolution and has never spoken to Haslam about it. This may be another indication of failure in GOP leadership communication.

–Speaking of the presidential campaign, Haslam’s belated blessing of Rubio — after withdrawal from the race of Jeb Bush, openly supported by others in the Haslam family — shows the Tennessee GOP factions reflect national divisions. Ramsey says Donald Trump will win the race, perhaps reflecting his personal preference, though he coyly declines to say so. Harwell just keeps quiet, declining to confirm or deny anonymous sources contending she’s a surreptitious Rubio backer.

The Republican divisions have been on display otherwise this year in situations too numerous to list here. The most attention-getting example was the school voucher bill, approved by Senate Republicans in lock-step fashion with Ramsey, but failing in the House where one faction of supermajority Republicans aligned with opposing superminority Democrats. Some voucher advocates complain that Harwell and Haslam were only lukewarm in backing the proposal.

Ergo, the two-party system is alive and well in Tennessee as long as you don’t pay attention to the labels they use, and maybe is even evolving into a three-party system.

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Sunday column: On ethical partisanship

Ethical situations facing state legislators today as they prepare for the 2016 session present a curious contrast to the one that lawmakers faced at year’s end a decade ago — and, perhaps, some interesting similarities in partisan political posturing, too.

In 2005, five sitting legislators were indicted on bribery-related charges in the FBI’s “Tennessee Waltz” sting operation, and then-Gov. Phil Bredesen called a special legislative session in 2006 to consider enactment of reforms to state ethics laws.

A package of ethical reform laws was enacted, and with some modest modifications, they remain in effect today. The overall impact is debatable, but it seems safe to say they certainly haven’t hurt anything and probably have made things better from the public disclosure standpoint. At the least, the current ethical squabble is far less dramatic than the Waltz.

As 2015 draws to a close, the House Republican Caucus has scheduled a meeting on opening day of the 2016 session, Jan. 12, to consider whether to boot unindicted Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin from his GOP leadership position as House majority whip.
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Partisan sniping over Armstrong, Durham

A rundown on some Tennessee partisan he-said, she-said commentary — in this case, she being state Democratic Chair Mary Mancini and he being state Republican Chair Ryan Haynes — on the legal/ethical troubles of Republican state Rep. Jeremy Durham and Democratic Rep. Joe Armstrong.
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TNGOP seeks end of UT diversity funding; TNDP sees ‘smokescreen’

The Tennessee Republican Party Executive Committee has approved a resolution calling on the Legislature to eliminate funding for the University of Tennessee Office of Diversity.

State Democratic Chair Mary Mancini, meanwhile, has declared Tennessee Republicans are following a tradition of “manufactured problems” that creates a “smokescreen for their ineffectiveness and secrecy.”

The TNGOP resolution, approved by voice vote Saturday, and the TNDP press release are below.

UPDATE: Georgiana Vines talks with Hobart Rice of Dandridge, who brought up the resolution for discussion at the executive committee meeting, HERE.
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On Tennessee and the refugee ruckus

Excerpts from a lengthy Tennessean Sunday story on refugees in the state and the current political rhetoric surrounding them:

In 2011, state lawmakers considered a bill called the Refugee Absorptive Capacity Act. As originally introduced, the legislation would have attempted to allow local communities to institute a one-year ban on resettling any refugees in the area.

“It was essentially an effort to allow cities to sort of dictate what the sort of ethnic makeup of their cities could be. And so of course that provision was taken out,” said Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

…Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said he planned to craft a bill that looks at how much money refugees cost the state.

He introduced largely similar legislation in other years. Those bills prompted the 2013 study that estimated refugees and their descendants provided $1.4 billion in revenue for Tennessee between 1990 and 2012, compared to requiring $753 million in state support.

Despite the results of that report, Teatro believes the fact lawmakers continue to proffer what some consider draconian proposals aimed at refugees is indicative of a larger bias.

“It is very clear that a lot of the anti-refugee rhetoric is thinly veiled Islamophobia,” Teatro said.

…A 2013 report estimated as many as 58,000 refugees live in Tennessee. The refugee community grew drastically in the early 1990s with an influx of Kurdish and Somalian refugees.

World Relief Nashville started assisting refugees in 1987, after a group of churches came together to help those coming to the city. For the past six years, they have resettled between 300 and 600 of the approximately 1,600 refugees sent annually to Tennessee, said Anna Beth Walters, the resettlement director for World Relief Nashville.

…Twenty-seven of the 28 Republicans in the state Senate signed the letter to Haslam asking him to ban future Syrian refugees in Tennessee.

Sen. Steve Dickerson was the lone holdout. Nashville’s only Republican in the Senate, Dickerson said he could see where the “unhelpful” rhetoric from some of his colleagues could make the refugees and immigrants living in Nashville uncomfortable.

…Dickerson’s comments echo those made by Nashville Mayor Megan Barry and some Democrats around the state. Although U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper called Casada’s comments this week “embarrassing,” the Nashville Democrat joined 46 other Democrats in voting for federal legislation many believe creates new burdens for refugees through the already strenuous safety and health screening process.

A bit of TN partisan sniping

In a Monday tweet, Knox County Democrats invited people to fill out a form as potential party candidates in next year’s election. That prompted the Tennessee Republican Party to declare in an email media and supporters that the missive shows state Democratic Chair Mary Mancini is wrong in saying that Tennessee “is not as red as they want us to think it is.”

The tweet said, below a link to an online document: “WANTED: Democratic candidates for 2016 Federal, State and Local Offices. If interested please fill out form above.”

Says the GOP email:

If that assertion (by Mancini) were in any way reflective of the electoral reality in Tennessee would the TNDP have felt it necessary to endorse a “virtual want ad” from the Knox County Democratic Party begging people to sign up and run for public office in the 2016 election cycle? See the attached screenshot. It’s clear the Obama-Clinton policies are still having disastrous effects on the TNDP.

Here’s the bottom line: Democrats are willing to take ANYONE who will put a D after their name on the ballot–and even that is not going well.

“This is how you end up with individuals tied to hate groups and individuals who want to electrocute public officials as your Party’s nominee,” stated TNGOP Chairman Ryan Haynes

The Haynes reference included links to stories on the 2012 Tennessee Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, who was involved in a group critical of homosexuals, and the 2014 Democratic nominee for governor, Charlie Brown, who was once quoted as saying, after a reference to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s actions, “I would like to strap his butt to the (electric) chair and give him about half the jolt.”

Mancini, asked if she had any comment on the GOP’s missive, sent this email:

“Does he mean the Obama-Clinton policies that have led to 68 consecutive months of private sector job growth, including 268,000 jobs added just last month? Or the Obama-Clinton policies that have led to an unemployment rate that’s at a 7-year-low? Either way, I’d say we, and our potential candidates, are having a pretty good week so far.”

Former AG Holder bashes GOP in Nashville speech

Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, speaking at Vanderbilt University, repeatedly criticized Republicans in Congress as often choosing short-term political victories over effective leadership, reports The Tennessean.

Holder said Republican lawmakers, particularly in the House of Representatives, are “dictated to by a relatively small number of people.” Holder said far-right lawmakers were inhibiting progress on climate change, immigration and income inequality.

“We have fractured leadership, we have fractures within the Republican Party,” Holder said to a receptive crowd of hundreds that included Vanderbilt students, faculty and community members. “And as a result we don’t possess the ability to deal with the problems that this nation faces, I think, in a way that is effective.”

Reflecting on members of Congress during his confirmation hearings, Holder said there were “more than a few idiots.” Later, Holder said he’d give today’s leaders in Washington, D.C. a “C-.”

“This is a time when we need ‘As,’” he said. “The fate of this nation, the future of this nation is really at stake.”

Even as he painted a bleak portrait of the challenges facing the country, Holder said he remained optimistic for the future.

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, who was in the audience Friday evening, drew plenty of praise. Throughout his speech, Holder referenced Cooper, who sat near the front of the sanctuary.

“We don’t have enough people like Congressman Cooper in Washington D.C.,” Holder said to enthusiastic applause.

Holder also said it was possible that new House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, could help break through gridlock in his party.