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.
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.”
The headline on a Washington Post story, datelined Whites Creek, Tenn., suggests that Mark Clayton may be “2012’s worst candidate.” It begins like this:
The Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee has no campaign headquarters, a fundraising drive stuck at $278 and one yard sign. Not one type of yard sign. One sign.
And with the election just days away, he has not actually put that sign in a yard. Instead, it resides inside candidate Mark Clayton’s pickup. “VOTE FOR,” the sign says. The rest is hidden by the seats.
“Jesus did not have a campaign staff. And he had the most successful campaign in human history,” Clayton said recently, when asked if all this adds up to a winning run against incumbent Sen. Bob Corker (R). Jesus “didn’t even have pictures or a Web site.”
This may be America’s worst candidate.
Clayton, 36, is a part-time flooring installer, an indulger in conspiracy theories — and for Democrats here, the living personification of rock bottom. In a state that produced Democratic icons including Andrew Jackson and both Al Gores, the party has fallen so far that it can’t even run a good loser.
Instead, it has this guy. In Tennessee, Clayton’s unlikely run is providing an absurdist coda to a long Democratic disaster. Something like falling down a flight of stairs onto a whoopee cushion.
“It’s pretty sad. I mean, when your nomination is not worth having, that’s embarrassing,” said Will T. Cheek, a Nashville investor who has been a member of the state Democratic Party’s executive committee since 1970. “That would appear to be where we are.”
Sen. Andy Berke says in a Chattanooga TFP op-ed that the Virtual Public Schools Act is “possibly the most destructive piece of legislation” approved by the General Assembly.
(The act) funnels thousands of Tennessee public education dollars to a convicted felon, high-profile Washington figures and millionaire executives who live around the world. The governor signed the bill into law, only later saying that he would have to “think through the consequences” of the legislation. The consequences, simply put, will be devastating to our public schools.
In a year marked by bills attacking teachers, the virtual schools law could do the most damage to Tennessee education. Never before have we given taxpayer money to a massive corporation and said, “Educate our children however you want.” But that’s what lawmakers did with K12, a massive corporation that expects to generate $500 million in revenue this year.
K12 has proved that its lobbyists — at least 10 of them over the past five years — know what they’re doing. The company began advertising online for its Tennessee virtual school before the bill even passed. Soon after the bill was passed, K12 began running radio ads and holding meetings for interested parents.
…. All across our state, schools don’t have adequate resources. Now, they’ll have even less. For each student K12 attracts, at least $5,387 — the state’s per-pupil spending — will go to Union County Public Schools, which contracted with K12 so it could operate in Tennessee. If Union County’s deal is similar to other K12 contracts, the school system will skim an operating fee off the top — somewhere around $215 per student — and send the rest straight to K12.
The company then keeps the funds for its operations, even though it has no cafeterias to manage, no playgrounds that need upkeep, and no secretaries, nurses or janitors to pay. K12 charges taxpayers the full price to educate a student, and then works to maximize its profit.
Note: Previous post on similar thoughts from House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh.