opinion

Some contrasting commentary on passage of gas tax bill

From Tea Party leader Judson Phillips, writing in Tennessee Star (excerpt):

The Tennessee Republican Party died on April 19, 2017. Ten years after the GOP became the majority party in Tennessee, led by a liberal governor, the party committed political suicide.

By voting for the largest tax increase in the history of the state of Tennessee, the Republicans in the state legislature knifed their base in the back and repudiated everything they claim to stand for. Tennessee Republicans routinely make campaign speeches talking about how conservative they are and how they believe in limited government.

Today, Tennessee’s conservative base knows this is a lie… Unfortunately, the Tennessee Republicans supermajority in the legislature chose to listen to a lame duck, feckless crap weasel governor instead of the people who put them in office.

From Gov. Bill Haslam

“The IMPROVE Act is the largest tax cut in Tennessee history, makes us more competitive as we’re recruiting manufacturing jobs and keeps our transportation network safe, reliable and debt-free for the next generation of Tennesseans. While there remains action to be taken on this legislation, I want to thank both chambers for their votes today on the IMPROVE Act, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Reps. Barry Doss (R-Leoma) and Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) for their work carrying the legislation.”

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Roundup of some recent TN politics and policy writing

Gas tax debate brings new legislator titles

In a lengthy review of conservative legislator complaints that they haven’t gotten a fair hearing while opposing Gov. Bill Haslam’s tax plans, Sam Stockard depicts Rep. Jerry Sexton as “apparent leader of the ‘Fire and Brimstone Caucus’.”

Excerpt:

Sexton was so irritated he got into an argument with Tennessee Journal writer “Easy” Ed Cromer, who had the audacity to ask him if he also opposed a cut in the food sales tax, a 1 percent reduction contained in the bill.

“Why don’t you ask me if I’m against F&E and the Hall tax (cuts)? You want to pick out something,” Sexton argued.

Cromer, who could be the most laid-back member in the Capitol Hill Press Corps, bristled at the suggestion he was being unfair – at least as much as he can bristle – and after a short back-and-forth with Sexton left the scene of the crime (We’ve got a lot of folks storming out these days).

On the other hand, Tennessee Star – which has hailed Sexton’s efforts and commentary – has taken to referring to Rep. Barry Doss, R-Leoma, who has taken the lead in pushing Haslam’s bill in the House – as “Boss Doss” in criticizing his commentary.

The latest example, under the headline “Boss Doss Claim That Tennessee is Lowest Taxed State in Nation Contradicted by Kiplinger Report” is HERE.

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A rundown on some recent TN political columns

On kookiness in  East TN

In a Commercial Appeal column, Otis Sanford looks east to “political vitriol bubbling up” in the 2nd Congressional District, citing U.S. Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan’s refusal to hold town hall meetings because they could become “shouting opportunities for extremists, kooks and radicals.” An excerpt:

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a microcosm of the state of our political discourse in 21st Century America. The ill will has been around for several years, but it has now gotten worse. And we have to ask ourselves, did the kookiness start with the politicians or with the people who elected them?

… The lengthy diatribe from Duncan is particularly striking in that he is generally not known as someone who resorts to name-calling, even during the most heated political battle… But it’s obvious that the current national political rancor has revealed Duncan’s edgier side. And like so many other elected leaders, starting at the top, the 69-year-old ranking Tennessee congressman is no longer averse to describing some of his constituents as extremists, kooks and radicals.

In like-minded East Tennessee, who knew that deep-seated political enmity was contagious?

In Knoxville, on the other hand, George Korda writes that Duncan displayed “good judgment.”

Duncan decided to not irrigate a field seeded for conflict. A discussion in which members of Congress can hear and speak with constituents is one thing; trying to engage in conversation with people whose primary purpose is contention is another matter entirely…. Shouting down other people isn’t a meeting; it’s putting on a show for the cameras. Regardless of whether Indivisible East Tennessee members

…It’s not going to hurt him politically. In fact, it could be a positive.

Should “Mr. Nice Guy” Haslam play political hardball?

In a blog post, Hank Hayes of the Kingsport Times-News addresses the “perception that Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is too much of a Mr. Nice Guy.” While his “easygoing governing style” has worked in some ways, Hayes suggests that a lack of skill in playing“ political hardball” can also be a hindrance — say in pushing for more fuel tax revenue to build roads — and the governor should consider acting more like a couple of his predecessors.

If McWherter would have pitched a gas tax increase today, I believe he would have called every lawmaker into his office one by one and said: “Look, if you don’t support this, your district won’t get any road dollars.”

Former Gov. Phil Bredesen, another Democrat, described McWherter as one of his mentors. Bredesen was good at crafting what I’ll call the “Do This Or The End Of The World Will Happen” memo sent to lawmakers when he felt strongly about something. Bredesen also wasn’t afraid about making cold executive decisions.

Every governing style is different, but my point is there is precedent plus scenarios for playing political hardball.

So instead of telling his transportation funding reform plan’s opponents, “Show me the math on your plan,” maybe Haslam should be channeling his inner Ned McWherter or Phil Bredesen.

On Blue Cities at the mercy of a Red State legislature

In a Johnson City Press column, Robert Houk ponders the fate of “a left of center kind of gal or guy living in a Red State like Tennessee. Basically, their options are to “join a support group for local progressives,” move to a Blue State… or move to a Blue City. Excerpt:

Nashville has become a place of refuge for weary liberals. And while the Music City might never be confused for Seattle or San Francisco, members of the Republican-led state General Assembly are nonetheless paying close attention to what’s going on there.

They are determined to see that none of the liberalism found in the state’s Capital infests other municipalities in this state…. This kind of state power grab over cities is not limited to Tennessee. It goes on in most every state, and it has become even more prevalent as the divide between urban and rural communities widens in this nation.

…In the end, Blue Cities have little power in challenging the dictates of the legislatures in Red States. Just as they have gerrymandered seats in Congress, Republicans have been careful to draw safe districts for their members in statehouses.

That means support groups might become the only viable option for progressives in Red States.

Rep. Dunn, school vouchers bashed

Columnist David Hunter takes a rather harsh swat at state Rep. Bill Dunn for his renewed push for passage of school voucher legislation. Excerpt:

As of this writing, Dunn has not been able to get the voucher bill to the floor for a vote, even after his hyperbolic comparison of withholding vouchers to withholding medical care: “You could say they’re (the children) dying of cancer and we’re trying to come up with a treatment for them,” Dunn said.

I will concede that Dunn is familiar with the subject of withholding medical treatment for the poor. He is part of that altruistic bunch of Republicans who refused billions of dollars in federal funds to bring Medicaid up to a viable level for this state’s poorest people — while still presumably being able to sleep at night and look at himself in the mirror when he shaves.

 

Breitbart News editor inspires TN ‘free speech’ bill

Inspired by a Breitbart News editor whose speeches have spurred protests at colleges across the country, state lawmakers on Thursday touted a bill that they said would protect free speech on Tennessee campuses, reports The Tennessean.

While discussing the bill (HB739) in a news conference, sponsors Rep. Martin Daniel and Sen. Joey Hensley referenced the protests against controversial conservative Milo Yiannopoulos, who is a senior editor at Breitbart. Violence erupted at a protest against a planned Yiannopoulos speech at the University of California, Berkeley, prompting officials there to cancel the speech. The lawmakers indicated that the violence had hampered the expression of conservative ideas at Berkeley. Similar issues have cropped up in Tennessee, they said.

Daniel, R-Knoxville, called his legislation “the Milo bill,” and said it was “designed to implement oversight of administrators’ handling of free speech issues.”

Hensley, R-Hohenwald, said the bill was specifically tailored to defend students with conservative views that he said had been silenced in the past.

“We’ve heard stories from many students that are honestly on the conservative side that have those issues stifled in the classroom,” Hensley said. “We just want to ensure our public universities allow all types of speech.”

The bill said public universities “have abdicated their responsibility to uphold free speech principles, and these failures make it appropriate for all state institutions of higher education to restate and confirm their commitment in this regard.”

TN political news and opinion roundup Jan. 8, 2017

The legislative session that begins Tuesday is the focus of much Tennessee media reporting in recent days. A sampler:

Legislative issue overviews

This week’s legislative meetings will be devoted to organization matters, followed by a recess until Jan. 30, when Gov. Bill Haslam delivers his “state-of-the-state” speech. But there’s a pile of proposals awaiting action afterwards — a gas tax increase, cuts in other state taxes, a big budget surplus, school vouchers, Sunday liquor sales, de-annexation, school bus seat belts, bathroom bills, etc. Andy Sher’s roundup is HERE; Sam Stockard’s list of main issues is HERE.

McNally profiled

The Tennessean has a well-done profile on Sen. Randy McNally, who will replace Ron Ramsey as Senate speaker and lieutenant governor on opening day.

The two have similar political backgrounds — they rose through the ranks over a long period of time — and are natural leaders. But in other ways, the differences are stark. Both have their own specialties.

“A lot of times in baseball you need to follow the guy that throws at 100 miles an hour with the guy that throws the circle change-up 75 miles an hour,” said Brad Todd, a longtime political consultant who has worked closely with both men.

McNally’s ascension this week will be the culminating act for a man who has commanded respect through his dedication to a life of public service that began in the muddy streets of Oak Ridge.

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Roundup of some recent TN political reporting and opinions, 12/18/2016

Corker for governor?

In a talk with the Jackson Sun, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker reviewed dealings with Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson, the possibility of Russian involvement with the presidential elections and other topics of national interest reported elsewhere, HERE. He was also asked if he might run for governor at some point and “did not explicitly say yes or no,” but acknowledged “the fulfillment” he felt while serving in an executive capacity as mayor of Chattanooga.

“On the other hand I’m in a place right now where I’m affecting things not only in our state but also our country and the world,” Corker said. “So again we’ll look at that over the next several months and try to make what I believe to be the best decision as it relates to offering public service.”

Faison’s folly?

That part of the headline on a review of state Rep. Jeremy Faison’s crusade – despite the misgivings of some fellow Republican conservatives — to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes by Sam Stockard. Sample quote:

“The deeper you get into understanding the goodness of that plant the more you question why in the world we ever demonized it in the first place.”

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TN political talk roundup: Outsourcing, Rusty Crowe, refugees & marijuana

Arguing over outsourcing

Randy Stamps, executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association, did an op-ed piece a couple of weeks ago in the News Sentinel under the headline, “Outsourcing state services doesn’t save taxpayers money.”

In a rebuttal op-ed Sunday, state Department of General Services Commissioner  Bob Oglesby declares that Stamps’ article “makes misleading and factually wrong claims and chooses to back up his false premise with several charges that are equally incorrect.”

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TN political reading list, 10/23/2016 (with some observations)

Tennessee elections rigged?

Commercial Appeal columnist Otis Sanford suggests, tongue in cheek it seems, that there’s evidence of rigged elections “right there under our noses” on the state election ballot where Republican candidates are listed ahead of all others – and Donald Trump is the first name a voter sees. (That’s in accord with a state law, enacted when Democrats dominated in the state, giving the “majority party” top billing on the state ballot.)

He goes on to observe that two of 11 cases of documented voter fraud nationwide 2000-2014 – according to one often-cited study – occurred in Shelby County and both were cast against Republican Terry Roland, now a county commissioner, in a 2005 race for a state Senate seat.

Yet, Roland downplays Trump’s claims that the presidential election is being rigged. “I don’t think there is a consorted effort to manipulate the ballot,” Roland told me last week.

In fact, Roland, like most of us, is sick and tired of the whole campaign. “I can’t wait for it to be over,” he said. “I’m watching Sanford and Son, Andy Griffith and The Jeffersons on TV now rather than the news.”

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Roundup of some TN political junkie reading, 8/16/2016

TN columnists on Trump/Clinton

As with their counterparts nationally, most Tennessee mainstream media opinion commentary recently has revolved around the presidential campaign, related video tapes and the like. By and large, those published in newspapers seem generic to a national audience. But some do reference Tennessee.

Greg Johnson’s latest piece cites Gov. Bill Haslam’s refusal to vote for Donald Trump, basically endorsing the governor’s position, criticized by some other conservatives. Excerpt:

So, my question for my friends on the left: If you defended Bill Clinton in the 1990s, why do you condemn Trump now? And my question for my friends on the right: If you found Clinton’s behavior abhorrent in the 1990s, so vile you cheered his impeachment and deemed him unfit for the Oval Office, how can you back  Trump now?

Otis Sanford, a fellow with considerably more liberal inclinations than Johnson, cites the general lineup of the state’s elected Republicans behind Trump despite him acting like a “petulant, potty-mouthed juvenile”  – in particular, U.S. Rep. Diane Black – and declares their motivation is basically concern over presidential U.S. Supreme Court appointments.

Congresswoman Black acknowledged it. This is not really about the White House. This election is about control of the building several blocks down Pennsylvania Avenue that houses the Supreme Court of the United States.

The headline on Frank Daniels’s latest column asks, “What does vote your conscience even mean?” – a reference to TNGOP’s arguably ambiguous advice on voters fretting about how to cast their ballots amid infighting between party factions over Trump. He doesn’t offer a definitive answer  to the question, but points out “lots to think about.”

George Korda opines that Trump should stay in the race, contrary to Haslam’s call for resigning the nomination, but sorta complements the governor, too. HERE.

If he loses, he loses, though some of his supporters will cry foul. It’s better than him getting out and enabling them to claim conspiracy as the reason for his departure.

If he wins, he’ll find out that he has more friends than he could have realized, and many of them will be people who either kept silent, or expressed concerns about him, but will say after the election, “But I really was with you all along.”

Except Gov. Bill Haslam. He’ll be consistent on that score.

Mark Harmon recently visited the battleground state of Ohio and contrasts the situation there to things in Tennessee, where Trump is assured of victory. HERE.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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