opinion

Suggested TN political junkie reading: From a hallelujah for Haslam to John Wilder’s ghost

A listing of some recent writing on Tennessee politics and state government matters (delving into state history in a couple of cases; a ghost in another) that didn’t get mentioned in daily blogging but are well worth reading – at least in the opinion of one Tennessee political junkie.

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GOP guber candidate White: Haslam is a RINO

Robert Houk’s Sunday column follows up on a speech to the Washington County Republican Women by Kay White, who has gotten far less media attention so far than the five other GOP candidates for governor. She denounced Gov. Bill Haslam as a RINO.

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A couple of columns on the governor’s race: Black bashed, gimmickry noted

U.S. Rep. Diane Black’s recent criticism of weak kneed Republicans in Nashville, delivered at a gubernatorial campaign forum, didn’t resonate with Frank Cagle. Here are the first and last paragraphs of his column on the subject:

Congresswoman Diane Black has a lot of gall, I’ll give her that. She has come down from her leadership position in the dysfunctional U.S. House and criticized the “meek Republicans” in Nashville that run state government.

…Instead of praising the progress that has been made by her Republican colleagues and offering to build on it, Black has decided to appeal to the radical fringe around Nashville. If she can’t distinguish the difference in our state’s progress, as opposed to what she has been doing, she is too clueless to be governor.

On guber candidate theatrics

Robert Houk observes that candidate “gimmickry” of the past – Lamar Alexander walking across the state in 1978, Fred Thompson’s 1994 tour of Tennessee in a red pickup truck – is being echoed this year in “similar stunts” by Republican gubernatorial candidates Randy Boyd and Bill Lee, HERE. (Boyd is running across the state; Lee is touring Tennessee in a tractor.)

Note: It’s not a column, but The Tennessean has a report on Democrat Craig Fitzhugh venturing into solidly-Republican Williamson County that begins with a depiction of the House minority leader having “a Southern drawl and plucky spirit,” HERE. (Southern drawl?? Well, maybe compared to Karl Dean… but certainly not compared to the late Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville.)

Councilman calls for special legislative session on Confederate monuments

In a Commercial Appeal op-ed piece, Memphis City Councilman Bill Morrison urges Gov. Bill Haslam to promptly call a special session of the General Assembly to repeal Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2016.

That’s the law that requires two-thirds of the 29 members of the Tennessee Historical Commission to approve any changes in monuments to historical figures, no matter where they are or what they stand for. Five members live in Shelby County.

The law.. was co-sponsored by some of our own, including state Sen. Mark Norris, who is President Trump’s nominee for a federal judgeship position in Tennessee. Another co-sponsor was state Sen. Mae Beavers, a Republican candidate for governor.

…The law is wrong and must be repealed. It doesn’t protect our heritage. It only serves to protect memories of white supremacy and shrines for modern-day followers.

Sen. Sara Kyle, D-Memphis, has introduced a bill that would exempt Shelby County from the law in question (SB1467) which, of course, will not be up for consideration – barring a special session – until the legislature returns to Nashville in January, 2018. (It is suggested that Haslam calling a special session on Confederate monuments is about as like as the U.S. House approving Rep. Steve Coehn’s proposed impeachment of Donald Trump.)

Note: The media generally is awash this weekend with opinion pieces on the fallout from Charlottesville, Va., troubles and efforts to remove Confederate memorials from public property display. Here are snippets from a couple of Tennesseans at opposite ends of the state:

From Memphis’ Otis Sanford: Above all, it is now time to completely ignore the sitting president of the United States.

From Knoxville’s Greg Johnson: Both fringes have lost their minds.

 

 

Some suggested TN political junkie weekend reading

The Douglas Henry State Museum Commission’s efforts to block Victor Ashe, or any other board member, from making negative comments about museum operations have generated a round of negative comments about museum operations.  Here’s a sampler, along with other articles not involving Ashe or the museum appearing around the state during the past few days:

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Duncan bashes League of Women Voters as ‘arm of the Democratic party’

Excerpt from an op-ed piece by Republican U.S. Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. appearing in the News-Sentinel:

Once again the League of Women Voters has acted as an arm of the Democratic Party….They have been working with a nationwide group called Indivisible, which according to NPR, was formed by former Democratic staffers.

So I was not surprised that I got a request from our local League of Women Voters wanting me to hold a town hall meeting even though two such events have already been held here.

They want me to help draw a crowd so that liberals can come and spout off partisan Democratic talking points and other left-wing views.

…The group will occasionally parade out a few members who claim to be Republicans, but who really oppose almost everything Republicans stand for, or perhaps a few conservatives who just do not realize how liberal and partisan the League is.

The National and local League organizations have strongly supported Obamacare, higher taxes, job-killing environmental regulations, and more government takeover of private property, making it much more expensive for young couples to buy homes. The League is strongly pro-abortion.

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.

 

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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