opinion

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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TN political notebook, holiday edition: A Democrat’s money musings, gas tax increase and other stuff

Mike Stewart: Democrats need long-term funding

Tennessee House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart writes in The Hill that “movers and shakers in national Democratic politics” have been ignoring state-level politics while Republicans have not – and that’s a big factor in “their most improbable victory year,” the election of Donald Trump as president.

His bottom line:

Democrats in the states need what their Republican counterparts have had for a decade – a well-funded national apparatus dedicated to the specific task of winning down-ballot elections.  This can take many forms, and much of the needed machinery is likely already in place within the DNC, the DLCC and their allies.  But to be real it requires long-term funding and a sustained commitment to turning red legislatures blue again.  Until that happens, Democrats will continue to see their candidates win all the debates but come up short on Election Day.

Pollster: Tennesseans ready for higher fuel tax

John Geer, Vanderbilt political science professor and pollster, writes in an op-ed piece that a majority of Tennessee voters think the state’s roads are in “only fair” or “poor” condition and are ready to support a gas tax increase to improve them.

Specifically, 67 percent favor a 2 cent per gallon increase, 55 percent favor an 8 cent per gallon increase, and 47 percent even favor a 15 cent per gallon increase to improve roads and bridges in the state.

… Despite all the understandable concerns about higher taxes, there are issues and times when government needs more revenue to ensure a brighter future for the state. The results of our latest Vanderbilt Poll suggest that repairing roads and bridges is one of those issues and this is one of those times.

Lamar backs state-level gas tax hike — again

On the gas tax front, it’s pointed out that U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander basically endorsed a state gas tax hike in a press release last month as Gov. Bill Haslam’s term as governor is winding down – just as Alexander did back in 1986 when his term as governor was winding down.  The governor-turned-senator says waiting for Congress to provide funding is wrongheaded. An excerpt:

“Why send Tennessee dollars to Washington, D.C., take some out for overhead, add some regulations and send what’s left back to Tennessee? Conservatives who believe in the 10th Amendment ought to want to keep our money at home, let local officials use it to meet real needs and pay as you go with zero debt.”

He added, “That’s exactly what Tennessee did 30 years ago. In 1986, I proposed and the legislature enacted a massive $5.7 billion Better Roads Program. It has done more than anything else the state could have done to attract the auto industry, increase family incomes and spread auto jobs throughout the state.”

The release, interestingly, doesn’t mention a follow-up increase in the gas tax, enacted under former Gov. Ned McWherter in 1989 that provided a good chunk of the money needed to cover Alexander’s road plans. Tennessee fuel taxes haven’t been raised since.

Cutting other taxes: Cover for gas tax boost?

Excerpt from a Sunday News Sentinel column by yours truly:

In the upcoming legislative session, it appears likely that lawmakers will be in the odd situation of considering a tax increase and tax cuts at the same time and, further, it’s conceivable that both could happen in a curious post-holiday gift exchange.

Haslam had pre-Christmas meetings to talk over his taxing plans with legislators last week. One gift idea is that the governor could go along with some tax cuts if Republican legislators would also go along in exchange with a gas tax hike – especially if the whole package is pitched as something approaching “revenue neutral.”

Logically, we are talking about separate pots of money – one for overall “general fund” government use that’s awash in money; the other specifically for building and maintaining roads that’s well short of needs. Most legislators understand that, but they also understand that GOP primary voters don’t like tax increases of any sort and fear the political consequences of backing one.

Still, the idea of exchanging tax cuts for funding of one governmental function while increasing taxes for funding of another might be seen as providing enough political cover against anti-tax fervor to make the risk worth taking for a majority of the 110th General Assembly – especially given that the business lobby generally supports enhanced road revenue and generally favors corporate tax breaks, especially in areas with unfunded road needs.

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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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Column: On bold Bill Haslam, Trump turmoil and down-ballot TN races

The political winds have been blowing rather strongly against Tennessee Republicans in the handful of legislative races where the party’s candidates must face general election storms Nov. 8, inspiring Democrats to hope for a tornado or two touching down in isolated areas of the state.

Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a political environment where developments have fallen into place more favorably for the state’s minority party than this year. And a striking thing is that the face of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam may be seen in the clouds that have formed over the Tennessee GOP as the winds blow – most recently in a declaration that he will not vote for Donald Trump and thinks the billionaire celebrity should resign as the party’s presidential nominee.

That’s about the boldest thing Haslam has ever done politically, rivaled only by his proposal for a modified Medicaid expansion plan that was curtly rejected by the Legislature’s Republican Supermajority as an embrace of Obamacare, wildly unpopular in GOP circles generally. Trump, in accord with all the state’s Republican congressmen and most of the party’s legislators, want to repeal it.

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