Tennessee WaltzJust when I thought covering Ohio politics was an enjoyable thing to do, Tennessee politics has decided to get interesting just as I am about to arrive on the scene. Four members of the Tennessee General Assembly were arrested in Nashville yesterday on what was scheduled to be the next-to-last day of the current legislative session. They were not arrested for loitering on the Capitol grounds...but rather for bribery, extortion, conspiracy to commit bribery and extortion, and in one case, threatening and intimidating potential witnesses.
Those arrested included Sen. Kathryn Bowers (D-Memphis), Sen. Ward Crutchfield (D-Chattanooga), and Rep. Chris Newton (R-Cleveland). Perhaps the most important arrest, however, was that of Democratic Senator John Ford of Memphis, a member of the powerful Shelby County political family that has produced Democratic Congressman Harold Ford, Jr.
The bribery scandal paints a picture of a legislature with a history of influence peddling and corruption, as though such things are standard procedure. Since the GOP has not controlled both houses of the Tennessee Legislature since Reconstruction, and until last year had not controlled either house since that time, one has to believe that the kind of public climate that would cause legislators to believe they could get away with this sort of behavior (and worse, that it was acceptable to do so), was created by years of Democratic Party domination.
Perhaps most disheartening for the people of Tennessee is that Senator Kathryn Bowers, one of the Gang of Four arrested yesterday, has been leading the committee charged with attempting to save TennCare, Tennessee's unique public health care system for the uninsurable, the disabled, and the poor. TennCare has been in a great deal of financial trouble for some time, and one of the priorities of the legislature this session for members on both sides of the aisle was to try and find a compromise whereby TennCare could be rescued from oblivion, and that the fewest number of people possible would be affected in the process. Of course, since health care costs are so high, it is impossible to reform and save a program like TennCare without a combination of cost reform and cutting some people from the rolls who should perhaps not have been on them in the first place by virtue of the program's original intent. Because the leader of a committee that has become, because of the TennCare crisis, one of the most important bodies in State Government in Tennessee has now been arrested for bribery and extortion, any informed citizen would be forced to ask whether Senator Bowers was bribed or could have been bribed by parties interested in any potential legislation involving TennCare. Everyone from drug companies, to medical suppliers, to hospital systems, to food contractors, not to mention numerous persons affected, has an interest in the fate of TennCare, and the kind of legislation that might be brought about to save it. If Senator Bowers could be bought and paid for by a phony company called E-Cycle, she can just as easily be bought and paid for by health care lobbyists on one side or the other of the TennCare quagmire.
Perhaps this will teach not only Tennesseans, but people around the country, that the Democratic Party is truly the Party of corruption, avarice, and greed. If this scandal does not doom the Tennessee Democratic Party to a lengthy period in the political wilderness akin to that experienced by their federal brethren, then God help the State of Tennessee, because unless the Democrats are put out to the political pasture in 2006, Tennesseans will have little reason to complain about corruption in State Government-they will have placed the Party that is largely responsible for the filth back into power.