Bloggers' Day On the Hill (Part One)My first day on the Hill began early in the morning Monday. Not knowing if I would have time to change clothes when I got to Nashville, I dressed for the House session. I ran behind schedule because-having selected a certain favorite suit for the occasion-I did not discover until my trousers were on that the fly button was missing and needed to be replaced. That is easily done, but I certainly did not have time Monday-so I had to change suits instead. For most people it is not a big deal, but it takes me a while to get in and out of a suit of clothes, so I was running way behind schedule. Fortunately for me, my ride admitted that he was also a little late.
Frank Niceley and I both share a love of Cadillac cars, and Frank was gracious enough to extend to me a needed ride in his. Granted, he is my Representative, so I am certain that part of his motus was to insure that a constituent got everything he needed getting to Nashville and while there (and he admitted as much), but true to his nature, Frank went well above and beyond the call of duty and his hospitality throughout my brief stay really helped make the trip. The same can be said of his officemate and my personal friend Stacey Campfield-and as usual when Stacey gets involved in anything that I am involved in, he does so in ways that make me unable to express my gratitude appropriately.
On the way to Nashville, Frank and I discussed a lot of "shop talk" about Jefferson County-related things (Frank lives on one end of the county, and I live on the other). We talked about our opinion that the Tennessee Farm Bureau, which we are both members of, is really moving in the wrong direction. We both believe that the Bureau is moving away from its traditional advocacy for both the farmer and the small landholder and more toward a raw business model. The Bureau has great insurance, but it used to serve as an effective advocate for rural landowners. Now it tends to side with large operations and with big business and government, rather than the small farmer or landowner. As a prime example, the Bureau opposes Frank's bill that would prohibit State funds being used to implement the National Animal Identification program. Many of our county's farmers and small livestock operators oppose it, but many more are not educated about it. Not only will the farmer or livestock owner have to pay out-of-pocket to have their herds/flocks injected with an ID microchip, but by doing so it essentially gives the feds the right to cull at-will any animals they deem unsafe or undesirable. It gives the Feds total control over private agriculture in a way never before seen-but does help large corporate farms and other similar operations.
The Farm Bureau was so angry about Frank opposing animal ID, they had him Primaried-he got 75% of the vote anyway. Since they couldn't beat him, they played dirty pool and got the Naifeh-ites to boot him from the Agriculture Committee-a committee that any member from Jefferson County really needs to sit on.
We also discussed our mutual dislike of NAFTA, GATT, the WTO, and the proposal for a NAFTA Superhighway. Not to be left out was our mutual distrust of the Haslams.
Upon arrival at about two-o'clock Central time, Frank and I didn't go right up to the office. Instead, we stopped in at the cafeteria in the Plaza for a hamburger lunch. At that point, Frank introduced me to Rep. George Fraley (D-Winchester)-also a Farm Bureau member and somebody who could really tell some stories. George ate lunch with us, and I found myself wishing that every Democrat on earth were like George Fraley. It was beyond "George is a nice guy"-George was from another era (and if he should read this, that is a high compliment).
After lunch, we repaired to the office and Frank introduced me to his secretary Ruth Adams, and his intern Meagan, whom he shares with Stacey. Both went out of their way to make me feel at home the entire time, but as I told them, it amazed me how time flew. Stacey arrived not long after Frank and I , but by the time I had a few minutes to talk to Stacey, (and it was at this point that I believe I met Caucus Chair Glen Casada who dropped in) it was already 3:30 and I had been invited to sit with the Republican Caucus for Bill Review for the 5:00pm House session.
For the most part, the day's bills were mundane. Honoraries, legislation it would be easy to agree to, and bills that everyone knew would sail through the floor. One bill that was of concern was House Bill 0525, which effectively allows the Nashville Zoo to sell alcohol. My concern with this bill was not the zoo selling alcohol, but the fact that members were being told the bill would let the zoo sell alcohol after-hours at fundraisers and the like. The Bill does not make any of those distinctions, as members were later led to believe on the floor. Republicans were warned about this serious discrepancy during the Bill Review meeting. Because I have a problem with five year-olds seeing drunkards at the zoo, I would have voted no. Nineteen members agreed with me, and the vote was not party-line.
After Bill Review I was escorted to Leader Mumpower's office, where I met fellow bloggers A.C. Kleinheider, Dr. Martin Kennedy, Mr. Mack, Aunt B. and Adam Groves for the first time. Everyone was extremely nice, and the way we all behaved really re-enforced my high opinion of the way political bloggers conduct themselves regardless of party or ideology. I enjoyed everybody's company. Jason Mumpower seemed genuinely glad to have us there, and I have to admit that it seemed like the Caucus was really trying to reach out to this new medium. Members who were generally unfamiliar with blogs admitted this, but seemed eager to learn. (Note to Mack: He said he became "irritated" with me-I apologize, sir-truly.) We all got the folder that group visitors on Hill days normally get. Much of the literature is quite useful, however-the pen is especially useful.
After this meeting, Kara Watkins, who seemed to look out for me all day Monday (even off-duty-I'll explain in a later post) escorted me to the House floor. I was escorted into the Chamber by Rep. Mumpower, Stacey and Frank were not far behind. After the Seargent at arms gave me the sticker I needed for clearance, imagine my surprise when J.D. Hogg himself greeted me at the door. We exchanged pleasantries and Mumpower situated me in the front. His introduction of me along with the other bloggers in the gallery, though I know it is standard procedure on such occasions, was a kind gesture indeed.
Other bloggers found the floor session to be the most boring part of the two days. Perhaps it was merely my position during the session, but I was enjoying it capitally. I had a copy of the Consent and Regular Calendar for the day and was following along and participating as much as a non-member can do. Nothing major happened, but I couldn't help but notice that the Speaker does not keep order. He has a fetish for banging the gavel but never once asked for order in the House and it was called for on at least three occasions. Perhaps the Republican Caucus should give him an engraved copy of Robert's Rules of Order for Christmas.
At the end of the session Frank walked with me out of the House Chamber and Naifeh came on the elevator with several other members and we three talked more at length and exchanged further pleasantries and I thanked the Speaker for his hospitality. After he left, Frank turned to me and said "thank you-because you were here, he had to talk to me-he hasn't spoken to me in months and would not even respond when I wished him a Merry Christmas."
There is much more to come, and if I leave someone out-I didn't forget you and it isn't on purpose...if I typed everything I remember, I would be here all day. I am going to try and get to everone and everything either here or on the radio.
Labels: Tennessee politics