Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bloggers' Day On the Hill (Part Two)

At 5:45 am Tuesday morning, I made my way down to the hotel lobby where I met Rep. Bill Dunn who was staying in the same hotel as I was-he'd agreed to give me a ride over to the Capitol. The night before at the Caucus dinner at Logan's, I had asked him how he was taking having been defeated for the House Republican Leadership by Jason Mumpower. Readers know that I had been an outspoken supporter of his in the Leadership race-so were many (if not most) conservative bloggers. We didn't think Dunn would have much of a problem being returned as Leader-when I got the result, I was shocked-but I remember I had especially felt bad for Bill Dunn. Dunn, however, didn't bat an eye in saying that for the first few days, he was very down about losing. He then realized that what felt like the weight of the world was now off of his shoulders-after all, he now had a little more time for his five children. He embraced the result and went on with business and with life.

It is Bill Dunn's humility that I admire and this is why I had supported him. Every day I ask God to make me humble. For some reason, I never feel like this has successfully occurred. But Bill Dunn seems to have been endowed with this spiritual gift in a special way. (I probably have more in common with Mumpower than Dunn in the sense that I have an understanding of what drives Mumpower. He is still young and ambitious, and if the GOP gains control in 2008, there is a good chance he will be Speaker). Knowing his humility, I knew I had to see it when he told me that later that morning he was going to let the Governor have it in the Agriculture Committee. He was, he admitted, a little worried about how it would go over.

At around six in the morning we meandered up to Dunn's office. There, I had a chance to talk at some length with his officemate
Rep. Mike Bell. Like Dunn, Bell also has five children, and all of these are home-schooled. A staunch advocate for the rights of home-schooling parents, he told me that he did not come to the General Assembly to be the "home-schoolers representative," though he is happy to advocate for other home-school parents. He does have other issues of concern to him. He and Dunn both serve on the Ag Committee, are both Farm Bureau men, and Bell serves as an Assistant Floor Leader for freshman members. Bell was personable, genuine, and real-a man that has not yet become overtaken by the culture of the Plaza-I hope he never is. He asked me about my disability, my life history, my ability to work, and how I came to blogging and writing. Lots of people ask those kinds of questions, but you can tell the difference between the mere conversationalist and the genuine interest, and Bell was clearly the latter. He told me more than once how glad he was that bloggers had come, and in particular that he was glad I came. Both men said they get to work so early in the morning to make time in the evening to take calls from their wives and kids and hear about their day. The two affectionately refer to themselves as the Blue Collar Caucus.

At 6:45 I left Dunn and Bell's office and made my way to the Lieutenant Governor's office where bloggers were meeting
Ron Ramsey for a 7am "roundtable." I enjoyed the occasion, and Governor Ramsey gave some real pointers about making personal contact with legislators. A type-written or hand-written letter, personal phone call, or (if you can make it to Nashville) personal visit is always best. Mass e-mails are often ignored, simply because legislators get so many junk e-mails and so-called "petitions" whose authenticity is hard to judge. Many of the form letters and postcards sent by certain groups are brushed off because it is hard to judge the genuine nature of the public outcry. I actually found it comforting that many such things are ignored, because it enables real grassroots lobbying and forces people to go to their legislators to take real action. Of course I had to ask the obligatory Rosalind Kurita question-I almost wish I hadn't, but it was on my mind. I would like to meet her at some point and ask serious questions about her ideology, and hear her perspective about her vote for Ron Ramsey. Governor Ramsey was very gracious, and if anyone has questions about the genuineness of his character, it bears noting that my wife, who is somewhat apolitical, has a very high opinion of him and she is a pretty good judge of character.

After the roundtable we went upstairs where the
House Republican Caucus provided coffee and doughnuts. I was amazed at the number of members who dropped in to ask questions and hear from the bloggers themselves. One question was how many hours a day we spend on our blogs. I answered that I spend around two, but truthfully that is probably an average. Some days I may spend as much as four counting research, while on weekends I may not be around for more than half an hour. By my standards the last two days have been an unusually high amount, for example. Among the members who came were Harry Brooks, Kevin Brooks, Chris Crider, Glenn Casada, Dale Ford, Bill Dunn, Delores Gresham, Matthew Hill, David Hawk, Brian Kelsey, Phillip Johnson, Jon Lundberg, Susan Lynn, Judd Matheny, Doug Overbey, and Donna Rowland along with Leader Mumpower. I think Joe McCord, Jimmy Matlock,and Joey Hensley may also have been there, but I saw these members multiple times and sat near Hensley on the House floor, so it is possible that I am confusing this with an occasion where they were present-I am also sure I am missing someone.

After this I went to the Ag Committee meeting where Bill Dunn did Tennesseans and Tennessee farmers proud. The Gentleman from Knoxville blasted the Governor for using the press as a prop to try and get his way with the committee, circulating the suggestion that the only Republican-controlled committee in the House was controlled by the tobacco lobby. If "controlled " means "took campaign money from," there is narry an influential member of the House on either side of the aisle who took no money from tobacco. The Governor forgets that this is Tennessee, and in my town you are hard-pressed to find someone who does not grow tobacco, has not grown it, or does not know someone who is. I guess the Governor can't help it that he lives in Nashville and before he was Governor he was mayor of Nashville. You can't really expect Jersey Phil to understand the Tennessee outside of Nashville and Memphis. Dunn went at it again at the end of the meeting, both times citing the surplus, finally saying that we had better adjourn before he keeps going-I wanted to jump up and say "yes-yes Bill, keep right on going...preach it brother." Had the spectacle continued, I was hoping Mike Bell would also chime in.

I spoke with Dunn after the meeting about
HB1592 and the problem of classifying manure as a fertilizer, and how animal waste bagged and sold could easily be classified as a commercial fertilizer should subdivisions choose to ban it. After Ag I walked around and glad-handed with a few folks and bumped into Ken Whitehouse, whose work for the Nashville Post I admire greatly. I stopped up at Stacey and Frank's office and did a quick blog entry and had some barbecue for lunch which was being provided by one of the many lobbying groups up at the Capitol. At one o' clock, Lance Frizzell, Governor Ramsey's Deputy Chief of Staff, escorted me over to the area where the legislature's Information Technology is managed, along with Dr. Martin Kennedy's lovely wife. There we were shown the nuts and bolts of the website and the new system for bill review. I provided some input saying that maps of State Senate districts ought to be more detailed.

At three I went to the Consumer and Employee Affairs Committee meeting with Frank and Stacey and was stunned to discover a packed house there. A bunch of seniors came up with the AARP to lobby for Democratic Leader
Gary Odom's Bill for Credit Security. It was recommended for passage and sent to Finance, Ways, and Means. Odom did justice to himself in advocating for the bill before the Committee. Among other bills on the calendar were a bill by Susan Lynn to prevent use of a tax ID number for immigration status, and by mattress guru Gary Moore to prevent mattress stores from selling used mattresses without the tags on them.

After Consumer Affairs I went up and chatted with Frank and Stacey awhile longer. As the hour came for each of them to fulfill promised late-afternoon engagements, the time came for me to go. I went down and sat in the cafeteria and waited for
Mike Faulk, as he was my ride home. On the way home I became more convinced than ever that he will run against Mike Williams for the State Senate next year. The more I get to know the man, the more I like about him-if for no other reason than with Mike Faulk, what you see is pretty much what you get, there is no window dressing with Mike. We also learned that we have many similar interests, including a taste for finer tobacco products.

With the aid of Mike Faulk I got home at nearly 11:30 Tuesday. Within an hour I was dead to the world.



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