A little less talk and a lot more actionI have written in these pages over the preceding days about how glad that I was House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower finally stood up to the Governor of sorts in his press conference last week and said that Republicans favor tax relief for working Tennesseans. He is right that we will have such a massive surplus by July 1 that we as a State can afford to give the kind of tax breaks to working people that many in the House and Senate GOP are proposing without even touching the Governor's education proposals (proposals that do have problems and should be debated on their own merits), or his other proposed programs. When the State of Tennessee has nearly a billion dollars just sitting around, one of the highest surpluses of any State government in the Union, then refusing to eliminate the sales tax on food is not only irresponsible, it is bordering on oppressive taxation against rich and poor alike.
The Governor and his staff say they are concerned that eliminating the oppressive grocery tax may cost the State great deals of money and eliminate the surplus. Even though it would take a flat-out reckless spending spree in order to burn such a massive surplus on what would amount to a 4 to 6 percent tax cut, several Republicans have obliged Governor Bredesen's concerns and presented tax swap legislation that would replace the grocery tax with a tax on something else.
One of these common-sense proposals was one by Rep. Beth Harwell of Davidson County, to lower the Governor's cigarette tax proposal from 40 cents to 20 cents, then wait a year to see how much revenue the tax generated. As the tax generated revenue, the grocery tax could be correspondingly lowered. Indeed, Harwell has sponsored or co-sponsored House legislation that would decrease the grocery tax based on increases in the tobacco tax.
Knoxville News-Sentinel columnist Tom Humphrey pointed out in his column yesterday that when asked about whether or not he favored Harwell's bill, Jason Mumpower replied that Harwell's bill was one of many options. As Humphrey rightly said, Harwell's proposals are doubtless the most fiscally responsible before the General Assembly, yet Leader Mumpower refuses to take an outright public stand in support of Harwell's ideas. While I believe it highly likely that Mumpower is supporting the efforts of Harwell and others like her behind the scenes, we are now past the point where backroom support is enough. There needs to be a very public stand that says "yes, we support these ideas."
The reason is because there is a General Election in 553 days that very well could decide the direction of the Tennessee General Assembly for many years to come. As we approach a constitutionally mandated census in 2010, the party that controls the legislature at that time will redraw constituency boundaries that will affect the 2012 Election. If the Democrats continue to hold the majority in the House, it is a virtual certainty that Jimmy Naifeh will exert his influence to draw districts in such a way as to solidify the Democrats' hold on power. This makes 2008 especially important, because it is highly likely that the party that controls the legislature after the coming Election will be the one that continues to do so at census time. Both Mumpower and the Democrats are keenly aware of this reality.
The problem is that while most Tennesseans who are in any way aware of what is happening in Nashville know that the Democratic majority is no longer working for their interests, if they do not see a real counter-plan from the Republicans, they will shrug their shoulders and wonder why change needs to take place when there will be no real change at all. Within such a climate, the Democrats are far more likely to retain control of the all-important House of Representatives.
It is understandable that Mumpower and the GOP Leadership would feel hamstrung since their lack of a majority means that they can't actually accomplish the program of action they put before the people of Tennessee. However, the public needs to see a vibrant Republican Party that is very openly fighting the power. People need to see not merely Republicans filing good bills that the Democratic majority kills, but the GOP Leadership putting forward good bills that are a part of their program of action that the Democrats correspondingly kill. The Republican Leadership can then rightfully say to the public "look at what we have attempted to do for the public good that the party opposite has destroyed..."Press conferences and charts showing surplus and waste, while important tools, will not be what exposes the Democratic beast to public scorn. It will be the Republican Leadership's very open exposure of every Republican bill the Democrats have killed that would have changed the way things work in this State that will cause the public to determine that they need to remove the majority that is blocking these changes from happening.
I believe Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada understands these realities, but even though he is doing much of the real legwork for the House GOP, the ultimate decision about how the Caucus is to manuver politically rests not with Casada but with Jason Mumpower. Mumpower has lately demonstrated that when he wants to, he can fight with the best of them and he has a keen political mind. It is time to use those skills to the fullest.
The time has come to step up to the plate and swing for the fences.