Let the thing be pressedBeyond what I personally view as the very justifiable reasons behind the David Hawk Amendment for school construction which necessitates the present Republican filibuster (it had originally been attached to a food tax reduction bill), there is another very important reason why the House Republicans should continue in their effort to filibuster the Governor's tax increase until the provisions they want are attached to the bill: It is high time that Republicans stand up for themselves in the Tennessee House of Representatives.
The GOP is only four seats shy of a majority, but because of a number of "Naifeh Republicans," or Republican members who collaborate with the Democrats and undermine their Party Leadership time and again, the growing Republican strength of numbers is often rendered moot. In the name of bipartisan cooperation, Republicans have hesitated to use the tool of a filibuster that Tennessee House rules provide for them. I can understand this to a point-I view filibusters as an extremely valuable and useful tool to influence legislation or to kill bad legislation, but using a filibuster is like Harry Truman deciding to use the atomic bomb-he didn't know whether it would work for certain until the bomb was actually dropped. A filibuster is like a legislative nuclear weapon in the sense that if it succeeds, it could change how the legislature works-but if it fails, the Democrats' tendency to run roughshod over the rights of the minority will become far worse.
I spoke by phone yesterday to my own State Representative Frank Niceley. Regarding the filibuster, Frank reiterated that (regardless of his own opposition to any kind of tax increase in this year of a massive surplus) the Republicans aren't trying to use the filibuster to kill the Governor's tax proposal, only to have the Hawk provision-which would use excess State lottery funds to pay for new school construction-added to the bill. He believes this is important because if this isn't done, the Governor may ask for yet another tax increase in the future to pay for school construction when we clearly have the funds for that without one.
Beyond the importance of trying to head off another tax hike, however, is also the principle of Democratic respect for the Republican Leadership and for their GOP colleagues in general. Up to now, Democrats have felt free to just run roughshod over Republican concerns about any legislative proposal-primarily due to their own moles within Republican ranks. This filibuster could change all that-success could mean that Democrats will not move forward with legislation again without consultation with Republican Leadership in a serious way-they would be fearful of another filibuster. Seeing the Republicans stand together demanding justice until they were finally heard would likely frighten the Democrats into respecting the rights of the minority far more than they do now. If the filibuster fails because some Republicans cave in, it will give notice that the GOP Leadership is all bark and no bite and is not to be feared-they can be pushed around and toyed with like a political rag doll until they submit. This is so important that, as Frank Niceley said to me "I don't care if we are there until the end of July."
This is a critical test of the Leadership of Jason Mumpower. This was a truly bold initiative and the issue and the timing could not have been better. He deserves to be saluted for acting so decisively to demand that our side be heard here. He must be able to keep enough of his men in line to keep the filibuster going until the Democrats are the ones who cave. I never thought I would say this, but the Republicans need to keep the legislature in session long enough for the Democrats to surrender on this-they need to let the thing be pressed. Neither side wants to be in Nashville any longer than they have to be-but the side that blinks will lose.
The Republicans cannot afford to blink.
Labels: Tennessee politics