Saturday, March 31, 2007

A reminder in a little book

While in Nashville, House Minority Leader Jason Mumpower provided bloggers who visited Capitol Hill with the customary folder with basic legislative information. He also was kind enough to include a copy of Ellen Patrick's comical (but very true) missive Why I Live In Tennessee: 101 Dang Good Reasons.

The funny little booklet got me to thinking about how fortunate I am to live in this place-of all the 50 States, we are blessed here to have a wealth of cultural contributions that no other State can boast-and Tennessee is the only State that can boast that it founded another (Texas). Indeed, Sam Houston served as Congressman from Tennessee's 4th District, Governor of Tennessee, President of the Republic of Texas, and finally as Governor of the State of Texas.

Tennessee has contributed more to the musical and cultural traditions of the Republic than perhaps any other State. Tennesseans gave America the Grand Ole Opry, the Delta Blues, Sun Records, the Nashville Sound, and The King.

Tennesseans pay no income tax, fear no government, and are generally unafraid of being political dissidents. It is not wise to anger a Tennessean.

Yet Tennesseans are a notoriously generous people. They don't call this place "the Volunteer State" for nothing. Everyone can be proud of where they live, but Tennessee folks can be especially so-it is easy to take the beauty of this place and its people for granted. The little book was a reminder to keep it and pass it on down.


Friday, March 30, 2007

Rocky Top

Governor Bredesen and his "means." Thoughts on living in Tennessee.

Oatney On the Air-March 30, 2007


A Nashville ancillary

A few ancillary notes from my time in Nashville: After the Republican Caucus dinner at Logan's I joined Frank Niceley, Judd Matheny, Gary Moore, Chris Crider, Jim Peach, Kara Watkins (and I know I am forgetting people again) for beer at The Gerst Haus. Not only was the beer as good as Frank had said, but it was great to see quality bipartisan conversation and friendship take place out of the reach of certain people on the Hill.

On Tuesday I was in the lobby of Frank and Stacey's office and took a call from my wife, wherin I explained the proceedings in Ag that morning, and also bemoaned the departure of Frank from the Ag Committee at the behest of the Farm Bureau and Naifeh. I also directed some not nice words toward the Governor in the conversation in regards to a tax swap. I was later told that a member of the Governor's staff was lurking around within earshot-interesting.

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Ramsey makes Bredesen mind

Both The Tennessean and the Knoxville News-Sentinel ran a story this morning declaring that Governor Phil Bredesen is ready to compromise on the issue of a tax swap-at least of sorts. It would appear that Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey has forced Bredesen's hand, letting him know that unless he provides some relief in the food tax, the Senate is ready to kill his tobacco tax hike. Considering the split in Senate numbers since Mike Williams' sellout (16-16-1), this leads me to believe that Ramsey has a few Democratic votes to hold over the Governor's head.

Although I would rather that the food tax be completely eliminated, an arrangement for a food tax reduction of any kind in exchange for this tobacco tax is a welcome first step. Perhaps the Governor has finally figured out that-lo and behold-the grocery tax effects real working Tennesseans with families and lives. I have long suspected that this was a concept that Bredesen did not understand because not only is he wealthy, he "comes from money" so a tax like the grocery tax not only wouldn't have much effect on him, it never has.

I am also certain that remarks made before the House Agriculture Committee by a certain Representative on Tuesday morning didn't hurt either. This notion that the Governor has that the Ag Committee is in the tobacco lobby's pocket is not only rediculous when you consider that so many members of the General Assembly take tobacco money, the stupidity of such a claim is compounded by the reality that many of the members of the Ag Committee come from districts that are chalked full of farmers-many of whom grow tobacco. If this is the tobacco lobby that the Governor thinks the Ag Committee is in the pocket of, he just might be on to something. It is a very powerful lobby indeed-it can remove these men from office in the next election.

Tennessee's surplus is so large that we do not need a tax increase of any kind. The Governor says he wants it for the sake of education, but he is unwilling to use any of the surplus money first. Good for Ron Ramsey for holding the prospect of the Senate killing his precious tobacco tax hike over his head and forcing him to compromise. I think people are also beginning to see through Bredesen's income tax boogeyman. The very idea that Republicans in the Senate or the House would even consider an income tax is the most ignorant thing I have heard come out of the Governor's mouth. He knows this, and we know that his bringing it up was a despiration tactic. We aren't buying it, and since the Governor doesn't want to become the Democratic version of Don Sundquist, he's going to do a deal so that the sheeple will continue to believe that he is the Anointed One.

The more I see how Ron Ramsey operates, the more I think he is the best thing that ever happened to Nashville since the Grand Ole Opry.


Thursday, March 29, 2007

Bloggers Day On the Air (Part II)

Part II of our coverage of Blogger Day On the Hill at the State Capitol in Nashville.

Oatney On the Air-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.


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Bloggers Day On the Air

A report on Blogger Day On the Hill at the Tennessee State Capitol in Nashville. (Part Two tomorrow.)

Oatney On the Air-March 28, 2007


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.


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Governor Backstabber

WAR MEMORIAL BUILDING, CAPITOL HILL, NASHVILLE-There is entirely too much to tell about my trip to the Capitol in one post-that will actually involve a couple of days worth of posting. I will begin, however, with this juicy tidbit from this morning's hearing of the House Agricultural Committee.

Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) was approached by Governor Phil Bredesen, who came to meet with him to beg support for his proposed tobacco tax increase. Dunn explained to His Honor that he has no personal objection to the idea of a sin-tax, but he does have a problem with anyone being asked to pay more taxes for anything when we have a half-a-billion dollar surplus. If the Governor wants to increase education funding, should he not first look to that surplus money? Dunn also raised concerns about increasing funds when we have seen so few results for the previous increases the legislature has authorized since the early 90's.

Dunn thought his meeting with the Governor was a private meeting, but the Backstabber goes to Knoxville and meets with the editorial board of the Knoxville News-Sentinel and tells them that Dunn and the other GOP members on the Ag Committee are in the pocket of the tobacco lobby. The KNS then prints this as if this were so in support of Bredesen.

Bredesen told this to the KNS for no other reason than to try and influence the media with information that is either blatantly overblown or is outright false. Dunn said "I do not appreciate the Governor telling the media that we don't make our own decisions." Dunn said he thought their meeting was meant as a one-one-one conversation.


Monday, March 26, 2007

Running off to Nashville

This morning I leave for Nashville to attend Bloggers' Day on the Hill, which among other things will include this evening's House session. In advance of leaving I want to thank Frank Niceley, my Representative, for making it possible for me to be there for these events over the next few days, and Stacey Campfield for all of his help and assistance-I can't thank either of you enough.

None of this would have happened were it not for the co-operation, commitment, and foresight of House Minority Leader Jason Mumpower. I know that in the wake of the Leadership vote, Mumpower and I certainly had our differences which were aired on this very weblog. Mumpower has taken a step forward, and for him I think this is a leap of faith of sorts-so I am asking fellow bloggers to conduct yourselves with the distinction that I know we all believe the Capitol deserves.

If I can find a place and opportunity today, I will write a brief note on events.


Sunday, March 25, 2007

Sunday Sports Final

The Sunday Sports Final with Matt Daley. The NCAA Tornament. The problem of players leaving too early for the Draft.

The Sunday Sports Final-March 25, 2007


And they cry peace, peace...

The State of the peace process and devolved government in Northern Ireland at this hour.

Oatney On the Air-March 25, 2007


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