Saturday, April 28, 2007

Corruption is colorblind

I normally wouldn't write about something so serious on a Saturday, but yesterday's conviction of former State Senator John Ford on federal bribery charges has brought the inevitable reaction from some liberal quarters that if Ford were a white Republican, this would never have happened.

John Ford, and for that matter, much of the Ford family, are crooks and con artists to the nth degree. Wrongdoing knows no race, color, or political party. Democrats and liberals who whine and moan about some fabricated injustice in this case apparently forget which political party has been the party of legislative power in this State for nearly a century-and-a-half. When political parties are in power for that long, they become far less concerned with any principles that they may have had at one time and more concerned with consolidating power. Such an environment is a breeding ground for political corruption, as so-called leaders begin to think themselves immune from normal standards of ethics or morality.

Lest anyone think I am just being a partisan Republican when I say this, I will tell you that I believe if the situation were reversed and the Republicans had been in power for that long, Republicans would be experiencing the same sort of thing that is happening to John Ford and the other Waltzers, in that the majority of the guilty would be Republicans. They would deserve the same shame that has rightly come the way of those (Democrats and Republicans) who are guilty in Tennessee Waltz. If you don't think that I would hold to the same standards in such a situation that I am here, remember that I have called corrupt Republicans out before in these very pages.

Using race-as many are wanton to do-as a cheap crutch and a scapegoat to try and avoid the service of justice is just as bad in the Tennessee of 2007 as it was in the Mississippi of the 1950's and 60's. The guilty should be punished no matter what color their skin happens to be.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

A different time

Many of my liberal friends like to tell me that I am behind the times. I have always taken this "accusation" as a real badge of honor. I am certainly not opposed to appropriate technological advances. Indeed, the very modern advancement of the internet enables me to use this weblog to get out a message, and has enabled a media revolution that has transformed the way we get information.

This march to modernity, however, has come at a cost. The changes in social, political, and religious attitudes have destroyed the family, making marriage a matter of convenience instead of a covenant and children a mere matter of choice rather than a blessing from God.

There was a time in America when our kids did all of the things that the so-called experts of today tell us they should not do. Our world and our country was a different place. Today, we hear the left speak of that time hatefully. All I know of that time was what my Grandparents and my Parents shared with me about it-my Grandfather especially had pretty good recollection of the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I always believed it was a better time. When I was a little boy, there were still a few traces of that left. This song makes me think of the kind of world we could have with a few principles-maybe a little modern technology thrown in.

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Open meetings

Jack McElroy, editor-in-chief of the Knoxville News-Sentinel, has an important post today on his blog about the News-Sentinel's continuing legal action against the Knox County Commission for violating Tennessee's Open Meetings Act. Regulars know I am usually one of McElroy's biggest critics, because he usually perpetuates the paper's obvious biases. I have to admit that McElroy and the staff at the KNS are certainly on high moral ground with this legal action, and I think I join the overwhelming majority of East Tennesseans in supporting what the KNS is trying to do with this case.

The great problem, however, that McElroy will have is not only proving with certainty that the Sunshine Law was violated (something that is pretty hard to prove, since the way the statute is written, if any members of the general public were present in any way for any discussions between two or more Commissioners, it can be argued that the law wasn't broken), but a judge will then have to decide what punishments will be doled out to Commissioners, if any. That seems pretty simple, but the overlying problem is that the statute doesn't really lay out much in the way of punishments for violation.

Tennesseans who are in-the-know politically, and even those who have a very rudamentary knowledge of our system, know that the Open Meetings Act is the law in Tennessee. What many do not know, however, is that among the several States that have "Sunshine Laws," Tennessee's law, much vaunted among the local populace, is actually one of the weakest in the Union. Our law spells out what an open meeting is supposed to be, and tells us (albeit in more broad language) what does not constitute an open meeting, but it is written in such a way that it is very easy to "get around" the law, and unlike most laws which criminalize something, the Open Meetings Act does not lay out specific penalties for persons who violate it. All that is likely to happen is that the results of the January 31 meeting will be voided-likely to be replaced by a new "open" meeting made up of the old Commissioners who will appoint the same people they did on January 31. They can then say that they had already made up their minds and did not violate the Open Meetings Act by deliberating in private.

While in Nashville I saw several examples of what would appear to the casual observer to be violations of the Sunshine Law. Legislators talking to one another in the hall before a committee meeting was a common sight, and it was pretty clear that they weren't always discussing fishing, dinner, or the weather. The rapidity with which committee meetings move, especially early in the legislative session, is a clear indication that things are often hashed out well before committee chairmen call meetings to order. However, the Legislative Plaza is an open place, and members of the general public are to be constantly found roaming the hallways, elevators, and siderooms. Had I wanted, I could very easily have listened in on one of these conversations between legislators, and they could not-and I am sure would not-have stopped me, as it would violate the Open Meetings Act.

The Knox County Commission will likely have a similar argument in their case. Might they have slipped into a back hallway to discuss something? Sure, but those hallways, like everywhere else in the Knox City/County building, are open to the public, who may come and go as they please. Is it a sorry argument? I think that it is, but it may very well be a winning one under the structure of the Open Meetings Act. This lawsuit may not be a winner for the News-Sentinel, but may become an example of why the Sunshine Law needs to be made much stronger than it is.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tomorrow's leaders

He whom the establishment labels crazy is usually the leader of the future.

Oatney On the Air-April 25, 2007


Take it to the floor

I was glad that yesterday, Tennessee House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower finally stood up and was counted favoring an important Republican idea: Tax relief for working families. Like other press agents and members of the conservative blogosphere, I received the press release from the House Republican Caucus yesterday outlining Republican ideas for tax relief.

“Our revenue growth is such that we must provide some tax relief. Now is the time.”

--Representative Harry Brooks (Knoxville)
Assistant Republican Leader

“With the extra revenue our state is receiving, the money should be returned to the people, not spent to expand the size of government.”

--Representative Beth Harwell (Nashville)
Republican Whip

“As Democrats debate how to spend your money, Republicans are trying to figure out the best way to return extra taxes back to the people. I’d hate to be a Democrat trying to explain why with $1 billion growth the Governor still needs more taxes.”

--Representative Brian Kelsey (Germantown)
Republican Floor Leader

“When debating a $27 billion budget, we must be extra cautious to ensure we make decisions based on facts, not political spin. The fact is we have an extra $1 billion—plenty of money to provide tax relief.”

--Representative Jimmy Eldridge (Jackson)
Caucus Vice-Chairman

“For years we were told that taxes had to be raised because times were tough. It seems to follow that we should lower taxes when times are good. Too bad government never recognizes the second.”

--Representative Mike Bell (Riceville)
Assistant Floor Leader

Tennesseans, my constituents, have overpaid taxes by almost $1 billion. I don’t know about everyone else, but I know when I overpay a bill, I expect a refund.”

--Representative Chris Crider (Milan)

“I don’t care how much money special interests spend to try to influence the budget. Even the best spinsters can’t rebut the fact that we have $1 billion in growth and the people deserve some of that back.”

--Representative Joey Hensley (Hohenwald)

Mumpower himself had some real gems in the press release:

“In a year of such unprecedented growth, we should be talking about providing some type of relief to all Tennesseans by giving them a break on the sales tax on food,” stated Leader Mumpower. “Food is an absolute necessity. It’s time we stopped talking tax increases, and began running government efficiently and effectively plan for the future.”

“As someone who is in the grocery store once a week, I see how hard it is for hardworking Tennessee families to make ends meet,” he added.

Standing up and saying all of this in a press conference and via a press release is important. These are statements that I have heard many Republican leaders say, but never in as public a way nor with such a unified voice as now. Getting the message out to the public that there is an alternative to control by the same old people and the same establishment is something that must happen if the GOP is ever to reach a majority.

It is important to remember, however, that the mark of an effective legislative party leader is not what he or she says in a press conference and/or press release. Leadership puts out tons of press releases and holds a myriad of press conferences. That is something that must be done, but press conferences and public statements alone do not win majorities. I challenge Leader Mumpower to translate these very important ideas into debate on the floor of the House. As regulars might have figured out
, I often sit down and watch committee hearings and floor debates. Usually I watch the recorded version because I rarely have time to sit through the live one (especially in sessions late in the year such as these), and I can fast forward through the milk of the session and get right to the meat, thus enabling me to observe who is debating and who is singing kumbuya with the Democrats. We have real fighters, we have real debaters, but they seem to be few.

If Jason Mumpower is concerned that by standing up and taking the majority to task in a very hard and passionate way that he may burn bridges on the other side of the aisle, then I submit that this is not his problem, it is the problem of members of the party opposite. If neither he nor other members of the Caucus think themselves capable of divorcing their personal friendships with members across the aisle from what they are duty-bound to do as members of a minority trying to reach a governing majority, then they will never get an effective majority at all.

For the Democrats' part, they are so consumed with power that any Republican that stands up and fights on the House floor for principles is deemed to be a rabble-rouser and isn't one who "builds relationships." What that really means is "they don't accept that we run the show." Conservatives and Republicans shouldn't accept that Democrats run the show-that is not acceptable. Republicans should be running the show and should be fighting tooth and nail to insure that they are worthy to be the governing majority in the House. If, on a personal level, some Democratic legislators can't accept that some of their Republican friends have a duty to bring a majority about, and they can't separate personal relationship from legislative duty, then they are the ones with the problem.

There is a difference between developing friendships across the aisle and working on areas where you can agree and doing what you know to be right in spite of what the majority says. We should work with the Dems where we can work together, but fight hard on the floor for what is right. Do not merely jockey to be in Naifeh's good graces.

I am not Newt Gingrich's biggest fan, but Jason Mumpower would do well to remember that Gingrich brought the Republicans to a majority in the federal House in 1994 as much with good speaking and debating and hard floor fights as with good campaigning. He knew how to make the two work hand-in-hand.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Power hungry

Where good bills in the Tennessee House of Representatives go to die. The replacement of principles with the mere desire to remain in power.

Oatney On the Air-April 21, 2007


Where good bills go to die

Rep. Frank Niceley introduced a bill that would require bottled water companies and distributors who do business in Tennessee to reveal via label the amount of fluoride in their water. This is needed, as Frank said, because growing research indicates that fluoride in water has negative effects on diabetics, pregnant women, nursing women, and some older people.

Frank really did his homework on this legislation, and even got the bottlers of English Mountain Spring Water, one of Tennessee's largest spring water bottlers and a business in our district, to give their input. They favor this consumer protection, and were happy that someone was addressing the issue. It turns out that it won't cost them any extra to implement this as long as they are allowed to use up their old labels first-Frank happily amended the bill to allow for that.

Because water that is bottled from a truly natural Tennessee source-and isn't tap water (a great deal of the bottled water you buy at the store is really tap water)-is going to be naturally low in fluoride, such labeling is going to also alert you to when you are really buying glorified tap water, or water from a high fluoride out-of-State source that may not be so safe-how do you know?

The result? Well, the bill was sent to Summer Study Committee, a place where bills are studied and then die a slow death into the realm on nonexistence. It is the place where good bills go to die.

Frank's bill on animal ID
was amended to the point of turning a meaty bill into water, and rolled for another week yet again.


Mike Williams: desperate

I think it is official that Mike Williams is both running for re-election and desperate. I received a mailer with Williams' picture on the back:

A common sense state budget includes tax relief for you and less business lost to other states. Senator Mike Williams is a strong supporter of a balanced budget and Tennessee's Sales Tax Holiday

The mailer then goes on to explain what items are exempt from taxation April 27-29. It is a very slick mailer, with a picture of a State flag shopping bag and sales tax holiday tag on the front face. Williams' picture is to be found on the back next to the above statement. The casual and uninformed resident-constituent might conveniently be left with the impression from this mail piece that Mike Williams is responsible for the sales tax holiday.

Bets on how much it cost to send out the mailer?


Monday, April 23, 2007

Frank Niceley

State Representative Frank Niceley discusses his legislation to prevent Tennessee from participating in the USDA animal ID program. He also talks about legislation that he sponsored that would increase the number of places permit-holders could carry weapons in Tennessee on today's radio podcast.

Oatney On the Air-April 23, 2007


Threatening the power structure

Both the Tennessean yesterday and the Knoxville News-Sentinel today have stories about State Representative Stacey Campfield.

I have long believed that the real reason that the people who don't like Stacey feel the way they do about him is because he tells the truth. Stacey Campfield is not going to butter you over to make you feel like he'll do what you want and then vote another way behind your back. Many other legislators do this just to insure that they get re-elected. They know that the average Joe Sixpack doesn't bother to check voting records. Stacey Campfield doesn't do that-if he doesn't agree with you, he will just tell you flat-out. I've seen him do this to constituents and I have even experienced the phenomenon myself.

When crooks like Rep. Joe Armstrong say "relationships" get things done on the Hill, that is precisely what Campfield is trying to combat. Friendly relationships are good, and Stacey has those, believe me. What he does not enjoy (and wouldn't enjoy even if he could) is the sort of "Boys' Club" atmosphere that permeates the Hill. Democrats would feel more comfortable if Stacey just shut up because they have been the party of control for a century-and-a-half and God forbid that anyone rock their boat.

Many Republicans are also quite comfortable with the status quo, because maintaining it means they don't have to answer for their actions, either. There are those of us who love Stacey, and there are others who hate him, but he has gone to the legislature and presented ideas, and has opened himself up for scrutiny in a way that few others up at the Plaza have done-all in the name of open government.

In a time in Nashville when both parties give us either crooks or cowards and present these people to us and call them leaders, Stacey Campfield is refreshing because he is neither one. He won't play the Democrats' game, nor will he sell out just to be comfortable.

My late grandfather always used to remind me that the truth is never popular among those in authority. "The truth was so unpopular that it got Christ crucified," he would say. Yet Christ continued to tell the truth and was deemed a threat to the power structure.

These people who call Stacey Campfield names, who mock him, and who shout him down do so because they are quite content with the way things are. Truth is anathema to those who resist reform. The reason that some of these people hate Stacey Campfield so much is because he is a threat to the power structure.

We need more threats to the power structure.


Sunday, April 22, 2007

Virginia Tech, spring games, and baseball

The Sunday Sports Final with guest co-host Matt Daley. How the Viriginia Tech tragedy will affect college sports. College football spring games. The State of Baseball.

Oatney On the Air-April 22,2007


One of the last great Democrats

Want to see one of the last vestiges of what the Democratic Party used to be before they sold out?

I give you one of my heroes, the late Governor Robert Casey of Pennsylvania.

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