A compromise plan sponsored by Sen. Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, Sen. Doug Overbey, R-Maryville, and Rep. Joe McCord, R-Maryville, (with others) creates a judicial nomination commission and allows the speakers much more leeway by removing special interests from the process. The majority of members on the nomination commission will be lawyers, assuring input from those who best know the needs of the courts. The governor will still make appointments, and appellate judges will still stand for retention election.
Some Republicans called for direct election which, as Caperton shows, could be fraught with peril. Most Democrats advocated maintaining the impossibly politicized status quo. Neither side got its way. Neither side is likely satisfied.
Which probably means the new plan is just right.
In the same column, Johnson says that the Tennessee Constitution "calls for" direct election of appellate judges. The Constitution does not call for direct election, it requires it.
The Judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the State. The Legislature shall have power to prescribe such rules as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of section two of this article. Every Judge of the Supreme Court shall be thirty-five years of age, and shall before his election have been a resident of the State for five years. His term of service shall be eight years.
The Judges of the Circuit and Chancery Courts, and of other inferior Courts, shall be elected by the qualified voters of the district or circuit to which they are to be assigned. Every Judge of such Courts shall be thirty years of age, and shall before his election, have been a resident of the State for five years and of the circuit or district one year. His term of service shall be eight years.
Johnson's arguments as they relate to Caperton v. Massey do indeed have some (not complete-Roberts and Scalia wrote very good dissents) merit, but Greg Johnson seems to fall (perhaps unknowingly) for the usually Left-of-center judicial error that one can preserve constitutional law by going above and beyond the Constitution. This is an extremely dangerous mentality that must be avoided at all costs, and a view which must be wholly rejected. The only way to resolve the issue of whether judicial election might lead to conflicts of interest is to amend the Constitution, not to operate beyond it.
In addition, the new Judicial Selection Commission will still be dominated by lawyers, and so long as that is the case, the long arm of the "Tennessee Association for Justice" will never be completely avoided. The TAJ is formerly known as the Tennessee Trial Lawyers' Association, and many (if not most) trial lawyers in Tennessee are members of it or are somehow associated with it. Lawyers have their own self-interest to be concerned with and will be inclined to choose judges who reflect their judicial philosophy, and for most trial lawyers, that isn't a conservative one. In an effort to free the selection of judges from bias, the General Assembly has made the selection of judges largely dependent on biased attorneys.
The Constitution requires that appellate judges be elected, and until the Tennessee Constitution is amended it ought to be followed, especially since legislators swear an oath to uphold it. If the Constitution is modified to allow for appointed appellate judges, the judges should not be appointed by the Governor on the advice of a commission of lawyers, but nominated by the Governor and confirmed or rejected (complete with confimation hearings) by one or both Houses of the General Assembly.
Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen (D) submits a budget cutting services for the severely disabled while wasting millions in State money on solar generators and bonds for questionable projects. Meanwhile, legislative Democrats try to find ways to pin the blame for the consequences of years of their failed leadership on Republicans.
Democratic Strategy: Double-talk Voters, Make Cuts Anyway
The Democratic talk that Republicans in Nashville are trying to balance the budget "on the backs of the poor and helpless" is now officially beginning:
Senate Finance Chairman Randy McNally of Oak Ridge said the cuts are needed to balance the spending plan proposed by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen.
"We just feel like it's a not a good time of year to be borrowing a lot of money when our revenues are continuing to trend down and don't appear to have reached the bottom," the Oak Ridge Republican said.
McNally laughed off a question about whether Democrats would suggest Republicans are trying to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and helpless.
"Well, the first part of the statement is right: we are trying to balance the budget," he said.
The kind of talk the Democrats are now engaged in is extremely rich considering that it is their Democratic Governor who has proposed cutting help for literally the most vulnerable portion of the citizenry-those with no ability to work-while spending a slew of State money on other projects, including things that just aren't immediately necessary, like solar research and bond service on projects that simply are not needed in the short term. Some of these ideas might be worthy of consideration in better economic times, but at a time when things are so bad that the Governor is talking about cutting the majority of State jobs in social service agencies for the chronically disabled, is it right that the State should then spend money on immediately unnecessary things when that money could be moved elsewhere to more pressing matters?
Elected officials have an obligation to be realistic with the voters, not to tell them what they want to hear on the one hand while doing what they know needs to be done behind the backs of their constituents. The budget process should not be used for political grandstanding of the kind that Senator Jim Kyle says he wants to engage in when he wants a roll call on every line item. Kyle, Gary Odom, Mike Turner and the Democrats are trying to use the Democratic Governor's budget to blame Republicans for the problems that already existed long before January, and they are attempting to engage in this political jockeying because they know that if the political trends continue, Tennessee Democrats could lose at least 2-3 House seats in 2010.
The reality is that despite the noises coming from the White House about the economy being better and jobs being "created or saved," the economic situation is such that we are pretty much in the crapper. As a result, no agency of the State and no person served by the State is going to be spared the axe in some form-that's just the unfortunate reality of the situation in which we collectively find ourselves. However, if we act with prudence, the State can eliminate waste and cut those programs which are not an immediate necessity-literally, keep those things which can wait until later on the back burner-while keeping those programs which impact the most vulnerable citizens in place in some form. The Bredesen way, on the other hand, is to cut services for those most likely to be helpless, spend the money on solar generators, new bond service for projects we can't afford, and industrial megasites in West Tennessee, and then blame Republicans for the resulting disaster.
It speaks little of Governor Phil Bredesen's ability to prioritize when we learn that he wants to borrow $500 million for "stimulus" projects while cutting services such as mental health and assistance for people with severe disabilities in the name of fiscal responsibility. What the Governor's plan does tell us is that he has no intention of behaving in a financially responsible way, because he is willing to borrow money for certain projects while cutting other services. Bredesen wants our General Assembly to sign off on a plan that abuses the good faith and credit of this State in a manner similar to federal and personal fiscal behaviors that got the country into this Depression to begin with:
"It's kind of like using the credit card when you're in tight financial circumstances," said Rep. Jason Mumpower, the House Republican leader. "I don't think the taxpayers of this state want us running up expenses on their credit card at a time like this."
Mumpower is correct, of course. If the Governor's budget is passed as it stands, it would be a huge disservice to the people of this State who have to tighten their belts during this time of economic instability. The people are being forced to live within their means in a manner not seen since the 1930's, while the Governor and his political allies want to pass a budget which allows the State to live beyond its means in a way not seen since the end of the War Between the States.
House Democrats are whining about the cuts, but it appears that they are merely looking for a way to blame Republicans for a budget mess which they helped to create, since the Democrats were the party of control in this State for nearly a century and a half. As Democrats and liberals are wonton to do, they apparently are doing plenty of whining, but have yet to come up with a real plan. Rep. Stacey Campfield says Republicans are listening for a real alternative from the party opposite:
We are ready to hear the Democrat plan to substitute the cuts from mental health and other areas and replace it with cuts from somewhere new. So far it has been a lot of "we don't like this or that" cries but no plan of action to fix it.
Democrats in Nashville aren't good at coming up with new ideas and alternate plans because up until this point in history, they've never had to. Democrats have always been the party of power (the Legislature, not the Governor, runs the State in Tennessee in a very constitutional sense), and were the authority for so long that they were never collectively answerable to anyone. Now the Democrats are in opposition for the first time in the Legislature, so the GOP awaits their answer to a budget from a Governor of their own party that they admit is utterly terrible.
The Democrats' answer is to complain and not give an answer.
Meanwhile, Campfield and other House Republicans are saying that in order to correct the Bredesen budget, the marathon legislative session will keep going like the Energizer Bunny.
It is doubtful we will get out this week. Next week isn't looking much better.
The Governor and his staff lie to legislators and attempt to impose tax increases on the sly that they first insisted were not in the bill, and this man has the unmitigated gall to insist that the General Assembly pass his budget the way that he wants it.
Governor Bredesen should have been a celebrity guest on Make Me Laugh.
The idea that Tennessee Democrats want your children to have a quality education is exposed as a fairy tale with each passing hour:
Republican lawmakers are still working on a proposal to expand charter school eligibility before the end of the legislative session, saying the state could be in danger of forfeiting $100 million in federal stimulus funds.
Democrats and public school representatives say that the funds aren't guaranteed regardless of what the legislature does, and that the state could very well receive the money without expanding charter schools.
The bill, introduced by Rep. Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, would open charter schools to all urban students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch programs. Nearly three-fourths of students in the Metro schools system qualify.
Harwell and other Republicans contend that Tennessee could lose out on $100 million as part of a $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" federal grant program for states that commit to education reform — including increasing access to charter schools. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is scheduled to talk to reporters today about President Barack Obama's administration's emphasis on the importance of charter school access to receiving the funds.
The federal funds in question are coming from an administration that nearly all Republicans in Tennessee (certainly this writer) disagree with vehemently on a whole host of issues and policy directives, including education policy. However, we know that this money can help a whole lot of Tennessee children receive a vastly superior educational experience. Instead of being forced to attend schools that are failing them as much for the violence and bad behavior around them as for poor funding, a chance is being handed to Tennessee to give some of the most disadvantaged of our children a better shot in life through a better educational environment.
The Democrats and their allies at the Tennessee Extortion Association are the reason that charter schools are not already expanded in Tennessee, and federal money be damned, they aren't about to allow for an increased and superior number of charter schools to highlight just how badly they've managed to ruin the education of Tennessee children in the past couple of decades (mind you, any other times they would have their hands out like hungry rats to take every federal dollar they can). The Left always loves to talk about how they are the champions of "the poor," but everyone knows that education begins the path out of poverty for most people begins with a quality education. When it comes to education, our friends on the other side really are elitists.
Democrats and liberals are opposed to school choice that would allow parents to decide what schools their tax dollars will go to, hence opening parochial and faith-based educational opportunities to all parents and all children with initiative, not merely those who can afford to pay for them. The classic argument is that this will destroy the public school system, but what it will really do is force the public schools to compete for good students, and improve their educational environments to do so.
In the case of charter schools, liberals don't have the smokescreen of public school apocalypse to fall back on because charter schools are public schools. The real fear on the part of the TEA and their Democratic allies is that increased availability of charter schools will mean that to compete, non-charter schools will have to let bad teachers go-and Lord knows we can't have that, can we?
One side is concerned about placating their unionized political base, while the other is concerned with putting Tennessee's kids first.
Bills like this one are precisely why it is good to have a greater Republican presence in the House:
House lawmakers will revisit on Tuesday a bill to create a statewide residential building code and to set energy efficiency standards for state buildings and vehicles.
SB230 was delayed Thursday after extensive debate in the House, with lawmakers filing dozens of proposals to exempt their home districts from the code requirement. All but one of those efforts presented on the House floor failed. But with numerous similar proposals pending, the House decided to go home for the weekend.
"A lot of times we beat a dead horse to death," said House Speaker Kent Williams, R-Elizabethton. "We're very redundant at times."But Williams said he understands the desire of the representatives of the 60 counties without building codes to go on the record about their opposition. The speaker said he's even carrying a similar proposal on behalf of officials in his native Carter County.
In Tennessee, building codes have always been a local prerogative. The overwhelming majority of our counties do not have building codes, and with good reason-most are still rural counties where the houses that are built are older, and new ones sometimes need to serve as more than just residences in the suburban sense. The Governor is supposed to be budget-conscious, so his version of fiscal responsibility includes a bill creating a State building code, while essentially making our counties be responsible for the code-worse yet, dictating to property owners what they may do with their property? While Phil preaches fiscal responsibility, he would cause others to spend money they may not have executing his plan.
There is bipartisan opposition to this rediculous measure in the Tennessee House, as there should be. The bill is unpopular enough that I cannot find any reference to it in the subject search engine, and the only bill listed under SB230 is legislation that would classify any operation as a dairy farm in Tennessee which raised any milk-giving animals, not just cows.
A State building code is an imposition by Nashville on local affairs which reflects a severe lack of understanding of the desire of most people to be governed locally, especially in East Tennessee. Nashville may have a constitutional option to impose a building code if it pleases, but that doesn't mean that doing so is either a prudent or right thing to do.
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