Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Almighty Reacts to Tennessee General Assembly Adjournment

God's official reaction to the adjournment of the First Session of the 106th General Assembly, courtesy of George Frederic Handel.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

The End of Session

Today's post is quite late because I returned from Nashville earlier this afternoon and I am just now getting around to making a post. As I'm sure readers are aware, I have been there all week covering the passage of the State budget as well as semi-successfully working against a certain bill.

While I would call the end of the legislative session disappointing, there weren't going to be any real winners on the budget, and on that Frank Niceley was correct. While I would have voted no and Frank voted in favor, the agreed-upon budget was very likely the best agreement that could have been arranged this year. The problem (which Frank admitted) is that next year is going to be worse and if the trends continue, in 2011 the budget may require Divine intervention. Those with reservations about the budget, from those who held their nose to those who voted a straight no vote, cited this reality as their number one problem, many asking why we shouldn't just make the deep cuts now and deal with the pain, as opposed to waiting until next year when things could be even worse.

For the first time that I can recall, I had a serious disagreement with a bill Rep. Debra Maggart sponsored along with Reps. Chad Faulker and Eddie Bass-the bill requiring those running for County Sheriff to demonstrate a certain level of law enforcement training. This bill may seem innocuous enough, but I fear a situation where we place too many limits on who can run for what office. We live in a representative republic where any citizen, provided they can get their name legally on the ballot, has the right to run for office and participate in the system. If you've got a problem with the Sheriff or the Constable, you ought to have the right to run against them. Should these officials get training? Yes. In the event that a completely inexperienced person is elected High Sheriff, the training they need to function effectively should be made available to them and since they chose to run for this paid office that involves law enforcement, they should foot the bill. It does happen from time to time that a person with absolutely no law enforcement experience of any kind gets elected, and it has happened in Tennessee. It is rare enough that we don't need to implement what amounts to a protectionist measure designed to shut people out (Jon Lundberg pointed out to me that this legislation would likely have disqualified Buford Pusser).

Constables are a different situation because they have to get on the ballot and ask for people's vote, but they aren't paid. A Constable might make money from serving papers and in some counties they may make a commission for writing tickets (a very bad practice), but in Jefferson County a Constable isn't even reimbursed for fuel costs-they are volunteers. They do need basic training, but since they are volunteers the county should pay for their training costs.

Despite my disagreement with Debra Maggart on this issue, Rep. Maggart has been a stalwart on conservative issues, and I appreciate her principled stand on SJR 127 and so many other matters-and she's a jewel of a person on top of that.

As an aside, I want to thank Reps. Dennis Ferguson, Bill Dunn, Eddie Bass, Vance Dennis, Joshua Evans, Susan Lynn, Mike Bell, Debra Maggart and of course Frank Niceley and Stacey Campfield and many others for their kindly consideration and hospitality this week-I can't thank anyone enough.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Jefferson County Exempted.

The bad firefighter bill which I wrote of earlier that created an unfunded mandate for training passed...but...due to the diligent efforts of my own Representative Frank Niceley, Jefferson County is exempt. Many other rural counties are also exempted thanks to some 35 exemptions, many covering multiple counties. The amendment process took two and a half hours.

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Morning House

Among the measures passed and concurred in by the Senate and House was an amendment to yesterday's bill to de-fund Planned Barrenhood. The amendment removed the words "Planned Parenthood" from the Tennessee Code.

Also, a bill requiring certain training requirements for a person to seek the office of Sheriff in Tennessee passed, but not without some stellar opposition by Rep. Dennis Ferguson (D-Roane County), who pointed out that returning Military Police would not qualify to run for Sheriff under the legislation.

This bill is the first time I have ever disagreed with Rep. Debra Maggart, the sponsor...I think the bill limits people's ability to seek office in too restrictive a way.


No Guantanamo At Brushy Mountain

The firefighter bill about which I wrote yesterday should come before the House today, and yet more exemption amendments have been filed to the bill from members who clearly don't like the bill but either fear they must vote for it or fear that it will pass.

Rep. George Fraley has presented a bill that would forbid the rehousing of Guantanamo Bay terrorists in Tennessee, and I am told that it is seen as a way to tell the federal government (politely) to go to Hell. Many Republicans have signed on to this Democrat's bill. George Fraley and Dennis Ferguson are real Democrats in that they represent what the Democratic party was supposed to be, not what it is today.

It was that Democratic Party that once made Tennessee hum...where did that party go?

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The Crap Passes

85-12-a very bitter pill.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

No Bucks for Planned Barrenhood

The House has voted to defund Planned Barrenhood, at least in the sense that family planning funding would devolve entirely upon the county health department. Most of you might be saying "but it does." It does not in Davidson and Shelby Counties, the hub counties for Planned Barrenhood. In spite of whining from certain Shelby County liberals, this bill was about defunding Planned Barrenhood, not about taxes or Shelby County autonomy.

It will likely become law.

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The rumors of a budget deal coming from the Senate appear to be true. Senator Jim Kyle not only Tweeted about a deal but I discussed it with Mike Faulk, whose honest reaction to it was that he doesn't like it but he will hold his nose and vote for it anyway, largely because he said that he fears a Senate holdout would bring a government shutdown, and that the House still has too many Democrats to get the House to cave in to a truly balanced budget.

Instead, the compromise reached is said to only contain bonding for building projects, the road bonds which would have placed the State into completely irrecoverable debt are supposed to be out of the agreed-upon framework, pray God. This version of the budget is still a piece of gross excrement, but may have lost the foulest part of its smell. Even my own Representative-who was a solid "no" vote at 2:00pm this afternoon-admits that he now may change his vote, admitting that this deal may be the best we're going to get this year.

It is probably true that Republicans can't squeeze any more political juice out of the Democratic turnip, but I applaud those members who are still willing to put their vote where their mouth is on the budget and refuse merely to hold their noses and accept it. One of these patriots is Jon Lundberg (USN, Ret.), who told me this afternoon "I will vote no on the budget that Ron Ramsey and Jason Mumpower vote yes on. If you think that we have it bad this year, wait until next year, or two years from now if this budget passes. This is terrible, and I have no trouble explaining my vote to my constituents. We need to do this right the first time. I don't care if we are here until Christmas."

As I explained to Jon Lundberg, throughout our history as a State, and certainly as a nation, those who tried to do the right thing to begin with often went it alone and were isolated at first. I believe that history will vindicate every member who votes against this budget as the people who stood in the gap between Tennessee's future and her fiscal ruination.

Jon Lundberg is a hero.

He served our country, and today history will record him in the annals of Tennessee alongside names like Jackson, Blount, Sevier, Hull, and Quillen as people who made a great difference for Tennessee and stood in the gap of history, as it will for all who take the hero's stand today.

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Burnin' Down the House

Perhaps I'm just crazy, but it occurs to me that the priorities of some of our friends in the party opposite are really quite skewed...

Most of them (and a few Republicans) are going to vote for a budget either today or tomorrow which they know contains projects within it that the State cannot afford, and which will be funded in the short-term by federal stimulus money (which isn't stimulating) but must be paid for by the State in the end. The Governor's answer to this problem is to create debt through the sale of bonds instead of paying as we go along according to need. In a non-income tax State, that is a recipe for fiscal disaster. Further, once the State becomes attached to bonding as a way of doing business, the State will keep doing it. It can be argued that this kind of funding violates the constitutional requirement that the General Assembly submit a balanced budget(though I admit this is a loose legal argument). Once the State begins this funding method, Tennessee will never be free of debt and the budget may never be truly balanced again. It seems as though the bonding scheme is designed to conveniently create a need for an income tax.

Meanwhile, some of them are trying to push a bill that would require volunteer firefighters to have the same training as those in full-time paid departments-at the firefighters' expense. As a member of a volunteer department, I know that the department isn't going to require members to pay for required training out of their own pockets, and so do those Democrats backed by the firefighters' union that support this measure. They understand that either departments will pay from their fundraising budget or small towns will pay for the training from their general fund. It could bankrupt volunteer departments and leave most of the rural areas of our State without adequate fire coverage, and those who do have it will pay an arm and a leg for it.

Democrats will give you bridges, roads, and "stimulus" projects, but pass debt to your children and let your house burn down. Happy Days Are Here Again!

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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Revenue Enhancements and Democratic Intimidation

The House passed a technical corrections bill from the Governor that contained over 50 tax increases, including a constitutionally questionable tax on athletes who compete in professional sporting events. There is some question as to whether this would qualify as a back-door tax on the athlete's income. There were 38 bills that were declared a "technical correction" and not only bypassed the legislative committee system, but avoided free and open debate in government by members of the executive branch declaring them a "technical corrections." Some 17 of these measures were tax increases. Several were introduced as bills and failed in committee during the 2009 legislative session.

Presently, the House is in recess until 7:00pm CDT so the Democrats can browbeat and intimidate some of their own members into supporting the Governor's attempt to overhaul our mental health laws so that he can cut available beds in the State system. Apparently, they fear it may kill their budget (we can only hope). Welcome to Bredesenland, where those found not guilty by reason of insanity may not be housed at a mental institution near you. Yes sir, our streets are safe with Democrats in charge.

After the fiscal calendar is dealt with, the fourth Senate message calendar of the day must then be addressed bill by bill.

Fasten your seatbelts and grab a sandwich, the House may be here until the Second Coming.

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Awful Firefighter Bill Moved to Heel

A bill that would bankrupt many local rural volunteer fire departments by imposing training requirements that most of them already pursue of their own accord was moved to the heel of the calendar. Reports are that the bill is encountering very stiff resistance. I have personally talked to several members of the House and Senate to do my part to ensure the failure of this bill.

Some 15 amendments have been filed to it, most exempt individual counties.

Among Tennessee fire departments, 71% are volunteer.


I Feel So Unsafe

Over lunch, Frank Niceley, Deb Maggart, Susan Lynn and myself decided that rather than pay for our sandwiches, we will bond them to the next generation so that we don't have to worry about the cost.

Meanwhile, Kent Williams extends the morning recess because of the tornado warning in Nashville and tries to evacuate the House floor. Campfield, Niceley, Dunn, and myself remain. I feel so unsafe surrounded by these six-foot thick marble walls that withstood damnyankee canon fire during the Great Rebellion.


Waste of Time My Lord, Kumbuya!

House just convened and already recessed until 2:00pm. Calendar and Rules are meeting now. Republican Caucus meets at 12:30. This morning was a complete waste. If the House needed to convene at 2:00, why not convene at 1:30 to get congratulatory memorializing out of the way, and work through the evening?

Frank, Stacey, and I are going to The Sports Page for a burger and a beer (except Stacey) to numb the budget pain.


For Whom The Bell Tolls

The roll is being called in the House this morning with two Democrats missing (Maddox, Larry Turner) which means that if the House Republicans stuck together, perhaps a version of the Tennessee budget might pass the House that didn't rely on spending funds that do not yet exist, and funding unnessecary projects through a debt cycle that will begin with this budget and recur for 12 years. It will probably be passed on to future generations because the GOP Caucus will not stick together to say no. A minority of "Republicans" who are not committed to fiscal responsibility will vote with the Democrats to pass the most irresponsible budget in Tennessee history.

At least we can hope that the Senators on the conference committee will strip out at least some of the perpetual debt out of the final budget.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Mumpower's Test This Week

As the 2010 Tennessee budget heads for the House of Representatives for consideration this week, the rumors are circulating as to whose version of the budget will gain the most traction. Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, a man who many observers (including yours truly) believe is the real Democratic Leader in the House, has hinted that Democrats are hardening on the budget and that they can get a few Republicans to go along with them. If true, I can probably name which ones these are, and it is doubtful their disunity will be complete because the Senate will never accept a Democratic budget without major changes. In short, the House Democrats are going to have to give up serious ground either to the Republican Senate or to the Republicans in the House if any budget is going to pass both Houses of the Legislature.

The first session of the 106th General Assembly has not been the complete disaster many of us predicted, and Kent Williams hasn't been a total wash as Speaker of the House, either. He has proven to be both politically shrewd and surprisingly accommodating on key issues. His biggest problem is that he simply doesn't seem to be very bright. Often, he appears to believe everything the Governor tells him, and seems incapable of seeing issues from multiple points of view. Perhaps the Democratic Leadership saw these weaknesses in Williams and thought they could manipulate him throughout the session.

Jason Mumpower is also a much-weakened Republican Leader, largely because he failed to accept that Kent Williams was a loose cannon who had no problems at all with betraying him. I questioned Jason the night before the Speakership vote at the Nashville City Club about Williams. In fairness, neither of us thought at the time that Williams would be the Democrats' nominee for Speaker, but I remember asking Jason what reason Williams would have for supporting him when the Democrats would gladly throw him bones for a betrayal. He might reason that if the GOP were going to take his party credentials away, why not vote with the Democrats anyway and get pork for Carter County that could benefit him politically. "We're on top of that," Jason told me. As it turned out, Mumpower not only wasn't "on top of that," he had no clue what was going on.

Truthfully, I have come to personally like Jason and I no longer question his conservative credentials in the way that I once did. It is quite clear where his political heart lies. However, it is also entirely too evident that if Jason's present primary concern is not his own political advancement, that was his concern prior to January 13th. Further, some of his colleagues thought his desire for self-promotion was too evident. One veteran Republican House member told me "the problem with Jason is that he thinks he has done this [get the majority for Republicans], but he isn't really the one responsible. Some of us have been working toward this for years before he was in Leadership," the legislator said. About the Speakership vote, the same member said "that is what happens when you send a boy to do a man's job."

Jason Mumpower does have the ability to command the confidence of his caucus, and especially the critical conservative wing, but to do so he has to move beyond bitterness over what happened this past January and into a phase of proactive movement to control the agenda. If he can do that this week, he deserves to continue as Leader.

We shall see on Tuesday, and I'll be there to watch.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

On this Feast of Corpus Christi, a hymn that recounts Christ's proclamation of His highest purpose in the world.

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