Saturday, July 11, 2009

Ballad of Thunder Road

This might have been a theme song to a movie, but the movie wasn't widespread in East Tennessee at the time.

This is an example of East Tennessee's heritage portrayed in song


Friday, July 10, 2009

The Stupid Party

The twelve Tennessee State Representatives who voted against the final version of the State budget were accused of not wanting to find needed programs. Former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh even made that accusation from the floor, insinuating that the Mighty 12 were meanies who didn't want to fund anything, but did want the political benefits of signing on to the enabling legislation of programs designed to help schoolchildren or returning wounded war veterans.

There isn't a Representative in the Legislature in either party who wouldn't be proud to help wounded veterans, or give Tennessee kids the best education we can, or fund any of the other necessary programs and projects that make this State a great place to live. However, initiatives should be funded in a way that is responsible and honest about the spending capabilities of the State in the current crisis.

The Republican budget proposal, as well as those who proposed it, were called "stupid" by the Governor because that proposal assumed that revenues would be far less than what the Governor's staff was projecting:

State revenue in June was $134.8 million less than budgeted. State officials said $1.088 billion was collected. The drop marked the 11th consecutive one in the current fiscal year.

Year-to-date collections for 11 months were $1.146 billion less than the budgeted estimate. Finance and Administration Commissioner Dave Goetz said the state is positioned to adjust to the economic downturn.

I would humbly suggest that if the Governor is really attempting to ascertain who the stupid party might be, he should begin by looking in the mirror.

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Former Election Administrators All Whined Up

Several now-former Tennessee counter Election Administrators are whining because, they say, that "politics" cost them their jobs and they have filed suit:

That shift of power after decades of Democratic control has led to more than 30 changes in local administrators at the hands of majority Republican commissions since April.

"It's wrong," said Lisa Peterson, who lost her job in April after 11 years as DeKalb County election administrator. "To use someone's voting history over how they perform their duties to determine whether they have a job is wrong."

"While we cannot get into the details of pending legal action, this litigation makes one thing clear — when Democrats lose an election they file a lawsuit," Devaney's statement said.

By nature, the position of an election administrator is one of contradictions. They are appointed by local election commissions, which are controlled by whichever party is in power at the state legislature. But administrators, once on the job, are supposed to carry out elections in a fair and functional manner. They are not, however, protected by civil service rules designed to shield most government employees from politics.

Whether Ms. Peterson and the other Election Administrators in this suit realize it, they are political appointees, and were from the day that they took office. That is not some thin air creation by the Republicans as part of a mean and nasty power grab, this transition is a function of Tennessee law-law created by an overwhelmingly Democratic General Assembly. Control of Election Commissions and the Administrators of Elections is such a political hot potato that in the 1970's, the then-Democratic-dominated General Assembly changed the rules. The law had stipulated that the Governor's political party could control the State Election Commission, but the General Assembly changed that when Winfield Dunn was elected Governor, the first Republican in decades.

Since Tennessee Democrats are traditionally obsessed with maintaining control in an almost authoritarian fashion (elections be damned), Republicans being allowed to clean house at the Tennessee Election Commission could not be allowed to happen, so the General Assembly changed the law, and made control of the State Election Commission dependent on control of the General Assembly-something Democrats of that day never believed that they would see change. Now Republicans have control of the Tennessee General Assembly, and we get to do what the Democrats have done for nearly a century and a half-put our people in the run of things.

The argument could be made that the election administrator in each county should not be a political appointee, and should be appointed on a non-partisan basis. I'm certainly not immune to the argument that those who are doing a good job should be kept on, because I have made the argument that former Jefferson County Administator of Elections Tycia Kesterson (D) should have been retained by Jefferson County's new Republican majority Election Commission. However, I did not dispute the Election Commission's right to replace Kesterson. She was a political appointee in a patronage job, and when a new government takes power at the State level (and in Tennessee, the government really is a function of the Legislature), political appointees should have the reasonable expectation that they might be replaced. It was the Democrats who created this system, the Republicans are merely exercising the rights and duties given to them by previous General Assemblies.

For the system to change, there must be a very broad bipartisan consensus, not merely the collaboration of a few. The Democrats may try to initiate some effort to change the system not in the name of fairness, but simply to prevent Republicans from exercising the full scope of this new authority.

When you are in a patronage job you might get replaced, that is the nature of the beast. If you don't like that possibility, or you believe as Ms. Peterson does that your political persuasion should play no role in your employment, then you need to find a non-political civil service job, or enter another line of work.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Be 'Still My Beating Heart

One of the many laws which took effect on July 1st in Tennessee was a law that allows counties which have liquor by the drink to have legal distilleries operating in their community. Many of us who are opposed to dry laws have rejoiced in this development:

Several entrepreneurs are interested in opening legal distilleries in East Tennessee counties, according to Nashville developer Jim Massey, who plans to open a distillery in Nashville and possibly start a side business helping other distillers with the startup process.

Under the new law, about 44 counties are now eligible for distilleries. Manufacturers will be allowed in any county where both retail package sales of liquor and liquor-by-the-drink sales have been locally approved.

Since liquor, like cigarettes, is considered a sin tax, there will be tax revenue from the new spirit producers, he noted.

Whether proponents of dry laws want to admit it or not, the new distillery law is the beginning of the end for widescale county and community dry laws in Tennessee. The process may take awhile to play out, but those counties who simply refuse to go wet will lose out on millions in annual tax revenue from the ability to tax the sale of spirits. Many consumers, after all, will come to prefer a spirit made locally and will likely display a preference for whiskies and other spirits made close to home. Not every county eligible will have a distillery, but nearly all counties could reap the economic benefits of having legal stills nearby, but far moreso if those counties go wet.

The opposition to making more Tennessee counties wet comes from the predictable quarters, most notably the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Oddly enough, we don't hear a huge demand from their sister body in Kentucky to shut down the Commonwealth's myriad of whiskey distilleries. One has to wonder if that might have something to do with the thousands of jobs that would be lost not only at the stills, but at package stores, candymakers, farms, factories, warehouses, and certainly the State of Kentucky itself. Entire towns in certain parts of Kentucky would become ghost towns without the stills, Bardstown being the chief example. Even the Cistercian monks at the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani outside of Bardstown would likely need to close their doors, since the distilleries provide the whiskey they need to make the famous fruitcakes and bourbon fudge that provides the monastery with more than 2/3rds of its independent income.

(As a side note, if the Bishop of Knoxville has given this issue more than five minutes of thought, he may be chomping at the bit over this new law. One of Bishop Stika's goals is to bring contemplative religious communities into the Diocese of Knoxville. For such communities to survive, they need to be self-sustaining and have a source of income free of other Church support. This law would conceivably allow a religious community either to open their own distillery or to produce a product that uses locally made spirits and sell it, and they could do so tax free. This law provides, perhaps unwittingly, the Church with the means to open multiple monasteries and friaries in Tennessee should She wish.)

Kentucky is clearly the model for this law. While a number of Kentucky counties are dry, that number is far fewer by percentage than Tennessee, and Kentucky law allows for the sale of wine (and watered-down spirits) in grocery stores in wet counties. Those in the liquor lobby have to know that the day is coming when Tennessee will have wine in grocery stores as part of the natural legal evolution of the State going wet which this distillery law has begun.

Meanwhile, Cocke County Mayor Ileff McMahan Jr. doesn't understand why Cocke County was exempted, and he doesn't like it:

"At the last minute, Cocke County has been taken out. Nobody asked me," Cocke County Mayor Iliff McMahan Jr. said.

McMahan is in favor of legalized distilleries and would like to see them in Cocke County. He didn't know his county has been exempted from the law and thought as county mayor no one had the authority to opt out Cocke County without his approval.

"For better or for worse Cocke County has the reputation of being the moonshine capital of the world. At some time, someone might want to capitalize on that," McMahan said.

As someone who lives about five minutes from the Cocke County line, that county's moonshining reputation is well-earned. Most of us who live around here know how to get white lightning if we want it. I'd venture to say that it is possible that Rep. Eddie Yokley was "convinced" by someone other than McMahan to exempt Cocke County. You can probably guess the reason why, and it wasn't the Baptists.

At a time when Tennessee is struggling to meet its budget, this new law could bring millions in tax revenue in the coming years, and has the potential to put a lot of Tennesseans to work. It will also give Kentucky a run for its money as the whikey capital of the world, because we all know that Tennessee whiskey tastes better anyway.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

It Takes One to Know One

Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale has refused to sign a resolution censuring Knox County Law Director Bill Lockett:

Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale has refused to sign a resolution passed by Knox County Commission censuring county Law Director Bill Lockett, asking for his resignation and asking that all investigations into Lockett's misappropriation of funds be expedited.

It was prompted by Lockett's admission on May 26 that he pocketed clients' payments intended for his former law firm of Kennerly, Montgomery & Finley before taking office last August.

Chief Deputy Law Director Joe Jarret wrote to commissioners Monday, informing them that "Mayor Ragsdale has declined to affix his signature" to the resolution.

Jarret also wrote a memo to County Clerk Foster Arnett Jr. noting that Ragsdale refused to sign the resolution and that if the mayor fails to sign a resolution, it becomes law within 10 days after being submitted to the mayor. Resolutions are routinely filed in the county clerk's office.

"It's his prerogative," County Commissioner Mike Hammond said. "He has taken a position that he was not going to be critical of Mr. Lockett. He should let us know why he isn't signing it. I would like to know why he isn't signing it."

Mr. Lockett certainly deserves a fair hearing, but Mike Ragsdale's refusal to sign the Knox County Commission's resolution raises all kinds of questions, largely because it has long been established that Mike Ragsdale is himself a crook. It may be a bit of guilt by association, but would it not be reasonable to say that birds of a feather flock together, and that it certainly appears that Ragsdale is condoning wrongdoing?

As it is, Mike Ragsdale has little room defending Lockett in any fashion in light of the allegations against him, considering that Ragsdale's own problems will mean that when he leaves office as Knox County Mayor next year, his political career is over.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

Why Sarah Wanted Out

Speculation abounds as to the cause-and-effect of the resignation of Alaska Governor and 2008 Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin:

The presidential fund-raising process "starts earlier and earlier with each election cycle," said Marc Hetherington, a political science professor at Vanderbilt University

"You're not going to find big donors in Alaska," Hetherington said. "She has to convince the people in Washington, D.C., the heavy-hitting fundraisers, that she's ready to do the job."

But like many others, he was unsure Friday whether Palin's decision was made to prepare for higher office, or to remove herself and her family from the intense national spotlight.

"It's hard to know at this point," Hetherington said.

While it would be nice to believe that Sarah Palin is leaving the Alaska Governorship to run for the Presidency, it would make far more sense for her to finish her term and then announce, as there would be little to keep her from raising money while in office-especially in a climate where her absence from the State would be expected if the people of Alaska had the implicit knowledge that she is going to run for President. It does seem that when she resigns officially at the end of the month, it will signal Governor Palin's exit from active politics.

While I strongly believe that Sarah Palin should not have resigned, I also agree with her that the normal rules of civility which the press applies to political candidates have not been applied to her or her family. Traditionally, these unwritten rules have stipulated that the children of political figures are off-limits, and general references to a person's family are to be kept in good humor and decent taste. Sarah Palin is everything that her critics hate-she is a beautiful, intelligent, successful woman who happens to be very conservative. Open fire.

As often as I criticise the President in this space, and have even been critical of his wife as she sometimes merits it, I would never dream of bringing his daughters into the equation. Not only do those young ladies have the right to grow up in peace, but when they do they deserve to be able to make their own choices and commit whatever mistakes they are going to make without our scrutiny. They are not politicians unless they choose to be.

These standards of decency didn't apply to the Palin family. Bristol Palin's former boyfriend was paraded around on the morning talkshows in what was clearly on attempt to get revenge on his ex-girlfriend, but which the press ate up like free twinkies. Had Sarah Palin been a liberal Democrat, Bristol Palin's breakup would have been a non-story. Michelle Obama would not have had jokes told on late-night television about looking like a "slutty flight attendant," or about her teenage daughter being raped by an All-Star baseball player.

After the first 50 or so ethics complaints were dismissed, most people would have packed it in. Sarah Palin was costing the State of Alaska good money so that she might be defended against falsehoods. It is reasonable to assume that she had quite enough of what the press was putting her and her family through, and that she was not prepared for it. Should she have been? No man and no liberal would have been given the character assassination that Sarah Palin has had to endure.

No, Palin should not have resigned-but she may believe that her family deserves better than what they are enduring through no fault of their own.

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Sunday, July 05, 2009

God of Our Fathers

On this Independence Day Weekend, the organ score to the great hymn God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand-sometimes called the National Hymn.

Those regular readers here who are people of faith and prayer, I would like to ask your prayers during a time in which Nicole and I are experiencing sudden and unexpected hardships, the outcome and end of which I am quite uncertain. We can use all of the prayers you can muster at this time.


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