Jan 02 2014

No one’s gonna build a door for you

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, State Politics

Don't wait your turn...TAKE your turn

Don’t wait your turn…TAKE your turn

Opportunity is a funny thing. It’s a bird that never perches…as one man put it. It is fluid, and dynamic, and fleeting.

You often don’t know you’ve missed it until its gone.

So today’s news that Sara Kyle won’t seek the office of Governor, seems in a lot of ways like a missed opportunity…for a lot of people, and not just Mrs. Kyle.

Let me first say, I don’t begrudge Kyle her decision. She has real-world things to deal with…and that’s something everyone involved knew from the beginning. Its also not surprising because as the proprietor of the Draft Sara Kyle website, I hadn’t heard a thing from any of the folks that motivated me to spend my time or energy on the project since September.

I’m not begrudging them either…just sayin’.

But it does give Democrats a teachable moment…if nothing else, and that is “Don’t wait your turn”. Because time moves fast. Faster than you think. And opportunity moves faster…especially when you’re sitting still.

And the unfortunate thing about Kyle’s potential but not realized entrance into the Gubernatorial race is that for many people (but not all), the opportunity to mount a challenge has passed them by.

That doesn’t mean Democrats won’t have a candidate. It just means it will be harder for them to get organized in time.

If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door. – Milton Berle

Terry Adams (D) for US Senate

Terry Adams (D) for US Senate

Terry Adams is a Democrat…challenging Lamar Alexander for one of Tennessee’s US Senate seats.

I met Terry in September at Jackson Day.

He’s a young, successful guy that has ties to all three divisions in the state.

And even though, back in September, the odds of him having a chance against Lamar! looked long, he did it anyway. He built a door.

See, back then all folks could think about was that Lamar!, a former Governor of Tennessee, US Dept. of Education Secretary, and two term Senator was too well loved by the state to warrant a challenge.

Then in early December, a Vanderbilt University Poll found that Lamar!’s approval rating sat at just 49%.

Now, if Adams had waited for his opportunity, it might have whizzed by. He built a door.

It still remains to be seen if Adams can mount a full throttle challenge to Lamar!. As of Sept. 30th, Lamar! had some $2.8m in his campaign coffers. But the point is, Adams wouldn’t even have a prayer if he had waited for his opportunity.

He has one now, and I hope that you will consider supporting him in his campaign.

Building your door

Too often I hear people talk about “waiting their turn”. This is a notion based on the old days of politics when bosses ran things. There might be bosses in the GOP, but the Democratic party is a free for all right now in dire need of leadership, and with lots of opportunity for fresh faces.

There’s no reason you can’t be one of them.

Friday, January 3rd is the first day you can pull a petition for state or federal office. There are 99 State House seats, 17 State Senate Seats, 1 Gubernatorial, 1 Senatorial, and 9 US Congressional races that are waiting for people to file. And don’t get me started on all the local races that will be open statewide this year. For many of them, you can already pull a petition!

Filing is easy. Just 25 signatures from registered voters in the district you seek to represent. Click the link for a more detailed description of the requirements.

But it doesn’t happen if you don’t decide to build a door and take your opportunity.

Democrats in Tennessee have got to stop waiting and start building doors if we want to find our way out of the woods. That may make some of the old guard uncomfortable…but then, you’re not likely to move when you’ve made a permanent indention in your cushiony seat now, are you?

Jan 02 2014

A “must watch” for all Tennesseans

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Investigative reports can play an important role in understanding what’s going on behind the scenes in business, government, or any institution, but it ain’t cheap. Media outlets, especially TV outlets have fewer resources and smaller staffs to do these kinds of things.

Watching NC 5’s “A Question of Influence” is not only important for people all over Tennessee…so they can see what’s happening behind the scenes, its also important to reward them by watching it at their website.

Doesn’t cost you a thing.

Here’s part 1. Go check out the other 6 parts at their website, and get your learn on.

Happy new year.

NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather

Dec 31 2013

Win, Lose or Draw – State of the State (TN), 2013

Posted by Steve Ross in Policy, State Politics

This is part 2 in a series of 3 posts (part 1 is here) that will look at who came out ahead, who came out behind, and who didn’t move an inch in the past 12 months. As with all these type lists, they are both subjective and incomplete, so make any additions/corrections in the comments. Thanks and have a Happy New Year. -SR

#Winners

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey – The State Senate strongman, and person who’s actually in charge of the state has had a downright awesome year. He can say whatever the hell he wants and knows he only has his constituents to answer to, all while ensuring the good Governor doesn’t get to mamby pamby on his conservative credo, by offering legislative strong-arm tactics as a response to even the slightest flinch of liberality…(is that even a word? Who cares, this is Ramseyland…the dictionary is full of liberal lies!)

Sure he had a run-in with the twitter, but no one in Ramseyland pays any attention to that stuff….or the impact of public policy on people for that matter. Nope, its all horse racing and cow milking contests for legislative coverage…and legislators these days…so Ron Ramsey can carry on to enjoy the spoils of his office…as the true head of state.

2014 Outlook – What could go wrong?

Education “reform” – Reform is a tricky word. It literally means “to make changes”. You’ll note, there is no value statement in that definition. For years many have looked at Education Reform as a positive. Any change was seen as good. When “No Child Left Behind” was passed, it was good, until it wasn’t. The more recent batch of reforms, which include a doubling down on testing, more oversight of teachers, less pay for teachers, and teacher evaluations based on student performance on said testing, has been focused on…teachers.

This doesn’t mean its been a good year for education. Just “reform”. The results of that “reform” will take years to calculate…though this years test scores were hailed as a victory. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re adequately educating out kids…we’re just passing more tests now.

2014 Outlook – More

“Friends of Bill” Haslam – Y’all got your taxes cut on investment income, and a whole bunch of you FOB’s (friends of Bill) got gubament contracts to boot! Way to go rich people!

2014 Outlook – Cake

Honorable Mention: TN House Democratic Caucus – Its a long-shot, but I have to give a shout out to the only currently functioning state Democratic organization right now…the TN House Democratic Caucus. Sure, they’re not flashy…and they haven’t developed a stable cast of characters beyond leadership, but at least they’re doing something…which is more than I can say for their colleagues across the plaza.

Usually timely, and pretty well on point, especially since the session ended. The House Caucus is still a work in progress. But they’re working, which is more than I can say for…oh never mind.

fitzandturner1

2014 Outlook – Keep the faith

Losers

Hospitals/sick people – One lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the decision to not expand Medicaid, the other lost the opportunity to not go into financial ruin just because they were sick. Both suffered. But who cares, right? At least the state is screwing over President Obama’s signature legislative achievement! That’s all that matters these days in Tennessee.

2014 Outlook – sicklier

The poor – Speaking of screwing people over, 80% of everyone in the US is on the brink of poverty. What does that have to do with Tennessee? We’re in the bottom 25% of all the states in the US, which means we’re more screwed than most everyone else. Yay us!

2014 Outlook – poorer

Unemployed – It took all year, but preliminary numbers from the Dept. of Labor show that unemployment finally dropped to 8.1% down from 8.5%. Don’t get too excited. Future drops will only reflect those who no longer qualify for unemployment because their benefits weren’t extended by the Feds. State politicians will take this and try to sell you that things are getting better. They aren’t and things getting better for working people isn’t anywhere on their menu.

2014 Outlook – Still out of luck

Rural Communities – If there’s one thing that guaranteed the GOP’s victory in 2010, it was the support of rural communities. Which is why its puzzling that rural communities are getting screwed over so hard under GOP rule. I mean, screwing over Nashville and Memphis (and soon Chattanooga and Knoxville), that’s a no-brainer. But when most of your elected officials owe their position to rural folks, screwing them over as well is…well…ballsy to say the least. But that’s what’s happened. Unemployment is high, hospitals are closing their doors, and the only opportunity right now is the opportunity to move or continue to suffer.

The worst part is, there are no signs folks in rural TN see the connection. They’re still buying in to it being Washington’s fault.

2014 Outlook – #DANG

Teachers – If any one group has gotten a raw deal in the past several years its teachers. At once blamed for “failing schools” and tasked with bringing up achievement, teachers have had their pay cut, lost the right to collectively bargain, and had more paperwork thrown at them…which takes time away from doing what they trained to do…which is teach. Honestly, I don’t understand why anyone would do this to themselves.

2014 Outlook – Lots of retirements

Draw

Helping those who don’t need it over those who do. Gov. Bill Haslam – To say that 2013 was an unremarkable year for Bill Haslam is to say that the remarkable revelations about his administration were largely either ignored, or didn’t get the full hearing they deserved. From contracts to cronies, to the intense pressure to eschew his moderate image to both save himself the indignity of a primary, and avoid a standoff with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and his band of merry men. And then there’s the PILOT investigation, which shined a light on the inner workings of a company he both benefits greatly from, and seeks to minimize in the public as just a little company his family owns. For all the stories in Tennessee this year, at least from a political perspective, Bill Haslam, his family, his friends, and his general impotence as a state leader… those were the stories…even if they didn’t get the full hearing they deserved.

The saddest part is it looks as if Haslam will run unopposed from the Democratic party…unless someone steps in at the last second to be the sacrificial lamb, which means Tennessee will never hear a full accounting of these stories, and will have no alternative if they decide they don’t want the teflon coated co-governor at the front and center of state politics…at least in appearances.

You’ll note, I haven’t even gotten into the depths of his relationship with the Lt. Gov., who pulls the real strings in the state. There’s just not enough time. But pay attention, and see if the two cross. I think you’ll find they won’t publicly. The Governor just doesn’t have the juice to take him, or any other legislative leader, on.

2014 Outlook – Shady, with a side of puppetry.

Dec 11 2013

Haslam’s sick joke

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Helping those who don’t need it over those who do.

Helping those who don’t need it over those who do.

When it comes to writing letters that read like press releases, the office of Gov. Bill Haslam has it down pat.

It may be the only thing they do well, other than cow-tow to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.

But when it comes to putting pen down to paper to actually propose a plan…one that he even is pushing for…its just too much for him to muster.

So this morning when I heard him talk about his “Tennessee Plan” on an endless loop…a plan that, by the way, only exists in his head, MY head nearly exploded because I knew it was a crock.

Haslam was in town yesterday on a (campaign) swing through the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce’s annual luncheon. It wasn’t an official campaign swing mind you, but it might as well have been.

I mean, for God’s sake, he talked about increasing income inequality as if he actually gave a crap about it. Of course he had no idea about how to fix it or anything else. He just knows its there…not why. (look in your Medicaid expansion policy crystal ball Governor)

Haslam’s been shadowboxing with the Feds on Medicaid expansion for months. On Monday, he released a letter detailing his oft parroted complaints about Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. But there’s one problem with this craftily written letter/press release…

His plan still only has a name, no real details

In fact, the Governor has sent no real details to the Feds of what his “Tennessee plan” would be…which is why when the Tennessee House Democratic leadership calls the whole thing a farce, they’re being too kind.

This is messaging over meat.

This is the healthcare policy equivalent of “let them eat cake”.

This is complete and utter BS.

The Governor has no real plan to expand Medicaid, even though 63% of the state wants it.

What’s more, there’s no plan to have a plan. Just more talk, more wait and see until the money runs out.

Its sick.

So when working people who don’t have insurance at work get sick, the Governor will continue to not understand why they’re getting poorer…even though healthcare costs have traditionally outpaced the inflation at a rate higher than anything but college tuition.

This is called “willful ignorance” and its sick that the Governor thinks he can tout it as “leadership” and not get called on it.

Dec 03 2013

I hate to say I told ya so #TennCareExpansion

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Republicans hate Obamacare so much, they’re willing to let you die to prove how bad it is.

Back in March when Gov. Haslam announced the state would not be expanding Medicaid, I wrote a series of posts about the impact of this decision on rural hospitals.

Seems like my early predictions are coming to fruition.

In his March release, it says he’s announcing the “Tennessee Plan” which was supposed to be something like the Arkansas Plan…but different. Unfortunately, this was…at best a fib. The Governor hasn’t released any specifics of the “Tennessee Plan” to the Feds, and as such, the plan doesn’t exist anywhere except in the Governor’s imagination.

In the eight months since the announcement, there’s been a bunch of nothing from the Governor.

Budget talks in November revealed what folks call the “woodworking effect”…or what happens when people start actively looking for insurance only to find out they qualified for Tenncare all along. That “effect”will be a budget buster to the tune of $172m for the author (Gov. Haslam) of the state’s largest budget to date.

It’s important to remember…these aren’t people who suddenly qualify for Tenncare…these are people we should have been covering all along.

As the year comes to a close, we are starting to hear about major cuts to rural hospitals, most of whom are the only lifeline rural families have. These cuts are just the prelude to closures, that will mean rural folks will not only NOT have access to coverage, but likely die in an emergency because needed care was too far away.

A tale of two states

Our neighbor to the north…Kentucky, is both running their own exchange and expanding medicaid. Kentucky has been in the spotlight of what the Affordable Care Act, AKA “Obamacare” is supposed to do and be…a way for all people to get health insurance coverage that is within their means.

A recent article in the Indianapolis Courier-Journal could have just as easily been written about the differences between Kentucky and Tennessee. In fact, it practically is.

Both Gov. Haslam (TN), and Gov. Pence (IN) both want to embark on Medicaid expansion in a way that would mean working poor people would have to pay for some of their healthcare costs…which means that suddenly someone making 101% of poverty would have a whole lot more out of pocket expenses than someone making just a few dollars less a pay period at 99% of poverty.

There are over 500,000 people not currently enrolled in Tenncare that live in households making $25,000 or less (133% of poverty) in Tennessee. That’s a lot more than the 330,000 predicted to come on line under Medicaid expansion. The difference is the impact of the woodworking effect.

Gov. Haslam and Gov. Pence want these people to pay more for two reasons:

1. It will cost them less making them seem more fiscally conservative, even if they aren’t.

2. They claim it will keep people from “taking advantage of the system” and add some “personal responsibility” to the program.

That’s a slap in the face to working folks…to assume that they would game the system just because they “could”. Working folks don’t have time to game the system, they’re too busy working.

It IS about people

This is about people…people who live all over the state.

People who live in remote areas because that’s where their work is. Farmers, businessmen and women, children and the elderly…people just like us city folk…that just happen to live in the country.

Over half the state’s population lives in Tennessee’s mostly rural 80+ counties. That’s a lot of ground to cover for the 3.4m who don’t live in Tennessee’s big 5 counties (35% of the population) or the other 10 with a healthy rural/urban mix. But not living in one of the state’s largest counties doesn’t mean people should be without a hospital…and due to the economic realities of providing rural healthcare…that’s the fate they face.

In a release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus, Chairman Turner called on the Governor to act…rather than let people needlessly suffer:

“This Christmas, Governor Haslam has the opportunity to give thousands of working men and women in Tennessee the best gift possible – longer and healthier lives,” said Chairman Turner. “I understand it will be difficult to get the expansion passed in the legislature, but the Governor owes it to the people of our state to try. If he stands by and does nothing, the hospital closures, the jobs lost, and the premature and preventable deaths of Tennesseans will rest squarely on his shoulders.”

It is a preventable tragedy. One that is so easily preventable, its almost madness that we’re even discussing people lives in such a flip manner. When Lt. Gov. Ramsey says:

“obviously this is going to hurt. In some cases there may be hospitals that have to close — but look, if you want to operate in a free market, things like that happen. But I think overall they will figure out a way to cut this.”

I’m sure the families of the people who suffered thanks to the “free market” Ramsey describes will understand.

After all, ideological purity is much more important than someone’s life.

What about Speaker Harwell? She’s only slightly more sympathetic:

There are some rural hospitals that will be hurt; there’s no doubt about that. But the health care industry is a changing industry and those that can’t keep up, they just simply can’t,” she said. “I’m sorry that that might happen, but again, if it was a little exaggerated, we’ll find out in the next six months.”

As for Governor Haslam…he hasn’t compared the human cost to an ideological test yet…in fact, he’s done what most folks with his pocketbook do to working folks…ignore them.

A slow death spiral

The worst thing about the layoffs, departures of services, and eventual closures of rural Tennessee hospitals is that it will be a slow decline…much like what many rural communities have already seen as businesses leave their communities and their populations age.

Hospitals are community pillars. They are institutions that help hold up the towns they serve. As they close…and they already are, the towns they serve and the people around them will suffer health related challenges…and economic challenges as the jobs the hospitals once hosted also disappear…and along with them, their trained, well paid workforce.

Ramsey, Harwell and Haslam will say I’m exaggerating…but its already happening…just not all at once. The slowness of it all will give them time to shift blame, distort reality, and manufacture scapegoats.

Hopefully people won’t fall for that.

Just look at Kentucky.

The irony is…the largely rural districts that vaulted them and their Republican colleagues into power…are the ones that will suffer most.

That suffering means more tragedies…and preventable decline for communities that cannot afford to bear them.