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


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.


2014 Outlook – Keep the faith


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


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.

Sep 11 2013

Shameful…and the response is just weird

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics, TNDP

On a day reserved for the remembrance of first responders and victims of the 9/11 attacks, many of whom also lost their life…

A day where American servicemen and women are thanked for their service in two wars that followed those attacks…

The man who is one heartbeat away from the helm of state government here in Tennessee had this to say.




Its unfortunate that a political leader would use such a solemn occasion to launch a petty and misguided political attack.

In response, Tennessee House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh issued the following:

“September 11th is a day when all Americans come together to remember a solemn occasion in our history. Instead of honoring those who gave their lives 12 years ago, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey decided to take the low-road and accuse our Commander-in-Chief of allying with the very terrorist who attacked our country.

“This divisive rhetoric dishonors the memory of those who died on this day. It is insulting to our President, to Senator Corker who shares the President’s position, to all Americans no matter their position on Syria and to the memory of those we’ve lost. Lt. Governor Ramsey is either grossly misinformed or he has decided to be a partisan, instead of a patriot. He should apologize immediately.”

Not to be outdone, the Chair of the TNDP also made a statement, as reported by Michael Cass of the Tennessean:

“”Speaker Ramsey should fire whoever wrote such an outrageous, dishonest, misleading, incendiary, unpatriotic and dangerous attack on our nation’s president and on Republican leaders like Senators Corker and McCain and House Speaker Boehner and even the military leaders working with them,” Herron said in a statement. “Many of us are unsure about how to proceed in Syria, but whoever wrote that tweet dishonors the victims of 9/11 and our military men and women who are doing all they can to stop more children and parents from being gassed and killed.”

He should fire someone? That’s where that tweet leads you? Holy Mackerel!

Kind of a weird thing to say in the same week three staffers announced their exit from the party offices.


In any case, Lt. Gov. Ramsey’s statement is shameful. It touches on all the things that make people’s ears bleed when they think too much about politics, and go down a road that is unnecessarily divisive on such a day as today.

Kudos to House Minority Leader Fitzhugh for calling Speaker Ramsey out.

As for the TNDP statement…


Jul 26 2013

Who will it be?

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics, TNDP

Your face here

Your face here

With a little over 15 months to the November 2014 general election, the discussion has turned to statewide races. University of Memphis College Democrats President Charles Uffelman took to this site last week and suggested House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, who had at one time mentioned the prospect. Earlier this week he declined the offer.

Then on Wednesday, Newscoma asked the question, “Who will be the Democratic Nominee for Governor?”

That’s a question I’d like an answer to as well.

She also had some advice for stakeholders both inside and outside of the party.

They should all carefully consider that advice, though if past is prologue, they won’t.

2013 isn’t anything like 2009 anything like last time.

Around this time in 2009 we had at least 4, if not 5 candidates in the mix (Mike McWherter, Ward Cammack, Kim McMillan, Roy Herron, and Jim Kyle). Four of them would eventually drop out for their own reasons, but at least we had some names. Right now, I couldn’t name someone who was even considering it.

Yesterday, Sen. Jim Kyle is quoted in a Knoxville paper saying that it wouldn’t be bad if no one ran. Here’s the quote:

“I do not feel that the Democratic Party is damaged by not fielding a major candidate,” said Kyle, noting that Republicans — when they were the state’s minority party — often went through elections without seriously challenging incumbent Democrats.

He conceded that the party faced “an unpleasant situation” in 2012 when the U.S. Senate nomination was won by Mark Clayton, who was subsequently disavowed by the party for “extremist views.” The party has since set up a new candidate vetting operation that is supposed to keep such people off the primary ballot.

But Democrats would be just as well off without a candidate as someone who is “just a name on the ballot,” Kyle said and accepting the present state of affairs as “just part of the ins and outs of Tennessee politics.”

Now, I think I get what Kyle is saying here. In some ways, not having a candidate would keep people from thinking about the fact that they never heard of him, assuming said candidate didn’t have the wherewithal to field much of a campaign outside of Democratic strongholds.

But the reality is, practice becomes habit, and there are lots of practices that I’ve seen over the past 5+ years in state Democratic politics that are alarming. I’m not even talking about the major players here.

We have to stop waiting for someone, be it the TNDP, the Caucuses, the County Parties or anyone else to swoop in and save us. It isn’t happening.

Its time for regular people to stop fretting about it, and start acting on it.

As for those institutions, I’ve said about all I have to say about them over and over in the past several years. The short story on them is, most of them are too wrapped up in their own self interest to do what needs to be done for the state.

We have to relearn everything

Rome didn’t fall in a day, and neither did the Tennessee Democratic majority. It took a long time. Folks point to the 2002 Income Tax thing as the beginning of the end. Honestly, that was closer to the end of the end.

That failure, showed a weakness in the party. A weakness of message. A weakness of resolve. A lack of focus.

The state GOP has exploited that weakness, and the fear of reprisals since, and have used it to their advantage.

We have’t seen the end of the end yet. The end of the end won’t hit until we start really picking up the pieces. Right now, we’re still looking at them and wondering what happened.

We’re looking at the house we once had, that got neglected, and that we allowed through that neglect to be dismantled piece by piece over a long period of time.

It didn’t start in 2008, that’s just when we noticed the roof was gone. It didn’t end in 2012. If it had, we’d be laying the foundation for 2014 and beyond.

To even get started on that foundation, we have to be willing to relearn everything.

We have to learn how to build a modern foundation. The one we built in the 19th century held up for a long time, but we never reinforced it with modern building techniques…and it broke.

There are still some folks, standing on what’s left of that old floor, saying, “look, its fine, it still works.”

We just need to slap tin foil hats on their heads, and smile and nod. They’re fooling themselves. The whole damn thing needs to be re-thought, and rebuilt.

This can’t and won’t be done by most of the folks that let it decay around them. It has to be fresh blood. We have to raise an army of people to help rebuild this house. It has to be built differently.

We NEED a candidate

We don’t need happy talk, haikus or flowery bullshit, we need real talk.

We need real talk about our party’s finances, which are in the toilet according to recent FEC filings.

We need real talk about the race for mediocrity that puts incumbency protection above gaining ground…like holding on to that last little patch of floor is really doing anything.

We need to hammer a Governor that has more ongoing scandals than I have fingers and toes because that message IS NOT GETTING OUT AT ALL. Almost no one here in Memphis has reported on it, and when they do, it’s a passing glance. If folks in the biggest County in the state don’t know about it, you can be sure the majority of folks in rural areas, that have far fewer media outlets than Memphis aren’t hearing about it either.

We need to MOCK the Governor’s repeated refrain of the Tennessee Economic Miracle. Guess what, it’s a lie. As of last month 260,000+ people were without jobs in Tennessee, and that number stands to go up as more hospitals scale back operations in rural areas thanks to the Governor’s insistence on balking at Medicaid expansion. 21,000 jobs on the line. Unemployment will be closer to 9.2% if those jobs go away.

Some miracle.

But most of all, we need someone, man or woman, out there talking about these things. Challenging the Governor’s lack of disclosure. Calling him out on his crony capitalist model, and telling the people of Tennessee how it can be better if we stop sitting back and letting another rich guy that never missed a meal in his life, “fix things for us”…which really means rig the game for his friends personal profit.

We need fire. We need backbone. We need someone with a strong voice to deliver that message.

With a couple of exceptions, it ain’t any of the usual suspects. They’re too busy being scared.

We don’t have time to wait for someone to save us. Right now, there’s no reason to believe they’re coming. Instead of waiting, we have to start acting, in our own ways.

It may seem small, but I’ve found that action begets action, and there’s no better recruiting tool.

For you folks scattered hither and fro across the state asking what I’m doing. Ask the Germantown Democrats. I spoke to them Wednesday about the upcoming elections. Ask the County party, where I serve in the most thankless job…as Secretary. Oh yeah, and I ran for County Commission in a Republican district last year because it needed to be done.

We need people to run for Governor, and Senator, and State House and Senate, and County Commission, and City Council, and School Board for that matter. Hell, run for dog catcher if that’s on the damn ballot.

We need folks who are mad as hell and ready for a fight.

If this sounds like you, stand up and take a good look in the mirror. Ask yourself, “why not?”

That’s what I did two years ago when a surprise spot opened up on the Shelby County Commission, and I started contemplating running.

Why not?