Oct 31 2011

Perception, Reality and Role Conflict

Posted by Steve Ross in National Politics, Policy, State Politics

I’ve been thinking a lot about that MTSU poll released last week. One writer called it schizophrenia, I think it’s something more akin to role conflict.

Tennesseans should be scratching our heads. On the one hand, we’ve got these very vocal folks who are screaming that if we don’t lower taxes, as long as its not a tax that EVERYONE pays, the world is going to end.

We’ve had 30 years of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and it hasn’t helped regular people one bit.

Corporate Taxes down, worker taxes up

If you click on the chart above you’ll see that tax rates for the wealthiest and corporations have gone down since the early 1970’s. Payroll taxes, which everyone pays 15.3% of their first $100k/yr into have gone up. This has been a huge tax hike on the middle class, but no one ever mentions it.

We're making a lot less too

In my lifetime, incomes for 90% of income earners have seen their incomes decrease. I mean, if they at least kept pace that would be one thing, but going down, that stings.

See what I mean about taxes...for everyone but the wealthy.

While we’ve been cutting taxes on the wealthiest, we’ve been paying more at the bottom of the scale. A lot more. Taking back a tax cut from one of the 400 wealthiest earners in the US would give thousands of people a tax break, but no one seems interested in that anymore.

The rhetoric has skewed our vision

It’s just cut, even if it doesn’t go to me. Cut, cut, cut… and none of it is benefitting anyone, but the wealthy… and it’s not even trickling down like they said it would.

Your pay isn't getting any bigger

So its no wonder that Tennesseans are conflicted. We’ve been told one thing, and got another so many times we don’t know what to think. And when you see things like this, it makes you wonder about other things like this and this.

We live life based on perception, that we treat as reality. It is more about what we feel than what we think. When what we see, what we feel and what we think come into conflict, its easy to just turn off. Shut down. And some people are betting their political lives that we’ll do that very thing.

But by doing that, we give up. We agree to be done to. That’s not what America is all about. It’s about taking charge of your own destiny. That’s what our founding fathers did.

It may seem too big, but there are a lot of us. If we really want a future that’s better for our kids than we had…well…we’ve got a long way to go. But if we don’t start now it won’t get started, and our kids will suffer from our inaction, just like many of us are suffering the inaction of generations that have faded away.

We can’t rebound if we don’t get involved. If we don’t demand that we hold the people who made the economy tank accountable, they’ll just do it to us again. If we aren’t willing to stand up and say “we helped you get where you are, now pay your fair share”, we’re going to keep getting trampled on. If we won’t say that human rights are more important than corporate profits, we’ll be writing a ticket to our own servitude.

I think we deserve better.

I'm not property. What about you?

I think that’s what the protests around the country are about, shifting the focus of the country from the “invisible hand of the market” to the real hands that are only reason a modern market exists.

We don’t live in an 18th century world, and for us to use an 18th century notion of economics to guide us today is not only ridiculous, but serves only the very few.

Until we disabuse ourselves of the notion that capitalism and the economic policies that support it are only for the very few, we’ll continue to see additional economic stratification, which not only hurts our growth, but also sustains a system where those with the most power can game the system for their exclusive benefit.

I don’t think this is what the American Dream is all about. I think its about time we took back that dream so we can all benefit from the fruits of our labors, rather than what we have now: a world where greed and want are both acceptable, where the winners are lionized, and the losers are vilified.

That’s not a world I want to live in.

Oct 27 2011

Dogs and Ponies and Fundraisers, Oh My!

Posted by Steve Ross in Shelby County, State Politics

Yesterday, the State Government put out a release about the Governor’s budget tour. Here’s a sample:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced that portions of the Fiscal Year 2012-2013 budget hearings will take place outside of Nashville so that citizens in East and West Tennessee have an opportunity to attend. Hearings will be held in Knoxville and Memphis, which will mark the first time in state history that budget proceedings will occur away from the State Capitol.

Scheduled to begin on November 2, the budget hearings will be streamed live on www.tn.gov as in years past to give Tennesseans that are unable to attend accessibility to the budget discussions of each state agency.

Minimum Bid $500

Dandy. Believe you me, I’ll be there…after my Map quiz.

I don’t want to belittle this too much because I actually like the idea of the government going around and talking to people about what government does. I think it’s important for people to have a good understanding of government, and that understanding should start with how it’s funded. Without funding, nothing happens, regardless of what Grover Norquist tells you.

Hopefully this will be a real live discussion of government, not just a dog and pony show. You know I’ll be writing about it either way.

But that’s not all the good Governor has on tap. Just hours after I got notice of this meeting I got this invitation to a $500 a head fundraiser for Republican candidate for DA, Amy Weirich.

Now look, I don’t begrudge Amy for doing what any smart politician would do, seek out the biggest name they can get to help raise money for a first term, even if she is a Republican. I have plenty of friends who like her, yadda, yadda, yadda… However I, like my blogfather Steffens, am still waiting for a mythical Democrat to announce for the race.

After this fundraiser, and considering all the folks she has behind her, that seems unlikely.

But isn’t it convenient that Gov. Haslam, a man of the Pilot Fortune, could be in town on state business while this event is taking place. What a coincidence!

This, of course, comes just days after Haslam held the most successful fundraiser at the Governor’s residence in history. $550,000 may be a drop in the bucket to ole Bill, but it’ll buy a truckload or two of Pilot travel mugs if the going gets tough.

So, there ya go. I will be at the budget meeting, but I won’t be at the fundraiser. $500 is too rich for my blood, never mind the whole Republican part of the equation. In the mean time I’ll be doing everything I can to dispel the notion that Democrats have given up in Shelby County. Lord knows, if we give up here, we’re toast statewide.

Oct 27 2011

Speaking of Redistricting…

Posted by Steve Ross in Shelby County

It's redistricting time again! Whee!

Yesterday I wrote about statewide redistricting. Just minutes after I published that post I remembered that the County Commission was taking the issue up for discussion. So I jumped in on the stream and gave it a listen.

By the time I got there, the discussion was winding down, but based on what I was hearing it seemed they were talking about two scenarios: one with 13 single member districts, another with 6 2 member districts and 1 single member district.

I’m not exactly sure what the affinity is in this county for multi-member districts or mixing multi-member districts and single member districts. Like I said, I missed most of the discussion and it’s not posted online as of this writing, so, I’ll just have to wait.

There’s one thing I have to give the Commission credit for: they started with maps. Two of them to be exact, unlike the City Council debacle.

One thing I did hear was that the maps were based on census information gained on April 1, 2011, which basically confirmed to me that Alan Wade was either lying or in way over his head when he said he was having trouble matching up the data back on June 7th . Either way, that process was unacceptable.

All that aside, this has to be resolved by the end of the year. I couldn’t find the statute, because the new TN Code site really sucks (I found it and bookmarked it on the old site, which no longer exists), but the crux of what I heard was that they had to have this done by December 31.

Of course, that doesn’t mean its over. In August of next year there will be a newly elected County Commissioner that will, I’m sure, not want to have to run head-to-head against any other County Commissioner. This will likely mean some changes will be made to the districts no matter what they approve in the next three meetings.

What’s more, if rumors are to be believed (and I’m not saying they should) there could be another vacancy in the next 12 months meaning there would be another new member that, once again, wouldn’t want to have to run against one of their colleagues, causing yet another shifting of the lines.

So in reality, while this may seem like something now, the decisions of this process aren’t necessarily set in stone. They just have to have something done on it by the end of the year.

The next regularly scheduled election isn’t until 2014, so there’s plenty of time for folks to jockey for position.

I have long believed that single member districts would benefit the County. Of course, I’ve also stated that I think 13 members for a county of 927,000 people is too few. The County Commission can consider drawing districts for as many as 25 members. While I think going to 25 may be disruptive at this point, expanding by two, as they did in the 1994 redistricting process, may be an intermediate step to getting to more direct representation. Doing so would bring the district sizes just below that of a State Representative.

Something to consider.

In any case, the Commission will take up this issue on Monday. The ordinance will have to be read and approved three times before it law. Also, I believe a 2/3 vote will be required on final passage, but I may have misheard that. I fully expect that additional maps and scenarios will be brought up in the coming meetings, though there can be no changes between the second and third readings for this to go into effect.

I’ll be keeping my eye out, and post more when the discussion is available online.

Oct 26 2011

Making this Sausage is More Like Hide the Salami

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

And Voters Will Be the Ones Getting Screwed

No matter how you slice it, this ain't a pretty process

Regular readers of this blog know that redistricting is an issue I’m very interested in. In fact, I’ve written pretty extensively about the issue as it took place here in Memphis. That process was completed just two days before the filing deadline, and moved several potential candidates out of the districts they planned to run in. The end result was less choice, and the return of all incumbents. It’s hard enough to unseat an incumbent as a challenger. It’s much harder to do it when the process stacks the cards against you.

After experiencing the process here in Memphis, it doesn’t come as much of a surprise that the process in Nashville is just as closed. In fact, there’s been quite a few articles in the statewide press about redistricting, and more specifically, who’s losing in the process.

From my perspective, the voters are losing. I wasn’t here for the 2000 redistricting process, but I can look up some votes, and it looks pretty damn close to unanimous.

Yesterday in the Commercial Appeal State Senator Jim Kyle took up the cause of redistricting and shed some light on the way the process has been handled in the past, as opposed to how its being handled right now. Oh what a difference a decade makes.

According to Ballotopedia 62% of all the redistricting at the state level has been submitted or voted on at this point. At this rate it could be as high as 75% by the end of the year. 28 states have pending lawsuits. Some are planning to beat the lawsuits to the punch by just going to court in the first place.

In Tennessee, while there’s been all kinds of talk about transparency, there hasn’t really been any, despite the technology to do so. This is a winners/spoils situation, and everyone knows it.

So far the only folks that have seen any maps are select members of their respective bodies. Based on those few revelations the Tennessee Black Caucus is readying a lawsuit. Of course, just like here in Memphis, the guys up in Nashville, one of whom is Swervey Curry Todd, they’ll hold that pair of 8’s as close to their vest as long as possible hoping everyone else will fold.

For me, this isn’t about partisanship. There are plenty of Democrats on the Memphis City Council that heard my displeasure at the way they handled their situation. There are plenty of Democrats on the County Commission that will hear my displeasure if they don’t get the process right. Same standard goes for the state legislature, even though they’re controlled by Republicans.

While the majority of the public may not be all that interested in how the sausage is made, there are a whole bunch of us that are paying attention and want to see not only how its made but what kind it is. Right now the majority is wielding the power of redistricting as a weapon against anyone that might stand in their way, something they most certainly have the political power to do…for now.

I don’t have any real illusions that the GOP majority will come around to the idea of transparency. I don’t really think they give a damn about it.

So while the GOP plays make the sausage and hide the salami, the rest of us can take comfort in the fact that all of this will likely end up in court, John Ryder or no, and hopefully in time to correct the mess this opaque process will create.

Lawyer up!

Oct 26 2011

Implied Consent and Curry Todd

Posted by Steve Ross in Shelby County, State Politics

Rep. Curry Todd

I was pretty certain I had written all I needed to write about Curry Todd here and here. Alas, the hits just keep on hitting, so, here goes.

It was just 14 days ago that Rep. Todd found himself on the wrong end of a vehicle, creating a stumbling and staggering display for Officers of the Metro Nashville Police Department. That one traffic stop netted 3 offenses: DUI, Possession of a handgun while under the influence and implied consent. You can see the three affidavits from the arresting officer here.

In the wake of his arrest, Todd resigned his position on a Firearms committee that was, no doubt, in the process of crafting more onerous firearms bills like his signature piece of legislation that was opposed by just about every Sheriff and Police Department in the state, Guns in Bars. It seems now that the former lobbyist is no longer on the payroll of the police association, there’s no need to consider what police officers think.

From there, he temporarily stepped down from his Chairmanship of the State and Local Government Committee, though Speaker of the House Harwell said it was only temporary.

In most cases a person in Todd’s position would try to lie low for a while and hope the media didn’t latch on to the eventual court proceedings that are scheduled for November 1. But of course, that didn’t happen.

Late Monday it was learned that Todd had scheduled a fundraiser for himself, asking the Tennessee Lobbying Association to send a notice out to its members. I guess Todd is getting a little worried, even though he has some $147,000 in his campaign account.

Thankfully, there was either enough outrage at Todd’s brazen disregard for taste, or so few people expressed interest that he decided to postpone his fundraiser until some time well after the court date.

Well, isn’t that special.

No one knows where Todd was traveling on that fateful night, but we do know where the traffic stop occurred. If you’re familiar with Nashville, there’s a convenient map right below.

View Larger Map

As Woods points out there are some other questions about the charges against Todd, and the apparent lack of consideration of those charges by Speaker Harwell.

Implied Consent is simply the refusal to submit to a Blood Alcohol Test. As pointed out in this post the most recent changes to that law were almost unanimously accepted. The statute is too long to copy here, but you can see it at this link.

Based on the penalties listed above it seems that Todd will lose his license for at least a year, which will no doubt put a cramp in his style. But what does it mean when a lawmaker breaks the very laws he votes for? What does that say to the public, or better yet, his constituents.

Its interesting to me that Paul Stanley resigned despite not breaking any law (or at least getting popped for breaking a law), yet Todd, who at least broke one law that he voted for, in the Implied Consent statute, seems to have no intention of resigning or even seeming publicly contrite in any way.

Way to go dude.

What’s more, Harwell’s lack of consideration of the charges against Todd show just how tone deaf she and the Republican Majority in the legislature are to any kind of responsibility to anything but keeping their majority.

Harwell, who has been featured in a PBS produced fluff piece, comes across as a reasonable and likable enough person, until you consider all the onerous bills that she allowed to become law this year, which is probably a better indication of who she really is than who she seems to be.

Ahh, but don’t let facts get in the way of image projection, especially when image is all you’ve got. I mean, heck, since Harwell couldn’t be bothered to consider the implications of the charges against Todd one has to wonder about her commitment to the public good in general.

And Lord knows that holding someone accountable for their actions would be too heavy a lift for any Republican, unless the person being held accountable is a Democrat. Oh no, that’s just too much. So I guess until he gets convicted of something, Todd will just be able to keep on keepin’ on.

Way to go folks. I hope when this fundraiser is rescheduled it brings out about 500 members of MADD to protest the blatant lack of accountability or even common decency exhibited by both Todd, the House GOP Caucus, and the attendees of the event. Anything less is letting him off too easy.