Apr 17 2012

Whose Rights Are Being Violated? #TNLeg #GunsInParkingLots

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey - via his state website

Being Lt. Gov. of Tennessee must be a pretty confusing gig.

On the one hand, you’re the second in command, even though you have been elected by a tiny minority of Tennesseans, which would seem to call your “mandate” into question. But thanks to the easy compliance of a Governor who just won’t stand up to the legislature under any circumstances, you have free reign to do darn well anything you please.

On the other hand, you’ve got aspirations, and have made those aspirations pretty clear. Fulfilling those aspirations on a statewide level requires you to not be seen as too much of a wild eyed radical, despite your deeply held radical right-wing leanings.

So it must be even more difficult to get a handle on things when you simultaneously support and oppose a bill that allows individuals to store their guns in their cars on employers parking lots.

I’m sure its even more confusing when you and your House colleague have both declared the bill dead for the year as it moves its way through the committee process.

Dang. Can’t a confused Lt. Gov. get a break.

Add to that, the opposition of several industry groups and two of the state’s largest employers, FedEx and Volkswagen and you’ve got a both a political and policy conundrum. Do you stick with your NRA buddies and see this bill through, or do you focus on your reservations and make sure it never makes it out of the calendar committee?

It’s hard out there for a Lt. Gov.

Ron Ramsey Auctions - Via Google Maps

But here’s something else to consider. Ron Ramsey is a business owner. His business includes land, and even a parking lot. Now, assuming that Ramsey owns that parking lot, he can choose whether or not he will allow his employees to bring firearms of whatever sort on to the property. It is his property after all, right?

But if this law passes, Ron Ramsey, property owner and businessman, suddenly loses the right to set certain rules as they pertain to gun possession on his property for his employees. While several people have touted the safety concerns and other issues, for Ron Ramsey, what this creates is essentially an additional restriction on his liberty to own his property in the way he sees fit.

Now, there are other property owners here too, of course. The employees, presumably, own their cars and the guns concealed in their cars. But cars move, land doesn’t (or at least it isn’t supposed to). It is a generally accepted idea that the land, which is immovable, takes a certain level of precedence over modes of transit in terms of who controls what. This is, after all, the idea behind the Guns in Bars law allowing establishments to choose if they will allow guns in their businesses.

This bill doesn’t allow such a choice, and as onerous as the Guns in Bars bill was, the lack of choice makes this bill even more onerous because it mandates what property owners and employers MUST do in regard to firearms on their property and in relation to their employees.

Sounds like that the kind of “Big Government” that Lt. Gov. Ramsey is always railing about.

There are also other concerns, like liability and insurance.

Insurers are in the business of managing risk to make a profit. When risks, real or perceived increase, so do premiums. While there may or may not be any real increase in risk to this law, don’t think for a minute that insurers are going to miss this opportunity to increase premiums. Its not just the employees they’ll be concerned about either, its the attractive nuisance that can come from a potentially not-so concealed weapon in a public space, in view of people who may not have the best interests of the public in the forefront of their minds, who then acquire that weapon for their personal interests…which may include the business the weapon was stolen from.

Then there’s the liability issue. Nothing in this bill says that the State of Tennessee, in passing this mandate, will assume liability for injuries and or deaths that may come from the passage of this law. As any property owner knows, when someone gets hurt on your property, your insurance may have to pay. If you don’t have adequate insurance, you may also get sued despite the Tort reforms of last year.

Is Lt. Gov. Ramsey worried about these issues? Maybe. He’s not really a details person, he’s more into hyperbole, but when he says he “has concerns”, well, this is where I’d start with those concerns.

If these are the concerns of the Lt. Gov., this is one of those rare times when I agree with him. Its concerning on many levels, but most importantly, on the level of slowly eroding the rights of property owners to determine what is or isn’t permissible on their property.

The idea of personal control of property goes all the way back to British Common Law that our nation’s laws are based on. It strikes at the very foundation of our ideas of property.

Remember, it was John Locke who penned “Life, Liberty, and Property”, long before Thomas Jefferson moderated it to “Pursuit of Happiness”, which is a nice euphemism for property as well as other things, in the 1776 Declaration of Independence.

Considering this precedent, does the TN Legislature, and by extension Ron Ramsey, want to put a largely Conservative US Supreme Court in the position of either overturning a law backed by a conservative group, or overturning a precedent that is at the foundation of our nation’s identity?

I don’t think so, but I also don’t think the folks that have been pushing this bill have thought too deeply about the irony of their position.

We’ll just have to see how strong the Lt. Gov.’s resolve is. If it gets scheduled on the floor, then I guess we’ll all know he caved, which will put he and Governor Haslam in the same boat…in terms of caving to bad ideas on some level. If it doesn’t make it to the floor there are other, less obvious considerations. But I’ll leave that to the Lt. Gov. to add to his already full “thinking cap” load.

Apr 11 2012

Spineless Cop-out on “Monkey” Bill #TNLeg #TNGov

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Acceding to an Extremist Agenda

Its been widely reported, to the dismay of Science instructors statewide that yesterday TN Gov. Bill Haslam allowed HB 368 to become law without his signature.

The bill, which pushes a “Teach the Controversy” agenda, preferred by groups like the Discovery Institute and the folks at the Creationism Museum seeks to push the notion that evolution is a theory in crisis, questioned by scientists and lay people alike.

Unfortunately, aside from the folks who are actually pushing creationism, in the form of Intelligent Design or whatever marketing phrase they’ve come up with this week, there is no controversy.

Evolution is accepted by scientists and many communities of faith, including the Catholic Church, though they believe evolution is guided by the hand of God. Which is fine actually, and pretty close to what I believe myself. (So do Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and even Nazarenes)

What’s more, the idea of “Teaching the Controversy” has been struck down in court after court, starting with the Supreme Court in 1987, and continuing on with Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District and Selman v. Cobb County School District.

The only controversy that exists is with people who stubbornly hold that there is a controversy, something that even the good Governor, apparently, doesn’t believe.

Its pretty striking that Haslam allowed the bill to become law, and it says a lot about both the powers of the executive and the political willingness to exercise those powers in the current administration. In short, there is little.

There’s no question that a veto from the Haslam administration would have been overturned by the legislature. The bill passed soundly, and with the support of 11 Democrats:

House: Eddie Bass – Prospect, Charles Curtiss – Sparta, John DeBerry – Memphis, Mike Kernell – Memphis, Mary Pruitt – Nashville and Harry Tindell – Knoxville.

Senate: Charlotte Burks – Monterey, Lowe Finney – Jackson, Douglas Henry – Nashville, Eric Stewart – Winchester, and Reginald Tate – Memphis

That said, it would have been a stand-up gesture nonetheless.

I understand the politics of this from Haslam’s perspective. By not signing it, he doesn’t endorse the bill. By not vetoing it, he doesn’t appear to lose to the legislative branch. Win-win right?

Well, probably not. See appeasement which has been a “synonym for weakness and even cowardice since the 1930s” isn’t a good strategy for leaders. Just ask Neville Chamberlain, or maybe even the Blue Dog Coalition, which practiced a brand of appeasement to try to hold on to power.

As it turns out, taking a stand is something people seem to expect from their leaders. And while Haslam may not have run afoul of social conservatives in Tennessee, or their buddies in the General Assembly, he has shown a willingness to contort himself to stay out of conflict, for his own personal gain, which will eventually work against him.

Take the report from last week where the Governor expressed his frustration with the media for covering the “craziest” bills coming out of the legislature. Cara Kumari, reporter for WSMV in Nashville, responded to his charge thusly:

“Crazy” is in the eye of the beholder. And not everyone in the governor’s party agrees with his assessment of “crazy”. I’ve covered the governor’s domestic violence proposal, the food tax reduction, and issues surrounding synthetic drugs and prescription drug abuse. I’ve spent a lot of time covering the NCLB waiver and done stories about the switch to common core standards. However, we cover what’s happening. A lot of time in the legislature is being spent on these other issues. These issues have constituencies who feel passionately about them. In the end, blaming the media does nothing except get me to write a long blog about it.

I agree with the Governor that many of these issues are indeed “crazy”. But equating “crazy” with “lazy media” is a stretch. If the good Governor doesn’t like these issues. If he thinks they’re hurting the state, then I encourage him to sit down with Speaker Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ramsey and tell them to knock it off. That’s what a leader would do.

But that’s not what Haslam is doing. He’s a hostage in his own castle, and his policy of appeasement to these “crazy” issues is partially to blame.

There’s no question that due to the low veto override threshold (a simple majority in both houses does it) that the legislative branch has exponentially more power to enact law than the governor has to prevent law from being enacted. There’s also no question that the Governor is probably more interested in getting his budget through the legislature. Considering they haven’t even really started on that in earnest, and are planning to end this session in the next week or so, I can sympathize, on some level, with the political problem he has on his hands in terms of stepping up, only to be knocked down on not only this fight, but another bigger battle…the budget.

That said, if the General Assembly really wants to get out quick so they can get to raising money for the Fall, they’re going to ram it through like they have so many other things. So there’s that.

The governor has a task to attend to: governing. That task isn’t always fun or easy and it means he carries a lot of the blame for what does or doesn’t happen, whether its right or not. Most folks barely know who their state legislators are…but they know who the Governor is, and that’s who they blame when things go wrong.

If Haslam thinks he can inoculate himself from the goings on of the General Assembly by not exercising his executive authority and blaming the media…when he’s been complicit with all the “crazy” bills that come out of the body, he’s got another thing coming. While he may not carry the blame for crafting these “crazy” bills, he does carry the blame of complicity, which is just as bad.

I think on some level, Gov. Haslam believes that by not staking any claim to a position he can somehow save himself from a challenge from the extreme right of his party. He’s wrong about this. That challenge is coming, though it will likely be unsuccessful. By not asserting himself, he’s also weakening his position, which is just fine by me.

In the end, what the first year and a half of the Haslam administration has shown us is that he is happy to bend to the pressure of extremists on his side, if only to give the perception that there are no fractures between his agenda and the agenda of the legislature. In doing so, he is executing a marketing strategy not a governing strategy.

The people of Tennessee elected a governor not a marketer in chief. Its time for Governor Haslam to start showing some backbone and get to the work of governing.

See Also:
Tennessee’s top scientists oppose “monkey bills”
Vanderbilt Professor and 3,200 Tennesseans Urge Haslam to Veto Science Education Bill
Southern Beale
Nashville Scene