Oct 22 2014

The November Election Post I’ve Been Meaning To Write

Posted by Steve Ross in elections, State Politics

Wedding Night After Party

Wedding Night After Party

Election day is right around the corner, and I’ve been meaning to do a post on all of the Constitutional amendments that are on the ballot this November…but I’ve been a little busy.

After 5 years together, my beloved Ellyn and I got hitched back on October 11th. Needless to say, the wedding plans took a lot of time to put together.

But now that the wedding is over, and so is the planning, I’ve got a little more time to think about the upcoming election…and especially the amendments.

They’re not that complicated, but they’re also not as easy to sift through as you might think.

With that in mind, I’m going to touch on the amendments in this post. I may write about the state and federal races later, and I’m working on a post about the City’s “Civil Service” referendum as we speak.

A note on Constitutional Amendments in Tennessee

For a constitutional amendment to pass in Tennessee, two things must happen:

1. The “yes” votes for the amendment must make up the majority.
2. Those “yes” votes must be greater than 50% of all the votes cast for Governor.

So, if you want something to pass, vote for someone on the ballot (write-ins don’t count) in the gubernatorial election.

And, if you want something to fail, you sure as hell better raise that bar a little higher by voting in the Governor’s race (again, write-ins don’t count).

I fully expect a TV station or two somewhere in the state will declare something having passed when it hasn’t crossed these two thresholds, but I’ll wait until election night to mock them for that.

Without further ado, here’s the breakdown.

Amendment 1 – Removing your right to privacy

Some people call Amendment 1 “The Abortion Amendment”, and if you just read the caption on the ballot, you might think you’re right.

But since the US Supreme Court ruled on Roe vs. Wade in 1973, the issue of government intervention in difficult health decisions been about privacy.

I’ve written about this extensively in the past.

The caption for Amendment 1 says:

Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.

But the idea of the right to privacy in health decisions, and abortion, which is a medical procedure, are inextricably linked.

That’s what the TNSCOTUS ruled in 2000.

So, to make a medical procedure potentially “illegal”, which is what the majority of the TN legislature wants, is to take away the privacy in medical decisions away from patients.

The married couple agrees...Vote No on 1

The married couple agrees
Vote No on 1

The Legislature can’t do this on their own…they need you, the voter, to eschew the additional privacy protections inherent in the Tennessee Constitution, so they can then further limit your choices on your medical decisions.

If you think this will stop at abortion, you’re sadly mistaken. The legislature could use this amendment to regulate any number of widely accepted medical procedures under the guise that they have effectively restricted privacy with this amendment.

Its ironic really. The political right consistently rails against government intervention in personal decisions…until it comes to medical decisions, then they don’t think you’re qualified to do it on your own.

If one were to be consistent, they would strike down this amendment with an overwhelming majority…because none of us want Ron Ramsey, or Brian Kelsey making medical decisions for us.

They’ve already proven time and time again they don’t have our best interests at heart.

I urge you to vote NO on Amendment 1.

Amendment 2 – Judicial Disco

Judicial retention (for Appellate and Supreme Court justices) has been a big topic in State politics for a while now. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s effort to remove TN SCOTUS judges in the August election was just the start of a fight that’s been boiling over since Ramsey took the top spot in the State Senate.

Amendment 2 seeks to clarify it all…and enshrine a system similar to the current system in the State Constitution. However, the differences have many folks up at arms.

Currently, a nominating commission makes recommendations to the Governor, who then selects from a paired down field of candidates. That Commission expired in 2013, and wasn’t renewed.

Under the amendment, there would be no mandated commission (though Haslam has said he approves of the commission), and the General Assembly would have veto power over the selection by the Governor. In a state where a simple majority can overturn the Governor already, that’s a lot of political power over the judiciary from the legislative branch.

Opponents of the amendment say to vote no, because the current system, without the added step of the legislature approving of the nominations works, and we shouldn’t bend to the legislature just because they scare the be-jesus out of us.

Supporters I’ve heard from don’t really seem to support the amendment, per se, but say its better than direct election of Appellate judges (which would be a disaster by any measure). They fear that could happen if the Constitutional Amendment isn’t passed.

Opponents counter that even the most radical on both sides of the aisle don’t want that, and bills seeking to make that the law of the land consistently fail in committee.

To be honest with you, I’m still torn. But as a person who: a. doesn’t take kindly to bullies, and b. is ready to take out my policy brass knuckles at the drop of a hat to beat down really dumb ideas from Nashville (there is an ample supply), I’m inclined to vote No.

When someone’s being a bully you don’t bend to them, you turn around and kick their ass so they’ll leave you alone. That’s what needs to happen here.

Amendment 3 – Tennessee Tax Dystopia

Unlike Amendment 2, Amendment 3 is simple. If you want your sales tax to start bumping up to 14%…vote for it.

If you don’t, vote against it.

Tennessee already has one of the highest sales tax rates in the nation.

The Legislature, with the help of the Haslam administration, has been cutting taxes on the wealthiest of the wealthy. As things get more expensive, and we keep underfunding every damn thing we have to fund…that revenue will have to be replaced somewhere…and the sales tax is the only place to go.

Sponsors of this Amendment, like Brian Kelsey of Germantown will say this saves the state from the tax hell of having an income tax…and by virtue, stops taxes from increasing.

But as anyone with half a brain in their head knows, the absence of a kind of tax doesn’t stop taxes in general from increasing. Come on dude…really?

Vote NO on Amendment 3.

Amendment 4 – Veteran’s Bingo “Gaming”

Amendment 4 is an effort to include Veteran’s organizations in the “games of chance” carveout that was enshrined in the lottery.

Currently, many not-for-profit organizations can hold fundraisers that involve games of chance (gambling, cakewalks, etc. but not bingo)…but Veteran’s groups can’t.

The reason goes back to a scandal in the 1980’s.

The amendment lays out some high hurdles for Veteran’s groups to be able to do this…and that’s actually my problem with the Constitutional amendment.

If the amendment just said the Constitution allows this type of organization to do this and the “how” may be regulated by the state, I’d probably be for it. But this amendment sets forth a specific policy prescription and safeguards, which, if they don’t work, will take years to change because they’ll require another constitutional amendment!

So while I certainly think Veteran’s groups do good work…and far too often they do work the state itself should be doing, I can’t support this amendment because it reads too much like a bill and not enough like a constitutional amendment…if that makes any sense.

So, I say vote No on Amendment 4.

So there ya go. Take it for what its worth. But most importantly, go vote.

Oct 21 2014

Roland’s Folly – Part Infinity

Posted by Steve Ross in Shelby County, State Politics

Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland

Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland

Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland says the County has a legal problem.

See, back in 2007 and 2009 the County Commission passed two ordinances that established a prevailing wage and a living wage for workers who work for County contractors.

The idea behind the ordinances is simple: If the County is going to pay a company to do a job, that company should pay their workers either a living wage, or the “prevailing wage” i.e. the wage paid to the majority of workers working in a specific field…rather than lowballing workers in a tough economy at a time when unemployment was high.

It should come as no surprise that the Tennessee Legislature…led by Ron Ramsey, Brian Kelsey, Glen Casada and Beth Harwell just plain hated the idea that people should get paid enough to live on…or at least in line with market prices for labor of a specific type. So, they passed a law outlawing these kinds of ordinances.

That was in March of 2013.

Fast forward to today…18 months after the fact…Commissioner Roland has sponsored two ordinances that would overturn the County’s living and prevailing wage ordinances…because they’re against the law.

Now, that may not seem like a big deal, but both ordinances stand as a statement against the kind of interference from Nashville that has been the hallmark of the Ramsey/Harwell era.

Roland wants to overturn this because he says it puts the County at risk of a lawsuit. But the County has been abiding by state law since it was enacted…because state law has supremacy over local ordinances and all that stuff you learn in a basic Civics class.

By the way, County Attorney Marcy Ingram says changing the ordinances is necessary. But if you look at her track record of “opinion” you should find yourself questioning her legal judgement. If someone tried to sue the county for not complying with state law simply for having an ordinance on the books, that suit would be thrown out immediately, because, in fact, the County is complying. That the County has a law on the books that has been superseded by state law is unremarkable.

Now, you might ask yourself, why keep this on the books since its no longer relevant.

The answer is simple, because the people of Shelby County, through their elected leaders, passed these ordinances long before the State decided to intervene. In fact, there was an election between the passage of these ordinances and the passage of the new state law, and everyone who voted for the ordinances, including the author, was overwhelmingly re-elected…enshrining public opinion in favor of the ordinances. And in doing so, we made a statement about our collective values. For all we know, the state may decide one day to change their law, which would mean our ordinances…still being on the books, would be back…in full effect.

Terry Roland wants to make sure this never happens.

I hope the County Commission will take this opportunity to take a stand against the state’s interference, and reject Roland’s proposed ordinances and stand for fair wages for workers, even if the state’s GOP legislative leaders don’t give a damn about them (because that much is abundantly clear).

If you want to read the ordinances proposed by Commissioner Roland, you can find them here.

Living Wage Repeal
Prevailing Wage Repeal

Apr 02 2013

The Unbearable Partisanship of Expansion Denial

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Peanuts, Popcorn, and a Whole Lot of Elephant Dung

Peanuts, Popcorn, and a Whole Lot of Elephant Dung

A couple of years ago, when I first published this image, I was lauded as a “chicken little” by some of my more conservative friends. They asserted that I was crying about the sky falling before a single drop had landed on my quickly balding head.

With a little time for reflection I say, “How do you like me now?”

Since last Wednesday’s decision to forego the expansion of Medicaid, and over $1b in Federal funding to do it, lots of people have sounded off on the issue. One of the best mashups of coverage came from Tennessee Values Authority over the weekend.

Pulling information from national and statewide sources, TVA shows in pretty stark terms the reality behind the rhetoric that the Governor used, to try and paint the Federal Government as inflexible and unwilling to compromise.

The Governor followed the lead of most other southern GOP lead states in effectively denouncing that favorite whipping boy of the Obama Administration…Obamacare. However, that wall isn’t as solid outside of the South. Maine is reconsidering, and seven other states with GOP Governors have accepted expansion.

This is one reason many thought Tennessee would be the next to break ranks.

Living in a dream world

In his address, the Governor invoked the “Arkansas Plan” as a model he hoped to pursue…with some tweaks.

The “Arkansas Plan” is an idea, still in the incubation stages, that would purchase private insurance through the state-run exchange for people, and include Medicaid “wrap-around” coverage.

But Gov. Haslam isn’t seeking to duplicate the idea of the “Arkansas Plan”. In fact, there are two stark differences between what Haslam proposes and what Arkansas proposes.

1. Arkansas will provide insurance to Medicaid expansion recipients with the same level of service as other Medicaid recipients. Gov. Haslam seeks to ask people to make co-pays above and beyond what Medicaid allows. This is likely in search of driving down premiums, but not actually serving more people.

2. Arkansas is running its own healthcare exchange, Tennessee is not. So Arkansas has more flexibility in terms of the market it will be seeking to provide services in. Tennessee locked itself into the Federal exchange back in December.

It should be noted, the “Arkansas Plan” has only been approved in concept, not practice. Arkansas will have to gain final approval from the Feds before they can head down this path.

In essence, Gov. Haslam has sought to make a modification to a plan that has only been tenatively approved, by adding things his administration knows full well would not be approved, and then saying “all or nothing”.

Haslam reported today that HHS head Kathleen Sebelius said “We want to work with you”. Of course, that doesn’t mean, “we’ll give away the farm”, which is what Haslam actually wants. So, nothing has changed.

In the end, this is not a good strategy if you want to get something done. Great strategy if you’re playing to a base that doesn’t like the idea in the first place.

Electoral Strategery and governance

Truth be told, Gov. Haslam is politically stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, he has his moderate image that helped bring him widespread support across the state. On the other hand, he cannot exert the same Executive authority as 44 other Governors, whose states require a 2/3 majority to override a veto.

His decision on Medicaid Expansion is part of a strategy that would allow the Governor to “save face” with Conservatives, while looking reasonable to his moderate base. What’s more, it plays into electoral politics and is hoped to hold back a primary challenge from the right. Something the Governor might not survive if the ultra-conservative wing of the GOP has a single standard-bearer to rally behind (Haslam received 47.4% of the votes in the 2010 August Primary, not a majority).

Another reality is there is little possibility the legislature would approve expansion anyway, so why risk the political capital? A bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) to prohibit the state from participating in Medicaid Expansion, has sailed through committee and currently stands in final stages of approval. The bill was opposed by the Haslam administration, but still likely had a hand in the final decision on Medicaid.

The legislature must do something to approve expansion, as it requires accepting and spending Federal dollars. Considering all these variables, from a political perspective, there wasn’t much the Governor could do, despite the support of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, the Tennessee Hospital Assn., the fears of Hospital CEO’s, whose patients Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is willing to sacrifice as victims of the free market even in rural areas which the majority of his caucus represents.

Despite those apparent challenges, the Governor could have shown some leadership instead of trying to deflect blame and come out in support of the idea, even if the nuts and bolts weren’t worked out. In doing so, perhaps some members of the GOP caucus would have given him the latitude to still uphold the Hastert Rule and Reagan’s 11th commandment, the only two rules that seem to matter in GOP politics.

I know, its asking way too much.

Yet Another Slow-Motion Apocalypse

Over the course of the past several days, I’ve sought to chronicle what will likely happen to rural communities as a result of this decision. The posts will be linked below, but in simple terms, this will be economically devastating.

Over 9000 rural jobs hang in the balance, with a direct economic impact of over $400m in actual wages lost in those areas…not to mention other jobs that will be lost in the area due to decreased demand and spending.

But the impact isn’t limited to rural counties…though it will have a far deeper and wider impact there. Hospitals in the state’s largest counties, Shelby, Davidson, Knox, and Hamilton all are impacted, bringing the total employment impact to 21,000 jobs lost.

This, after several economists predicted an increase of around 8000 jobs by 2019. Not a huge number, but better than potentially losing 21,000.

And so we find ourselves stuck between policy and politics once again. Its become a common thread in recent years. The end result, hard working people lose.

God knows, if ever there was time for a candidate that actually gave a damn about the folks who do the work that actually gets things done, that time is now. But they must get out there and start doing, rather than just talking. Talking and not doing is what got us into this mess in the first place…and it started well before Democrats started losing seats en masse in 2006.

Nationally Lampooned

Finally, I would just like to leave you with this video, that you’ve probably already seen, from the Colbert Show. Honestly, no one could have said it any better.

Previous Posts on Medicaid Expansion

Medicaid Expansion: Is there a downside?
Bill Haslam’s Death Panel
More on the Haslam Death Panel
The Economic Impact of Hospital Deserts
Distant Care – Existing Hospital Deserts
What does Medicaid expansion actually do?

Feb 02 2011

Call to Action – State Education Committees #MCS – Updated

Posted by Steve Ross in activism, Memphis, Policy, Shelby County, State Politics

Update: It was brought to my attention that SB0025 will be before the Senate Finance Committee at 3pm today. I’ve added the email information for members of that committee also.

The Education Committee of the State Senate is meeting today to consider SB0025 sponsored by Sen. Mark Norris and SB0015 sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey today at 1:30pm.

Both bills, offered by members representing Shelby County, who didn’t bother to make it to a meeting yesterday to talk to the Memphis City Council or Shelby County Commission, set out to gut our ability to make local decisions on a local issue…schools.

Please take a moment to contact all the members of this committe, as well as the members of the House committee, which meets tomorrow, and let them know you oppose any effort to limit our ability to determine what’s best for our children and our community.

Below are links that will allow you to email all the members.

Senate Education Committee

Meets today, Wednesday, February 2, 2011 @ 1:30pm

Dolores Gresham
Reginald Tate
Brian Kelsey
Andy Berke
Charlotte Burks
Rusty Crowe
Jim Summerville
Jim Tracy
Jamie Woodson

Senate Finance Committee

Meets Wednesday, February 2, 2011 at 3pm

Randy McNally
Doug Henry
Bo Watson
Lowe Finney
Joe Haynes
Brian Kelsey
Bill Ketron
Jim Kyle
Mark Norris
Doug Overbey
Jamie Woodson

House Education Committee

Meets tomorrow, Thursday, February 3, 2011 @ 2pm

Richard Montgommery
Joey Hensley
Joe Carr
Harry Brooks
Kevin Brooks
John DeBerry
Lois DeBerry
Bill Dunn
Craig Fitzhugh
John Forgety
Ron Lollar
Debra Maggart
Jimmy Naifeh
Joe Pitts
Dennis Powers
John Ragan
Ryan Williams
John Windle

Dec 29 2010

Poisoning the Well

Posted by Steve Ross in City of Memphis, elections, media, Shelby County

Opponents of School Merger Don't Have to Prove Anything, Just Gin Up Fear

Does this scare you enough?

One element of any campaign, but particularly a campaign as emotionally charged as the fate of public education in a community, is the element of fear.

Fear comes naturally with an attempt to change something because the outcome is unknown, and long held assumptions may be challenged in a way that is uncomfortable. One of the tactics used by people who would seek to derail any change in the status quo is using that naturally occurring fear and taking it up a notch to support their intended outcome. This is called “poisoning the well”.

Over the past week since the historic vote to bring the fate of the MCS Charter to a referendum I’ve been chronicling the media coverage. Thus far, most of the coverage has been fairly benign. The emerging narrative has been largely focused on the political realities behind the resolution vote, and the questions that currently don’t have any answers right now due to the circumstances of the situation, though that seems to be shifting. Over the past few days the coverage has shifted some to a so far unsubstantiated charge by Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland that there was a back room deal to secure the majority of the vote. Roland asserts he has “proof” of such a deal, but as of yet, has not been forthcoming with that “proof”.

One example of legitimate questions that need answers is this post from Shelby County Commissioner Mike Carpenter’s campaign site.

Since his posting of these questions, some have been answered, many have not. Over the coming days I hope to match up some answers to these questions here on the blog. I’ll also be working on a more comprehensive section of the blog to address issues as they arise.

While there are many questions that need to be answered, there have also been some attempts to create controversy about the vote in areas where none should exist. The previously mentioned charge put forth by Commissioner Roland, which borders on libel unless he has something other than circumstantial evidence, is one example.

Another example is this site put together by the same people who opposed the metro charter vote back in the fall. The site makes a list of “reforms” that they feel must be accomplished during the transition process to merge the districts…a process which hasn’t yet begun. Among these are limiting collective bargaining, increasing instructional time for teachers, eliminating optional schools, outsourcing services, approving new Charter Schools, funding home-schooling, and firing all MCS middle management.

It should be noted that not all of the “ideas” on the site are bad, however, it seems clear that the intent of this “list of demands” is to make MCS teachers, administrators, and some parents FEEL as if their livelihoods are on the line or the future of their schools are in danger should the referendum be approved.

While there is probably a good bit of duplication between the two districts, that doesn’t mean that there is any less need for teachers or administrators going forward, particularly through the transition. In most large school consolidation transitions I’ve studied there is a two to three year period of transition before any “efficiencies” are acted upon. There’s no reason to believe the same wouldn’t be true here and there’s no way to know what those “efficiencies” would look like.

Further, state law provides that teachers would keep their current contracts through the term of the contract in any consolidation, and that district wide parity would have to be achieved over time meaning most county teachers would likely see a pay raise.

As for the future of specific schools and/or programs, there are a lot of questions going forward. However, before any dramatic changes are made there will have to be a reapportionment of the resulting Board of Education and a new election. The fate of schools and programs will not be decided until all the constituents of the resulting district are represented on the resulting legislative body. Any attempts to move unilaterally before such a time will most definitely result in litigation.

So, these are a few examples of a group or individual seeking to poison the well of public opinion against something that I believe is in their best interest, but there are others. Notably, former Nashville English Only activist John Crisp who in an email clearly states he wants to gin up as much fear as possible among key constituencies.

There’s also State Sen. Brian Kelsey who has launched a full frontal attack on the Memphis City Schools from his perch in Nashville.

The point is, consider the messenger, not just the message, and that includes me. I’m biased in favor of this proposal, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. The difference is, I will not play on your emotions. I will seek to provide the best information I can find out there, even if it doesn’t further my position.

Ultimately, this is about the kids and the future of our community, not the power brokers seeking to save their own skins or make some kind of political gain. If it were only about power the MCS School board would have NEVER approved the vote for a referendum.

As long as we all keep these things in mind we can make the most informed decision in the upcoming election.