Yesterday was a pretty huge day, and I’m not talking about the massive CNN fail regarding an arrest in the Boston bombing case.
Nope, I’m talking about right here in Tennessee.
Here’s what Senator Jim Kyle had to say about the Ram-it-through budget session yesterday.
Gramatical errors in the heat of battle, and on twitter for that matter, be damned…he’s right.
Yesterday the Tennessee House and Senate approved the Governor’s budget, largely sight unseen.
One member of the House GOP caucus even complained that, and I’m paraphrasing – “…his constituents didn’t send him up here to vote on a budget without reading it.”
But that’s what happens when the date session ends is more important than the content of the bills that are passed.
Today, the legislature should adjourn for the year, which is comforting in one way, but also terrifying.
Legislative efficiency shouldn’t be measured in time. But that seems to be the measure the GOP leadership in the House and Senate prefers to measure their success.
When the legislature closes today, it will mark the shortest session in recent memory. But lets not confuse that with a lack of legislative decisions that will negatively impact people in this state for years to come.
Truth be told, there are plenty of ridiculous and unnecessary bills that were rammed through the legislature, and very little dissent on the majority side to stop them in their tracks.
The high point of dissent seems to be focused on just how dumb or widespread the dumb should be, as we saw will the killing of the Voucher bill, though other measures died in recent days as well.
A full accounting of what passed and what didn’t may take weeks to complete, but the budget decisions, and in particular the cuts, will be felt for some time.
One of the most heartless decisions cuts $2.3m from the “Meals on Wheels” program. According to the Tennessean, the cuts would impact over 1000 seniors and deliver 150,000 fewer meals in the state.
What’s most sick about this decision is that the state has a projected $100m surplus in the upcoming budget year. In the past, these budget projections have been conservative. This year alone, we anticipated a $200m+ surplus. We hit that mark last month, with three more months in the fiscal year left.
While the policy implications of the session that’s about to end will leave folks like me with weeks of work, we can’t forget the political implications of ending session early either.
Legislators can’t raise money during session until after May 15th. Ending session early means nearly a whole month of fundraising for folks.
While it may seem that this additional opportunity would be evenly distributed, the truth of the matter is the party in power has a distinct advantage over the minority party. Don’t think for a minute that this reality is lost on the GOP.
While the public face of a early end to session will be focused on the idea of “efficiency” that I mentioned above, behind the scenes there will be a great deal of work done to secure the political future of the majority party with an eye toward expanding their ranks in 2014.
Of course, neither group can start collecting anything until session ends. Once it does I’ll have a list of resources for you so you can not only follow the action, but support Democratic candidates.
One of the more onerous bills that passed out of last year’s session was HB0600 dubbed the “Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act”.
Sponsored by Glen Casada (R) of Franklin, the bill sought to remove the ability of a local government to set certain ground rules in contracts.
That’s shorthand for enacting non-discrimination ordinances.
Here’s Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D) Ripley from last year laying out one of the critical flaws of HB600.
Almost a year since the passage and nullification of Nashville’s CANDO ordinance, Sen. Jim Kyle (D) Memphis is leading a push, sponsored by Metro Nashville and Shelby County government to repeal the repeal.
Here’s his opening statement:
A member of the Nashville Metro Council also spoke in favor of the bill, but what is more interesting to me are some of the questions for the sponsor. Here’s an exchange from Sen. Mike Faulk – (R) Church Hill:
You’ll notice that at the end of the clip, Sen. Faulk seems to get it. I don’t know if he agrees or disagrees, but he gets it.
Even Sen. Majority Leader Mark Norris (R) Collierville seems to be somewhat swayed, despite past efforts to overrule local control of government.
Of course, some were just trying to get a few specific words. In this case Sen. Stacey “Don’t Say Gay” Campfield – (R) Knoxville tries and fails to extract the words “discriminating against religion” out of the sponsor and supporters. Watch if you dare:
You can see video of the whole discussion here.
At the end of the day, we have to decide if we’re going to let local government…you know…govern. In the wake of the passage of HB 600, that’s a lot harder.
I’m not sure if the bill has a chance in hell, but I’m glad Sen. Kyle is pursuing it and I hope his colleagues on both sides of the aisle will too.
The process at the state level has been shrouded in mystery. Maps weren’t released to the public until a week before session and they’ve been pretty well rammed through both legislative bodies. Overall, while the state process has been about as transparent as a slab of concrete and rife with a bad aftertaste of blind self-interest trumping leadership.
By contrast, the process at the County level has been pretty out in the open. There are more plans than you can shake a stick at here in Shelby County, and all of them can be found here as well as their supporting documents. That doesn’t mean it’s been all roses.
Thursday it was reported that an Arlington Chamber of Commerce meeting turned into a rumble between competing sides of the redistricting battle here in the County. Last night, Terry Roland’s community meeting in Collierville was hijacked resulting in a police visit to the event.
With all the shenanigans surrounding the issue, it would seem that today’s meeting of the County Commission would have the potential to be a barn burner, something confirmed on twitter yesterday by Commissioner Chris Thomas to Lauren Lee of Fox 13.
No one knows what Thomas, et. al. have up their sleeve, but this kind of confidence can only come from coordinating with other elected officials, which just may be a violation of those Sunshine Laws the TN House has decided not to mess with this year.
On the Issue
While the issue of redistricting in the County Government could be framed as an intellectual debate over single-member versus multi-member districts, the reality is this all comes down to ideology. Commissioners Thomas, Bunker, Taylor and Shafer want to ensure that there are six safe Republican seats on the Commission. Mind you “safe” means 60% or more. The easiest way to do that is to make huge districts that pack all the Democrats they can into two-three member districts, and all the Republicans they can into two other three member districts. The final district would be what it would be. Voila! a 7-6 split on party and most likely racial lines.
Now, this only seems fair to the side that’s getting disproportionately more than they deserve. In committee discussions from December, Bunker, Thomas and Taylor all spoke of their concerns about the County Commission becoming 8-5 or worse, 9-4 based on partisanship. Oh the humanity!
Breaking Down Partisanship
I decided to look at some election results. All of these are general elections and can be found at the TN Secretary of State website.
What does this tell us? Shelby County votes Democratic more often than not, surprise, surprise. There is only one instance when Republicans outperformed Democrats in Shelby Co. in the past five November elections, Sen. Lamar Alexander, in 2008.
Taken all together, Shelby County consistently votes about 60.6% Democratic, which translates to 7.88 members of the County Commission.
This is why Taylor, Bunker, Shafer, and Thomas are concerned. This is why they’re asking for 60% majorities in Republican districts by partisanship. This is why they want huge districts. Its easier for a powerful minority to neutralize the majority that way.
African-Americans have dealt with this kind of chicanery since the end of the Civil War. Now, thanks to the Voting Rights Act and several court cases, African-Americans MUST be represented in proportion to their population. Partisanship is not protected, and these four Republicans know they will be rewarded by members of their party for artificially maintaining a 7-6 balance.
What About the Other Three?
Of course, this opens up the question of why Commissioners Brooks, Burgess and Ford, all Democrats, support a plan that would artificially prop up a fledgling Republican minority.
Brooks, who is term-limited, has indicated she would like to see voter outreach and education if the districts are changed to single member districts. Seems simple enough. Maybe someone should offer that.
Burgess has been relatively silent on the issue. I wouldn’t want to opine about his motivations without further information.
Ford, the maker of the motion, with the blessing and assistance of Interim Commissioner Brent Taylor and GOP redistricting guru John Ryder, has been very clear. He has future ambitions. Just days after getting elected in an unopposed August General election, Ford indicated that he would like, someday, to be Mayor.
There’s nothing wrong with ambition. Truth is, ambition can be a motivator that drives people to do more and better than they might do otherwise. We should want driven representatives who use their office to prove their worth and build a name for themselves by representing their constituents in a way that makes everyone want to be represented by them.
But there’s also a downside to ambition. The downside is individuals can work to game the system for short-term gains or worse, lose sight of what they’re supposed to be doing in the name of blind self-interest.
I don’t know that this is what’s motivating Ford, but he has communicated no real rationale for his position other than he doesn’t want the status quo to change and he wants his shot at incumbency protection.
Ahh, more altruism.
It’s About Representing the People that are There Not Protecting Your Incumbency
The original idea about the Census, reapportionment, and redistricting was to ensure that states were getting the representation in the Federal government that their populations deserved. The process has always been political, so lets not fool ourselves.
But in addition it should be about the legislative body that results sharing common interests with the communities they represent. That’s the danger of packing, stacking, and gerrymandering; the people aren’t represented as well as they could be.
My inner optimist wants it to be about actually representing the people, which is one of the reasons I support single member districts. In fact, for the entirety of my time writing at this blog I have advocated for smaller, more direct representation in local government. I have argued that we should have more direct representation in Shelby County than we do in Nashville (we don’t by the way), and that districts should be a collection of neighborhoods rather than these behemoths that cover nearly one-quarter of the population of the County.
Regardless of your partisan leanings, this is something we all should want. Folks in Whitehaven have decidely different challenges facing their communities than those near Riverdale. Folks in Midtown have a different perspective than those in Germantown. Yet, each of these pairings fall into districts that include each other. Downtown is different from Raleigh/Frayser and Millington is different from Collierville. Again, those areas are paired for partisan considerations only, not actual governing from those communities and for those communities.
This is what should be one of the key considerations in the redistricting process. Right now, we have members who are more concerned with maintaining artificial partisan counts and ensuring their incumbency. Truth be told, if you’re doing your job, incumbency isn’t something you will have to worry about.
Making Better Government
If we want a better, more responsive legislative body in the Shelby County Commission, we should demand that the districts be smaller, and closer to the people. Its not about making districts that are easier to run for, its about representing the people the best way possible. Maybe some believe these huge three member districts are better because they ensure that someone is responsive if you get a deadbeat. Well, if you do get a deadbeat, other members of the body shouldn’t be put in the position of covering for him/her thus obscuring reality to the people they are tasked with representing. If they’re bad at their job, their bosses, the voters, should know so they don’t make the same mistake twice.It should also be about serving communities.
The map to the left shows the current districts and where the members live. Note, the areas where there isn’t a member for miles.
Collierville, Raleigh/Frayser, the Summer Corridor, Bartlett, the list goes on.
Single member districts would give these communities a better chance of having more direct representation in County government.
I keep hearing that no one cares about this stuff, but if you’re irritated with the way the County Commission, or the City Council for that matter, deals with issues… If you feel that your area is getting the shaft, if you wish you were represented by someone within a 4 mile radius, maybe you should consider advocating for single member districts.
I don’t know many people who think the Commission is consistently working in the best interests of the County. Part of that has to do with the way the districts are drawn, because that affects who runs and how close to you they live. The other part, well that’s up to the voters. But we’ll never get there if we just decide to tune out and let whatever is going to happen happen.
You have a voice outside of the ballot box. If you think the current system stinks, I think its time you used it. You can find your County Commissioners here or just email them all at once using this link.
Also, post about this on your Facebook page, and make sure to tag them in your post. Maybe they’ll get the message.
CONTINUE IN WEST TENNESSEE TUESDAY
Elected officials meet with business owners, innovative leaders
MEMPHIS – House and Senate Democrats kicked off their statewide jobs tour Monday with events in Memphis and Brownsville addressing education, infrastructure and job training.
“We heard about how Tennessee is a great environment for business, but we also discussed the economic and educational hurdles to job growth that exist throughout the state,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis.
Members of the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce joined representatives from Autozone, ServiceMaster, Belz, Medtronic, Monogram Foods, Fogelman Management, Smith & Nephew, the Memphis Bioworks Foundation and the Memphis Workforce Investment Network for a breakfast roundtable with House and Senate members.
The discussion centered on the need for clearer career paths in the state’s education system in order to streamline transfers and increase the number of college graduates. Several employers noted there is a growing gap between jobs coming to the state and the workforce’s current skill set.
“We are hearing from employers that job creation and education go hand-in-hand,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley. “As state lawmakers, we can play a role in creating educational opportunities that increase job opportunities.”
Monday afternoon, jobs tour officials toured the West Tennessee Megasite as well as the University of Tennessee Solar Farm, two of the largest economic development sites for West Tennessee. Elected officials spoke with supervisors to find out the next steps in putting Tennesseans to work at both sites.
“The West Tennessee Megasite is our region’s greatest chance to attract the same kind of major investment we have seen with Volkswagen and Hemlock,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson. “West Tennessee deserves the same kind of opportunity that other areas of the state have enjoyed.”
On Tuesday, the jobs tour continues in West Tennessee with stops in Jackson, Martin and Dresden. Media availability Tuesday will be held at noon at the Tour Residue Regency Pad Corporation, 480 Public Wells Road in Martin.
From a Senate Democratic Caucus release:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee’s House and Senate Democratic Caucuses announced Wednesday that their members will embark on a six-day tour across the state Sept. 19-24 to talk to business owners, local officials and the public about how to best grow jobs in Tennessee.
“Across the country and here in Tennessee, we are stuck in a jobs crisis, and it’s going to take everyone working together to get us out of it,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “Jobs are the number one priority for Tennesseans, and they also must be the top priority for their elected officials.”
Members will begin the tour Monday, Sept. 19, in Memphis, with stops throughout rural and urban areas across the state (see schedule below). The tour will end Saturday, Sept. 24, in Putnam and Smith Counties.
The unemployment rate in Tennessee currently sits at 9.8 percent, meaning more than 306,000 Tennesseans are looking for jobs and can’t find one. County unemployment rates are as high as 19.8 percent.
“People want their lawmakers to do something to combat the unemployment crisis, especially in rural areas that have been hit the hardest,” said State Senator Eric Stewart. “There’s a lot we can learn from going out there and listening to the people who are creating jobs, as well as the people who are looking for jobs.”
The tour will include several discussions and events open to the public, as well as daily press briefings and updates through traditional and social media. Members participating on the tour have pledged to use the feedback they receive on the tour to draft legislation directly addressing job growth throughout the state.
“The tour is our opportunity to listen, gather ideas and make decisions on what we can do as a state legislature to promote jobs in Tennessee,” Fitzhugh said. “We hope it will mark the beginning of a sustained focus on jobs and economic growth from all of our elected officials as we enter the next legislative session.”
Day 1 (Monday, Sept. 19): Corporate Partnerships Day (Shelby & Haywood)
8 a.m. Kickoff at the University of Memphis with Corporate Jobs Roundtable
1 p.m. Tour of West Tennessee Megasite with Mayor Franklin Smith
2 p.m. Tour of West Tennessee Solar Farm with Mayor Franklin Smith
Day 2 (Tuesday, Sept. 20): Small Business Day (Madison & Weakley)
8 a.m. – 10 a.m. Drop-ins at small businesses in Madison County
Noon – 2 p.m. Drop-ins at small businesses in Weakley County
Day 3 (Wednesday, Sept. 21): Technical Jobs Day (Rutherford & Maury)
Morning: Tour of Nissan LEAF Plant in Rutherford County
Noon – 2 p.m. Technical Jobs Roundtable at Columbia State Community College
2 p.m. – 4 p.m. Drop-ins at Maury County small businesses
Day 4 (Thursday, Sept. 22): Green Jobs Day (Warren & Hamilton)
7 a.m. Breakfast at Tennessee State University Nursery Research Center in McMinnville
8 a.m. Meet with nurserymen and tour Otis Floyd Research Center
Noon: Tour of Chattanooga State Community College
1 p.m. – 4 p.m. Tour new energy businesses in Chattanooga
Day 5 (Friday, Sept. 23): Research/Education Jobs Day (Knox)
8 a.m. Breakfast with Councilmember Brenda Palmer and small business owners
10 a.m. Business Round Table at the Chamber of Commerce
Noon – 2 p.m. Drop-ins at small businesses in Knox County
2 p.m. – 4 p.m. Meet w/Piper Communications to discuss growing the clean energy sector
Day 6 (Saturday, Sept. 24): Ecotourism Jobs Day (Putnam & Smith)
8 a.m. Breakfast at Dipsy Doodle in Putnam County
10 a.m. – Noon: Drop-ins at small businesses in Cookeville
1 p.m. – 3 p.m. Tour of Catesa Farms in Smith County