Apr 12 2013

Pennies from Haslam

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.

According to a poll released in January, Bill Haslam has a 68% approval rating in Tennessee.

Elected as a moderate, the words out of the Governor’s mouth certainly don’t lead anyone to believe he’s a firebrand.

Of course, word and deed are two different things.

The truth is, Gov. Haslam’s positions further a system of government that focuses on helping those who don’t need it rather than helping those who do.

If you have had access to things like healthcare, education, and capital among others throughout your life, its fairly simple to rationalize that people who lack access, do so out of choice rather than necessity or circumstance.

Further, it is easy to rationalize that people are choosing to be personally irresponsible rather than circumstances getting in the way. Circumstances for someone who’s had all his worldly needs taken care of their whole life are just excuses, right?

From there, its a short trip to they don’t deserve help, which is the position of the GOP generally. They don’t believe that circumstance has anything to do with outcomes. They believe that if you’re not doing well, its because of something you did or didn’t do.

Of course, the reality is very different from this belief. And while Gov. Haslam’s commitment to this belief may not be as strong as other members of his party, its there, just obscured in his mushy language and by those firebrands who trumpet it from the highest mountains.

Smokescreen in the Statehouse

The most obvious example of this idea is found in the Tennessee General Assembly’s GOP caucus. To hear some in that august body tell it, folks that aren’t making it just aren’t trying hard enough.

Rep. Casada’s “Just get a job”, statement from the 2010 session is one of the better examples, though the just killed Oliver Twist Act comes in a close second, if only because the GOP Senate caucus itself understood the bill would show too much of the this belief to the general public.

To be honest, the list of outrageously ridiculous bills are too many to mention. But they do give the Governor something he desperately needs…cover to do things administratively…in the background…that ultimately accomplish the very things the legislature seeks to achieve.

Leading from the back of the line

While the Governor isn’t being held accountable for the actions of the legislature, he also hasn’t chosen to take a stand on issues that don’t match up to his moderate image. The public has largely given him a pass on the more radical ideals that have come up…and by extension, that pass has included measures that he actually supports.

The sum total of Gov. Haslam’s legislative victories include the recently passed Workers Comp Bill which will only hurt workers, a bill that weakens teacher unions, and by extension, makes teaching a much less attractive profession, passed tort reform which was supposed to be a huge job creator, but really just “put a price on the life of the weak”, as Eric Stewart put it, put an end to the inheritance tax by 2016 which only impacted 900 people a year, and worked to reduce the impact of the Hall Tax on investment income through bills SB980 and SB0198.

None of these bills mean a hill of beans to regular people in this state.

Haslam even, at first rejected calls by Democrats to lower the sales tax on food before including it in his legislative package this term.

So while companies and the wealthy saw their taxes and potential liability drop by thousands of dollars each, us folks down here at the bottom get to see a $3.65/yr. tax cut in sales tax on food…which at best will buy you a frozen burrito at your local “Quick Stop”.

That is supposed to be “moderate governance”.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

Both the legislative victories, and foil legislation, mean to distract people from real policy changes that are occurring in the agencies the Governor’s office has direct control over.

Over the past two years, the Governor has taken steps to tighten requirements for people that receive state services, without input or direction from the legislature. This effort hasn’t been reported on in the media. In fact, there are few who even know about it outside of providers. But it is happening, and the pinch is on those who need these services to, in some cases, survive.

This is all done in the service of “efficiency”. Unfortunately, efficiency really means making it as hard as legally possible for people to receive services they qualify for, which is a big part of the reason there are 98,000+ people who qualify for TennCare, but aren’t on the rolls. They are being turned away on technicalities, artificial barriers, rather than reality. Damn the consequences.

In the process, many of them are racking up huge hospital bills that lead to bankruptcies, or uncompensated care that puts the viability of hospitals in danger.

That’s not efficiency, its slow suicide.

Causing real harm

Source: Census.gov

Source: Census.gov
2011 2010 2009 2008

While the poverty rate in Tennessee started climbing in 2008 due to the financial crisis, little has been done on the state side to help people ensnared in the bad decisions that brought the crisis on.

You might think that falls on the Federal government, but because Tennessee basically runs all Federal social services through block grants, it is incumbent on the state to both apply for additional grant funds and budget for these things.

That hasn’t happened at all. In fact, every agency other than education was asked to cut 5% from their budget at the direction of Gov. Haslam last year.

That 5% may not seem like much, but when you consider many of those dollars are matched one for one (or more) by Federal dollars, it adds up quickly and to much more than 5%.

As for attracting jobs, the only job creation bill Gov. Haslam has passed is tort reform, mentioned above, which is actually associated with slower job growth.

In fact, every bill supported by the Governor, with the exception of the Democratic sponsored cuts to the sales tax, does nothing to help create jobs or give Tennesseans a leg up to bettering their circumstances. All of them help wealthier people save money, which has never created a single job ever.

And so, I circle back to the beginning. The reality for the 2.6m people Tennesseans who are either in poverty, or one month of earnings away from poverty, and the 2.2m more people who might make it through two or three months without earnings before they lose everything, this Governor has done absolutely nothing to benefit you at all.

That’s 75% of the state’s population. Nothing.

And while Gov. Haslam may currently enjoy a 68% approval rating for now, that goodwill will be short lived if conditions don’t change rapidly.

Based on his actions thus far, things will only get worse because he hasn’t done anything but support pennies of annual tax savings for most Tennesseans when he could have been investing in their future.

Because in the end, Gov. Haslam and his GOP friends in the legislature believe that if you aren’t making it, its not because of your circumstances, or bankers that tanked the financial system, or laws that actually slow job growth when they’ve been billed as job creators…its because of something you did to yourself.

So much for being a moderate.

Oct 13 2011


Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Mike Turner and Curry Todd

This isn’t what I wanted to write about today. In fact, this isn’t what I want to write about any day.

But after seeing the manner in which this issue has been handled, I’ve got to say something.

Of course, everyone has heard about the arrest of TN State Rep. Curry Todd – Collierville for driving drunk, and with a loaded pistol to boot. I don’t really have much to say about this situation except that I’m glad that no one was physically injured and that my thoughts and prayers are with his family, who are certainly suffering as a result of his irresponsible actions.

This is a story dripping with irony. Sponsor of “Guns in Bars” caught drunk with loaded gun. I mean, you couldn’t make up a better story line. Some say you shouldn’t kick a man while he’s down. That’s not what this is. This is pointing out hypocrisy.

The story, which I first saw online at 5:30am, received no official response from any Democratic institution until a 4:15pm press release by the TNDP. By then, national news outlets had picked up the story.

At 4:55pm the first statement from Todd hit the wires. The tenor of that statement should come as no surprise to anyone.

Then, this morning the Tennessean publishes an article about the political consequences of Todd’s actions. In it, House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner said this:

House GOP leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said Todd has done a “good job” as chairman of the House State and Local Government Committee and that he “certainly” hopes Todd can keep the post. Rep. Mike Turner, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, agreed.

“I think he’s one of the best chairmen we have up there,” said Turner, D-Old Hickory. “I’m not going to beat somebody up for making a mistake. I don’t think you’ll ever see him get in this situation again.”

What? This wasn’t a mistake, this was a choice. A massive life threatening choice. You would think that Turner, a fireman, would get that. Instead, he seems to be glossing it over as if he accidentally rear-ended someone while following too close, which would be a mistake.

This is one of many disappointments that I’ve had with both Democratic Caucuses. They both seem to be operating out of fear. Through that fear they have taken incumbency protection (the primary goal of the caucuses) to a new level. Now they’re protecting incumbents regardless of party. Good going guys.

I can’t wait for the next Republican scandal to break and see the response from the Caucus. Infidelity will be a “misunderstanding”, tax fraud will be “a mathematical error”, murder or maiming will be a “lapse in judgement”.

What is the appropriate response to what happened? Here’s a suggestion:

The (insert name of organization/leader here) gave the following statement regarding the arrest of Rep. Curry Todd on Drunk Driving and gun charges:

“As elected officials, we have a responsibility to lead by example. Curry Todd chose to drive while intoxicated and carry a loaded firearm last night. This is unacceptable behavior for anyone, particularly an individual elected to represent the people of Shelby County.”

“It is our hope that as Rep. Todd proceeds through the criminal court process that he is treated no differently than any other member of society accused of these crimes. If he is convicted, he should receive no preferential treatment or leniency. Holding public office cannot be a “Get out of jail free” card.”

“Regardless of the outcome, we hope Rep. Todd gets the treatment he needs to recover from this lapse in judgement. We also wish his family the best as they deal with the embarrassment of Rep. Todd’s irresponsibility.”

Is that perfect? No. I just came up with it in 5 minutes. Why didn’t I call for his removal from his chairmanship? That’s not my call to make, though it would seem like an appropriate response from a House GOP leadership.

What did Turner do? Make excuses. Hell, even Ron Ramsey is calling for “zero tolerance” for Todd, why can’t we?

At least the TNDP was a little closer, though the thought of a Democrat making demands on the Republican Speaker of the House is a little over the top, but at least they did something!

The point is, we shouldn’t be afraid of calling something what it is. This was irresponsible, careless, foolish, and two illegal acts. Ignoring that is irresponsible.

I’m only going to say this once… Either you’re fighting, or you’re fleeing. If you don’t have the stomach to fight anymore, maybe you should hang it up. We’ll never win as long as we allow the fear of something that “might” happen to paralyze us.

Edited to add:The TN Jobs Tour, which was recently held by the caucuses was a huge positive for them. I commend them for addressing an issue that the GOP still doesn’t have any idea what to do about. That doesn’t excuse this action, and the deafening silence by just about everyone but Mike Turner during the last session. Which is what makes this that much more perplexing.

Apr 02 2011

We Do it to Ourselves

Posted by Steve Ross in activism, elections, SCDP, Shelby County

The fundamental nature of government in America is that it exists, and is made up by, individuals that represent the majority will of the people. Who that majority is and how they come to be the majority is in question with every election, and it comes down to participation.

At the end of the day, no matter how much money is spent, your vote can serve as a veto, or an affirmation. For that matter, your decision to not vote is also a statement. By choosing to not vote, you have ceded your voice to the majority and, by extension, have sided with that majority regardless of whether they agree with you or not.

In Shelby Co. we saw the impact of this last August. While Shelby Co. is strongly Democratic, a surge in participation from Republican areas effectively overrode the more Democratic areas of the county thanks to low countywide voter turnout.

According to the Election Commission, 29.8% of all active registered voters participated in the August elections The election rolls have three race categories: Black, White, and Other. Of these three, only White voters outperformed their percentage of the voting population by over 10 points. Both Black and Other voters participated at levels slightly below their registration percentage (Registration for Black voters is 34.4%, Other is 35.9%, yet only 31.5% & 27.7% participated (Election Report, PDF)).

Many folks have opined on why the August election turned out the way it did, but at the end of the day it’s easy enough to figure out. 72859 registered white voters, who are, more often than not, Republicans showed up to the polls and only 56392 registered black voters, who are more often than not Democrats showed up (“Other” voters made up 49582 votes). Put another way, nearly 40% of all white registered voters showed up to the August election, as opposed to just 27% of all black registered voters and 23% of other voters. Had the groups turned out at similar levels, an additional 61,500 votes would have been at play, likely making all the countywide elections more competitive.

Some have said that the slate of candidates was bad, disorganized and underfunded and that depressed turnout. Others have opined that some in the African-American community didn’t want to get involved in the Herenton-Cohen primary and that explained the low turnout. While both are plausible enough ideas, neither are particularly scientific, nor do they address the reality that there were several candidates on the Democratic slate that were not only qualified, but were better suited to do the job.

In the end, just under 30% of the electorate made an active choice. The other 70% also made a choice. They chose to stay silent. To not participate. To remove themselves from the process for whatever reason.

In that choice, they essentially decided they agree with whatever the majority of participants found, even if, in the end they didn’t like the result. By ceding to this majority, they put the fate of county government in the hands of a tiny fraction of Shelby County voters that made up the majority.

17% of county voters made up the majority in the Mayor’s race. If folks in Memphis wonder why folks in the County think they run things, the answer is, because they do run things. By and large, people in Memphis let them.

Look at it like this. Memphis has 400,000 registered and our precincts brought out 108,000 voters or 27%. Outside of Memphis there are about 200,000 registered and they brought out 70,209, or 35.3%. Had Memphis pulled 35% that would have been a 32,000 vote shift, making every countywide race more competitive. We’ve got the votes to win, but we don’t turn them out. And as long as we don’t, we’re not getting done to, we’re doing it to ourselves.

There are still plenty of open questions about the August election and pending litigation, and no matter what, those questions need to be attended to in a thoughtful manner to ensure the security of our elections. But think about this:

Had those 32,000 showed up, there might be a big difference in who filed the lawsuit, and the way the media has portrayed those litigants.

Had those 32,000 showed up, we might have been talking about a Democratic sweep in a Republican year.

But they didn’t, and if you’re not happy about it and didn’t get off your butt to vote, you didn’t get done to, you did it to yourself.

August Election Results