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

Dec 31 2013

Win, Lose or Draw – State of the State (TN), 2013

Posted by Steve Ross in Policy, State Politics

This is part 2 in a series of 3 posts (part 1 is here) that will look at who came out ahead, who came out behind, and who didn’t move an inch in the past 12 months. As with all these type lists, they are both subjective and incomplete, so make any additions/corrections in the comments. Thanks and have a Happy New Year. -SR

#Winners

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey – The State Senate strongman, and person who’s actually in charge of the state has had a downright awesome year. He can say whatever the hell he wants and knows he only has his constituents to answer to, all while ensuring the good Governor doesn’t get to mamby pamby on his conservative credo, by offering legislative strong-arm tactics as a response to even the slightest flinch of liberality…(is that even a word? Who cares, this is Ramseyland…the dictionary is full of liberal lies!)

Sure he had a run-in with the twitter, but no one in Ramseyland pays any attention to that stuff….or the impact of public policy on people for that matter. Nope, its all horse racing and cow milking contests for legislative coverage…and legislators these days…so Ron Ramsey can carry on to enjoy the spoils of his office…as the true head of state.

2014 Outlook – What could go wrong?

Education “reform” – Reform is a tricky word. It literally means “to make changes”. You’ll note, there is no value statement in that definition. For years many have looked at Education Reform as a positive. Any change was seen as good. When “No Child Left Behind” was passed, it was good, until it wasn’t. The more recent batch of reforms, which include a doubling down on testing, more oversight of teachers, less pay for teachers, and teacher evaluations based on student performance on said testing, has been focused on…teachers.

This doesn’t mean its been a good year for education. Just “reform”. The results of that “reform” will take years to calculate…though this years test scores were hailed as a victory. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re adequately educating out kids…we’re just passing more tests now.

2014 Outlook – More

“Friends of Bill” Haslam – Y’all got your taxes cut on investment income, and a whole bunch of you FOB’s (friends of Bill) got gubament contracts to boot! Way to go rich people!

2014 Outlook – Cake

Honorable Mention: TN House Democratic Caucus – Its a long-shot, but I have to give a shout out to the only currently functioning state Democratic organization right now…the TN House Democratic Caucus. Sure, they’re not flashy…and they haven’t developed a stable cast of characters beyond leadership, but at least they’re doing something…which is more than I can say for their colleagues across the plaza.

Usually timely, and pretty well on point, especially since the session ended. The House Caucus is still a work in progress. But they’re working, which is more than I can say for…oh never mind.

fitzandturner1

2014 Outlook – Keep the faith

Losers

Hospitals/sick people – One lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the decision to not expand Medicaid, the other lost the opportunity to not go into financial ruin just because they were sick. Both suffered. But who cares, right? At least the state is screwing over President Obama’s signature legislative achievement! That’s all that matters these days in Tennessee.

2014 Outlook – sicklier

The poor – Speaking of screwing people over, 80% of everyone in the US is on the brink of poverty. What does that have to do with Tennessee? We’re in the bottom 25% of all the states in the US, which means we’re more screwed than most everyone else. Yay us!

2014 Outlook – poorer

Unemployed – It took all year, but preliminary numbers from the Dept. of Labor show that unemployment finally dropped to 8.1% down from 8.5%. Don’t get too excited. Future drops will only reflect those who no longer qualify for unemployment because their benefits weren’t extended by the Feds. State politicians will take this and try to sell you that things are getting better. They aren’t and things getting better for working people isn’t anywhere on their menu.

2014 Outlook – Still out of luck

Rural Communities – If there’s one thing that guaranteed the GOP’s victory in 2010, it was the support of rural communities. Which is why its puzzling that rural communities are getting screwed over so hard under GOP rule. I mean, screwing over Nashville and Memphis (and soon Chattanooga and Knoxville), that’s a no-brainer. But when most of your elected officials owe their position to rural folks, screwing them over as well is…well…ballsy to say the least. But that’s what’s happened. Unemployment is high, hospitals are closing their doors, and the only opportunity right now is the opportunity to move or continue to suffer.

The worst part is, there are no signs folks in rural TN see the connection. They’re still buying in to it being Washington’s fault.

2014 Outlook – #DANG

Teachers – If any one group has gotten a raw deal in the past several years its teachers. At once blamed for “failing schools” and tasked with bringing up achievement, teachers have had their pay cut, lost the right to collectively bargain, and had more paperwork thrown at them…which takes time away from doing what they trained to do…which is teach. Honestly, I don’t understand why anyone would do this to themselves.

2014 Outlook – Lots of retirements

Draw

Helping those who don’t need it over those who do. Gov. Bill Haslam – To say that 2013 was an unremarkable year for Bill Haslam is to say that the remarkable revelations about his administration were largely either ignored, or didn’t get the full hearing they deserved. From contracts to cronies, to the intense pressure to eschew his moderate image to both save himself the indignity of a primary, and avoid a standoff with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and his band of merry men. And then there’s the PILOT investigation, which shined a light on the inner workings of a company he both benefits greatly from, and seeks to minimize in the public as just a little company his family owns. For all the stories in Tennessee this year, at least from a political perspective, Bill Haslam, his family, his friends, and his general impotence as a state leader… those were the stories…even if they didn’t get the full hearing they deserved.

The saddest part is it looks as if Haslam will run unopposed from the Democratic party…unless someone steps in at the last second to be the sacrificial lamb, which means Tennessee will never hear a full accounting of these stories, and will have no alternative if they decide they don’t want the teflon coated co-governor at the front and center of state politics…at least in appearances.

You’ll note, I haven’t even gotten into the depths of his relationship with the Lt. Gov., who pulls the real strings in the state. There’s just not enough time. But pay attention, and see if the two cross. I think you’ll find they won’t publicly. The Governor just doesn’t have the juice to take him, or any other legislative leader, on.

2014 Outlook – Shady, with a side of puppetry.

Dec 03 2013

I hate to say I told ya so #TennCareExpansion

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Republicans hate Obamacare so much, they’re willing to let you die to prove how bad it is.

Back in March when Gov. Haslam announced the state would not be expanding Medicaid, I wrote a series of posts about the impact of this decision on rural hospitals.

Seems like my early predictions are coming to fruition.

In his March release, it says he’s announcing the “Tennessee Plan” which was supposed to be something like the Arkansas Plan…but different. Unfortunately, this was…at best a fib. The Governor hasn’t released any specifics of the “Tennessee Plan” to the Feds, and as such, the plan doesn’t exist anywhere except in the Governor’s imagination.

In the eight months since the announcement, there’s been a bunch of nothing from the Governor.

Budget talks in November revealed what folks call the “woodworking effect”…or what happens when people start actively looking for insurance only to find out they qualified for Tenncare all along. That “effect”will be a budget buster to the tune of $172m for the author (Gov. Haslam) of the state’s largest budget to date.

It’s important to remember…these aren’t people who suddenly qualify for Tenncare…these are people we should have been covering all along.

As the year comes to a close, we are starting to hear about major cuts to rural hospitals, most of whom are the only lifeline rural families have. These cuts are just the prelude to closures, that will mean rural folks will not only NOT have access to coverage, but likely die in an emergency because needed care was too far away.

A tale of two states

Our neighbor to the north…Kentucky, is both running their own exchange and expanding medicaid. Kentucky has been in the spotlight of what the Affordable Care Act, AKA “Obamacare” is supposed to do and be…a way for all people to get health insurance coverage that is within their means.

A recent article in the Indianapolis Courier-Journal could have just as easily been written about the differences between Kentucky and Tennessee. In fact, it practically is.

Both Gov. Haslam (TN), and Gov. Pence (IN) both want to embark on Medicaid expansion in a way that would mean working poor people would have to pay for some of their healthcare costs…which means that suddenly someone making 101% of poverty would have a whole lot more out of pocket expenses than someone making just a few dollars less a pay period at 99% of poverty.

There are over 500,000 people not currently enrolled in Tenncare that live in households making $25,000 or less (133% of poverty) in Tennessee. That’s a lot more than the 330,000 predicted to come on line under Medicaid expansion. The difference is the impact of the woodworking effect.

Gov. Haslam and Gov. Pence want these people to pay more for two reasons:

1. It will cost them less making them seem more fiscally conservative, even if they aren’t.

2. They claim it will keep people from “taking advantage of the system” and add some “personal responsibility” to the program.

That’s a slap in the face to working folks…to assume that they would game the system just because they “could”. Working folks don’t have time to game the system, they’re too busy working.

It IS about people

This is about people…people who live all over the state.

People who live in remote areas because that’s where their work is. Farmers, businessmen and women, children and the elderly…people just like us city folk…that just happen to live in the country.

Over half the state’s population lives in Tennessee’s mostly rural 80+ counties. That’s a lot of ground to cover for the 3.4m who don’t live in Tennessee’s big 5 counties (35% of the population) or the other 10 with a healthy rural/urban mix. But not living in one of the state’s largest counties doesn’t mean people should be without a hospital…and due to the economic realities of providing rural healthcare…that’s the fate they face.

In a release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus, Chairman Turner called on the Governor to act…rather than let people needlessly suffer:

“This Christmas, Governor Haslam has the opportunity to give thousands of working men and women in Tennessee the best gift possible – longer and healthier lives,” said Chairman Turner. “I understand it will be difficult to get the expansion passed in the legislature, but the Governor owes it to the people of our state to try. If he stands by and does nothing, the hospital closures, the jobs lost, and the premature and preventable deaths of Tennesseans will rest squarely on his shoulders.”

It is a preventable tragedy. One that is so easily preventable, its almost madness that we’re even discussing people lives in such a flip manner. When Lt. Gov. Ramsey says:

“obviously this is going to hurt. In some cases there may be hospitals that have to close — but look, if you want to operate in a free market, things like that happen. But I think overall they will figure out a way to cut this.”

I’m sure the families of the people who suffered thanks to the “free market” Ramsey describes will understand.

After all, ideological purity is much more important than someone’s life.

What about Speaker Harwell? She’s only slightly more sympathetic:

There are some rural hospitals that will be hurt; there’s no doubt about that. But the health care industry is a changing industry and those that can’t keep up, they just simply can’t,” she said. “I’m sorry that that might happen, but again, if it was a little exaggerated, we’ll find out in the next six months.”

As for Governor Haslam…he hasn’t compared the human cost to an ideological test yet…in fact, he’s done what most folks with his pocketbook do to working folks…ignore them.

A slow death spiral

The worst thing about the layoffs, departures of services, and eventual closures of rural Tennessee hospitals is that it will be a slow decline…much like what many rural communities have already seen as businesses leave their communities and their populations age.

Hospitals are community pillars. They are institutions that help hold up the towns they serve. As they close…and they already are, the towns they serve and the people around them will suffer health related challenges…and economic challenges as the jobs the hospitals once hosted also disappear…and along with them, their trained, well paid workforce.

Ramsey, Harwell and Haslam will say I’m exaggerating…but its already happening…just not all at once. The slowness of it all will give them time to shift blame, distort reality, and manufacture scapegoats.

Hopefully people won’t fall for that.

Just look at Kentucky.

The irony is…the largely rural districts that vaulted them and their Republican colleagues into power…are the ones that will suffer most.

That suffering means more tragedies…and preventable decline for communities that cannot afford to bear them.

Sep 11 2013

Shameful…and the response is just weird

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics, TNDP

On a day reserved for the remembrance of first responders and victims of the 9/11 attacks, many of whom also lost their life…

A day where American servicemen and women are thanked for their service in two wars that followed those attacks…

The man who is one heartbeat away from the helm of state government here in Tennessee had this to say.

Ignorant

Ignorant

**sigh**

Its unfortunate that a political leader would use such a solemn occasion to launch a petty and misguided political attack.

In response, Tennessee House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh issued the following:

“September 11th is a day when all Americans come together to remember a solemn occasion in our history. Instead of honoring those who gave their lives 12 years ago, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey decided to take the low-road and accuse our Commander-in-Chief of allying with the very terrorist who attacked our country.

“This divisive rhetoric dishonors the memory of those who died on this day. It is insulting to our President, to Senator Corker who shares the President’s position, to all Americans no matter their position on Syria and to the memory of those we’ve lost. Lt. Governor Ramsey is either grossly misinformed or he has decided to be a partisan, instead of a patriot. He should apologize immediately.”

Not to be outdone, the Chair of the TNDP also made a statement, as reported by Michael Cass of the Tennessean:

“”Speaker Ramsey should fire whoever wrote such an outrageous, dishonest, misleading, incendiary, unpatriotic and dangerous attack on our nation’s president and on Republican leaders like Senators Corker and McCain and House Speaker Boehner and even the military leaders working with them,” Herron said in a statement. “Many of us are unsure about how to proceed in Syria, but whoever wrote that tweet dishonors the victims of 9/11 and our military men and women who are doing all they can to stop more children and parents from being gassed and killed.”

He should fire someone? That’s where that tweet leads you? Holy Mackerel!

Kind of a weird thing to say in the same week three staffers announced their exit from the party offices.

**sigh**sigh**

In any case, Lt. Gov. Ramsey’s statement is shameful. It touches on all the things that make people’s ears bleed when they think too much about politics, and go down a road that is unnecessarily divisive on such a day as today.

Kudos to House Minority Leader Fitzhugh for calling Speaker Ramsey out.

As for the TNDP statement…

***sigh***