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.

Jan 05 2012

Drawing Lines – State House and Senate Redistricting Released

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

State Maps are all Style with no substance

Yesterday the State House and Senate released their proposed maps for the decennial redistricting that comes right after the decennial census. You can view the State Senate Maps here and the State House Maps here.

There have been numerous reports about what’s going to happen to various locales. News outlets in Memphis have focused on the loss of two House seats and one Senate seat…something I wrote was probably going to happen back in 2009.

So while our standing in the State Legislative bodies may have been diminished, as has our percentage of the population, none of this should surprise anyone.

It also shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are a couple of Shelby Co. legislators drawn together in districts. That’s what happens when an area loses a seat or two. It is inevitable. I sympathize with those who are upset at this reality, but honestly, there’s little that can be done outside of court.

I’m not going to opine as to whether or not the districts are fair or not. Certainly, over the years since Baker v. Carr, the court case that made the state start districting based on population rather than land, there have been plenty of examples of bizarrely drawn districts passing muster. A quick look at the current maps in Shelby Co., particularly Dist. 90 as well as Dist. 83, 84, 95, 91, and 92, which run horizontally and whip and curl around in some cases, shows that shapes just don’t matter that much to the courts.

Of course, the old plan just had 6 of 16 districts in Shelby County shaped like a drawing from a blindfolded child. The proposed map has 8 of 14 districts that take a great deal of creativity to explain (84, 85, 87, 88, 90, 91, 93, & 97). That’s not to say the districts are unfair, but to say, at first glance, which is all we have, its very difficult to determine which district you might be in based on the information provided.

Maps Don’t Tell Me Anything

While its fun to look at these pretty pictures provided by the House and Senate leadership, they really don’t tell me much…except that a lot of precincts were split in the production of these maps. Anyone with an internet connection and Silverlight can draw a map if they so choose. It’s not that difficult. Translating a map from a drawing on the other hand is very difficult.

Since neither the House nor Senate saw fit to release the precinct information of the districts, all one can do is make a best guess as to what will happen should these districts be adopted. Putting out pretty maps with not so much as population data by district, tells the end user absolutely nothing except the color choices of the person drawing the map and some general ideas.

Sure, in the more rural areas its easier to determine what’s going on. Districts that include two or three counties to get to (or near) their magic number are pretty easy to analyze. Urban areas, where there are any number of existing and new lines possible (including Municipal boundaries, Precincts, Census blocks, Zip codes, etc.) are more difficult. 35 of the 99 members of the House hail from the top four largest counties in the state (Shelby, Davidson, Knox, and Hamilton). Throw in Rutherford, Williamson and Sullivan Counties and that number jumps to 44. But even those last 9 are relatively easy to determine.

Still, let’s not pretend this is transparency. It’s feigned transparency. Until some lists are released, none of this means anything. In fact, its probably more about cutting the wind out of the sails of last minute fundraisers than anything else.

Brazenly Jerkish

There are some things that irritate me about the maps, but that’s to be expected. Lumping Sherry Jones and Mike Stewart into the same district in Nashville only to create an open seat is one of them. This isn’t unfair from a legal point of view, just dickish. I’m sure we’ve done the same thing to folks in the past. This action follows the Republican strategy of attacking the oppositions strengths and turning them into a weakness, a strategy that perhaps we might want to think about.

The same can be said of what they did in Shelby. Three of the four Representatives in Shelby Co. that were lumped together in two districts are relatively new to the body. One has been there forever. But these new folks are also pretty strong voices, whether you like them or not. There are a lot of reasons they were targeted, and one of those reasons is that they are perceived as a threat.

Its interesting to me that the Republicans in the State Senate chose to undercut their youth factor. Kerry Roberts, who worked really hard to win last year, is lumped in with Jim Summerville. I have a sneaking suspicion that one of those two men have an exit strategy. Look for an appointment announcement sometime after session.

Here in Shelby Co., Minority Leader Jim Kyle and Serial Bacon Mailer Brian Kelsey are paired up. This will leave Kyle out in the cold for at least 2 years, while we wait for the term of Kelsey to expire in 2014. I’m not sure how this impacts the “even/odd” set up of the senate districts in the future, but at the very least Senate Republicans did what they wanted to do…screw over the Minority Leader.

Its an open question as to whether or not Kyle will challenge Kelsey in 2014. Since we don’t have any real data on the makeup of the district other than a visual representation, I can only guess about the partisan makeup of the district. Pretty sure its not pretty for Kyle.

One mildly humorous thing I saw in the Senate Districts, is what I call the “visual representation of what Senate Leadership is doing to Democrats”. Its made up of Districts 19 and 21. I don’t think I need to expound on that at all but I bet some State Senators are still laughing about that one.

What Does All This Mean?

Most people don’t think twice about this stuff. I’ve said it over and over again. I’ve experienced it as I wrote about City redistricting, and as I’ve observed the County process. Most folks just don’t think about how they end up in the districts they end up in, they think about who they want to represent them from the available choices, and may bemoan those choices from time to time.

Also, because redistricting comes only once every 10 years, its easy for people to forget, or even just ignore it. For the most part, only the most politically engaged geeks even care about it. Most folks feel it doesn’t impact them, but it does. It can absolutely impact those available choices so many bemoan every two or four years.

Now that the TNGOP has had their hand at this process, there’s little doubt that they’ll do everything possible to keep it. In fact, the very act of redistricting itself probably ensures they’ll stay in power for a while…and because political considerations aren’t covered in Federal law, outside of a few exceptions, I expect the maps to stand and generally agree that most people won’t see the problems.

The big takeaway from this is that other than some maps, we really don’t know all that much more than we did before, and won’t know that much more until the thing is passed and real maps and precinct lists hit the streets. Then we’ll have a better idea of where we stand as a state.

Even without more detail, Democrats know something. They know they’ve got an uphill battle. They know that its going to stink. They also know that Republicans came into power under maps drawn by Democrats, and that all is not lost if we get our game together.

There are a lot of ideas about what that means, but I’ll save that for another post.

See also:

Blue TN
Aunt B
Braisted, 2, 3, 4
Pith 2, 3, 4, 5

There are probably more, but that’s a start…