State Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis says Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly are becoming like “Dixiecrats” – the Southern segregationist Democrats in the U.S. Congress in the late 1940s who formed their own party for a time.
“They sound like Dixiecrats … in the sense that we disagree with the federal government’s position on a major policy issue – health care – therefore we are going to claim states’ rights and say that’s not what we ought to be about,” Kyle said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.”
His comments came Friday, April 26, during a discussion including Republican state Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown about the just-ended yearly session of the legislature.
“We had the same things happen in the ’50s and ’60s,” Kyle added on the program hosted by Eric Barnes, publisher of The Daily News.
The program can be seen on The Daily News Video, www.memphisdailynews.com.
Kyle was responding as Kelsey talked about legislation he sponsored, and which was passed, that ended prevailing wage and living wage ordinances approved by local governments including those in Shelby County.
“I don’t think that it’s inconsistent with principles of federalism. I think it (Kyle’s reasoning) is a misunderstanding of federalism,” Kelsey said. “Cities and counties did not band together to fight off the British to create their own state and then preserve certain rights to local governments. It was the states that did that and when they created the U.S. Constitution they preserved certain rights to the states.”
Kyle said the result in the case of the state law allowing for the creation of municipal school districts in Shelby County and about two dozen other communities in the state is a different kind of conservatism and a state government that is now accountable for local education.
“That is the biggest change we’ve had in government since the Republicans have become the super majority,” Kyle said. “We have taken more and more away from local governments if we don’t agree philosophically with what local government wants to do. It’s a redefinition of conservative Republicanism in Tennessee, I’ll tell you that.”
Kelsey maintained it is a legitimate use of power.
“There are no powers and rights that are reserved to local governments under our U.S. Constitution and really under our state Constitution with one or two exceptions for home rule,” he said. “The states decided to create cities and counties and they can abolish them at any time. And if they are doing things that are antithetical to the actual citizens who live in those cities and counties then I think absolutely the state should step in.”
Kelsey and Kyle also clashed on the proposed expansion of Medicaid, which in Tennessee is known as TennCare.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said no for now to an expansion of Medicaid that would start in 2014 and be funded for the first three years entirely by the federal government and 90 percent in the second three years.
Haslam said this month he is still talking with President Barack Obama’s administration about possible terms including the ability to buy private health care insurance. But in an interview with The Daily News, he characterized the talks so far as a “difficult path.”
Kelsey had legislation pending this year to forbid Haslam from ever saying yes to such an expansion under any terms.
Kelsey called TennCare “a broken system.”
“TennCare is not a broken system, Brian,” Kyle responded. “TennCare is a managed health care situation for people who are sick. Just because you want to pass a bill that says we are not going to participate in the Medicaid expansion doesn’t mean that people are not going to be at the emergency room at The MED being paid for through Shelby County property tax dollars.”
Both Kelsey and Kyle were legislators when Gov. Phil Bredesen cut the rolls of TennCare. Kyle sponsored the legislation and said Kelsey’s belief that such cuts could be necessary again because of changes in federal funding aren’t likely.
“When was the last time that ever happened?” Kyle asked.
“1981,” Kelsey replied. “The federal government had to balance its budget and so they just pulled back on the percentage they paid for Medicaid and that’s exactly what will happen again.”