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VOL. 131 | NO. 259 | Thursday, December 29, 2016

Stockard

Sam Stockard

New Year, New Resolutions for Legislators

BY SAM STOCKARD

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Some Tennesseans recall the days when the state Legislature met every other year and wonder if it should revert to that schedule. Considering the General Assembly pushes most of its work into 3 1/2 months, it might be worth a try.

Then again, days on Capitol Hill are so fun and enlightening, what would we do from January through April without the whole Hee Haw gang in town? After all, they debate everything from guns and pot to transgender bathrooms and Bibles. That’s pretty close to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

So with New Year’s Day and the 110th General Assembly arriving Jan. 10, here are some resolutions our state lawmakers should make, just in case they haven’t come up with any on their own:

House Majority Leader Glen Casada should resolve to fight back at anonymous bloggers who posted video of him on Rocky Top Politics hanging out at Bar Louie in The Gulch last March with some young people, including a blond woman whose boyfriend he says was edited out of the scene. 

Casada called out the bloggers during a November House Republican Caucus meeting when he was seeking election to the key leadership post against Rep. Mike Carter of Ooltewah, calling it an attempt to “sabotage” the vote and his marriage. 

He contended it was a “carefully edited” piece filled with “outright lies.” He mentioned the possibility of filing some sort of lawsuit to draw the culprits into the open and is still considering what type of action to take. 

Something early in the session would help to spice up our lives.

Rep. Gerald McCormick, the former House majority leader, should consider making another run at a leadership post in a couple of years. 

Things just won’t be the same without him venting frustration at groups such as the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce over important legislation, including the so-called transgender bathroom bill. Sure, he can still sound off on the House floor, but his opinions won’t carry the same weight when he’s a mere House member.

Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams, new to the job, should resolve to keep all caucus meetings open. 

He wouldn’t have to worry if the group didn’t have 74 members, but since it holds a supermajority and could discuss House business, in addition to family feuds, that’s simply the price of power. 

Legislators already have enough private gatherings to prepare for committee meetings. They don’t need any more. For Williams, this isn’t a good way to kick off a leadership role. 

House Speaker Beth Harwell should resolve to loosen up and have some fun. Of course, it’s hard to joke around with the media when the albatross of Jeremy Durham (ejected for inappropriate behavior) is hanging around your neck. But he’s gone, at least from the House, and the only thing for her to worry about is whether to run for governor.

Retiring Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, because he’s so special, gets two resolutions: 

The first is to return to the Legislative Plaza twice a month to hold court, at least until Senate Speaker-in-waiting Randy McNally comes into his own. Don’t do it all on Facebook from Blountville. 

The second is for him to trade in his wife’s Tahoe for a Suburban, even if it’s used. Grandkids keep coming, and unless the governor and Legislature grow a backbone within the next few months he won’t have to worry about paying higher gas taxes.

Likely Senate Speaker Randy McNally should resolve to let the Senate be the Senate (a tip of the hat to the late John Wilder even if he was a Democrat).

Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron should resolve to stay in Nashville instead of running for Rutherford County mayor in 2018. 

Certainly, the drive is easier from his house to the Courthouse than to Capitol Hill. But does he really want to deal with headaches such as the sheriff’s office or continue trying to re-elect Republicans to the Legislature, which isn’t that tough a job these days?

Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, should resolve to announce whether he’s really going to run for governor. 

Majority Mark Norris should do the same but with a little more “sizzle.”

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh should resolve to go ahead and run for governor. He might not win, but at least he would give the Democrats a respected West Tennessee candidate rather than an automatic loser.

At the very least, he could make a Democratic primary interesting if people such as Nashville business magnate Bill Freeman and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean join the fray. 

Such a move could make Democrats relevant statewide in a governor’s race, instead of a joke.

Bill Freeman should resolve to give the Democratic Caucus more money. The $300,000 he donated last year wasn’t enough. 

Democrats lost one seat overall statewide in the November election, and they’ll need more to fend off Republican efforts to unseat guys such as Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville. His picture was flashed on the screen as a potential target when Republican senators met in November.

House Minority Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart should resolve to bring more weapons to the Legislative Plaza – as he did last year – to make a point. Guns will be a big issue this session, from efforts to punish people for leaving weapons laying around to the push for “constitutional carry.” By the end of April, it could turn into the Wild West. Everybody might need a gun – a loaded one.

The House Democratic Caucus should resolve to hold more press conferences. Sooner or later, people might listen.

Democratic Rep. Sherry Jones of Nashville should resolve to hold a press conference on medical marijuana. She’s been pushing it for years, but Republicans Rep. Jeremy Faison and Sen. Steve Dickerson got all the pub recently when they announced their bill for medicinal pot.

Democratic Rep. John Ray Clemmons and Sen. Lee Harris should quit beating up on Gov. Bill Haslam over his efforts to outsource large sectors of state government. He’s only trying to keep college tuition down and boost the private sector, all while maintaining everyone’s jobs and benefits.

Gov. Haslam should resolve to suck it up and put forth a plan solve Tennessee’s transportation nightmares. 

He did nothing last year after traveling the state on a listening tour, so it’s either this General Assembly or never. 

As a resident of Nashville, the governor is well aware we’ve reached the “Point of Know Return” (for the older generation, that’s a classic Kansas song) on interstate travel. When it takes two hours to drive into and out of Nashville every day at rush hour(s), well, that’s just plain silly. 

When cities across Tennessee have multimillion-dollar road projects languishing on the shelf because the state won’t provide any money, that’s a problem. Everyone knows it.

The question is: Will they do anything about it? Even if President-elect Donald Trump opens federal coffers, it won’t be enough. We’re $6 billion to $8 billion behind on road projects alone. 

A high-speed rail project is a pipe dream at this point, but if Tennessee ever wants to enter the 21st (really the 20th century), it’s going to have to take a leap. What good is it to hold no debt on your roads when everyone’s stuck in traffic? 

So if you’re sitting on I-24, happy friggin’ New Year.

Sam Stockard can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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