VOL. 132 | NO. 109 | Thursday, June 1, 2017
View From the Hill
View From the Hill: GOP Points True North on State’s Moral Compass
By Sam Stockard
It was billed as the start of the 2018 governor’s race, but the GOP’s Reagan Day Dinner in Murfreesboro last week often sounded more like a tent revival.
Vote for one of these candidates and you’re guaranteed a place in heaven, ran the subtext of the evening, because, after all, everyone knows only Republicans know the road to salvation.
Consider this comment from U.S. Rep. Diane Black, a Gallatin Republican who wants to run for governor but just hasn’t announced: “Right is right, wrong is wrong, God is God, life is life.”
Can we just stop right now and hand her the victory? When it comes to a moral compass, Black sees no gray.
One of the questions is whether she can knock out state Sen. Mae Beavers and state Sen. Mark Green, a physician, two other ultra-conservatives focused on keeping transgender kids from peeing in the potty of their choice and from keeping Tennesseans from being subjugated by radical Islamic terrorists.
Other candidates to show up at Stones River Country Club included Williamson County businessman Bill Lee and former Economic and Community Development Commissioner Randy Boyd, one of Gov. Bill Haslam’s best friends. Beavers didn’t attend, nor did Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris or House Speaker Beth Harwell, who had a last-minute family emergency.
There was plenty to talk about without them.
Black, a former state senator who represents Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District, told the audience, “We’re blessed to live in a state such as Tennessee. We don’t have oil and gas. We don’t have a coastline, but what we have is great people and great values.”
Apparently, someone forgot to tell her we have the Smoky Mountains, along with the Grand Ole Opry, the home of Elvis, Beale Street and, well, is the entire list really necessary? Someone also forgot to mention we have a state budget in pretty good shape with projected surpluses.
Anyway, in driving to Murfreesboro, she saw a lot of traffic, a lot of people moving here from other parts of the country, people who might try to come here and take away our Tennessee values.
“They try to say there are other things such as gay rights that we have to accept in our schools, a bathroom that should be used just to go in and do whatever you do in the bathroom and leave. To change the quality of life here and the values here in this country. There’s going to need to be (some with) guts and to stand up and to say, ‘No, if you come to our state, you accept what we have here and that’s what is most important,’” Black said.
Some people would take exception to her characterizations of bathrooms. Forty years ago, the boys’ room was a great place for smoking, fighting, pitching nickels and dimes (no pennies) and lots of cussing. Someone even wrote a song called “Smokin’ in the Boys Room.”
These days, though, you’d better go in, make water and get the heck out of there or you might run into a transvestite or a boy dressed like a girl – or would that be in the girls’ restroom?
Of course, Black is referring to the legislation designed to require people to use school restrooms based on their sex at birth. People tell me the fiscal note is astronomical simply because we’ll have to hire monitors at every school restroom in the state to check people’s birth certificates. Or, the cost could soar because Tennessee could be subjected to numerous business boycotts.
But seriously, if this is what Black and Beavers are bringing to the race, they must not have a lot of respect for the best of Tennessee, because we’ve got a lot of other things going on besides transgender boys sneaking into the girls’ room to pee.
Besides, didn’t President Trump say we’re going to let local school systems decide how to handle those kids?
Meanwhile, Green says he found refuge in Tennessee values after the media and a few Democratic senators twisted his statements about transgender people, Muslims and evolution vs. creationism, which forced him to step down as a candidate for secretary of the U.S. Army.
“There is a God. Regardless of what CNN says, there is a God,” Green explained.
Now that the existence of God is settled, let’s move on to bigger things. Or can it get more profound?
Maybe it can if you sit on a county commission or city council. The state Legislature spends a lot of time hammering local governments, mainly Nashville, the state’s main economic engine, ordering it not to take steps to accept gay people, encourage affordable housing and, this year, forcing it to bolster security in areas where it prohibits guns, a potentially expensive proposition.
Boyd strayed from the Republican road map, though, when he dropped this little bombshell on the partisan crowd: “And one of my rules will be: If the local community can make the decision, we should always divert (defer) to them. We shouldn’t do to our local communities what Washington, D.C., does to Tennessee.”
Good Lord, you could hear forks rattling as people dove back into their dessert plates rather than applaud. After all, everyone knows the Tennessee General Assembly created the federal government and the cities and counties (technically, they did) and that those guys better stay in line or else we’ll secede from the Union and dissolve all 95 counties in the Volunteer State.
Not to hammer Boyd over the head, but when the foursome was asked where they stood on sanctuary cities – a softball at best – he expressed confidence in President Trump’s ability to cut down on illegal immigration.
“If we can stop that, we can stop the possibility of cities wanting to become sanctuary cities. But the simple fact is it’s illegal, they can’t do it, and no city in Tennessee will be a sanctuary city under my watch,” Boyd added.
Wait a minute, didn’t he say he would stand by the decisions of local governments? Metro Nashville City Council is set to consider an ordinance more or less making Nashville a sanctuary city, one in which immigrants could be protected from detainment and deportation without a federal order.
Boyd’s good fortune on this one could be if Nashville adopts those provisions it will most assuredly be outlawed by the Legislature come 2018. So, when candidates such as Lee call sanctuary cities an “invitation for lawlessness,” they probably won’t have to worry for long.
THE OLD-SCHOOL BATTLE
While Black, Green and Lee jumped at the apple of school choice, whether it means giving students vouchers or charters and saying “public schools are great, but ...” Boyd made note of a Knoxville school where all sorts of “wrap-around” services are offered, including extra classes, health care, mentoring, etc., to show how communities can build up schools.
And, oddly enough, Black told the audience one of the most important moments in her life came when, as a ninth-grader raised in public housing, her school counselor, Richard Whiting, told her she was going to college.
Her mother told her she just needed to have kids, but she opted for Whiting’s advice. She became a nurse, and now she’s one of Congress’ wealthiest members, thanks largely to real estate and her husband’s drug-testing company, which has benefited from state contracts.
“Education really is the way out of poverty,” Black pointed out.
She works with a group called Children are People in Gallatin, which takes public housing kids and encourages them to excel beyond their dreams. That’s a great public service.
But a lot of legislators, including numerous conservatives, are not in love with the idea of slowly-but-surely dismantling public education. And if it hadn’t been for her public-school counselor, who knows where Black might be today?
As for that public housing she escaped, the place where she didn’t know she lived on the wrong side of the tracks until she got to high school, Green seems to think we don’t need it.
His health care company operates free clinics in some homeless shelters, so he’s seen people “who are really hurting,” but isn’t sure another handout is helping.
“A well-intentioned welfare state has done more harm than good,” he said.
We need to “release them from the chains that hold them to the fence of poverty by getting out of the way of business, allowing them to create growth that exceeds 3 percent in the economy and creates prosperity” for people tied up in poverty, Green added.
Who knew government deregulation was the key to solving homelessness and its root causes, mental illness, depression, alcoholism and drug abuse? All we have to do is kill the EPA and those other evil federal departments and all the people selling newspapers on Nashville street corners will start making six figures.
THE FINAL ANALYSIS
Come May 2018, if they’re in the race, Black, Green and Beavers will steal votes from each other. Green, though he wasn’t officially in the race at the Reagan Day dinner, reminded the crowd he is “part warrior, part healer, part businessman and leader, I’m honored with the gifts God’s given me, and I look forward to the opportunity to continue to serve.”
Lee, who says he adopted a life of service when his first wife died in a horseback accident years ago, and Boyd appear to be cut from the same cloth: moderate businessmen who want to focus on state economics.
Harwell, who is hard to figure, and Norris, who is waiting for who knows what to get into the race, are legislative veterans adept at handling the ins and outs on Capitol Hill. That knowledge doesn’t always bode well for gubernatorial candidates.
Yet, Norris says his absence from the venue doesn’t mean he’s out of the running, though he hasn’t gotten in yet.
“Nothing of the kind! Hated to miss it. Don’t confuse/combine the two. ‘The road to the (governor’s) residence’ does not begin there if you’re from West TN,” he said via text.
Just like Middle Tennesseans, those Shelby County folks always think they’ve got the keys to the golden streets.
Sam Stockard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.