Some might have thought of 2011 as a relatively quiet political year in Tennessee, but as we reflect back on the previous year, we see that there was most certainly plenty to talk about. As we did last year, The Examiner has compiled the Top Ten Tennessee Political Events of 2011. Feel free to add your own events that you think should be in the Top 10 in the comments section as well, we’d like to hear from fellow Tennesseans:
10. Mayor Madeleine-The whole political phenomenon that was the Knoxville Mayoral election, which eventually resulted in a runoff between a man who would have been Knoxville’s youngest Mayor, and the more liberal candidate who would be the city’s first woman Mayor bears attention. Not because the expected outcome occurred (a Rogero victory), but because Tennessee’s Republican Governor, Rogero’s predecessor, seemed to clandestinely endorse Rogero when he called Knoxville “a Democratic town.” Bill Haslam did appoint Rogero to a critical community development post in his administration. Haslam defeated Rogero to be elected Mayor of Knoxville in the first place, without which he would probably not be Governor today.
9. The new (Republican) order of things-A Tennessee House of Representatives was sworn in on the second Tuesday in January with 64 Republicans, the most ever elected in the history of the State. Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) would become the new Leader, effectively replacing Jason Mumpower (R-Bristol) who retired from the House, electing not to run for another term he certainly would have won. Mumpower would eventually take a State job as a legislative liaison, something he is quite good at considering his 14 years of experience in the Legislature. In the Senate, 20 Republicans would be sworn in, effectively making the Democrats powerless.
8. Speaker Beth-In a move that was doubtless an attempt to kiss the correct rear-end (a kind of Jimmy Naifeh-job in reverse), House Democrats elected not to field a candidate for Speaker of the House, assuring the unanimous election of political scientist and Republican fundraiser extraordinaire Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) as Speaker of the House. Both the swearing-in and the Speaker’s election took place against the backdrop of some of the nastiest winter weather to hit the State in many years. The weather forced this writer not to attend in person, something that had become a bi-annual custom for this column. We were forced to view the live feed from our office at home while the snow covered the driveway and the road outside.
7. Senator Stacey makes his mark-Senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) despised by the News Sentinel and Jack McElroy, its editor-in-chief, for living out his conservative views and doing exactly what he tells his constituents that he will do, was among the Senators sworn in. Campfield’s elevation to the upper chamber was fought viciously by people not only on the Left, but certain of the Knox County political establishment who made their latest failed attempt to be rid of this firebrand of the Right. Campfield becoming a Senator is significant, since he entered the body with six years of seniority from his previous three terms in the House. He was appointed to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he has been a consistent advocate of returning to the elected judiciary called for in the Tennessee Constitution.
6. Early Presidential Primary attention-Tennesseans are not used to getting much in the way of early presidential attention, but we certainly got some of it this year. Herman Cain, Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney have all visited Tennessee over the last year. The Romney campaign got Haslam money and influence in its corner early (no surprise there), while Gingrich appointed Representative Tony Shipley (R-Kingsport) and Senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) as State campaign directors. Herman Cain dropped out of the race, of course, leaving his supporters-many of whom were in Tennessee-up for courtship from the other presidential candidates. Tennessee’s Presidential Primary is scheduled for Tuesday, March 6th-“Super Tuesday.”
5. Woodson out, Duncan-Massey in-Former Tennessee State Senator Jamie Woodson (R-Knoxville) was the Speaker pro-Tempore of the Senate. She resigned her seat and the prestige of the Senate’s second most powerful position in order to take a position with SCORE (the State Collaborative for Reforming Education). Woodson’s resignation became effective July 1st, after the General Assembly had adjorned. A three-way special primary between former Knox County Commissioner Victoria DeFreese, Knoxville City Councilwoman Marilyn Roddy, and Becky Duncan-Massey-the daughter of former Knoxville Mayor and Congressman John J. Duncan, Sr.-resulted in Duncan-Massey winning the Republican nomination. Massey then defeated Knox County Democratic Chairman Gloria Johnson handily in November.
4. Planned Parenthood de-funding SNAFU-Senator Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville), joined his House colleagues was able to push through a modification to the amended budget bill, passed handily in both Houses, which would have ended State funding to Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortions in the world. After the budget passed, contradictory language appeared in another section of the budget bill which literally undid the Campfield Amendment. The only problem is that this language was not knowingly approved by a majority in either body of the Legislature, indeed no vote was ever held on a language change. Sources inside the Capitol confirmed that at least one Senator authorized the change in the language of the bill, and that he may have done so with the knowledge of other Senators or even a House member. Not only was Campfield incensed at the “Top Secret” change, but Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) and House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) got so much negative feedback that they attempted to make the story go away by issuing a press release promising that the General Assembly would de-fund Planned Parenthood in the forthcoming session-at 5pm on a Friday of the Memorial Day weekend when the General Assembly had just recently adjourned. We hope, of course, that the promise of Harwell and Ramsey on this important issue is fulfilled. We are watching.
3. The Voter ID Bill-Representative Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville) sponsored legislation that would require all Tennesseans to produce some kind of photo identification when they go to the polls to vote. A passport would do, a driver’s license, a State identification, and even an expired State identification is acceptable under the new law, so long as you can simply prove it is you (a look at the face will do). If you don’t have a State ID, the new law allows for the disabled and the indigent to get one free in order to vote. Yet, the NAACP says that it is all part of a vast Republican conspiracy to keep minorities from voting. They’ve even gone whining to the United Nations over the new voting law. We eagerly await the reaction of the sovereign citizens of this State when blue-helmeted troops are deplayed to our major cities in order to enforce the mandate of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights that requiring a voter to identify themselves in order to insure an election that is both free and fair is a violation of human rights. No, we really don’t think that is going to happen in the least, but Governor Bill Haslam just might-he signed the bill, but now he can’t make up his mind whether it is a good idea.
2. TBI Witchhunt of Shipley, Ford, and nurses-For over half of the year, The Examiner has followed and investigated a story where Representatives Tony Shipley (R-Kingsport) and Dale Ford (R-Jonesborough) assisted three Upper East Tennessee nurse practitioners whose licenses had revoked, but who did not receive due process or the ability to present evidence in their own defense. Shipley and Ford demanded that the nurses receive a fair hearing and that the Commissioner of Health, who was then Susan Cooper, should intervene to insure that justice was done on the nurses’ behalf. The three nurses had been wrongly accused in the deaths of three patients. Nurse practitioner Bob Reynolds risked what remained of his ruined livelihood to tell his story to The Examiner. The result was that the TBI launched an investigation against Tony Shipley and Dale Ford for allegedly improperly using the influence of their office. Barry Carrier, the TBI official who seems to have been intent on destroying not only the nurses but especially Shipley and Ford, has never been able to find any wrongdoing on the part of the two Upper East Tennessee House Republicans. Shipley has since been appointed to lead the committee with oversight over the Board of Health, which is the body that was the root of the original problem in the case. The TBI has had close ties to previous Democratic Governors and General Assemblies.
1. Occupy Nashville-They’ve been on the Legislative Plaza since October. They have an agenda that can best be described as loose, and many have said that they were and are a threat to public health and safety at the State Capitol. Attempts to disperse their sit-in by the force of the Tennessee Highway Patrol backfired when Public Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons crafted a new curfew for the Capitol grounds that was clearly aimed at the protesters exclusively, Occupy Nashville was initially very successful at transforming their protest from a collection of disgruntled Leftists-a distinct political minority in an increasingly conservative State-into a struggle over the ability of citizens to exercise their rights under the First Amendment. As a result, Occupy Nashville has outlasted its sister protests in Oakland, Washington, and the mother of all of the Occupy sit-ins near Wall Street in New York, all of whom were dispersed by the force of law. Occupy Nashville has failed miserably, however, in transforming that initial political success into a long-term goodwill. There is now a legitimate attempt to change the rules at the Capitol because the sit-in has degenerated from protest to simple encampment, and there seems to be an idea on the part of some that such a thing should never happen again. Leaders of the Occupy protest have not presented an agenda or a list of demands to the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, or the Speaker of the House. Up to this point, the Occupy protest has been conducted while the General Assembly has not been in session, so all the Occupiers have managed to do is aggravate the office workers and custodial staff who aren’t elected to anything and who have to go to work at the Legislative Plaza every day. Occupy Nashville isn’t just our top political story of 2011, but at press time as the year ends, this story certainly has not.
This will be my last column of the year 2011 Anno Domini. I want to thank my loyal readers for a successful year, and I want to wish all of you a continued Merry Christmas and a Happy, Holy, healthy, and prosperous New Year as we enter 2012.