Commentary: March Madness in Legislatures

March 22, 2021 4:00 am
The Tennessee Senate Chambers. (Photo: John Partipilo)

The Tennessee Senate Chambers. (Photo: John Partipilo)

March Madness isn’t just the nickname of a basketball tournament.  We’re now smack in the middle of the crazy season on both the U.S. Capitol Hill and in our state legislature—as Tennessee Republicans do battle, not really with Democrats but more with objective reality.

Peak lunacy came late last week when Tennessee congressman John Rose joined 11 other extremists in voting against a resolution bestowing the Congressional Gold Medal on Capitol Police officers and other members of law enforcement who protected the Capitol, some to the point of injury and death, during the Jan. 6 insurrection.  Rose was joined by such legislative lowlights as Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Matt Gaetz of Florida, and Louis Gohmert of Texas.  The loon caucus apparently was following the lead of Gohmert, who crafted a wimpy alternative resolution that did not refer to the riot and only mentioned that three police offers “passed in January 2021.”

Congressman John Rose, R-District 6 (Photo:
Congressman John Rose, R-District 6 (Photo:

Rose also joined all of Tennessee’s Republican congressmen in finding excuses to vote against the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021. Tennessee’s seven Republican members of the U.S. House also voted against the American Rescue Plan, dealing with the costs of both fighting COVID-19 and the needed economic recovery from the pandemic. District 2’s Tim Burchett was typical in the disingenuous arguments proffered. He wrote in his constituent newsletter, “One of the main reasons I voted against this pork-filled legislation was because only 9% of the money in this so-called relief bill actually goes to addressing coronavirus concerns.”

Nope, that deception was too much even for the conservative Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.  It tallied about 85% of the American Rescue Plan is pandemic-related.  USA Today’s Fact Checker rated the nine percent claim false.

The congressional hearings last week on anti-Asian violence also served as a reminder that all seven Tennessee Republican members of the U. S. House also voted in September against a simple resolution condemning all forms of anti-Asian sentiment as related to COVID-19.  Amazingly, some 164 Republicans voted against that humane declaration.

Meanwhile, our pair of U. S. Senators have been busy establishing themselves as some of the most frequent votes against qualified Biden Cabinet appointees.  Eighteen nominees have come up for votes as of late last week.  Marsha Blackburn voted against 13 of them; Bill Hagerty against 12.  Sens. Blackburn and Hagerty were among 30 Republicans who voted against centrist jurist and experienced prosecutor Merrick Garland for Attorney General.  Only 10 GOP senators opposed Avril Haines for Director of National Intelligence, but Blackburn and Hagerty were among their number, as they were in the 13 opposing Pete Buttigieg for Transportation Secretary.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a pattern in the Blackburn and Hagerty rejection of Xavier Becerra (Health and Human Services), Alejandro Mayorkas (Homeland Security), and Isabel Guzman (Small Business Administration); not to mention African American nominee Marcia Fudge (Housing and Urban Development).  Hagerty also voted against Miguel Cardona for Education Secretary; Blackburn voted ‘no’ on Deb Haaland, the first Native American to become a Cabinet Secretary (Interior).

In Nashville, our GOP supermajority has busied itself making it more difficult to vote, but much easier to get and carry guns.  It seems determined to let for-profit charter schools feed at the public trough.  It has tied itself in knots trying to avoid removing a bust of Confederate general, slave trader, and first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan Nathan Bedford Forrest from the capitol.  Our state legislature also has a peculiar fascination with women’s sports, aghast at players kneeling to protest racial injustice, and tackling something that isn’t a problem, namely transgender persons playing middle or high school athletics under their gender identity.

One wonders if we can rebound from all this legislative March Madness.  Will we ever score better representatives, or are we all doomed to endure this dribbling mess?

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Mark Harmon
Mark Harmon

Mark D. Harmon is a professor of journalism and electronic media at the University of Tennessee.