Thursday, I was speaking to a bipartisan group about the current political environment and giving a recap on all that’s happened since the Nov. 3 Election Day. As the resident progressive, I was joined by a well-known Republican consultant who has carved out a solid career in Tennessee and national politics.
For the last question of the event, the moderator asked my counterpart if he were giving advice to the Democratic Party, what would he say? And what advice would I give to Republicans?
I think a lot about the Tennessee legislature and the reams of bills produced there annually, and I didn’t take long to provide my response for the Tennessee Republican Party:
Lose the crazy.
Republicans have a supermajority in both chambers so they neither need nor want my advice. And both Americans and Tennesseans are locked into partisan identities and vote for the ‘R’ or the ‘D’ by names.
But the Republican brand is tarnished these days, given the Jan. 6 insurrection and takeover of the U.S. Capitol by QAnon supporters, and that could be the start of the inevitable decline that comes to those who are arrogant and complacent. It happened to Tennessee Democrats and it will happen to the GOP at some point.
Tennessee’s Republican legislators persist in filing and pushing bills that at best do nothing to improve quality of life for their constituents and at worst are both irrational and detrimental. A cursory look at high-profile legislation of the 112th session includes:
- Failure to expand Medicaid: Tennessee is one of only 12 states that has consistently refused to accept money for Medicaid expansion and as a result, we’ve forfeited about $1.4 billion per year since 2014 and 13 hospitals have closed. The passage of an experimental Medicaid block grant that was made possible by former President Donald Trump in his last two weeks in office is likely to be rescinded by President Joe Biden, who has offered to financially sweeten the deal for Tennessee leaders to take Medicaid expansion. Polling typically shows Tennesseans of both political parties support the expansion but earlier this week, Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton said he remains a hard ‘no’ on Medicaid expansion. I’ve been trying for years to figure out how this fits with purported Republican ideals of fiscal responsibility, and I just can’t: the only explanation is that the expansion came through former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, and if so, Republicans are cutting off their own constituents’ noses to spite their faces.
- Guns. According to “strict constitutionalists,” the Second Amendment gives everyone the right to carry any kind of gun anywhere they want at any time with no restrictions; hence, the bill to abolish the need to even apply for a permit to pack heat in Tennessee or to get any training before getting a gun. Permitless gun carry legislation is moving along at a steady clip, despite the opposition of the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and, according to a 2019 poll, more than 90% of Tennesseans. Permitless carry isn’t the only gun bill this session: 26 bills have been filed related to guns, including one sponsored by Tullahoma Republican Sen. Janice Bowling that broadens the category of people authorized to carry guns in parks.
- Anti-transgender action: Gov. Bill Lee’s just signed a bill into law that bans the participation in middle school or high school sports by transgender kids, unless they participate on the team corresponding with their birth gender. This bill has no impact on most Tennesseans but to the ones it does effect, it’s harmful.
- Increase in banking fees. Sen. Jack Johnson is behind SB0344, which gives financial institutions the ability to increase fees to service loans, a move that clearly only benefits banks.
I could continue ad nauseum, but you get the point. Tennessee’s Republican legislators are acting on someone’s behalf, but it’s certainly not the citizens of Tennessee. It’s likely to be a few years before the Republican hold on the legislature starts to slip, but with continued actions like these, it’s only a matter of time before Tennessee voters rise at the ballot box to demand change from fanaticism and irrationality.