Stockard on the Stump: Lawmaker misreads Three-Fifths Compromise

By: - May 6, 2021 12:37 pm
Legislators in the Tennessee Capitol during a break in the final day of session. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Legislators in the Tennessee Capitol during a break in the final day of session. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Mercifully, the legislative session is over. 

State Rep. Justin Lafferty challenged his House colleagues this week on their understanding of the Three-Fifths Compromise during debate on legislation designed to make teachers turn out widgets instead of students, at least as far as national discourse surrounding systemic racism.

“By limiting the number of population in the count, they specifically limited the number of representatives who would be available in the slave holding stuates and they did it for the purpose of ending slavery,” Lafferty said on the House floor. He noted this took place well before Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War.

Rep. Justin Lafferty, R-Knoxville (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Rep. Justin Lafferty, R-Knoxville (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

Lafferty noted he prayed for several minutes before deciding to speak. He might have prayed for wisdom and considered looking into history himself before suggesting Democrats in the House had no idea what the compromise did. 

It valued slaves as three-fifths of a person or, according to most information, counting three-fifths of slaves toward the total population in slave-holding states at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. 

Lafferty was right about a few things, mainly that the compromise led to passage of the U.S. Constitution, which – sadly enough – would not have been reached otherwise. But he was off the mark in suggesting the compromise was designed to end slavery.

In fact, the compromise gave Southern states more clout in Congress and likely helped Thomas Jefferson win the presidency, because it gave slave-holding states larger populations even though they treated slaves as property, not free people with voting rights or the ability to own land.

Black members of the House, who tried to upend the bill, which is designed to stop white people for taking the blame for the ills of African Americans, were upset by Lafferty’s claims.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat who chairs the Tennessee Black Caucus, released this statement: “Conversations around race are always very uncomfortable in the Tennessee Legislature. Rep. Lafferty’s statement about how the Three-Fifths Compromise was designed to end slavery was alarming but the real insult was when the House Republicans clapped for him when he finished his diatribe. What I appreciate about his soliloquy is the fact that he gave us his truth, his rationale as to why he was supporting the amendment to force teachers through law to whitewash historical events. This is exactly what needs to happen in our state. There is a need to have a conversation in truth in order to move our state forward.”

Slave-holding states, of course, wanted all of their slaves to count toward the total population but not toward taxes collected by the federal government. They pretty much wanted to have their cake and eat it too.

Free states argued conversely that people held as property shouldn’t count toward the population yet they wanted to collect taxes on slaves, which were treated as property. Northern states were also afraid of giving too much political power to Southern states by allowing their slaves to count as one person each.

After a great deal of back and forth, delegates wound up with the compromise and passed the Constitution. 

The sad thing is the amendment by Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, which was thrown into the waning days of the Legislature, had no practical purpose other than to stop white people from feeling bad about the plight of Black Americans,

Of course, it had to be amended, albeit years later, since it wrote slavery into the law of the land. Not until the Civil War, the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment did slavery meet its end. Yet we’re still feeling the ramifications today of 400 years of terrible decisions.

Lafferty’s pronouncement did one other thing, too. It drew attention to Tennessee with a New York Times article, which is usually what happens when some official here makes an idiotic statement.

The sad thing is the amendment by Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, which was thrown into the waning days of the Legislature, had no practical purpose other than to stop white people from feeling bad about the plight of Black Americans, who have been whipped, stripped, lynched, bitten, hosed, gunned down, segregated and otherwise mistreated for four centuries.

It’s a wonder Black folks will even talk to white people.

No discrimination here

In the final moments of Monday night’s House session, Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison took to the floor to object to a Senate Joint Resolution by Sen. Raumesh Akbari and carried by Rep. John Ray Clemmons in the House seeking to honor T.J. Osborne.

Faison explained that House leadership had concerns about the resolution because it didn’t go through the committee system. They referred it to the Naming and Designating Committee, which was closed for the year.

This sent me searching: Who is T.J. Osborne and what did he do so wrong? As it turned out, he is an openly gay country musician and member of The Brothers Osborne.

The resolution, which passed the Senate unanimously, described Osborne as a “trailblazer and a symbol of hope for those country music artists and fans alike who may have felt ostracized from a genre they hold dear.”

Republican House Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Republican House Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Which begs the question: If country music is ready for T.J. and The Brothers Osborne, why not House Republicans? After all, the House has two openly gay members now, including Republican Rep. Eddie Mannis of Knoxville. 

On Twitter, The Brothers Osborne took the high road and offered to have lunch one day with Faison, on them. “Would really like to know more about you as a person.”

We’ll see if Faison, one of the more open-minded members of the House, takes up the invitation.

DIDDs workers get bump

The Legislature approved an extra $39 million for fiscal 2021-22 to boost the pay for workers who take care of the state’s frailest residents in the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

Gov. Bill Lee initially wanted to bump their pay up to $10 an hour, but the Legislature pushed it to an astounding $12.50 per hour. That means they’ll take home $26,000 a year if they work 40 hours a week. 

The legislature granted a pay raise to workers for the Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, bringing them to $26,000 annually for 40 hours per week 

Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, a wild card of sorts in the Legislature, helped push the higher pay through the Legislature. He commended Finance chairs Bo Watson of Hixson and Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain for “scrounging around and finding the money.” (Which begs the question: Why are Chattanooga area folks controlling the purse strings? Just kidding.)

They deserve some kudos. But consider what these people do day in and day out, working with people who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. Other than roofing houses and digging ditches, it might be one of the hardest jobs in the state. And we’re paying them $26,000 a year? Meanwhile, the state is sitting on $230 million for the next fiscal year.

Maybe Gov. Lee should scrounge around and find some change in the couch to give these people enough money to take care of their families.

Roadblock or cannabis gateway?

After a cannabis decriminalization bill failed in the House, Sen. Ferrell Haile took up the banner in the Senate, pushing through a measure that is more restrictive but still takes a step toward what most of the nation is doing: using THC to ease the pain.

Haile’s bill sets up a commission to oversee the cannabis process in Tennessee and includes a provision enabling it to take effect as soon as the federal government reschedules marijuana. It also will allow people to go out of state and bring back some low-level THC items.

Critics such as Sen. Janice Bowling, who has fought for legalization of medical marijuana, tried to derail the Haile bill. In fact, Bowling spoke so long on the Senate floor, it almost turned into a Janice-buster, as opposed to filibuster. But finally she took a seat.

Questions were raised about whether this measure will stop the state from pursuing a real cannabis bill. And Sen. Frank Nicely, the gentleman from Strawberry Plains, argued that it’s time to let Tennessee farmers grow their own. Cannabis is already the state’s No. 2 cash crop.

Cannabis already can be grown and used in Tennessee as long as it contains only .9% THC. But really what people want is the strong stuff.

Why Tennessee is worried about the federal government is a little weird. Nobody else in the country cares, since about 33 states allow medical cannabis and numerous states allow recreational weed, including the entire West Coast. 

Tennessee lawmakers call themselves leaders on a number of fronts. This is one where they’re riding in the back of the bus, the blue bus. “Come on baby, take a chance with us. And meet me at the back of the blue bus.” (The Doors)

PBMs take a backseat

The Business Roundtable balked at legislation taking aim at pharmacy benefits managers, but the Legislature passed it anyway. And if anyone can figure out exactly what this does, give me a call. After reading the roundtable’s letter and listening to the debate, I had a splitting headache. 

Between vertical integration and sprint pricing, I was standing on my head.

One notable thing was mentioned, though. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Shane Reeves, R-Murfreesboro, Haile, R-Gallatin, and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, all declared Rule 13, indicating a potential conflict of interest, since they are pharmacists by trade.

McNally, though, pointed out he hasn’t worked as a pharmacist in 10 years. “And that is not to my wife’s liking.” 

Don’t worry, though. He’s probably not choosing between bologna and liver cheese for lunch.

Let them eat cake

Coming out of the worst economic crisis in years, the Legislature cracked down on unemployment, cutting the time frame people can qualify for benefits from 26 weeks to a max of 12 at a 5.5% jobless rate, which is about what it is now. If unemployment jumps to 15.5% as it did in 2020, they could get up to 20 weeks with a maximum weekly payout of $300, up from $275.

Rep. Kevin Vaughan, a Collierville Republican, sponsored the bill, calling it a simple equation to keep the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund solvent. He admitted being laid off back in the mid-’90s. But with a U of Memphis engineering degree, he’s done pretty well since then, starting his own real estate and development company.

Critics of the bill pointed out many Tennesseans aren’t as fortunate.

Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, argued against the legislature raising its own pay. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, argued against the legislature raising its own pay. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Rep. Gloria Johnson, D-Knoxville, a former teacher, threw in this little zinger. “In the next 24 hours, when the vote comes to increase your compensation, I hope you think about that.”

The Legislature voted to give itself a $3,000 increase in the home office allowance and a better mileage allowance. Shocking.

Banning references to slavery

Democratic Rep. Joe Towns has been working for years to eliminate the word slavery from Tennessee’s Constitution. He could be on the verge of finally doing it after passing legislation to put it a constitutional amendment on the next gubernatorial ballot.

He didn’t do it without running into some opposition. 

Rep. Chris Todd, R-Madison County, complained that Democrats objected to changing the Constitution when Republicans sought to pass the Right to Work (beat up unions) resolution this year.

Rep. Joe Towns, Jr., D-Memphis (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Rep. Joe Towns, Jr., D-Memphis (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

You can file a lawsuit on a chicken sandwich.

– Rep. Joe Towns, D-Memphis

Then, Rep. Susan Lynn took the mic for one of the few times this session to object to Towns’ wording. She was afraid prison inmates would demand to be paid certain wages to take jobs at the state pen and possibly file a lawsuit against the state for better pay.

“You can file a lawsuit on a chicken sandwich,” Towns responded.

Just one year removed from being chairman of the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee, Lynn has about as much pull now as a 1976 Datsun 1200 with a busted head gasket. (We had one when I was 16.) She rambled and rambled. Then the resolution passed 81-2, and Towns received an ovation.

It appears Lynn has been relegated to the scrap heap of state government.


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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.