The legislature went home, and that's made everyone here at the Scene all misty-eyed with nostalgia. It all started with a bang a short 23 weeks ago with Kent Williams seizing power in his corrupt bargain with Democrats, and the fun just never seemed to stop.
Remember Rep. Tony Shipley threatening God's wrath against gays? And Rep. Susan Lynn claiming Williams offered her a week's pay to see her naked in the legislative parking garage? Ah, the memories. Guns, abortion, Obama birthers, teabaggers, Hispaniels and the yellow man, the Senate Republican budget—the list goes on, as they say.
Then when we didn't think we possibly could ask for more, there was the fabulous denouement: All at once Sherri Goforth was a household name, and her charming little picture of those bright white eyes peering out of the darkness became a new national symbol of racism right up there with Bull Connor's fire hoses. Goforth's boss, Senate Republican caucus chair Diane Black, went on CNN to try to defend herself, and even Whoopie Goldberg weighed in.
Republicans thought their salvation had arrived in the person of Blake Graves, a temp worker for a Democratic state legislator. Graves was caught emailing pictures with politically incorrect captions targeting Asians, Alzheimer's victims and the handicapped. Besieged by negative press over their own staffer's emailing of the Obama spook picture, Republicans were merrily getting ready to hold a press conference to trumpet the Democrats' troubles.
Then it came out that Democratic leaders already had forced Graves' resignation, while Republicans only reprimanded Goforth.
To make matters worse for Republicans, Graves turned out not to be a Democrat at all. He voted in the 2006 GOP primary. In addition, he lists among his Facebook groups the College Republicans, Bush is my Homeboy (whatever that is), and Republicans for Alternative Energy. He also says he's a fan of Bob Corker. Whoopsies!
Miraculously, Democrats turned the whole episode into a big positive. Democratic Party chair Chip Forrester was so excited he put out a press release applauding House Democrats for ousting Graves:
"I only wish that Senate Republicans, led by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Sen. Diane Black, would have the same courage and presence of mind as the House leadership," Forrester said. "...there is a pervasive pattern of racist behavior condoned by Republican leadership in Tennessee, especially directed at President Barack Obama."
Sen. Roy Herron couldn't resist rubbing it in: "In the last week of session, the contrast between Republicans and Democrats could hardly have been sharper.... A Republican employee in the Senate caucus chair's office sent a racist email and did not lose an hour of work or a dollar of pay. Someone in a Democratic legislator's office committed a similar offense and was told to hit the streets."
For Republicans, the only good news was that the controversy overshadowed the Republican Senate's disastrous attempt to cut Gov. Phil Bredesen's already austere state budget. Most outrageously on their target list was an industrial site in impoverished rural West Tennessee. As senators floated that bright idea, the governor was about to go to Europe to try to sell the site to clean-energy companies. After Bredesen called it stupid and newspapers quickly piled on with scorching editorials, the senators backed off. To try to save face, they claimed their proposals had been merely negotiating positions all along. Heh.
Lt. Gov. Ramsey went into serious spin mode as the session closed. "I think we did a pretty good job actually to make sure we got a budget that's good for the people of Tennessee," he said.
What did he think about the Democrats' claim that Senate Republicans offered their budget-cutting amendment as a political gambit to help his gubernatorial campaign? "That's ridiculous," he said.
He defended the much-maligned plan, saying it took political courage.
"If you want to propose cuts, then you need to have the guts to say where these cuts are coming from. It wasn't just like we began by saying, 'governor you've got to make $55 million in cuts, but by gosh, you've got to pick them out.' That would have been the chicken way out in my opinion."
House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh offered a different viewpoint. He said Republicans proposed cuts to please the teabagger crowd, then went home and caught flak from their constituents and realized they'd stepped in it.
"I mean it's pretty obvious they didn't want to vote on it," Naifeh said. "They made a No. 1 political blunder. They were trying to out-right-wing each other."
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About as seriously as bobs invitation to Lock 2 Park.
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