The historic 106th General Assembly, the first controlled by Republicans since the Civil War, won't end for a few weeks. But any independent observer already would rate it a fabulous success — that is, by the no harm-no foul standard most Tennesseans apply to their legislature.
If our screwy lawmakers come and go without wrecking the republic, we count ourselves among the lucky. This bunch has turned inconsequential grandstanding into an art form.
Republicans took the legislature in 2008 on a wave of anti-Obama fervor from the Tennessee hinterlands. The next day, they held a media event outside the Capitol to try to appear like reasonable, trustworthy adults.
"We're ready to lead!" House Republican leader Jason Mumpower exclaimed to reporters, and then he talked about how the "power of ideas" won the day for his party. The House GOP's grand new slogan, he proclaimed, was "Education First!"
Over the past two years, we haven't heard a lot about education from Republicans. Instead, they have played almost exclusively to the far-right loons in their party, frothing fruitlessly over abortion, guns, God and gays and the urgent need to get the federal guvmint off our backs.
They have rammed through their much-ballyhooed resolution to amend the state constitution to strip away abortion rights. It was the GOP's stated No. 1 priority, but it would accomplish nothing. If it ever makes it onto the Tennessee ballot and passes, abortion would remain legal in the state as long as Roe v. Wade stands.
They have brayed against President Obama's attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and combat climate change — as if Congress were waiting anxiously to hear from Tennessee's legislature on this issue.
They adopted the so-called Tennessee Firearms Freedom Act, which purported to bar federal regulation of firearms and ammunition made in Tennessee. Damn right! There was only one little problem — the U.S. Constitution and its Supremacy Clause, which holds that federal laws supersede those of the states.
The prime sponsor, Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mt. Juliet, appeared on the Glenn Beck show to tout it. "You know, it's like the federal government needs to keep their hands off," Beavers declared. The other guy on the show sheepishly pointed out that while Beavers' law may serve an "educating purpose," unfortunately for all of us, "the practical effect otherwise will be nil." Talk about a buzzkill.
Even this legislature's signature achievement — the guns-in-bars law — was quickly struck down in court last year because it was so vague no one could figure out where firearms were allowed and where they weren't. It looks like the legislature will try again before this session ends. If they succeed in enacting a law that passes constitutional muster, that'll be the surprising news.
This year's forgettable session has been dominated by hot air over national health care reform. Republicans have demanded that Tennessee nullify the law, forgetting that bothersome Supremacy Clause again. Rep. Susan Lynn, R-Mt. Juliet, pushed a state constitutional amendment mandating the free enterprise system forever in this state. No socialized medicine for the Volunteer State, no sir!
Lawmakers even have tried to prohibit things the federal health care law already bans. Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, wants to forbid abortion funding. Told that the law already prohibits that, Hill was undeterred by reason. He argued Tennessee should do it too, just in case.
With Lynn's help, the Christian Right pushed legislation to prohibit the federal government — or anyone else, for that matter — from ever implanting a microchip under your skin against your will. You didn't know anyone was trying to stick a microchip into you? Well, that's why we need legislators to look out for us.
Rep. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, is the legislature's unrivaled King of the Senseless. One of his proudest achievements this year was his "Don't Say Gay" bill to prohibit any mention of homosexuality in public schools.
"I believe in tolerance," Campfield told a committee, but not "acceptance" of gay people.
"I don't think we need to be making our children advocates to push any sort of agenda, no matter what it is, be it pro or negative," explained the Einstein of East Tennessee, whose sole accomplishment of note remains getting kicked out of a UT football game last fall for wearing a Mexican wrestling mask. "I don't think that's what teachers should be doing."
Education department officials pointed out no one is teaching homosexuality in public schools or even bringing up the topic. "What we're doing here is dealing with a figment of this man's imagination," Rep. Ulysses Jones, D-Memphis, said.
Aptly enough, the committee shipped off Campfield's bill for a summer of pointless study.
Let's forget Phil's homosexual stance, let's talk about his racial perspective. That is what I…
No pigtails Pink, just pig.
Ms Harris, your belief that only those that do not want to die seek help…
A religious man gives his opinion about the biblical sin of homosexuality and he's labeled…
Finally some truth about polar bears. There's also more of them then ever. They're in…