Organizers are claiming a crowd of more than 10,000, but we're guessing there were about 1,000 noisy white people at the Tax Day Tea Party at Legislative Plaza. We're not going to engage in a lot of mockery here because it's mean to make fun of crazy people.
They honked their horns and circled the Capitol and heard the usual spiels from local right-wing radio blowhards. They had a little fun shouting down a lonely protester who was immediately branded by speakers as an infiltrator from the evil ACORN. Following a prearranged strategy, the crowd chanted "USA! USA!" until the beleaguered protester went away.
Steve Gill gave his prescription for a better America. What we need, he said, is "the God-fearing America," "the baby-loving, man-and-woman-marrying America." Phil Valentine declared: "Here is my new slogan for 2010, folks. If you voted for a bailout, get the hell out."
So much for illuminating discourse.
Beneath the crowd inside the Plaza, a fired-up Rep. Brian Kelsey was demanding that the House Budget Subcommittee adopt his resolution calling on Tennessee to reject federal stimulus money to expand unemployment benefits. Kelsey thinks that money is "a ticking fiscal time bomb." He offered an amendment declaring opposition to "attempts to establish socialism as a form of government in America."
"We've got all these folks out here (and) it would just be helpful to send a message from the legislature to say we hear your concerns, we share your concerns. We sympathize with you," Kelsey said.
The subcommittee wasn't feeling all that sympathetic. At the suggestion of Republican leader Jason Mumpower, any vote was postponed for four weeks.
Around the country, the Republican establishment was queasy about joining the wackos in the Tea Party revolution. But not in Tennessee, where GOP leaders have no fussy qualms about hanging out with angry nutjobs.
Ron Ramsey, Zach Wamp and Marsha Blackburn, just to name three state GOP leaders, embraced the Tea Party protesters in press releases. Wamp saluted them, Ramsey applauded them, and Blackburn asked them for campaign cash.
"The liberals' favorite day is tax day, April 15," Blackburn wrote in an email before hitting up the teabaggers for contributions.
Haslam's pain is Ramsey's glee
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey responded with glee to the news that political rival Bill Haslam's Pilot Oil has settled price-gouging allegations with the state attorney general. The Knoxville mayor's company is accused of artificially driving up prices during Hurricane Ike.
"I won't bring that up ... yet," said a rather disingenuous Ramsey. "The fact that this is the third state that's happened in, I wasn't going to point that out."
Attorney General Bob Cooper is boasting about the settlements with 16 companies and individuals who own 27 gas stations in Middle and East Tennessee. "In these trying economic times, consumers need their hard-earned dollars to stretch as far as possible. I want to make sure that consumers are treated fairly—especially at the pump," he says.
But is this really anything to crow about? The settlements will result in a paltry $73,447 in potential restitution for consumers, assuming they can produce receipts for their gas purchases after Hurricane Ike.
Follow the money
* The average House race raised $43,000 and the average Senate race collected $180,000. Political parties gathered $6.6 million in contributions.
* Lawyers and lobbyists gave almost $1.5 million, a 74 percent jump from 2004. Over twice as much money was channeled through leadership PACs controlled by state politicians. The $1.1 million from health professionals and $900,000 from the real estate industry was double the amount from those industries in 2004.
* The most striking change is the amount raised by senators not up for election. They raised almost $1 million, six times the amount they raised in 2004.
* 196 House candidates collected $8,438,759 for an average of $43,055, and 39 Senate candidates collected $7,012,743 for an average of $179,814.
* Outside of party-related PACs, the top PAC contributor to legislative campaigns was Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey's RAAMPAC with $408,800, followed by former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh's Speaker's Fund at $395,500. (Ramsey also handed out another $218,180 from his separate Senate campaign account.)
* Top PAC donor not controlled by a politician was Federal Express with $378,500, followed by PACs representing Realtors, trial lawyers, doctors, the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union, teachers and National Health Corp., the nursing home chain that's pushing the bill to cap lawsuit damages for abusing residents.
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