Senate Republicans have launched their push for a conservative takeover of the state's judiciary. With Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey making a rare appearance to cast the tie-breaking votes last week, they rammed their judicial selection plan through the Senate Government Operations Committee. The legislation would disband the bane of the right wing's existence—the 17-member judicial selection commission, which chooses the slate of candidates from which governors appoint new judges. Proponents say the commission has given Tennessee one of the most professional judiciaries in the nation. Conservatives say it gives too many seats to liberals and trial lawyers. They want to return the state to elections of all judges, so that home schoolers, Bible school teachers and gun dealers could decide the meaning of the state constitution.
Under the GOP plan, there would be Supreme Court elections in 2014. In the meantime, the governor would appoint anyone he wants to fill vacancies. This raises the prospect of justices throwing fundraisers, running TV ads and making decisions based on how they would play in a political campaign.
"Contested elections are a bad idea because they let money get to our judiciary," says Rep. Henry Fincher, D-Cookeville. "It appears that the judiciary, the last bastion of freedom, justice and equality, is up for sale."
Ramsey plays for teabagger vote
You might have thought we'd settled the argument over whether state governments should accept federal stimulus funds. Even Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, Mississippi's Haley Barbour and Alaska's Sarah Palin have fallen into line. Only South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford stubbornly refused to back down, and legislators had to vote to force him to take the money. His approval rating plunged to 40 percent.
But here in Tennessee, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey isn't giving up, saying that he'd rather cut university funding and other state services than take all of Tennessee's share of the money.
"We can't put this off. It's going to be tough. Could we take this money and just kind of plug holes? Other states are apparently doing that right now. But that is the wrong fiscal thing to do."
Naturally, Ramsey is short on specifics when it comes to the cuts he'd make. That's because he doesn't really know what he's talking about. That much became apparent as reporters pressed the Senate speaker to explain himself.
"I know the philosophy where I am, but I haven't filled all the holes in yet. We're working with this.... I honestly believe that in some cases the stimulus money is going to make things worse because it does mask a problem."
Ramsey sells his argument as fiscal prudence: If we don't cut now, we'll only have to do it in two years when the stimulus money disappears. But that's assuming the stimulus doesn't work. His claim that the money will create more problems than it solves goes against the consensus among economists who say that spending is key to any recovery. Whatever happens, it's impossible to predict how deeply Tennessee might have to cut in 2011. Why do it before it's necessary?
The answer is easy: Because Ramsey's running for governor, and the kind of conservatives who vote in Republican primaries would love him for it. Never mind that state government services already are pathetically meager, or that chopping colleges and causing student tuition hikes might not play so well in the general election. Ramsey's not worried about that. He's going after the teabagger vote. So he needs to come across as a heartless, penny-pinching, government-hating nutjob. He's doing a good job of that so far. As the budget debate begins, here's a question for the legislature: Should we deconstruct state government to help Ramsey's campaign for governor?
Did Bredesen lie about jobless benefits?
Speaking of the federal stimulus money, Gov. Phil Bredesen led the public to believe he'd accepted Tennessee's $140 million to expand benefits for laid-off workers. That was after he drew media criticism and even a puzzled call from the White House for initially joining various Republican wingnuts in saying he might turn it down. At the time, he complained that it came with too many strings attached, then backpedaled and said he was only taking time to read "the fine print."
"The fact I wanted to read the fine print got my picture next to those guys in The New York Times and a call from the White House, wondering what I was doing. That's perfectly fine," he said then.
Well, it seems the state's not taking all the money after all, as officials still are refusing to adopt the most costly changes that would add thousands more to the rolls. That means only about half of the 292,300 unemployed in Tennessee in March collected unemployment pay.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 615-844-9445.
Frank (whoever you are), I do have enough education to read and comprehend. If you…
Nixon removed himself to avoid impeachment for conspiracy to commit burglary, violation of civil rights,…
"why in THE HELL would we do that???" [meaning extract out SS and military spending]
Interesting concept, Kosh. I think it just may have value. Of course it will cause…
"I don't see the correlation others are expressing."
I stand by my assertion…