Democrats' attempt to sell themselves as the moderate adults in the state continued in earnest today, at a Capitol Hill press conference where they pushed their Tennessee First Act.
Nashville Democratic Reps. Mike Turner, Sherry Jones and Mike Stewart joined Metro councilmen and state House candidates Darren Jernigan and Bo Mitchell, along with Memphis Rep. Joe Towns, for the effort. They began with what would seem to be their central argument going into campaign season: that the Republican majority has overreached and pushed their social agenda, at the expense of focusing on jobs.
“Whether it was the ‘Monkey Bill,’ the Don’t Say Gay bill or Republican conspiracy theories about Agenda 21," said Jones. "Republican leaders found plenty of time to avoid talking about what people in my district really care about the most, and that’s creating jobs for working families and opportunities for the middle class.”
That makes it all the more ridiculous, she said, that last session, Republicans squashed the Tennessee Contractors First bill, which she called "a commonsense proposal that should enjoy bipartisan support."
Democrats last session also introduced a similar proposal, as an amendment, but it too was rejected.
Next session, they'll continue pushing the Tennessee First Act, which they say would give Tennessee businesses "the first crack at state contracts through the implementation of a sliding-scale allowance."
The discussion was relatively short on details about the specifics of the program, which would aim to "promote Tennessee business as the preferred workers to take on Tennessee projects," focusing more on calls for the majority to support "good ideas" no matter who they come from.
“Too many Tennesseans right now [do not] have a paycheck," said Jernigan, who is challenging Rep. Jim Gotto for his District 60 seat. "We want to give small business a tax credit if you hire off the unemployment line. Or they get first crack at a local or state contract. These are things that should really be a no-brainer."
“My opponent, Rep. Jim Gotto, voted against the amendment," he added. "I think the people in District 60 would be appalled, especially those that are looking for jobs.”
Mitchell, who is running for the open District 50 House seat, recalled his experience working with Gov. Phil Bredesen, a time when he said if an idea "would benefit the people of our state, it didn't matter if it was a Democratic or Republican idea." He also touted the two council members' work on the Music City Center project as an example of ensuring a preference for local workers, before returning to the refrain.
“I want to come to the General Assembly to create jobs, not controversy," Mitchell said. "If we’re on the headline news, national news at night, I want it to be with how many jobs we’ve created with this program instead of some bill that will not create a single job for a Tennessean or educate a single child in this state.”
Not surprisingly, Towns gave the hard sell.
“Putting people to work — that’s something that all of us should work in tandem to try to accomplish," he said. "It doesn’t make any sense to try to do otherwise. Unless you have a death wish for the state, death of the economy of the state. These are just simple things that you don’t have to analyze, you don’t have to fight about, you don’t have to debate about. Just put your back to the plow and push it, so our people can work. Simple as that. This is the cry across the land. To do anything otherwise, I would almost go as far as to call it treason to the people."
"A good idea is a good idea," he concluded. "I don't care if a flying pig brings it, you ought to support it. Simple as that."
This afternoon, TNGOP executive director Adam Nickas emailed this response to the press conference.
"Today's press conference by Tennessee Democrats is another reminder that they are out of touch, out of ideas," he wrote, "but fortunately for Tennessee voters, they will soon be out of office."