For embarrassing open-mic gaffes, it's not exactly up there with Ronald Reagan joking about bombing Russia. But it'll do until something worse comes along for state Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, the Republican chairman of the House Consumer and Human Resources Committee.
Eldridge was caught by the legislature's streaming video equipment complaining to a couple of people who appear to be constituents about this letter to the editor in the Jackson Sun. The letter criticizes Gov. Bill Haslam's workers' compensation bill, which rigs the system for employers. After making a few disparaging remarks about the letter writer, Eldridge promises to ram the bill through his committee.
"I’m going to take care of that bill," he says. "That freight train is going off ..."
So much for fair hearings and the deliberative legislative process.
Eldridge also says the bill's critics are only "trying to rouse employees ..."
"Uneducated people," the unidentified woman in the video interjects.
"... and scare them to death," Eldridge continues.
"I can assure you of this," he adds, "that bill is flying ..." Then he stops himself and looks at the microphone.
"Let's make sure that thing’s not on," he says, a little late. "You gotta be careful. Let’s get away from it."
We tried to ask Eldridge about his remarks, but he wouldn't agree to talk to us. Mary Mancini of the pro-labor Tennessee Citizen Action watched the video and gave this reaction:
"This is a complicated issue that is going to affect tens of thousands of Tennesseans when they are at their most vulnerable. It shouldn't be 'freight-trained' through any committee. It should be given the careful and thoughtful review that an issue if this magnitude deserves."
This morning, the bill cleared the House Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee whose chair, Rep. Susan Lynn, wouldn't agree to hear from injured workers in attendance and hoping to testify. She said they could all speak once the bill is heard in Eldridge's full committee. We hope they can talk fast.