They planned to stage the walkout as a display of their outrage if Haslam refused to expand Tennessee’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. But the governor’s speech was so difficult to figure out, whiplashing back and forth as he laid out both sides of the issue, Democrats wound up stranded in their seats with puzzled looks on their faces.
“If he had outright turned it down, we were going to walk out as a group,” Nashville Rep. Mike Turner says. “Everybody had committed to that. All the Democrats were just going to walk out. But we didn’t realize what he was doing because he kept jumping back and forth.”
Turner was sitting next to House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh, and they debated what to do as Haslam spoke. As Turner relates it:
“Craig said, ‘He’s going to do it.’ And I said, ‘I don’t think so’ and then I said, ‘Well, maybe he is.’ And Craig said, ‘I don’t think so.’”
Turner says Democrats weren’t alone, and even some Republicans were mystified by the speech, in which Haslam explained he'd really like to take the Medicaid money but won't—at least not now but maybe later.
“This is the biggest decision a Tennessee governor has had to make in I don’t know when,” Turner says, “and it turned out to be the biggest indecision. There were some Republicans who thought he accepted it when they walked out of there yesterday.”
Turner has succeeded in pulling off one protest. He says he’s refusing to attend an informal worship service of legislators, including Republicans, this session because of the slew of anti-worker bills on the GOP agenda.
“One of the guys who facilities this worship service asked me, ‘Why aren’t you coming this year?’ And I said, ‘I cannot in good conscience sit there and worship with these guys who do not believe what they’re talking about.’ They’re doing everything they can to drive the working people, the least among us, to the very bottom. Lord knows I need to be worshiping because I’ve got some problems. But I can’t do it with a bunch of hypocrites. This is wrong. Working people are just getting the big boot in the butt here.”