Alternating between irony and promises of sustained direct action, state Rep. Kathryn Bowers, chairman of the legislative TennCare Oversight Committee, vowed Sunday to continue resisting Governor Phil Bredesens recently announced TennCare cuts and to try to maintain the state-run insurance system as close to its current level of enrollees as possible.
Bowers appeared, along with Nell Levin of the Tennessee Alliance for Progress, and Bevery Owens of Tennesseans for Fair Taxation, at the monthly meeting of the Public Issues Forum at the Central Library.
Maintaining that Bredesens reforms amounted to telling people to jump before theyve got a safety net set up, Bowers concurred with attendees who said the proposed Bredesen cuts threatened their very lives. Paying homage to Judge William J. Haynes Jr., the Middle Tennessee federal jurist who last month issued an order delaying the cuts, Bowers said, Thank God for Judge Haynes. Were not going to sit on our hands and let them take 323,000 people off the rolls.
Attributing to the governor and his aides variations on the mockingly enunciated refrain, We dont know yet, Bowers said Bredesen had acted before possessing reliable estimates of the economic and health costs to Tennesseans. She said she would organize groups of citizens to come to the General Assembly and lobby legislators against the Bredesen reforms.
Judge Haynes has meanwhile set a March 28th hearing to determine whether the governors plan is in compliance with federal consent decrees. And the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has scheduled an April 26th hearing to review the matter. Some news reports indicate that key legislators are considering seeking a month-long recess, pending the outcome the two hearings.
Levin said she thought public reaction to the governors proposals would be bad politically for Bredesen, who has recently been mentioned by national magazines as a potential 2008 presidential contender. Owens said she thought the TennCare issue might once again revive prospects for a state income tax, but Bowers, who intends to run for the state Senate seat vacated recently by Roscoe Dixon, now a Shelby County governmental aide, said she thought the income tax was a dead issue.
She touted instead a measure introduced jointly by herself and state Senator Steve Cohen that would raise cigarette taxes enough to pay for maintaining the current level of TennCare enrollment.
Bowers v. Hooks, v. Chism, v. Herenton?: The feisty Bowers has got more than Bredesen on her plate. As she prepares to run against current Shelby County Commission chairman Michael Hooks for Dixon's old state Senate seat, she faces the imminent likelihood of a seat-warmer for Hooks in the Senate, as former Teamster leader Sidney Chism, a longtime confidante of Mayor Willie Herenton and a de facto Hooks ally, seems to have the votes to be appointed by the commission Monday as an interim senator.
"I'm not comfortable with Sidney in there," Bowers had confided Saturday after presiding over a special meeting of the Shelby County Democratic Committee in her role as local Democratic chairman.
Saturday's special meeting had dealt with another thorny issue -- the question of whether Shelby County Democrats would hold their biennial nominating convention in July this year, or in April, along with the rest of the state's Democratic county committees.Bowers had requested the change, and,the state Democratic committee had voted last month to permit it, so long as the local committee approved the request by formal vote.
There had been a stormy confrontation in Nashville between Bowers associate David Upton and other Bowers supporters, on one hand, and Chism, Gale Jones Carson, and Mal Hooker, all members of a party faction close to Mayor Herenton, on the other.
The Herenton faction contended last month that Bowers and Upton, who formally sought the July date in Nashville, had short-cut the local committee, and that argument continued Saturday, with Hooker charging that Upton had been guilty of "lying" about the matter to both the state and local committees.
Whatever the merits of the two positions, chairman Bowers' group had the votes Saturday. By voice vote, the local committee approved the July date -- sought by Bowers, according to herself and Upton, so that Shelby's legislative delegation, who will be in session through the spring, might participate in the local convention process more actively.Hooker and others who had vocally protested the change left the meeting shortly after the vote was taken.