After Fitzhugh had enumerated a list of programs Republican Governor Bill Haslam had been instrumental in funding or restoring — public TV, extended unemployment benefits, disaster relief, TennCare services among them — Turner said, “The governor worked with us. He went out of his way to try to listen to us. He tried to accommodate us on everything we asked. Some things he couldn’t get there on, but he bent over backwards.”
Both Turner and Fitzhugh referred to Haslam as “a good person” — Turner going so far as to say, “Maybe he’s above partisan politics a little bit.” The Democratic caucus leader said, "His problem is not with us, but with [Lt. Governor Ron] Ramsey and the Senate."
The two leaders’ estimate of Lt. Governor/Senate Speaker Ramsey was less than rosy. Indirectly referencing an image from last year’s TV commercials for Ramsey, then a GOP candidate for governor, Turner called the ranking Republican parliamentary leader “the cowboy down the hall,” contrasting him with Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville and GOP House majority leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, both “good people.”
Turner repeated an evaluation of the session he had made a day earlier: “Ramsey wins. He got most of what he wanted, to the detriment of the state.” He said the Republicans offered no jobs legislation and suppressed attempts by the Democrats to provide such bills.
Both Democratic leaders lamented what Fitzhugh called “the attack upon teachers, certainly not a good way to end the session.” The reference was to a Conference Report bill, close to Ramsey’s own original version of a bill to ban collective bargaining by public school teachers, that was passed early Saturday. The bill eliminates the collective bargaining role long held by the Tennessee Education Association and substitutes a “collaborative conferencing” arrangement involving multiple organizations, with school boards having the final say in disputed matters.
Fitzhugh repeated an observation made earlier by “one of my Senate colleagues” [State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga} that Tennessee had gone from “Race to the Top” last year to “Dive to the Bottom” this year.
Fitzhugh and Turner agreed that Republicans inheriting one-sided power in the legislature after last year’s elections had suffered what Turner called “culture shock.”
Elaborating, Turner said, “Early on, they might take our advice. They didn’t know what they were doing.“ Later on, relations turned partisan and rancorous but, in Fitzhugh’s opinion, had become more harmonious with consideration of the budget. “It [the rancor] tended to return with the teachers’ [issue},” Turner said. And Fitzhugh concurred.