Waffling Bill Haslam 

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In 2013, when Governor Bill Haslam was presented with the opportunity to accept upwards of $1 billion in federal funding for Medicaid expansion under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, then about to be activated nationwide, he thought about it for months. He dithered. There is no other, more polite word for what Tennessee's Republican executive did, at a time when he could have, on his own volition, turned thumbs up or thumbs down on the ACA.

Faced with a legislature whose partisan GOP majority abhorred what they called "Obamacare," Haslam opted not to accept Medicaid expansion for Tennessee, a decision that arguably has since resulted in the closing of four financially beleaguered hospitals in the state.

The governor attempted to cover his tracks, announcing that he intended ultimately to ask the federal CMS (Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services) to issue a waiver permitting as a substitute a home-grown Medicaid expansion of his own, tentatively entitled "The Tennessee Plan," its details still in development.

Meanwhile, however, state Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), one of the General Assembly's most determined foes of Medicaid expansion, took Haslam's announcement as an incentive to sponsor and rush through the legislature a bill requiring any such plan to be approved by both chambers of the legislature, in effect imposing a death sentence in advance.

In late 2014, Haslam did in fact propose a compromise Medicaid-expansion plan called Insure Tennessee, which received a waiver from CMS. With sad predictability, however, watchdog committees of the state legislature, by now dominated by a Republican super-majority, rejected the plan, keeping it from even getting a floor vote in either Senate or House. Such were the fruits of gubernatorial vacillation in the face of a civil emergency.

The basic plot of this movie is about to be reprised. The state's legislature has over the years passed numerous bills aimed at repressing such elements of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness as might have been made available to Tennessee's migrant-worker population. (The people enticed into the state from Mexico and elsewhere by developers needing someone to work hard at low-wage construction jobs.)

The Trump administration has escalated this war against those whom it calls "illegal immigrants," even to the point of stripping DACA protections from those residents, long since assimilated and become productive members of society, who were brought here as children. The federal Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been issued orders to find and expel these "illegals," even, if necessary, to break up settled families in the process. To their credit, several local governments (though none in Tennessee) have declared themselves "sanctuary cities" and have declined to cooperate with ICE raids.

So what did our custodians of virtue in the legislature do? Why, they passed House Bill 2315, prohibiting Tennessee municpalities from functioning as sanctuary cities and requiring them to cooperate fully with the ICE raids. Haslam split the difference, announcing he would not sign the bill into law, but, er, wouldn't veto it, either — meaning that it will now become law without his signature.

Whatever happens next, Tennesseans will in effect be watching a rerun, thanks to our ever-waffling governor.

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