The Usual Shenanigans 

TN Senate districts map

TN Senate districts map

Hey, it's March! Which means it's time for my annual rant about the Tennessee General Assembly.

A little background: For the past few sessions, since the post-2010 census gerrymandering by the Republican majority in 2012, the Democratic Party has basically been neutered. The House has 73 Republicans and 26 Democrats. The Senate is even more lopsided, with 28 Republicans and 5(!) Democrats. Yes, Tennessee is a red state, but no one could honestly claim that this level of party imbalance represents the political leanings of the populace.

Take a look at the Senate district map if you want to see how gerrymandering can pervert the democratic process. Some Tennessee counties are split into three, four, or even five districts in a effort to concentrate Democratic votes into fewer areas and spread GOP power. The Tennessee Constitution requires that state Senate districts "preserve counties whole where possible." Yeah. That didn't happen.

Tennessee is basically a one-party government. There are no checks and balances. There is nothing to impede the rural know-nothings who dominate the General Assembly from following their worst instincts. By that, I mean introducing bills that put the screws to the state's cities, which are — coincidentally, no doubt — home to most of the state's Democrats.

For a particularly absurd example, consider the recently introduced "Bag and Straw" bill, a measure that would make it illegal for municipalities to "regulate plastics," i.e. banning or charging a fee for single-use plastic items, such as plastic bags or drinking straws. The discussion of the bill in the chamber centered around such horrific measures as have been passed in California (home of Pelosi liberals and those disgusting conservationists). There was no mention of the fact that Memphis is working on plans to phase out plastic bags, but it's pretty obvious the measure was intended as a direct poke in the eye to the Bluff City.

Representative Susan Lynn, R(duh)-Mount Juliet, the bill's sponsor, claimed that straw bans "abuse freedom." The freedom to pollute? You tell me.

It's just the latest in a long line of legislative actions meant to exert state control over issues that rightly belong to municipalities. Other examples include bills to prevent cities from passing minimum-wage laws; deciding what statuary belongs in city parks; passing anti-discrimination hiring ordinances, etc. And on the list goes.

Of course, in addition to the state legislature's annual attempts to micro-manage the state's uppity cities, there are the annual attempts to impose Christian Sharia Law. This go-around, there is much enthusiasm in the Capitol for the patently un-Constitutional "fetal heartbeat bill," which prohibits abortion after a fetus' heartbeat has been detected (typically at six weeks), with no exceptions for rape or incest — and no consideration of the fact that such bills have been struck down repeatedly in federal court. (For a more in-depth discussion of this bill, see Megan Rubenstein's Viewpoint on page 9.)

And what General Assembly session would be complete without an attempt to pour millions of taxpayers' dollars into private and religious schools' coffers via vouchers? This time around, it's being championed by newly elected Governor Bill Lee, who is pushing lawmakers to approve a plan that would divert $25 million in funds slated for public education to a voucher program that would give money to parents to put their kids in private schools.

Tennessee's public schools are already among the lowest-funded in the country, and the state's teachers are strapped and underpaid. So this move is especially galling for them. Here's my view: You want to send your kid to a private or religious school? Go for it. Just don't ask me to pay for it.

If the voucher bill passes this time around and public school funding gets cut, I wouldn't be shocked to see the state's public school teachers emulate their peers in Oklahoma, West Virginia, Kentucky, and elsewhere, and go on strike. If they do, I suspect they'll find a lot of support, maybe even enough to get the Nashville Hillbillies to pay attention.

Bruce VanWyngarden

brucev@memphisflyer.com

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