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Letter From the Editor

On the alternate universe inhabited by the Tennessee General Assembly.

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On occasion, I speak to journalism classes. One of the things I always say is that this profession, like few others, broadens you, opens you to new experiences. You meet fascinating people, you observe history unfolding in real time — judicial decisions, civic activism, crime and corruption, war, politics, sporting events, theater, art, music, food — you name it, and journalists cover it.

It's senior editor Jackson Baker's journalistic lot to have to occasionally trek to Nashville and cover the machinations of our Tennessee legislature (page 19). But I don't tell students about this sort of assignment, because I don't want to scare them off.

Imagine the fear it would strike in these eager young minds if I told him they might have to go to a Bizarro World where the inhabitants fear gays but love cockfighting; where mop sinks are seen as Muslim footbaths and guns are worshiped; where you can vote using an out-of-state hunting license but not with a state-issued student ID. Where parents whose children get bad grades are deprived of money that pays for food or rent. Where evolution is just another "theory," like gravity and creationism. Where ideology and fear and allegiance to special interests trump common sense and the public welfare.

While history unfolds in the rest of the country, our lawmakers are refolding it. As gay marriage moves closer to reality, our legislators ponder a law prohibiting teachers from even saying the word "gay." While the rest of the country comes to grips with Obamacare, our governor, unwilling to take on his party's ideologues, minces around with "alternate" plans that will leave us picking up the health-care tab for thousands of uninsured Tennesseans. While Congress works on a bill requiring background checks for gun purchases, our legislature passes a bill requiring employers to let their workers have guns on their premises.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the General Assembly's push to give vouchers to thousands of people so they could send their kids to private and religious schools. I joked at the time about what would happen when they realized such a bill would allow Muslim schools to receive public funds. I was joking, because I thought surely they'd already considered this little complication.

Nope, it turns out they hadn't, and that derailed the voucher bill til next year — until the good ol' boys can figure out a way to end-run the Constitution and channel tax-payer funds only to schools that don't have Muslim footbaths.

Bruce VanWyngarden
brucev@memphisflyer.com

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