We will soon have a respite from the unfettered imaginings of the 108th Tennessee General Assembly. That is, barring any last-minute bills introduced to give babies the right to carry guns inside or outside the womb under the guise of Second Amendment protection. Since the 33 senators and 99 members of the House convened in January, Tennesseans have held their collective breath every day as to what new otherworldly musings would eventually take the form of "Mad Hatter" proposed legislation.
It would be too easy to just dismiss as partisan politics what's come down the pike this session. It's been a veritable cornucopia of attempted restrictive — verging on unconstitutional — measures that would have sent this country's historic founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin scurrying back to England on the first boat. Despite the entrenched Republican majorities in both chambers, there remains plenty of blame to be dispersed among a feckless Shelby County legislative delegation and a popular Tennessee governor who has yet to display a spine when it comes to standing up to the bullies in his own party. However, one theme has remained consistent: There is a determined effort to minimalize the power, influence, and future growth of Memphis.
What else explains the passage of a bill giving communities the ability to hold referendums on establishing the right of refusal to annexation? Annexation reserves have been the gateway for cities in America to generate the revenues needed to offset the rising cost of their sheer existence. I know it's not what you want to hear in south Cordova. But when Fortune 500 companies, such as FedEx and International Paper, list Memphis as their headquarters, it's because they want that association to be known. We all benefit from that. I know you don't like property taxes. Who does? So, would you rather see the inner city turned into some apocalyptic wasteland to prove your point? The legislature is feeding into your paranoia, just as they have on the issue of the right to bear arms.
Let's talk about guns. I don't own one. I never have. I never will. Oh, yeah, I've shot rabbits at the insistence of my grandfather, who I otherwise considered a sage mentor. But any obsession I might have had to kill defenseless animals ended right there. Do you realize what message this would have sent to those who would visit this city to have seen "open carry" on our streets? As Flyer political columnist Jackson Baker related to me this week, one Tennessee House member told him "every gangbanger in Memphis would be strapped" if this passes.
Disappointing, too, was the failure to appropriate $2 million for the thousands of rape kits still awaiting testing in Memphis. Apparently willing to take full credit for a bill that extended the life of prosecution for rape cases, Collierville Republican state Senator Mark Norris then chastised colleague Jim Kyle's efforts to get the appropriation, labeling it "a stunt." Norris, fully aware of the Bluff City's predicament, says he'd rather wait until he finds out how many Tennessee communities statewide are beset by the same problem. Norris seems to want to wait until the rape-kit numbers are tallied in the potential sexual hotbeds of Gibson and Henry counties before addressing the issue in some place where it's already a sad reality.
Yet, while it's easy to snicker at the bombastic rants of Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey or the totally out of the box, off the charts stupidity of Senator Stacey Campfield, it is the waffling nature of Governor Haslam that both perplexes and angers me the most. In my humble opinion, he is a man who could be a game changer in this state. He's personable. He's affable. Unlike his predecessor, Phil Bredesen, he's the kind of guy you wouldn't mind going out to have a beer with, as long as he was paying. However, it's his timidity, his apparent inability to offer his true thoughts on any important issue that's so exasperating. From the school merger to gun legislation to a state health-care program for Tennesseans, Haslam avoids directly answering anything. Curiously, his popularity rating is one that most elected officials would kill for, but he allows the loquacious Ramsey and the legislative mechanic Norris to run roughshod over any opposition. "Well, we'll wait and see what happens" is not leadership.
Fortunately, the legislative session is about over and Memphians will get a break ... but it won't be long enough.