As the Tennessee legislature adjourned this week , after passing a sales-tax extension of almost one billion dollars and forsaking a state income tax, the three leaders of the tax reform effort were all visibly chastened.
Governor Don Sundquist spoke glumly of having taken "my best shot" in acknowledging the failure of his tax-reform effort, and state House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, though vowing to keep up the fight, acknowledged to reporters that it seemed further away than ever.
The third member of that leadership trio, state Sen. Robert Rochelle (D-Lebanon), may be the latest casualty of the tax-reform defeat and of the legislative tensions and disappointments that have characterized the last four years of the General Assembly in Nashville.
Not long after the legislature adjourned on the afternoon of July 4th, the eminent Democratic senator, who became the most forthright and determined legislative advocate of a state income tax, spoke with the Flyer about his forebodings concerning his reelection campaign, which matches him against Republican state representative Mae Beavers, a foe of the income tax (and most other varieties, as well). Rochelle, a Vietnam combat veteran, seemed depressed about the end of his immediate tax-reform hopes and talked of "rowdy" opposition to his election efforts. Not long afterward, he released this statement:
"With the close of the General Assembly, I am going to take a break, get some rest and think about what I want to do next. I am very disappointed that we were unable to stop a sales tax increase that unfairly burdens working families of Tennessee.
"All Tennesseans are going to feel the crush of this increased tax. As these working families learn to deal with the stress of having to make ends meet while others get away without paying their fair share, my family is learning to cope with the stress of having people threaten my wife and my children. As recently as this week, my wife received another violent, threatening phone call. It is hard to describe the emotions felt when your family is harassed.
"I have chosen to suspend my re-election campaign to reflect with family and friends. I would like to have this opportunity to think through whether or not I wish to continue my service in the Senate.
My concern is that the people's only choice will be a "do-nothing" legislator, a person who is championed by such a cruel supporter. All of these factors will weigh on my decision.
"I have informed the Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman of my actions. After talking with my family, I will decide whether to continue to pursue my service to the State of Tennessee. Until I announce my future intentions I'm asking people not to send contributions to my campaign."