As the Flyer reported back in February, members of the Tennessee General Assembly who had expressed either support for or open-mindedness toward Governor Bill Haslam's "Insure Tennessee" proposal for Medicaid
expansion were being targeted in their home districts by savage attack ads sponsored by a group calling itself Americans for Prosperity (AFP). During the special session called by Haslam, AFP members, clad in red T-shirts, roamed the hallways of Legislative Plaza with placards attacking the governor's proposal and crowded into hearing rooms, taking up all but a few available seats.
All legislators felt the heat from this sea of red in Nashville and from the paid inflammatory assaults on their reputations back home, but it was Republicans, members of the governor's own party, who were subject to the most pressure.
During the special session, Jimmie Eldridge and Ed Jackson, two legislators from Jackson, site of Jackson-Madison County General Hospital, were firm and unrelenting backers of "Insure Tennessee," which they saw as beneficial to their hospital and to their area at large. Ads appeared in the Jackson area accusing them of "betrayal," and coupling their likenesses with that of President Obama, thereby exploiting latent political tensions and doubtless racial ones as well.
There is little doubt that the attack ads were paid for out of the same AFP pot that in recent years has intervened with prodigious outpourings of money and resources in general elections and in GOP primary races pitting Tea Party types against Republican regulars, especially relative moderates. That same AFP pot of gold has unstintingly financed efforts, nationally and in every conceivable locality, to discredit climate change, net neutrality, right-to-vote campaigns, teachers' unions, and workers' rights in general, to enumerate but a partial sampling of the AFP enemies' list.
And who is AFP? It is a mask, little more than a synonym for right-wing industrialists David and Charles Koch, the financiers of this and several other propaganda organizations generically (and accurately) referred to as "Astro-Turf" (meaning artificially simulated facsimiles of genuine grass-roots groups).
In Tennessee as elsewhere, the Kochs have pitted their immense fortunes against indigenous local movements that have the slightest look of progressivism or relevance to ordinary Americans. They are enabled to do so by the shameful 2010 Citizens United decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, which effectively nullified the already insufficient safeguards of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform.
The interests of the Kochs of AFP are not indigenous and civic-minded; they are self-serving and predatory. Combatting their deleterious effects on the Democratic process is not easy, but it can be done — as it was in Tennessee last year, when three state Supreme Court Justices survived an organized attempt to oust them that was largely financed by the Kochs.
Defeating the judicial purge required a coordinated and systematic — and expensive — effort on the part of numerous professional and civic groups across the state. And with new statewide elections coming up next year, it will need to be repeated.