Education Featured News

Amid Political Uncertainty, Collective Bargaining Bill Headed to House Floor

For the second time this session, Tennessee Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell had to throw a lifeline to a proposal to curb the power of unionized teachers to exclusively negotiate labor contracts with local school boards.

The Nashville Republican offered the tie-breaking vote Wednesday, 13-12, to advance a proposal restricting collective bargaining through the committee system. A similar intervention by Harwell was necessary to save the same measure, HB13o, back in March.

“I made a commitment to the membership of Republican Caucus that they would have an opportunity to vote on this on the House floor and in order for them to do that, this bill had to come out of committee today,” Harwell told reporters after the hearing.

Three Republicans voted with Democrats against the bill, including Rep. Scotty Campbell of Mountain City, Rep. Mike Harrison of Rogersville, and Rep. Dennis “Coach” Roach of Bartlett

Republican Rep. Jim Coley abstained, telling reporters later that he felt a conflict of interest because he belongs to the Tennessee Education Association. His urge, he said, was to vote against the bill, which likely would have killed it. Coley said he hasn’t decided if he would vote on the measure on the House floor.

There are two competing bills the General Assembly is considering. The House version would limit the issues teachers unions can bring to the collective bargaining negotiating table. A bill that has already passed the Senate would eliminate collective bargaining entirely by repealing the 1978 Professional Education Negotiations Act that currently requires school boards to negotiate labor contracts with one recognized teacher union in 92 Tennessee school districts.

GOP Caucus Chairwoman Debra Young Maggart, who is sponsoring the House legislation, was the only Republican during the committee hearing to spend any significant time defending the collective-bargaining rollback efforts, or attempting to argue they will benefit education in Tennessee.

“Saying over and over that this is an attack on teachers is a very nice talking point because I want you all to know that it’s not true,” said Maggart. “We are trying to make sure that we have every tool available to advance student achievement in our schools, that’s what this is about.”

But Democrats say they don’t buy that, and they also maintain there’s little public or local political support for the GOP-led effort to restrict union influence in Tennessee’s school systems.

“I think it’s the tail wagging the dog,” said Rep. Gary Odom, a Nashville Democrat who accused the original architect of the bill — the Tennessee School Boards Association — of driving the proposal without support from their local school boards. “I think this is an attack on teachers. I think it’s motivated politically. To me, until those in my community who work on education issues every day in their position, tell me this is good, how can I vote for it? How can you vote for it?”

Republicans on the committee offered little in the way of rhetorical defense of their caucus chairwoman, save the GOP majority leader, Gerald McCormick, who did so while admitting the collective bargaining bill is treading on thin ice.

“I don’t know that there’s the votes to pass the Senate bill. I honestly don’t,” McCormick told the committee, adding he prefers the House version himself.

Democrats on the other hand spent significant time arguing that passage of the Senate bill is a foregone conclusion — meanwhile admitting they fully understand the strategies being employed by Republicans, having been in the majority themselves only a short time ago.

“This is inside politics,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh told the committee after predicting the House will end up adopting the Senate version. “This is the way it’s done, and it’s a roughshod sometimes, and I’ve been on both sides of that.”

Speaker Emeritis Jimmy Naifeh outlined to the committee exactly what he thinks will happen to the bill, ultimately ending in the House adopting the Senate version although it never made it out of any House committees.

But Fitzhugh said he understands the reality of being in the minority.

“We know the votes. We know what the votes are. So something’s going to pass and I guess the lesser of two evils is the House version,” Fitzhugh told TNReport after the vote. “Like I said, I didn’t fall off a turnip truck. I can see what’s coming down the road.”

Education News

House Reverts to Scaled Back Collective Bargaining Plan

House Republicans are, for now, sticking with a bill that limits labor union influence in teacher contract negotiations with local school boards.

But even though House Bill 130 doesn’t entirely eliminate formal collective bargaining, Democrats suspect that’s the direction things are headed once the bill reaches the House floor.

A House Education Committee voted 11-6 Tuesday to advance a measure that restricts the issues teachers’ unions can haggle with school districts over. The unions could negotiate issues such as pay, benefits and working conditions but could not bargain over issues including merit pay — for example, when teachers get paid extra to work at troubled schools.

Rep. Debra Maggart, the sponsor of the bill, shook off criticism from Democrats that she may be watering her proposal down now but ultimately plans to trade the bill in for the more sweeping Senate version later.

“I don’t know that anything here is a ploy. I am just trying to do my job as a state representative,” said the House GOP caucus chairwoman. “I would prefer to ban collective bargaining. That was my original intent, but again, I’m at the will of the body.”

The Legislature has spent weeks juggling multiple versions of the collective bargaining bill — with opposition from Democratic lawmakers like House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, who supports the current law mandating collective bargaining in districts where teachers have unionized.

“What does this bill do for our students? It does absolutely nothing except antagonize the teachers,” the Democrat from Covington said.

Naifeh, who has led the charge against the plan, suggested that any effort by Republicans to beef up the bill once it gets to the House floor would be met by even more anger than if they moved it through the committee system.

“That will just make the public even more upset. It will make the teachers more upset, and maybe, if it’s that bad, we can come back next year and fix what we have done,” he said.

The Senate has already passed SB113, which repeals the 1978 mandate that school boards formally negotiate teacher contracts with a union. While the Senate’s bill removes the requirement that school boards collectively bargain contracts with a union, it does require that school boards discuss labor issues with teachers and any unions looking to represent them.

That plan won just enough votes to pass in the full Senate.

In the House, though, the bill has met resistance not just from the minority party but liberal Republicans as well.

Although Republicans have a 64-34 majority, some in the GOP have shied away from the Senate plan, which raises questions as to whether it has enough support to pass.

A handful of Republicans joined Democrats in the finance committee last week to refer the bill back to the Education Committee, delaying the bill’s progress to any full House vote.

One of the chambers’ highest ranking Republicans, GOP Leader Gerald McCormick, told reporters he was unsure whether the plan has enough support to pass this year. Speaker Beth Harwell later offered a slightly different take, saying she believes doing away with collective bargaining still has a “razor fine margin” of support.

Any rollbacks or restrictions on collective bargaining are staunchly opposed by the major teachers’ union, the Tennessee Education Association.

The union’s lobbyist said he believes the decision to pass a bill out of committee that still mandates limited collective bargaining is a tactic to keep the issue alive and on the move toward the House floor.

“I believe they clearly are intent on passing something and this was just practical on their part,” said Jerry Winters, the TEA’s chief lobbyist.


Haslam Sees More Money For Haywood Co. Megasite, Just Not Yet

In a classic chicken-and-egg debate, Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are at odds over funding for the Haywood County megasite, a large tract of land slated for industrial development meant to attract a large employer to rural, economically depressed West Tennessee.

Democrats are asking where the funding is for the project. Republicans are asking where the project is for the funds.

Democrats brought up the issue in a press conference on Monday that emphasized the importance of job creation, asking why Gov. Bill Haslam didn’t include money for the West Tennessee megasite in his budget proposal.

Haslam expressed his dismay this week that Democrats have taken such an approach.

“I’m kind of disappointed in the partisan nature of the way they handled that,” Haslam said. “We actually sat down and had that discussion with them.

“They understand there is already a lot of money set aside. I’ve said more will follow once we have a plan for how the money that’s already there is used. We’ve had all those conversations in private, and they walked away saying, ‘OK, we understand it, and we agree.'”

The state has put aside $34.7 million as a start for the infrastructure that will be required at the site. But in order to get the site ready for a business, much more money is expected to be needed. One estimate for the total is $65 million.

Democrats included the megasite issue as part of their public show of frustration about how the legislative session has gone, noting a perceived lack of attention to unemployment thus far.

Haslam took exception to the Democrats’ presentation.

“I was disappointed in their tone,” Haslam said. “It was more of a partisan statement than anything else.

“I think the point is this: In Tennessee, we’re out proactively working to bring jobs to Tennessee, and we’re going to continue to do that. We’ll do that by setting the right environment and being aggressive about going out and recruiting businesses.”

Democrats derided the administration’s deployment last week of a roving fleet of three refurbished, stimulus-fueled vehicles known as “career coaches” to match-make Tennessee’s jobless with jobs. Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, referred to the coaches as “RVs.”

Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, the Democratic leader in the House, said in a formal statement, “They’re telling rural West Tennessee how to apply for jobs, yet the governor didn’t include the West Tennessee megasite in his budget. It doesn’t make sense.”

The megasites have become mega-factors in economic development for the state. Barely any political discussion about the impact of government-enticed jobs in Tennessee is held without mention of the state landing major businesses at two other megasites in recent years.

One is the much celebrated Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. The other is the Hemlock Semiconductor site in Clarksville. Each was a $1 billion investment by the company, and each was hailed as a major coup for the state in economic development. The idea behind the sites is to have necessary infrastructure in place on the front end, making a site ready for a business looking to locate. The megasites alone do not accomplish the goal. The state offers substantial incentives to attract the businesses.

The enticements can include tax breaks, job training and infrastructure worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Incentives can even extend to job credits for nearby suppliers of the major companies or, in the case of Hemlock, tax credits for customers of the company. The efforts can involve creativity, such as establishing a job training link between Hemlock and Austin Peay State University in Clarksville.

The megasites are viewed as powerful long-term job engines that will sustain smaller businesses involved or peripherally connected with production at the major plant. The success of the two other megasites — one in East Tennessee, the other in Middle Tennessee — has made the lack of a tenant at the Haywood County site stand out all the more.

Haslam officials say they are expecting to bring principal figures together in the next two weeks to address the West Tennessee site.

The Haywood County site is in a rural area, making infrastructure needs especially significant. The site sits just north of Interstate 40 near Exit 42.

While most state officials see the megasite as a golden opportunity, not everyone has been on board with the concept. Residents of the area expressed concerns early in the process about being overwhelmed by the state development.

At the Capitol, sorting through the politics of the issue is not easy. But it is no coincidence and not very surprising that Democrats most interested in the issue — and some who happen to be in leadership positions in their caucus — are from West Tennessee.

Area Democrats have run for office on the job-development potential at the megasite. Haslam did too. In fact, one of the noteworthy events of Haslam’s run for governor last year was the use of Haywood County Mayor Franklin Smith, a Democrat, in a Haslam television ad, saying Haslam used his influence to help protect funds for the megasite.

“I don’t care if he is a Whig or a Mugwump,” Smith said in the campaign spot. He was supporting Haslam.

Haslam and other Republicans would clearly like the site to succeed. Should a major company locate there, it could be a major success story in their stated goal of creating jobs in the state. Haslam has warned, however, that Tennesseans should not expect many “home runs” like the recent megasite successes. He has said the state may need more “singles and doubles.”

The state bought the land for the West Tennessee site for $40 million. The entire site is 3,800 acres, and the core area for activity is 1,780 acres.

“You can’t get anyone in there until you’ve got your infrastructure in place,” House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh of Covington said this week. “We figured there would be some $30 million-$35 million in the budget for the megasite this year.”

When Haslam presented his budget in the State of the State address on March 14, there was no funding for the megasite.

Naifeh was going to speak to the Brownsville-Haywood County Chamber of Commerce before the governor’s speech and asked for a meeting with Haslam, thinking there was going to be money in the budget for the site. He talked with Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey. He learned the State Building Commission hasn’t even had the issue before it to approve use of the $35 million.

“They use different reasons as to why they haven’t,” Naifeh said.

The Building Commission has the power of approval over release of the funds. The commission has seven members — the governor, speaker of the Senate, speaker of the House, commissioner of Finance and Administration, the secretary of state, comptroller and treasurer. Democrats note that the West Tennessee megasite was not on the agenda of the Building Commission released Monday.

“The position the administration has now is that until that gets approved by the Building Commission, why do we need to put some more money in there? Well, the commissioner of F&A is the one that sets the agenda on the Building Commission,” Naifeh said.

Naifeh noted that West Tennessee members of the Legislature supported efforts to establish the megasites in East and Middle Tennessee.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has said when there is a request put forth for the funds the commission will review it and act, saying he anticipates any money needed will be released “expeditiously.”

Bill Hagerty, Haslam’s commissioner of economic and community development, said Tuesday a lot has to be done before anyone starts building a plant. He prefaced his observation with what has become the standard line among Republicans on the Hill.

“Jobs aren’t created through legislation on Capitol Hill. Jobs are created out here in the economy. That’s where we’re focusing our effort,” Hagerty said. “Second, on the megasite itself, we’ve got $34.7 million in right now for that project. They’re working through engineering studies right now. They can’t start digging until they complete the engineering work.”

House Minority Leader Fitzhugh, who like Naifeh is from near the megasite, pointed to a time element in the issue.

“The longer we wait, the longer it’s going to take for the money to get in the pipeline and have the infrastructure done,” Fitzhugh said, adding that the $65-million estimate is less than some had anticipated.

“Another $30 million-$35 million, we could have this thing ready to go in 12 to 18 months, and we could start employing people.”

Republicans have stuck to their line about government’s role. Haslam has said repeatedly that jobs cannot be legislated. Ramsey has said that government does not create jobs.

“It’s amazing that we watch Barack Obama spend over a trillion dollars of our grandkids’ money to create jobs. Yet not one job was created,” Ron Ramsey said this week. “Again, the government does not create jobs. Businesses create jobs.

“I’m a small businessman myself. I’ve said many times that what I want out of government is absolutely nothing. Just leave me alone.”

But Democrats who want to see the Haywood megasite succeed see hypocrisy in Republican statements that jobs cannot be created through legislation.

“In this case, it takes some infrastructure money, and that comes directly from the state,” Fitzhugh said. “Now that’s pretty close to legislating jobs.”


Larger than Life

Former President Bill Clinton probably summed up the way most people felt about Gov. Ned Ray McWherter in a memorial service Saturday at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville.

“Whenever I talked to him, he made me feel good,” Clinton said. “I was kind of excitable. He would calm me down. If I was low, he would lift me up.”

There were moments of laughter and moments of tears in the service, but above all there was an unmistakable swell of love for McWherter, who died on Monday at age 80.

The service Saturday drew a power-packed line-up of state dignitaries, but the message was on the compassion in the man who looked after people who lacked power or wealth or fame. A separate service is scheduled for Sunday in Dresden, McWherter’s hometown.

McWherter served Tennessee as governor 1987-95, and there were frequent references Saturday to his skillful days as speaker of the House for 14 years before becoming governor.

Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore, who sat side-by-side during the service, each spoke of McWherter’s connection to ordinary people and his care for those who, like himself, came from humble beginnings in a rural part of the state. Descriptions of life in Weakley County were frequent throughout the ceremony.

The gathering of political dignitaries — past and present, Democratic and Republican — included Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, former U.S. Sens. Howard Baker, Jim Sasser and Harlan Mathews and former governors Phil Bredesen, Don Sundquist and Winfield Dunn.

McWherter was a Democrat, but on Saturday there was little mention of political parties.

Mike McWherter, his son, who was the Democratic nominee in the race last year against Haslam, gave a eulogy and began by picking up a gavel from a small table in front of the podium and banging it. He recalled how his father used to let him do that when he was speaker.

Gore picked up on the small-town theme quickly, noting that references to McWherter being born in tiny Palmersville instead should be described as “greater Palmersville.”

“That little community was something that shaped Ned profoundly,” Gore said. “He told stories about it all through his political campaigns. He said, ‘I played with a little white pig until I was 18. It was the only toy I had.’

“The Memphis Commercial Appeal said if that story wasn’t exactly true at least it was genuine.”

Gore made a point to mention the presence of legislators in the auditorium, including Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, who looked up to McWherter.

“There is a large family of people, especially in the Legislature — Speaker Naifeh and so many others — who really felt like family to Ned McWherter, and to all of you we are here in support of those ties and to honor what he meant to you and what you meant to him,” Gore said.

Clinton described how McWherter nudged Clinton and Gore to get together for the presidential ticket that won in 1992. Gore had just decided not to run for the White House.

Clinton recalled that McWherter said, “If Albert had run, he would have beat you. But you’re my neighbor, and I like you, and I will be for you.”

Clinton said McWherter told him, “I’m telling you, you would be a good team. He’s smarter than you are. He knows more about everything than you do, and your line of B.S. is better than his.”

Clinton also joked about his first impression of McWherter, who was as hefty physically as politically.

“I saw that body, and I thought, my God, the Grand Ole Opry’s got its very own Buddha,” Clinton said.

But Clinton quickly learned about McWherter’s political persuasiveness.

“The first time I met Ned Ray McWherter, after 30 seconds of that aw-shucks routine, I wanted to reach in my back pocket and make sure my billfold was still there. After a minute, I was ready to give him my billfold,” Clinton said.

Clinton called McWherter a “fabulous politician” and noted that McWherter had helped him carry Tennessee in presidential elections in 1992 and 1996 and supported Hillary Clinton in 2008 when she won the state’s primary. Clinton said that in his family McWherter could do no wrong.

The service included music from the Fisk Jubilee Singers. Former McWherter aide Billy Stair spoke movingly about McWherter’s work and drew heavily from the unveiling of a statue of McWherter in Dresden last October. The program Saturday included remarks from former McWherter chief of staff David Gregory.

At times, especially before the service, the auditorium had much the feel of a family reunion.

“He saw politics as a profession with a purpose,” Gore said. “He wasn’t in it for some ideology or philosophy. He was in it to help the people who were in the kind of circumstances he was in when he was growing up.”

Clinton described McWherter out of friendship, not just as a political colleague.

“Above all, he was a friend,” Clinton said. “Above all, to the people of Tennessee he was a friend. We’re here laughing and wanting to cry because we know he was special. He was great because he didn’t think the Democrats were right all the time, and he knew Republicans couldn’t be wrong all the time.”

Clinton closed on a note of the season.

“I think God knew what he was doing when he called him home in the springtime,” Clinton said. “In the springtime, we’re all reminded of how beautiful our earth is and how great it smells and how one more time we’ve been invited to make a new beginning.

“I hope the young people of Tennessee will wind up making enough new beginnings, so we’ll have more Ned Ray McWherters. He graced us in a way few people have, not just because of all he did, but because he was our friend.”

Education News

Haslam’s Charter School Bill Hits Speed Bump

Charter schools reform just got complicated.

After relatively easy passage in a key Senate committee, Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to lift the cap on charter schools and open up enrollment to all students continued to get snarled up in the House Education subcommittee Wednesday.

House Democrats fought for nearly two hours to block, amend and delay the charter school bill, saying it represented everything from an “unfunded mandate” on local school districts to an avenue for charters schools to “cherry-pick” students.

“We’re concerned about the charter schools and the way this bill is written in that they can go and cherry-pick the students that they want to bring into these charter schools and or the teachers that they would like to get in the charter schools,” said Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, former speaker and a leading Democrat challenging the bill. “We don’t want that to happen to the detriment of our public schools as they are right now.”

The Education Subcommittee ultimately delayed a vote on the bill for the second time this month, giving Democrats additional time to review the measure. But House Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery said he’s confident the bill will pass as is next week.

“We’re going to work with them, and try to get them satisfied on some questions they’ve got, and then next week we’ll vote it out of there,” the Sevierville Republican told TNReport.

The governor’s bill, HB1989, is key on his list of legislative priorities. It would lift the 90-school cap on charter schools and open up enrollment to all students. It would allow the state’s yet-to-be-formed “Achievement School District” to OK certain charter school applications.

Numerically outmatched Democrats on the committee took issue with several facets of the governor’s bill, including eliminating the cap, determining how charter schools choose their students and the cost of expanding charter schools.

According to the bill’s price tag, local school districts would lose out on as much as $4 million in the 2012-13 school year as the charter school expansion takes hold and education dollars follow students to their new schools. That amount could climb to $24 million in the decade after that.

“We already have school choice for those who have the money to buy a house in another school district,” said Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, who favors the bill. “So there’s already a cost that’s occurring similar to these numbers because we have a type of school choice.”

The debate ensued after Haslam’s administration explained details of an amended version of the charter school bill that tinkers with language detailing how some schools are formed.

The initial version of Haslam’s charter school legislation led some lawmakers and interest groups to believe it would allow the Achievement School District to authorize any applying charter school in the state, said Matt Throckmorton, executive director of the Charter School Association. That system would have created an avenue for proposed schools facing opposition from their local school district to go over the school board’s head and apply directly to the state to open a charter school.

But that was not their intent, according to administration officials.

The new language tinkers with the role the state’s Achievement School District which came out of last year’s education reforms that qualified the state to win a $500 million Race to the Top education grant. Under Haslam’s bill, the Achievement district could only OK charter school applications for under-performing schools that are slated for a state takeover, a task now resting solely on the shoulders of local school districts.

The changes also include requiring the state Board of Education to explain why it denies any appeals of rejected charter school applications.

The alterations were made to ease concerns from Democrats and other education interest groups, according to the governor’s administration. Republicans seemed uninterested in amending the bill further.

“For us to make this so political that we can’t make the changes that we need to make to make this bill better, it bothers me,” said Rep. Lois DeBerry, a high-ranking House Democrat.

The charter school proposal won the Senate Education Committee’s approval along partisan lines earlier Wednesday with Democratic Sen. Reginald Tate of Memphis voting in favor with Republicans.

Meanwhile on Capitol Hill, lawmakers advanced another education bill. Legislation curbing teachers unions’ ability to collectively bargain labor negotiations squeaked by the House Budget Subcommittee Wednesday — in fact needing GOP Speaker Beth Harwell to cast a tie-breaking vote — and now moves to the full committee.

A competing version of the bill would completely eliminate labor unions’ leverage to negotiate labor contracts but awaits a vote on the Senate floor.

News NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Kelsey Likes Proposal to Cap Sales Tax — Just Not on His Income-Tax Ban

Sen. Brian Kelsey is sponsoring a measure to give voters the chance to end, once and for all, the long-running debate over whether an income tax is constitutional in the state of Tennessee.

But the conservative Germantown Republican said Monday he opposes a House amendment added to his resolution last week that would additionally cap the state sales tax in the process of outlawing the income tax.

The amendment, proposed by House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, and approved by the House Finance Subcommittee on a 7-6 vote, is actually a “poison pill,” said Kelsey, R-Germantown.

Its real purpose, he alleges, is to ensure that the anti-income tax language never ends up on a Tennessee general election ballot.

“The process for amending the constitution in Tennessee is very difficult. It requires a simple majority vote in the House and Senate the first go-round — but it also requires a two-thirds vote the second go-round” before it can go to the people, Kelsey told TNReport. “(Naifeh’s) amendment was put on to make sure there wouldn’t be a two-thirds vote.”

Kelsey suspects Naifeh’s motivation for adding the amendment is to “leave the door open for an income tax” down the road. The former House speaker famously tried mightily — but ultimately failed — to push a tax on work-earnings through the Legislature in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Kelsey added, however, that he is not at all opposed to capping the sales tax at its current combined state-and-local rate of 9.75 percent. He said he’d fully back that effort as a separate constitutional amendment.

The anti-income tax resolution, SJR 18, has already been approved by the Senate, 28-5. It is scheduled for a hearing this afternoon in the House Finance Ways & Means Committee.

Press Releases

TN Tea Party Slams Haslam, GOP Leadership

Statement from the Tennessee Tea Party; March 23, 2011:

Tennessee politics has undergone a transformation and yet our representatives in office and the media at large have failed to recognize this new paradigm. The grassroots movement dubbed the tea party has inexorably changed the political landscape and the way politics are done in this state and across the country.

We write this out of a sense of concern for this lack of understanding for how the political landscape that has dominated Tennessee politics for over a century has changed. In 2009 through 2010 the populace awoke and began to engage themselves in the body politic and the political system. We at first did this through protest rallies, fax and letter campaigns, and speaking out at town halls. We coalesced into loose confederations of likeminded individuals, and for the first time found a kinship in the knowing that there are others who feel as we do. We felt that our country had left us and our representatives no longer represent the interests of the electorate. We began to educate ourselves and immerse ourselves in study of the constitutional principles of our founders and our Republic. We began learning the basic civic lessons that our education system has abandoned. In 2010 we embraced the electoral process and worked to identify and elect people who represented our core values of a constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility, and free market principles. Despite our naivety and lack of cohesive organizational structure we were successful in electing many new conservatives into office. This fledgling freshman class is now struggling with the inside party power plays from the establishment old guard politicians and they are being coerced to go along with the game plan in order to protect their seats come next election. We see it quite differently. These representatives need to understand how they got elected. If they think they are strengthening their future electability by dodging controversial votes and not taking a stand on the relevant issues they will soon learn the error of their ways. This sounds very confrontational but it is the grim reality that we have struggled so hard for and achieved the gains that we have made thus far and we will not, and cannot letup or stand down now.

Tennessee is a conservative state, however the democratic machine has dominated the political landscape for as far back as we can remember. For years the GOP has played the game of underdog and has settled on the scraps of compromise handed out by Jimmy Naifeh and other influence peddlers of his ilk. We are now positioned with so called Republican majorities in the House, Senate, and Governor’s office and yet these legislators are still operating as if they are stuck in this old modality of operating as a minority party and always looking for the path to compromise. It’s as if they are bereft on how to lead and how to understand the mandate of 2010. We say Carpe Diem, use your newfound power and stick to the conservative core principles that got you elected and lead as if you actually understand who you are representing. We demand principled representation, and if granted we have an opportunity to effect sweeping reform and the restoration of constitutional balance and fiscal solvency. If our representatives stand for us we will stand with them. We will be there with you in the fight win, loose, or draw. We will stand by you if you are standing on principle.

The tea party is now maturing into a true political power player and we are honing our skills within the political landscape and are gearing up to be a dominating factor and game changer come the 2012 election cycle. We are actively engaged and working within the halls of government and we are keeping score on our representatives and how they are voting and what they are saying publically. We have become tech savvy and are documenting all of this and we will use this information in the next election to weed out the remaining old guard. We have become practiced in the old fashioned campaign arts of door knocking and phone banking. We are using social media and new media outlets to spread our message and grow our movement. We are getting involved in our local precincts and are getting people who share our values into the party leadership positions. The old school ways are over. Many within the Grand Old Party are embracing this new found blood. Yet many are erroneously dismissing it as a passing fancy and of little lasting effect.

Some see the tea party as evolving into a third party. That is neither our intent or desire. Yet this will happen by natural progression if our party fails to embrace our core conservative principles. The tea party is the essence of a true grassroots people’s party. Although largely republican in nature our ranks are growing as we attract independents and disenfranchised democrats into the fold with our poignant messaging. One of the key failures of the GOP is to not recognize this big picture and to reach out to and embrace those who have not been party affiliated or have been abandoned by an uber-progressive big government left.

Post 2010 election we witnessed the GOP boasting and back slapping themselves for their perceived victories. In many regards these victories were hollow and did not go to extend or represent the conservative wildfire that is sweeping the nation. Look at our new Governor. By all accounts he is a progressive who was able to leverage family fortunes towards a victory in gaining the Governor’s seat. One only needs to look at his track record as mayor of Knoxville and his embrace of the socialistic principals such as sustainability and his Agenda 21 initiatives. His two-faced approach towards 2ndamendment freedoms should have been telling.

Nowhere is this new dynamic more evident than in the collective bargaining issue that is playing itself out in capitals across this nation. Here in Tennessee this battle is portrayed as an assault against teachers. Nothing can be farther from the truth. We stand firm in support of and in our resolve for good quality teachers in every classroom who will be rewarded for teaching excellence. Organized labor has had a stranglehold on this country’s economic potential for many years. Although it once had purpose during the industrial revolution it is now a bloated albatross and nothing more than a political machine geared to fund the progressive agenda and the one world government mentality. Just look to SEIU head Andy Stern’s public statements on their plans of organizing the workers of the world. Look at what happened in Egypt with the unions ginning up the discent. This is a cancer that drains corporate resources and stifles investment and growth. It puts municipalities at risk and endangers the American way of life. It has become too entrenched in our governmental system and wields influence that far exceeds its minority representations. Look at AFL/CIO Chief Rich Trumka who visits the White House every week and advises our President on a daily basis. Obama has not even met with a large number of his cabinet level staff officers in months yet he always finds time between vacationing to lend an ear to the big labor unions.

In our education system, organized labor protects teachers that would otherwise be deemed unfit to teach our children. It does nothing to advance quality in the classroom and thus our children suffer in mediocre or failing school systems. And we just keep throwing good money after bad with every tax increase that is dubbed “for the children”! Getting organized labor out is step one in reforming our education system. We have a long hard road ahead and we need to be able to enlist all players who have a vested interest and a part in this to come to the table and work on reforms that work. We need reform that enriches the classroom experience for our children, rewards good teachers, provides parental choices, and does not unduly burden the taxpayer.

We are now just witnessing the true metal of our legislators as collective bargaining moves through our House. We have seen our House leadership cave to the power and influence of the TEA/NEA and the alphabet soup of big union organizations. We are told that HB-130 as amended is a good thing and is in line with our Governors education reform agenda. Frankly we don’t care much about our governors agenda. He is the executive of the State and the representative of such and not of the people. Our House and Senate are the people’s representatives and thus should serve our interests through thoughtful legislation. Many are doing just that and we stand in full support of their efforts, however there is an unholy power base hell bent on maintaining the status quo in Tennessee governance. The time is now to cut the head off the snake and settle for nothing short of a total end to collective bargaining in our states education system. We must continue our pressure on the House members and urge them to recede their position on HB130 and support the pure SBO113 Senate version when this comes up. We must and will remain ever vigilant and watchful of our General Assembly and be prepared to do the hard work to replace those who fail us.

In Liberty,

The Tennessee Tea Party Team

Featured News

House GOP Now Pitching More Modest Collective Bargaining Reforms

The Republican-controlled House Education Subcommittee approved a rewrite of a bill Wednesday so that it no longer proposes abolishing collective bargaining for teachers unions.

However, the wholesale revisions did nothing to calm passions over the contentious issue. The latest developments may in fact set the stage down the road for intramural Republican discord between compromise-oriented GOP moderates and confrontation-minded conservatives bent on revoking union labor-negotiation leverage and downsizing the Tennessee Education Association’s political heft.

After the vote that moved the bill, HB130, on to the full House Education Committee, Jerry Winters, chief lobbyist for TEA, expressed relief that the House measure no longer proposes completely doing away with collective bargaining.

Nevertheless, TEA is by no means ready to endorse the amended measure, he said.

Teachers unions could still, under the provisions of the amendment, collectively bargain over basic pay and benefits — however not in regard to teacher bonuses or merit-based incentives. Current law would also be altered to make decertifying a local union easier.

“It was a compromise, as I see it, within the Republican caucus,” said Winters. “This was not a compromise with the TEA. We’re still raising questions and we will continue to do that. Clearly, there wasn’t a firm majority in the caucus to move the repeal legislation forward. And I think maybe Rep. (Debra) Maggart certainly misjudged her support on that issue.”

Although Winters called it “huge progress” that, for the moment at least, House Republicans are no longer suggesting outright rescission of collective bargaining for teachers, he said he resented some of Maggart‘s rhetoric as she introduced her bill, which after the new amendment is now fully supported by House Speaker Beth Harwell.

During her seven-and-a-half-minute speech, Maggart declared the intent of the bill is to “remove politics from the classroom” and “rescue our state from the unimaginative doldrums we find our education system in right now.”

“For too long, under the old order, selfish political interests — the unions — have been allowed to dominate the discussion when it comes to setting the course of education in our state,” said Maggart, the House GOP Caucus chairwoman.

“Instead of discussing actual classroom policy and curriculum, our local school boards have constantly been dragged into debates that serve to build union influence and power, not the children we are all supposed to be concerned with. This isn’t a mere political failure. It is a moral failing.”

Maggart said the Legislature now has the “unprecedented opportunity to institute a game-changing reform that will forever tilt the balance of education back to individual teachers and the students they serve.”

The quality of public education in Tennessee has over the years lagged in comparison to other states, she said, and the GOP’s sweeping electoral gains offer a fresh start at addressing the issues.

“Last fall, a historic opportunity to lead was ushered in by the voters. They gave us a governor committed to reform, not just in education but throughout government,” Maggart said. “They strengthened our conservative hold in the Senate and gave us a majority in the House that has never been seen before. Why? Because Tennesseans are fed up with politics as usual in Nashville.

“This is especially evident in education, where reforms are desperately needed for the long-term health of our state.”

Winters afterward reacted sharply to Maggart’s characterizations of unions as impediments to progress.

He asked for an apology. He didn’t get one.

“I am very concerned about the tone set by the sponsor of this bill,” said the union lobbyist. “She went out of her way to be negative toward every teacher in this state. She owes the teachers of this state an apology. She owes the Tennessee Education Association an apology.”

House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, also took exception to Maggart’s remarks, especially that the bill is designed to remove politics from education policy discussion.

“I’ve never seen anything more political in my years in this Legislature than what has gone on in the first few months, and I am sick and tired of it,” said the former archnemesis of Republicans in their bygone minority-caucus days. His comment drew applause from union supporters in the audience.

Said Maggart during a press conference after the hearing: “I don’t know what I have to apologize for.”

Democrats were left shaking their heads over much of the day’s collective-bargaining bill developments. They expressed anger and frustration over not having had more than a few hours to study the amendment to Maggart’s bill, offered by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville.

Naifeh called Republicans’ parliamentary maneuvers to quickly amend the bill and move it along a “lot of garbage.”

Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, the House Democratic leader, asked to delay the bill for a week to mull the amendment, a courtesy he said is typically standard when amendments are introduced on short notice.

“I seriously don’t know what the super big hurry is,” Fitzhugh said. “Apparently the governor has now embraced this bill. I did not know he had done that. And the speaker of the House has embraced this bill as well. Everybody else has seen it.”

Added Naifeh, “We’re making another unprecedented move toward rushing a bill through the subcommittee.

“We got this at 11:45 today,” he continued. “That’s when we first saw this amendment. I don’t see why we should take such hasty action.”

Republicans said they were prepared to take the time needed in the subcommittee meeting to go over the measure, item by item, so everyone could have their questions answered.

Not good enough, said Democrats, who argued that more time than a few hours was needed for everyone to fully digest the bill.

Rep. Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis, complained that people in the audience, including those who had come from other parts of the state, deserved the opportunity to at least have copies of the Dunn amendment in order to follow the action. Staffers then made numerous copies and distributed them to the audience.

Naifeh objected again about the rush to adopt the amendment to the bill. But in due course he capitulated. “Mr. Chairman, don’t delay our agony anymore. Let’s go ahead with this,” he said.

The measure passed on an 8-5 vote along party lines.

Haslam said in statement that the amended bill “gives superintendents greater flexibility in making personnel decisions and supports my central focus of doing what’s best for children in Tennessee classrooms.”

Speaker Harwell said she particularly likes the bill’s “flexibility to pay good teachers more money” and that it “allow locals the flexibility to pay teachers that are willing to teach in low-performing schools more money.” Harwell told TNReport earlier this week she’s hoping at least some House Democrats come around to supporting the education-reform push underway in the general Assembly.

Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, who is sponsoring the Senate’s bill to ban collective bargaining, said Wednesday afternoon he hadn’t had a chance to fully examine the House’s new version, nor had he consulted in its drafting.

“We’re still trying to get a handle on it,” he said. “I’m probably still inclined toward a complete repeal of (collective bargaining). We’ll probably be making some decisions in the next couple days.”

Johnson’s bill, SB113, is awaiting a floor vote in the Senate, which he said could happen as early as Monday night.

Mike Morrow, Andrea Zelinski, Reid Akins and Mark Engler contributed to this report.


Trading Spaces

As state legislators and their staffs buzz around Capitol Hill swapping offices, former House Speaker Kent Williams is already settled in his new pad.

He ended up in the mail room.

“I moved up in there in that little hole, that’s what I call it,” said Williams, an independent from Carter County.

Granted, the mail is no longer being delivered to that ground floor office in the War Memorial Building, which is attached to Legislative Plaza where most public meetings take place. Postal services have moved to the basement of the plaza during the legislative off-season.

But Williams’ new digs are pretty lonely. His closest neighbor is a fellow former House speaker, Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, and the rest of the floor is mainly occupied by staff offices.

Williams, a former Republican, became persona non grata within the GOP two years ago when he won the speakership with the help of the Democratic Caucus.

Most legislators are on the first, second and third floors of the War Memorial Building. The vast  majority of caucus leaders are stationed in Legislative Plaza steps away from committee rooms, other party officers and various meeting spaces.

This year, 22 freshman Republican House members are in need of office space. The Senate is making room for four new legislators, also from the GOP.

But moving offices isn’t always as easy as it sounds.

Rep. Charles Sargent, a Franklin Republican and chairman of the powerful Finance, Ways and Means Committee, packed up almost his entire office in preparation for his move only to find out Thursday that he didn’t have to relocate at all.

Senators also have their new office assignments, which have already been updated to the state’s legislative website.

The House assignments are still in flux, though. Only a handful of the new office locations have been updated online as of this posting, and Democrats are still solidifying their own room assignments.

Lawmakers are on a three-week break to take care of office changes and other housekeeping matters. They are expected back in session Feb. 7.

Williams said no one forced him into the windowless mail room office. Instead, he said he sought it out early enough to move his belongings in there before Speaker Beth Harwell was elected the new House leader.

He said he could have angled for an office with a view, but said he knew those spaces are prime pieces of real estate in the Capitol, and he didn’t want to fight for it.

“It’s quiet up there,” he told TNReport. “I wanted to be in up in the War Memorial Building with the other Republicans.”