Not content with having a lock on the state legislature, not content with having a lock on future elections by mandating Tennessee’s continued use of unrecountable, easily hackable computerized voting machines, the state’s Republicans are now trying to dictate who can and cannot be a Democratic legislator. When State Representative Gary Moore became President of the Tennessee AFL-CIO, Tennessee Republican Party Chair Chris Devaney sent Moore a strongly worded letter suggesting that this put Moore in a conflict of interest position and that he needed to choose between being in the legislature and heading the state’s council of unions.
Moore defended himself, saying that his position no more disqualified him than the full-time job of anybody else in our state’s legislature. Since the legislature does not meet year ’round, it does not pay what is considered a “full time job” salary–although, when you throw in a thou a month for “office expenses,” and a healthy per diem expense allowance, it’s more money than I’ve ever made working full time. But that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about what Rep. Moore could have said. Maybe he considered it and thought “Naah, it’s true but saying it will just make it harder to work in the same legislature as these bozos,” but here’s what I would have said:
Republicans have some nerve alleging that ties with the AFL-CIO amount to putting a labor lobbyist in the legislature. The AFL-CIO is an organization that represents the working people of this state–well, 5.7% of them, anyway–real live human being-type citizens of the State of Tennessee, people with families and, in many cases, deep roots in this state. There is nothing untoward about the head of such a genuine, grass-roots citizens’ group being a member of the state legislature.
Many of our state’s Republican legislators, in contrast, are the pawns of a covert, nationwide lobby relentlessly pursuing an agenda that elevates corporate profits above human well-being, This lobby, “The American Legislative Exchange Council,” which disingenuously–and possibly illegally-claims to be an “educational foundation,” allows corporations and their lawyers to write legislation that favors the corporations, and then pass it on to willing state legislators who introduce these poison bills all over the country as if they were their own creations. There is no transparency; ALEC’s archive of model bills is open only to its members, and thus it is difficult for citizens to know whether their legislators are introducing a bill that truly reflects local conditions and concerns, or a generic, one-size-fits all piece of legislation that was essentially created to line corporate pockets, and the public be damned.
Fortunately, ALEC’s veil of secrecy has been pierced, and its archives exposed. What this exposure has revealed is that much of the substantive legislation introduced by Tennessee Republicans this year was crafted in corporate boardrooms and law offices. Those who have claimed concern about me, Gary Moore, being a “puppet of outside interests” are, themselves, puppets of an insidious outside interest. Here are some of the ALEC bills we have had to contend with here in Tennessee:
Our legislature passed a law making it necessary for voters to present a photo ID. A driver’s license or gun license is allowable; a college ID is not, a provision that makes no sense unless you are trying to disenfranchise college students, who, unlike gun owners, for the most part do not vote Republican. Those without a photo ID can get a “free” one from state drivers’ license offices, which will require a substantial investment of time for those who live far from such an office. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud due to phony ID. This is, purely and simply, an attempt to limit the number of people who vote….but then, conservatives often speak of wanting to return to our original Constitutional principles. For roughly the first fifty years of our republic, the franchise was limited to white male property owners. Perhaps this is what modern conservatives aspire to do?
On a lighter note, State Sen. Mae Beavers introduced a copycat bill mandating that all presidential candidates present a “long-form birth certificate” in order to get on the ballot. In an interview, Beavers had to admit that she doesn’t even know what a “long-form birth certificate” is. Beavers also introduced “The Tennessee Firearms Freedom Act,” a bill introduced or passed in 35 other states, which proclaims
if a firearm and/or ammunition is made totally within the state of Tennessee, and stamped ‘Made in Tennessee,’ then the federal government has no jurisdiction over that item in any fashion so long as it remains in state and outside of interstate commerce.
It strikes me as a bizarre manifestation of conservative doublethink that this bill is being pushed by those who applauded when the Supreme Court ruled against a similar case that involved marijuana that was grown and consumed in California. OK, the “Firearms Freedom Act” may or may not have had ALEC’s backing–but the general loosening of gun laws in the state definitely comes from ALEC.
There is the “Tennessee Civil Justice Act,” passed under the conservative rallying cry, “Tort Reform!” This bill makes it much more difficult for citizens to obtain reasonable damages from businesses that have ripped them off. Even though passed after the enormous investment scandal that has decimated our economy, this bill specifically exempts the sale of securities–stocks and bonds, etc.–from civil lawsuits.
The “Tennessee Healthcare Freedom Act” is another bill that came directly from ALEC, written by private insurers who do not want their profits and prerogatives regulated in the slightest.
On the labor front, the legislature abolished collective bargaining for teachers, and considered a bill that would have effectively criminalized union organizing of any kind.
It didn’t even take a full Republican majority to pass a bill similar to Arizona’s anti-immigration measures. This bill came directly from ALEC, and it is no secret that Corrections Corporation of America helped write the law–which generates a lot of business for the private, for-profit prison corporation.
While Tennessee’s ludicrous “anti-Sharia law” may not have originated with ALEC, it is a product of the same dull-witted xenophobia that has resulted in a rash of ALEC-written anti-immigrant bills that were introduced in the legislature this year. Immigrants, legal or otherwise, Mexican or Muslim, are not the reason our economy has gone bad. Our economy has gone bad because of the selfish actions of the corporations that are writing these anti-immigrant bills.
Here’s the facts: there are an estimated 60,000 Muslims in the state, less than one percent of our total population. There are an estimated quarter million Hispanics in Tennessee, around four percent of the state’s population. There are 115,000 union members in the state, less than two percent of our population. We are in no short-term or long-term danger of having unions, Sharia law, or the Spanish language forced on us. Got that?
On the other hand, there are over a million voting Republicans in Tennessee, and nearly 2/3 of them support the Tea Party and its program, which is driven by the same secretive cabal of corporations that directs ALEC. The citizens of Tennessee are being misinformed into voting against their own best interests, filling the legislature with covert operatives for a corporate agenda that is rapidly turning Tennessee and the rest of America into a two-tier society that leaves 99% of us disempowered and impoverished in the bottom tier, while the wealthy live a lifestyle that makes Louis XIV of France look modest.
As one commentator put it, the Tea Party’s organizers “conflate crony capitalism with free enterprise, and free enterprise with personal liberty. Between them they have constructed the philosophy that informs the Tea Party movement: its members mobilize for ‘freedom’, unaware that the freedom they demand is freedom for corporations to trample them into the dirt.”
So yes, there is a dangerous conflict of interest corrupting the Tennessee legislature. But it is those who are pointing their fingers and making loud accusations who are in fact the danger, not the state’s teachers, firefighters, other union members, Muslims or Hispanics. Those of us in this state who truly value personal liberty over corporate license need to band together and expose this sham, not bow our heads and knuckle under to it. No, Mr. Devaney, I am NOT resigning.
And that’s what I’d say if I were Gary Moore.
music: Eliza Gilkyson, “Slouching Toward Bethlehem“