Voice in the Wilderness

If one only read or watched political news, the casual observer might be led to believe that there are no moderates left in the United States of America.

Talking to real people gives a very different impression.  Even people with very strong opinions or strong party loyalty can talk with civility and search for common ground.  We all live under the same constitution, and accept it as the framework from which all other rules are derived.  We will surely differ on interpretations of that constitution, but that’s okay.  It’s better than okay: it’s democracy.

Most people that I know fall somewhere in the middle on the spectrum of polarizing issues, or are at least willing to discuss the merits of various viewpoints.  I would like to believe that this includes most people, but acknowledge that it might just mean that I’ve grown old enough to not waste my time on anyone not willing to engage in a polite and rational — even if spirited — exchange of ideas.   The closed mind is the most grievous of flaws.

My wish for the new year is that rational people will begin to speak up, and vote out leaders who prove unwilling to engage in discussion and compromise.  Nothing is off the table.

We need vigorous discussions about the sale of firearms, about government spending, regulation, and taxes.  We need to consider all viewpoints, but the end result needs to be logical, rational, and positive.  We need to assiduously protect the rights of citizens as guaranteed in the constitution, but not pick and choose the words we read therein.

Not too many years ago, the two political parties would fight tooth and nail until the election, but both understood that after that, the elected needed to work together without regard to party.  It meant that both sides needed to give a little for the sake of the common good.  Today, I’m not seeing much of that.

Debra Maggart was drummed out of the State Legislature for not pushing the “guns in parking lots” bill.  John Boehner was dissed by his own colleagues in the US House of Representatives for the mere suggestion of giving a fraction of an inch on taxes — raising the rates only on the most wealthy.  The gun nuts are defending deer hunting with a semi-automatic assault rifle.

This week, think about speaking up.  Let’s take back our country from the extremes.




Mountain Wisdom

This morning, Robin Smith — Chairwoman of the Tennessee Republican Party — kicked the Speaker of the House out of the GOP.  In doing so, she negated the party’s majority; worse, she sent a message that anyone not in lockstep with the hard right isn’t welcome anymore.

It wasn’t always that way.  It shouldn’t be that way now.

The Elizabethton Star said it quite plainly:

   The two-party system has served this country well. There is never going to be a time when everyone agrees on the same candidate. We all have different values, different views and different opinions on how government can best serve the people, and how people can best serve their government. To disagree is not wrong. Not every Republican agrees on every matter nor does every Democrat. Heaven help us if they do.

     Furthermore, we do not think that Republicans in Memphis and Chattanooga, where Ms. Smith is from, should be meddling in Carter County politics. We may live in the mountains, but we aren’t ignorant. We are learned enough in politics to vote. We don’t need the bright out-spoken lawyer from Memphis nor the "blonde" saleswoman from Chattanooga to tell us how to vote, nor do we need them to select our candidates. My gosh, our ancestors were the first to settle in Tennessee. They formed the first independent government west of the Alleghenies. Long before there was a Tennessee or a Chattanooga or a Memphis, our folks were living here in the Watauga Settlement. They were busy building a community and forming a government. I don’t know if they were Republicans or Democrats, but it really doesn’t matter. They were daring, brave and they sure didn’t let the British tell them what to do.

     Perhaps, Ms. Smith should know that when she kicks our representative out of the Republican Party, she has dealt a blow to every Williams voter in Carter County.

     And, what’s more, the members of the Republican Party will have shot themselves in the foot — they no longer will have the majority in the Tennessee House. It keeps getting worse for Rep. Jason Mumpower. First, he was shot out of the saddle as House Speaker. Now, if Williams is kicked out of the Republican Party, he will become chairman of the minority party rather than the majority.

Back in the 1990’s, it was productive and fun to be affiliated with the "big tent" party.  Today, I am ashamed of Ms. Smith and her short-sighted temper tantrum.  Congratulations on single-handedly losing the majority.

The Republican Glass:

Is it half-empty, or half-full?

Outrage abounds following yesterday’s election of Kent Wiliams, R-Elizabethton, as Speaker of the House in the Tennessee Legislature.  Williams is described as a moderate, and claims to have the best interest of the State at heart:

“Today is not about Kent Williams or Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, and it’s not about Jason Mumpower,” Williams said. “It’s not about Democrats and Republicans. Today is about change. … We need to utilize the talents of all the members of this General Assembly, not just the Democratic Party and not just the Republican Party. … For too many years, we’ve had talented representatives sit on the sidelines without any input into legislation. A lot of legislation we want to vote on we don’t get the chance. That’s going to change.”

There are plenty of places to get the spilled milk version, but consider for a moment whether there may be an upside:  under Mumpower’s leadership, might there be a possibility that the House would have operated in much the same manner as under Naifeh’s iron fist, but with favoritism of different individuals and issues?  Might such partisanship, coupled with too much change, too fast, have resulted in a backlash loss of majority two years from now?

In my view, it’s important to have some balance, because it’s going to matter much more that Republicans have a majority two years from now when redistricting occurs, and when we elect the next governor.  I’m willing to live with more gradual change, to prevent catastrophic losses in 2010.

Therefore, I reserve judgment on Williams’ speakership until I see what he does.  He is a Republican, elected by the people of his district with a substantial victory.  While his method may have been deplorable, it’s the same playbook used by John Wilder in the 1990s, which benefited Republicans in the Senate.


To the new majority

So-called pro-life Republicans took the balance of power in Tennessee this year, but I’m left wondering, are you really pro-life?

Or are you just anti-abortion?  Being anti-abortion is much easier.  With the push of a button and the stroke of a pen, you simply criminalize an option you don’t like.  Just be sure, in the fiscal note, to build in some additional prison space, along with some serious emergency-room costs for women driven by desperation to the unsafe and illegal.

The difference is simple: to be truly pro-life, one has to devote at least as much effort toward saving the babies already outside the womb.  As Aunt B. so eloquently notes,

One in five babies in that neighborhood did not live to see their first birthdays.  You have a better chance of celebrating your child’s first birthday in Afghanistan than you do on the south side of Nashville.  In Memphis, an infant dies every 43 hours (yes, those are tiny coffins).  Every other day a family loses their baby.


That’s not going to be an easy challenge.  It would mean funding access to birth control for people you think should simply abstain, putting aside the values you think they should have, in deference to the realities they actually live.

It would mean putting more resources into prenatal care for girls and women you don’t think should be procreating to begin with, whose children you will have to pay to feed, clothe, doctor, and educate for the next 18 years.

Are you really pro-life?  Your actions will serve as your answers. 

* * * * *
If you’re serious about success, Say Uncle sums it up nicely.


Wow — Iowa brought some semi-surprises.

I wasn’t so much shocked as disappointed in the Republican results; Iowa is known to have a strong evangelical Christian base, and therefore, voted with the Baptist preacher. What did really surprise me was their endorsement of Obama. The media are calling it a "desire for change," which gave the young, relative newcomer the nod.

New Hampshire will be a new day. Historically, the state has been more concerned with fiscal than social issues, so I’m guessing that the results will be somewhat different.

*  *  *

However, I found a neat electoral map with each state’s electoral votes and primary dates.  Enjoy.

Do we want to be at war?

Forget the Middle East for a moment, and think about Tennessee.  Do we want to be obstructionist, or do we want to work together to accomplish something positive?

I’ll choose the latter — there’s enough war going on elsewhere.

When the State Senate Republicans met yesterday, Ron Ramsey was elected Majority Leader (sans the vote of Mike Williams, who abstained) and Mark Norris was elected to the post of caucus chair over Randy McNally, chosen last year following the resignation of Jeff Miller.

Williams’ abstention comes as no surprise, given the harsh words that have been exchanged thus far.  It seems that Ramsey would rule by intimidation and punishment, rather than respect and persuasion.  Williams’ response (via the Chattanooga Times) is what I expected:

Sen. Williams appeared upset when asked by reporters about Sen. Ramsey’s assertions in a personal letter to him that minority Democrats are trying to play him for a “patsy” as they seek to hold onto power despite the GOP’s majority.

“I think in my 16 years of service here, I think a lot of things could be said about me. I don’t think (any) person could ever say that I’m a patsy,” Sen. Williams said, citing his fight to oppose then-Republican Gov. Don Sundquist’s proposed state income tax.

“I fought that in the best interests of the citizens of this state. … I spoke out on the Legislative Plaza when certain senators around were nowhere to be found. I think my record speaks that I’m anything but a patsy,” Sen. Williams said.

I don’t disagree with Ramsey that we should have a Republican speaker, now going into the second consecutive Republican majority in that body… I’m just not certain he’s the right one.

With McNally free of other caucus responsibilities, he would be the superior choice.  McNally is unwavering in his principles, yet able to work with others to be productive and accomplish something for Tennessee.

I don’t want a do-nothing, obstructionist Senate.  I’m tired of the name-calling, petty partisan games. It’s time to elect a Speaker who might actually accomplish something productive, and the man for the job is Randy McNally.

Republicans in Trouble?

I’ve been kidding myself that Republicans aren’t really in trouble — that the takeover by the wingnuts was simply a local phenomenon.

Apparently, it isn’t. Kleinheider at VolunteerVoters links to a post at the Johnson County (Kansas) Sun, where the author writes of why, for the first time in decades, the paper will not faithfully endorse Republican candidates as it has done for 50 years. He begins,

The Republican Party has changed, and it has changed monumentally.

You almost cannot be a victorious traditional Republican candidate with mainstream values in Johnson County or in Kansas anymore, because these candidates never get on the ballot in the general election. They lose in low turnout primaries, where the far right shows up to vote in disproportionate numbers.

To win a Republican primary, the candidate must move to the right.

Then, he articulates what “to the right” means — gay bashing, immigrant bashing, restrictions on stem-cell research that would save lives… the list is long. Moderation brings common ground that all of us can live with, but “moderate” is an epithet to these folks.

Most republicans like myself have not changed, but our party has been taken over by people so driven to extreme social conservatism that they’re willing to disregard the core principles of the Republican Philosophy. Not just here, but possibly everywhere.

We’re in trouble.

At Least be Rational

The announcement of the FDA’s decision that the “morning after pill,” now called Plan B, will be available to adults without a prescription has been in the news for several days. This morning’s article in the News Sentinel states the opposition as:

Opponents believe making the pills more available could increase promiscuity and spur their use by sexual predators.

Given the price tag of $25-$40, I think not. Even if it were $5, it’s neither convenient enough, nor cost-effective enough, to become anyone’s first choice for a birth control method — aside from the fact that most of us are a little wary of gobbling up large doses of hormones, due to the inherent risks and inevitable side effects. It’s certainly not enough to change anyone’s morals or lead to dreaded promiscuity.

A similar argument has been used against the recently-approved vaccine for human papillomavirus, now known to be a leading cause of cervical cancer. From NewScientist:

In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. “Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV,” says Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian lobby group that has made much of the fact that, because it can spread by skin contact, condoms are not as effective against HPV as they are against other viruses such as HIV.

“Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex,” Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus.

The last sentence is important: it’s likely that the only young women who have ever heard of the virus, or its link to cancer, are those who have already visited a gynecologist or family planning clinic, or whose mothers are open, educated, and forthright enough to actually tell their daughters about it. Those mothers are also most likely to have counseled their children on the dangers of promiscuity (which includes a variety of other health, emotional, and social risks) as well as prevention of pregnancy and disease.

The second point is, of course, that the virus could be transmitted on a woman’s wedding night, neither spouse knowing that he carried it.

No mother wants her daughter to sleep around. But the danger of unexpected pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease is far, far worse than the moral or social effects of premarital sex.

The traditional barriers to premarital sex have been 1) pregnancy, 2) parents finding out, and more recently, disease. With options now to decrease (but not eliminate) the risks of pregnancy and disease, the key lies with parents: to instill in their daughters a sense of self esteem — low self esteem likely being the greatest factor in promiscuity among teenage girls — and to convey the benefits of reserving something very special for someone very special.

The latter won’t always work, so it’s important that girls and women also know how to protect their health and avoid unplanned pregnancy.

It’s time to put an end to the shrill voices that would risk women’s lives for one group’s version of morality.

Baptist Teaching

Reuters reports on a New York Baptist preacher who fired an 81 year old Sunday School teacher — with more than 50 years in that job — because she is… female. He does not “allow women to teach or have authority over a man.”

I guess he doesn’t believe in college, since there are female professors and deans.

Over the last couple of years, the Southern Baptist Convention has wrangled with the question of whether to officially encourage their members to remove their children from the “godless” public schools. Is it because so many public schoolteachers are women? Or, because public schools recognize that it’s the parents’ role to see to their children’s religious instruction, if any?

Then, there’s this group — advocating the abolishment of all public schools. If you go to their search page and type in local zip codes (37830 for Oak Ridge, 37716 for Clinton), you come up with names of local people who agree. I didn’t know all on the list, but those that I did recognize are — you guessed it — Baptists.

More disturbing is that the Republican candidate for State Representative in our district is on the list. Of course, Rep. Jim Hackworth (D) has done a good job for us, and has been particularly helpful to me in gathering information on the battle for state funding for our schools, so I wasn’t going to support the preacher anyway.

Back to the “women shall not teach” thing: it rather reminds me of the Palestinian (IMHO, terrorist-in-training) from my sophomore year of college, who dropped a beginning computer science course because I was the instructor of the only section. I still remember his “a woman is not qualified” statement, which I found amusing, since I knew the subject matter, and he did not.

What is the world coming to? Unfortunately, one extremist is no better, no less dangerous, than the other. I fully support anyone’s right to home school their kids, or to send them to a religious school; why do they wish to trample the rights of everyone else?

Voter Service

Terry Frank says

I have to say that being disappointed in the League of Women Voters is nothing new.

I guess that’s not surprising, given the “you’re 100% with me or 100% against me” mentality that seems to have grown amongst the social conservatives segment of the Republican Party. By definition, any organization whose mission is to provide an unbiased format for debate is not 100% with (or against) anyone.

Terry refers to the Nashville League cancelling a candidate forum because Bob Corker declined to participate. Of course, reviews from the Knoxville forum indicate that it was a two-against-one slugfest, so it seems to me that this was a reasonable decision for a truly unbiased organization. In all honesty, I don’t know why Corker declined the invitation — whether he just didn’t want to go, or if there was a scheduling conflict. Somehow, I’m not inclined to jump to the conclusion that he “just didn’t want to,” given the editorial assessment from the link above:

If Bob Corker doesn’t win the nomination, it will be because of some other, unforeseen issue that arises before the Aug. 7 primary election. It won’t be because of the issues raised or the personal attacks that he deftly parried during the Knoxville debate, nor will he lose on the issues he has successfully made himself clear on throughout the early rounds of campaigning.

He’s just not a fraidy-cat kind of guy.

On a related note…
Locally, the League of Women Voters has conducted two candidate forums in preparation for the Anderson County general election. The first (and most lively) was on June 27, but there have been developments since that haven’t yet made it to the public eye.

The League, sensitive to the fact that candidates’ words can be taken out of context and misused, prohibits recording except by the press. All candidates sign an agreement not to do so, and one of the rules printed clearly in the event program reads as follows:

  • Tape and other material of the Candidates Forum is for the exclusive use of LWVOR and is not to be sold or reproduced without express consent of LWVOR.

In definance of this rule (which would seem to be a copyright violation), Energy Media managed to get hold of a recording, airing selected clips on a program which they pay Channel 12 to air. Since Energy Media is employed by local candidates as a campaign consultant, the program was decidedly biased, and the local League is furious.

The repercussions have already begun, as candidates have expressed concern about the incident. Without assurance that the League’s policies to ensure fairness will be followed, there is a very real risk that candidates will elect not to participate in the future.

That is bad for the League, and worse for the public. It’s my understanding that Channel 12 has pulled the taped program from future airings, and that they are likely to be much more diligent about the content of paid programming in the future.

It’s too much to hope for that Channel 12 will cancel the show, but I’ll hope anyway.

Sit with any group of local League members (who aren’t all women, by the way) for an informal chat, and you’ll find great diversity of opinion — many of them quite strong — all over the political spectrum. However, if you sit in on a Board meeting and watch the planning process for voter service efforts, you’ll find a group of people who check their individual preferences at the door for the sake of a truly unbiased process.

I never want to live in a place where there’s a requirement of total agreement on all things… there must be discourse for growth and improvement to flourish. More importantly, it sounds too much like the failed “iron curtain” politics of the past.