January 2009

Legislative Committees ’09

The official list has not been released, but via Kleinheider, an unofficial committee roster has been leaked.

The House Education Committee is divided 11-11 between R’s and D’s, with the K-12 subcommittee similarly split, 6-6.  Education will tentatively be chaired by Harry Brooks (R-Knox Co.), with K-12 chaired by Les Winningham (D-Scott Co.), the previous Ed Committee Chair.

I’m in the process of evaluating the committee makeup now — legislative experience, education background, support or opposition to issues of interest (BEP 2.0, elected vs. appointed superintendents, etc.), and will post that later today.  At first blush though, it caught my attention that six of the Ed Committee members are from Shelby County.  That seems a little weighted for one county out of 95, knowing that Shelby Co. and Memphis school systems are quite different than most of the rest of the state.

[Larger PDF version]

Early observations of this unofficial roster:

  • 7 of the 12 K-12 Subcommittee members are from the large, urban, consolidated school districts (Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, and Knoxville);
  • Average legislative experience of Democrats: 14 years
  • Average legislative experience of Republicans: 6 years

I have to admit, it kind of floored me that Bill Dunn was appointed to K-12, since his own five children are home-schooled.  Certainly, there’s more research to be done on this group… prior voting records, issue positions, etc.

*  *  *

The official committee assignments are out now, and the Ed Committee appears to be the same as reported earlier.

 

Weekend how-to

Install a new light fixture:

Yesterday, we finally got around to replacing the light fixture over my kitchen sink.  It’s a standard, 2-foot fluorescent light — the kind a family with children might leave on all night, so that someone coming to the kitchen for a glass of water in the middle of the night doesn’t fall into the dog food dish, or worse.

It’s not an easy thing to get to, because the fixture itself is behind a wood facade that’s part of the built-in cabinetry.  The best way, for someone of my (limited) height and build, is to stand in the sink.  This doesn’t work so well for HWTFM though, who’s considerably taller and broader of shoulder than I am.  Yet, in this house, built-in electrical stuff is exclusively his domain, given that he has far more training and expertise in how not to get electrocuted, how not to set up a house fire, etc.

The fixture is secured to the ceiling with two long bolts, which fit into toggle bolts up in the ceiling.  It’s supposed to slide up through the fixture, with the screw head pointing down, and anchor to the toggle bolt somewhere up in the ceiling.  Trouble is, this particular toggle bolt wasn’t firmly attached to anything up there, in a part of the unfinished attic that only a squirrel could get to.  When we tried to thread the bolt into it, the toggle bolt just floated around… it wasn’t possible to get it started.

As HWTFM was kicking around outside, contemplating a dangerous and icky trip to the attic, I pulled out my trusty box of household hardware, found a large, new toggle bolt, matching bolt, washer, and nut.  I cut the head off of the bolt, threaded it into the new toggle, and stuck that end into the ceiling, so that the fixture could be fitted over the headless bolt.  Then, I put the washer and nut on, securing the right side of the fixture.  After that, it wasn’t a problem to fit the other bolt on the left side, as the toggle in the ceiling was secured to something up there.

Then, HWTFM completed all the wiring connections, put the fixture back together, and threw the breaker on for a test — it works!

So, the shortcut for the day is, cutting the head off the bolt and installing a new toggle, with the bolt secured on the bottom with a washer and nut, is the easy way around the mysterious floating toggle problem.

The next question is, who got up in the middle of the night and ate half an apple pie?  Dang.   Maybe having a nightlight in the kitchen wasn’t such a good idea, after all.

UT Changes

The University of Tennessee is grappling with extraordinary budget challenges, and the future looks grim.  A few changes may strengthen the university long-term, but most will negatively impact students, employees, and the state as a whole.

As outlined in this morning’s News-Sentinel, they’re looking at laying off 700 people.  They’re raising tuition by 9%.  For our family though, Peterson’s proposal to remove the tuition cap is the most damaging.  For clarification, a "full time" student is defined as one taking 12 semester hours; that’s three or four courses, in most cases.  However, one must take at least 15 hours per semester to graduate in four years — more than that in some majors.

A student taking 18 hours (like my two) would see a 50% increase in tuition even before the 9% increase.

Peterson’s rationale is that removing the tuition cap would be an "efficiency measure, aimed at discouraging students from registering for classes they may drop too late for other students to get enrolled."  However, a more logical way to accomplish that would be to charge students an additional fee — say $50 or $100 — for dropping any class after the add deadline (typically about a week and a half after classes begin).

It’s not just a few high-performing students who would bear the brunt of this change: 51% of all full-time undergraduate students took 15 or more hours in Fall 2007 (the most recent data publicly available).  Those 51% would see a minimum 25% increase, in addition to the 9% across-the-board increase.

I acknowledge that the highest-paid administrators have voluntarily taken a 5% pay cut, and applaud them for starting there.  However, the draconian changes proposed to tuition rates and the elimination of the most cost-effective instructors will cut too deeply into the university’s core mission.

That will, in turn, cut deeply into the State’s efforts to improve overall.

At the very least, the State needs to increase the lottery scholarship amount, commensurate with any tuition increase.   But the tuition cap should be left alone.

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.


 

A Successful Week

Gamma has had a string of successes this week, though she had to work hard for each and every one.

Thursday was one of those infamous hell-days known well to juniors at the high school: the national German exam, an AP Physics test, Major Author due for Jr. AP, and an AP US History paper due.

By the time she got home, she was wiped out.  The good part was, her new iPod Touch arrived, that she purchased with her own earnings from babysitting.  She’s had it plugged in almost continuously ever since — listening to music, playing with the various applications, surfing the web, and checking her e-mail.

On Friday, we learned that she scored an "A" in Physics on her report card.  On Saturday, she went to the All-East Orchestra tryouts, but she seemed convinced that she didn’t make it, having messed up her prepared piece "pretty bad."

Last night, we learned that she did indeed make All-East, so she’ll be playing at the Park Vista in Gatlinburg next month.  This morning, we found out that she was also successful in her audition for the new Oak Ridge Youth Symphony Orchestra, which is pretty exciting.

All told, it was a pretty darn successful first week back in school.  Needless to say, I’m pleased.

If only the rest of us can keep up with her, it’ll all be good.

7 Pounds

The kids were all otherwise occupied last night, so Hubby and I had a date night.  Being the manly man that he is, he agreed to forego the movie I refused to see, and took me to what ended up being a serious chick-flick.

I’d already read (and heard, via NewsTalk100) reviews of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which was pretty well panned even by people who like sci-fi as being too AlGore-ified to be very good.  I go to movies to be entertained, not brainwashed.  Hubby though, is a sci-fi addict — even the really bad ones.

7 Pounds was a good, but very serious movie.  I’d rate it as well worth the tickets.

Afterward, we had a romantic dinner at El Cantarito… such a good time!

Food tax heartburn

Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, is sponsoring the current attempt to further lower the sales tax on groceries.

Former Rep. David Fowler, now of the Family Action Council, has a very thoughtful and thorough look at all sides of this proposal.  Although I often disagree with Fowler because of his alliance with conservative social causes, he’s absolutely spot-on with his analysis of what legislators are up against with this vote.

For Legislators, it’s a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t decision.  Those who vote against the reduction will be painted as tax-and-spenders, while those who vote for it will bear the blame for an irresponsible decision leading to further painful cuts in services provided to Tennesseans — education, health care, public safety, etc.

Read Fowler’s piece, and keep it in mind when the issue heats up later on.

The joy of Winter

I love the snow!

We spent the last week in rural northern Michigan, right on the coast of the big lake.  At right is Portage Lake (connected to Lake Michigan by a short channel), frozen over, and dotted with ice shanties.

I confess that I don’t understand the fascination with ice fishing, but I do appreciate the scenic qualities of the little huts dotting the ice.  Some of those folks are plumb crazy, staying out there until the ice all along the shore has melted in the Spring.  Watching them figure out how to get off the ice is amusing, but that’s a Spring Break story.

We skied a full day at Crystal Mountain on Thursday, having a fabulous time in pristine conditions.  Mostly though, we spent the week visiting HWTFM’s mom and brothers.

The drive is one that I particularly enjoy this time of year; from Indianapolis northward, it’s all rural highway, rather than interstate.  The small towns between South Bend and Kokomo really decorate for the holidays, so the lights against the winter landscape are just beautiful.

This morning, we return to real life — the college kids have gone back to UT, the younger two are back in school.  However, I can dream of snow days, hoping that we see a few  this year.