As the Tennessee General Assembly’s 2013 session speeds to its end, Capitol Hill watchers were quick to point out that, in its alacrity, the legislature managed to avoid passing the so-called “crazy bills.”
The various ill-conceived nullification measures, the proposals designed to wrong-foot the Affordable Care Act and the John Birch Society-inspired anti-United Nations measures all died — undebated — in the musty basements of subcommittees.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey — a champion of so-called social conservatism — was praised by the Tennessee Equality Project, a LGBT rights group, for his part in torpedoing the latest incarnation of Don’t Say Gay and its insidious requirement that schools rat out gay students to their parents.
Ramsey declared that issues pertaining to the sexuality of children and teens are best left inside the family — a refreshing piece of genuine conservatism all too frequently absent from today’s Tennessee Republican Party — and the bill, which received outsized attention, withered on the vine.
And yet one proposal — which could be described as kooky if it were merely bizarre, but doesn’t deserve that charming descriptor because it is, at its heart, heartless beyond reason — survives into the legislature’s final lap.
Knoxville Republican Sen. Stacey Campfield — the man whose ideas more or less print money for The Daily Show’s writers — wants to tie welfare payments to the grades of the children whose families receive them.
This bill has been widely panned, as it should be, for making spelling and algebra, quite literally, life-or-death matters. There’s no doubt education is important, and there’s no doubt that a good education is part of the pathway out of poverty. And there’s no doubt that parental involvement is an oft-overlooked part of education policy.
But why not fund education to a level that gives poor children the same opportunities as their rich peers? Instead, the way to emphasize education’s importance is to tell children “Get a ‘B’ or your family will starve.”
The world is a cold place, but not as cold as Campfield’s crass and cynical soul.
Most everyone in Tennessee leadership dismissed the idea; even the all-too-often milquetoast governor has publicly derided it and threatened a veto. It’s a weak threat, of course, because his veto is weak. But Haslam is a man who once meekly said secession didn’t seem like a very good idea, so chiming in on a bad bill is a big step for him.
And yet, a version of Campfield’s bill moved along, passed with a stamp of approval out of the House Government Operations Committee this week before it was finally, and mercifully, sent by the Senate to a study committee that hasn’t actually been formed.
Why does this happen? And why with this bill? Why was it allowed into public view?
Are they scared of Campfield, a man who, while being deposed in a libel suit, insinuated his colleagues were too stupid to use a computer?
This bill is the General Assembly’s cockroach — with all the metaphorical baggage that implies — and truly brave leadership set on proving they aren’t attempting to turn Tennessee into a Hobbesian jungle-state would have crushed it decisively and without equivocation long before Tennessee became a late-night punchline. Again.