O’Hara: GOP takes hard right turn in Tennessee

A guest column from former Tennessean reporter Jim O’Hara:

In calling the misguided immigration bill “a solution looking for a problem” while letting it become law without signing, Gov. Bill Haslam could well have been describing the Tennessee Republican gubernatorial primary.

Tennessee gubernatorial candidates talk education during SCORE event at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, January 23, 2018. (Photo credit: Belmont University)

The frontrunners – Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd and U.S. Rep. Diane Black – have blanketed the television airwaves with commercials trying to out-Trump each other in anti-illegal immigration rhetoric.  Maybe the next round of commercials will have each of them on the Texas-Mexico border with shovels and bricks in hand building THE WALL!

The Pew Research Center tracks data on immigration.  According to its latest report in November 2016, the population of unauthorized immigrants in the United States held steady between 2009 and 2014.  Pew estimated the unauthorized immigrant population in Tennessee in 2014 at 120,000, or 1.9% of the state’s population.  Unauthorized immigrants in Tennessee in 2014 accounted for an estimated 2.8% of the state’s labor force.  And the change in the population of unauthorized immigrants in Tennessee between 2009 and 2014 was not statistically significant, according to the Pew researchers.

Even more striking than the difference between the “reality” of the Boyd and Black campaign commercials and the reality of unauthorized immigrants in Tennessee is the difference between their campaign television ad priorities and what current state Republican officeholders say about the state of the state.

Following the just completed legislative session, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally claimed success for an agenda of maintaining the state’s Triple-A bond rating, keeping taxes low and making investments in health and education.  Now, some may want to quibble with that assessment given the General Assembly’s failure to expand Medicaid, but the broader point is that Republicans are firmly in control of the state’s government and have been for years.

In short, Boyd and Black are running against their own party, for all intents and purposes.

The Tea Party insurgency of a decade ago that fueled the GOP supermajorities in the General Assembly but was blocked, or at least stymied, by a moderate Republican governor is now in its Trumpified form storming the last redoubt on Capitol Hill.

Some Tennessee Republicans may harbor the hope that Boyd’s recent foray into anti-immigrant rhetoric masks a basic moderate philosophy a la Haslam, but it seems clear that each campaign’s polling and focus group research shows the path to victory in the GOP primary lays to the hard right.

The bitter irony of this cannot be lost on the Tennessee Republicans who made Tennessee a genuine two-party state in the 1960s and 1970s.  They were the insurgents then.  Breaking out of voting patterns that had held mostly steady since the end of the Civil War, they expanded the GOP’s ability to get votes statewide out of the traditional East Tennessee ballot boxes into the Memphis suburbs, Chattanooga and eventually Middle Tennessee.  Fueled with a mixture of good government reform (against the Crump machine in Memphis and the Clement-Ellington gubernatorial leapfrog game) and the cynical and racist Nixon Southern strategy, they elected a Republican governor for the first time in 50 years, captured both U.S. Senate seats, and began to take over the state’s congressional delegation.

But those Republican insurgents ran toward the middle, even in their primaries.  And they did their best to smooth the edges of their right wing. They have become the Establishment.

So if Haslam believes that the immigration bill is “a solution looking for a problem” why didn’t he use his veto power? A cynic might suggest that Haslam’s course of action on the immigration bill was an attempt not to add more kerosene to the GOP’s primary Trump bonfire, hoping there might still be some sort of a middle way for Republicans in Tennessee, hoping to smooth the edges one more time.


Jim O’Hara covered state and national politics for The Tennessean in the 1980s.

21 Responses to O’Hara: GOP takes hard right turn in Tennessee

  • James White says:

    Too bad Diane Black (and Marsha Blackburn) Cosponsored and voted for Amnesty for Illegal aliens.

  • Donna Locke says:

    The number of illegal aliens in the workforce declined only slightly because of Obama’s executive orders saving illegal aliens from deportation and giving more than a million of them work permits in Obama’s DACA amnesty.

    No one actually knows how many illegal aliens are in the United States. We get more every day from border crashing and visa overstays. Some labor analysts and university economics researchers have estimated the numbers at twice what Census data reveal. Census data, which Pew uses, may be cast in low, mid, and high ranges. The Center for Immigration Studies, which advocates for restrictions on immigration, goes with low-range estimates and projections to be fair. Pew did that also in this particular report. But people who have been working on the issue a long time know the numbers are greater than that.

    Our opposition knows it, too, and plays the low or high estimates depending on their aims of the moment.

  • Stuart I. Anderson says:

    The Republican Party may or may not be moving to the right, but it seems to me this blog is moving to the left. Yesterday we were treated to snarky article about the Tennessee Star, today we are treated to the type of article tepid/solid conservatives can expect from The Tennessean just before we cancel our subscription.

    Paging Tom Humphrey, paging Tom Humphrey – TOM PLEASE COME BACK!

    • Donna Locke says:

      I was just gonna say . . .

      • Donna Locke says:

        Speaking of The Tennessean, they deliberately choose to be so unbalanced in immigration reporting and commentary that they fell over onto the ground long ago and people are just stepping over them now. How many immigration-control op-eds do you see there as those editors run their own slant and comrades day after day after day? It should embarrass them, but hell no, they’ve parachuted in to teach us hillbillies — while hijacking our venerable newspaper and censoring out facts.

        Don’t get me started on the ” reporters.”

        It’s amazingly closed-minded and narcissistic that they think Trump’s comments about the news media are off the wall. I read so much newspaper fiction now that reading novels seems like overload.

    • James White says:

      Once again Stuart is confusing conservatives with republicans (and now with the tn. star). They Ain’t conservative. Wake up!

  • Iva Russell says:

    I am going to agree with Stuart. I enjoyed reading Tom’s blogs because they were informative not editorial. If this blog turns into just another front for the left, what good is it.

  • Phil Lassiter says:

    Lying to get elected

  • Silence Dogood says:

    During those “reasonable days” between parties that lead into the 80’s I voted for Al Gore for the Senate. Al always struck me as a Conservative middle of the road Democrat that could be trusted to be a Tennessean first and a politician second. I was so wrong. From Congressman, to Senator, to Vice President of the United States, and then to Presidential candidate. Al Gore, elected by that friendly feeling, was a corruptible vessel for the Clinton’s. No moral foundation, no roots in our culture. He constantly embarrassed this state the higher he went and he still does. Al has become a traitorous tool of foreign powers through his environmental extremist lobbying. My reward for crossing party lines was present day Al Gore. I suspect that most citizens in this state would be glad to see him leave. What a sad, sad end to those friendly days between parties. When I was younger and trusted a democrat.

  • Linda Grounds says:

    I did not know I was a far-right Republican until I added the Tennessean and the Memphis paper to my reading list. I grew up as the daughter of a small town West Tennessee Democrat mayor and I campaigned with my father and John Jay Hooker’s mother all over rural West Tennessee in the gubernatorial election of 1970. I went away to college the next year, I began to study the issues that were really important to me and I voted for Richard Nixon in my first presidential election. My father and I, from that point, had to agree to disagree until his death last year.

    The things important to me? The ability to get a first-rate college education if you are willing to work hard and pay back your loans yourself. My husband and I certainly did! Another important thing to me–having an organized immigration system that guarantees that immigrants come here legally, that they speak English, and that they have a marketable skill that assures they will not make a career out of having American babies and living off of the dole. Because of my patriotism and love of my country, I would like to see my grandchildren grow up surrounded by good, Christian people who worship God and pray at football games. It is really hard on us Baby Boomers to try to figure out the LBGT thing and why did they add a Q to it?

    I have three college degrees and I have taught at MTSU, Tennessee Tech, and Chattanooga State. I retired several years ago and my husband and I have our own small business. We had to pay for our own health insurance for seven years (2010 through 2016), we did not qualify for a subsidy, and our profit from our business literally was spent entirely on Obamacare.

    I have studied the many informative articles about the candidates for governor and I am undecided at this point. Surely, someone who reads this newsletter has some clue about who the best candidate for me would be!

    P.S. Doe it make me crazy to think that Marsha Blackburn is an idiot and that I probably should vote for Phil Bredesen?

    • Stuart I. Anderson says:

      Yes Linda I know exactly who you should vote for in the gubernatorial election. You should vote for whomever has the best chance of defeating Randy! Boyd. Of the four candidates Randy! is the only one who has described himself as “a moderate” and so he is. He has shown himself to most accommodating to those in this country illegally, which only encourages more illegal immigration. All his life he has shown himself to be most amenable to those who want to make the Republican Party accept the leftward thrusts of the Democratic Party. As to who of the other three you finally vote for, it doesn’t make all that much of a difference. Both Diane Black and Beth Harwell have long tepid conservative records and Bill Lee and his campaign manager allege he will be like the other two. Right now Diane seems to have the best chance of beating Randy! as per the polls, so as of now she should get your vote.

      Unless you know Marsha personally, and I do, you don’t strike me as the type of lady who would be going around calling anyone “an idiot.” This is especially true insofar as I can promise you from my many years of personally knowing her that Marsha is perfectly normal intellectually. Now to be sure we’ve both disagreed with Marsha rather seriously but that doesn’t make her an idiot. On the other hand, you’re not “crazy” but perhaps a little misinformed. By voting for Phil Bredesen you are doing your part to place the U.S. Senate in the hands of liberal Democrats because no matter what he says, Phil is guaranteed to vote for the Democrats to organize the Senate and if they have the majority that’s exactly what they will do.

      Todays Democratic Party is a Party that amenable to the restricting religious liberty in the name of “civil rights,” “inclusiveness,” “separation of church and state” and a myriad of other excuses. Leaders of the Democratic Party now want to abolish ICE the arm of the federal government that enforces our immigration laws. Of the two parties it is by far the most permissive in allowing the immigration of individuals with an eye to making them voting citizens as soon as possible. It is Democrats who talk about forgiving student loans and of the two parties they are completely sympathetic with the most aggressive demands the homosexual community as well as those with mental problems regarding their sexuality. It is the Democratic Party that is most hostile to free market solutions to any problem most importantly health care. It is their government mandates that caused your insurance rates to rise astronomically.

      Now all you have to do is read your comment once again, and match it with the program of today’s Democratic Party after which if you decide to vote for Bredesen even I may be tempted to call you “crazy” but I shall resist the temptation to do so. Best of luck!

      • Linda Grounds says:

        Thank you, Stuart! I didn’t think I would end up casting a Diane/Marsha ballot, but I will give much thought to what you have said.

    • Eddie White says:

      If you look again at what you said were the important things to you, and then look at Phill Bredesen ‘s position on those issues, you will vote for Marsha Blackburn.

  • Timothy Skow says:

    Linda…. ”YES” … it makes you crazy to think Marsha is ”an idiot” … to borrow your verbiage.
    I have known both Marsha and Phil since before either were elected. Neither of them are ”an idiot” or ”crazy”. So if you, or anyone else refers to either of them with such verbiage, then that reflects on YOU … as ”crazy” … to again borrow your verbiage… [and surely the same applies to any others who would short change either of them ] ….

    Are we clear ? 🙂
    Have a GREAT … and SANE … day

    • Linda Grounds says:

      Timothy, I’m sure “idiot” was a very poor word choice. Maybe someone will understand when I say that many times her remarks and behavior come off rather “faked” to me. That is just my opinion, but that has been a barrier to me in considering to vote for her.

      • Stuart I. Anderson says:

        Actually Marsha talks a conservative game and her lifetime scores by the Heritage Foundation and Club For Growth of 82%/90% makes her voting record in the House pretty close to her rhetoric so that part isn’t “fake.” Rather than “fake,” perhaps on occasion “awkward” is more the word and I think I have at least a possible explanation.

        Marsha is chairman of the Communication & Technology Subcommittee, exactly where she should be considering how important the music industry is to her constituency. Her popularity in that industry attests to her effectiveness. As chairman of that committee, however, she frequently has a microphone stuck under her chin and is asked to comment on what are rather complex issues re: copywrite and internet which is miles away from her education and career prior to politics. All of these facts combine to cause her, on occasion, to stumble over the jargon or to seem uncomfortable when she is not prepared for the question. As far as I’m concerned this more a stylistic rather than a substantive consideration.

        Personally Linda what I am interested in is voting record when deciding whether a candidate is going to get my vote. Next to voting record I’m interested in POLTICAL background – advocacy for causes and candidates as well as record of contributions. Those are the important things to me. The ability to run an air conditioning company, being a well thought of judge, having a fine career as a manager of a bureaucracy is of little importance. Being a glib tongue devil, physical appearance are of much less importance. Adds placed by campaign professionals in the weeks before elections are, however, not important at all.

      • James White says:

        Linda, if you want to see Marsha’s poor voting record, just click my name.

  • Eddie White says:

    James, your strategy only helps Phil Bredesen win the senate, and should be ignored and discarded by all conservatives.

  • Eddie White says:

    And that is…..

  • Eddie White says:

    Come on James, give us the name of that senate candidate we conservatives should be voting for…

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