House GOP retaliation for Confederate monument removal: A scripted political show?

Some Republicans familiar with the discussions leading up to Tuesday’s state House vote cut $250,000 in funding for Memphis in retaliation for the city removing Confederate statues say the money was put into the state budget on the front end only so that it could be later taken away as  part of an effort send a message to Memphis, reports the Commercial Appeal. Others deny that was the case.

The House Finance Committee put the $250,000 expenditure — earmarked to help underwrite expenses of Memphis’ bicentennial celebration next year — into the state budget by approving an amendment filed by Rep. Karen Camper (D-Memphis). Typically, as the article reports, such “legislative initiative” amendments are approved only after House Republican leaders agree to go along with them in a closed-door meeting – and it would be an oddity for the GOP leadership to embrace a Democrat-sponsored amendment while rejecting scores of Republican-sponsored amendments calling for extra spending beyond what the governor proposes, as they did. (Legislators, this year and historically, file a 300 or more extra spending requests and almost all are turned down.)

Depending on who you talk to, there’s varying views on why Camper’s amendment was even approved.

Williams said the proposal was funded “mainly because we love and respect Representative Camper and it’s something she wanted on the list.”

Others familiar with the budget discussions offer a different perspective.

The reason it was added, according to two people with knowledge of the talks, was simple: to give lawmakers an opportunity to send a message to Memphis.

“It was important to remind Memphis that there are consequences for actions, especially when a city blatantly violates the spirit of the law,” a Republican familiar with the House budget amendment talks said.

The sentiment was confirmed by another Republican familiar with the talks.

…“We were just looking for opportunities – some way to withhold some money from Memphis,” McDaniel said in an interview on Thursday. “We were looking for any opportunity we could to send that message and that’s what we did.”

But (House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin)… said he would never agree to play games with the budget.

“If that was the main purpose of doing that, I probably would never have put it in the budget to start with,” he said.

Sargent said he heard a rumor about the suggestion that Camper’s amendment was only approved to take it away but denied being part of any such talks.

Williams also brushed aside any such suggestion about gamesmanship with Camper’s proposal.

Although Sargent and Williams contend otherwise, one detail that provides further fuel to the belief that there was never an intention to fund Camper’s proposal was this: The Senate budget never included the money.

… When the massive funding bill was up for consideration, Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, introduced and amendment to remove the $250,000 proposal. McDaniel said he talked with Hill beforehand.

“I said here you are Matthew, if you want to file this amendment, then here’s your opportunity,” McDaniel said. “He was one of many wanting to find a way to do this.”

Hill, who did not respond to a request for comment, said on the House floor that his amendment would not impact Memphis’ ability to plan their bicentennial celebration.

“What we are getting ready to vote on is a common practice in the budgetary process,” he said, arguing his measure was simply seeking to reallocate money elsewhere in the budget.

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