TN political news and opinion roundup Jan. 8, 2017

The legislative session that begins Tuesday is the focus of much Tennessee media reporting in recent days. A sampler:

Legislative issue overviews

This week’s legislative meetings will be devoted to organization matters, followed by a recess until Jan. 30, when Gov. Bill Haslam delivers his “state-of-the-state” speech. But there’s a pile of proposals awaiting action afterwards — a gas tax increase, cuts in other state taxes, a big budget surplus, school vouchers, Sunday liquor sales, de-annexation, school bus seat belts, bathroom bills, etc. Andy Sher’s roundup is HERE; Sam Stockard’s list of main issues is HERE.

McNally profiled

The Tennessean has a well-done profile on Sen. Randy McNally, who will replace Ron Ramsey as Senate speaker and lieutenant governor on opening day.

The two have similar political backgrounds — they rose through the ranks over a long period of time — and are natural leaders. But in other ways, the differences are stark. Both have their own specialties.

“A lot of times in baseball you need to follow the guy that throws at 100 miles an hour with the guy that throws the circle change-up 75 miles an hour,” said Brad Todd, a longtime political consultant who has worked closely with both men.

McNally’s ascension this week will be the culminating act for a man who has commanded respect through his dedication to a life of public service that began in the muddy streets of Oak Ridge.

Ryan Williams: A different sort of House GOP leader

Excerpts from The Tennessean’s interview with Rep. Ryan Williams of Cookeville on his new role as House Republican Caucus chairman:

Even in a Republican majority, there are a variety of personalities that, at times, he will have to corral.

“The hard part is whether you’re (Rep.) Andy Holt in rural Tennessee or whether you’re (Rep.) Charles Sargent, who’s got the highest per capita in the state — and those might be two of the most difficult — try to get them to say that we have a lot more in common than we have different,” Williams said.

“It might be a lot more officiating than anything,” he said.

Williams says the current GOP delegation in Nashville has gotten away from a team-like relationship in recent years, and hopes — “myopically, maybe,” he says — to resurrect that dynamic.

“I think the fruit won’t come soon, but it’s being nurtured,” Williams said.

…He said he’s different than most in the legislature because he’s “just an employee” and not the owner or CEO at J&S Construction in Cookeville. The company is just off Interstate 40 under a massive American flag.

…He’s also different because he’s clear about the different approach and style he has from some of the most powerful Republicans, like House Speaker Beth Harwell and House Majority Leader Glen Casada, two senior lawmakers he will work with very closely at times.

Williams said both have been gracious and influential to his own success, but Harwell is “like the leader of the band” but “not going to go out there and sing a solo.” Casada, who Williams said was one of few to visit his district when running for a party leadership position, “is much more political than I am.”

Some opinions: Madness and opportunity

In an editorial, The Tennessean declares that the session provides “the opportunity for a reset and a refocus on the things that matter the most to Tennesseans.

Those issues revolve around quality of life — like healthcare, jobs and addressing transportation challenges.

This is also a unique opportunity to connect the needs of rural and urban voters — a divide exposed by the presidential election. We are all Tennesseans.

Let the new year bring an end to distractions like past bills to make skunks pets, make the Bible the state’s official book or regulate bathroom use.

There are many more important matters to handle.

On the other hand, Robert Houk wonders “what madness awaits us”? in the coming session.

The first few weeks should be harmless, but expect to see the Republican supermajority become entangled in culture war high jinks. They just can’t help themselves.

…State Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, will likely champion a number of this year’s gun bills. He has become something of a GOP superstar in that regard, much to the envy of some of his colleagues. Even state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, appears green at times.

…There are Tennesseans who have no clue as to what Van Huss and his colleagues do in the General Assembly. The trouble with such blissful ignorance is that it allows local lawmakers to cheerfully legislate in a far-right vacuum.

Meanwhile, on the muddle of missteps at the museum

Cari Wade Gervin, who has been chronicling missteps made by the Tennessee State Museum for months, has done a rambling review of the muddle, providing considerable insight and including some caustic commentary

State governance is often a mess — my god, just look at the Legislature — but a state agency overseen by a board of volunteers, many of who are unqualified to serve? It’s a raw sewage spill filling up the entire basement.

A focus is on what appear to be rather curious and contradictory interpretations of the state’s Open Meeting Act – the chairman declaring board members should not email one another because that might violate the law and, on the other hand, recently scheduling a joint January meeting of the museum board and the separate fundraising board and declaring the session would be closed to the public and media. And then cancelling the meeting after the reporter called about it.

Meanwhile, the unofficial interim boss of the Museum has fired two part-time employees, including her sister. A museum curator had been fired in November. There’s a possibility of lawsuits. And such.


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