A lesson in assumptions

Last week, reports surfaced that Rep. Judd Matheny had asked Capitol security (i.e., state troopers) to remove protesters from his office. Since the protesters were there to register their grievance about a bill that some believe unfairly targets Tennessee’s Muslim community, it was all too easy for one to assume that the group comprised Muslims.

In fact, a follow-up story by the AP on Monday said that the group was an interfaith alliance, and that the individual whose comment prompted Rep. Matheny’s response is described as an “East Tennessee tea partier” who apparently said that Matheny was in danger of losing conservative votes over the bill.

Change and hope

Gentle reader, daily I celebrate your inquisitiveness about Tennessee elections and politics, and I try my best to sate your curiosities through this medium. It is with this in mind that I announce a few changes in the works.

The first one: There may be less content—of the commentary variety—on this site going forward. That is because I have begun a stint as a regular opinion columnist at the all-new Nooga.com. (I mention the “all-new” part only for those who may remember the domain’s former inhabitants and content.) My first column hit the tubes this morning (Saturday, 23-Apr-2011), though I anticipate them generally appearing on Fridays. (Here’s the RSS feed URL.)

Of course, if time permits and circumstances dictate it, this is still a place where I can post additional comment. But it is likely that the focus here will shift ever so slightly towards the election ballot itself. And in odd-numbered years, there is not so much need for constant updates. And that leads me to the second part of this announcement.

The second one: While I remain dedicated to the concept of “blog” as a regularly updated website with posts in reverse chronological order that are also archived by date and category, and as such will not abandon that component, I will be harnessing the awesomeness of WordPress and/or other technologies to further build out additional dimensions of Tennessee Ticket. I have a vision for a service that will:

  • fully inform voters about all of their election choices
  • entice non-voters to exercise their franchise
  • enable budget-challenged candidates to “level the playing field” and connect to more potential supporters
  • graphically connect campaign giving, campaign spending, and political appointments (think “OpenSecrets for Tennessee”)

One person cannot do all of this. (Well, it’s possible, but not if that person wants to see his family, keep his day job, maintain a home, and play guitar now and then.) Discussions have already begun with a few talented individuals, and if you would also like to be a part of this endeavor, I welcome your input.

I hope that you will continue to stay with me through this period of branching and growth. You have my sincerest thanks for being a practicing citizen.

Sharia Twain

After a first attempt to strengthen state anti-terrorism law was found wanting in its ability to pass constitutional muster, a new effort is making its way through the Legislature.

The second version by Sen. Bill Ketron actually does not contain the phrase “Shariah law,” but Muslim and civil liberties groups say it still unfairly targets a specific group. From the Tullahoma News:

While the amendment pacified some, many Muslims say they are still uncomfortable with the legislation.

One is Zak Mohyuddin from Tullahoma.

Although the specific references to Shariah law were removed, he said the underlying implications from the legislation stir great concern amid the Muslim community.

Mohyuddin said the revised bill being considered by the Legislature would give the Tennessee governor and the state attorney general the right to label whether a specific organization is terrorist.

He said the proposed law changes are ripe with political overtones, and having two high-ranking state officials make a determination that could lead to 15-year prison sentences for being linked to Shariah law is putting too much power in what could be a politically motivated decision-making process.

He explained that organizations in a similar situation could be labeled as terrorist by the governor and attorney general and not even know about it.

Meanwhile, visitors to the Capitol intent on speaking to the bill’s House co-sponsor, Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny, were abruptly turned away from his office by state troopers, according to AP reports.

Brooks and Dunn among potential Woodson replacement contenders

No, this is not the same as Tim McGraw making noises about running for governor, or Hank Williams Jr. threatening to challenge U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. We’re talking about Reps. Harry Brooks and Bill Dunn, whose names appear among several others listed by KnoxNews columnist Georgiana Vines as potential candidates to fill the vacancy left by outgoing Senate Speaker Pro Tem Jamie Woodson. Woodson is resigning to become CEO of the education nonprofit State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE), a think tank founded and chaired by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

One candidate has already stepped forward. Marilyn Roddy, a two-term Knoxville City Council member, had been running for the city mayor post vacated by Gov. Bill Haslam, but explained her decision to switch directions in a statement emailed to the press.

Roddy’s decision to seek the Senate Seat and forgo her Mayoral bid was based on her belief that she could make greater impact on education reform in the State Senate, ”As a former educator, I am deeply committed to improving education. The State Senate offers the best platform to achieve the education reform necessary to attract 21st century jobs to Tennessee and Knox County,” said Roddy. “I believe that at this point in time I can best serve the citizens of Knox County in the legislature.

While additional political figures sort out whether they want to invest in running for this seat, a question on another front is when the election would actually take place. Woodson announced that she will resign on the last day of the General Assembly session or July 1st, whichever comes first. It is likely that the Legislature will adjourn before then, so the moving target presents a statutory challenge in terms of when the governor must issue a writ of election versus how many days are required before an election can be held.

Arguably, it would be ideal for this election to coincide with the Knoxville municipal elections, but it is likely that a couple of legal hurdles would have to be jumped in order to arrive at that common-sense solution. When asked for comment on how this uncertainty affects organizing a campaign, Roddy spokesperson Chris Connolly said that he is sure that Gov. Haslam and state officials will do what is best for the voters in the 6th Senate District.

(Note: Rep. Dunn has told Michael Silence that he is ruling out a run for the seat, but that’s not enough evidence to keep his name out of a cheesy title.)

Abortion-related Constitution amendment clears Senate hurdle

SJR 127, a resolution to offer voters the chance to amend the Tennessee Constitution regarding abortion rights, was approved on Monday by the Senate in a 24-8 vote. It had previously won approval with a simple majority in both houses of the 106th General Assembly.

The measure will now move to the House, where, this time, it must also pass with a two-thirds majority in order to be put before voters in the 2014 election. (Why not 2012? Keep reading.)

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who as Speaker presided over the vote, praised today’s action in a statement:

For years liberal Democratic parliamentary maneuvering has thwarted passage of this resolution which has enjoyed strong support from majorities both inside and outside the legislature. I am proud to be a part of the pro-life Republican majority that will finally bring an end to judicial activist usurpation and put this measure to a vote of the people.

Democrat Betsy Phillips wasn’t so sure about the amendment’s legal footing. On her Twitter page, she noted that “by passing this amendment, we’ve brought the state constitution into conflict with itself, I think.” Phillips clarified this thought with a reference to Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist, in which the Tennessee Supreme Court decided that the Constitution’s right to privacy includes a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. “I think the courts are going to have to decide if privacy rights outweigh abortion non-rights or not,” wrote Phillips.

The amendment itself:

Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.

What’s next? As stated above, the proposed amendment must pass with a two-thirds majority (at least 66 votes) in the House of Representatives. Following that, provided it passes, and does not get vetoed by Governor Haslam, the ballot in the next gubernatorial election (November 2014) will include a referendum containing the amendment language. Constitution amendments are decided by voters in gubernatorial elections only, presumably to ensure a high turnout.

This ballot measure will pass if it receives a number of votes equal to half of the total votes cast for governor, plus one. If that happens, the state constitution will be amended.