April 28th, 2016

Unnecessary. Unwarranted. Unwelcome. Unbecoming. Uninformed. Unconstititional. Unacceptable.

Like most of us, I should be happy that the Tennessee General Assembly has shut down for another year without doing any more damage – despite their best efforts – than they did to the reputation and future of our state. North Carolina and Mississippi won the race to the bottom this year. However, as a columnist, I will miss our legislators. When they’re in session, whatever they’re doing can cure writer’s block like nothing else.


As published in The Memphis Daily News, April 29, 2016, and in The Memphis News, April 30-May 6, 2016

TN Capitol


In this nadir of presidential elections with everyone awash in slimy sound bites, with Congress and a Supreme Court nominee stuck in the mud, it takes truly jaw-dropping state legislative idiocy to draw the attention of the national media, make the monologues of late night hosts and inspire Saturday Night Live skits.

The Tennessee General Assembly wrapped up last week and if they weren’t as successful as North Carolina and Mississippi at becoming America’s punch line, well, it wasn’t their fault.

Bless their hearts, they tried.

Only a rare veto from our shy governor kept the Bible from becoming the “official state book,” from reducing its significance to the level of cave salamander, smallmouth bass and tulip poplar while raising the level of state designation from unimportant to unconstitutional – state and federal. While that effort failed for the second year – despite one representative’s performance of  “Thy Word” from the house floor – they were successful in another reload this year in getting a weapon designed to kill someone from a mile away designated as the “official state rifle.” Trust me, they have their sights on getting officially Biblical again next year.


While they left 200,000-plus Tennesseans uninsured, they made sure folks can slide guns into church pews and that college professors and employees can arm themselves in classrooms and allover campus. While they left public schools unconstitutionally underfunded, while the supermajority professes to be all about less government, they passed a bill to insert the Legislature into one state university to spank one office – diversity and inclusion – and take away their allowance. The House actually proposed using some of the money to print “In God We Trust” bumper stickers.


Unable to grasp the opportunity Tennessee has to distant ourselves from the state-sanctioned bigotry at our borders, to welcome business and our fellow human beings with open arms instead of shunning anyone we perceive to be different like Salem witches, Tennessee has instead passed a resolution demanding that we sue our own country rather than admit Muslim refugees, and continues to unconstitutionally press the bullying and humiliation of LGBT children all the way into the bathroom.


Whether or not any of these efforts become law, regardless of the courtrooms we’re embarrassed in, the point is we are a better, brighter, and more caring people than we are being represented. We have real and unmet needs to be addressed.

Rep. Johnny Shaw of Bolivar – one match in a very dark room – put it well, “You know what this legislative body ought to be doing if we really want to honor the Bible? We ought to make sure that everybody in this state has health coverage, that children in this state are educated and that the poor in this state are fed.”

When its comes to the Tennessee General Assembly, we have to raise our collective hand and call the question, “What in God’s name are they up to?”


I’m a Memphian, and another year like this one is unacceptable.


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