The deck has been thoroughly shuffled for a new deal. That Nashville contact list in your cell phone has taken a hit. The days of stopping by to see “Bill” or “Beth” or Jim Henry are over. New faces, new power centers and a new legislative agenda.
New Speaker of the House Glen Casada announced his committee assignments and chairs of said committees last week. What are we to make of his choices?
It appears that backers of voucher bills will have a harder time. The House Education Committee has not been stacked with pro-voucher legislators. Some voucher backers got beat, or the issue almost beat others – an eye-opening experience. Rural school systems especially are livid at the idea of taking scarce public-education funds and giving the money to private schools. (It was a major issue that beat state Sen. Reggie Tate, a voucher supporter from Memphis.)
Gov. Bill Lee gave lip service to vouchers during the campaign, but his main issue was increasing and improving vocational education, stressing courses that help students find careers when they graduate. It is unlikely that an administration would have two major changes in education at the same time. If Lee pursues his ideas of improving career training it is likely that vouchers will not be one of his primary agenda items. Lee’s pick for education commissioner may provide a clue.
Casada has created more subcommittees to provide more oversight of state programs. He has supposedly let it be known that committee chairs who do not toe the line will be promptly replaced. He got some criticism for appointing two Democrats to chair committees. John Mark Windle is a Democrat who voted for Casada for Speaker. Democrat Darren Jernigan abstained on the Speaker vote. Knoxville’s Gloria Johnson did not vote for Casada and did not get appointed to the education committee as she had requested.
Over in the Senate, it got a little weird. Sen. Brian Kelsey gave up his position as chair of Judiciary with the expectation that he would chair another committee. Judiciary went to Sen. Mike Bell. But Kelsey also ran for caucus chair against Roane County’s Sen. Ken Yager. There were some hard feelings over the jockeying for the position, and Yager won and Kelsey found himself without a chair. He is vice chair of the Education Committee.
Sen. Jack Johnson is the new majority leader. From Williamson County. As is Casada. As is the governor. As are a half dozen cabinet members and gubernatorial staffers. There are still two legislators Knoxvillians know well and there’s no need to delete from the contact list. Speaker Pro Tempore Bill Dunn is the No. 2 guy in the House, and Randy McNally remains as Senate speaker and lieutenant governor.
Unsafe at Any Speed: The death of young Pierce Corcoran highlights the danger in driving on Chapman Highway. The state is working on Alcoa Highway, much to the frustration of South Knoxville residents who risk life and limb commuting via Chapman Highway. The state had a highway project proposed to continue James White Parkway all the way to Gov. John Sevier Highway that would handle through traffic and relieve traffic on Chapman Highway. But the project was scrapped due to opposition by the city of Knoxville. The interstate-quality James White Parkway is now proposed to just lead to the entrance of an urban wilderness. Perhaps South Knoxvillians should make it an issue in the upcoming mayoral race, asking which candidate would revive the parkway.
Sounding Off: U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, has proposed the impeachment of President Donald Trump. He also has called for abolishing the Electoral College. If the Electoral College were abolished, large-population states on the coasts would elect the president by popular vote, and states like Tennessee would be irrelevant to the process. If you don’t think our electoral votes matter now, ask Al Gore. If Gore had gotten his home state’s electoral votes, he would have been elected president. Trump remains a popular figure in Tennessee – you can ask Phil Bredesen about that. Cohen should remember that the state legislature draws new congressional districts after the 2020 census, and the legislature has a super majority of Republicans.