The mystery of the “Harwell Hiatus.”
The “Tuition Equality” bill that would have allowed illegal aliens to pay in-state tuition rates for Tennessee universities (at taxpayer expense) was defeated yesterday by one vote. Seconds before the controversial bill came to the floor for debate, Speaker Beth Harwell vacated her chair and turned the gavel over to Speaker Pro Tem Curtis Johnson and left the chamber with no explanation as to where she was going or why. Maybe it was some sort of gastrointestinal distress which required a lengthy trip to the “facilities.” If so, this wouldn’t be the first time Harwell employed such a tactic.
Immediately after the final vote on the bill, Harwell magically reappeared in the Chamber and bravely announced that, had she been there, she would have voted “no.”
Many of her fellow legislator are asking tough questions about Harwell’s Hiatus. Did she avoid the debate and the vote because she didn’t want to deal with the issue when she runs for governor? What was so damn important that she had to leave seconds before the bill was presented? Assuming she was needed somewhere else on some pressing matter, wasn’t it curious that the time to do whatever she was doing was exactly the same length of time it took to debate and vote on the bill?
But, hey. Let’s cut her some slack. Maybe, in fact, “nature called.”
And maybe the Tooth Fairy is real.
“The rise of the CMC”
Quietly but effectively, a new group has been created by conservative legislators.
RTP has been informed the group, which was formed earlier this year by House conservatives, believe the time has come to begin exerting a level of influence reflective of their growing numbers. Tension had been brewing for several years, but the victory against Common Core during the 2014 session lit the fuse.
The final straw came last summer during the Republican primaries. Gov. Haslam and his chief of staff, Mark Cate, helped direct the formation of a pop-up PAC called AdvanceTN. The unprecedented purpose of the PAC was to recruit opponents and target incumbent Republican legislators who had opposed Common Core as well as other administration initiatives. It was an unmitigated failure. The governor-inspired PAC was able to defeat just one vulnerable House member, Rep. Tony Shipley. The conservatives countered by knocking off two of the governor’s loyal legislators, for a net change in favor of the House conservatives. For the most part, leadership stood by and remained silent while their colleagues were being attacked. Their silence was noted and not likely to be forgotten anytime soon..
“The governor and his allies made a very serious miscalculation with AdvanceTN,” said one conservative legislator. “He laid down the gauntlet and we picked it up.”
After the battle against Advance TN PAC, the conservatives were loaded for bear. Their failure to run a slate of conservative candidates in leadership election in late 2014 taught the group a lesson: you have to be organized to be effective.
Thus the Conservative Majority Caucus was born.
The new conservative group within the House Republican Caucus, which began with an organizing committee of just a handful of members, has quickly doubled to approximately twenty members, with more legislators waiting in the wings to join. Such numbers indicate it is potentially a force to be reckoned with. It also has a proposed name: “The Conservative Majority Caucus,” or the CMC. One of the members joked that CMC could also stand for the “Cave Man Caucus” and added: “but you can call us anything you want – just so long as you call us.”
More details are emerging as to how the CMC came together. One of RTP’s Washington sources said the new group looks suspiciously like the old Congressional organization called the Conservative Opportunity Society (COS) The Society was organized by a little-known backbench conservative named Newt Gingrich, who along with a handful of conservative colleagues used the COS to establish a set of conservative principles to serve as a guide to Republicans in the House and as a base to wrest control from the more liberal leadership. Once in power, the COS engineered the 1994 Republican takeover of the House, using their “Conservative Principles” as the foundation for the now-famous “Contract with America.” The backbencher became the Speaker of the House.
In the current Congress, conservatives in the House have recently organized a group very similar to Tennessee’s CMC. It’s called the House Freedom Caucus, with goals and motives comparable to the CMC.
At its peak, the Congressional Conservative Opportunity Society only had about 30 members — or about 15% out of 190 House Republicans. “With our current membership we have nearly doubled that percentage,” said one CMC legislator. “And we are still growing.”
Part Three: “Picking a fight — and winning”
The revolt in the House last March was about more than Common Core — a LOT more.
As a public service to the taxpayers of Tennessee, RTP offers our own analysis of that seething cauldron of political intrigue called the GOP House Caucus. We hope our insights will be beneficial or, at the very least, they really tick off Mark Cate.
After the TN NewsLeader broke the story about a “secret” conservative caucus this past week, RTP has tapped into its growing ring of tipsters (RTPtipline@gmail.com) to see if we could put some meat on the bones of the NewsLeader scoop. Our accomplices were rewarded with access to several members of the new group who were surprisingly open about their activities, providing detail and context. Their only condition was anonymity and RTP volunteered not to reveal any names of the members (mainly because it’s more fun that way).
This will be a rather lengthy series, but please bear with us. To keep our readers engaged we will intersperse the dry analysis with anecdotes of swashbuckling politicians performing feats of legislative derring-do. There may also be nudity. But you will have to read the whole series to find out if we are serious about that last part.
Since achieving super-majority status, the inevitable internal strains and schisms within the Republican caucus have emerged, with serious implications for leadership, the governor and taxpayers not to mention the ambitions and agendas of the legislators themselves. RTP has reviewed the body of work done in the past by the mainstream media (a very short list) as it relates to the internal politics of the GOP caucus. The MSM consistently over-simplifies the caucus, preferring to write their stories through the prism of their own liberal bias. This shallow “analysis” usually results in the following meme:
- The Governor is not as conservative as his party. And to the press, that’s a good thing.
- Leadership is more moderate than many caucus members and frequently supports the wishes of the governor over their own caucus. They think that’s a good thing as well.
- The more conservative wing is in the minority of the caucus and is generally comprised of knuckle-dragging teabaggers.
- Anything that promotes more government spending (such as Medicaid/Obamacare expansion) or government overreach (such as Common Core) is a good thing. Those who oppose bigger government are ignorant troglodytes (see #3).
But events over the last couple of months as well as the last year have revealed the news media — as shocking as it may sound to some people — doesn’t know what it’s talking about. But have no fear. Long-time readers of Rocky Top Politics will remember we got our start just four days after the revolt on the floor of the House over Common Core. Until RTP came along, leadership and the media controlled the message among the caucus members and information, when available, was employed as a tool to manipulate members instead of informing them.
My, how things have changed.
Part One: An Arithmetic Lesson
For at least a couple of years now, conservatives (as opposed to RINOs, establishment types, Haslam sycophants, etc.) in the House have had the sneaking suspicion they comprise an actual majority of the members of the GOP caucus. Until recently, the available information of a member’s “conservative reliability” was largely anecdotal. Even voting records were largely useless in making such determinations, since much of the killing and amending of bills took place in committees, giving other members cover from having to vote (or denying them the opportunity) on controversial bills on the floor. But the events of March 13, 2014 changed all that.
Not long before that vote on Common Core, a small group of conservative Republicans began to meet and assess the level of conservative influence within the body. They started by dispassionately assessing the relative conservatism of each member of the GOP caucus on key issues. What they found surprised them.
With their initial assessment, they expected to find a hard-core base of 10-12 conservative members who could be counted on to stand up for conservative values on a consistent basis. The result revealed something much different. Instead of a dozen reliable conservatives, they were looking at a potential core group of rock solid conservatives more than double that number. Add in the “weak-kneed” conservatives (who could be brought along 90% of the time if you held their hand) and the numbers went into the mid 40s. In other words, all things being equal — absent threats or bribes from leadership along with the occasional parliamentary trickery — the true preferences of caucus members showed at least half and likely many more of the caucus members were reliable conservatives and not the “conservatives of convenience” found in most of senior leadership and almost all of the committee chairmen.
We will pause at this point to allow Speaker Beth Harwell, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and Caucus Chair Glen Casada to whip out their calculators and do the math.
Let’s review the results (and remember – unlike Common Core, there are not multiple answers and you do not get extra credit for “critical thinking”):
73 divided by 2 = 36.5. That means it takes 37 votes in caucus to win a majority of the caucus vote on any issue. While the conservative backbenchers calculate their solid strength at somewhere near 30 votes, last March revealed something much more ominous for the governor and leadership was simmering down at the LP.
Another interesting number: 11. That was the sum total of Republican votes the leadership was able to muster against the Common Core revolt bill on March 13th of last year. Even in a key procedural vote immediately preceding the lop-sided 80-11 final vote, leadership was roundly defeated with huge numbers of Republicans voting against leadership.
But with the end of the session, the issue of conservative dominance and what to do about it lay dormant. After the conservatives failed to run a slate of candidates in the leadership elections in December, they realized they would have to get organized if they were to going to become a driving voice.
Part Two: “The Rabble Gets Organized.”
The Tennessee News Leader has been the first to publish a story that has been swirling around the rumor mill at Legislative Plaza for some time.
According to the NewsLeader, the conservatives of the Republican caucus have put together a caucus of their own and have been coordinating their own agenda. We here at RTP believe that rumor to be true and congratulates the NewsLeader on a great scoop.
We have fanned out to our sources and will soon be able to put some meat on the bones of information about the new conservative caucus. Those who have information about the new caucus and want to share with ol’ Rocky Top, you can do so (anonymously or otherwise) at:
Look for our first installment on the caucus to hit sometime Sunday.
According to the Tennessean, the guy on the right needs to be on InsureTN.
Damn that Continental Congress for not giving us the money.
The Tennessean’s over-the-top obsession with the legislature’s decision not to participate in Obamacare/Medicaid expansion (InsureTN) has reached a whole new level of absurdity. Their fixation on an issue that the state’s duly elected legislative body rejected twice in two months has now reached the “crazy-ex-girlfriend-keying-your-car” phase.
Their latest installment on InsureTN is just plain silly. In a story in this morning’s paper, they focus on what they claim are the effects of not having InsureTN on the health of a descendent of an early 19th century historical figure. We kid you not.
James Davy Crockett says he is a descendent of Davy Crockett. He is ill and he claims having InsureTN will make him better. We doubt that, but we wish Mr. Crockett well. But Mr. Crockett’s possible genetic link to the past is completely irrelevant to a 21st century debate on the best ways to deliver health care to Tennesseans.
So what’s next from the “Davy-on-the-spot” journalists at the Tennessean. Here are some rumored upcoming hard-heating stories:
- “Government’s failure to subsidize psoriasis research threatens the well-being of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s great-great-granddaughter.”
- A four-part series on how the lack of government money (money the government does not actually have) for out-patient surgery for tennis elbow is ruining a life of happiness for Madame Curie’s great-great-whatever-grandniece who lives in Sneedville.
- A Tennessean expose on how the healthcare system has failed the great-great-great-great-great-grandson of George Washington. Even though the Father of Our Country never actually fathered any children, we feel confident the Tennessean can invent some if doing so will promote InsureTN.
There is more than a little irony here that the Tennessean is using Davy Crockett to advance their agenda, because the historical Davy Crockett gave a famous speech in which he condemned the spending of people’s federal tax dollars for charity:
“Money with [Congressmen] is nothing but trash when it is to come out of the people. But it is the one great thing for which most of them are striving, and many of them sacrifice honor, integrity, and justice to obtain it.”
Crockett specifically admonished Congress against the very type of spending (not to mention deficit spending) so beloved by the Tennessean.
Surely the Tennessean’s managers are not so desperate to reverse their falling circulation that they are now using a distorted depiction of someone with a famous name from 200 years ago to sell their ideological bias along with some newspapers.
Yep. That’s exactly what they are doing.
Washington Post 2/14/2015
Hysteria! Madness! Assholes everywhere! Oh, the humanity!!
The Tennessean, leader of left-wing thought that permeates the state’s newspapers, seems to be having a nervous breakdown over Tennessee’s ObamaCare (Medicaid) expansion efforts. How else to explain their latest conniption fit in this past Sunday’s massive page one editorial against the heathens in the legislature who dared not toe the line and expand socialized medicine in the Volunteer state.
Their straw man in this case was Sen. Todd Gardenhire. The Tennessean editors practically swooned on their way to the fainting couch when they learned Gardenhire used the word “asshole” when he responded to an “activist” who had followed the senator to the men’s room, screaming questions at the legislator. Those of us at RTP who know Gardenhire personally think the poor dears at the Tennessean should be thankful he didn’t use even more descriptive language. RTP thought Gardenhire was the model of restraint when he chose to just call the guy an asshole. Decking the scum bag would have been just as appropriate.
The Tennessean has also dropped all pretense of unbiased coverage of the Insure TN issue. They have run what seems to be an article a day about what morons the state legislators are, chronicling all the people they say will die if we don’t take money that we got along without well enough these last few years. They largely ignore the fact that it was a Democrat governor (Bredesen) who removed hundreds of thousands of these same people from the public teat not that many years ago. But now that the Republicans are in charge and having to make some similar difficult decisions — well you would have thought the world was coming to an end. Obviously someone must be accused of such perfidy! For example, with every story they now print the names, phone numbers and addresses of every legislator who recently voted “no” on the expansion. What’s next? The names of their children and where they attend school?
Here at RTP, we view the list of elected officials the Tennessean names as villains from a different perspective. These are representatives who have demonstrated the courage to step forward and vote their convictions. On second thought, maybe the Tennessean “hit list” does serve a good purpose — now we know where to send the thank-you notes.
What has happened to the Tennessean? Many theories abound as to what precipitated their frenzy: perhaps it is the “Vapors,” or nostalgia for the glory days of the 60’s, or too many reporters with degrees in Medieval women’s studies, or the anniversary of Saul Alinsky’s birthday… who knows? But they are quite obviously engaged in some serious political hyperventilating over this disturbing turn of events.
The brain trust here at RTP has discussed the situation in detail, and while we have not completely dismissed the possibility of hallucinogenic substances, we believe the answer is much simpler – and much more profound as it relates to politics in Tennessee.
The last two mega-issues for the left — Common Core and Obamacare (Medicaid) expansion — have been crushed in Tennessee. This, despite “all the right people” throwing millions of millions of dollars at the issues. This despite all the top-flight consultants such as Tommy Griscom and Tommy Ingram, along with the lower-level talent of Joe Hall and a host of others being put on the payroll to jam this down the throats of Tennessee taxpayers. This despite the leadership of a billionaire governor whose most substantive connection to average Tennesseans is through their gas tank. This despite the combined effort of the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, the Tennessee Hospital Association, the Sons of the Pioneers and the Wartburg Ladies Quilting Club all swinging into action in support.
No, what is going on here is the growing realization that the old political paradigm, while still useful on occasion, can no longer dictate the outcome of every rape & pillaging of the taxpayers that comes down the pike. When Advance TN PAC cannot elect more than one or two legislators, when Bill Gates and Bill Frist cannot move the body politic on Common Core after spending millions on their propaganda and their operatives, and when the big hospitals cannot have their way despite every bogus scare tactic they could muster, then you know something has changed.
What sends the folks at the Tennessean and others like them into heart palpitations is the reluctant realization that the “torch has been passed to a new generation” (we couldn’t resist the citation from their patron saint, JFK). What is particularly galling to them is that the “new generation” is comprised of an electorate that is more fiscally and socially conservative than their running buddies of the past 50 some-odd years. Weren’t they taught at Bryn Mawr and Harvard that this could never happen? Didn’t their well-worn copy of “Rules for Radicals” provide the antidote for such Neanderthals as Ronald Reagan and Rush Limbaugh? How could this happen after the Chosen One was elected president in 2008?
It is a soft and not so soft corruption that leads many to believe their business success coincides with their ability to extract money from the public treasury; from the Pearsons looking to make a buck off the public education of our children to the hospital conglomerates for whom Medicaid expansion would return them a near 900% return on investment, courtesy of the taxpayers. Those living off the taxpayers along with those in the media are apparently suffering from PTSD brought on by having their most cherished values and expectations smashed by the Great Unwashed taxpayers and are now probably asking themselves: “Where shall we go? What shall we do?
Frankly, my dears, we don’t give a damn.
Recently, the freshman legislators of both parties held a joint meeting to foster communication and bipartisanship. Leaders of the effort were Republican Brian Terry and Democrat Bill Beck. Terry’s generosity of including the Democrats was quickly abused.
The incident involved the appearance of former UT basketball star, Allen Houston, who was invited to talk about his foundation and its efforts to promote fatherhood and family unity in minority communities. Unbeknownst to Houston or Terry, shortly before the meeting Beck and TEA union lobbyist Jim Wrye conspired to crash the event by having Lee Harrell rush to the podium after Houston finished and deliver a rant against vouchers. Republican freshmen sat stunned at the rude takeover of their meeting.
What is it with Jim Wrye? It seems with this Alabama transplant we are always waiting for the other sheet to drop. First there was the revelation that Wrye directed TEA campaign funds away from minority legislators, the union’s most loyal supporters.
And now the union operative from the home of George Wallace has the bad judgment to crash the event of a bona fide Tennessee African American hero, and that speaks volumes about how and where Wrye learned his politics.
Wallace & Wrye have a lot in common. George Wallace spent a career trying to keep minorities out of better schools and Jim Wrye has spent his career trying to keep minority students locked up inside bad schools.
They both stand in the school house door. One facing out, the other facing in.
The last year has not been kind to the Haslamists and their fearless leader. After the governor’s ham-handed plan to raise a quarter of a million dollars (chump change to the wealthiest elected official in America) to defeat members of his own party (and came up with a net gain of zero seats for his legislative agenda), he followed that up with his Insure TN special session debacle. Then his idea for a gas tax got punted to next year. Later this week, despite his attempts to spin it as a positive, his cherished Common Core is likely to be dramatically revamped and shifted to true “Tennessee standards” after the guv and his cronies spent millions trying to foist the Obama-style education program on reluctant taxpayers. Then he tried to bring back Insure TN and was humiliated a second time.
So when the Haslam forces selected Rep. Ryan Haynes for state party chairman, they were finally rewarded with a demonstration of their awesome power and superiority.
Okay, okay, so Haynes only won by 3 votes. Let’s not quibble here. This is Haslam’s very own “Triumph of the Will,” if you will. After the bad year he has had, this a big effin’ deal (at least to the guv).
So let’s offer a big, hearty round of one hand clapping on his historic political victory.
Oh, and congrats to Ryan Haynes. After all this time he is finally fully employed.
… or “Getting away Scott free”
Like a thief in the night, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker waltzed into the State Capitol last week and danced out with a huge number of state legislators endorsing his candidacy.
The Dean reported that 22 Republican legislators endorsed Walker on Thursday. But RTP’s indefatigable leakers say the number is now at 27 and growing. New recruits include Reps. Mike Carter, Eddie Smith, Debra Moody and Ryan Williams.
No word yet from the Bush, Jindal, Christy, Santorum, Huckabee, Cruz, Perry, Paul, Rubio, Graham, Kasitch, Trump or Carson campaigns. At last count, the combined total of Tennessee legislators who have publicly endorsed them is, well, zero.
Chip Saltsman, call your answering service. The Huckster wants to see you in his office first thing Monday.