BARBARIANS at the GATE

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The revolt in the House last March was about more than Common Core — a LOT more.

Introduction

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.

Recent History

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:

  1. The Governor is not as conservative as his party.  And to the press, that’s a good thing.
  2. 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.
  3. The more conservative wing is in the minority of the caucus and is generally comprised of knuckle-dragging teabaggers.
  4. 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.

Finished?

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.

Coming Up:

Part Two: “The Rabble Gets Organized.”

 

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