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VOL. 38 | NO. 8 | Friday, February 21, 2014

GOP loves local control, except when it doesn’t

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Our limited-government Republicans in the General Assembly seem to have forgotten their own core beliefs.

As the supermajority of Republicans continues to grow, so does their belief that limited government politics don’t matter anymore.

This new philosophy is limited government, until they don’t like what you are doing. Then, they are going to use as much government as they can to make you stop doing it.

Let’s go through the three biggest examples of overreach by the state Republicans over the past few years.

First, Nashville’s Metro Council passed a bill prohibiting local contractors from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender identity. A local government passed what it thought was good for their city, but state Republicans didn’t agree.

So they got together and passed the “Equal Access to Intrastate Commerce Act,” a bill the Republicans swear had nothing to do with gay rights. It simply made sure local governments couldn’t pass a bill that would differ from the laws of the state of Tennessee.

The GOP said it was good for business that the whole state had the same standards. It didn’t matter if people were being discriminated against.

Second, Vanderbilt University, a private institution, implemented a non-discrimination policy that didn’t sit well with the GOP. The General Assembly passed a bill pertaining to private institutions that accepts $24 million dollars in state aid. Vanderbilt, not coincidentally, accepts exactly that much money to treat the needy at their hospital.

This bill would have banned Vanderbilt from implementing that non-discrimination policy at their privately-run institution.

After the bill passed the Senate and House, Gov. Bill Haslam used one of his first vetoes.

“Although I disagree with Vanderbilt’s policy,” Haslam said after vetoing the bill, “as someone who strongly believes in limited government, I think it is inappropriate for government to mandate the policies of a private institution.”

A year after this debate, sponsors of this bill wanted to take away Vanderbilt’s police force if the university didn’t comply with the wishes of some in the Republican Party.

Since Vanderbilt’s police force is state accredited, it could very well do that.

The legislation didn’t pass.

The latest issue of the supermajority forgetting its own principle was the unionization vote at Volkswagen.

Workers at Chattanooga’s German-owned VW plant decided against unionization late last week by a margin of 86 votes (712-626). Volkswagen was neutral on the issue, though its plants overseas have work councils in which employees help with decisions concerning working conditions and more, though they do not negotiate wages or benefits.

The only way to bring a work council to their local Tennessee plant, VW official have said, would be to allow the United Auto Workers to represent workers.

Republicans in the General Assembly threatened to withhold tax incentives for the company if the plant voted to unionize, the same tax breaks the GOP that lured the company to Tennessee and created 3,000 jobs.

“Should the workers at Volkswagen choose to be represented by the United Auto Workers,” Sen. Bo Watson (R-Hixson) is quoted as saying, “then I believe any additional incentives from the citizens of the state of Tennessee for expansion or otherwise will have a very tough time passing the Tennessee Senate.”

The implication: GOP leadership would rather lose future jobs than offer incentives to a business that has a union.

“The state cannot discriminate against a company because it is organized or not organized,” says George Barrett, a civil rights and labor attorney in Nashville. “The threat is as bad as the act.”

“This is an outrageous and unprecedented effort by state officials to violate the rights of employers and workers,” says House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “Republicans are basically threatening to kill jobs if workers exercise their federally protected rights to organize. When the company says they don’t have a problem with it, what right does the state have to come in and say they can’t do it?”

The tables have turned in the General Assembly. It used to be the Republicans who would hold press conferences to tell the Democrats to stop interfering in the workplaces of private companies and institutions.

It’s now the Democrats who are telling the Republicans to stop. How far can the supermajority continue to intrude into private companies before the voters notice?

A limited government philosophy means just that. It doesn’t mean that you believe in limited government until a company does something you don’t like. That’s hypocrisy at its finest.

We continue to see this type of action around hot-button issues. Cities across the state believe it’s best to ban guns in municipal parks. The senate GOP wants to supersede the wishes of local governments.

It’s my hope that Haslam, as a former mayor, will speak out against intrusions into local issues.

He has in the past, but he must take a stronger stand against future encroachment of the state government into the private business and local governments.