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VOL. 46 | NO. 1 | Friday, January 7, 2022

Could legislators solve some real problems? Nah

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My wife has unofficially resolved to adopt a positive attitude toward 2022, an aspiration I would like to be able to join. But the goal is complicated for me by the fact that legislators are about to come back to town.

This is not a group that inspires much confidence in me. Aside from the occasional approval of a David Crockett statue here, an adoption of a “Volunteer State” nickname there, their efforts seem designed to leave reasonable people shaking their heads and wondering, What the. ...

Case in point: Their move last spring to ban the teaching of so-called critical race theory in public schools. By which lawmakers mean, basically, any treatment of race that makes conservative white adults uncomfortable. Which, believe me, covers a lot of ground.

And if it feels as if we just got rid of legislators, that’s because we did: They wrapped up their last session of 2021 at the end of October. And that was the finale of three extraordinary sessions during the year, in addition to their usual January-to-April mischief.

Aside from handing out nearly $900 million to entice the Ford Motor Company to locate a factory in West Tennessee and the aforementioned school meddling, they chiefly occupied themselves with addressing the COVID pandemic and how best to muck up public and private efforts to combat it.

One would hope that, having devoted that final extraordinary session to a concerted and successful mucking effort, they would now turn their attention to more constructive pursuits. Or, at least, turn their attention away from unconstructive ones.

For instance, if I let myself fantasize a bit, I can conjure a session in which positivity prevails. A session in which:

• The assembly addresses redistricting in a fair way, assuring that Republicans and Democrats are treated equitably in the lines drawn for legislative and congressional seats.

• Rep. Bruce Griffey, the anti-immigrant obsessive, and Sen. Janice Bowling, the anti-COVID vaccine crank, don’t introduce anything. (Griffey has already dashed this dream by pre-filing a bill that would allow schools to deny enrollment to unauthorized immigrants. Fortunately, most of his proposals are ignored.)

• Measures like last year’s bills to put medical – and even recreational – marijuana on the table get some traction and movement at the committee stage. Especially medical, which almost 70% of Mississippi – Mississippi! – voters approved in 2020. (The referendum process was flawed, and the results disallowed, but still ...)

• Nobody would propose anything that would make guns even more accessible than they already are.

• A bill like last year’s proposal to prohibit corporal punishment in schools gets serious discussion, forcing pro-paddling lawmakers to defend their positions.

• Nobody attempts to regulate social media by claiming that conservatives are being censored. (First, it’s not censorship if the government isn’t the one doing it. Second, they don’t seem very censored to me anyway.)

• Similarly, nobody attempts to abolish early voting or do away with the use of voting machines, as one legislator I’ve already mentioned (cough, Bowling) tried last year. Or to otherwise interfere with reasonable access to the ballot box.

• Various legislators abandon their quests to get the Bible designated as the official state book and the ladder designated as the official state tool. The first one is unconstitutional. The second one is dumb.

I am a realist, of course, and if I were rating the chances of any of that happening, it would be somewhat less than the chances of Dolly Parton deciding to try life as a redhead. The notion that legislators would deal fairly with redistricting is especially laughable.

But here’s a proposition that isn’t so far-fetched: That somebody – anybody – takes up my suggestion from last year to have the banjo chosen as the official state instrument.

Sure, the fiddle lobby might marshal opposition. I can see Mark O’Connor, for instance, mounting a musical counterpoint.

But the fiddle is already the official instrument for Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri and South Dakota. A couple of others have chosen guitars, another viable contender. We’d have the banjo to ourselves.

Come on, legislators. Show some pluck.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com

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