A Democratic legislative leader said Thursday Republicans made Tennessee look to the rest of the country like a “barefoot and bucktoothed” state with their social conservative agenda in the just-finished session.
“A bunch of the radical extreme stuff passed,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Old Hickory said.
“It hurts business. It’s embarrassing for me to talk to people in other parts of the country. It hurts our image down here. We had an image of everybody being barefoot and bucktoothed with cow licks on h sides of their head. [In the past], we came a long way to try to diminish some of that. We might have stepped back in the pack in the South.”
Turner named two Republican proposals: the “don’t say gay” bill by Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville to ban any mention of homosexuality in schools, and the bill by Rep. Glen Casada, R-Franklin, to overturn Nashville’s anti-gay bias ordinance. Campfield’s bill passed the Senate in a watered-down form but did not advance in the House. Casada’s bill became law when Gov. Bill Haslam signed it on Monday.
“On the social issues, the John Birch Society issues, Tennessee maybe led the way in that,” Turner told reporters. “We stood out. We made the paper a whole lot more. A lot of people around the country might think Sen. Campfield is a typical legislator here in Tennessee, which is unfortunate.
“Tennessee is a middle-of-the-road state,” he added. “That’s where we need to be. If the Republicans get back to the middle of the road, they could end up ruling for a long time in this state. But with the course they’re taking now, we’ll be back in power in a very short time.”
Turner summoned reporters for a press conference to contradict a Facebook posting by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey hailing the session as a great success.
"Tennessee Republicans have talked a lot about what we would do when we took power,” Ramsey wrote. “Now we are showing what we can do. This year was just an appetizer. Next year, and in the years to come, you will see the main course."
Turner scoffed, “We put forward several jobs bills, and they killed every one of them. Jobs are not that important on their list. They’d rather attack teachers and dismantle public education.”