A House Democratic leader is drawing fire from Republicans for charging that some of President Obama's conservative critics in Tennessee are motivated by racism.
Rep. Mike Turner of Nashville, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, made his remarks at a news conference Monday. Asked his view of the Republican-backed Tennessee Health Freedom Act, which would order state Attorney General Bob Cooper to sue to overturn any federal mandate to buy insurance, Turner said: “I have one thing to say about that: Appomattox.”
“We’ve got a lot of bills on states’ rights here, state sovereignty and all that,” he added. “We went through that fight once before. All of a sudden, we have a black man elected president and everybody wants to start acting like something’s wrong with our country. I didn’t agree with a lot of things George Bush did, but I wasn’t ready to secede from the union.”
Asked to elaborate afterward, Turner said, “I think some of the people who are against Obama are just against Obama because he’s African-American.”
“Rep. Turner’s comments are completely out-of-touch with what Tennesseans believe and they are a slap in the face to people who have real concerns about the consequences of Democrats’ government takeover of health care,” state GOP chairman Chris Devaney said in a statement. “To suggest that race is the motivation for Tennesseans’ skepticism of government-run health care is irresponsible and nothing more than an effort to deflect actually dealing with one of the most important issues facing our nation and state today. Rep. Turner’s comments are further proof that Democrats just don’t get it which is why their radical agenda will be rebuked this November.”
A spokesman for Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who supports the Health Freedom Act, called Turner’s comments “bizarre name-calling” and said they show “why Democrats are losing ground in Tennessee.”
“Tennesseans overwhelmingly oppose Obamacare, and Rep. Turner seems to be the only person in the state who does not realize that,” said the spokesman, Lance Frizzell.
The state Senate voted 26-1 for the Health Freedom Act last month. Scheduled to be heard Wednesday in a House subcommittee, it would allow the state to opt out of the federal insurance mandate. Similar measures have been enacted in Idaho and Virginia.
Turner declined to speculate on the bill’s changes of passage in the House. “We’ll address that when it comes up in the House,” he said. “We’ve been actually trying to save jobs and create jobs and things like that. I’ve not looked at that bill yet. Is that a resolution or a bill? I don’t even know. That’s not been on our radar. We’ve been trying to do good work for the government and not make grandstands.”
Conservatives object to the federal legislation’s requirement that all Americans buy health insurance or face penalties, saying the mandate stretches the federal constitutional power to “regulate commerce … among the several states.”
In a statement Monday before Turner's news conference, Ramsey said: “The health care legislation passed yesterday is a disaster for Tennessee citizens and our constitutional requirement to maintain a balanced budget. It will raise taxes on Tennessee citizens while stripping away the right to control one’s own medical decisions.
“I believe the bill passed yesterday by the U.S. House is unconstitutional, and I am calling on Attorney General Cooper to join the 11 state Attorneys General already planning to challenge the constitutionality of the bill.
“Individual states must challenge this legislation immediately to halt its implementation. The longer we wait, the more it will cost the state of Tennessee and her citizens. Washington has forced this problem upon us — it is now up to state leaders to stop this unfunded mandate from breaking state budgets across the country.”