Tennessee And The Runaway Train


We have made it through the 108th General Assembly, and if you want to see the winners and losers from the past two years head here for Tom Humphrey’s round-up.

Now that we’ve gotten this session out of the way, the one thing that has happened, to quote Gov. Bill Haslam, is the proverbial “elephant in the room”.

From Andrea Zelinski and I recommend you read her whole analysis start to finish:


If so, Gov. Haslam might want to pass out some hearing aids. His plan offering vouchers to poor students at low-performing schools couldn’t muster the votes to make it out of a House committee on one of the final days of the legislative session. His other proposals passed, but even then the legislature watered some of them down.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey rejects the notion the governor took a beating this year.

“If we had passed everything he put in, you’d been in the same press conference [saying], ‘Y’all are just rubber stamps. Everything he puts up, you do,’ ” Ramsey says.

“We are an independent body, and our founding fathers were brilliant for setting up this system. We have to have some kind of consensus. And so if we change anything, suddenly [it’s], ‘You had a rough year, we’re beating up on him.’ I just don’t look at it that way at all.”

Still, Ramsey admits that over the past two years, relationships have at times hit the skids between fellow Republicans. This time last year, he and the House Speaker were not on speaking terms after an end-of-session game of chicken resulted in Ramsey and Harwell both losing favorite bills.

We don’t have the Tardis or Doctor Who to cleverly come and save the tattered remnants of this session, but we do know is that there are fractures in the Republican Supermajority. What folks who are watching this with horrified eyes the size of an anime character circa 1999 is a couple of simple things. Voting during the mid-terms is a given, but also pointing out what is happening around this state in each Grand Division is imperative. If I were a Democratic candidate in this state, I’d bang this drum like Buddy Rich.

Let’s look at rural hospitals in Tennessee:

Rural hospitals in Tennessee have been laying off workers and cutting services “to the bone” thanks to our Republican supermajority’s refusal to expand Medicaid under Obamacare.

That’s according to hospital administrators surveyed by The Tennessean and the Jackson Sun in some solid journalism over the weekend. Many rural hospitals are thinking about closing maternity wards and ending cancer treatment, among other services.

Contrast that bad news with this happy Washington Post story from Kentucky, where the Affordable Care Act is running smoothly and enrolling people right and left.

If you want to see a clock of how are state is hemorrhaging Medicaid Expansion money in real time, head to Knox Views. Running for office is a strange and exhilarating thing, and democratic candidates are going to have a rough year because national politics are superseding conversations about local communities, specific governance for individual areas and that so much news now is based on business, not information.

I know this is long, but I wish to leave you with one last thing and that is that under the Supermajority, government is getting bigger, not smaller as was the campaign mantra cry of the GOP in the last few election cycles.We have seen a lot of out-of-state interference in local issues, and it is troubling.

I think we can all agree, we want an effective government. Folks are going to have to vote if they want to stop this runaway train.

When Did The Koch Brothers Move To Tennessee?

The Tennessee GOP Is Happy With Their Koch Overlords

The Tennessee GOP Is Happy With Their Koch Overlords

Ahh, the Koch Brothers never disappoint and by me saying never disappoint, I mean they do the exact opposite.

Hey KIDS, the Kochs and their baby, Americans For Prosperity, are in your legislature doing all the things.

Let’s make a list:

From Think Progress: 

The Tennessee Senate passed a bill last week that, if approved, would broadly ban mass transit projects in the region, an anti-transit effort that’s gotten some help in the state from Charles and David Koch.

On Thursday, the Tennessee Senate passedSB 2243, which includes an amendment that “prohibits metropolitan governments and any transit authorities created by a metropolitan government from constructing, maintaining or operating any bus rapid transit system using a separate lane, or other separate right-of-way, dedicated solely to the use of such bus rapid transit system on any state highway or state highway.” The amendment is aimed at Nashville’s proposed $174 million rapid bus system called the Amp, but would apply to any mass transit system proposed in Tennessee’s cities.

The Amp, a proposed 7.1-mile bus rapid transit system that would cut commute times along one of Nashville’s major corridors, has been staunchly opposed by the Tennessee branch of Americans for Prosperity, a lobbying organization founded in part by the Koch brothers. AFP’s Tennessee director told the Tennessean that SB 2243 was the result of a conversation he’d had with the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jim Tracy. In addition, AFP pushed the Senate to vote on the bill — efforts that led to StopAmp.org, one of the lead groups opposing the Amp, thanking AFP in a press release after SB 2243 passed the Senate. The transit system’s opponents say it would create traffic problems and safety issues due to its middle-lane location, a claim that a spokesman for the Amp Coalition disputes.

Holly McCall, Nashville’s Metropolitan Transit Authority’s spokesperson for the Amp project, told ThinkProgress AFP has kept a low profile throughout the campaign for and against the Amp. She said she’d suspected AFP was involved in the Amp’s opposition, but didn’t know for sure until StopAmp.org thanked the group in their press release.

“It’s pretty tough to fight that kind of money — AFP gets funds from the Koch brothers, and they’re billionaires,” she said. “We continue to work our local campaign, and we’re probably going to make some tweaks to the design — we’re interested in compromise, because if we don’t, our entire future transit plan is going to be dictated by people who live out of state.”

The theme I see is pretty simple. Why should, or would they care about mass transit in this state? But wait, there is more.

From The Tennessean (subscription)

By the time this session of the Tennessee General Assembly comes to an end, Tennesseans understandably should feel a little like the animals used in laboratory experiments — at least the ones that survive.

Our state, thanks to the dominance of a single political party, has been selected for a series of not-so-scientific experiments. The objective? Whatever Charles and David Koch want it to be.

The billionaire Kochs do not live in Tennessee and never have. That is not important, as they, through their group Americans For Prosperity (AFP), and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), also not Tennessee-based, are increasingly deciding what laws the General Assembly should impose on the people of our state.

The Kochs are famous nationally for using their fortunes to advance causes that promote their interests or simply their philosophy, and increasingly they are getting involved in state legislatures. Invariably, their agenda is anti-worker protections, anti-environmental regulation, anti-health care reform. In other words, “anti-” the kinds of laws that majorities of Americans tend to support. And ALEC’s lobbyists have been busy in Tennessee for a few years now, usually drafting so-called model legislation such as the failed attempt to emulate Arizona’s unconstitutional 2010 immigration reforms and trying to spread fear of Muslims with anti-Shariah legislation.

I wrote a couple of years ago about the Koch Brothers interfering in local government and in state affairs. Southern Beale has written about them as well as Vibinc.  Competing with the money that the Koch Brothers, or many members of our elected leaders in Nashville has (looking at you, Governor) can be daunting, but we need to speak to power with what we have.

And we have our voices.

I wrote this a while back and I haven’t changed my mind so please let me repeat myself:

All of this talk about ALEC isn’t sexysauce, it’s not, but it is important to know and it is crucial to understand the actual words being used. Tort reform is not tort reform, it is caps-on-damages in lawsuits, for example. The National Federation of Independent Business, well you might want tocheck on that one as well because words matter when it comes to these organizations. Take a few minutes and watch this short video that lays out very effectively how ALEC is trying to obtain influence in statehouses.

I’ve written about ALEC before (man, it was quite spirited in the comments at times,) but the bottom line for me at least is that I don’t want my elected officials being ventriloquist dummies spouting off model legislation that wasn’t even written in this state. And a great deal of this model legislation is pretty much mean rubbish.

Tennessee deserves better and we can’t count on anyone but ourselves at this time. Start talking about legislation that doesn’t pass that sniff test. Take a few minutes to figure out who is working in your best interest and who isn’t.

Guys, we talk more about national government than we do in our own back yards. I know this is a long post, but be mindful that local control of government is being stripped away one piece at a time.

Urban, Rural or Suburban local governments know their communities better than the Koch Brothers do, or Nashville for that matter. How is this legislation going to hit your community?

It’s something to think about before we lose more than we already have..

It’s Our Rivers And Mountaintops, Not Corporations


There is a story coming out of North Carolina about Riverkeepers who have been watching a coal ash spill on Cape Fear River. (No, really.)

Here’s a little piece of history for you: regarding how Ned McWherter and NC got into a spat back in 1988.

The controversy centered around the Champion Paper Mill in Canton, NC located ten miles upstream from the Tennessee state line in Cocke County. For over 80 years, the paper mill had discharged industrial waste into the river, destroying wildlife habitat and recreational areas downstream. Residents of Newport, TN and Hartford, TN complained about the negative economic and health consequences of the pollution, including higher cancer rates in areas along the Pigeon River.

In the late 80’s, opposition to the Champion Paper Mill in Tennessee reached a political boiling point, with newspapers and elected officials calling on Governor McWherter to deny the renewal of a water quality variance needed by the paper mill to continue operations. During the debate, Champion threatened to close the mill and layoff over 2,000 workers, which sparked heated debate across state lines.

Early one September morning, Governor McWherter, legislative aide Billy Stair and an agent from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency loaded up in a canoe just north of the paper mill where the waters were vibrant and pristine. As they floated past the Champion operation, the clear headwaters turned into a black discharge that bubbled around their canoe. Just past the paper mill, a local sheriff stopped the group and informed them they were trespassing on “Champion’s River.” The sheriff did not realize he had stopped the Governor of Tennessee, but he did solidify Gov. McWherter’s decision to deny the variance request. On Christmas Eve of 1988, Gov. McWherter called on his Deputy Governor Harlan Matthews to deliver the news of the variance refusal to North Carolina Governor Jim Martin. Governor McWherter’s refusal of the variance request was met with much praise in Tennessee and solidified his legacy as a steward of Tennessee’s natural resources.

I realize that link is a presser but the altercation has been reported not only in Ned’s book but in Dark Waters.

We all need water and when we blow off the tops of mountains, they don’t grow back, campers. And the bottom line is that last week, a bill that would help Tennessee called the Scenic Vistas Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Gloria Johnson and Sen. Lowe Finney had a few setbacks. I’ll let Johnson explain:

Last week, big corporate special interests unfortunately won another delay of the “Scenic Vistas Act.” This measure would protect our mountains — and thousands of tourism jobs — from the destructive practice of mountaintop removal. This legislation is supported by Republicans and Democrats, and according to polling, a vast majority of Tennesseans agree we should save our mountaintops, yet the supermajority refuses to hear our voices

Ned threw an awkward punch at NC, documented in the biography of his life in office by Billy Stair:

When the Environmental Protection Agency ordered Champion to upgrade the plant to meet Tennessee’s water quality standards, the company threatened to close the plant and lay off all 2,000 workers. East Tennessee residents held demonstrations, and asked that Governor McWherter not renew the plant’s water quality variance. Legislators from both states traded barbs, cars with Tennessee license plates were vandalized in North Carolina, and McWherter’s office was flooded with calls from angry North Carolina residents.[7] Following an unscheduled trip to Canton, where he was confronted by a sheriff who told him he was “trespassing on Champion’s River,” McWherter announced on Christmas Day, 1988, that would not renew the plant’s water quality variance.

The environment is important, folks. And having people actively watch corporate entities who are damned determined to milk our planet leaving nothing behind should be celebrated, not vilified.

It’s up to us to make our leaders accountable but to also support our elected officials fight the good fight when they are trying to take care of our state. Sadly, their biggest enemy now is that these issues aren’t always hitting the media, and the biggest enemy is not getting a bill out of committee for discussion.

G.O.P. ‘Balance’ Just More Pain for Average Families

A crisis in our state’s capitol: Too many Republicans.

A crisis in our state’s capitol: Too many Republicans.

The Tennessee House Republican Caucus released this week a movie trailer-style campaign video to highlight their members’ vote to support a federal balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and every Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives support this measure. Mitt Romney campaigned on it in 2012.

When Republican politicians say “balanced budget,” they’re using coded special interest-speak for slashing investments in America so the rich can get more tax breaks.

A so-called “Balanced Budget” proposal sounds nice, but this reckless scheme would mean our government couldn’t take action during bad economic times.

For instance, if this idea had been in place before Bush’s Great Recession, 15 million more Americans would’ve been thrown out of work and our unemployment rate would have doubled.

It is already Congress’ job to pass a budget and make sure our nation is living within its means and making responsible choices.

The last thing we need is an amendment that gives Republican politicians an excuse to do nothing.

Our budget should be built on sound policy, not sound bites.


To me, a “balanced” budget makes adjustments to both expenditures and revenues. That means a balanced approach would trim spending AND ask the wealthy to do their fair share.

But even modest (and popular) proposals to eliminate tax expenditures receive a full defense from Republican politicians and their big corporate backers. A complete expiration of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy? Nope. Unnecessary tax breaks for Big Oil? Forever. Tax breaks for U.S. companies that ship jobs overseas. You betcha.

In 2011, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said a balanced budget amendment without any tax increases “would necessitate deep cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.”

Not only are Tennessee Republicans proud to support a measure that would devastate the wealth and health of Tennessee families, this joke of a video production suggests that Tennessee Republican policy should be a model for replication.

After several years of GOP tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, this year, Tennessee has a more than $200 million budget shortfall.

And not one Republican is suggesting we return millionaire tax rates to their former levels.

For Tennessee Republicans, all the budget “balancing” will be at the expense of the working families and the poor.

If Republicans stopped putting millionaires and special interests ahead of everyday Americans, we could have a balanced budget.

Bully Bill Battle

Is Mark White feeling heat from the right?

Definitions are not the enemy.

As session lumbers on, most of the goofy distraction bills have either been passed, or passed up. Its time to take a look at some of the things we missed while we were being distracted, and bills that are coming up.

One of those issues is addressing the problem of bullying in a substantive way.

There are two competing bills before the General Assembly that are currently moving: HB 927 sponsored in the House by Karen Camper of Memphis, and HB 2122 sponsored in the House by Mark White of Memphis.

While both bills seek to address the issue of bullying…one does so in a much more specific and effective way.

Just a quick look at the summary for 927 vs. 2122, shows the difference between a bill that seeks to enumerate what bullying is, rather than dress up current (an ineffective) law with a bow and sending it on its way.

Below is a piece Lauren Lee from Fox13 in Memphis did on the bill. At the end is an interview with Michelle Bliss, who carefully deconstructs the differences between the two bills.

Mid-South News, Weather, Traffic and Sports | FOX13

For Rep. White to say, “If you define that bullying is someone’s expression of their sexual or gender identity, their perceived identity, then you set up a situation where, it may not be bullying to another person, they just have a different set of standards.” is disingenuous. The law defines all manner of undesirable activity in specific, sometimes graphic detail. We do this to ensure that individuals who engage in such undesirable activity can be held accountable for their actions.

By removing the specific language that defines what bullying is, and who the likely targets are, Rep. White is minimizing the issue, and placing thousands of children at risk, all for the sake of someone’s “different set of standards”. Taken to its logical conclusion, any manner of activities, from speeding to assault, or even more heinous violent crime could fall under that “different set of standards” that Rep. White seems to hold so dear, making prosecution of these crimes essentially impossible.

Rep. White’s decision to leave these definitions out of his bill means the current hodge podge of policy will continue, without any clarity or consistency, which also means it will not reduce or enact any real change.

In the end, his bill amounts to passing legislation for the sake of saying you’ve passed legislation on a hot topic isn’t what we send our legislators to Nashville to do. We expect them to make laws that will truly address the problems we face.

Contact Representative Mark White at rep.mark.white@capitol.tn.gov and ask him to support HB 927. Post your email to Facebook and Twitter and tag Tennessee Equality Project and State Representative Mark White in the post.

If you need help with an email, check out this post from TEP, its a good guide. Also check out http://www.stopbullying.gov.

If we want to protect our children from bullying, we have to have clear and consistent guidelines for what bullying is…not some mushy nondescript standard.

You can also email the members of the House Education Committee in support of HB 927. Their email addresses can be found here.

HB 927 is scheduled to be heard in the House Education Subcommittee on Tuesday at 3pm. HB 2122 is scheduled for the Education Committee on Tuesday at noon.

What We Might Be Missing


So now that the wine in grocery stores debate is pretty much over, let’s take a look at what we’ve been missing being presented by our darlings in the legislature.

  1. TN Senate passes bill to legalize switchblade knives. Yeppers, while we have been watching sex week and getting our Miller Lite at the liquor stores drown converation, The leaders of the legislature burned (successfully I might add) a bill about the length of switchblades getting enlarged. The irony is endless, isn’t it. Grow your blades, campers, because it is more important than something crazy like expanding Medicaid because legalizing switchblades is a priority with a capitol P that rhymes with T which stands for terrible.
  2. The organizers of UT’s Sex Week have been fussed at properly by the General Assembly but it’s not going to make a lot of difference as they are moving along with their plans anyway. While this was happening, a farm bill is moving through that would limit local control on farms. Local zoning ordinance, what is that? It comes back to state over local control of land use. HB1410/SB1614 and the Right to Farm Act hits committee tomorrow.
  3. A lot of our democratic buddies in District 51 are running for Rep. Mike Turner’s seat who has announced he won’t run for re-election. Don’t get me wrong, Speak to Power is a big fan of that seat which leans blue traditionally and of Turner himself (gushed about him a bit last week myself.) There are other folks running as well, so a wag of the finger at the TNDP for not having a cheat sheet on their website on candidates outside Metro Davidson. It would be very helpful during an election year for not only the candidates, but for potential volunteers, activists and voters. Just a little tough love and not an indictment, but it would be helpful and that is just a friendly reminder.
  4. While we were all watching movie stars eat pizza on live television, there was a story from Tom Humphrey over the weekend you might have missed. Why are some legislators “taking a walk” when it comes to voting. I’ll let him explain:

A fine example would be the House floor vote a few days ago involving whether to prohibit employers from dismissing employees who hold handgun carry permits for having a gun stashed in a locked car on the company parking lot. Setting aside the political and procedural situation, the vote was recorded as 45-29-1 in House records.

Observe that 45, the number of yes votes; plus 29, the number of no votes; plus the one (that was a “present and not voting” or PNV in Legislatorland abbreviation lingo) adds up to 75. There are 99 members of the House.

Isn’t that we pay our legislators to do? Instead of talking about jobs, there was major news announced today by Ed Arnold over at the Memphis Business Journal, we have Grover Nordquist in the state talking about the Hall Income tax which really only helps people with investment income. And why isn’t anyone talking about this?

I didn’t think the state’s GOP leaders wanted Washington folks messing in Tennessee’s business but I may have been mistaken. I am, of course, using my snark voice.



Rep. Mike Turner, His Relationship With Bloggers And The Long Goodbye

I once wrote at Newscoma that my dream job would be just to follow Rep. Mike Turner around and writing down all the things he says on a daily basis.

For the press corp, you know that Rep. Turner was a box of candy everyday, but on another note he was always good to bloggers too. He understood that we could all help each other and he was always available for a conversation, no matter who you were.

This is important.

He would comment on our blogs, sit down with us and mentor. See, that’s the thing,he didn’t break people down even if he disagreed with you,

So he has decided to step down, and the speculation will run to who will run for leadership in the House next time. I guess the writing was on the wall for awhile.

Anyway, I know that Rep. Turner was that dude who was always going to say that “thing” that someone else wasn’t going to say and bully for him. It was a lot of fun to watch, but he never walked away from a fight which was kinda gratifying when this state got so bogged down with democrats trying to be civil. Look where that got us, campers.

We will miss you Mike, and thanks for being good to all of us. Hate to hear you are leaving the legislature but I know you had a good run.

So I will leave you with this:


Do Countless Internet Hoaxes Hurt Legitimate News?


Last week, a young American Olympian, Kate Hansen, took a short video claiming that there was a wolf in the hallway of her hotel in Sochi.

The next day, late night show host Jimmy Kimmel reported that it was a hoax, but not before several news agencies picked up and ran the story. Including his own network, that knew about the hoax ahead of time.

An ABC News executive tipped in advance about the Hansen hoax alerted some of the network’s shows to stay away from the story, but the word didn’t spread widely enough. A network website posted a story for an hour assuming the wandering wolf was real before it was taken down, said ABC News spokesman Jeffrey Schneider.

Because it was an off-the-record tip, ABC News didn’t feel it could report the story before Kimmel revealed it, and didn’t believe it had a responsibility to warn other news organizations that they could be disseminating false information, he said.

“The world is seeing these kinds of videos more and more, and every news organization has to do its own reporting and own vetting to decide whether or not they want to print, air or say something,” Schneider said.

He added: “It is a piece of comedy. We need to keep that in perspective.”

But Kelly McBride, a media ethics expert at the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank, said the episode says as much about the “bad actors” who spread falsehoods — meaning Kimmel — as it does about the media. The danger, McBride said, is that such incidents add to a growing public distrust of what they can believe in the news.

Welcome to the new world order. These stories grab our attention and what looks like proof of the bizarre or unusual gets us in the feelings. When we collectively find out we have been deceived, it becomes a gotcha moment. When the media perpetuates these stories, then it comes down to trust and the reality that Google is our pal for instant access, it also is pretty much forever.

Case in point:

The last time I checked, if an internet surfer went to Google, a popular and trusted search engine, and typed the words “Peyton Manning car accident,” the item that popped up at the top of the list was from The Guardian Express site, with a story proclaiming the star quarterback had been seriously injured while driving his BMW. The problem?

The story is 100 percent, absolutely false. Untrue. A hoax. But, on Tuesday, the twitter accounts of reliable sports journalists in Denver began rumbling with concerns from worried Broncos fan across the country.

Another case scenario is how The Onion has fooled major national and international news outlets countless times. The Onion is fantastic, but it has been a satire and fake news site for three decades.

Don’t get me wrong, I laughed at the Kimmel stunt. It was funny, but it also goes deeper to expose a chasm in how news is being dispensed. In a period of time when we have access to so much information, I think it’s more important than ever that our news outlets check sources. Social media is awesome but it will never replace boots on the ground journalism.

Infotainment isn’t news, but you guys knew that already. Kimmel did his job, he’s a comedian but I truly believe this shtick will get very tiresome very soon.

ABC should have done it’s job too.



Choices: Care for Grandma or Tax Breaks for Millionaires?

Grandma got haslamedIf given the choice between spending tax dollars on care for Tennessee seniors who need nursing home services or a new $100 million annual tax break for the wealthiest families in our state, which would you choose?

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam told grandma “you’re on your own” and chose to pad the pockets of his fellow millionaires and billionaires.

In a bit of solid reporting from The Tennessean, reporter Tom Wilemon found that 3,000 elderly Tennesseans who need nursing home care cannot get it because of Haslam budget cuts:

Under a program known as TennCare Choices, [some Tennessee seniors] could have selected either a nursing home or intensive at-home support from nurses and other health care providers. But the state, in an effort to curtail costs while meeting the health needs of aging baby boomers, set new rules that create a higher hurdle for families to qualify. Nearly 3,000 people who probably would have been judged to need nursing home care in early 2012 are instead getting only limited home visits.

The story explained in detail the horrific consequences some families and elderly couples are grappling with as a result of the Haslam administration’s decision to cut the nursing home program.

Cuts to programs for the poor and elderly are inevitable when the Republican governor and legislature place tax cuts for the rich and well connected above all else.

In the 2012 vice presidential debate, Joe Biden famously said, “show me your budget and I’ll tell you what your priorities are.”

Instead of strengthening healthcare security for elderly Tennesseans and working families, Haslam and the Republican majority prioritized tax breaks for millionaires and budget-busting handouts for business pals.

Haslam's tax cuts for the rich

Our economy grows strongest, not from the top-down, but from the middle-out and bottom-up.

Multimillion dollar tax breaks for Haslam and his wealthy friends undermine our economic future. As do skyrocketing out-of-pocket healthcare costs for some of our grandparents.

Ironically, the name of the nursing home program Haslam cut is “Choices.”

Tennessee seniors should remember this and choose anything but Haslam and his severe Republican majority come November.

Legalizing Discrimination In Tennessee

gay bigotry

Why would our state government, riding high on another obvious ALEC bill, want to purposefully hurt gay people?

That is what is being proposed in a bill that the nation is talking about which has been coined  “Turn Away The Gays” bill. A bill that has no fiscal impact in this state and that is only designed to conquer and divide. A bill that is designed to hurt instead of help. A bill that seriously discriminates for the mere fact that it WANTS to discriminate.

Why would members of our house and senate want to legalize discrimination?

It’s hard to fathom. Last year it was the “Don’t Say Gay” bill? This year, we have a bill that would be gateway legislation on a curving path to more bigotry.

I direct you to David Cook’s excellent column from today that pretty much says it all.

“If this gets passed, it would legalize discrimination,” said Cooper. “I don’t know why people feel the need to discriminate against people who are not like them.”

Humanity is not monochromatic; our struggle is not against a Paint-By-Numbers Creator, who only makes plain Jane stuff, nor with a natural world that only operates with some single vision: just brown butterflies, only flat deserts, nothing but white people.

Life is magnificently different, and our struggle is to realize those who may not seem like us — the disabled or dyslexic, the dwarfs and giants, the transgendered and gay — belong just as fully at the American table as anyone else.

So if you’re out there, locked in your bedroom, searching the papers or Internet for some wisp of acceptance and community, then I hope you read this column, especially this last line.

Thank you. For pushing us towards a wider America, for reminding us that difference is beauty and beauty is truth, for the bravery of being yourself in a lonely world, thank … you.

Hatred isn’t pretty.

It’s an odd thing, the Tennessee GOP’s fascination with things that are really none of their business.

As Rep. Mike Turner said a couple of years ago:.

“They’re preoccupied with sex up here,” the House’s No. 2 Democrat told reporters at his party’s weekly availability. “They’re got a real thing with sex. We’re about ready to put the turbans on, I think, and put the women in burkas here if we keep going at this rate.”

The issue comes down to discriminating for the sake of discrimination. I will leave you with this:

Consider this: As Kansas was making news with its religious liberty bill, an older, white sportscaster with a Texas drawl became an Internet sensation with an impassioned editorial saying it shouldn’t matter if an NFL player is gay. And in the same week, a federal judge declared Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, a decision reached recently by judges in three other states.

The dominoes are falling in favor of LGBT rights and, in large part because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to strike down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, judges are finding state bans on gay marriage legally untenable.

This is why we’re seeing actions like those of the Kansas legislators. Joining the chorus, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal gave a fiery speech to other conservatives last week, claiming same-sex marriage is part of a “silent war on religious liberty.”

But the religious liberty argument will be a tough sell.

A 2012 poll by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 56 percent of Americans don’t believe religious liberties are under attack. Among millennials, a whopping 73 percent said they don’t perceive any threat.

There’s a historical problem with that argument as well. Opponents of integration in the 1960s argued a violation of religious beliefs, claiming God didn’t want races mixing.

People remember that, and it makes the religious liberties argument against same-sex marriage reek of desperation.

Watching these policies is hard enough, but as a gay woman who has been in a healthy and loving relationship for the past 18 years, it just hurts.

For more information on the upcoming legislation, be sure to keep up-to-date with the Tennessee Equality Project.