Tag Archives: Brian Kelsey

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.

Gateway To Bigotry


During this first week of the Sochi Olympics, much of the world has been discussing the oppressive anti-gay laws in Russia. Hear in Tennessee, we have an oppressive gay bill making the rounds by Memphis’ one and only Sen. Brian Kelsey. It has already been coined “Turn the Gays Away” bill.

Here’s what this bill does:

The bill notes that businesses can refuse services and goods only if it furthers a civil union, domestic partnership, or same-sex marriage. The person or business would just have to say it was against their religion. For example, if a same-sex couple wanted a cake for their wedding reception, a bakery could refuse to cater to them.

Jonathan Cole of the Tennessee Equality Project says the bill is making discrimination legal.

“It’s bad for business,” Cole said. “It’s bad for attracting talent that would be offered a job to come and work for a corporation here in Tennessee. When they see bills like this capturing the headlines, it really reflects poorly on the state.”

A couple of questions to delve further into Kelsey’s bill. The scope of the bill applies to anything that might apply to a big “gay” wedding or partnership, but the bottom line, to quote a comment made at Knox Views, it is another gateway bill into bigotry. We’ve seen this happen before with Sen. Stacy Campfield and his horrendous remarks about the LGBT community with his “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It’s about taking legislative action against civil rights. All men and women are created equal unless they want to get married to each other, then you can say I won’t help you because it’s against my religion?

It is a gateway problem because what happens after this bill? How much money will the state have to pay in legal fees when it gets sued and it will if this goes through.

Many of our legislators are good people, I’m not saying they aren’t. I will say though that they will be will be lumped in with the Campys and Kelseys of the world as long as bills like this keep getting burned to garner headlines and to purposefully discriminate against people. We are all Tennesseans and when the national headlines hit, and they have been plentiful lately, we all look idiotic.

While we are discussing demoralizing legislation, let’s look at some things not being discussed by our elected officials.

And speaking of the state of Tennessee’s finances we read this from the Nashville Post

Halfway through the state’s budget year Tennessee’s revenue collections are $222.7 million in the hole, the Department of Revenue reported Thursday.

Although the department says January has seen the largest growth in tax collections over the last 13 months, revenues fell short $51.6 million from the state’s expectations.

And the only jobs I’m hearing anyone in Nashville and Washington talk about right now is Volkswagon, where it is apparent that the same incentives that the GOP bent over backwards to give to the German auto manufacturer is now being treated with buyer’s remorse.I mean, is Sen. Bo Watson really threatening to pull incentives? Why yes, he did go there.

And finally, we are in our 44th day without Medicaid expansion so there is $110,000,000 down the toilet for the state of Tennessee.

What do Kelsey and Watson have to say about that? I guess they are too busy fighting gay people and unions to have even noticed.

Vouchers are no “golden ticket”

There's always a catch to every golden ticket

There’s always a catch to every golden ticket

Its “National School Choice Week” the press release reads, and they loaded up busses from Southland Mall in Whitehaven this morning to take people to Nashville in support of the School Voucher bill supported by Brian Kelsey and John DeBerry…and not supported by Gov. Haslam.

Last year when Kelsey and Haslam butted heads on the voucher bill, it died in the last days of session. This year its anybody’s guess.

Voucher bills, and the people that introduce them have been getting some big time financial support over the past few years thanks to the big time money that has been seeking to shepherd the legislation through all 50 state houses.

Groups like The American Federation for Children, funded by the Walton family of Wal-Mart fame, and the DeVos family of Amway, have been literally pouring money into “independent” groups like AFC, and others…not to mention the campaign coffers of politicians to get their favored education reform passed.

It would be easy to point you to an an angry screed about the “dark money” that’s funding these efforts.

I could point you to articles about the ugly truth of school choice.

I could have sent you to a photo of a llama in either one of those links and you’d probably be none the wiser.

Most folks, either for or against school voucher plans aren’t really interested in that.

They’re interested in their kids succeeding and they’ve been told “school choice” or vouchers are the way to make that happen.

Unfortunately, there are no sure things in life, and vouchers are just another example of that.

There’s plenty of evidence that shows vouchers don’t work and aren’t any more efficient at delivering educational outcomes than anything else.

The problem is, the real problem is much bigger than the school your kids go to.

Vouchers are a solution avoiding a larger problem

Voucher supporter, and President of the Memphis Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Rev. Dwight Montgommery says,

Children of lesser means are being discriminated against and forced “to attend schools that are not adequate to serve their learning needs,” said Montgomery. “This is as unacceptable today as it was 59 years ago in 1955.”

There’s no denying he’s right about this. Poor children have largely been left behind, but education is only one aspect of that reality. Yesterday I wrote about the opportunity gap in the south. Poor children, and their families, have been repeatedly failed by society. They’ve been left behind, derided for their circumstances, and written off by more people than I could name.

Unfortunately, vouchers only compound this problem for the reasons I laid out here.

There’s no question in my mind that we, as a society, need to do more to tackle the opportunity gap head on.

There’s no question we need to do better by poor kids in the US, and a lot of that means pouring more into public education.

But rather than do that, we’ve sought stop-gap measures that have the effect of actually de-funding public education, all while blaming teachers for not getting more done with less.

While I have no doubt that voucher supporters like Rev. Montgommery have the best intentions, the truth is, educators have done as much with less as they can.

If we really want to make education better in Tennessee, we need to start giving our children more opportunities to get ahead (Pre-K, after school and summer programs, parental involvement programs) and our educators more tools to make a difference. That means spending more in a state that’s one of the most stingy with its education dollar in the United States. We have to do all this while working in earnest to help the parents of these kids get to a place where they’re not struggling to survive.

But none of that is on the table this week. Just golden tickets, and an empty promise of “success”.

Sunday Brunch – #HashtagEdition

Coming to a State Capitol Near You!

Coming to a State Capitol Near You!

Some big news Saturday…

The White House announced that President Barack Obama would be making a stop in Nashville, Thursday, January 30th.

Details of the visit haven’t been released just yet, but initial reports say he’ll be in the state to talk about jobs…an important topic in a state that has an unemployment rate higher than the national average (81.% vs. 7.3%) and a poverty rate that is expanding instead of contracting (17.3% up from 13.5% in 2010).

The news was met with some propagandizing from Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), who apparently is unaware that the unemployment rate in her district is higher than the national average (9% vs 7.3%) and so is poverty (16.3% vs. 14.9%)…both of which have only been expanding since she was elected in 2002. It says something about a politician when they trumpet their state’s “Thriving Economy” yet ignore the basic facts about the area they represent. #sadtrombone

Even without the President’s announced visit, this week had some big events coming…here’s a list of things that are coming up…and some stuff you may have missed during your weekend merriment:

In the News

The Tennessee Scenic Vistas Protection Act is back thanks to State Rep. Gloria Johnson.
Apparently Mike Huckabee likes flip-flops more than regular shoes. Who knew?
Those big education test score gains may have been seriously oversold.
Some consultants say Memphis should adopt a “pay-as-you-throw” sanitation system…and all this happens as two high ranking officials in the city resigned…one of which was in charge of curbside garbage pickup.
Gary Odom proposes a cigarette tax to fund TennCare expansion (as a smoker, I’m cool with this).
The government closest to the people is an inconvenience for state legislators/gun advocates.
Gov. Haslam ain’t buying Kelsey’s voucher bill.
Democrat Lenda Sherrell is running against Scott DesJarlais in the TN-04 race.
Unions in Tennessee saw major growth in membership over the past year.

Mark your calendar

Monday – Tennesseans ReclaimingEducational Excellence (TREE) is hosting an event highlighting misguided education reforms, featuring Elaine Weiss, National Coordinator, Broader, Bolder Approach to Education.
Tuesday – At 9pm (ET) the President will deliver his State of the Union address.

And of course, the Tennessee General Assembly will continue its assault on the state Tuesday.

Enjoy what’s left of your Sunday…STP will be back in full effect Monday morning!

Voucher bill in the driver’s seat

Who would vouchers harm in this picture? All of them.

Who would vouchers harm in this picture? All of them.

The state legislature has been in session for over a week, and as anyone who’s been following state politics for a while knows…that means its time for another discussion about what advocates like to misleadingly call “school choice” and what the rest of us call “vouchers”.

Once again, ready to lead the charge is Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) (who I am already tired of talking about), joined by Delores Gresham (R-Somerville) and John DeBerry (D-Memphis).

DeBerry’s sponsorship makes this a “bi-partisan” effort…though DeBerry has been voting with Republicans a lot more than he has been with Democrats in recent years. I guess his values “go with the flow”, so to speak.

I say its misleading to call the current bill a “school Choice” bill for two reasons:

1. It is limited in nature. According to the Commercial Appeal, the vouchers would not be available to everyone. Just students in “failing schools”…unless enough of them don’t take advantage.

2. The bill assumes that the parents would be able to cover the difference in the cost of a private school education…and since most of the students in failing schools are also dirt poor, the reality is…that won’t happen…which takes us back to #1, and the chance that this could be nothing more than a free for all for the folks who are already paying for private schools…which is what this really seems to be all about.

The truth is, school vouchers only sap public money away from public schools to the benefit of private schools. That’s it. So if you’re one of those that thinks public education is an entitlement program, you’re probably really for vouchers…like the group that staged this event last year.

There are plenty of other concerns as well.

But perhaps my favorite critical critique comes from the blog Bluff City Education in this post.

Here’s a snippet:

…To date we’ve seen little to no positive demonstrated impact on student achievement from these programs. In 2010, the Center on Education Policy reviewed 10 years of voucher research and action and found that vouchers had no strong effect on student achievement. The most positive results come from Milwaukee County’s voucher program, but the effects were small and limited to only a few grades.

Voucher programs also struggle to achieve their mission of providing low-income students with a way out of failing schools. For example a critical study of the Milwaukee program found that it overwhelmingly helped those already receiving education through private means. Two thirds of Milwaukee students using the voucher program in the city already attended private schools. Instead of increasing mobility for low-income students, the program primarily served to perpetuate status quo.

Ahh, so this really is about helping private schools and the students that already attend them. Good to know.

Unfortunately, the fate of this bill isn’t set in terms of whether or not it helps students or furthers the aim of educating the children…its wrapped up in the size.

Last year the Governor’s bill died, and the alternative…sponsored by Kelsey, also failed to make it through both houses.

Will this year be different? Who the heck knows? But its something to watch.

Morning Coffee – Presenting Your New Republican Overlords – Pre-Legislative Session Edition

The future of the state lies in these thumbs <shiver>
Image Credit: Squalto-rant

The upcoming session of the Tennessee General Assembly begins in just 15 days. Between now and then there will likely be a whole bunch of nothing news wise, except for the TNDP Chair election which is about as exciting as watching socks dry in the rain (no offense guys, but seriously).

Considering the huge shift from a nearly 50-50 split house to the 64-34-1 Republican super-majority, there’s gonna be a lot of changes coming our way. As Jeff Woods reports in the Nashville City paper, they may not be exactly what voters expected.

From the article:

On the to-do list:

• Changing state law to restrict eligibility for unemployment benefits and make it less difficult and time-consuming for businesses to deny payments to workers.

• Enacting caps on damages awarded in lawsuits against businesses, including product liability and medical malpractice cases.

• Streamlining or even eliminating some business regulations, particularly regarding environmental protection.

Good times. 10% unemployment means gut the little bit of help that is keeping these unfortunate folks barely treading water.

Tort reform means that if someone sells you something that hurts you, you’ll only get a percentage of what you might have before regardless of how negligent the business was.

As for the third item, I hope you like Selenium in your water.

Woods also draws quotes from Knoxville stuntbaby and newly elected State Senator Stacey Campfield who is continuing to push his extreme socially conservative bills, saying social and fiscal conservatism shouldn’t be mutually exclusive.


Oh, but this is only the beginning. Still caught in an economic downturn that has seen the return of huge bonuses for banks execs that were previously mere seconds away from failure while regular folks still struggle to survive, the newly elected Republican majority in the US House wants to make sure things get so bad down at the state level that they can effectively force bankruptcy on states by cutting the availability of low interest bonds and in the process, drive a stake in the hearts of those dastardly unions, that have been seeking to ensure people have a living wage for generations. Welcome to the new era of the Pinkertons.

Here’s Sam Seder, subbing in for Keith Olberman on Countdown last night:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Looks like the next two years are going to be a barrel of laughs.

We’ll be keeping an eye out once the legislature gets back in session. A quick glance at bills already filed may be an early indication, including this retaliation bill against the Memphis City Schools filed by Senator Brian Kelsey.

I’m sure these developments will keep keyboards a clicking over the next six months.

Ok, on to the coffee!

Extending the Bush Tax Cuts did more for businesses than anyone else. If you don’t itemize your taxes and you’re a homeowner, you may see an increase.

The economy in Memphis is stagnant, or so says a report by the Federal Reserve.

Mississippi is going to teach Civil Rights in all grades. Suggestion, start with your Governor.

Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland is making shit up again.

Shelby County School Board President David Pickler is promising answers about MCS charter surrender. Of course, he’s perplexed by the whole development, even though a report that his body commissioned with the Memphis City Schools tells the inconvenient truth that he summarily rejects. You can have your own opinion Mr. Pickler, but you can’t have your own facts.

Ok, have a good day out there. Chances are we’ll be out of pocket until after the New Year.

Morning Coffee – Randomness Abounds Edition

Any Way You Like 'Em

I’m scattered this morning. As Trace mentioned yesterday, life’s events have conspired to make it a little difficult to take care of all the things that just have to be done. It’s been a little frustrating, but have no fear. Things will be back to normal soon enough.

I start summer school on Monday, and I’ve got a lot of anxiety built up about it. I already feel like I’m barely keeping up and throwing one more thing on the pile of stuff to do doesn’t make me feel any less anxious. That said, if I want to finish my Bachelor’s degree before I get into my 50’s, I need to be taking some summer school.

I’m really sad about the loss of Liberadio!, and feel more than a little guilty about not listening as often as I should have. I don’t know if they’re keeping the blog around, but I hope they do, or it morphs into something else. The amateur blogosphere is contracting, and that contraction is not unique to the left. As much as some inside establishment circles want to pooh-pooh us bloggers, our voice serves a constituency that is largely ignored. That constituency is regular everyday folks, because by and large, that’s what we are. We need more voices in the conversation. Hopefully we’ll see a resurgence.

Ok, that’s enough randomness for this morning. On to the coffee!

Hey, the State Senate passed a budget 30-3. That’s the most consensus on anything out of that body since they voted on Guns in Bars!

The Memphis Charter Commission is developing those taxing districts. I think this is the part you all have been waiting for.

Rep. Tony Shipley and Sen. Brian Kelsey got into a tiff over that Income Tax Amendment. Woods also has some entertaining coverage on this one.

And finally, this weekend is the Memphis Italian Festival. Get out and get you some!

Have a good day and a better weekend!

Shutting Down the Scam

The Commercial Appeal reports on a bill that would do just that.

A bill to ban the sale of sham documents known as “international driver’s licenses” awaits the signature of Gov. Phil Bredesen to become law.

The state Senate approved the bill 31-0 on March 15 and the House approved it 97-0 on May 5. Passage was final Monday when the Senate concurred with slight wording changes the House made.

— Snip

The sham documents are especially appealing to illegal immigrants, who can’t obtain legal driver’s licenses in Tennessee.

The international driver’s license is so widespread that some car dealerships and insurance companies in Memphis have advertised in recent years that they accept it as identification. Even the Shelby County Clerk’s Office accepted them under some circumstances for transactions such as buying a license plate; officials have since ended the practice, said Chief Administrative Officer Susan Henning.

Mauricio Calvo, head of immigrant advocacy group Latino Memphis, had said earlier this year that the documents are better than having no identification, and noted that people can use them to get real insurance.

But he said he decided to support the ban after speaking with groups including the Nashville-based Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition.

The bill makes it a violation of the state Consumer Protection Act to promote or sell international driver’s licenses. It also bans the sale of imitations of legitimate international driving permits issued by groups like AAA.

Two members of the Shelby County delegation, State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-31) and State Representative Jeanne Richardson (D-89) pushed the legislation. Strange bedfellows to be sure, matching one of the most conservative and liberal members of the legislature for a common cause.

This is how it’s supposed to work folks. It’s doesn’t have to be all partisan bickering and wedge issues. People of differing ideologies can work together for the good of a group of people who are being preyed upon.

We need more efforts like this. Kudos to both of you.

Income Tax Ban Moves Ahead

Yesterday the State Senate approved a measure that would make it unconstitutional for any government in Tennessee to institute any kind of Income Tax.

The measure, sponsored by freshly minted State Senator Brian Kelsey of Germantown passed by a vote of 25-7, and moves on to the House where it must receive a simple majority. In order for the resolution to become law, it must pass by 2/3 of the House and Senate in the next legislative session, and by referendum in 2014.

WPLN has the hot poop on the whole affair.

Here’s my thing. I get that Kelsey, and many of his colleagues are “Starve the Beast”ers. But what these guys have never, to the best of my knowledge, explained is just exactly what role they think government should play.

See, it’s easy to say, “I don’t want an Income Tax”, but saying, “Hey poor sick child, good luck getting treated, we don’t have the money”, or “Hey kid, sorry your school sucks, good luck with your future and all, but I want mine now”, is a far more difficult, and politically volatile thing to say.

By limiting state revenues, which are projected to fall below expectations to regressive revenue streams, this constitutional amendment, which would have to meet the same threshold to be repealed, and would take years, may be politically expedient now, but will have far reaching implications in the future.

Further, including Counties and Cities in this measure is going to hurt those governments too.

I dislike paying taxes as much as the next guy, but I’ve never seen the benefit of removing an option for the sake of removing an option. That’s ultimately the goal of this legislation. The prospect of an income tax passing is about as likely as a unanimous resolution praising Hitler, and just as politically toxic. The question that still needs to be answered is what other revenue streams will be affected if this passes.

Knoxviews raises the question about the Hall tax. This is a good question. If this proposed amendment would ban the Hall Tax, legislators need to think long and hard about where exactly the lost revenue from that tax will come from.

Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen. Thankfully, the state’s constitution provides us some time to think about the long ranging impact of this legislation. Still, if it passes this time around, we’ve started down that slippery slope. The question is, will the momentum carry.

License to Nothing

The State Attorney General is going after retailers of fake licenses.

The state is concerned that businesses are cheating people who buy the licenses, said Asst. Atty. Gen. Anne Simmons.

“The international driver’s license is not a valid form of identification,” she said. “It serves no legal purpose.”

The state suit targets Mirella Garcia and her business, called Centro de Apoyo al Inmigrante, which means “Support Center for the Immigrant.” The state seeks financial penalties and an end to the questionable business practices.

This is a growing problem. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people try to use these useless ID cards for all sorts of things, including Airport security checkpoints, only to be turned away.

As the article notes, there is currently a a bill before the state legislature that would outlaw the sale of these fake ID’s, sponsored by State Sen. Brian Kelsey and State Rep. Jeanne Richardson.

In all honesty, I was a little bit skeptical when I saw Kelsey was sponsoring the bill, fearing that there may be some nativist ulterior motive. But after reading the bill I don’t immediately see a problem with the legislation as it exists now.

We’ll be keeping up with the progress of this bill in the coming weeks.

Image Credit Oregon DOJ