Friday, March 20, 2015

Conservatism - what does in mean in 2015?

Since 2010, we've seen the word "Conservative", spelled out in big bold letters across just about every Tennessee state politician, including our own here in Weakley County, State Representative Andy Holt and State Senator John Stevens. From the governor's race on down, "Conservative" is word of the day. However,  "Conservative" doesn't mean what it used to.

It used to be that people who referred to themselves as "Conservative" proudly believed that in almost all decision making, a small, limited and local government is preferable to large state and federal government.  The folks who call themselves "Conservative" in the Tennessee Legislature no longer believe that to be true.

In the past 5 years local government have been quietly stripped of their right to combat dangerous meth problems in their own towns, they've been stripped of the right to decide for themselves if they want a for profit charter school, and this year they are about to be stripped of their right to make public safety decisions about their own parks. At this pace, city and county governments will soon be irrelevant and we'll all just be subject the whims and wills of our state legislators

First it was meth. Frustrated by inaction, local police groups started letting their mayors know that in order to really make a dent in the meth lab problem, we need to deal with the easy availability of pseudo ephedrine. Cities across Tennessee, including Martin, voted to ban the sale of pseudo ephedrine without a prescription within city limits. The makers of Sudafed didn't like that, and quickly there after, "Conservatives" didn't like it either. The General Assembly quickly nullified the right of a city to pursue it's own solution. The key ingredient to meth will remain readily available to any and all who want it, declared the "Conservative' state government. The freedom of drug companies trumped the rights of locally elected government - or put another way Big Corporations squashed small government.

This was just the first in a series of moves by the "Conservative" state legislature. Local school districts are no longer allowed to decide for themselves if a charter school (run by a private corporation) is right for them. The people who elected representatives to the school board are irrelevant - their opinion about how their schools are run does not matter because this is now a state decision. It was surprising how quiet schools were to react to this power grab, but then again teachers and schools alike have been threatened with extinction if they don't get in line and do what the state legislature says.

And now, in this legislative session, the "Conservative" continue their attack on small towns and big cities alike. And once again, when asked to side with either a big corporation or a small local government, the "Conservative" legislators are falling in line with the big corporation. A bill to strip local governments of their right to decide public safety issues for themselves is making it's way through the state House and Senate. And if it passes, if the city of Martin does not want to allow guns at Family Fun Night in the park, they will no longer have the right to make that decision. The state will make it for them.

It doesn't matter if you agree or disagree with pseudo ephedrine prescriptions, for profit charter schools or guns in parks - your right to debate it with your fellow townsfolk and come to a decision as a local community has been been permanently revoked by the "Conservative" state legislature.  So, I have to ask, what exactly does "Conservative" mean these days?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

A prayer for both parties

Right now, as we speak, hundreds, if not thousands of calls are flooding into Senate and Congressional offices about of all things, ”ObamaCare” or, as most professionals know it, The Affordable Care Act (ACA). Even though it’s been 3 ½ years since the ACA   was passed by the House of Representatives, passed again by the Senate, signed into law by the President of the Unites States and then upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States - some still insist it is unconstitutional. And they are so insistent that the House, Senate, President and Supreme Court are wrong that they are willing to shut down the entire federal government and default on all of our bills just to…well, I don’t know what – if the government is shut down and we default on our bills, it doesn’t change the Constitutionality of ObamaCare so what is the point other than punishment for re-electing the president?

I’ve been one of those angry callers before - many times actually. I’m ticked off that they are wasting our time and our money still debating a law that is over 3 years old when unemployment in Weakley County is 14%. I’m incensed that our state reps enjoy lavish health insurance at taxpayer expense while they vote to destroy what little remains of the health care system in rural communities. I’m infuriated that they have such disregard for human life that they’d prefer a data analyst decide if my father is worthy of cancer treatment instead of his doctor. And, I’m not going to talk about any of that anger.  

I had a very different article in mind before I went to church on Sunday morning, but here goes, my first attempt at public prayer in the newspaper.

Dear Lord, I was reminded this weekend, that you love Republicans as much as you love Democrats. My pastor quoted Timothy and said that no matter how hard it is, we must love and pray for our leaders, especially the ones with whom we disagree. I usually keep my faith close to the vest, it’s one of the few things I do not discuss in public. So forgive me if its not eloquent, but know it’s as true and from my heart as any word I have ever spoken.

I pray for the 3,000 people who stood in line in the middle of a heat wave in Martin, TN just to get access to a doctor.

I pray for the men and women of the Air National Guard and Naval Reserve who worked tirelessly to provide free health care as part of the Innovative Readiness Training program this summer.

God, a big burly Sergeant told me he never would have guessed so many people would be so grateful to have teeth pulled without anesthesia. I pray that their pain was worth it and their ailments are healed.

I pray for Congressman Stephen Fincher – who was busy that day voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but sent a representative named Heather. I pray for Heather, and pray that she gained valuable wisdom by paying witness to the pain and suffering of our neighbors right here in Weakley County. I pray that her boss will share her report about the event with the public so we can all learn from his Congressional insight. I pray that no member of Congressman Fincher’s family or his staff’s families ever has to endure the pain that so many people felt that day.

I pray for a woman named Jennifer who represented Senator Corker’s office – he too was busy during those 2 weeks in July. I pray that she was able to communicate the gravity of the situation to her boss. Senator Corker has witnessed the health care crisis in Haiti, I’m certain if he just understood how bad it really is, he would have come.

When those 100+ National Guard volunteers came streaming into Martin, TN, they ignored the heat wave, they unloaded equipment with the efficiency of the finest military in the world.  They set up an on-site manufacturing facility that made eyeglasses. One man, who appeared to be in his 50’s, had never had an eye exam before that day, ever. I pray for him and please – don’t let those glasses get lost.

I pray for Sargent Dunlop, he had the unfortunate position of looking at 400 people lined up for the 40 appointment spots every morning. He knew which ones camped out all night in line – and didn’t let anyone cut. He said he’s not supposed “to let feelings get in the way,” but he’s human. He told me,  “I knew it was bad out there – but not this bad, not here in our own country. This is like a th… uh, it’s comparable to overseas.” I pray that he doesn’t always push his feelings aside, but I know you’ve already taken care of him, I could see it in his eyes. Turning away suffering Americans when you know good and well what they need wears on a man’s soul too much to hide, even from a stranger.

I pray for Senator Alexander, and for the staffer he sent – he too was busy and  unable to meet Navy Commander Laura Greiman, the Navy Dietitian who beamed with pride when she spoke of the folks who sought her out for advice – over 100 of them – more than usual she said. They don’t have a doctor, and probably never will, so they took matters into their own hands and learned what they could about controlling Diabetes through diet from the library or television and when they found out she was there they eagerly absorbed everything they could – from how to cook chicken so it’s healthy and tasty (freeze it in a low sodium marinade!) to  exactly how many calories they get from soda a day (1,700 in a day). Lord, I pray that they continue to seek to help themselves through knowledge.

I pray that the temptation of cheap self-remedies can be avoided. Dear God, one woman was eating some sort of pet product, clearly marked “not for human consumption” because she “heard it would help.” Watch over her.

Lord, I pray for Governor Haslam, no one from his office was able to see the “Hope Village” set up by the wonderful men and women of the Naval Reserve, Air National Guard and active duty Navy and Army personnel. He didn’t get to meet the good people from the Hope of Martin Organization that planned the event for over 3 years. He didn’t get to hear the Colonel’s opening statement and his apology that the health clinic wasn’t fully staffed because of the sequester.  But, the governor came out this way a few weeks later to promote his “Healthier Tennessee” health and wellness initiative – so I know he cares. He even commented that Tennessee is one of the least healthy states in our country with higher rates of high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and heart disease and encouraged Tennesseans to eat more fruits and vegetables. I wish he had been here to meet Commander Greiman and the folks she taught about healthy eating; it would have touched him.

There’s more, God, now I’m on a roll!  I pray for State Senator John Stevens, accounts are that he came to Martin and saw the Hope Village first hand. I know he is changed; there is no way he can’t be. And - I pray for State Representative Andy Holt. – there’s no hiding from you God, that I’m no fan of his, but our representative had to take a trip to the emergency room earlier this year – the radio said it turned out he had the flu – but any trip to the ER is nerve-wracking; so I’m sure he can relate to the fear felt by so many of the patients that came to the  Hope Village. I pray that he finds the time to reflect on why he didn’t come to thank the military volunteers for their service to his community.

Finally, I pray to you for all rural Americans. I know I should pray for the entire country – but I’m worried about those of us living in rural communities; I’m worried we’ll be forgotten about just like so many of the patients I saw that day.  I pray that our hospitals stay open, I pray that CEO’s don’t give up on rural markets because we’re not insured or profitable. I pray that instead of laying people off from their jobs, we’d be able to find a way to hire even more doctors, nurses, dentists, and PA’s. I pray that we are not left behind. I pray that more people will experience the same joy that I feel when I think about my decision to move to Weakley County. And I pray that if they come, they bring their own health insurance, because remember the big burly Sergeant that I wrote of earlier? He wanted to compare us to the “third world” but he stopped himself – bless him for not wanting to insult me, but I, and everyone who lives here needs to hear his words. There is no guarantee that our hospitals, clinics and health centers will stay open – none at all. And then what happens to Weakley County? God, I pray that we can recognize that you do love Democrats and Republicans equally - and perhaps we should give it a try, too.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Weakley County Republicans Bully 'Anti-Tax Hike' Demonstrators.

Once again the Republican Party has shown exactly how tolerant and open-minded they are.  Today, my husband and I joined a small group of concerned citizens and tried to hold a peaceful demonstration at the Martin field office of Congressman Stephen Fincher. We were greeted with threats of violence.

When my husband and  I arrived I was a little nervous - there were hecklers. Who would heckle an "Anti-Tax Hike" demonstration?  That's kind of a weird. I really thought they must just be there to watch.

So off we went, marching down Lindell Street past the new fountain in the park. We had to sing! UGH.  I had been to the teacher rallies in Nashville last year - there's a protection from such a big crowd that makes it perfectly fine for me to sing in public! A rural rally is a lot different, people were definitely going to hear me sing.  But I did it anyway. And I was right, there they were -  a group of about 5 big guys waiting for us. They ridiculed working men and women who don't want their taxes to go up. It made no sense. I really couldn't believe what I was watching. It was embarrassing. Five old white men booing and mocking and giving the thumbs down to a group of mostly middle aged women. The animosity was shocking and it felt genuine.

And then I realized it really didn't matter to them if we were there to announce the cure for Cancer. We were Democrats - so they didn't like us, politically or personally. It was clear that they viewed us as enemies. It didn't really matter that we are taxpaying citizens. We were told that we couldn't assemble as a group; we had to meet with them individually. We were told we couldn't take pictures in a public office. We were told the press wasn't free to record video or audio in a taxpayer funded public office. It was abundantly clear that we were not welcomed in a public space.

We are their neighbors.  I see these people at the Iris Festival, the Farmer's Market, on campus and what did they do? Tennessee Republicans shouted "go get a job!" to a roomful of retirees, educators, a small farm owner, a marketing executive and a social worker. These weren't some nameless faceless online commenters ranting about a birth certificate; they are our neighbors and they told us that we didn't pay enough taxes. They are public servants and they treated us like we didn't have a right to be there.

And then - just to make things interesting, one guy who refused to provide his real name grumbled that he was "anti-demonstration" and said "I'm going to kick the dog-sh!t out of you" to the organizer. The weirdest part of the whole thing - they called the cops on themselves!!

People have been giving speeches at Congressional Offices for as long as there have been congressional offices  - we should not have to defend that right.

Congressman Fincher's office has some serious explaining to do about how it treats citizens.

We were there to oppose a tax hike.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Once Citizens Experience with Tea Party Governance

I'd like to share part of my story about my experience with state officials - in particular Representative Andy Holt and the rest of the Tea Party crew who came to power in 2010.

In 2010 - my husband and I were enjoying a beautiful Spring walk on our property and we were greeted by a horrendous smell - there at the bottom of our beautiful rolling hills were thousands of gallons of raw sewage  oozing out of the ground onto our property. It was shin deep and glistening and spread almost evenly across a full 8 acres. The thick porridge like substance was also flowing into two local streams - streams where I know that kids play in summer months.

The city came out and explained that the pipes were old and needed to be replaced but that they didn't have the funding to do it so they would apply for a grant. That was over 2 years ago.

Over the past 2 years, I contacted Representative Holt and Congressman Fincher on numerous occasions asking for some sort of assistance. Third world countries have open sewage pits - not the United States. Should we really be expected to lower our standard of living just because we live in a rural town and not an urban area? I learned that most of the small towns throughout West TN have aging sewers in need of repair  - and given the unemployment rate in our area, it certainly seemed like a no brainer for a newly elected Congressman and State Representative to secure funding for a "fix the basics" program that includes sewer upgrades in NWTN. Seems logical, right.

I have come to realize that there is nothing resembling logic or reason associated with either Holt or Fincher. I have contacted both of our government officials no less than 24 times over the past 2 years. I've contacted them via phone, email, facebook, and in person. Mr. Holt had the audacity to just delete my very reasonable questions from his facebook page. At the legislative breakfast at UTM this year, Mr. Fincher told me to "get more people to complain". When I told him that 24% of the households in Dresden signed the petition to apply for the grant and asked exactly what percentage would be needed for him to show concern about raw sewage - he looked at me a blank stare, mumbled a little bit and waited for his aide to rescue him. Fincher's office has yet to follow up on the issue even though he serves on a committee with a legislator from Delaware who helped spearhead and manage a similar project in her district. She's a Democrat though and God forbid Mr. Fincher should break his campaign promise of ever working with a Democrat - even it means providing jobs and modern sewer systems for his constituents.

Mr. Holt on the other hand was even worse. Fincher at least didn't hide that fact that he had no interest in fixing critical infrastructure in his district. In public, Mr Holt acted concerned but did nothing. Over and over again I contacted him asking for one simple thing - a letter of support for the grant from his office to the Governor. When I first met him I tried to point out that there was plenty he could do legislatively; infrastructure banks for maintenance, emergency public works funding, stricter oversight laws, the list goes on. He did none of that, and to this day, I still have not received a copy of the letter of support. Holt spent a lot of time overturning the will of the people of Nashville, fighting for horse slaughter facilities to be legalized in Weakley County; he spent an exorbitant amount of energy fighting imaginary child labor laws that right wing talk radio completely made up out of thin air. But he didn't have the time to ensure our district has the basic infrastructure needed to support new business and private residences.

In fact, when I confronted Mr, Holt yet again at the candidate meet and greet in Martin a few weeks ago, he said that he didn't even know the grant application had been submitted. To date, the only thing that I know for sure Mr. Holt did was pose with a giant publishers clearing house size check at city-hall once the grant was finally approved.

It gets worse. Mr. Holt, after deleting numerous messages from me on facebook, after not responding to email, after condescendingly admitting that he was in Hawaii when the final deadline for legislation passed - Mr. Holt had the absolute nerve yesterday to post a message on facebook wondering why I hadn't given him any thanks or praise!!!

Mr. Holt. When we get a heavy rain, sewage leaks from worn out pipes in Dresden; this has been going on for over 2 years. And, it is going to take another year to get it repaired. I reserve my praise and thanks for exceptional behavior - not mediocrity.

So, to the readers of the Weakley County Press - know this, if you wake up one morning and find yourself wading through shin deep sewage in your yard, there's a good chance that it could take not a few weeks, but a few years for anyone of our state or federal representatives to do anything about it.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Andy Holt goes far beyond the 47%

Last month presidential candidate Mitt Romney made headlines not because of a great new job creation idea but instead because his true feelings about almost half of Americans came to light. The candid video of Mr. Romney at a $50,000 per plate fundraiser shows him explaining that the 47% of Americans who do not pay federal income tax will never be convinced “to take personal responsibility for their lives” and that "they think they are entitled to food."

As it turns out – this “fact” has been pervasive on right wing talk radio for years – so I guess it’s now clear who has influence over Mitt Romney. He was embarrassed by the tape, but not remorseful. He stood by his remarks that if only those 47% paid income taxes (and we gave tax breaks to billionaires) the world would be rosy place.

So who are the 47%? It includes military men and women deployed on combat leave and disabled veterans. At one point we were compassionate and unified enough as a country to agree that combat soldiers and disabled vets could be exempt from income tax. Now we have elected a presidential nominee who thinks these patriots are freeloaders. What has become of us?

This 47% group of Americans also includes students who work full or near full time while attending school, also full or near full time. After school costs, these students earn less than the poverty level. Again, there was a time in this country when we thought that kids (or working adults) trying to get a college degree were folks we wanted to invest in – now the leader of a major political party thinks they are moochers who are holding the rest of us back.

The Republican leader didn’t stop with combat soldiers, disabled veterans and working students, though. Just for good measure he needed to make sure we all remembered those real evil-doers – the worst of worst – senior citizens and the working poor. Seniors who live on little more than Social Security and working families who make less than $30,000 can also qualify for credits that reduce their federal income tax bill to $0. We used to be a country with compassion – one who decided in a bi-partisan way that working families deserved a shot and senior citizens living in poverty is a national disgrace. Now we have a man who is “this close” to being leader of the free world who believes life was so much better when the majority of seniors lived in poverty and working poor families had little if any chance to move up in the world. It was called the Gilded Age – and while national Republicans fled the scene faster than a jackrabbit – there are plenty of folks who doubled down on Mr. Romney’s view of poverty. Our state representative, Andy Holt, is one of those people.

At the candidate meet and greet last week in Martin I had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Holt about a whole range of issues – including poverty. Mr. Holt proudly explained that he believes the best cure for poverty is poverty – his words not mine. It’s a naive and simplistic point of view, but his meaning is pretty clear. Poverty is a motivator and any help for the poor, whether it’s an income tax break, a school lunch for a hungry kid, food stamps for a single dad or a homemade meal from a shelter is counterproductive. Helping the poor just encourages people to stay poor.  In fact, Mr. Holt went a step further and equated anti-poverty programs with slavery! He believes that anti-poverty initiatives no only give the wrong message – but they actually force people to stay in poverty.

We used to be a country that declared war on poverty – not on the impoverished. What happened?