Thursday, March 7, 2013

Thank You Speaker Harwell

While watching the news last night, The Sheepdog realized it was time to sharpen his fangs and commence to chewing on the wolves again. The news that got my attention was that Beth Harwell, Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, had strolled into a committee hearing yesterday and cast a tie-breaking "aye" vote, not once, but twice. Her votes allowed a controversial bill, HB 610 / SB 837, to advance in the legislature. If it becomes law, grocery stores across Tennessee can legally begin selling wine.

Beth Harwell
Beth Harwell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I am no fan of Speaker Harwell. The primary reason is that she does not meet my definition of a pro-gun Republican. During the last two years, she has made it very clear that she has no intention of allowing the right to carry to expand in Tennessee, especially when it comes to increasing the number of places where the state's permit holders can legally carry. She reminds me of the former anti-gun Speaker of the House, and Democrat, Jimmy Naifeh. I "affectionately" referred to him as "No-Guns" Naifeh.

Last year, the Tennessee Firearms Association (TFA), the NRA, and other pro-gun groups and law-abiding gun owners, like myself, worked and encouraged the Tennessee Legislature to pass the Safe Commute Bill. While I did not always agree with the rhetoric and discourse that was used during the course of debate, I always agreed that the bill was good legislation and needed to become law. The bill would have allowed carry permit holders to store their defensive firearms in their locked vehicle, even if the property where they were parked was posted "No Guns." It would have applied whether they were at work or somewhere else and protected them from any ramifications, such as being fired or jailed.

The TFA has documented on multiple occasions that last year's Safe Commute Bill was opposed by Speaker Harwell, Liet. Governor Ron Ramsey, then House Republican Caucus Chair and now former Rep. Debra Maggart, and big businesses across the state. The TFA consistently alleged that the legislature, and its leaders listed above, was "pandering" to big business by not allowing the legislation to come to a floor vote. It ultimately cost Debra Maggart her house seat. I, however, suspect there were also other forces at work against her besides just the gun folks.

One of the big businesses that TFA mentioned as an opponent to the bill was Federal Express. I became curious and decided to look into it. So, I began looking at campaign finance reports for Speaker Harwell, which are public record and available online. I found that over the last couple of years she had received about $35,000 in campaign contributions from the Federal Express PAC. I also found that over the same time period, it appeared that an overwhelming majority of Speaker Harwell's campaign contributions came from big businesses / PACs. These findings led me to the opinion that TFA's allegations were not only reasonable but also credible. Please, though, don't take my word for it. As Glenn Beck would say, "do your own homework." Click here to visit the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance website and look up the campaign finance reports for yourself.

"Grrrrr ......"
I say all that in order to make my point about Harwell's tie-breaking vote in the committee hearing yesterday. Keep in mind that Speaker Harwell, over the last few years, has repeatedly made it clear that the ability, and right, of Tennesseans to defend themselves and their families with firearms is not a priority to her. In last year's legislative session, she made it clear that she did not want gun bills to be considered, because other things were more important. She did not want any time being wasted on gun bills. Then, yesterday she made time and went out of her way to prance herself down to the committee hearing in order to first cast a tie-breaking vote to prevent the bill from being delayed and studied further. I guess the wine bill was soooooo important that it had to move on immediately. Next, she turned around and cast the tie-breaking vote to keep the bill alive and advance it on to the next committee. Apparently, self-defense is not a priority to the Speaker but making it more convenient to buy booze is.

Republicans are supposedly supporters of small businesses. Yet with this bill, the GOP is turning it's back on small businesspeople across the state who own liquor stores. They don't want this bill, because it will, of course, hurt their businesses. However, the big grocery store chains want it, because, of course, it will improve their bottom line. Could it be that Speaker Harwell and the Tennessee legislature are once again attempting to make big business happy ? Or, is she just wanting to make alcohol even more readily available ? Or, is it a combination of both ? Personally, I'm anti-alcohol, but that's a story for another day.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that law enforcement across the state is wholeheartedly against this bill ? The Speaker might want to listen to them.

As the title of this article says, I want to thank Speaker Harwell. Why ? Well, it's because her actions yesterday confirmed my suspicions and the allegations of the TFA and others that she is more concerned with keeping big business happy than she is with doing what's right for the people of this state. She has made it perfectly clear that the safety of Tennesseans is low on her list of priorities as she does not want to expand lawful concealed carry. However, high on her list of priorities is making big business happy and expanding the number of places where Tennesseans can legally purchase wine. As a conservative, I think she has her priorities completely screwed up.

So, in other words, thanks for nothing, Madam Speaker.

Before I go, I would also like to congratulate Speaker Harwell. She now has the dubious honor of being the absolute worst Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives in my lifetime. That's quite an achievement, too. "No Guns" Naifeh held that honor for a long, long time before her, having served as Speaker for 18 years. It's only taken Harwell a little over two years to knock him off his throne. Speaker Harwell doesn't need to thank me for this prestigious honor, either - she earned it all on her own.

Well done Madam Speaker (sarcasm added).

P.S. Before anyone brings it up, yes I know a version of the Safe Commute Bill has passed the Tennessee Legislature this year. I will be dealing with that in a subsequent post. Stay tuned.
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