Gov. Bill Haslam says Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey's push to oust three Supreme Court justices in August could "muddy the waters" on the constitutional amendment question up in November, but says he won't get involved on either side of that campaign.
After a House committee yanked the life out of two of Rep. John DeBerry’s education bills, he snatched up his things, quietly stormed down the hallway to his office and slammed his heavy wooden door behind him.
The bang of the door and the crash of his things hitting the ground inside the small ground-level office of the calm yet emotional Memphis Democrat rang out in the hallway.
Moments before, no one on the 12-member Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee Tuesday would give DeBerry a motion to take up his bills. Beyond the procedural lack of the motion making an up-or-down vote on his bills impossible, members failing to offer a motion on a bill is one of the chief insults a committee can bestow upon a bill or its sponsor.
DeBerry finds himself politically straddling fences in the General Assembly. Last election cycle, he was the chief beneficiary of campaign contributions from education reform advocates that tend to find more allies on the Republican side of the aisle. That, and his support for education reforms like vouchers and school choice, put his political views fundamentally at odds with the vast majority of his fellow Democrats.
The lack of a motion meant the committee killed two of his bills in the hearing Tuesday afternoon. One would have allowed the school districts charged with turning around the state’s worst schools — which largely sit in Memphis — to recruit students outside their school zones. Another would have lowered the voting threshold needed for parents to turn around management or operators of their struggling schools. Both were controversial, although less so than other education bills up for consideration this year.
Although the bills were on their way to the Senate floor, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said he wasn’t familiar with the legislation and isn’t surprised by the decisive move in committee to kill legislation when the legislature is looking to adjourn.
“We’re at the end of session where that’s what happens,” Ramsey said. “Bottom line is this is the time of year where stuff like that happens. That’s the reason why we have two houses, that’s the reason we have separation of powers, so nobody rubber stamps what the other person does.”
Earlier in the morning, another bill DeBerry was rooting for also died. Noting a lack of support on the full Finance Committee, Rep. Bill Dunn withdrew a bill that would have allowed the state to pay private-school tuition for students attending the state’s worst schools.
The House gave final approval to House Speaker Beth Harwell’s push to let the state Board of Education OK charter schools reject by local school boards. The bill’s passage on a 61-28 vote Monday comes a year and a half after Metro Schools went to blows with the state for refusing to welcome a charter school favored by state and city leaders.
Harwell scolded Democrats who went off topic on given amendments and tried to re-debate the bill, a measure the House passed 62-30 last year.
After holding the bill hostage last year in part of a political battle between the two chambers, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey slow walked the bill again this year to spur movement for a school voucher program.
The bill next heads to the governor’s desk. A close ally of House Speaker Harwell, Gov. Bill Haslam has said the change would help avoid the clash between state and local government. Earlier in his term, he cast doubt over taking authority away from local school boards. He is expected to sign it.
Both speakers said they expect a bill revoking local government’s rights to ban guns in their parks will make it to the floor, but hinted they may make provisions for children’s parks.
“I’m about to incriminate myself here, I guess,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told a room of reporters, editors and publishers at a conference hosted by the The Associated Press - Tennessee Press Association.
“I do keep a firearm in my pickup truck. I have a gun carry permit. There are crazy people out there. And I do. I suppose if I went by Steele Creek Park in Bristol, I’m supposed to take it out, and leave it at the house, or leave it laying at the curb as you go in and come out. It’s about common sense. At it is about 400,000 people who have gone through a background check, have a fingerprints on file, have proven they’re not criminals. Only those,” he said.
Asked to detail how she feels about the idea, Harwell said, “I believe it is a constitutional right. And what he just said, we’re not letting all people carry guns in parks. And there some parks that don’t have children’s facilities, two of them are in my district. Percy warner, etceteria. We’ll continue to work through it and we’ll have it on the floor. I predict we will.”
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey was U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s special guest at the president’s State of the Union address last night. He walked out after a half hour.
While the lieutenant governor joked with fellow Senate Republicans this morning that his exit would make an entertaining political statement, he said he left the address early due to security and his need to get back to Nashville in time for session this morning.
“I’ll be right upfront with you. I stayed for the first 30 minutes of the State of the Union address. It was an experience, though. Because I was flying back last night to be here for session, and if we stayed until the end you were trapped for about an hour before they let you out in the gallery. So I left a little early,” he told the Nashville Post.
“That was fun, just the whole ceremony of it all. It was one of those once in a lifetime experiences,” said Ramsey who added he had never been to the State of the Union address.
But the visit also “reiterated to me why I have no desire to go up there,” he continued. “I think our founding fathers designed a system that’s embedded with gridlock and that’s not necessarily bad. I just think what we can accomplish on a state level is much more than they can. I’m extremely happy where I am. ”
On the president’s call for governments to raise the minimum wage — an idea House Democrats have said they’ll push this year — Ramsey said he’d oppose that, saying rural areas can’t afford mandatory higher pay.
“Places like Nashville where you have trouble getting labor, minimum wage doesn’t matter because you’re always paying $2 or $3 above that, but out in the country where the living standard is less, then they need to leave it where it is now so people can find jobs,” he said.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he’s opposed to a plan on its way to the Senate floor requiring the elections of the state’s top lawyer.
Ramsey said he should have shared his sentiment with lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee before the measure passed Tuesday, but didn’t realize the group would take it up so soon in the session, let alone let it emerge from committee.
“Bottom line, raising money for statewide election would end up tainting attorney general,” Ramsey told reporters Thursday. “But I do think the way we do it now is wrong.”
The measure to elect the attorney general won a 6-2 vote in the committee this week. The proposal would attempt to amend the state constitution, an endeavor that has a long way to go, including needing approval from two General Assemblies before it could be put to a voter referendum in 2018.
Ramsey said he’d rather the legislature appoint the attorney general, per a bill sponsored by Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, which won favor 22-9 last year in the Senate.
For now, Attorney General Bob Cooper’s term is up Sept. 1 when the state Supreme Court is charged with making an appointment. That selection could mean renewing Cooper or appointing someone new. Ramsey said the court should eventually replace him with a Republican.
“I would think that the attorney general should more closely reflect the elected representative body of the state,” said Ramsey.
The governor will "re-engage" the legislature on school vouchers this year with the same plan that got tied up in partisan bickering near the end of the legislative session. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he wants something more, and says he's working on getting the governor on his side.