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Tennessee Republicans get more unstable by the day


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By Jeff Woods

Published on May 13, 2009 at 8:01am

Like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, state legislators grow more demented with every day of their long isolation at the Capitol. On the continuum of far-right weirdness, they're now somewhere close to a doomsday cult. Reporters have started holding out hope for mass suicide.

Even by the legislature's standards, it's strange. Last week, the House voted to give state sanction to the diplomas of a freaky subset of home schoolers who are basically sitting around waiting for the End of Days, but unfortunately need jobs in the meantime. They hold the godless government in contempt and refuse to disclose what they're supposedly learning in their home schools, but they want their diplomas to count on government job applications.

"That's great," snorted one wiseacre who works for the legislature. "Maybe I should stand out here and write up diplomas to my School of Hard Knocks. They'd be worth just as much."

This is the kind of stuff that's making Republicans the exclusive party of married white fundamentalist Christians and an endangered species outside the South. Here, though, it's the heyday of the hard-core culture warriors.

Rep. Tony "Capt. Apocalypse" Shipley invokes God's wrath against gays, House GOP caucus chair Glen Casada is afraid a dictator-president will confiscate our guns, and Rep. Frank Niceley claims arsenic is good for you. As the state budget is debated over the next few weeks, they'll endear themselves further to the cranky teabag crowd by calling for rejecting the federal stimulus money and demanding unnecessarily deep cuts in services.

But it's too easy to place all the blame with Republicans. Democrats are guilty of aiding and abetting. On guns and abortion, there's been bipartisanship. Democrats do a quick cost-benefit analysis, shrug and cave. They figure it's not worth the trouble in their next election campaigns. They don't talk much about the GOP's extremist agenda. It's been weeks since they bothered to hold a press conference.

The state's most popular Democrat, Gov. Phil Bredesen, could speak out, but he won't. He's under the naive impression that if he lays off those nutty legislators, they will repay him by accepting his budget as-is. He might as well try to befriend a pack of rabid dogs.

Most political professionals would have advised Republicans, as the state's new majority party, not to turn off voters by overreaching. Instead, they've thrown caution to the wind. They're acting like a holier-than-thou gang of over-the-top ideologues. (Apparently, they can't help themselves; they really are crazy.)

But no worries. Democrats are letting them get away with it.

Ramsey Courts Christian Right
The latest evidence that Ron Ramsey will do anything to win the Republican gubernatorial primary: He's appointing Dr. Kenneth Hill, the owner of a wacky Christian radio station, to the Tennessee Regulatory Authority. What does "Dr." Hill know about regulating the telecommunications and utility industries? Not much, but he does give money to the election campaigns of far-right candidates.

The man who earned his doctorate in religious education from someplace named the Andersonville Baptist Seminary previously served as chairman of the now-closed State of Franklin PAC, which was funded by supreme religious nutcase John Gregory, founder of King Pharmaceuticals of Bristol and benefactor to all the leaders of the state's black helicopter crowd.

Hill also is the father of state Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesboro, who once plastered an ultrasound picture of his fetus-baby on a campaign flyer. On his father's station, he hosts The Matthew Hill Show, plus another program called Bible Buddies. He's also one of several state legislators who think Barack Obama is really a foreigner pretending to be an American.

Anti-crack bill faces legal hurdle
The state Attorney General's office has issued an opinion questioning the constitutionality of the "saggy pants bill." The AG points out that several cities in other states have enacted similar bills, but Tennessee would become the first state to do it. For starters, the opinion says, it seems a little unfair to expect anyone to understand what the bill means when it outlaws wearing pants below the waistline.

Where exactly is your waistline? It's been years since many people have seen theirs. "The proposed legislation is arguably unconstitutionally vague," the AG notes, "because it does not set forth a standard for its violation that may be readily understood."

The potential problems faced by plumbers were omitted from the opinion, leaving them uncertain as to their legal status.

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