10 April 2013

The Greatest Poverty is Resentment

Photo credit Josh Anderson Photography
I've spent one thousand and eight hours in developing countries in Africa, most of that time in Ethiopia. I've wiped snot from the noses of HIV positive children and seen a man who literally lived at the top of a trash heap next to an open sewer. I claim to know something about poverty, and I'm quite proud to say I work for a humanitarian organization made up of thousands of doctors, nurses, social workers, and behavioral health providers serving vulnerable and poor people in communities throughout the country.

I think I know poverty. But 1,008 hours amounts to 12 weeks, and at the end of my work day I can retire to some rest and comfort in my home. I don't know 24 hours of poverty, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, and on and on and on. Just because I bought an iPhone that set me back $500 doesn't mean I know poverty like State Representative Joshua Evans apparently does. While debating a bill about withholding welfare from families whose children perform poorly in school, Representative Evans said, "They at least give the appearance that they care more about their electronics and their cell phone and other things than they do their kids, and I think that’s really unfortunate. Sometimes the only way to get people’s attention is in their pocketbook,” Evans told the committee.

If Josh Evans is seen talking on his cell phone while his children play is he considered a bad father by
his peers? Or because he's not-poor does he get a pass? Are the people who want to punish poor welfare mothers and their children all-knowing when it comes to the work ethic and financial stewardship practices of poor people? Or do these state legislators resent poor people who have the same material things they have?

In America our poor are in our midst. The poor live in the wealthiest counties and cities. Sometimes they have some of the same material wealth as I do - nice cars, cell phones, televisions, and jewelry. Companies often target poor people with advertising for cheaper cell phones, because they like the allure of having stature with a tech purchase. Poor people aren't dumb either. They know that buying a smartphone serves a dual purpose as phone and computer. Similarly, if you can't afford a mortgage why wouldn't you buy a nice car with more readily available credit? Who wouldn't want to escape the projects into a leather-lined SUV?

I might not know much about poor people, but I know something about middle and lower class white guys in the South. It's easy to lump all poor people into a few stereotypes of lazy, entitled individuals living off the hard work and taxes of other people. It's easy to resent others, especially if your only experience with that other person was waiting in line at the grocery store and they might not be as considerate or as great as you are. The challenge for Tennessee lawmakers debating this festering turd of legislation is to set aside an hour or two frustrated by some experience among Tennessee's poor. They could be real statesmen and stateswomen if they stopped resenting others and represented them. The poor are all around us. They are also the people who make Tennessee the place it is today despite their economic well being. The Tennessee Republican Party should work to help them make this state even greater and oppose this bill.

16 January 2013

Clear Eyes and Vision

In politics, the same as in life, situations change rather quickly and it is often difficult to have clear eyes for what is truly in the best interest of a party such as ours.  As a candidate for Tennessee Democratic Party Chair I have argued that I am ready to listen, ready to lead, and prepared to fix some of the things many of us so desperately want to change about our party. I believe I can accomplish that best by achieving some measure of party unity and by serving as your next Treasurer. I hope you will support me in this endeavor.

I will approach the position with the same enthusiasm and commitment I have always had for our party. I will not be sitting on the sidelines, but I will be actively involved in our strength building. I will help raise the money we need to compete. I will oversee party expenditures and hold us to a higher standard than ever before. And I will remain a vocal advocate of Democratic values and principles in Tennessee.

What has changed in the race for TNDP Chair is the debate over which direction our party should now turn. We are fortunate to have many  candidates, and I will work with whomever you see fit to elect. Please allow me, however, the chance to state the case for Dave Garrison.

Dave has spent considerable time thinking about the party rather than the politics of this race. With clear eyes and vision, he knows what must occur every step of the way for the next two years. He has provided a thoughtful framework to operate our party, created state and national ties, and shown considerable ability to bring people together. He has supported our party in good times and in bad, like so many of you. Dave Garrison is more than capable of serving our candidates, our campaigns, and our party. I am excited to work alongside him, and I am excited for the unity we represent.

I humbly ask for your support for TNDP Treasurer, and please consider Dave Garrison as your next TNDP Chair.

11 December 2012

Exchange We Can Believe In

Governor Bill Haslam caved to the far right wing of his party over the decision for Tennessee to set up a state-based health insurance exchange. He says federal government can't do for Tennesseans that which we can do for ourselves, and yet he's going to allow the federal government to set up our exchange for us anyways. He is becoming a case study in self-contradiction. It is no more comforting that the ones making up his mind antagonize the same government that encourages free market principles by creating this health exchange. During a holiday season of giving, they bemoan the idea of limited government that helps the most vulnerable, and expensive, people in society. If you want government out of YOUR life, then couldn't you achieve that by having government involved in the lives of others less fortunate? But that's more about Medicaid expansion.

The federal government is willing to set up a health exchange for us, and we should be thrilled to accept it. If left to the legislature in this state, then the health insurance exchange could just as easily serve as the list of companies who contributed the most to Republican candidates in the last election.

Not so long ago Tennessee was a land of barefoot farmers and outhouses, and then Tennesseans' lives were transformed by a federal project that brought rural electricity. That big government project saved a lot of lives, improved our prospects for lengthened life, and improved the lives of future generations. There's a statue in downtown Nashville that shows a TVA man standing watch over an impoverished family, a single mother and her children. In those days, the federal government was concerned with the quaint notion of life, liberty, and the pursuit of indoor plumbing because, let's face it, dysentery isn't a way to happiness.

The decision not to set up a state-based health exchange for Republican Bill Haslam was a political calculation, another weak response to an established conservative legislature that doesn't need to respond to the interests of the supermajority of Tennesseans that elected them. Instead, they and their governor are content to divine what's best for their careers by sticking their thumbs in the political winds to see which way it blows. Unfortunately, most of us in this state are standing downwind.

13 November 2012

Before Tennessee Turns Blue

"Genius never makes a mistake. All mistakes are volitional and are portals of discovery." -James Joyce
"War is God's way of teaching Americans geography." -Ambrose Bierce

What the Tennessee Democratic Party learns from the 2012 elections will prove our viability as a state party and whether or not our collective heads together constitute the genius required to persuade a few hundred thousand of our friends that we need new stateswomen and statesmen in the US Senate, the Governor's Mansion, and a whole mess of new legislators.

In other Republican states like Texas, Democrats may start winning soon on account of the growing Latino population as described in this lengthy article, but Tennessee won't experience anything of the sort. Gerrymandered districts will provide a clear advantage for Republicans over the next decade. Geography, like a slowly changing demographic, will not achieve statewide victories for Democrats anytime soon either. So, what do we have going for us?

Republicans argue over gun rights that aren't being threatened, tax hikes that aren't being proposed, and education funding that is disappearing before our eyes. Let's invite Tennesseans to our side of history while Republicans continue living inside their own delusions. We have dreams of a free and public education that is fully funded and supported. We require that responsible legislators are open to compromise and not the inflexibility mandated by tax pledges and silly demands from lobbyists. And we believe that every working woman and man deserves a decent wage, the right to organize, and the freedom to get ahead in this economy.

The one thing we can change over the next two years will be how Tennesseans respond to the message of the Tennessee Democratic Party ... if we have one. I'm running for Tennessee Democratic Party Chair because our priority must be getting the talk right in Tennessee. Starting in January, let the next legislative session be a lesson for all of us. Tennessee needs more Democrats.