Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles nailed it when he accused Bill Lee of “indecisiveness and half measures” in response to the multi-faceted attack by Democrats on our Constitutional rights and liberties.
Like Lee, too many Republicans in Tennessee’s General Assembly also sidestep concerns voiced by the conservative base of the state’s GOP.
Republican leadership in Florida should be the measuring stick by which Tennessee conservatives judge Tennessee’s governor, House and Senate members. Tennessee’s elected spend a lot of air time crowing about their conservative credentials but come up short when it comes to action. DeSantis and his fellow travelers don’t need to talk about their conservative principles; they simply show it through action.
Bill Lee has wiffled and waffled around COVID issues, failing time and again to articulate an informed and educated understanding of the state’s exclusive Constitutional authority to assert and protect our rights. He would do well to take a lesson from DeSantis and learn about federalism and state’s rights which DeSantis asserts with forceful clarity:
“…So, the states are the primary vehicles to protect people’s freedoms, their health, their safety,
their welfare in our constitutional system.”
Bill Lee chose inaction in response to Biden’s unconstitutional vaccine mandate. Nor did he call a special session to enable the legislature to act. Despite Speaker Sexton’s urging to convene a special session, Lee, with the backing of Establishcan Lt. Governor McNally, continued to refuse. Fortunately, Sexton didn’t back down and instead, flexed the muscle responsible for getting a COVID special session on the calendar.
The final COVID omnibus bill is pretty typical of what comes out of the General Assembly. Legislators caved to big business and private companies with mask mandates and vaccine mandates for certain healthcare workers and other employees of institutions which receive federal funding, leaving these workers at the mercy of a deranged federal government. “The new law allows employers, private businesses, schools, and state and local governmental entities to apply to the state comptroller for exemption from the requirements of the statute if compliance would result in a loss of federal funding.” If granted, an exemption means that vaccine and mask mandates can be enforced. Fifty-seven Republicans and one Democrat voted in favor of the final bill (including the House member who called vaccine mandate supporters “medical Nazis”); eight Republicans voted no and two Republicans abstained.
In stark contrast, DeSantis timely used the full scope of his authority, worked in concert with his legislators to protect Floridians from COVID mandates, and made it clear that fundamental Constitutional rights must never concede to the megalomania of Washington politicians.
DeSantis exemplifies the type of leader Tennessee desperately needs.
The very same pattern of political nonfeasance by Tennessee’s elected has played out on immigration issues.
It’s a known fact that Republican Reps. Bob Ramsey and Patsy Hazelwood, the legislature’s top “Tennessee Last” lawmakers, want to protect illegal aliens who commit crimes in Tennessee, (Tennessee’s Worst Pro-Illegal Immigration GOP State Legislators), which is why they would not support passing the sanctuary city bill in 2018. Of course, neither did Haslam who was governor at the time and who refused to support the bill letting it go into law without his signature.
One month after reneging on his campaign promises related to illegal immigration, Haslam said that immigration is a federal issue and has little to nothing to do with being a governor. During his campaign Bill Lee also tried to convince voters that he was hawkish on illegal immigration. In reality, Lee’s sole pushback on Biden’s open border and policies incentivizing illegal immigration, has been to sign a letter with other governors requesting a meeting with Biden. Lee’s signature on the letter is at best, a meaningless gesture since unlike other signers, he’s done nothing to attack the problem in Tennessee.
In stark, predictable contrast, DeSantis issued a comprehensive executive order to attack illegal immigration to his state with a named official responsible for enforcing the order, and his Attorney General filed suit against the Biden administration. Included in DeSantis’ EO, is a provision addressing the granting of licenses to facilities housing unaccompanied alien minors (UACs) who are, defined in U.S. law, as illegal aliens.
When Haslam tried to bluff his way out of knowing that UACs were being delivered to Tennessee, immigration and refugee advocates questioned his pretended non-knowledge – “[t]he unaccompanied minors have been placed into Tennessee households with approved “sponsors” — typically their own families and relatives — as has been happening for years….’[u]naccompanied minors have been coming into the U.S. for years and years and years,’ said Holly Johnson, state refugee coordinator for the Tennessee Office of Refugees.”
More recently when the arrival of UACs to Chattanooga was made public, state Sen. Todd Gardenhire who knew where they were being housed, expressed his own surprise that other Tennessee elected officials claimed not to know. The fact that Tennessee’s DCS had licensed the Chattanooga facility and Bethany Christian Services (which authored an oped about their services to UACs in Tennessee), knowing that both had contracts with the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement to provide services to UACs, raises serious questions about Bill Lee’s knowledge around the issue.
After lots of political theater and multiple meetings, members of the misnamed Joint Study Committee on Refugees plan on issuing a report based on their findings. They may also propose legislation. Two “highlights” of the last meeting should be noted. First, Catholic Charities of East TN which is known to provide services to UACs arriving to Tennessee was asked to appear and speak with the committee, but failed to show up. Second, during this last meeting, both Sen. Richard Briggs and Rep. Ryan Williams went to great lengths to minimize the role of Bethany Christian Services which provides foster care services to arriving UACs despite testimony about the virtues of facilitating illegal immigration to the state.
Add to this that committee member Sen. Todd Gardenhire has pushed for more illegal immigration to Tennessee and has sponsored bills to reward those who violate the law. Rep. Chris Todd was the sole committee member that accurately noted that an agency like Bethany Christian which is licensed by the state but has a contract with the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement to provide services to UACs was facilitating illegal immigration.
There are plenty of other Republican members in the Tennessee General Assembly who are too willing to claim that immigration, legal and illegal, is exclusively for the federal government to handle. Center for Immigration Studies Policy Director Jessica Vaughn strenuously disagrees and has provided a detailed roadmap for state and local action on legal and illegal immigration which also includes suggestions for states on refugee resettlement.
Since the Tennessee legislature gifted $7.3 million dollars to Catholic Charities of Tennessee to enable the leftist organization to expand their infrastructure into ten new counties, the legislature should consider putting some meaningful guardrails on that money. Regardless, that money, which CCTN said is the single largest grant they have ever received, will free up the agency’s other funds to serve their work with legal immigrants like refugees and illegal aliens.
Bill Lee’s position on wanting more refugee arrivals to Tennessee is well known. His weak and unrealistic position regarding Afghan arrivals is centered on acceptable vetting but is nothing more than a political smokescreen. And as par for the course, his supposed opposition is not backed up with any articulated plan to act in the best interests of the state.
In 2020, the Nashville government issued a report documenting that 31,000 illegal aliens are living and working in Davidson County. That same year the Center for Migration Studies estimated that in 41,200 legal immigrants and 66,900 illegal aliens are working in Tennessee “often at great risk to their health and lives – to keep Americans safe, healthy, fed and poised for economic recovery.”
These reports are clear indicators that the state has a robust base and state-wide infrastructure of organizations support illegal immigration to the state and it is reasonable to assume that with Biden’s open border and other policies incentivizing illegal immigration, the numbers in Tennessee have increased.
Add to this that the Biden administration is working to more firmly embed and expand Obama’s unconstitutional DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals) program. Despite being an overt unconstitutional exercise by Washington bureaucrats, Tennessee legislators like Todd Gardenhire and Mark White, have over the years, worked to try and pass legislation supporting this program.
At one point in time, Tennessee’s Attorney General Herb Slatery joined the coalition of states challenging the DACA program but after meeting with TIRRC, the gang leader of organizations pushing illegal immigration in Tennessee, Slatery withdrew the state from the litigation. Instead, he chose to advocate for amnesty for illegal aliens. This is the same Attorney General who refused to assert the state’s Tenth Amendment position with regard to refugee resettlement. In other words, this Attorney General appears to also believe that immigration is solely a matter of federal control.
Compassion should never be far from our collective consciousness, but neither should the rule of law and its fundamental importance to an ordered society, especially when the issues are grounded in the Constitution. Even if Republicans in Congress achieve a majority in either or both chambers, there will be no trickle down in policy which addresses the challenges faced by conservative voices in the direction Tennessee is heading. This problem demands that individuals get involved at all levels of state government and stop giving a pass to those in office who continue to work against conservative principles.