Political Pendulum Predicted to Swing Left by Rep. Clemmons

Political pendulum predicted to swing left by Rep. Clemmons

Murfreesboro Post by Sam Stockard - Freshman state Rep.John Ray Clemmonstold local Democrats the "pendulum" is swinging back toward their party because Republicans are legislating under a cloud of fear.

At a holiday party for the Rutherford County Democratic Party at the home of former state Rep. Mary Ann Eckles, Clemmons, a Nashville Democrat, said he needs help from people statewide to send more Democrats to Nashville.

Clemmons said his friends on the Republican side of the aisle are afraid to be seen with him.

"They are under strict orders, or so I am told, not to be seen talking with me or any of my colleagues," he told the group. "They're not to be seen fraternizing with us or even going out and talking. Now that's not how you get business done for Tennesseans. You work together. You reach across the aisle. That's the way things have always gotten done."

A prime example of the failure to make anything happen is the logjam of traffic on I-24 to Murfreesboro, said Clemmons, who hails from Shop Springs outside Lebanon.

He pointed out Republican state Sen. Bill Ketron recently said he would not vote for a gas tax increase until 2017, skipping 2016, even though Tennessee has a backlog of $6 billion to $8 billion worth of road projects the state has committed to make but without approving the funding.

"It's an election year, and we know that," Clemmons said. "But we're not up there to get re-elected. We're up there to serve the people of Tennessee and pass good legislation."

Clemmons pointed out Gov. Bill Haslam traveled the state on a listening tour this year about potentially raising fuel taxes to create more revenue for road and bridge construction but hasn't shown the leadership to push for an increase.

Insure Tennessee, a proposal by Haslam to provide market-based insurance coverage with federal funding to roughly 280,000 people in an insurance coverage gap, should be the state's No. 1 priority, Clemmons said.

"They go without access to quality, affordable health care. And there's just one reason they still don't have access to quality affordable health care, and that is because of politics. And that's because Republicans are scared of their own shadow," Clemmons said.

Lawmakers' constituents support Insure Tennessee, which would inject at least $1 billion into the state for coverage alone, based on an agreement with the federal government to use tax dollars Tennesseans have paid through the Affordable Care Act.

The proposal failed in special and regular session Senate committee votes this year and never received a vote in the House.

"We find ourselves, as Democrats, pushing a Republican governor's plan, because he won't do it himself. We ask ourselves why he would come up with this plan that people generally support in large numbers and then not ask a single member for their vote," he said.

Too many legislators are afraid to support the measure, worried someone will "parachute" into their district with unlimited, out-of-state dollars and defeat them in a primary election, he said.

"You don't legislate out of fear," he said. "You legislate with the interests of your constituents in mind."

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizen United case "opened the floodgates" for campaign contributions with no limits, poisoning the system, he said.

"It's probably the No. 1 threat to our republic and our form of democracy today," he said.

Clemmons warned women they are under attack by Republican lawmakers and pointed out he was one of the few House members who stood against efforts designed to make it more difficult for women to have safe and affordable abortions.

Working with state Sen. Lee Harris of Memphis, Clemmons also spent a great deal of time this summer battling the governor's proposals to privatize state government. Everything from state parks to prisons and universities is under consideration, although vendors lost interest in managing facilities at start parks because they felt the Legislature wouldn't provide the backing, he said.