Why So Much Political Corruption?

The root of political corruption lies in something we’ve forgotten about in this age of “separation of church and state.”

This year Tennessee had the “distinction” of being named the most corrupt state politically in the nation. Sadly, when you think about all the corruption in government today, that puts us in some pretty high cotton, as the saying goes.

Just last week a Memphis City Council member was indicted. Why does there seem to be such a spirit of corruption in government? What about politics turns so many apparently good people into arrogant, power-hungry, special-interest-serving politicians? There are probably lots of answers, but there may be one we’ve overlooked. And I hope we don’t forget to look for it in the candidates we will be voting for.

Certainly, one answer could be that power, prominence, position and reputation are just corrupting influences that wear even the best of us down. But I submit that the root of it all is pride. And pride tends to swell because of something we’ve forgotten about in this age of “separation of church and state.” It’s something every politician would do well to remember every day he or she holds office.

What will be the spirit of the person you vote for on November 2nd?

Election Day Resources to Keep You in the Know

If you’re tired of liberal network news coverage, you can watch family-friendly election night analysis live at www.FACTn.org at 9 p.m. EDT (8 p.m. CDT) on Tuesday, Nov. 2.

Tomorrow is Election Day. Soon the television and radio airwaves will revert to normal. We’ll stop getting so many political mailers. While all that “stuff” can be very tiresome, it seems a bit like Christmas—we tire of Christmas music and advertisements that start before Halloween, but we still can’t wait to see what’s under the tree. Well, I’m sure there are lots of folks who will be anxiously awaiting the results, not just in Tennessee, but around the country. Here are some things that will help you enjoy the big day.

On Election Day our website, www.FACTn.org, will have all the information on the latest results in state and federal races from around the state. And if you’re tired of the liberal media analysis, then we have just the thing for you. Through our website, you will be able to get a live, video-streaming analysis of all the races around the country from a family-friendly, Christian perspective through our association with Focus on the Family. Focus has kept up on the key, family-friendly races in the nation, including the contentious U.S. Senate race in Nevada between Sharron Angle and Harry Reid. The broadcast via live video-streaming on the web will begin at 9:00 p.m. Eastern/8:00 p.m. Central.

Aborting the ‘I’m Pro-life’ Deception

In Tennessee there are a lot of procedural skirmishes that take place before a pro-life bill ever passes. And those skirmishes tell you more about if a candidate really is pro-life or is just claiming to be “pro-life.”

In Tennessee it’s not uncommon for candidates from every party to say they are “pro-life.” That’s good. But it is also meaningless. Find out why.

The reason the mere statement, “I’m pro-life,” is meaningless is because there are a lot of procedural skirmishes that take place before a pro-life bill ever passes. And those skirmishes tell you more about where a candidate stands on the issue of life than any self-serving statement.

SJR 127 Passed Only After a Great Struggle

Without a doubt, the most important pro-life piece of legislation over the last eight years has been Senate Joint Resolution 127. SJR 127 is a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would allow voters to decide if abortion should be a fundamental right in our state Constitution. Back in 2001, the Tennessee Supreme Court, without the consent of the people, created a state constitutional right to abortion. And SJR 127 is intended to give you, the people, a say in that matter.

After this election, the legislature will have to vote on whether to put this on the ballot for you to vote on. Two-thirds of the legislators will have to vote to put it on the ballot. But this pending vote didn’t come without a great struggle.

For seven years, SJR 127 would pass the Senate and then die in a pro-choice stacked House subcommittee. But in the last legislative session, in 2009, SJR 127 finally got to the House and Senate floor and passed the first of the two times required by the Constitution for an amendment to get on the ballot. The vote on the “second time” will come after this upcoming election. That’s why it’s important to know who says they are pro-life and who is unreservedly pro-life.

Simply Voting for SJR 127 Isn’t Enough

You cannot tell simply by asking if your legislative candidates will vote for SJR 127. You cannot tell simply because the incumbent said he or she voted for SJR 127 back in 2009. All that is good and it’s good to know, but it doesn’t tell you everything you need to know.

For example, in 2008, an attempt was made by Rep. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) to bring SJR 127 straight to the House floor for an up or down vote after it had failed yet again in subcommittee. There were four procedural votes trying to kill Rep. Dunn’s effort before he ever got a straight up or down vote on whether to bring SJR 127 to the floor. Even though the procedural efforts were killed (with the help of all Republicans and six stalwart pro-life Democrats) the ultimate vote on whether to have a floor vote failed 55 to 40. Even though there was a majority, because the Resolution had failed in the subcommittee, Rep. Dunn had to get a two-thirds vote (66 votes).

The Real Proof Is How They Voted on Amendment 2

Then in 2009, when SJR 127 finally got to the House floor for a straight up or down vote, there was an attempt to add an amendment (House Amendment 2) that no pro-life organization in Tennessee supported. It was essentially a corrected version of an alternative proposal known as HJR 061 by Rep. Fincher (D-Cookeville). Fortunately, the pro-life legislators voted to table Amendment 2, killing it. However, those who voted “no” on the motion to table were obviously interested in keeping the debate on Amendment 2 going for some reason. So you really need to ask an incumbent legislator if he or she voted for or against the motion to table House Amendment 2. Those Republicans and Democrats who voted “yes” are unreservedly pro-life.

That being said, you will find some incumbents who will tell you that House Amendment No. 2 is also pro-life. So, rather than argue about it, like kids on a school-yard playground, I’ll just let the foremost legal expert in America on state constitutional rights to abortion, Paul Linton, Esquire, tell you what he thinks of HJR 061 that was the basis for the amendment that was offered (or see the text of his full remarks):

Now I would likely to address briefly HJR 61. … It should be immediately apparent that HJR 61 would enshrine abortion as an express right under the state constitution, something that no other State has done or, to my knowledge, has even contemplated doing. HJR 61 is objectionable on several grounds.

First, it would require public funding of abortion in circumstances not required by either the federal constitution (rape, incest and health of the mother) or the current version of the Hyde Amendment (health of the mother). [Editor’s note: In the interest of integrity and fair reporting, this provision was changed by the sponsor of the amendment that was later offered on the House floor by Rep. Gary Odom (D-Nashville).]

Second, it would codify the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in Sundquist and permanently deny the General Assembly any flexibility in determining whether and under what circumstances abortions for rape, incest and the health of the mother should be allowed in the event Roe v. Wade is overruled. Moreover, even with respect to the mandated exceptions for rape and incest, the language of HRJ 61 does not, by its terms, allow the State to require that the rape or incest be reported to the proper authorities.

As a consequence, HJR 61 could prevent the State from discovering the perpetrator in circumstances when rape or incest has occurred and in detecting false claims of either.

Third, by employing undefined terms–rape, incest, health of the mother–HJR 61 would confer on state courts, not the state legislature, the power to determine what constitutes “rape,” “incest” or “health of the mother.” Conferring such power on the courts is particularly troublesome with respect to the “health” exception that would be mandated by HJR 61. The Supreme Court has given an extremely broad reading to the term “health” in the abortion context….

A constitutional amendment that would mandate an undefined “health” exception would probably be interpreted by the state supreme court to allow abortions in virtually all circumstances, including an abortion sought for the “mental health” of the woman. Mental health exceptions to abortion statutes were widely abused before Roe v. Wade was decided, and most likely would be abused if Roe were overruled and the issue of abortion were returned to the States. HJR 61 should be rejected. [Center for Women v. Knoll, 61 F.3d 170 (3d Cir. 1995). Similarly, if HJR 61 were adopted (and Roe were overruled), the Tennessee Supreme Court could hold that a reporting requirement was not authorized by the amendment and, therefore, could not be imposed as a condition of obtaining an abortion in cases of rape or incest.] (Emphasis has been added.)

In other words, HJR 061 and House Amendment No. 2 would actually have written into our state Constitution a virtually unlimited right to abortion that no other state in America has or has even contemplated trying to put in their constitution.

While not knowing where legislators stand on judicial elections could hurt you, not knowing where your legislator stands on these behind the scene pro-life skirmishes could kill somebody.

Judging the Upcoming Elections

Accountability is the “in” thing during this election season, but the Judiciary is one branch of Tennessee government that is almost completely unaccountable to anyone.

The economy. Education. Healthcare. Three issues that every candidate of every party says they are going to “fix” if elected. But judging from what I see, candidates aren’t talking about another issue they can fix, and for sure some of them don’t want to talk about it. And most Tennesseans don’t even know about it.

What I’m talking about is the Tennessee Judiciary. Yes, we need to hold our legislators accountable. Accountability is the “in” thing during this election season, but the Judiciary is one branch of Tennessee government that is almost completely unaccountable to anyone.

In Tennessee, Judges Are Not Really Elected

Most Tennesseans know that the judges on our Tennessee Courts of Appeal and Supreme Court aren’t really elected. Even though our state Constitution says the “Judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state,” our politicians have said an “election” means an appointed panel of people who make recommendations for Supreme Court justices to the Governor who then appoints one of the persons recommended. Sure doesn’t sound like an election to me. That may also help explain why, when you see judges on the ballot, you know absolutely nothing about them.

Anyway, some legislators (the ones who don’t want to talk about this issue) fall back on the fact that there is a yes-no “retention election” a year or so after a Justice is appointed to the Court. If you believe that back in 1870 when our state Constitution was adopted that the people thought this was an “election,” then you’ll also believe that politicians can fix everything that ails America. No one had ever heard of a retention election at the time. It couldn’t have been what they meant. But I digress.

Those legislators who hold to “appointment and retention” as a form of “election,” will tell you that the state’s Supreme Court said it was OK. As Gomer Pyle would have said, “Surprise. Surprise. Surprise.” Can you imagine we’d get such a decision? Why, I’m sure a fox would also tell us that one of those invisible fences we use for our dogs will keep him out of the henhouse, too.

But that court decision isn’t really that important. Here’s why. Just because the Supreme Court has said its members don’t really have to be elected doesn’t mean that legislators have to have appointment and retention elections. There is no Supreme Court decision requiring appointment and retention elections or forbidding real elections. In other words, there is nothing that prevents legislators from reading the Constitution themselves and saying, “No thanks. The Constitution calls for an election, and that’s what I’m going to vote for—a real election process.”

Why Can’t We Elect Our Judges?

So, why doesn’t a bill calling for a real election ever get to the floor of the House and Senate for an up or down vote? Why doesn’t a proposed constitutional amendment clarifying what the Constitution means ever get to the floor for an up or down vote? Because any such legislation would have to come through the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, that’s why. And those committees have a number of lawyers on them, and those lawyers are hesitant to raise the ire of the judges before whom they practice.

However, I don’t know that I blame the lawyers on the committee, particularly since it came out in the last week that the entity of state government that investigates unethical and inappropriate conduct by judges is as dysfunctional and unaccountable as the U.S. Congress (actually, we might just be able to hold our Congressmen accountable, but not our judges). That entity is called the Court of the Judiciary, a group of mostly judges who decide if judges have done anything wrong. Is it just me, or is it beginning to look like an absence of judicial accountability at any level yet?

In a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, lawyers and litigants went on for seven hours recounting horror stories about bias and inappropriate conduct by judges that were given short shrift by the Court of the Judiciary. And everything the Court of the Judiciary does is in secret—off the record. Worse yet, some lawyers testified that lawyers were afraid to file a complaint about a judge because nothing would be done and the judge would then take it out on them and their clients for having complained. Perhaps that helps explain why lawyers on the House and Senate Judiciary committees don’t want to vote for a bill that judges won’t like.

Folks, this is a sad situation for the already tottering notion of democratic self-government. (I know we’re not a democracy, but the people do vote for those who will govern them, so please no e-mails on a democracy vs. republic. We’re a republic.)

Unelected Judges Can Produce Dangerous Consequences

We already have a state Supreme Court that has created from thin air a right to abortion in our state Constitution. How nice that this pro-life state is one of only 16 states in the nation with a so-called “right to abortion” in their state constitution. And you never got a chance to vote on whether abortion should be a state constitutional right. No democratic form of self-governing there.

The nation is now seeing in Iowa and in California the consequences of an unaccountable judiciary. Iowa’s Supreme Court, “elected” in much the same way our Supreme Court is “elected,” gave their state homosexual marriage as a constitutional right. What might our state Supreme Court give Tennessee next?

I close with saying that in 2008 the state House and Senate did get a chance to vote on whether to have real elections or to continue with the current appointment and retention election process. But most folks don’t know that because the vote wasn’t on a judicial elections bill that you could go research and find. Rather, supporters of constitutionally required “real” elections tried to put an amendment onto another bill. But the amendment was voted down.

You probably never even knew there had been a vote on judicial elections for which you can hold an incumbent accountable.

And what you don’t know can hurt you.

Board of Regents Brew Strong Drink for the Tennessee TEA Party

The hiring of John Morgan as Chancellor of the Board of Regents is a perfect example of the kind of thing that is driving the TEA Party movement across America—political insiders bending the rules to help their buddies at the expense of taxpayers.

This Wednesday TEA for the November TEA Party will start simmering when the Tennessee Senate Education Committee holds a hearing regarding recent actions taken by the Board of Regents with respect to the hiring of its new Chancellor, John Morgan. The Board of Regents is the state agency that oversees the largest number of institutions of higher education and students in Tennessee (the University of Tennessee system is smaller in comparison). But recent revelations will make the brew even stronger.

To begin with, the hiring of Mr. Morgan is a perfect example of the kind of thing that is driving the TEA Party movement across America—political insiders bending the rules to help their buddies at the expense of taxpayers. It is not that John Morgan is a bad person. It’s not even an issue of whether he’s capable of heading the largest higher education system in Tennessee and sixth largest in the nation. That is not the issue.

The issue arises out of the fact that John Morgan, for all intents and purposes, has been a very well paid career state employee who recently found himself in need of a job. After being removed from his politically appointed position as Comptroller of the State when Republicans took control of the legislature in 2010, he was hired by the Governor to work in his administration. Fair enough. Working for the Governor is again a purely political appointment. But with the Governor term limited and leaving office next January, Mr. Morgan again found himself without a job.

There is no doubt that, with his experience, he could have found a job in the private sector doing something. If nothing else, he could have taught governmental accounting at some university in Tennessee. How many people know that subject better from the inside out than Mr. Morgan? Of course, that job might not result in a salary comparable to what he was used to making. But, in this economy, it would be job, which is more than 10 percent of Tennesseans can say about themselves.

So, in what appears to be a clear effort to help out Mr. Morgan, the Democratic-controlled Board of Regents rewrites the qualifications for being Chancellor of the Board of Regents in a way that just so happens to match the resume of Mr. Morgan, a Democrat. (Hear me: Had the Republicans done the same thing, it would be just as much cronyism!) The changes were not technical, but substantially substantive.

Then the Board made a very limited effort to seek applications for the job (about 6 or 7 people even applied), didn’t look outside the state, and interviewed only one candidate—Mr. Morgan. Then they hired him.

Of course, in a very tight economy, with cuts in higher education, and a potential employee who really needs a job, it only makes sense that along with lowering the qualifications for the job, the Board of Regents would increase the compensation for the position by $80,000, from $305,000 to $385,000! Imagine what we taxpayers will have to pay if, in future days, someone comes along that meets the older, higher requirements that Mr. Morgan couldn’t meet. Surely they will want even more.

But Wait—There’s More

This is ridiculous and the height of political insider dealing to protect a political buddy, and to do so at increased expense to the taxpayer only makes it worse. But the Board of Regents just put another “bag” in the pot of “TEA” brewing in Tennessee. Recent revelations have only made the brew stronger and are sure to increase the thirst of those coming to the TEA Party in November.

It has now come to light that the rules governing employment within the Board of Regents were also bent when it came to hiring another career political appointee who found himself needing a job. Dale Sims was the state Treasurer until 2010 when, like Morgan, he was replaced by Republicans after the 2010 election. Political appointees understand that political changes lead to employment changes—sort of the political parallel to “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword.”

So, Mr. Sims found himself needing a really good paying job. And no doubt, as a former Treasurer for the state, he could have found a good job at some investment firm or bank or university.

But no. The outgoing Chancellor for the Board of Regents wanted to hire him as Chief of Finance for the Board of Regents. But the Chancellor didn’t want to have to go through the normal Board of Regents’ requirement for advertising the job for at least 30 days or the requirement that minority candidates be considered (Mr. Sims is not a minority).

So, the lawyer for the Board of Regents told the Chancellor there was a provision in the rules that allowed hiring procedures to be modified “as circumstances warrant.” The lawyer then explained that because “it is unlikely that a search would produce a more qualified candidate” and because a national search would be “very expensive,” Mr. Sims could be hired. And so he was without the Chancellor advertising the job opening, posting the job internally, or interviewing anyone else.

Somehow I don’t find comfort in having a rule to prevent backroom dealing if it can be circumvented because there might not be a person more qualified than the person you want to hire. And how expensive is it to put a notice out among even existing faculty and staff that there is an opening? Email or posting something on the college websites isn’t that expensive if you haven’t had to cut the funding for Internet service.

I, for one, am tired of these kinds of things by people in politics at the expense of my pocketbook. I work too hard for my money for the Board of Regents to play fast and loose with it. And I hope students understand that this kind of stuff drives their college tuition up, too.

I hope the strong brew the Board of Regents has served up for TEA Party crowd in our state will be enough to send a message to Democrats and Republicans alike—stop the cronyism, backroom insider deals, and disregard for our hard-earned money. The rule in politics should be, “Avoid even the appearance of impropriety.” After all, there is no reservoir of public trust for politicians and political appointees to draw on when they do these kinds of things.