Photo ofBill Lee and a man writing notes

An Open Letter to Governor-Elect Bill Lee About His Advisors

Bill, congratulations on your election as our state’s next governor. I followed with great interest both the primary and the general election in which you ran. Our political stories are remarkably similar in some respects, and I hope you will find this particular thought most helpful going forward.

Our political experiences are similar in a number of ways. I was a political outsider and it was clear to voters that I professed to be a Christian. But there is a particular similarity that leads to this bit of advice.

You’ve been quoted as saying that you were speaking one evening with your wife, Maria, about the need to respond to the advertisements that had begun to attack your political views. Her comment was, “I don’t think you should go down that road.”

Her advice became the tagline of the television ad that was your response. I remember watching it and calling my wife to say, “I just saw Bill’s response to the ads running against him, and I think it won the election for him.”

But the reason I find your story about Maria so compelling is that within four months of my election, in my very first legislative session, I was confronted with a huge local issue that, for its success, required enabling legislation at the state level. Every prominent member of my community called me in support of the legislation.

Technically, the legislation would not have violated any of my campaign promises, but it sure violated the spirit of one of them. It would have allowed local governments to do what I said I would not do. I agonized over what to do and whether I could somehow rationalize supporting the legislation because I would not be committing a direct and immediate violation of my campaign promise.

So, I did what you did. I went to my best friend and confidant, the person on earth I trusted most to be “for” me, my wife. I do not say that to demean my parents and their support for me. I thank God for their support since birth. But Linda had chosen to make a vow to me before God that transcended biological kinship relations and, at that point, she best knew who I then was at my core and why I had run in the first place.

I explained to her how I could technically vote for the legislation and then told her the names of those who had called me and how, as the politically and financially powerful people of our community, they were in a position to make or break me in my next election.

She listened, and then said, “I don’t remember the names of any of the people you mentioned supporting your campaign.”

I said, “Well, you’re right. They didn’t.”

Then, according to Proverbs 27:6, she most graciously and kindly gave me that “wound” which only the most faithful friend is willing to give, not for my hurt, but for my good: “Well, you won didn’t you? Just do what you think is the right thing.”

That settled it. She was right. Before God, I would not do indirectly what I had promised not to do directly.

I voted no. I also never had a political opponent during my second and third reelection campaigns.

Bill, over the next few weeks, you will be filling your cabinet and deciding who will be on your personal staff. These people will be very important, but I would remind you of what Solomon said, “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain” (Proverbs 31:10-11 NKJV).

So, this is my advice: When your supporters, financial and otherwise, would pull and tug you into opposing irreconcilable positions or a member of your cabinet and staff recommends something that causes a hesitancy in your spirit, go to Maria.

She was given to you by God and she has already proven her worth in rubies is far greater than any kind of contribution anyone made to your campaign or will make to your success in office.

And, by the way, Maria, I’m praying for you, too.

year-end 2018

If you enjoyed this commentary, give your special year-end gift to FACT today to help us fight for God’s design for marriage and families, life, and religious liberty for Tennesseans.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

handshake

Working Across What Aisle?

Now that the election is over, the question in the minds of many is whether those elected are willing to “work across the aisle” with each other. Will Trump and Pelosi work across the aisle to govern? At his very first press conference, Governor-elect Bill Lee was asked if he would have any Democrats in his administration. But what is required if political partisans are to “work across the aisle”?

During a meeting I had last Friday with a group of African-American pastors, I had a concrete, demonstrable experience that crystallized for me my growing understanding that there is a different, more important, and significant “aisle” that will have to be crossed if we’re going to see work across partisan political aisles.

Finding a Unifying Political Topic

Because I was the only Caucasian invited to speak at this meeting and had held office as a Republican, I decided to talk to this group of black pastors about something I thought might unite us.

Consequently, I focused on why the United States Supreme Court’s decision on marriage, Obergefell v. Hodges, was the most important political and policy issue in the country and, more specifically, why it was actually worse for the black community than the Court’s Dred Scott decision.

I explained to them that, in Scott, the Court had only decided the meaning of the word “citizen” in the U.S. Constitution and had excluded blacks from citizenship. But when the Obergefell majority said that biological, sexual differences were no longer relevant to the one societal institution that had been anchored in that difference, it had effectively held that, as a matter of constitutional law, human beings do not bear the image of God that God said was reflected in the fact He made us male and female (Genesis 1:27).

Obergefell, I told them, was not as much the resolution of a legal issue—the meaning of the word “citizen” in a legal document—as it was an ontological, anthropological statement about the very nature of what it means to be human, in other words, what it means to be a “being” who is human as distinguished from other forms of being, such as animals.

The import of Obergefell became clear when I reminded them that many at the time of the Scott decision viewed blacks as non-citizens because they viewed blacks as something less than fully human.

The pastors to whom I spoke understood that erasing the image of God necessarily meant erasing the God in whose image we were made and that when God and the image of God were far enough removed from our memory, then slavery of some men by a majority of other men was justifiable.

Bishop Matthews Leaps the Aisle

With that as the setting, Vincent Matthews then got up to speak. Matthews is a bishop within the largest predominately black Pentecostal denomination in the country. He is in charge of his denomination’s Family Life Campaign throughout the world.

Bishop Matthews began by saying that in my explanation of Obergefell, I was “talking more black” than most black politicians, and then he launched into the issue of abortion and the devastation it was wreaking on the survival of the black community.

Bishop Matthews concluded by reaching across partisan aisles with this amazing statement (paraphrased from what I heard):

I will never vote for a politician that supports abortion. When people try to tell me how much help some pro-choice politicians bring back to the black community, I tell them that killing our people does not help our community.

The First Aisle We Must Work Across

In my remarks, I had told the pastors that the biblical line of demarcation between people, the real divide, lies not in skin color or party label but elsewhere.

The Bible tells us that God divides humanity by race in the only sense that matters to Him. The first race is composed of those who are only natural descendants of the first Adam, who God originally created. The second are those who are part of the new “race” descended from the Second Adam, Jesus, the God-man, by virtue of having been born again by the Spirit of God. (See 1 Peter 2:9, 1 Corinthians 15:45–47, John1:12–13.)

That is why Bishop Matthews and I were able to reach across the partisan political aisle on two fundamentally important and divisive “political issues.” We believe the really great and fundamental divide among human beings has been bridged by and a basis for unity has been found in the God-man, Jesus, who we both acknowledge as the only true Sovereign to whom all, including politicians and political parties, owe allegiance (Ephesians 1:20–21; Revelation 1:5).

When that basis for unity and that allegiance become more important than partisan unity and allegiance, when the proclamation and advance of the Kingdom headed by Christ are more important than touting and building a partisan community, and when His Word becomes the foundation for our policy “platform,” then we’ll find the problem of working across the political aisle greatly ameliorated. I look forward to that day.

year-end 2018

If you enjoyed this commentary, give your special year-end gift to FACT today to help us fight for God’s design for marriage and families, life, and religious liberty for Tennesseans.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

Pittsburgh synagogue shooting: Governor Wolf gives remarks regarding Pittsburgh shooting and participates in vigil

Getting the Right Policy Prescription for Gun Attacks

I’ve never written on gun violence since it’s really outside the immediate purview of the issues dealt with by the organization I lead. But given the latest attack on a group of people and the growing frequency of such attacks, I think it’s time to say something. We need to get straight a bit of reality that few on either side of the political aisle or the general public want to talk about.

Every shooting prompts a call for Congress to do something to stop the madness. The NRA rightly says that guns don’t kill people, people do. Gun control activists rightly note that guns often get in the hands of crazy people.

Could different public policies, not just on guns but any number of things, make a difference? Perhaps. But we first have to get to the reality behind the shootings, their cause, before we decide what policy might best work within the milieu of other individual rights and duties and the powers and limitations on power given civil government that all have to be considered.

Any ‘Solution’ Must Consider the Cause

In that regard, I suggest we consider what was said by Jesus, who many non-Christians and even some despisers of Christianity describe as a great moral teacher: “From within, out of the heart of men, proceed . . . murders,” whether of a single individual or multiple individuals at one time (Mark 7:21 NKJV).

The context of His statement, though, is what makes it so important to the policy debate.

Jesus said this to His disciples about the “policies” of the scribes and Pharisees, who approached life through a detailed set of rules designed to avoid doing what was wrong in God’s sight. They built up rules (or policies) around rules in order not to get too close to violating the main rule actually prescribed to them under the Mosaic Law.

They were well-intentioned. But Jesus was telling His disciples that the problem of murder (and all other wrongs) is not something external to us and, therefore, not anything that can really be solved by anything external to us, such as various “policy rules” built upon “policy rules” to avoid defilement.

It wasn’t that a heart desirous of avoiding defilement was wrong, but the Pharisees had lost sight of the fact that it was the heart that was itself wrong. That is the reality neither we nor the politicians nor even many Christians in the pews or pulpits want to talk about.

Taking the ‘Cause’ Down to Its Real Root

More specifically, the reason the desires of our hearts are wrong is not because we’re anti-Semitic, or anti-homosexual, or anti-anyone-who-doesn’t-look-or-think-like-us, but because we’re anti-God.

The Apostle Paul said it this way and, for those who prefer the “New Testament Jesus” to the Old Testament God, note that what follows is a string of quotes from the Old Testament:

There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one. Their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:10-12, 15-18 NKJV).

That doesn’t sound very nice, but it is what both the Old and New Testament Scriptures say about our natural human condition.

The First Law We Need to Consider and Deal With

As a consequence of our alienation from God, we also despise and look for ways around the clear law of God, not delight in that law as Jesus did.

This is important because we have to understand that if God created us and we, as a society composed of individuals, are alienated from our Creator and despise our Creator’s law for us, then we can’t help but be alienated from one another.

In fact, that’s exactly what Jesus meant when He said that when “lawlessness,” clearly referring to disregard of the only true law, the law of God coming from God, marks a society, “the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12 NKJV).

Cold-hearted murders—like those we’ve witnessed time and again—are, as the description implies, a symptom of the heart that’s against God and His law that no external “policy” of civil government can even begin to address.

That’s because what needs fixing is not outside us any more than it has been since Adam’s sin alienated the whole human race from God and Cain killed Abel.

More laws external to us won’t lead to the reconciliation of the heart that we need in order to be reconciled with each other.

Instead, we first need to be reconciled to God. That happens when a person’s human condition is changed by being joined to the God-man, Jesus, in whose sinless humanity that human condition was restored. Through that joinder, we will then find a growing delight in the law of the God who made and restored us. That, in turn, will allow us to love others—those toward whom we’ve directed murderous attitudes, if not weapons—as God would have us love (2 Corinthians 5:17-20).

Soon we’ll celebrate the coming to earth of the God-man, Jesus. According to the angel’s proclamation to the shepherds, it is through Him that there can be peace on earth, goodwill among men.

He is the one “policy” we need most. That’s why I’m praying that the heart of the Christmas message becomes very real for many hearts this year.

year-end 2018

If you enjoyed this commentary, give your special year-end gift to FACT today to help us fight for God’s design for marriage and families, life, and religious liberty for Tennesseans.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

Can One Issue Really Define the U.S. Senate Election?

I don’t think about how I vote the same way I did before I got into politics 24 years ago, because now I know too much how the legislative process works once a candidate is elected. That knowledge is important to me. For all the policy differences between Congressman Blackburn and Phil Bredesen, it seems to me that there is only one issue that should matter to everyone, Democrat and Republican alike.

Before I got elected, I thought the life/abortion issue was the issue. I thought that if a candidate got the issue of life and abortion wrong, that indicated a worldview that would lead to erroneous judgments on other policy issues.

Why ‘One Issue’ Voting Can Trip You Up

Then, after I got elected, I realized that the thinking of most legislators winds up going all over the place. They don’t apply their worldview very consistently. Consequently, I realized that I could no longer assume one issue was a window into a candidate’s thinking and worldview.

The life issue is still very important to me, but at this point, I realize there are a number of other issues that reflect a legislator’s view of what it means to be human that are also of very great importance to me.

Why ‘One Issue’ Voting Matters This Time

But, for me, the U.S. Senate race is different. Regardless of your policy views about taxes, guns, health care, life/abortion, immigration, or border security, there is only one issue to consider when it comes to deciding whether to vote for Congressman Blackburn or Phil Bredesen, and that’s for one simple reason: Whoever controls the U.S. Senate will have a very slim majority.

That may sound crazy, but here is what I mean. As long as the arcane procedural rule that allows 40 of the 100 U.S. senators to prevent the majority party in the Senate from acting on legislation still exists, then no legislation on any of these policy issues is going to become law.

All the legislative issues that really divide the two parties are basically irrelevant when it comes to the Senate. The whole Senate won’t even get to vote on them because of that rule.

That’s not to say that rule can’t be abandoned, but I don’t see either party doing so. That rule protects too many senators from both parties from being routinely forced into voting on legislation they don’t want to vote on. The rule allows both parties to protect vulnerable incumbents.

What Is the ‘One Issue’ in This Race?

But, the one issue on which a bare majority of the Senate can force an up or down floor vote is the confirmation of federal judges, including potentially one or two more justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. That is the one issue that is sure to matter.

If you don’t think that issue matters, particularly when it comes to judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, then you haven’t been paying attention.

You may be one of those people who still thinks the separation of powers doctrine you were taught in eighth-grade civics class prevents federal judges from making law and effectively rewriting state or federal statutes to “enact” new policies. If so, then think again.

Today, too many federal judges apply that doctrine only when they want it to apply. Too many think (and are actually taught in law school) that if good public policy needs an “assist” for the judiciary, then it is their duty to provide that assist. The Obamacare decision allowing the statutory words “state exchanges” to actually mean “state or federal exchanges” is an example of rewriting a statute, and the Obergefell decision is an example of rewriting the U.S. Constitution and disregarding the principle of federalism.

Why That ‘One Issue’ Matters in This Race

Some voters may think Bredesen will be his own person and decide for himself who he will confirm on a case-by-case basis, but if you think that, then you need to read what I said last week about how party caucuses have ways of punishing those who don’t toe the party line.

But more than that, if Tennessee’s open Senate seat becomes the 51st Democratic seat, then Chuck Schumer will become the Senate leader. You’re just flat wrong if you think Bredesen’s vote for someone else as the Democratic leader (within the Democratic caucus) matters; it doesn’t! By rule, there is no vote for “Senate leader” among the full Senate; the leader of the majority party’s caucus is the Senate leader.

So, for Bredesen to say he won’t vote for Schumer as leader is meaningless at best and dishonest at worst.

Schumer as Senate leader means his lieutenants (people who think the way he does and who share his methodologies) will lead the all-important Senate committees. And if that’s the case, expect Kavanaugh-type search-the-distant-past-to-destroy-a-person hearings to become the norm for every federal judge President Trump might nominate.

Because I fully expect that nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals will be the only substantive votes of a partisan nature that the next U.S. Senate will make, because I know Blackburn will be under no pressure to vote for Chuck Schumer for leader, and because I know for sure what kind of judges she would vote to confirm, I don’t have to think too hard about how I plan to vote.1

NOTES

  1. The views expressed herein are solely my own as an individual voting citizen and do not reflect the views of the organization by which I am employed or necessarily reflect the views of its board of directors. If anyone would like to hear Congressman Blackburn express her views herself, she will be speaking at an open-to-the-public event in Chattanooga this Saturday, October 27, at 3:00 p.m. ET. The location is East Ridge Motors, 5330 Ringgold Road, East Ridge, TN 37412.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

a photo of Phil Bredesen from 2007, Phil Bredesen sticker, Democrat donkey

Don’t Cast a Naive Vote for U.S. Senate

One thing I know from 12 years in the Tennessee Senate and another 12 years trying to work with the General Assembly is party politics and how it affects what legislators do. So, with early voting starting this week and a hotly contested U.S. Senate race on the ballot, here’s what I have to say to those who say to me or to you, “I vote for the person.”

Let me be straight up: I really don’t like party politics. To me, it’s a necessary evil. I identify as Republican because the totality of that party’s policy positions offends my conscience less than identifying as a Democrat with its policy positions.1

I don’t like party politics because I’ve experienced it as a person who ran against an incumbent, establishment Republican; as a member of a party’s legislative caucus; and as a lobbyist who has been tromped on by party leaders and had legislation be met with stony silence in committee rooms by legislators who were afraid to buck their leaders.

So, I tell you this from experience: Feel free to vote for who you want without considering the candidate’s party, but don’t think party politics will not come into play if your chosen candidate gets elected.

And for the following reasons, I don’t think Phil Bredesen will be an exception.

My Background With Bredesen

I served in the state Senate during the first four years Bredesen was governor. I have no strong feelings about him personally one way or the other. I found him a thoughtful person in regard to a number of matters.

In fact, I suspect his demeanor and air of thoughtfulness, along with some of the policy positions he took as governor and some he did not take, might lead some voters to believe he will be the breath of fresh air and independent spirit that he talks about on television.

But my thought is that voters should not make too much out of what he did as governor.

‘Reforming’ TennCare Proves Nothing to Me

Yes, Bredesen, once elected governor, did cut tens of thousands of people from the TennCare program, our state’s Medicaid expansion program, and there were some Democrats who were mad at him about that. But let’s put that supposed display of party “independence” in context.

Bredesen was elected after four years of nasty tax fights in the state Legislature. It was an awful four years, and I lived through the whole thing. But a few months before Bredesen was first elected, then House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh forced the House to vote on a personal income tax.

As an alternative to an income tax, the Legislature, in the spring/summer of 2002, passed a 1% sales tax increase and adjusted some other taxes to provide somewhere over $700 million in new revenue for the next governor to work with, Bredesen as it turned out.

But what Democratic leaders found out during the 2002 legislative session is that even the majority of Democratic party voters (at least at that time) hated the income tax. In November’s elections that followed, Democrats got a better dose of reality when their incumbents who voted for the income tax began to pay the price at the polls.

Unfortunately, TennCare’s appetite for money continued unabated following the legislative session and election cycle. So, despite the influx of new revenue, Bredesen was left with only two ways to “fix” TennCare: cut the rolls or pass an income tax either to supplement the sales tax increase or to replace and supplement the sales tax increase.

Given the political bloodbath that had just preceded him, the only thing Bredesen could do was cut TennCare. That is why the Democratically-controlled House and Senate did not resist his efforts to do so. They knew what the real alternative was!

So, don’t be fooled into thinking Bredesen’s “reform” of TennCare is some kind of evidence that he’s willing to make hard decisions that buck his own party. His party leaders didn’t want another push for an income tax and, in a few years, the prior push cost them the majority in both chambers of the state Legislature.

Bredesen Didn’t Push Divisive Social Issues

Some may think Bredesen is “safe” because he won’t be too bad on social issues like abortion and making one’s sexual activities a protected civil right. Some may even think he’ll protect religious liberty. They most likely think that because he didn’t make a big deal of these issues as governor.

Again, don’t assume too much.

During the first four years Bredesen was governor, he didn’t have to deal with any of these issues because the Jimmy Naifeh-led Democratic majority in the House killed anything that social conservatives were for. So, Bredesen never had to dirty his hands on those things. Never had to address them or veto them.

His last four years, Republicans had a slim numerical majority in the House, but quasi-Republican Speaker Kent Williams made sure two of those four years were “bi-partisan,” meaning he treated the Democrats who elected him speaker well. Committees were evenly balance and nothing controversial could still get through to Bredesen.

And remember, prolife legislation was largely off the board because the Tennessee Supreme Court had made legislation on that topic taboo under the state’s constitution.

Concluding Thoughts—The Viciousness of Party Politics

You can reject what I’ve just said, but don’t ever think that the Democratic Party and its leaders in the U.S. Senate won’t do everything in their power to put Bredesen in their hip pocket and make him toe the party line. His asserted independence and seeming disinterest in divisive social issues will not last long, if at all.

For 24 years I’ve seen how caucus leaders in both parties can punish those who are not loyal. It’s very real here in Tennessee, and I have no doubt it’s much worse in D.C.

You’ve been forewarned. Vote wisely, not naively.

NOTES

  1. For an entertaining take on Republicans from a conservative Christian viewpoint, check out Stupid Elephant Tricks: The Other Progressive Party’s War on Christianity by a friend of mine.

David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.