binoculars with law books and gavel

Getting Perspective on a Tough Legislative Session

This soon-to-conclude legislative session brings some good news and some bad news for social conservatives. To be honest, it was one of the most stressful sessions in my twenty-four years on the Hill from a social conservative perspective. But I’m trying to keep my perspective rightly balanced.

The Good News Wasn’t Easy

The good news is that several bad ideas didn’t make it. Two of them we worked on and helped make sure they were, in our view, fixed. But it was tough sledding.

Our opposition to the original bills and repeated insistence on changes rankled a few folks, and, to be honest, I’m sure some tired of our steady stream of input. You hate to be a thorn in the side of those you consider friends, but we see our job as representing social conservatives as best we can and getting the job done for them.

The News That Was Hard to Swallow

The bad news is that some good ideas didn’t make it. One, for example, was a bill that would have protected our K-12 public schools from being run over financially by expensive litigation brought by the ACLU and other such groups if they had a policy prohibiting biological males from using the girls’ locker room and shower. It died because no one would second it, even for discussion purposes. Another good bill died because the bill sponsor didn’t show up for the committee meeting to present the bill; he thought an email his office had received had altered the time of the committee meeting.

History Gives Me Some Perspective

Reporting these kinds of things is not pleasant for me, because most of the members of the Legislature I genuinely like and I have been in their shoes. But what I’ve seen over the last two years of this General Assembly reminds me of one of my own experiences. I think it reflects what I’m increasingly seeing.

I was the legislative sponsor of Senate Joint Resolution 127, which became Amendment 1 to the state Constitution. It removed the court-created “right to abortion” from our state Constitution.

Abortion is a touchy political subject, and I was asked by the Senate Speaker not to continue pressing the amendment for a vote in the Senate. I was asked not to do that because the amendment appeared to have no chance of passing in the House. I was told that, by making senators vote on the resolution anyway, I was going to destroy the collegial atmosphere in the Democratically controlled Senate.

That collegiality existed because many Republican leaders had struck a decades-old accord with the Democrats. Republicans would be nice and not get overly partisan, and Democrats would leave them in safe districts and without opposition. It did make for great collegiality, but it also kept Democrats in the majority and Republicans in the minority.

I refused not to push the resolution, not for partisan reasons, but because I thought fighting for the life of the unborn was the right thing to do. In time, Amendment 1 did become a partisan campaign issue, helping Republicans become the majority party, and collegiality in the Senate did wane.

Applying That History to Gain Perspective Today

But it now seems that the situation is reversed. Over the last two years, Republicans seem to have become increasingly preoccupied with maintaining collegiality among the members of their caucus and maintaining their majority status.

That is fine as far as it goes, but it increasingly seems to mean that Republicans shouldn’t ask other Republicans to take hard votes on controversial social issues. After all, those votes could invoke the ire of the LGBT lobby, provoking an economic boycott that would then dry up PAC contributions from large business interests.

The downside for us is that when we report things like this, legislators get mad. Some even refuse to visit with us, thinking that this hurts us. But this is where perspective is needed.

Liberals already accuse Christian social conservatives of being a wing of the Republican Party, and increasingly it seems, some Republicans think that’s what we should be. Therefore, we should never report anything negative about a Republican, and if we do, we’ll be “punished.”

But if our organization or I won’t report the bad with the good, then we deserve the accusations made against us by liberals. I don’t think my job or that of our organization or, for that matter, the job of any Christian is to be a cheerleader for the Republican Party. Rather, it is to strive to be a voice of conscience to all those who hold office as faithful witnesses of the God we serve and be faithful to the policy principles we think align with God’s Word and to those who depend on us to let them know what we really see happening. That is where I believe our loyalty must lie.

If trying to do that job means some politicians don’t like us, then perhaps that means we’re doing our job.

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

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