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


  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.

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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.


  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.

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political roller coaster

My Emotional Roller-Coaster Journey to Election Day

Judgment Day came for a number of political candidates yesterday. Having served in the Legislature for 12 years, I truly appreciate all those who offered themselves for our consideration, and I congratulate the winners. But, I don’t think I’ve ever been more ready for a primary season at the state level to be over. It was an emotional roller coaster for me.

In the final days before the primary election, I began telling people I didn’t know which was worse—being Joe Citizen and having to make decisions based strictly on television and radio ads and campaign mailers or knowing from my 24 years in state politics/government how much of what was being said was over-the-top, misleading, and sometimes downright false. Some of what I saw in the gubernatorial and legislative primaries was despicable, and it angered me, particularly given the Christian profession of some of the candidates involved and that of their campaign advisors.

Avoiding a Political ‘Risk’

On the other hand, it was disappointing, though not surprising, to see how few candidates at the legislative level were willing to answer basic questions regarding LGBT issues. At the gubernatorial level, The Tennessean ran a story on Monday that said, “The candidates [for governor] have largely remained quiet on matters surrounding same-sex marriage, policies affecting transgender people and how they would govern when it comes to legislation impacting the LGBTQ community.”

A long-time political advisor to many of Tennessee’s most prominent politicians said, “It’s a ‘political calculation about the risk involved’ that the Republican candidates have to make when deciding whether to address the issue” of the LGBT policy agenda.

Is Talking About LGBT Issues That ‘Risky’ in Tennessee?

When I read that, I had to ask: Why, in Tennessee, home of so many churches labeled “evangelical” and home to the national and even international headquarters of two prominent evangelical denominations, is it “risky” to talk about these issues?

Is our state really one in which it is “risky” for candidates who profess to be Christians to say to a population that overwhelmingly professes to be Christian at some level that:

  • liberty in our private relations is a foundational value that a government of free people should jealously guard and that behavior—in this case, who one has sex with—is not among the type of things the government should make a “civil right” and thereby give one private citizen the right to sue another private citizen for monetary damages?
  • there are real differences between men and women, and that acknowledging them in our law in regard to matters of privacy and child rearing does not demean either men or women, and it does not do so precisely because of their complementariness and interdependence on each other?
  • marriage is a real thing, though immaterial, not something “invented” by government laws; it is tied to objective biological realities regarding men and women, and it is not therefore discriminatory to say that marital relationships are different in kind from all other types of relationships, no matter how important or meaningful those other relationships might be?

Apparently so, based on the silence of so many and the trepidation of others.

What Campaign Tactics and Silence Tells Me

What the campaign tactics and silence on LGBT policy issues tells me is that we have serious problems within evangelicalism and more broadly within Christianity. The problems are complex and interwoven, but I believe that at their root is an increasingly inadequate doctrine of God among God’s people.

As I’ve written before, evangelical churches are increasingly moving away from doctrinal teaching about God and His sovereign prerogatives as God to a doctrinal approach that exalts personal feeling and experience.

When we don’t know at a truly fundamental, life-changing level what it means to say that God is sovereign, it shows up in practical ways. It shows up in campaigns that rely on emotional manipulation, which is rooted in deception. It shows up in silence and avoidance when it comes to issues of human sexuality and marriage, as my friend John Stonestreet so ably explained on BreakPoint this week.

In other words, this growing doctrinal weakness in evangelical thinking is not just a personal and private matter; it has public consequences.

The Unsettling Conclusion

Abraham Kuyper, an ordained minister and former Prime Minister in the Netherlands at the turn of the 19th century, wrote:

If a people is serious, its government cannot be light-hearted. A people that seeks God cannot be governed unless the [ruler] allows himself to be governed by God’s Word. The spirit of a nation and the spirit of its government may be distinct, but they are not hermetically sealed from one another. They interpenetrate. Thus if a government knows that enacting laws according to the demands of God’s Word will meet with reluctance and resistance, it will be tempted to go astray itself and burn incense before the idols of the day. (emphasis supplied)

If Kuyper’s assessment is true, and I believe it is, then what we’ve experienced this campaign season exposes a form of idolatry that seems widespread among us. And that breaks my heart.

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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Republican gubernatorial candidates (listed alphabetically from left to right): Diane Black, Randy Boyd, Beth Harwell, and Bill Lee wearing the same T-shirt

Summing Up the Republican Gubernatorial Primary

I don’t watch much television for fear it will rot my mind, but I’ve sure heard complaints about all the “negative” television ads and mail pieces paid for by some Republican gubernatorial hopefuls. Whether perceived by voters as negative or not, ads and literature that truthfully point out another candidate’s record provide helpful information. But what I’ve heard from many is that they don’t know what to believe or what to make of the information they’ve been given, so here are some thoughts about some of what I’ve seen and read.

The Bottom Line

First, this thought keeps running through my head: There is none righteous, no not one. Though, as a Christian, I believe that God, by grace alone and by no merit of my own, has imputed to me the righteousness of Christ, I am not righteous in myself and fall short of the mark every day. I fall short of God’s standards individually, as a state senator, and as a lobbyist. The same is true of all the candidates of both parties.

I can give you reasons why you might not want to vote for any one of the Republican gubernatorial candidates, though for some that list might be longer than for others. Saying that might make all the candidates mad at me, except, perhaps, for the candidate who may really fit the following criteria.

Given that no candidate (or person) is perfect, I think we need to be asking ourselves which candidate we think is most likely to:

  • understand that power and authority come from God (Daniel 4:30, 34–37) and not take lightly the fact that they will give an account to God for their political activities and policy decisions (Amos 4:12; Hebrews 12:28–29),
  • fear God more than any person or organization and know that his or her victory (and all future “policy victories”) comes from the Lord, not campaign strategies (1 Samuel 12:24; Proverbs 8:15),
  • keep away the wicked from among his or her circle of advisors (Proverbs 20:8, 25:5),
  • be guided by wise counselors (Proverbs 15:22, 24:6; Exodus 18:21) who know how to help him or her “search out a matter” (Proverbs 25:2) that God may have hidden for only the wise and humble of heart to find (Proverbs 2:4; Matthew 11:25),
  • see and respect, as David did, the hand of the sovereign God in those who oppose him or her (2 Samuel 16:11-12) and look to God for his or her defense, as Moses did with Miriam and Korah (Numbers 12:1–3, 16:1–33), and perhaps most importantly,
  • have a broken and contrite heart and reverse course when confronted by wise counselors about errors in attitudes, actions, and policy judgments (2 Samuel 12:7–13; Psalm 51).

I’d encourage you to read the verses, but those things, I think, reflect a ruler whose heart is one after God’s heart (1 Samuel 13:14), and if it was good enough for God, it should be good enough for us.

Why We Get Negative Ads

Another preliminary thought is this: Judging candidates on the above considerations is hard because very little of what candidates say addresses them. Probably no candidate would perfectly qualify anyway. But as much as we think negative campaigning reflects on a candidate, we need to understand that it also reflects on us, the electorate, because candidates tell us what they think we want or need to know. We get negative campaigns for a reason.

So, as voters going forward, let’s raise the standard by which we judge candidates. If we do, then perhaps candidates will tell us more about themselves and a little less about the other candidates in order to meet our standard.

Given the foregoing, here, then, are some of my thoughts about some of the negative ads (too many to address them all), and they pertain to ads you may be seeing even in state legislative races.

What to Make of the Attack Ads Relative to Trump

There have been many statements by multiple candidates about who really supports President Trump. To be honest, what I’ve seen doesn’t mean a whole lot to me.

First, I don’t think President Trump or his views on anything are the barometer by which any Christian should judge the righteousness or justice of any political policies.

Second, President Trump is dealing with federal issues and not state issues. For example, one can think “building a wall” across the entire U.S.-Mexican border is or is not practical or feasible, and it has little to do, in my opinion, with state banishment of already-banished sanctuary cities or the state providing greater college tuition subsidies for children of illegal immigrants. DACA may be relevant to the latter state issue, but just don’t assume federal issues and state issues make for an apples-to-apples comparison to state issues and draw conclusions that require a leap in logic.

Third, what does “support” for Trump even mean, given that in the Tennessee Republican presidential primary, 392,000 Republicans voted either for Rubio or Cruz and 333,000 voted for Trump?

Since no Republican gubernatorial candidate has been tagged with voting for Clinton over Trump, “support” can only mean trivial, irrelevant things like whether a candidate gave to Trump’s general election or attended his inaugural ball.

Giving Money to Democrats and Trump

What I’ve seen in this regard has been about money given or not given to Democratic candidates and to Trump’s election.

I “get” the response that candidates sometimes give political contributions for business reasons. I know plenty of Christian business owners I respect who give money to candidates based on business considerations. However, political contributions by candidates are relevant to me, but perhaps not for the reason you think.

What Contributions Mean to Me

At one time, I might have seen relatively small amounts given to a Democratic candidate from time to time as a sure sign that the donor’s policy views are moderate. However, I am realizing that a stronger indicator of political moderation is refusing to answer the kinds of controversial social questions we ask, as Beth Harwell, endorsed by two government employee unions, did.1 Now I ask harder questions about contributions, such as whether they are a sign of either naivety in the ways of politics or a sign of pragmatism.

As to the latter, it may come as a shock to many Christians, but pragmatism in the true sense of the word is a worldview. It denies our ability to judge/evaluate things on the basis of absolute truths; instead, it’s just a matter of “what works.” So, the bigger worldview issue for me is this: What might a candidate’s contributions tell me about his or her understanding of stewardship and his or her view of how comprehensive the claims of God are to our lives?

I can make the argument that political contributions for business reasons reflect the degree to which the candidate making them looks to God for economic blessing and favor or to the influence of the politician asking for the contribution or the favor of the business client asking for the contribution. Saying “no” is hard in these situations, but it can reflect the political donor’s willingness to be content with whatever comes from losing human favor if the contribution is not made. These decisions will only get harder after one is elected.

Judging the Contribution Worldview

This is an admittedly hard-line “test” for any candidate (or Christian business owner) at any political level. And it can be difficult to judge or reach a conclusion in this regard for this reason: Such worldview thinking may be new to many Christians and candidates, given the extent to which so many evangelical churches now emphasize a pietism that compartmentalizes public and private values and make doctrine about God less important than feeling and emotion.

Many ministers don’t talk about biblical considerations in connection with voting, let alone how to think through making political contributions, and many of them don’t for fear those topics will result in lost contributions. It’s not surprising that the sheep would go astray if the shepherd doesn’t lead.

Consequently, each person will have to decide how to weigh this factor in view of a candidate’s whole record, but the standard and weight applied to contributions made or not made must be applied to all.


  1. Conversely, providing an answer to our questions doesn’t make one a conservative; the answer is the key.

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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chalkboard and school books with campaign hat

The ‘Stinking Thinking’ of Politicians on Education

Recently, I sat in a meeting with some politicians and couldn’t help but think about what a Christian lawyer discussing religious liberty litigation said a few years ago, “Stupid for Jesus is still stupid.” It has stuck with me ever since. What I’ve heard from some politicians over the past several months is “stinking thinking,” and it would be good to consider how it applies to an issue in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

The Stinking Thinking of Christian Candidates on Education

To lay the groundwork for discussing the gubernatorial primary, I’ll put the concept of stinking thinking in regard to education in the context of a recent exchange among several state legislative candidates arising out of one candidate’s emphasis on children having an education that instills in them Christian ethical/moral values.

I think that candidate was probably thinking of the state providing more educational choices for parents outside of public education, but the context in which the subject was raised probably left some wondering if the candidate thought public schools should teach those values.

Opponents quickly jumped on the point by saying that public schools can’t teach values and that values have to be taught in the home. I think I understand that comment, too—public schools can’t say, “God and the Bible teach us not to steal, kill, or bear false witness.”

But stinking thinking applauds these latter statements without realizing that public schools teach values every day and that they implicitly, if not explicitly, teach some bad values.

The Values Public Schools Teach Every Day

A candidate who says public schools can’t teach students that God does not want us stealing, killing, and bearing false witness is legally correct, but any candidate who would make the more general statement that schools can’t  or don’t teach values doesn’t understand that public schools, in general, teach values all the time. One thing they implicitly teach children is that “values” are private things, not public things. Should we be surprised, then, that so many young adults now think that “values” are private things that should not influence public policy?

Of course, some public schools do teach “character education,” but it is necessarily divorced from God, because to connect those values to any foundation other than practical atheism is viewed as the “establishment” of religion.

Those blinded by stinking thinking don’t understand that this way of teaching values teaches children that “good” values exist apart from a God whose nature is the basis of those values and the authority that makes them binding on us.

This kind of stinking thinking upholds the belief that “we can be good without God,” which is what atheists think. If the child asks why these values are good, the most a public school can do is share the worldview of pragmatism that says these values seem to “work,” which only means they work for most people and at most times. Of course, to say that, in turn, tells the thinking student that those values may not work for him or her and they are not real values that transcend time, place, and cultures. That kind of stinking thinking by a professing Christian candidate is quite a departure from what the Bible actually says is true about fallen humanity.

The Root of Stinking Thinking About Values

In the early ‘60s, I went to a public school that did many things that would subject them to lawsuits, like having a Bible teacher come to class once a week and having students memorize the Christmas story in Luke.

Today, public schools operate on the stinking thinking that education can be value neutral with respect to God. That kind of thinking is impossible. Even the cry of the French Revolution’s atheistic leaders—“No God, No Master”—rested on a religious presupposition.

Once Christians and Christian politicians wake up to the fact that the God revealed in the Bible means necessarily that nothing can be religiously neutral, that everything must be understood in relation to the Creator God, then we’ll begin to make improvements in the education of our children.

Avoid Stinking Thinking on Education in the Republican Gubernatorial Primary

The foregoing relates to what I heard state legislative candidates discussing, but voters need to think about how our gubernatorial candidates talk about public education and what, by implication, they think its purpose is.

Do the ways in which they speak of public education tend to reflect a view that education produces human “widgets” to plug into the economy or an understanding that a good education addresses the whole of the human being?

For example, look at how open they are to allowing parents (and only some or all?) means by which they can minimize the impact of today’s public schools on their children’s values. By this, however, I don’t just mean whether a candidate supports vouchers and charter schools. The real issue is why he or she supports those policies; those policies can still rest on a belief that government, not parents, must be in control of the education of children.

Consider, too, how they think about sex education and parental rights to exempt their children from the teaching of certain materials; parental access to other types of student materials, especially digital and online materials used in the classroom; and parental consent to (or only notice of?) psychological or values testing. Think of where they stand on the “transgender” issues in connection with public school locker rooms and bathrooms. As I explained in a previous commentary, this is a huge worldview indicator; a school’s policy on this issue (and even the absence of such a policy) sends a clear message to students about the nature of human sexuality.

At this link you can click on the name of the leading Republican gubernatorial candidates and access their campaign websites for their views on education and compare, at this link, how they responded to a question about school systems being protected by the state if they refuse to affirm “transgender” ideology that disregards biological realities when it comes to the use of locker rooms and bathrooms.

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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.