published Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Cook: Opening the door for education

In a week or so, state Sen. Todd Gardenhire plans to introduce legislation that will take some political bravery. His bill deals with a politically emotional topic -- the kind we yell at the TV about -- and is not necessarily along party lines. It may not even be the most popular idea -- at least just yet -- among his constituents.

"This won't benefit Todd Gardenhire one bit," he said Monday.

So why do it? Who does benefit?

"Kids," he said.

Gardenhire, wonderfully, is becoming a leading legislator regarding Tennessee's education policy. He recently introduced a bill that would allow born-in-America-children of illegal immigrants to qualify for in-state college tuition at a public college.

"I've got 18,000 Latino households in my district," he said. "On Saturday at 5 p.m., go down here to the East Lake Community Center and you'll find classes going on. ... It's packed out. These kids want an education. It's amazing what they want and what we won't give them."

His next bill is even more transformative. It's the same idea -- in-state tuition at a public college -- with one change.

"Anybody that is not a Tennessee resident, a U.S. citizen or not," said Gardenhire. "If they've gone to school here for five years, I say let them go ahead and pay in-state tuition."

You may not be a U.S. citizen.

Your parents may be undocumented immigrants.

But as long as you can prove you've been in Tennessee schools for five years, and you can maintain a GPA worthy of a Hope Scholarship, then the price tag for college becomes a reasonable, instead of out-of-reach, out-of-state tuition.

"Anybody," he said.

Gardenhire's philosophy has two planks. The first is economic: as a sales-tax state, we grow when people spend more. And having more college-educated students increases the spending in the state. And from a sales-tax-perspective, immigrants -- undocumented or not -- are contributing just like everyone else.

"They're paying sales tax," he said. "They're being taxed without representation."

Forget the right-wrong argument on immigration. Just view it as an economic issue.

Not long ago, Gardenhire studied a Heritage Foundation graph that illustrates how much money that citizens without high school degrees cost the government. His bill would reverse the negative drain by increasing the number of college students who not only contribute socially but financially as well.

"If you move them up that spectrum and get them educated they become a positive cash flow into the system," Gardenhire said.

Offering in-state tuition creaks open the door for a more perfect Tennessee. Like Bush's compassionate conservatism, this bill would hold students responsible -- you have to maintain a respectable GPA -- while also being merciful: College becomes a real possibility. It honors what we hold dear in America.

"They want to get ahead. They want to pay taxes. They want to become mainstream. And we're not letting them," he said. "I don't think that is right. That's not the way I was raised."

Gardenhire, who traces part of his heritage to the Cherokee Nation, said a foundational moment came during his childhood when his dad gave him a copy of "The Education of Little Tree."

The book -- its author became a source of great controversy in recent years -- would influence the young Gardenhire in ways no other book ever would.

"That book really set the tone of how I feel on these issues," he said. "[The protagonist] got all kind of stuff heaped on him. That touched me. I see a chance to do something about it and I'm going to do it."

The bill reminds us of the power of good legislation. More kids would reach college, which trickles down into the maturation and financial stability of our own society. It's forward-leaning, seeking to positively respond to the negatives surrounding immigration issues.

And it's fair.

"Only in North Korea do we punish families for what the father did," he said. "We don't do that here in America."

And the kids who would benefit from this bill?

"They didn't do anything wrong," he said.

What a lesson.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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soakya said...

Its so unpopular even Gardenhire admits 56% of his constituents disapprove of it. But he's taking a page from this presidents playbook and ignoring the will of those he represents. Where's their representation?

"They're paying sales tax," he said. "They're being taxed without representation."-Gardenhire There's a reason for that Todd, they chose to come here illegally, they're violating the law. Legal citizens get representation.

""They want to get ahead. They want to pay taxes. They want to become mainstream. And we're not letting them," he said. "I don't think that is right. That's not the way I was raised."-Gardenhire. That's not the way you were raised? Well, let me ask you one question Todd and you can chime in to David. How have you personally financially helped one person illegally here be able to afford a college education? I am willing to bet neither of you have contributed one dime to help an illegal immigrant to afford a college education. Progressives push government and taxes as the solution and then they get warm, fuzzy feelings that make them feel good. When either of you can show me you spent your own money to help just one illegal immigrant attend college I will believe you.

Gardenhire is just another politician telling us what "fair" is. Its not about how you "feel" Todd. We didn't see you to Nashville to legislate your feelings, you were sent to represent us.

February 19, 2014 at 8:22 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

"Forget the right-wrong argument on immigration. Just view it as an economic issue."

It's too bad that we can't look at more issues in this way. Maybe then we would see more positive action taking place. But not only do we view everything as a right-wrong argument but a right-left argument as well.

Conservatives are always accusing liberals of being altruistic and placing bleeding-heart compassion above practicality and common sense. But it is much more than compassion that is at the root of our thinking. We believe that providing things like education, health care, and economic safety nets are humane, yes, but we also see them as practical economic issues. To do so might mean we pay more up-front but the rewards on the back-end would be immeasurable, in terms of a healthy, educated, prosperous society. We do not believe in hand-outs so much as hand-ups.

Conservatives on the whole seem to be more inclined to focus on blaming and punishing individuals or groups for their shortcomings and "sins" and treating the symptoms rather than the causes. They fail or simply refuse to see the big picture. It's part of the same philosophy that has created this corporate-fascist state we live in today, where immediate, short-term profits take precedence over what is humane or practical for the long term.

If being practical is a large part of what constitutes conservatism, then we libs are actually the true conservatives, thinking not just about surviving in the present but creating a society that is able to flourish in the future. Simply cutting benefits, refusing to provide access to education and health care for all citizens regardless of income or status, and ceasing to spend money NOW might mean an immediate savings but it doesn't necessarily translate into savings down the road. On the contrary it almost always costs more later, to fix the things that we refused to fix in the present.

February 19, 2014 at 2:10 p.m.
soakya said...

I don't think any conservative would ever accuse any progressive of being altruistic. Giving away what doesn't belong to you isn't considered altruistic.

The problem with progressives is they always view the "economic issue" from the side of the receiver. Sure its great for them but there is another economic side to the equation, those who have to pay. You can't take from one group and give to another at no cost.

February 19, 2014 at 2:52 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

For as long as there have been societies with any form of government at its core there has been taxation, and there most likely always will be taxation. It has been a commonly accepted way of keeping the wheels of government and society running smoothly. Today's neo-cons like to call taxation "stealing" or "taking" from one group to give to another. And you keep making this argument, despite the fact that taxes today in this country are much lower than they have been at almost any time past.

During the 50s and early 60s, when the rich were taxed at 91%, Republican Dwight Eisenhower defended that tax rate, claiming that it generated much needed revenue, and few conservatives at that time were referring to taxes in general as "stealing" from one group to give to another.

Soakya, the ideology of individual freedom that you and your likeminded neo-cons espouse is akin to an adolescent's egotism in thinking the entire universe revolves around him or her alone. Like I said before, you fail to see the big picture and naively think that if left completely alone the free market and all of society's problems will miraculously take care of themselves. Ain't gonna happen. Things would only degenerate into a dystopian society, far worse than they are now. There will always be a need for government and we will always have taxes. Right now we have a government and a tax rate that serve the interests of the few at the top and ignore or even punish those at the bottom. We need to reverse that and realign things so that our government serves the interests of the many, not the few, and our taxes go towards programs that benefit those who need it most.

BTW, I don't know what rock you keep your head buried under, but we libs are always being referred to as altruistic, but not in a good way, rather the foolish "bleeding heart" way. Ayn Rand and her worshipful followers have had a way of turning even a word like altruism into something negative.

February 19, 2014 at 3:57 p.m.
soakya said...

bleeding heart= giving with other peoples money not yours. giving your own money =altruistic.

February 19, 2014 at 5:06 p.m.
Rickaroo said...

You have no idea of the amount of money I give to others so just shut up about that, thank you. You are making some very broad, unfounded generalizations about which you know nothing. Most libs I know give every bit as generously as conservatives. If conservatives give more it's only because they tend to give more to their churches.

But charitable giving can only go so far. The many ills of our society run far deeper than what churches, charitable organizations, and individuals can give. We have more riches in this country than any other country on earth. It is unconscionable that we live in a land where so few have so much and so many have so little. Just because most liberals believe that a restructuring is needed and we believe in a government that is vital and pro-active, existing for the common good, doesn't mean that we don't also give individually in whatever ways we can.

Now, I've had my say and I stand by it. I'm not going to waste any more time with you here. We are going to disagree no matter what and I've had enough of butting heads for one day.

February 19, 2014 at 5:31 p.m.
soakya said...

past your bedtime roo. momma said eat your cookies and go to sleep you got a busy day at preschool tomorrow.

February 19, 2014 at 5:59 p.m.
johnboy said...

I guess I can go enroll my son at the Autonomous University of Mexico City and get free tuition. Right?, Right? Oh, yeah, Mexico isn't bound to reciprocity. Speaking of which, check out THEIR immigration laws. Those Mexicans are just teabagging bigots. How dare they declare that:

-Only Mexicans by birth or naturalization and Mexican companies have the right to acquire ownership of lands, waters, and their appurtenances, or to obtain concessions for the exploitation of mines or of waters. - Display of a foreign flag is illegal. -The state can distribute immigrants around the country, so as to keep an ethnic group from concentrating. -- Foreigners are admitted into Mexico “according to their possibilities of contributing to national progress.” (Article 32) - Immigration officials must “ensure” that “immigrants will be useful elements for the country and that they have the necessary funds for their sustenance” and for their dependents. (Article 34) - Foreigners may be barred from the country if their presence upsets “the equilibrium of the national demographics,” when foreigners are deemed detrimental to “economic or national interests,” when they do not behave like good citizens in their own country, when they have broken Mexican laws, and when “they are not found to be physically or mentally healthy.” (Article 37) - The Secretary of Governance may “suspend or prohibit the admission of foreigners when he determines it to be in the national interest.” (Article 38).

Those right-wing Mexicans! How dare they!

February 19, 2014 at 7:53 p.m.
Ki said...

johnboy, I don't recall Mexico ever representing itself as a beacon for immigrants, inviting and encouraging migration from other countries, the way America has for centuries.

February 20, 2014 at 7:54 p.m.
soakya said...

a beacon for legal immigration right ki.

February 20, 2014 at 11:17 p.m.
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