NASHVILLE -- Tennessee's new state AFL-CIO president, state Rep. Gary Moore, D-Joelton, is shrugging off a top Republican official's charge that his new job poses a legislative conflict.
"They're going to say what they're going to say, and I'm going to do what I'm going to do," Moore said of criticism by Tennessee Republican Party Chairman. "I'm going to do my best to move the organization forward and try to unite labor and get us all moving in the same direction."
Moore, 62, was elected head of the state's largest labor association this month at the state AFL-CIO's biennial convention in Nashville. A Nashville Fire Department captain and president of the Nashville Firefighters Union, Moore succeeds Jerry Lee, who had held the post since 2003 but did not seek re-election.
Devaney said Moore's post "is a matter of him not really representing the citizens of his district and really representing a labor union."
"The bottom line is this is not like being president of the Mickey Mouse Club," Devaney said. "I think he needs to make a decision. Does he want to be a lobbyist and represent the AFL-CIO or represent his district? I think that's his choice."
Moore said Devaney is "entitled to say anything he wants. That doesn't make it right."
"I am president of the Tennessee AFL-CIO, and I was president of the firefighters and did a good job, in my opinion, of representing the constituents in the district and separating the two," Moore said. "And I can do that as well as AFL-CIO president."
He's retiring from the Nashville Fire Department and stepping down next month as firefighters union president but said he will continue the policies he followed in that post.
That means he won't personally lobby colleagues on labor bills nor sponsor such legislation, Moore said. State AFL-CIO political director A.J. Starling will continue lobbying for the organization, and the union may hire a contract lobbyist.
But Moore said he will continue to speak out on legislation during committee or floor debate.
He doesn't think the dual role will be too much. After all, he said, being a state lawmaker is a part-time job, and most legislators have other full-time work.
He noted that Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, is an auctioneer. House Republican Caucus Chairman Debra Maggart, of Hendersonville, is executive director of Community Outreach Making Partnerships at Sumner Schools, which works with the Sumner County school board.
And House Health and Human Resources Committee Chairman Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, is a physician, Moore pointed out.
"Are they representing all their respective organizations or their constituents?" Moore asked. "The same thing could be said of them. You can go across to the Democrats and say the same thing."
By the Book
The Tennessee General Assembly's members are lawyers, insurance agents, attorneys, bankers and businessmen and others who sponsor legislation that affects their interests. Their rule of thumb is a lawmaker should not sponsor legislation benefiting him or her alone.
Tennessee Common Cause Chairman Dick Williams, whose group advocates for tougher campaign finance and ethics laws, said Moore "should keep the distinction between labor lobbyist and representative."
"But handling administrative things and working with the union per se shouldn't be a conflict," Williams said. "I don't know that he needs to recuse himself on anything."
Moore has sometimes been a fierce advocate on workers' issues. When Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, pushed a U.S. Chamber of Commerce-initiated bill that declared harassment and intimidation by "union and employee organizations" a crime, Moore attacked the bill during committee debate.
Saying he has been a union member for 31 years, Moore said, "I'm not a thug. I don't use intimidation tactics. I've not used fraud. And again I think I'll be voting against this bill because I think it singles out unions."
The bill stalled on the House floor and was sent back to committee.
Moore said last week that labor unions in Tennessee, a right to work state, and the nation have lost considerable ground in recent years.
"I don't need to tell you how many labor people we've lost through jobs being shipped overseas," Moore said. "So our numbers are down. We will work to build those numbers back up."
Moore said he has "no doubt" that "the attack on labor" will continue.
"We've got to do a better job of educating the public. Let them know that labor's not the enemy, that we're not the reason for the recession."