Legislators' rhetoric over education still is heated

Legislators' rhetoric over education still is heated

March 11th, 2011 by Andy Sher in News

NASHVILLE-Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's bipartisan call for lawmakers to tone down their harsh exchanges over education and the Tennessee Education Association seems to be falling on deaf ears.

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who last week charged that Democrats are "bought and paid for by the unions," on Thursday blasted Democratic leaders, saying their language is "getting out of hand."

"When we saw [House Democratic Caucus Chairman] Mike Turner standing up on the Capitol last week and calling us terrorists because we're trying to get a quality teacher in every classroom, that has crossed the line," Ramsey told reporters.

The speaker also accused Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester of calling "us fascists because we passed a bill that simply says you don't have to be a member of the [teachers] union to serve on the Tennessee Consolidated Retirement system.

"So has the rhetoric gotten out of hand on the other side? Absolutely," Ramsey said.

Turner last week spoke before a Nashville rally of at least 2,000 teachers and allies protesting efforts by Ramsey and other Republican leaders to repeal mandatory collective bargaining for teachers.

The Democrat asked Republican Haslam, who is neutral on the repeal legislation, to "please stop this terrorism against our teachers."

Forrester last week issued an e-mail appeal to Democrats to attend last Saturday's rally on behalf of teachers.

"Make no mistake about it, this is a political attack on teachers for supporting democratic leaders who have stood up for education in our state," the e-mail said. "If passed, these fascist measures will silence the voice of teachers working to improve our schools, communities and our state.

Neither Forrester nor Turner is backing off.

"Terrorism's a political term," Turner said earlier this week. "If you look it up, it's violence or intimidation for political purposes. You don't think they're trying to intimidate the teachers for supporting Democrats? That's what this is about."

Forrester said GOP "efforts to strip teachers of collective bargaining is extremist." He charged that Republicans are pushing "a whole ream of extremist bills," singling out for ridicule a resolution from Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, of Murfreesboro, that calls for a legislative study on whether to create a Tennessee currency in case of a Federal Reserve meltdown.

"That's right-wing conspiracy talk," Forrester said.

Haslam on Tuesday said he is concerned there has "been more of a partisan divide" in the Legislature "which I don't think is healthy for solving problems."