Tensions flare in Tennessee General Assembly

Tensions flare in Tennessee General Assembly

March 26th, 2011 by Andy Sher in News

Relations between majority Republicans and minority Democrats in the Tennessee House of Representatives are a little on edge these days.

The latest example came Thursday when House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, of Nashville, took aim at Rep. Glen Casada, R-College Grove, and one of a series of Casada bills targeting the Tennessee Education Association.

Complaining about what he called anti-union legislation, Turner vowed that "one day there will be a day of reckoning."

That later drew a rebuke from Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, who complained such "bullying" did not belong in House debates.

Later, both men headed out of the chamber for some heated discussion, but tempers eventually settled down.

Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, who has had his own moments with Turner, took it in stride, alluding to Democrats' loss of 14 seats in last fall's elections and the GOP's huge 64-34 dominance in the House (there is one independent).

He said Democrats are "very frustrated" from their November losses.

"They're not used to having to actually consult with us, and they're certainly not used to being outvoted," McCormick said.

"Those tensions are flying pretty high right now, and it's understandable, but I think they'll get used to it," he said.

Frist tiptoes through collective bargaining

Asked this week for his views on collective bargaining for teachers, former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist trod carefully through a churning debate among top state Republicans.

Gov. Bill Haslam and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who is the Senate speaker, are at odds over the issue. Haslam favors scaling back teachers' collective bargaining rights. Ramsey is pushing for full repeal.

In remarks to reporters, which were videotaped by www.tn.report.com, the Republican Frist said collective bargaining "is clearly in the way of some of the reforms."

"Let's speak generically about collective bargaining because I think it's important that teachers have [an] important voice, that that voice be listened to, rewarded, that it be a profession like any other profession," he said.

But Frist said collective bargaining can go too far. He specifically mentioned the idea of maintaining a "short school year" of eight or nine months compared to countries like Japan and China, where school years are usually about 10 months long.

"Collective bargaining in the aggregate sense can hold back, can put restrictions, can be a burden and a barrier to educating students well as we compare ourselves to people around the world," Frist said.

In Tennessee, the General Assembly sets the length of the school year.

But in a Facebook post, Ramsey took comfort from the former leader's comments.

"Great to see Senator Bill Frist speaking out on the obstacles union contracts put in the path of true education reform," he said.