NASHVILLE - Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey says actions in this year's GOP-controlled Tennessee General Assembly are "just an appetizer" for next year, but a House Democratic leader contends that Republicans are making the state look like a "barefoot and bucktoothed" rube.
Ramsey touted what he calls strides toward "making government smaller, more efficient and more responsive to citizens" in a posting on his Facebook page.
He cited state spending cuts, repealing collective bargaining for teachers, toughening teacher tenure standards, capping lawsuit awards, cutting taxes for seniors and passing an "E-Verify" bill that he said "ensures that new jobs created by Tennesseans actually go to those here legally."
"Tennessee Republicans have talked a lot about what we would do when we took power. Now we are showing what we can do," said the Blountville Republican. "This year was just an appetizer. Next year, and in the years to come, you will see the main course."
But Mike Turner, House Democratic Caucus chairman, called what Republicans passed "a bunch of the radical extreme stuff."
"I think it will hurt business," Turner said. "It's embarrassing for me to talk to people in other parts of the country. I think it could hurt our image down here. We had an image of everybody here being barefoot and bucktoothed with cowlicks on both sides of their head. ... We came a long way [in recent years] to try to diminish some of that."
Tennessee "might have stepped back in the pack in the South, where we used to be a leader," he said.
He cited the so-called "don't say gay" bill, sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, which sought to ban any mention of homosexuality in public schools.
The measure passed the Senate 19-11 with an amendment stating that any instruction in elementary or middle schools "shall be limited exclusively to natural human reproduction science." The bill stalled in the House.
Turner also cited former House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada's bill abolishing Nashville's anti-gay-bias ordinance for city contractors. That soared through the Legislature and was signed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam. It has triggered a national uproar among gays and lesbians, with some threatening in blogs to boycott Tennessee.
"On the social issues, the John Birch Society issues, Tennessee maybe led the way in that," Turner told reporters.
"We stood out. A lot of people around the country might think Sen. Campfield is a typical legislator here in Tennessee, which is unfortunate. Tennessee is a middle-of-the-road state."