Gov. Bill Haslam is facing a tremendous amount of heat from Republican and tea party activists across the state. No fewer than five resolutions are currently circulating urging the Tennessee Republican Executive Committee to take meaningful action against the Haslam administration. A political organization plans to purchase ads condemning the governor. Some grass-roots activists are even calling for his resignation.
His crime? Hiring the most qualified person for a position.
The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development's new international director is from Waverly, a small town just west of Nashville. Most recently, she served as a White House fellow, one of our nation's most competitive and prestigious honors for a young professional.
She also worked as an associate attorney at Hogan Lovells, one of the most respected international law firms in the world. Before that, she clerked for a senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. She is a tae kwon do champion and a volunteer for the YMCA, AIDS efforts and an organization focused on addressing diabetes. Her bachelor's and law degrees are both from Vanderbilt.
She also happens to be Muslim.
This fact prompted the Center for Security Policy, a D.C.-based organization that likes to stick its nose in local issues any time a Muslim is involved, along with Republican groups in Stewart and Carroll Counties and the 8th District Tea Party Coalition, an umbrella organization of West Tennessee tea party groups, to pass resolutions urging Haslam to relieve the ECD's new international director of her duties.
The resolutions, which also condemn Haslam for allowing "open homosexuals to make policy decisions in the Department of Children's Services," declare that the governor's actions have caused a loss of "confidence in our Governor during an election year."
The Stewart and Carroll County resolutions call for the state's Republican leaders to take "appropriate action against the administration of Governor Bill Haslam."
Williamson County's Republican Party passed a more focused resolution criticizing the hiring of a Muslim in a position related to foreign trade.
Additionally, members of the 9.12 Project Tennessee, a Nashville-area group committed to "restoring constitutional values" claim they have raised money to purchase a half page ad in Friday's Tennessean condemning Haslam for hiring a Muslim, according to an email sent by the organization. I guess they forgot about one constitutional value: freedom of religion.
Samar (pronounced "Summer") Ali is, quite simply, one of the most talented, accomplished people Tennessee has produced in decades. After several years working internationally, and completing the White House Fellows program, she wanted to return home to Tennessee. With ECD wanting to expand its focus on increasing exports of Tennessee products, the 30-year-old got that opportunity.
When Ali was named international director for ECD, it prompted a handful of local loons to go berserk. The resolutions came shortly thereafter.
Some of this silliness is the fault of Republican lawmakers in the state legislature who, rather than using their hard-won majority to advance ideas of liberty in the Tennessee General Assembly, have focused far too much effort on silencing religious minorities and limiting the rights of gay Tennesseans. As a result, a small number of local activists feel empowered to criticize the governor for hiring religious minorities and not firing hard-working gay state employees.
It simply isn't necessary for Republicans to pander to racists, homophobes and bigots to garner votes and win elections in the Volunteer State. The majority of Tennesseans are attracted to the GOP's platform of fiscal conservatism, free market economic principles, low taxes, transparency and limited, responsible government.
Reasonable conservatives have dozens of reasons to be disappointed in Gov. Haslam's short tenure. From failing to cut wasteful spending to proposing to expand several failing programs, Haslam has fallen short of what many conservatives expected from a Republican governor.
Yet, it's not those issues that have many Republican and tea party groups in Tennessee up in arms. Instead, it's Haslam's choice to place qualified people in important positions in state government -- irrespective of their religion or what they do with other consenting adults in the privacy of their own bedrooms -- that drew the ire of some fringe activists.
Hiring the best person for a job -- regardless of that individual's race, religion or sexual orientation -- does not make Gov. Haslam a villain. It makes him wise.
Criticizing Haslam for hiring the best person for a job -- because of the individual's race, religion or sexual orientation -- does not make you a patriot. It makes you a bigot.