Tennessee lawmakers: Your constituents say what?

Tennessee lawmakers: Your constituents say what?

May 23rd, 2014 in Opinion Times

Tennessee's real silent majority is not - repeat not - the religious right.

Consider the recent poll findings from a Vanderbilt University survey of more than 1,505 Tennesseans, including 1,245 registered voters.

Results? An overwhelming majority of the registered voters -- 71 percent -- opposes giving the state Legislature more power to regulate abortions.

This fall, Tennesseans will be asked to vote on this question. An amendment to the state constitution would give the Legislature the constitutional authority to regulate abortions.

Based on this poll, however, only about one in four state voters supports giving lawmakers that new power.

Here's another reality check. Three out of four Tennesseans support legalization of marijuana in some form. Forty-four percent say it should be legal only for medicinal use, and 32 percent say it should be legal for personal use. Only 22 percent say marijuana should not be legal for any use.

There's more: Tennesseans decidedly approve of Common Core education standards and free junior college. They give a slim majority to guns in parks -- by permitted carriers -- and a significant majority to using the electric chair for death row inmates if lethal injection is not available.

So, lawmakers -- pause for a beat or two next time you glibly throw out that you are doing what your constituency asks of you. Better still, define that constituency. It it Tennesseans? Or is it lobbyists?

Perhaps tea party leaning Sen. Stacey Campfield may in reality need to permanently stay away from seeking death certificates for aborted fetuses. And perhaps GOP Sen. Mae Beavers should rethink her stance that all gun regulations in Tennessee should be thrown out.

Certainly it's no wonder some conservative Volunteer State politicians want to grab as much National Rifle Association money and church lobby campaign cash as they can get their hands on while the lobbyists continue to dole it out. These folks may recognize they are living on borrowed time, especially should these silent-majority voters actually wake up and go to the polls from time to time.

Asked to describe themselves by party, 31 percent of the poll respondents said they were Democrats, 27 percent said they were Republicans and 31 percent said they were independents, while 9 percent said "something else," 1 percent said they didn't know and 1 percent refused to answer. As a group, they gave President Obama a 39 percent approval rate up from 28 percent six months ago.

The respondents, however, also proved that many people -- even registered voters -- aren't paying much attention to politics. Asked which party controls the state House, 43 percent of respondents said they didn't know and 12 percent said Democrats. Only 44 percent knew that Tennessee's Legislature is controlled by Republicans. And 46 percent hadn't heard about the United Autoworkers of America effort here to unionize VW.

It would seem Tennessee's consistent independent streak -- borne out since the Civil War when brother fought brother on gray-blue battle lines -- offers all the more reason for state legislators to be wary of their current "Tennessee-is-red" assumptions.

And by the way, lawmakers, only 49 percent of this group voiced approval of your actions and inaction in Nashville.

Just think for a moment how they'd feel if they actually paid attention to your antics.