When you're the only Democrat in the Hamilton County legislative delegation, you either can advocate for your party and your stances on issues and attempt to work across the aisle on legislation where you might make a difference. Or you can just be oppositional.
State Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, D-Chattanooga, appears to have chosen the latter path.
The latest salvo from the roughly four-decade government employee was criticism of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee's recent trip to the border to visit with 300 National Guard members sent from the state who are supporting U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations in Texas.
Hakeem, 72, said the governor's trip was just "posturing at the border."
"I would hope that he finds himself back in the state of Tennessee soon," he said, "so that he can deal with the concerns we have in Tennessee in areas such as health care, making sure that people are fed in our communities and have a place to stay."
But Hakeem didn't stop there, issuing a word salad of phrases in which he tried to suggest Lee might be interested in reviving a detention policy used by former President Donald Trump that was begun under former President Barack Obama, and in which he tried to excuse the Biden administration's massive border failures.
It's been par for the course.
Before his words for Lee, Hakeem recently found himself defending the housing of illegal immigrant children at a local facility where one child recently escaped and fled back to his home in Central America and another one was sexually assaulted.
When the state suspended the facility's license, the lawmaker indicated it must have been from political pressure rather than from the actual incidents that took place.
"That's my perspective," he said. ... [T]he timing of it is very suspect to me."
We believe when people spend their lives going from one government position to another, they often lose perspective of what is reality and what is politics.
Hakeem served on the Hamilton County Board of Education from 1981 to 1990, on the Chattanooga City Council from 1990 to 2006 and again from 2013 to 2017. In between, from 2006 to 2013, he had a higher paying position as a member of the state Board of Probation and Parole.
Out of office less than a year, he ran and won the District 28 state representative seat being vacated by JoAnne Favors, who was more in the mold of advocating for her party and issues but attempting to work across party lines where it might help. He was re-elected to his safe seat in 2020.
Before the local immigrant housing agency's license was suspended, Hakeem was critical of a state committee formed to study the movement of immigrant children within the state. He appeared to misunderstand, or did not acknowledge, that the children had been moved around the state often under cover of darkness and without communication to state officials, and that committee members just wanted to get a better handle on the issue. In the end, he blamed the messenger.
"I think it's heartless and lacks the Christian ideals that members of that group profess," he said of the committee.
Over the past six months, he's also been critical of — among other things — Lee's ending of extra federal benefits to get people back to work, of a state bill to bar the teaching of critical race theory (though he falsely claimed it seeks to erase centuries of Black Americans' history), and of the need to remove a bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state Capitol because for him it has been has symbol of "harm and hurt for generations past" (though it's only been in place since 1978).
Last fall, Hakeem sought to insert himself into the operations of the Hamilton County Election Commission, where he said the Tennessee secretary of state should investigate a "laundry list" of "troubling" allegations. Upon further questioning, he admitted he "did not communicate with the county" about the matter and that he had no way of verifying the complaints himself.
Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett at the time said he had confidence in the election commission and that he would be sending the state representative a letter. Since then, the allegations have disappeared or at least not been aired further.
When Hakeem was on the city council, though he occasionally took offense at something, he generally worked well with the other members of the body. That doesn't appear to be his strategy anymore.
With his status as the county delegation's only Democrat, and in a district drawn so he is unlikely to lose an election, he must feel he has nothing to lose. And in a state where a supermajority of Republicans controls the state House and state Senate, perhaps he doesn't.
But when you're always critical, and never offering workable solutions, reasonable people eventually refuse to take you seriously. And then you're considered just another empty suit.