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File Photo by Tim Barber/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Eroding asphalt on state roads is just one of the problems Tennesseans face as the state nears a crisis with transportation funding.

Earlier this year, Tennesseans were cheated by Republican controlled legislative committees that refused to allow the state's General Assembly to even take a vote on Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's negotiated health care program called Insure Tennessee. The problem was purely partisan politics — our super-majority Republican Legislature torpedoed Haslam's custom Tennessee program because it would participate in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Never mind that Haslam's plan would have helped nearly 300,000 low-income but working Tennesseans gain health insurance. And never mind that his plan would have infused Tennessee's budget with a guaranteed $22.5 billion in federal tax dollars we've already paid to help Tennessee extend that help to our poor and working neighbors.

In coming legislative sessions, it appears the Tennessee GOP is eager to repeat its partisan and myopic dollars-and-cents denial.

Haslam has been speeding along on a 15-stop transportation funding tour this week, working to build public momentum for new transportation revenue. But his fellow GOPers in the state House and Senate are already slamming on the brakes. The word on the street is that this proposal faces a replay of the Insure Tennessee non-vote vote.

In other words, look for another legislative committee to throttle common-sense progress and throw it into a trash can without even a full General Assembly debate — much less a vote.

Never mind that Tennessee's growing population, increased transportation needs, a $6 billion highway project backlog and stagnated gas tax revenues — combined with similar denials of national transportation funding needs — are leaving our roads and bridges to crumble.

Instead, state Republicans seem to only see everything in GOP red and Democrat blue. Or put another way, the GOP says no to everything that isn't a gun.

The GOP's "no" mentality was the bottom line in a message being carried around the state this week by members of the Democratic Caucus.

"We have a super-majority that still seems to view itself as the opposition party," said Sen. Jeff Yarbro, Democratic Caucus chairman.

The end result is that state Republicans now seem so wedded to polarization and fighting "government" that they've lost sight of the fact that they are senators and representatives because we voted them in to be our government. And that means we expect them to govern.

To quote a phrase from Yarbro (who's only a first-term legislator, and therefore still fresh enough to be idealistic): "We end up having the wrong fights about 'more' or 'less,' instead of 'better.'"

It reminds us of wonderful tributes earlier this year to the late Howard Baker, a Tennessee Republican and politician with the respectful legacy of the "Great Conciliator" because of Baker's knack for achieving bipartisan negotiation to bring breakthrough change.

During those many Baker tributes, one Republican politician after another said we need more senators and representatives like him.

It's a pity none of them really seems to want to be like him.

 

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