We saw our first new Bill Lee reelection sticker this week, and it's a sure bet Tennessee's governor won't like it. It reads "Vote Gov. Lee out!"
It was clearly a very new and likely home-made sticker — perhaps printed just after Lee became the most recent Republican governor to plant himself between common sense and health protections by signing an executive order that requires schools to allow mask "opt-outs." The move essentially negates mask requirements — and therefore any hint of COVID safety — in schools.
The Lee car sticker had no pictures and no color. Just big black block letters on a stark white background. It was affixed firmly about halfway up and almost in the middle of the driver's rear hatchback window. Unmistakable. No one could miss it.
And every Tennessean needs one like it.
On the same day Lee made headlines with his executive order and joined two other wingnut GOP governors — Florida's Ron DeSantis and Texas' Greg Abbott —in making similarly dangerous orders, the next headline over screamed: "Tennessee activates National Guard to help COVID-19 hospitalization surge."
In that National Guard story, Lee's commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Health, Dr. Lisa Piercey, told reporters the state also is using federal relief money to boost hospital staffing. She said triage units are being set up outside many hospitals' physical buildings because emergency departments are overwhelmed.
Lee isn't the only Tennessee politician grandstanding. House Speaker Cameron Sexton wanted to call the legislature back for a special session to make it illegal for schools and other institutions to mandate masks.
But Lee, with his new Executive Order 84, one-upped Sexton and all 73 members of the House Republican Caucus who signed Sexton's letter calling for the special session to address masking, to limit the authority of health departments and to halt "ongoing discrimination" by private businesses that choose to require vaccinations. (Yes, ALL 73 GOP House members signed this — even our representatives who should know better, like trained nurses Robin Smith and Esther Helton.)
After signing the executive order, Lee said he wouldn't call a special session. So at the same time we castigate the governor for ensuring our schools aren't safe, we have to thank him for not letting this be worse. Bottom line, it's easier to fight with school officials than with the businesses and chambers of commerce in Tennessee. After all, they actually contribute to campaigns.
Sexton, not to be outdone, issued a statement saying the need for a special session has been averted "in the interim," but he still wants to see action taken to limit health departments.
Hey, Guv, up the ante. Maybe bars and other businesses can opt out of masking if their county health department weighs in. And then perhaps the bars can push to opt out of collecting sales taxes, too?
Don't you just love politics? Yes, this is sarcasm you're reading.
"I, Bill Lee, ... do hereby order that a student's parent or guardian shall have the right to opt out of any order or requirement for a student in kindergarten through twelfth-grade to wear a face covering at school, on a school bus, or at school functions "
Question: Why can't parents opt their kids out of wearing seat belts, wearing football helmets, even wearing clothes to school? How about opting them out of TCAPs, ACTs, any grading system?
Don't be fooled. This is not about parental choice. It actually closes down choice by completely gutting the parental choice of choosing that our children can go to a school that can observe a mask mandate.
Democratic Tennessee Rep. John Ray Clemmons of Nashville tweeted that Lee "has opted to kowtow to individuals like those who threaten health care workers rather than listen to medical experts."
But that's too kind. Lee is not just kowtowing, he's courting these folks, just like those other flash-in-the-pan FOX sweetheart guvs like DeSantis and Abbott. Rather than defending our liberties, these guys are talking — through Fox News — to that tiny sliver of hard-core, Trumpian wingnuts. The Washington Post puts it more tactfully: "to very narrowly conceived national Republican primary electorates to nourish their own higher ambitions."
DeSantis recently likened mask and health mandates to "medical authoritarianism" and said we may be witnessing "the most significant threat to freedom in my lifetime, certainly since the fall of the Berlin Wall." Huh?
The Post, however, thinks a back-lash is brewing. And we know as much — witness the "Vote Gov. Lee Out" sticker.
A new Axios-Ipsos poll asked Americans about state laws (and orders) that prohibit local officials from creating mask requirements. The result was decisive: 66% of Americans oppose such state laws, and only 33% support them. The poll also found that a whopping 77% oppose efforts to withhold funding from school districts and local governments that implement mask mandates.
Other polling already has shown that large majorities of us favor mask mandates. Now we know that equally large majorities oppose efforts by governors (and legislators) to actively prevent local officials from implementing such measures.
Sit down at your computers and start working on your own special car sticker. It could say, " 'Opt out' Gov. Lee — and the whole Tennessee GOP House caucus. Vote!"
Sure, it's a little long, but so is your bumper. And it surely will be an eyecatcher.