Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has no bottom. Not only is he constantly pandering to the fringe right, anti-vaxers, anti-maskers and anything else Trumpian, now he's recruiting more of them to Tennessee.
And to be law enforcement officers, for crying out loud.
Unvaccinated law enforcement officers. To join the Tennessee State Troopers, to be exact.
In a new video ad, Lee (who also appears to think he's a fine actor) makes a pitch deliberately aimed at recruiting law enforcement officers who are leaving or want to leave states "with restrictive mandates," according to a news release sent by his spokesman Casey Black.
And in the video, Lee intones: "I've got a message today for cops in New York all the way to sheriff deputies out in Los Angeles: We want you to join the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Our force is one of the most professional in the country, and we won't get between you and your doctor."
He goes on to say Tennessee will cover the officers' moving expenses and to tell prospective recruits they will enjoy's Tennessee's low cost of living and no income tax.
And Lee pledges, "I'll work to make sure your freedoms are protected."
That remains to be seen. Although Lee last week signed into law the ridiculously dangerous and onerous special session legislation that amounts to mandates against preventive COVID-19 mask and vaccine mandates, he does not make clear how he plans to avoid President Joe Biden's proposed safety and health requirement that all employers of 100 or more workers require vaccines or weekly testing to fight the spread of COVID-19, starting Jan. 4.
Biden's order is on hold pending court cases, including ones filed or joined by Tennessee, but Lee's implied promise not to require vaccines for troopers is not necessarily one Tennessee will be able to keep, depending on the outcome of these legal challenges.
Lee's office did not respond to questions about the issue.
Nor did his office respond to questions about how many troopers the state police force is short.
A Nashville television station, however, reported in August on a separate trooper recruitment effort, and on camera at that time Col. Matt Perry told NewsChannel5, "we're just over 100 vacancies right now."
That's out of a force of 987 commissioned officers, according to the Senate and House Finance Committee. Of that number, 783 are classified as "road troopers," with another 23 in administrative posts and 204 in "miscellaneous operations" involving other departmental functions.
A Department of Safety budget request for fiscal year 2022-23 is asking for nearly $3.6 million in new funding to add 25 trooper positions. But Lt. Bill Miller, a department spokesman, told the Times opinion editor earlier this week that the highway patrol would like to add more new positions going into 2022 — perhaps another 200 or 300 if possible.
"The way the state of Tennessee has grown you can't sit back on yesterday's staffing numbers and serve adequately today and tomorrow with those numbers, so we have to evolve and grow as an agency," Miller said. But he added, "We definitely want readers to know that there is no critical shortage. You're not in danger in Tennessee because of our trooper numbers."
One does have to wonder, however, if we might be in danger from an onslaught of troopers disgruntled about being asked to wear a mask, much less get a preventive vaccine, even as COVID-19 stays with us.
NPR's Morning Edition also questioned Lee's recruitment move, and questioned the Highway Patrol's vaccine policy. NPR member station WPLN in Nashville reported that the THP declined to require the vaccine.
NPR pointed out that COVID-19 is the leading cause of on-duty deaths for law enforcement officers in 2021, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page. Some 280 officers died of the virus this year. That's more than five times the number of those who died by gunfire. And it's more than all other line-of-duty deaths combined.
On Twitter, Tennessee Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, criticized Lee for further politicizing the preventive measures and trying to capitalize on the controversy he continues to feed.
"Just when I think @GovBillLee won't/can't stoop any lower to cater to the fringe right," Clemmons tweeted. "This is a bad idea and waste of Tennessee taxpayer money for so many reasons."
We couldn't agree more. As we said at the outset, our governor seems to have no bottom.