Stockard on the Stump: Pearson projects student protests despite special session timing

Gun Rights

A chorus of boos is following Gov. Bill Lee’s plan to call a special session Aug. 21 — after public school students return to class — to “do something” in response to the March 27 Covenant School mass shooting.

Rep. Justin J. Pearson, fresh off a House expulsion and reinstatement after leading a floor protest, predicts “civil disobedience” from children who will show up at the State Capitol to rally instead of going into schools where they feel unsafe.

“Many of them risked suspension for protesting against gun violence in the past months, and I believe the reality is that sacrifice has to be recognized as a part of America’s history,” Pearson says as he prepares to introduce a batch of bills designed to get at what he considers the root of the problem: “weapons of war” in the wrong people’s hands.

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Pearson points out Black students protested during school hours decades ago against segregation and racial injustice, and they’re followed by children in Nashville and Memphis who skipped school to demand the state government do a better job of protecting them. A  group of students and pastors rallied on the War Memorial Plaza this week to urge the governor to call a special session before school starts.

Many of them risked suspension for protesting against gun violence in the past months, and I believe the reality is that sacrifice has to be recognized as a part of America’s history.

– Rep. Justin Pearson, D-Memphis, on the prospect of special session student protests

The first-term Democratic lawmaker, who first came to attention working against environmental racism in Memphis, says lawmakers “cannot abdicate” their responsibility Tennesseans in order to benefit from the National Rifle Association and other gun lobbyists. 

Yet while he believes the Legislature can pass an order of protection law to keep guns away from dangerous people, as well as measures to codify universal background checks and cool-down periods for gun buyers, groups such as the Tennessee Firearms Association are hammering people to oppose anything that sounds like a “red flag law,” which would allow courts to order weapons confiscated from mentally unstable, dangerous people.  

Although some consider the group “irrelevant,” it is lobbying nevertheless, and the NRA can’t be far behind. It wasn’t enough that Lee pushed his permit-less carry bill through the Legislature, enabling just about every jackass in the state to pack a pistol without getting a permit. (I would say every Tom, Dick and Harry, but those are the names of my father and his brothers, in that order, too, God rest their souls.)

No, the Tennessee Firearms Association is down on Lee because he felt the law should apply to people 21-and-up. Never mind the fact his attorney general, Jonathan Skrmetti, entered an agreement with a California group that sued the state and allowed the gun-carry age to drop to 18.

Either way, it is done. But the gun group continues to blast the governor for being soft on the Second Amendment, saying a bill he floated in April — which couldn’t find a sponsor — would be unconstitutional, expanding orders of protection and enabling policy to take guns from people who “might have drug problems, alcohol addictions, or who might have emotional, mental or behavioral events (as much as a year old.)” 

The battle lines are forming.

Democrats are backing the governor’s proposal, and so are key Republicans such as Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House members, including Reps. Sam Whitson of Franklin and John Gillespie of Bartlett.

Gov. Bill Lee (Photo: John Partipilo)

On the other end of the spectrum are hardcore gun rights people such as Rep. Chris Todd of Madison County.

More than likely, it will be the people in the middle, the likes of Republican Rep. Kevin Vaughan of Collierville, who will determine the outcome this August.

And no amount of pork barrel politics is likely to determine this vote. Besides, the governor gave away so many projects this session, he probably doesn’t have much left to cut deals.

“I don’t think this is a pork issue. I think this is a what people believe issue,” Vaughan says.

The governor’s proposed order of protection floated in the final week of the General Assembly “was not well-received,” either, Vaughan says, in House District 95 in southeast Shelby County. 

Thus, the governor will face about 50 wide-ranging opinions when he tries to sell lawmakers over the summer (The Legislature has 132 members). And some lawmakers don’t believe lobbying is the governor’s strong suit.

Plus, holding a special session on an emotional issue such as gun control creates high expectations in which any win is going to be celebrated while a loss will be mourned.

The question is whether a namby-pamby outcome will irritate voters. Folks in the far reaches of Tennessee aren’t nearly as driven as Nashvillians who are coming to terms with their first school shooting after experiencing the Waffle House and Burnette Chapel tragedies. In Memphis, meanwhile, shootings are so common folks there are wondering why it took a disaster at a private Christian school in Green Hills to motivate people.

Pearson, though, believes a watered-down outcome will be felt through the next election, noting “If we refuse and fail the people of Tennessee, they will have a response for their elected leaders.”

But will they have the same response in Meigs County as they will in Metro Nashville or Memphis?

Give me a break

Lee signed the Tennessee Works Tax Act into law this week, a total of $400 million for business owners and grocery shoppers.

It includes $150 million in annual tax relief for small businesses with exemptions on the first $50,000 of net income from the state’s excise tax — which some might call a tax on income — and the first $500,000 in property investment from the franchise tax; $64 million for simpler tax administration and conformity with a 2017 federal tax law, in addition to adopting a “single sales factor” for franchise and excise taxes.

People who eat, meanwhile, will get a three-month holiday from the grocery sales tax August through October, totaling an estimated $273 million.

Critics of the governor’s budgeting point out the business tax cuts are permanent, whereas regular folks get the fall food breaks. Stop eating out so much, and you might be able to make some money out of this deal. You know who I’m talking about. Yes you, I mean me.

To give this some context, though, the governor is putting $250 million more into the state’s rainy day fund, pushing it to $2.05 billion come July 1, along with making large investments in the state retirement plan and unfunded obligations for retirees.

Times are good in this welfare state. Tennessee is one of the biggest recipients of federal money in the country, and some leaders, including Lee, want to stop taking so much money from the feds. 

Critics of the governor’s budgeting point out business tax cuts are permanent while the average Tennessean gets a break on grocery taxes for three months, even as the state boasts overflowing coffers.

You might remember his move to replace about $6 million for HIV programs, and shortly thereafter House Speaker Cameron Sexton pushed a plan to quit accepting about $8 million for K-12 education. The latter is on hold.

But getting back to the governor’s financial victory lap: State revenues are $1.5 billion more than estimated for the first eight months of the fiscal year, a 7.3% growth rate. Of that amount, sales tax revenues were $112.2 million more than projected for March and $981 million for the eight-month period.

Thus, while the governor had plenty of money to hand out for his own projects and those of lawmakers, he also put $50,000 toward the Tennessee Golf Foundation, which isn’t going to help my swing one bit. Too many bad habits.

At the same time, TennCare will be paying for the first two years’ worth of diapers for children enrolled in the program. The governor touts Tennessee’s “modified block grant” waiver with the federal government as the vehicle to make the free diapers happen. Others aren’t sold on the TennCare waiver.

Too bad those free diapers weren’t around when we were having babies 34 years ago. Even though I had three jobs, I probably could have qualified for Medicaid because the average pay was about $3.75 an hour.

In fact, WSMV refused to bump me up 25 cents an hour for part-time pay, which would have cost the TV station $15 a month.

Oh well, they steered me to a newspaper life, which meant about 10,000 stories, columns and editorials, and considering my hairline recession, it probably worked out for the best.

So what was the point? Quit going to restaurants and start making babies – if it’s not too late. 

Campbell in the lead?

The pro-voucher and charter school group Tennesseans for Student Success found Sen. Heidi Campbell leading a crowded field in the race for the Metro Nashville mayoral post.

Campbell, D-Nashville, received 21.9% of support in a recent poll by the group with Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, coming in second at 17% and Metro Councilman Freddie O’Connell at 15.6%. Metro Councilwoman Sharon Hurt came in with 6.7%, just ahead of Matt Wiltshire at 6.6%, with Jim Gingrich tallying 4.2%, Alice Rolli 4%, Vivian Wilhoite 3.2% and Fran Bush 2%.

Campbell and Yarbro tied at 20% for second choice. Positions on education and infrastructure spending were considered the most important in considering a mayoral vote, followed by views on social issues, then local government experience.

According to one poll, Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, in her office at the Cordell Hull Legislative Office Building, is in the Nashville mayoral catbird seat. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Affordable housing and homelessness, at 21.8%, were considered the most important issues Nashvillians face, following by public safety and crime, 18.4%, transportation and mass transit, 14.2%, education and children, 13.9%, state-level politics, 13% (Why do I spend my life worrying about state politics?), over-development and preservation, 10.1%, finances and avoiding property tax increases, 6.8%, and jobs and economy, 1.8%.

In a shocker, nearly 57% of respondents did not support the Metro Council’s recently approved plan to build a domed stadium for the Titans and other events. Only 28.3% supported it.

More than 69% said they do not support using public funds to lure a Major League Baseball team to Nashville. Only 17.4% supported such a move.

Nearly half, 46.5% opposed holding either the Republican or Democratic national conventions in Nashville, though it’s clearly a blue county with 19.7% saying they could accept the Democratic National Convention and only 5% supporting a drive for the Republican National Convention. Nearly 62% of the respondents considered themselves Democrats while 12.7% were Republicans.

It wouldn’t be a Tennesseans for Student Success survey if it didn’t have some education questions. Nearly 54% said they support giving parents more options to choose their child’s public school (charters are considered part of the public school system even though they’re run by outside organizations). Nearly 29% said no.

More than 56% said they would support a property tax increase to raise teacher pay while 32% said no, and 46.5% said teacher pay raises would be their highest priority for more investments in public schools.

Increased tutoring and after-school and summer programs drew support from nearly 17%, but expansion of school choice drew backing from 9.3%.

Considering these responses, Metro Nashville taxpayers would rather put their money in teachers’ pockets and keep the Titans in their old digs. Lawmakers blasted the Metro Council for raising property taxes by 34% three years ago after two years of turning down increases. Since then, strong sales tax collections and federal stimulus money from the COVID-19 pandemic put the council in a strong position.

But in approving $500 million in bonds to build the new stadium, Republican lawmakers put the onus on the Metro Council to get along and go along, regardless of what taxpayers felt. 

They tell me Davidson County residents would like a little breather instead of another major construction project, just to make sure Taylor Swift and Garth Brooks didn’t have to worry about rain. But big government won the day.

Metro Nashville Councilmember Freddie O’Connell (Photo:

“I’ve got friends in low places” and something about whiskey and beer. How many times have you heard that one Lower Broad and now in Printers Alley, which ain’t exactly what it used to be. Nash Vegas has moved up the hill.

He’s the one who likes all our pretty songs?

Incidentally, last week’s musical reference to The Clash and their hit “I Fought the Law” requires a clarification. A faithful reader points out the song was performed in 1966 by the Bobby Fuller Four.

A quick check, though, shows Sonny Curtis and the Crickets wrote and recorded “I Fought the Law” in 1959 when he replaced the great Buddy Holly after his untimely death.

“The Father, Son and the Holy Ghost / They caught the last train for the coast / The day the music died.”

WRITER’S NOTE: The Stump will not be carved next week.

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