Beware: State lawmakers return to work in January

Robert Houk • Dec 13, 2015 at 12:00 AM

The Tennessee General Assembly officially returns to work in Nashville next month. God help us all.

Of course, it’s not like lawmakers haven’t had occasion to embarrass the state since wrapping up the session in the spring. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey has a great propensity to make national headlines whenever he opens his mouth.

And of course, there are plenty of his colleagues in the Republican-led General Assembly who are more than happy to make spectacles of themselves as well. One of the latest is our very own state Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, who has become one of the fiercest culture warriors in Nashville.

Last week, Huss announced he was taking aim at those over-sensitive political correct types in the Office of Diversity at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. As Press Assistant News Editor Nathan Baker reported Tuesday, Huss plans to de-fund the university’s diversity office. (Diversity? Isn’t that PC code for appeasement?)

Huss and his fellow right-wing ideologues weren’t happy with the office’s non-binding memo in August asking students and faculty to use gender neutral pronouns. But it was the memo the office sent this month recommending best practices for hosting all-inclusive holiday parties that really sent them to the edge.

This bill is something committee chairmen of the GOP supermajority can really sink their teeth into. They are salivating at the prospects of having academic liberals appear before their panels to explain why diversity is not a bad thing.

I often hear from readers who have nothing positive to say about their state representatives. “They aren’t dealing with the issues I am interested in,” many tell me. And these are Republicans, mind you. Most Democrats have just resigned themselves to sub-par representation in Nashville.

What’s really scary, however, is the number of Tennesseans who live in blissful ignorance when it comes to the General Assembly. They don’t know who represents them in the General Assembly, and they really don’t care.

That’s sad. As I’ve noted in this space before, more Tennesseans should be paying attention to what their state representatives are doing in our good names in Nashville. And it would also help if more of us understood why electing a legislator who can talk about issues other than those used solely to gin up his ultra-conservative base is so important.

One issue of real importance to taxpayers in Johnson City and Jonesborough is that of annexation. Northeast Tennessee’s delegation in Nashville have pushed a measures to shackle the growth of municipalities across Tennessee. Most of this was based on the politics of fear and anger.

For example, there were some residents in state Rep. Matthew Hill’s district inside Telford who were convinced in 2014 that their community was in Johnson City’s annexation crosshairs. That is both unrealistic and geographically impossible. Yet, Boss Hill did little to correct that misunderstanding among his constituents.

Annexation allows cities and towns to grow their residential and commercial base, which in turn grows the municipality’s property and sales tax base. In short, every Johnson City resident should be alarmed by proposed changes to the state’s annexation law.

Robert Houk is Opinion page editor for the Johnson City Press. He can be reached at [email protected]

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