No CheatingLet’s leave aside for a moment the fact that the Tennessee Report doesn’t yet have “Elections” listed under the “Department” section of their website when clearly they should and instead focus on the little gem they uncovered about Rep. Debra Maggart.

From a story yesterday about the Juvenile Sex Offender Registry:

House lawmakers heard more than three hours of testimony last Tuesday on a piece of legislation introduced by Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, who says it is necessary both to protect the public as well as line Tennessee up to receive a bigger chunk of federal law enforcement subsidies.

From a story posted in December 2009 about Maggart as “State Sovereignty” supporter:

Earlier this year, Republican state Rep. Debra Young Maggart co-sponsored a resolution demanding that the federal government refrain from further burdening Tennessee with unwarranted and potentially unconstitutional policy mandates.

But earlier this month, Rep. Maggart and Sen. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, expressed their interest in legislatively obligating the State of Tennessee to embrace an as-yet unfulfilled federal mandate, signed by George W. Bush, that critics say violates just the sort of constitutional principles lawmakers like Maggart saw fit to reiterate in their state sovereignty resolution last session.

It’s not the hypocrisy that is so bothersome, it’s the hubris and the posturing and it goes back to this:

We’re finding more and more evidence that Republicans – on both the state and federal level – love to take credit with their constituents for all the good government can do while at the same time pandering to their base with language that is strikingly opposite.

Listen closely the next time a Republican talk about health insurance reform. Every health care discussion they have is prefaced with “We think there needs to be health care reform” or “We’re not saying there doesn’t need to be reform….”

Democrats can have these conversations with their constituents – one-on-one conversations or in town hall meetings – and take credit for the good that government does (and can do!) because their constituents value the exact same things Democrats value – good jobs, affordable health care, infrastructure development that creates good jobs, quality education, access to quality education, etc.. Democrats should really go to this place instead of trying to appeal to the people who would never vote for anyone with a “D” beside their name anyway.

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A tone has been set at the Tennessee State Capitol in which racism thrives. Nothing else can explain why a staffer in Senator Diane Black’s office thought it was OK to forward an incredible offensive email to her colleagues.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing is not unusual workplace behavior. Fortunately we, as citizens of Tennessee, have a little power over this specific workplace.

The initial reaction to the incident by some was to call for the staffer’s resignation. Others accepted Senator Black’s reprimand as appropriate. But there’s a third option.

Again, a tone has been set at the Tennessee State Capitol in which racism thrives. Senator Black and her colleagues should take this moment and use it to change the tone. They should make it a teachable moment for Legislative Plaza staffers.

We have a deep well of valuable resources in Tennessee who would, I’m sure, be more than happy to make the trek to the Hill when session is over to hold an open discussion or a workshop or a seminar. Or a week of discussions or workshops or seminars.

Distinguished Vanderbilt University Professor Rev. Jim Lawson, who helped desegregate Nashville’s lunch counters and organized the Freedom Rides, might be a good choice. Or perhaps Nashville resident Tim Wise, who lectures on the pathology of white privilege.

Please urge Senator Black to grab hold of this moment, get creative, and work with other members of the General Assembly to send the message to their staffers that racism – no matter how casual – is not OK.

More from R.Neal.

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Kudos to Senator Diane Black (R-Gallatin) for agreeing to appear on CNN this afternoon. Opposite kudos for the weasel words that managed to escape from her gob.

In two minutes she managed to completely absolve herself of any responsibility for the actions of her staffer (who sent out a patently racist email), the weak punishment she handed out, and the email itself.

The email “does absolutely not reflect my opinions or my beliefs,” she said. Human resources told her that a “reprimand” was the action that was necessary when “email policy” is broken by a staffer,” she said. The email itself was “inappropriate,” she said (about a gazillion times).

Let’s hope the email doesn’t reflect her beliefs, but if she understood why people are so upset then she might consult, but wouldn’t necessarily rely on, the “policy” of the human resources department to inform her actions. And “inappropriate?” “Inappropriate” is what my two tween nieces shouldn’t watch on TV, like “Desperate Housewives” or **insert name of MTV reality show here**. “Inappropriate” is not proper or suitable. “Inappropriate” is Sen. Diane Black not knowing the difference between “inappropriate” and “demeaning racist behavior.”

And “inappropriate” is Sen. Black not “getting” why her staffer should be fired.

Kris Murphy, Communications Director for Tennessee Citizen Action, clues her in, “Senator Black has African-American constituents who help pay her salary. Will those constituents still feel comfortable calling the Senator’s office now that they know who might be on the other end of the phone?”

Lieutenant Governor of Tennessee, Speaker of the Tennessee State Senate, and gubernatorial fund raiser candidate Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) says a “strong letter of reprimand” was the proper action to take. When the House session ends we should ask Speaker Kent Williams what he would have done if this had happened in the House.

In the meantime, let’s recap today’s events on the hill: 1) Senate Republicans dishonor two of the state’s Nobel Prize winners, 2) Lt. Governor Ramsey crashes a pre-k press conference (h/t A Kleinheider Joint), 3) and Senator Black goes on CNN and makes it all about her.

No wonder God almost sent us a tornado.

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Maria Brewer, newly elected chairperson of the Sumner County Democratic Party, reacts to the racist email controversy swirling around the state capitol:

The Sumner County Democratic party asks for the immediate resignation of Senator Diane Black’s Executive Assistant, Sherry Goforth, who recently admitted to sending a racist email from her state provided email address to the “wrong list of recipients.”

In addition, we require full accountability from Senator Diane Black, our elected official, for the following questions:

Since her assistant’s half-hearted apology for this outrageous act was to claim to have sent the email to the “wrong list,” who is on the “right list?”

Is it acceptable practice in the Tennessee Legislature for Republican law-makers or their staff to engage in racist and dishonorable activities as long as they keep it among themselves?

And lastly, how will Senator Black’s constituents, yes even those of color, even those of another political affiliation, know that their concerns are being heard when the very gate-keeper of their Senator’s office finds a picture of the President of the United States represented as a “spook” to be so humorous that it should be forwarded by email to her colleagues and associates?

Senator Diane Black should address these questions quickly and publically if she is to restore the confidence that We the People have lost in her. And unless she demands her Executive Assistant’s resignation, we will know her words are hollow.

We invite the Sumner County Republican Party to join us in condemning this sort of bigotry and stereo-typing that so frequently flies under the cover of humor, yet damages our communities, our economic prosperity, and our American Spirit.

Who is on the “right list,” indeed. We’re looking forward to a response from Senator Black’s office. And considering the national news has picked up on the story, not sure if the “if we ignore it, it will go away” strategy will work for much longer.

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OK, so I get that even with yesterday’s passage in the House of SJR127 we’re a long way from amending the Tennessee Constitution, but from the celebratory reaction of Rep. Debra Maggart (R-Hendersonville) and her She-Women Women Haters Club cronies (I’m looking at you, Senators Black and Gresham), you’d have thought they had passed legislation that created unlimited jobs, turned our public schools into the palaces they should be, eradicated our dismal infant mortality rate, and gave every man, woman, and child in Tennessee decent and affordable health care.

So, how are thosepriorities” coming along, TNGOP?

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Members of the Tennessee Equality Project and their supporters tried to advance equality on the Hill today by meeting with their elected representatives: Senator Diane Black (R-18, Robertson and part of Sumner Counties), Senator Paul Stanley (R-31, Part of Shelby County), Rep. Jason Mumpower (R-3, Johnson and part of Sullivan Counties), Rep. John DeBerry (D-90, Part of Shelby County), Rep. David Hawk (R-5, Unicoi and part of Greene Counties), Rep. Frank Nicely (R-17, Part of Jefferson and Knox Counties), and Rep. Stacey Campfield (R-18, Part of Knox County)

Most of the legislators actively listened. Some tried a little artful dodging. Below is audio from conversations I had with some of the participants.

Rep. John DeBerry and Senator Paul Stanley (Memphis)

Four men from Memphis met with Rep. John DeBerry and Senator Paul Stanley, and received two very different receptions. Two of the four are a committed couple who are currently trying to adopt in Tennessee. They describe the process. Link to the mp3 (2:30)

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Republican House Leader Rep. Jason Mumpower (Bristol)

Joseph Rymer, from Bristol, is the Tri-Cities committee chair of the TNEP. He met with Jason Mumpower who told him he was interested in finding “middle-ground” and “working towards inclusion of all people.” Link to mp3 (2:00)

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Rep. David Hawk (Greeneville)

Mr. Rymer, who had an ambitious agenda of meeting with a total of 9 legislators in one day, also spoke with Rep. Hawk – a man seemingly torn between his personally beliefs and political expediency. He also let me know what it’s like to live as an openly gay man in a very conservative area. Hint: It’s exhausting to live in fear until you make it to one of your safety zones. Link to mp3 (1:40)

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Senator Diane Black (Gallatin)

Part 1 – One of the more dramatic series of events was the cancellation of the Sumner County delegation’s meeting with Senator Diane Black. The day before, Senator Black made a personal phone call to Anne Miller, who had set up the meeting, to explain why meeting would be a waste of time. Link to mp3 (1:25)

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Part 2 – Senator Black then confirmed to another of her constituents, Susan Brown of Springfield, that if she disagrees with you, she sees no value in meeting. Interestingly, however, during their short conversation, Senator Black indicated that she would support the bill to allow gender changes on birth certificates. Link to mp3 (1:07)

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Part 3 – The meeting with Senator Black was set for 2:00 PM, and even though it had been canceled the night before, Anne, Tara, Susan, and Maria Brewer decided to go to her office at the appointed time to see if they could get in to see her. Senator Black – luckily or unluckily depending on your perspective – came out of her office just as the women arrived and, caught by surprise, agreed to give the group five minutes. Maria recaps. Link to mp3 (1:53)

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Rep. Frank Nicely (Knoxville)

Brad Coulter and his family drove from Knoxville to meet with their representative and were stood up. So they decided to wait outside a committee room to see if they could grab a few minutes of Rep. Nicely’s time. For Brad, the TNEP’s Advancing Equality Day on the Hill was very personal – his sister is gay and had to move with her partner and baby son to another state so her partner could become a legal parent to the child. As Brad puts it, it’s a shame that Tennessee had to lose two valuable members of the community because they didn’t feel welcome. Link to mp3 (1:51)

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Brad later called to tell me – excitedly – that he and his family had met with Rep. Nicely and he was receptive and cordial.

Rep. Stacey Campfield (Knoxville)
Rep. Campfield was a no-show for his appointment. Then he rescheduled and missed that meeting too.

The most disturbing part of the day – other than not being able to hear the stories of each of today’s civil rights citizen lobbyists (I heard there were productive meetings with Senator Joe Haynes, Rep. Gary Odom, Rep. Mike Turner, and others) – was Senator Black’s insistence that there was no need to meet with her constituents because she didn’t agree with them. I guess just like George W. Bush in 2004, she has one accountability moment every 6 years.

UPDATE: Chris Sanders, president of the Tennessee Equality Project recaps the day on his blog, Grand Divisions, and Jeff Woods at the Scene weighs in.

UPDATE II: Jeff Woods at the Nashville Scene’s Pith in the Wind does some seriously good editorializing on why Senator Black’s actions were inexcusable: “With a series of audio reports on the Liberadio(!) website, Mary Mancini paints a picture of democracy in action–Tennessee style. Any oily lobbyist with a checkbook can waltz into any legislative office at any time of the day or night and receive a full hearing. But when gays and lesbians and their supporters tried to lobby the legislature yesterday like any other citizens of this great land, their elected representatives often were less than alert and receptive listeners.”

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