Tennessee’s Unsung Heroes of the 2015 Legislative Session
With the 2015 legislative session now behind us, many policymakers and legislators are walking away from the battlefield in two decidedly distinct conditions: either limping and licking their wounds or toasting to hard-fought victories with a bit more swagger in their steps. The mainstream media identifies “winners” and “losers,” while activist organizations retreat to their respective camps to reassess. Meanwhile, Tennesseans begin sifting through the rhetoric, looking for silver linings and meaningful change. Often, the unsung heroes of the most critical fights are lazily swept under the rug during the rush to divide the spoils. Tennesseans should peer a bit more closely through the media’s periscope, lest they overlook the following monumental moments and the individuals who made them happen. Below are but a few examples.
The multiple defeats of Insure TN by Senate members. Despite being heckled, abused, misrepresented, and slandered in the media, the following legislators deserve tremendous thanks. They fended off a massive expansion of an entitlement program that exposed thousands of Tennesseans and billions of dollars to the unpredictable whims of Washington bureaucrats.
- Health Committee specially appointed members Sen. Brian Kelsey, Sen. Frank Niceley, Sen. Todd Gardenhire, Sen. Mike Bell, Sen. Kerry Roberts, Sen. Janice Bowling, and Sen. Rusty Crowe who voted against Medicaid expansion during the extraordinary session.
- Commerce and Labor Committee members Sen. Jack Johnson, Sen. Jim Tracy, Sen. Todd Gardenhire, Sen. Dolores Gresham, Sen. Steve Southerland, and Sen. Bo Watson.
The 1st Parental School Choice Program Ever Passed in Tennessee. Individualized Education Accounts (IEAs) for special needs children were passed by both the House and Senate in the final days of the legislative session. Approximately 18,000 qualifying special needs students will have the ability to customize their educational experience beginning in the 2016 school year. Once signed by Gov. Haslam, Tennessee will become just the fourth state in the nation with education savings accounts—finally putting us at the cutting edge of education reform rather than decades behind the pack. This is truly a development of tremendous magnitude.
- Rep. Debra Moody, Rep. Roger Kane and Sen. Dolores Gresham deserve tremendous respect for their courage in sponsoring this legislation despite coming under intense fire from the robust lobbying arms of TREE, the TEA, and other government education unions.
- Of course, the conversation about school choice in Tennessee started with Sen. Brian Kelsey, whose tireless work helped to shift momentum in favor of more opportunities across our state and without whom this effort would not have been possible.
- Rep. Charles Sargent, Chairman of the House Finance Committee, for finding the financial appropriation required, and Finance Subcommittee Chairman Mike Harrison for seeing it through. Their leadership breathed new life into an effort many thought was doomed by a small one-time fiscal cost attached to the legislation.
- Rep. Curry Todd, Rep. Andy Holt, Rep. Harry Brooks, Rep. Dennis Powers, Rep. Jeremy Durham, Rep. Leigh Wilburn, and all those who co-signed, supported and fought for the votes on the House floor to gain that crucial two-vote margin of victory.
- Sen. Mike Bell and Sen. Ferrell Haile, who respectively stood in the Senate chamber to denounce for the record the misinformation of the opposition and who shared his own child’s personal struggle with a special needs disability.
While the media may have you believe that all was lost this year with legislators’ reluctance to abandon their principles for Insure TN—a wolf in sheep’s clothing—the truth is that Tennesseans won the war. Indeed, over 60% support school choice in our state and only 38% supported Gov. Haslam’s Medicaid proposal after learning the details. In the end, government unions and wealthy special interest groups must live to fight another day because these unsung heroes chose to do not what was easy, but what was right. We applaud them.