How Tennessee Became the Poster State for Political Meltdown

Jonathan Martin reporting at Politico:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Standing in the sun outside Tennessee’s Capitol Monday afternoon, and hoisting a sign that had the words “thoughts and prayers” crossed out in red, Karen Carter explained why she drove nearly two hours from her hometown of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., to confront most anybody who looked like they could be a lawmaker.

“We look like tin-pot dictators in this state and it pisses me off as a citizen of this state,” Carter said, alluding to the Republican expulsion of a pair of Democratic state representatives last week. “I’m angry and I’m embarrassed, and I’m humiliated.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

She was something else, too, though: nostalgic.

“The state would swing left-right, left-right, Republican-Democrat, Republican-Democrat,” Carter recalled about Tennessee’s political tradition, before turning away from me and raising her voice toward a group of official-looking people in suits headed into the Capitol who perhaps could address gun violence: “Guys, think about the children!”

Yeah, I too am old enough to remember when the people of this once great state would elect the most qualified candidate, or the candidate with the more compelling vision for the state, rather than just carry water1 for their own party.

The coalition that backed the lottery, which has poured over $8 billion into education funding, reflected the state’s political makeup: There were Black lawmakers, a few moderate Republicans, an exurban conservative who knew her Nashville area constituents wanted more money for schools and a rural conservative Democrat who was nudged along with the promise of some road projects by the state’s Republican governor, Don Sundquist, who signed the bill. That exurban conservative was Marsha Blackburn2 and the rural Democrat was Lincoln Davis, both of whom would join Cohen in Congress.

Through this period, Tennessee was drawing international attention for its success luring auto companies to the state, a bipartisan effort that transformed the state’s agriculture-heavy economy and is well told in Keel Hunt’s “Crossing the Aisle.”

“A bipartisan effort,” boy those were the days. I can remember when bipartisan efforts were common in Tennessee; all the two parties seem to be able to do today is fight and bicker.


yeah, in a minute…
1 The Free Dictionary’s Idioms tab defines carry water as: “2. To support a person, organization, or cause that one would not in reality endorse, as due to pressure, force, or pragmatic reasons.”

2 Yeah, though it would seem that she’s never had a particulary good grasp on ethics and conflict of interest, she was once a fairly rational politician, more than able to “cross the aisle” if it was in the best interest of her constituents.

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