At This Time In History, The People Deserve Nothing Less



This week I want to take a break from my regular column and talk instead about my friend, former Speaker of the House and Gov. Ned Ray McWherter. Earlier this year, Tennessee suffered a great loss when Gov. McWherter passed on, but this weekend his friends from across the state will gather in Nashville to honor the looming legacy he leaves behind.

Ned McWherter was truly a Governor for all Tennesseans. Growing up in poverty in rural northwest Tennessee, he understood what it meant to be a member of the class he termed the “working poor.” This group consisted of individuals like his parents who worked hard from sun up to sun down, but still couldn’t seem to get ahead. Throughout his career, Gov. McWherter fought for this group championing causes in healthcare, infrastructure and education.

Growing up poor, Gov. McWherter knew what it meant to be without proper medical care. He also understood that every child-regardless of economic circumstances-deserved the chance to live a happy, healthy and productive life. When children don’t have access to proper medical care early on, their chances at success in life are severely diminished. Keeping this in mind, Gov. McWherter created TennCare to help working families give their children a chance to succeed. This program has not always been perfect and we have made some necessary changes, but today it still ensures that every child in Tennessee has the chance to start life from the same, healthy place.

Gov. McWherter was the first real champion for rural Tennessee. When he became Speaker of the House, rural areas of this state were still relatively inaccessible. Most rural communities like Ripley, Dresden, Alamo and the like didn’t have any four lane roads. This lack of proper roads and bridges made it very difficult for rural areas to recruit industry. Since the time of Gov. McWherter, we have seen tremendous new roads constructed in our rural areas. This has allowed us to create megasites and recruit industries that otherwise would not have been available. It’s also helped us lure companies like Quaprotek which will create 126 new jobs in Lauderdale County next year. Without Gov. McWherter’s road building initiatives, none of this would be possible today.

Gov. McWherter was also a champion of education reform. When he became Governor, our schools were suffering from a funding crisis. In particular, rural schools with small tax bases were struggling to survive, while suburban districts with large tax bases were doing just fine. Knowing that this funding inequity was leaving many rural students far behind their urban and suburban counterparts, Gov. McWherter created the Basic Education Formula. The BEP used state dollars to make sure students in every corner of the state were getting an equal, quality education. People forget this contribution today, but without it our education system would look much different.

This weekend the friends of Ned McWherter will gather in Nashville to remember the legacy he leaves behind, but Gov. McWherter’s legacy can’t be captured by a single event, newspaper article or policy. Rather his legacy lives on in the thousands of children who have healthcare today because he was Governor, the thousands of people who have jobs today because of the roads he built while Speaker of the House and thousands of rural Tennessee children getting a quality education because he recognized and fixed a glaring inequity.

The leaders of Tennessee today could learn a lot from Ned McWherter. His policies on healthcare, infrastructure and education are as true today as they were 20 years ago. We still need healthcare for our children to give each of them a fair start in life. We still need good roads and bridges to recruit manufacturers and good paying jobs. We still need to improve our education system, not by punishing our teachers but by partnering with them to give students the vocational, technical and academic skills they need to succeed in a global economy. We still need to follow Ned McWherter’s example of working across party lines so that Tennessee, not a particular political party, can succeed.

As the bumper sticker says, ‘I Miss Ned’ and I intend to follow his legacy for as long as I’m in the General Assembly. I hope my colleagues will do the same. At this critical time in our state’s history, the people deserve nothing less.

(Rep. Craig Fitzhugh represents District 82 and was elected House Minority Leader last December. He lives in Ripley.)


Friday Roundup

Jeff Woods analyzes a story written by Ken Whitehouse regarding what politicos in the 440 Loop of Nashville are discussing.  LINK


According to the hypothesis making the rounds of political junkies, he would run again-not to serve another Senate term-but only to resign after he wins. That way, he essentially could choose his own successor. The senator is 71, after all. If he runs again and wins, he’d be nearly 80 by the time his third term ended. Surely, he doesn’t want to spend his 70s wasting away in Washington.

The speculation is that Alexander would resign and let Gov. Bill Haslam-the son of one of Alexander’s biggest financial supporters-appoint himself to fill the unexpired term. That would set up Haslam to run as the nearly unbeatable incumbent in the next general election and keep the seat out of the hands of any annoying right-wing kooks.

Southern Beale looks at the haves and the have nots in Tennessee when it comes down to Voter Photo IDs. LINK

So an out of state or expired driver’s license is okay, but a student ID is not? A credit card with a picture on it is not, but a government employee ID is? What’s up with that? If the purpose is just to authenticate identification, not residency, then any photo ID should work: work IDs, credit cards, you name it. It’s just so obviously arbitrary.

Tennessee has a special problem on its hands because it doesn’t require senior citizens over age 60 to get a photo on their drivers’ licenses, thereby making it easier for them to renew online. So now we have a whole bunch of pissed off senior citizens suddenly faced with getting picture ID’s, courtesy of the Republican state legislature.


Senate candidate Gloria Johnson, who is running in the special election in Knoxville on Nov. 8th, has the support of democratic leaders. Reports from earlier this week cite that low voting numbers could effect that race and teachers could make the difference. Johnson herself is a teacher. LINK

“We believe in Gloria. She’s a very good candidate and, quite frankly, we could use a schoolteacher in the Senate,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis. “It is a seriously Republican district (but) if the education community will support her, I think she has a chance.

“A lot of Independent and Republican teachers have woken up to the Republican Legislature being hostile toward them. I don’t think they view Gov. ( Bill) Haslam as hostile, but they are learning the Republican Legislature is hostile.”

A low turnout is expected in the Nov. 8 special election and if teachers go to the polls, they could have a stronger impact than in the typical race, Kyle said.


RoaneViews has been following the TVA Trial. White’s Creek has posted an update. LINK

From national blog Think Progress. LINK

Yesterday, the Murfreesboro Islamic Center finally broke ground on its mosque expansion, to the cheers of hundreds who came to celebrate, and without any controversy or threats. 


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