Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Best and worst legislators for business

BusinessTN's May issue is out and with it comes "The Best & Worst Lawmakers for Business in Tennessee." The best are Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, Rep. Charles Curtiss, Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, Sen. Jamie Woodson. Sen. Bill Ketron gets an honorable mention.

The worst are House Majority Leader Gary Odom, Sen. Michael Williams, Sen. Ray Finney, Rep. Mike Turner, and Sen. Ophelia Ford. Rep. Henry Fincher gets "dishonorable mention."

Explaining their criteria, they write: "As litmus for determining the selections, BusinessTN sticks to legislative stances clearly identified as good or bad for business...Lastly, BusinessTN heavily weights a lawmaker's actual ability to have a positive or negative effect on the state's business climate."

But when you read the individual entries you realize that things are a bit slippery. When discussing Lt. Governor Ramsey, the piece says, "Ramsey and his Senate Republican majority has hiccuped on a pro-business agenda from time to time stemming mainly from their conservative stances on social issues." They cite his opposition to pre-K expansion, which enhances "workforce development." Um, what about his strong support for the marriage discrimination amendment, which makes the state less welcoming to GLBT people? Think that's not an issue? Talk to someone in Nissan H.R. about the kind of questions they got about Tennessee from management employees when it was announced that the corporate headquarters was moving here.

On the other side of the aisle and in the other chamber, Speaker Naifeh is praised for helping get the tobacco tax hike passed even though it's (a) a tax, which is generally a bad word at BusinessTN and (b) a tax targeting a business with important ties to the state. But since it was done in the interest of "the state's workforce development needs," it's all right. Huh? Maybe he did it purely for the health interests of people.

Even more confusing than the descriptions of the "best" are the droppings the piece leaves on the "worst." The only real anti-business tag they can stick to Gary Odom is his interest in regulating for-profit colleges, which the magazine describe as "important to Tennessee's workforce." In fact, they go on to describe him as "previously viewed as unfriendly to business, Odom has repaired that reputation..." The rest of the section on the House Majority Leader is a series of petty attacks on political issues that have nothing to do with the criteria the magazine set out for its picks. It's just character assassination.

Furthermore, this idea of workforce development is used to justify policies that are directly anti-business in the near-term. It's curious how some investments in workers are seen as visionary, whereas raising the minimum wage (their swipe at Mike Turner) and improving the workers compensation process for...yes, workers (those people BusinessTN seems so interested in "developing")...are perceived as anti-business. Besides, there is a legimitate debate as to whether a rising mimimum wage hurts economic growth, as this Wall Street Journal piece points out. Those who directly benefit from it are the ones most likely to spend the money locally.

I think where this piece stumbles in the end is that it starts with criteria based on the common perception of what is and is not pro-business and then loosely applies these criteria while taking detours into issues that are not business related. It would have been more helpful if they had given us their understanding of what is good for the business climate in Tennessee in an introductory essay and then looked at the voting records and power of those legislators they wished to feature.

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