Archive for the ‘TN 8th District’ Category

Tennessee’s 8th, Continued — Ducking the Debates

September 20, 2010

A little local politics, again, from the arena of the 2010 election, in the race to replace retiring “Blue Dog,” John Tanner.  Do we swap him for another Democrat hack, a probable RINO, or a real Constitutional conservative? I sent this letter to the editor to the Jackson (TN) SUN, today (9/20/10), concerning the apparent difficulties of getting the candidates together for a debate. The Democrat is willing, an Independent conservative is able, but the Republican (RINO?) is — laying low.  Why? And, why not go ahead without him?

Here’s the letter to the editor:

To the Editor,

Over here in the northeast corner of the 8th Congressional District, I feel somewhat slighted as to the coverage of the Congressional Race.

Stephen Fincher is ducking opportunities to flesh out his views and demonstrate his ability to think on his feet. How? By refusing to debate the other candidates on the issues.

This is disturbing, because one’s views and one’s ability to defend them in public are qualities that make or break a successful lawmaker. Is Fincher afraid he lacks those qualities?

Yes, I’ve seen the Fincher signs, with the slogan, “Plow Congress!” What does this mean, exactly?

I’d like a little more detail on how Fincher proposes to fix the way Washington has turned its back on the Constitution over the past few decades. If he is unwilling to commit on any of that, well, that’s his choice, but it doesn’t make me want to vote for him just because there’s an “R” after his name.

Independent candidate Donn Janes has declared he is ready to debate the Democrat candidate, whether or not Mister “Plow Congress” wants to come out and play.

I really hope Donn Janes will get the chance to do so. Somebody needs to stand up for Constitutional principles, and if the Republican can’t or won’t, let Janes step into the vacuum and put his own views and principles on the line.

If WREG-TV can’t make it happen, perhaps the Jackson (TN) Sun will find some other venue. I sure hope so.

Tom Cox
Dickson County, TN

Tennessee’s Eighth, and Conservative Ideals versus the Republican Establishment

February 14, 2010

More on Tennessee’s Eighth

I got some reactions from Donn Janes on my earlier essay on history and current events in the Tennessee Eighth Congressional District. His comments add great value to the discussion, so I thought I’d produce an addendum trying to take them into account.

The most important item is that I need to correct a crucial factual error. I described Donn Janes as one of “two Republicans [who] have stepped up…” to fill the seat to be left vacant by Tanner’s retirement.

Oops. Fundamental error… Janes is running as an independent, having explicitly divorced himself from the Republican Party and its many betrayals of Conservative standards and ideals. I registered as an Independent in Dickson County when we moved here, after decades as a Republican in Indiana, for the same reason. I should have been a lot more aware of the difference.

As if to scold me immediately for neglecting the best arguments for the parting of ways between Establishment Republicans and constitutional conservatives that has taken root in the last few years, I found a column by Alan Keyes posted Friday, February 12, in World Net Daily that distills the grounds for divorce. Some excerpts are reproduced here, but I strongly recommend the original article for the patient, scholarly and thorough dissertation that Alan Keyes, as usual, produces.

“In the days when my awareness of the U.S. political scene was just budding there were politicians in the Republican Party who openly identified themselves as liberals. For this sort of fact Wikipedia is as reliable a witness as any other:

“‘In the 1930s ‘Me-too-Republicans’ described those who ran on a platform of agreeing with the Democratic Party, or proclaiming only minor or moderating differences. A prime example is presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey, who did not oppose New Deal programs altogether, but merely campaigned on the promise that Republicans would run them more efficiently and less corruptly. …’

“’From 1936 to 1976 the more centrist of the Republican Party frequently won the national nomination with candidates such as Alf Landon, Wendell Willkie, Thomas E. Dewey, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. Indeed, other terms for liberal Republicans include Nixonian and Rockefeller Republican.’

“If this take on the GOP presidential candidates of the 20th century is accurate (and I think it is) it confirms the notion that, for all their posturing in opposition to the Democrats on particular issues, the controlling powers of the Republican Party have no quarrel in principle with the New Deal worldview. On grounds that are at once aesthetic, practical and self-interested, they decry the excessive Democratic tendency toward openly populist egalitarianism. Yet, impelled by a self-adulating sense of noblesse oblige, they tacitly concede that the Democrats’ “liberal” agenda represents the higher ground of moral sophistication. What the liberal GOP elites reject is their frequent lack of sophistication in carrying out that agenda.

“In this respect, I suspect that the preferred candidate of the GOP elites in the 2008 election was … Barack Obama. He had all the outward appearances of cool sophistication, purposefully controlled moral passion and seeming respect for the ironically unselfish elite ambition benevolently to secure a position of unchallenged control over every aspect of human life. He seemed so moderate.”

Ouch. A better rebuke for my neglectful lumping of a conservative independent and a nominal Republican together was never delivered. Thank you, Doctor Keyes.

Stephen Fincher certainly impressed me in our telephone conversation as a conservative at heart, using the Republican establishment framework to get to power. That was a subjective impression, however, with no corroborating evidence.

As I said, Mike Pence’s interest in Fincher made me interested in him. However – always, the however – as I mentioned before, Mike and I are not in lockstep on several issues of importance.

I have not forgotten Mike’s embrace of a very McCain-like form of “immigration reform.” It was a rotten idea when McCain championed it, and it was no better with Mike Pence out in front of it.

I also do not agree with Mike’s tendency to go along with “anti-terror” legislation that has the effect of making America less of a fortress than a prison. If we want a safer country, let’s put the bars on the outside, not on the inside.

I have always harbored the irrational hope that  Mike was immune to the effect of cumulative exposure to the insidious, Inside-the-Beltway atmosphere he has been subjected to since January, 2001. Rationally, I have to admit that no one is completely immune to those effects – even Mike Pence.

I doubt that he has succumbed to the wiles of special interest like the United Autoworkers Union or the Sierra Club, but I can’t rule out that he may have been co-opted by an equally-powerful influence in his environment – the Republican establishment.

I described before, my phone conversation with Stephen Fincher. It would be reassuring to see the conservative, constitutionalist views I heard from him then, explicitly laid out on his Website. I would be especially impressed to see him step away from the farm policies that are the oldest vestige of socialism in American government, and that have done as much damage to the free market in agriculture as government involvement in health care has done, and will continue to do, to the free market for that industry.

My favorite civics text is by Libertarian P. J. O’Rourke: PARLIAMENT OF WHORES — a Lone Humorist Attempts to Explain the Entire U.S. Government. The author of this caustic, penetrating and hysterically funny appraisal of our “system” of government yields up the following observation concerning American “farm policy:”

“Farm policy, although it’s complex, can be explained. What it can’t be is believed. No cheating spouse, no teen with a wrecked family car, no mayor of Washington, D.C., videotaped in flagrant has ever come up with anything as farfetched as U.S. farm policy.”

If Stephen Fincher can convincingly break free of the web of obligation and obfuscation of current farm policy, emblematic as it is of what is wrong with the U.S. government, I, self-appointed mayor of Lower Danley Road, northeastern suburb of the unincorporated area of Bellsburg, Tennessee, will give him a serious, second look. As a farmer in a farming community, Stephen Fincher would be showing his allegiance to principle over economic and political self-interest by disavowing government farm policy, and the integrity required to take that step would be very impressive. As cordial and genuine a gentleman as Stephen Fincher is, I’ll have to wait to believe that when I see it in print.

The problem right now in Tennessee’s Eighth is the same problem we have had all over America as a result of going along with the Republican Establishment. The elephantine elite are distinguishable from Democrats/Progressives/Socialists/Economic Fascists only in style; not in substance. We who have followed this herd have swept up enough elephant dung to keep the compost heap going indefinitely. We don’t need any more.

Or, as Alan Keyes summarizes, in the piece cited above:

“People are now rising in opposition to the all-too-conclusive evidence of the Obama faction’s repugnant extremism. But they urgently need to ponder the fact that the phony moderation of the GOP leadership elites did more than anything else to put Obama where he is. Unless we look beyond the false alternatives they offer, we will only enable equally false election victories that will not put an end to the destruction of American liberty Obama represents.”

With apologies to Stephen Fincher, if I had to vote in the Tennessee primary today, I’d vote for Donn Janes.

Tennessee’s Illustrious Eighth — a Congressional District with a Colorful History

February 13, 2010

When we moved to hilly, middle Tennessee from the flatlands of Indiana, we moved to a congressional district with as many historical ups and downs as it has of the physical sort.

According to the Wikipedia page on the subject, both the recent and not-so-recent history of this area have been…. colorful.

Tennessee’s Eighth, carved out of the old Seventh, used to lump our rural home in Dickson County in with Memphis. As a result of the 1980 census, the legislature in 1983 left Memphis and most of Shelby County to fend for themselves as the new Ninth, and Dickson County in the Eighth, to face the future with most of Northwest Tennessee.

Tennessee's Eighth Congressional District

The Wikipedia list of US Representatives from the Eighth and its antecedents goes back to 1823, and lists party affiliations that include a Jacksonian Democratic-Republican, three Jacksonians, one Anti-Jacksonian, seven Whigs, a Know-Nothing, an Opposition Party (Whig spin-off) member, an Unconditional Unionist (not surprisingly, an artifact of the War of Secession, AKA up north as the “Civil War”), and more recently, fifteen Democrats and six Republicans. Talk about colorful…

The last time this seat was in Republican hands was 1973-75, when Dan Kuykendall was re-districted into it from the Ninth. Before that, the last Republican this area sent to Washington was in 1921-23 — so it’s safe to say that doesn’t happen every day. Given the generally Democrat history of the Mid-South, that shouldn’t surprise anyone.

That’s the history. In 2010, however, things could be different. At the end of 2009, John Tanner, the latest Democrat to hold the seat, and having held it for eleven terms, announced his resignation. Tanner, in the tradition of the culturally- and fiscally-conservative Democrats who tend to prevail in the district’s demography, takes credit as a co-founder of the “Blue Dog” Democrat faction of Congress.

Indeed, his voting record may be more conservative than Madame Speaker probably finds to her liking, if the account on his page on Wikipedia is to be believed:

“Tanner is strongly in favor of balancing the budget and paying down the national debt. He has been a strong opponent of the fiscal policies of President George W. Bush, voting against many of the tax cuts passed during his terms; yet, he was one of 43 Democrats to vote to repeal the estate tax in 2006. Tanner was one of the few Democrats in the House to vote in favor of CAFTA and has long distanced himself from the majority of his party on issues such as bankruptcy law and lawsuit reform. He voted for the Federal Marriage Amendment, the ban on “partial-birth” abortions, limiting death penalty appeals, and has voted against most gun control measures. On other issues he is more liberal: he often votes with his party on separation of church and states issues, and has consistently voted against the Flag Desecration Amendment. Tanner voted with the majority of his party to expand stem cell research and against renewing the controversial portions of the Patriot Act. He also supports affirmative action and public education. Tanner was firmly opposed to Bush’s attempt to reform Social Security.”

That sounds kind of moderate, for a long-term Democrat. Somehow, though, Tanner voted liberally enough to earn an 80% rating from the experts on liberalism at Americans for Democratic Action, based on his votes during 2008, the most recent year for which there are scores on their Website.

Wikipedia characterizes this voting pattern as “moderate,” but it might also be described as, “confused,” or, “expedient,” if one could see into Tanner’s motivations.

Only one member of the Tennessee delegation, Steve Cohen, who succeeded Harold Ford to the Ninth District seat that now includes Memphis, finished higher according to ADA standards than Tanner. Cohen scored 100% for 2008. Harold Ford has been in the news lately as a potential Democrat candidate for the US Senate in New York, so Cohen’s district is no stranger to liberal representation.

For comparison, even Senator Lamar Alexander, who is somewhat squishy on illegal immigration, and voted for the nomination of hard-core leftist nominee Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court, got a chilly 25% rating from the ADA.

Reporting from the other side of the political spectrum, the American Conservative Union gave Tanner a 13% grade for his 2008 voting record, an “F” in most grading systems that don’t pass everybody, and Alexander garnered  72% for the period, which was a low, low  “D” when I was in school.

Which makes one wonder: if John Tanner (80% from ADA; 13% from ACU), a founding Blue Dog, was a friend to the conservatives in Tennessee’s Eighth… did they need enemies?

More recently, the Eighth has had some color of another sort. The highest-profile potential opponent to Tanner from the (nominally) Republican side in the last few elections has been James Hart. To say that Hart has unconventional political views is to make a spectacular understatement. (See for yourself at his Website.)

Hart’s political orientation is a weird cross between an anti-government, neo-isolationist fringe that makes Ron Paul seem calm and conventional, and a white supremacy/eugenics theme that would be at home among hard-core, 20th-century Progressives like Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger.

The Tennessee Republican establishment has backed away from him at every opportunity, as he recounts at his site. The lack of more credible GOP opposition in recent years is perhaps due to a perceived invincibility on the part of the incumbent, as fortified by McCain-Feingold, the Incumbent Protection Act. Certainly, Hart’s frequent use of the politically-radioactive phrase, “favored races,” has done nothing to encourage the Elephant Party Elders to embrace him. He embraces their rejection. It’s that kind of relationship.

This phrase has earned Hart Favored Villain Status among progressive observers of Tennessee politics, despite the historical roots of Eugenics being firmly bedded in Progressivism.

Anyway, that brings us more or less to the present. Tanner is headed for a cushy Congressional retirement, perhaps doubling as a lobbyist, or maybe just as a gentleman farmer, or a coddled academic, and the vacuum must be filled.  Two Republicans have stepped up: Stephen Fincher and Donn Janes.

I haven’t made up my mind, yet, but so far, I like both, and I suspect that either would be an improvement of several orders of magnitude over recent representation of the Eighth in Congress.

In email correspondence with Donn Janes, he impressed me as a firmly-rooted Constitutionalist. His lack of association with the Republican establishment doesn’t put me off at all, considering how incompetent and/or deceptive that establishment has been in recent years, as I have described in detail in “Compassionate Conservatism,” and other Reasons Why the Republicans Lost, and elsewhere.

In this case, it is not Eugenics looniness that seems to repel the Elephants, but the suicidal stampede of the pachyderm patriarchy to embrace Liberal Lite over grassroots conservatism. If this is their reason for giving Janes a dismissive sniff of the trunk, I consider that a major positive. Janes’s Website lays out his beliefs in some detail, and I can find nothing there to disagree with. I see no effort at obfuscation or deception in any of it, and I am strongly inclined to believe that he believes as he says he does.

On the inevitable other hand, Stephen Fincher also strikes me as the real deal. Fincher spent fifteen or twenty minutes on the phone with me, in which I gave him a gentle grilling about several issues I see as definitive. His Website, as I have noted elsewhere, was a little vague in some details I was looking for, but he filled in a lot of that in the time I had with him.

I asked him if he would refuse to vote for legislation for which no justification could be found explicitly in the Constitution. He said yes. He went into some detail, leading me to believe that he is a strict constructionist, and not a blank-check-ist, as far as interpreting the limits on government power delineated in the Constitution. In other words, I don’t see him signing off on something under the cover of the horribly abused “general welfare” provision.

I asked him a question I’d like to see answered by all 535 members of Congress. I call it the “regulation without representation” question. In the event that a federal regulatory agency passed a regulation that violates the Constitutional constraints on government power, would you vote to defund the agency involved, starving it of the resources to enforce such regulation?

I proposed the hypothetical (but all too likely) example of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) re-establishing a “Fairness Doctrine” that would impose restrictions on First Amendment freedoms of speech and press. Fincher said that yes, he would do anything he could to defund the FCC in that case, or in any case in which regulators attempt to bypass the legislative process on their way to violating the Constitution. I think he meant it.

I would love to see our regulatory royalty deprived of their salaries, expenses and benefits while they re-think their ambitions for violating the Constitution.

What does Stephen Fincher think of term limits? He says no member of the Senate should serve more than two (six-year) terms, and no member of the House should be there longer than six (two-year) terms.

(I think membership in either house should be seen as just as much a matter of disagreeable obligation as jury duty, rather than a lifetime occupation from which one retires early and lives like a king at taxpayers’ expense. Take away the perks of power, make the retirement benefits much less luxuriant, and see if we still have self-important hacks and crooks of any party hanging around like a persistent fungal infection.)

The FAIR TAX – Is Stephen Fincher for it? Yes, if he can assure himself that we wouldn’t wind up with a grasping IRS collecting income tax AND a sales tax, he would support the Fair Tax, or a reasonable variant.

Does he agree with my standard for bill size – “any bill too big for a regular human to read before it comes up for a vote is too big to vote for”? Yes. He says the huge size of recent bills is nothing but a haystack for hiding needles from taxpayers, such as pork barrel, bribes for special interests, and unconstitutional power grabs.

I strongly suspect that Donn Janes would answer all of these questions pretty much to my satisfaction, as well.

Stephen Fincher does, undeniably, have more connections with the Republican establishment than Donn Janes, but they are of a conservative pedigree. Fincher told me he is in touch with Mike Pence, Republican Representative from the Second District of Indiana, who is chairman of the House Republican Conference.

Mike Pence is a solid conservative, and has become something of a kingmaker among the conservative Republicans in Congress and elsewhere. While Mike is more conservative and less Libertarian in orientation than I am, I know and respect him from a long-time acquaintance going back before his time in Congress, and I believe he, too,  is “the real deal” — honest, intelligent and respectful of his obligation to uphold the Constitution.

If he says Fincher is a solid individual who would faithfully represent the interests of Tennessee and obey his oath of office, I’m inclined to believe it.

I am also inclined to believe that of Donn Janes, although I have less, independent corroboration.

Where does that leave us? I think we have two, good candidates to go up against the one the Democrats pick in their primary. Which one will I vote for? I don’t know, yet, but I’m glad to have “an embarrassment of riches.”

That is  much more agreeable than a choice between a tightly-wound Eugenics fan and an invulnerable incumbent with a C+/B- grade from the premier liberal organization, and yet the ability to pass himself off as a Blue Dog moderate.