As unemployment numbers soar in the state (and across the entire Southern U.S.), as funds for offering unemployment insurance earnings bottoms out, with job losses climbing - the top priority for the GOP is a push to create a state constitutional amendment opposing abortion.
As former state senator now Family Action Council of Tennessee lobbyist David Fowler says - we can always deal with our real problems, like the economy, education and the budget deficit later. Such problems are minor:
"And lastly, those who say the Republicans need to concentrate on the budget, education, and jobs correctly note that these need to be priorities…. too. But to assume that the legislature is only limited to dealing with two or three issues is nonsense. Values voters just won’t buy that should the Republicans ignore their issues and concerns. In fact, Republicans should move SJR 127 and some of the other issues early in the next session in order to be able to concentrate fully on economic issues once the revenue numbers come out in late April."
Joining his efforts are GOP leader Ramsey and speaker-in-waiting Mumpower, who both want the abortion debate to be the top priority. Hamblen County's senator Steve Southerland landed a front page story in the local paper, saying:
" ... one of the legislative initiatives that Republicans plan to push is a constitutional amendment further defining abortion rights in Tennessee, a move that would ultimately require a referendum during a gubernatorial race."
The state's Republicans are hoping to get such a vote on their constitutional amendment on the ballot for the next governor's race, one in which they hope to draw more GOP voters to the poll - in other words, using the hot-button issue of abortion to help them elect a GOP governor. It's a deeply cynical ploy which they plan to use for their own political gain. How sad to view voters as emotional pawns in their push for power.
Time for a reality check for Republicans - we've got priorities you have not been able to see yet as you celebrate a political moment:
- Currently 19 states have between 3 and 11 months worth of funds for Unemployment Insurance. In Tennessee, the solvency is in dire straits and could run out within less than a year, something that happened back in 1983 when the state had to borrow money from the federal government forcing business owners to pay a 5% surcharge for the loan. Anyone think 2009 will see the fed more eager to loan money or less eager?
- State unemployment is at a 20-year high and projections are for it to grow in 2009.
- While some job sectors have had growth over the last year, the state's Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development says the past year has been one of losses overall: "From September 2007 to September 2008, educational and health services added 6,100 jobs. Local government educational services employment increased by 1,900. From 2007 manufacturing was down by 10,000. Professional and business services lost 6,800 jobs; leisure and hospitality lost 5,700"
- With state tax revenues on the decline, how much funding will be cut for education? How much higher will college tuition continue to increase?
- Living costs - thanks to massive increases in fuel over the year, rising food costs, mortgage woes - have meant more state residents are seeking assistance to fight off hunger. A Knoxville News Sentinel story reports that "This September more people got food stamps in each of Tennessee's 95 counties compared with last year.
Here's a graph from that same KNS story which paints a picture of how widespread the struggle to stay above the poverty line has become: