Wednesday, October 15, 2014

~~A Brief Explanation of This Year's 4 Tennessee 'Ballot Amendments' ~~ What They Mean, and How I'm Voting

By Peter Rodman
That's my "I VOTED"sticker; I always seem to wear it around
for the rest of the day, like I won the lottery or something!
(I wear white socks too, just like the rest of the voters my age.)
How many times have you made it into the voting booth, only to discover you knew almost nothing about any of the 'ballot proposals' you found there?
This column provides a brief synopsis of all 4 Tennessee "amendments" on this year's ballot.  The descriptions of them are unbiased--taken straight off
I've added background points, arguments or quotes I think relevant about each amendment, and each section finishes up with my own endorsement.

Even if you disagree with my views, my hope is that each of these sections will help you better understand what that amendment is all about.
The goal is for all of us to walk into that voting booth:
  • at our leisure (polls are open every day now!)
  • anywhere in the city (you can vote at any poll)
  • and know precisely what to expect, and exactly what each of the amendments means, for a change!
I hope these brief summaries help you make up your mind, just as I have (*with one exception!)...

So let's get started, shall we?


TN Amendment 1 reads as follows:
Shall Article I, of the Constitution of Tennessee be amended by adding the following language as a new, appropriately designated section:
Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.

"Amendment 1 is carefully worded in order to deliberately confuse voters about the real intention and motives of those behind the amendment. The people and organizations supporting Amendment 1 have clearly said that they believe all abortion should be illegal, no matter what. When many people read the Amendment, they believe that there will be guaranteed exceptions for women who are victims of rape or incest, or when a woman’s health is in danger.
In simple terms, Amendment 1 says two things:

  1. There is absolutely no right to abortion, and Politicians can pass laws for exceptions in case of rape or incest, or when a woman’s life is in danger, if they choose to.
  2. There is no requirement that they do so. There is not even an exception for extreme cases like when a pregnant women needs treatment for cancer."  --(These opinions came from the 'Vote NO on One Tennessee' organization.)
I couldn't have said it better myself.
This draconian right wing proposal takes us right back to the Dark Ages, essentially denying a woman's right to choose, established over 40 years ago by the United States Supreme Court. It should be summarily batted down, like the miserable flea who proposed it in the first place.

My decision?


TN Amendment 2 reads as follows:

Shall Article VI, Section 3 of the Constitution of Tennessee be amended by deleting the first and second sentences and by substituting instead the following:
Judges of the Supreme Court or any intermediate appellate court shall be appointed for a full term or to fill a vacancy by and at the discretion of the governor; shall be confirmed by the Legislature; and thereafter, shall be elected in a retention election by the qualified voters of the state. Confirmation by default occurs if the Legislature fails to reject an appointee within sixty calendar days of either the date of appointment, if made during the annual legislative session, or the convening date of the next annual legislative session, if made out of session. The Legislature is authorized to prescribe such provisions as may be necessary to carry out Sections two and three of this article.

I am voting "YES" on Amendment 2, because it helps take key judicial appointments OUT of election politics, while still letting the peoples' elected representatives vote 'up or down' on the Governor's judicial nominees.
According to, "The measure would empower the governor to appoint judges to the Supreme Court or any other state appellate courts, subject to confirmation by the general assembly. The appointed judge would serve an eight-year term. Thereafter, the judge could serve another term via a retention election by voters.
The measure would largely constitutionalize the state's current system, but would dismantle the Judicial Nominating Commission and empower the legislature to confirm or reject appointments. This proposed process mirrors how federal judges are selected.  The Tennessee Constitution currently reads, "The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state." 

Former Governor Phil Bredesen puts it this way, in urging that we remove Supreme Court Judges from the election process: “Suddenly you get at the last minute somebody on there who’s promised to, I don’t know, stop all abortions or something like that. You get just a lot of outside money coming into elections. You can do that to a governor or to a congressman, but I think it’s particularly effective and dangerous with races that people are generally not interested in.”

My decision?


TN Amendment 3 reads as follows:

Shall Article II, Section 28 of the Constitution of Tennessee be amended by adding the following sentence at the end of the final substantive paragraph within the section:
Notwithstanding the authority to tax privileges or any other authority set forth in this Constitution, the Legislature shall not levy, authorize or otherwise permit any state or local tax upon payroll or earned personal income or any state or local tax measured by payroll or earned personal income; however, nothing contained herein shall be construed as prohibiting any tax in effect on January 1, 2011, or adjustment of the rate of such tax.

This is 'red meat' for the anti-government, anti-tax crowd. (Think: Phil Valentine.)
I'm voting "NO."  Not because I want a state income tax, but because I do not believe setting constitutional traps precluding one is any kind of answer to our fiscal problems.  Who knows what unforeseen future needs we may have, as a state?  What if some pandemic like Ebola struck here, in a big way?  What about swapping our exorbitant sales tax for a minimal income tax?  Literally anything can happen...but basically what this is, is a right wing, stomp-your-foot, tie-the-government's-hands measure.  
Unlike many, I am not anti-government.  In fact, I don't see the problem with having more government employees--I can't seem to get 'Metro Codes' out here, because a mere four people have divided our entire city (alphabetically), and the backlog for enforcement is literally months long.  Do we really want to see another 30 years of cutbacks in services, after the last 30?  No!
I happen to believe that government services in a rapidly growing state should not be cut back, ever.  What sort of defeatist thinking goes into having half the staff do four times the work?
You may disagree with me on this one, and I understand--nobody likes even the thought of a new tax.  In fact, this should be nicknamed the 'Don't even THINK about It!" amendment, but that's my problem with it: Why not?  Do we not trust ourselves to make these judgements going forward, just as we always have in the past?
In my opinion, here's what this amendment is designed to do: Corner the government into more and more cutbacks, by never allowing that one last 'escape hatch,' which might someday be a (small) state income tax.
My philosophy is that I'm happy to pay my fair share of taxes, whatever they may be.
Sure, I hope there's no need for a state income tax!  But do I want it 'set in stone,' potentially supplanting the future 'will of the people' with the current 'will of the people'? ...NO.  That's not my idea of democracy; that's the GOP Taliban, again...saying: "There's no state income tax now, and since we're in the majority now we'd like to make sure you can't possibly change your mind later...even if you decide you want to!"

My decision?


TN Amendment 4 reads as follows:  

Shall Article XI, Section 5 of the Constitution of Tennessee be amended by deleting the following language:

All other forms of lottery not authorized herein are expressly prohibited unless authorized by a two-thirds vote of all members elected to each house of the general assembly for an annual event operated for the benefit of a 501(c)(3) organization located in this state, as defined by the 2000 United States Tax Code or as may be amended from time to time.
and by substituting instead the following language:

All other forms of lottery not authorized herein are expressly prohibited unless authorized by a two-thirds vote of all members elected to each house of the general assembly for an annual event operated for the benefit of a 501(c)(3) or a 501(c)(19) organization, as defined by the 2000 United States Tax Code, located in this state.

This is, of course, Chinese to me--and you too, unless you're the guy who wrote it, or Professor Irwin Corey, the famed 'double talking' comedian from our youth. 
'Professor' Irwin Corey
'The World's Foremost Authority'
I tried reading both paragraphs, over and over, until I realized a translation was in order. 
Strictly combining and comparing the "before" and "after" paragraphs, you get this:
"All other forms of lottery not authorized herein are expressly prohibited unless authorized by a two-thirds vote of all members elected to each house of the general assembly for an annual event operated for the benefit of a 501(c)(3) or a 501(c)(19) organization
located in this state, as defined by the 2000 United States Tax Code
or as may be amended from time to time., located in this state."

Turns out the State Legislature wants to empower itself to okay gambling beyond the existing categories of various charities, to include veterans organizations. [That's what a 501 (c) (19) is.]
The reason vets organizations weren't included in the original amendment over a decade ago, is that it seems a few Vets organizations had some little ol' bingo games goin' that were...well.......
Here's a bit of history on it, from the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle:

"In the industry's heyday, some 300 bingo halls operated across Tennessee on a cash basis, collectively raking in millions of dollars, with little of the money going to charity. Many were run in violation of the law by professional gambling operators with no real connection to the charitable organizations in whose names they were licensed.
But in 1986, the FBI, IRS, Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and U.S. prosecutors got involved. Their investigation, dubbed Rocky Top, erupted publicly with the guilty plea in early 1989 of the state's former chief bingo inspector-turned-bingo lobbyist, W.D. "Donnie" Walker of Marion County.
By the time the scandal ran its course, then-Secretary of State Gentry Crowell, whose office regulated bingo, had committed suicide in advance of his third federal grand jury appearance. State Rep. Tommy Burnett, D-Monterey, was later convicted of having a secret interest in a bingo hall. State Rep. Ted Ray Miller, D-Knoxville, also committed suicide.
And the Tennessee Supreme Court finally weighed in with a ruling that bingo was illegal under the state constitution's lottery ban.
Veterans groups struggle under ban
But Dean A. Tuttle, adjutant and finance officer with the American Legion Department of Tennessee, said the end of charitable bingo a quarter-century ago was devastating to legitimate veterans service organizations that used the money to support veterans and their families with student scholarships and other aid and to promote such causes as veterans' health care.
"Likely about 80 percent of our post homes or Legion homes are probably now nonexistent," Tuttle said, noting that many veterans groups now meet in places ranging from churches to schools. "It is awfully tough to go out there and make it baking cakes and washing cars."
Once-a-year gaming events such as raffles and cakewalks aren't ideal, Tuttle said. But he noted the annual events would help some.
Like Crowe, Tuttle worries about the amendment's chances, given the lack of public discussion and the wording of the proposal.
"If you don't know the IRS code you have no idea of what it's doing," he said of the amendment.
Differing opinions
As to why veterans groups weren't included in the 2002 constitutional amendment on lotteries, some lawmakers say it was an inadvertent omission due to their IRS 501(c)(19) designation. The 2002 amendment covered only 501(c)(3) groups.
Others say that with the Rocky Top scandal still fresh on their minds, there was concern that including veterans groups might harm passage of the legislative resolution putting the issue before voters, even though most veterans groups shunned dealings with the professional gamblers."

 My decision?  
(undecided--but leaning "NO")

I'm just not sure I want the state expanding gambling for any reason. I want to say "yes' to the vets...but I lean toward "no," just thinking of all those so-called 'Native American casinos' that end up having zilch to do with Native Americans. Whether it's supposedly for 'veterans' or not, I'd kinda rather keep this door closed, at least for another few years. The old saying goes, "Past is present." Just look at all the corruption these very 'games' inspired in the past, in the story above.

Well, that's my perspective on this year's ballot amendments.  
I hope this gave you some food for thought. 
Constitutional Amendments are the rarest (and most serious) adjustments we can ever make, when voting.  They put in permanent ink what one side or the other might want-- and that can be a very dangerous thing, unless very carefully thought out in
Remember: VOTING is not a 'spectator sport'!!!
Photograph Copyright 2014 by Peter Rodman.


Too many times, radical Tennessee state legislators have tried to hijack our rights as citizens, by "sneaking in" ballot proposals that purposely confuse the issues, or make them sound a lot more harmless than they really are.  (A good rule of thumb on ANY amendment or proposal you don't know enough about, is to vote "NO.") 
But an even better option is to know what you're doing, when you enter that voting booth.   

I hope this blog has helped you, in that endeavor.

This Opinion Column Copyright 2014 by Peter Rodman.  All Rights Reserved. 

Post Script:

This political cartoon concerning Amendment 1 has stirred some controversy, but I agree with its premise. The amendment was proposed by MEN, seeking to regulate the private medical activities of WOMEN.  ('Twas ever thus.)  VOTE NO!!!


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