Tennessee Republican politicians are displaying the same irresponsible and self-destructive behavior that some volunteer fans displayed on Saturday night. With the GOP’s plan to use a special session to ban employer requirements for COVID-19 vaccinations and other health protection measures, our lawmakers are throwing golf balls at hard-working tennis people who rely on good public health and heavy trade.
If the classless, petty, and destructive efforts of lawmakers continue, the outcome in Nashville and across the state will be the same as the embarrassing outcome at Neyland Stadium for years to come. The state will be an all-round loser.
Tennesseer and a number of our employers – like the very strong and health conscious BlueCross BlueShield – have stepped up to insist on vaccinations and masking. They know we need every tool in the box to control this pandemic and to best enjoy the open, strong companies and freedom we all love. Earlier this month, the insurer fired 19 of some 900 frontline workers who refused to comply with a company’s vaccination mandate.
But the GOP mentality that a twisted idea of freedom could and should thwart a best practice of public protection for the common good is why our state continues to lead the country on new COVID-19 cases per capita. (See the two-page list of state COVID-19 stats that appears daily in the A section of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. On Monday, Tennessee was # 1 again.)
It is not a coincidence. We top the list because Tennessee’s super-majority Republican politicians continue to signal in every possible way that the rejection of COVID recommendations is okay – even expected. Our two-page list illustrates this: All 12 top ratings are red.
On Sunday, our GOP leaders said they will press ahead with the layoff and hold a special session in late October to block a number of COVID-19 mandates, mainly vaccine and school mask mandates. Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, spokesman for Tennessee House, told the Times Free Press, “There are members who have said they may be against the Ford Incentive Act.” [slated for a separate special session this week] if they cannot assert themselves with COVID-19 problems.
One lawmaker, State Rep. Bruce Griffey, R-Paris, has hyper-politicized it, calling “medical Nazis” those who support corporations’ right to require workers to be vaccinated. The claim is absurd, outrageous, inconsiderate and false. Pandemic tools are anything but agents of genocide.
Talk about throwing golf balls on the field. This kind of loser mentality not only leads to the loss of a game and possible loss: it creates greater future losses as the blue crosses of our world embitter a state that is viewed as meddling and callous – regardless of whether it is for life or about keeping shops and schools open and functioning smoothly.
But not only the legislature listens to the vocal right-wing minority who lead anti-mask protests, disrupt school board meetings and threaten medical professionals.
Tennessee Governor Bill Lee should publicly shame anti-mask or anti-vaccine protesters. National studies show mandatory school mask requirements (without opt-outs) and clinically proven vaccinations help reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Instead, Lee and other Republicans in Tennessee are reaching out to the extreme factions to maintain the party’s dominance. John Geer, Professor of Political Science at Vanderbilt University, sees this as a political decision.
“The governor is between a rock and a hard place,” Geer said. “Although he understands the science, a lot of the people who support him don’t, and many of them still consider COVID a myth.”
Kent Syler, a professor of political science at Middle Tennessee State University, believes that judgments by federal judges in three separate cases, along with the Biden administration’s efforts to make Tennessee safer, are fueling the flames of Lee’s re-election watch.
The judges agreed with parents, who argued that Lee’s order to deregister from masks violates federal law by creating unsafe learning environments for students with disabilities who are at higher risk for serious illness. And in Washington, DC, Tennessee is one of six states the US Department of Education is investigating into whether efforts to restrict school mask requirements are violating civil rights for some students.
“Be attacked by [President] Joe Biden, or the waiver of your policies by federal judges – who many Conservatives see as activists who legislate from the bank – probably only helps Governor Lee with his grassroots, “Syler said.
But one thing that Lee and other Republicans in Tennessee don’t seem to understand, and it’s our all fault: They don’t know that most Tennessee people don’t scream – the many who don’t scream at school board meetings and the vast majority of us who do the Meet our employers’ vaccine requirements – don’t want those ridiculous political golf balls thrown on Tennessee’s dream course to destroy our today and tomorrow.
We need to help these misguided politicians know that the school board screechers and the handful of job quitters are not going to give them the voices they need to stay in office.
We need to let them know that with a leadership like yours, it’s no wonder that fewer than half of Tennessee people are vaccinated, and that’s why Tennessee still has so much COVID.
We need to let them know that we will hold them accountable at the ballot box. Because their ballot box, not our health and wealth, is the only thing that seems to interest them.