"In Nashville, and across the state of Tennessee, we pride ourselves on having great reputations for business climate, hospitality and quality of life," reads a Tennessean op-ed this week from Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce president Ralph Schulz.
Unfortunately, a litany of anecdotal evidence for which Tennessee has received significant attention lately doesn't support the statement.
Business climate? Whatever the state has going for it in terms of business friendliness exists in spite of our elected representatives, not because of them. Consider this as but one example: Just south of Tennessee's capital, in Marshall County, unemployment hovers around 20 percent, rivaling Detroit and other blighted areas widely associated with famine economies.
Meanwhile, what is district Republican state Sen. Bill Ketron's response? A little xenophobia. Amid the objections of both business interests and progressives, he sponsored state legislation mandating that the written portion of the state driver's license test be given only in English.
But that wouldn't solve his constituents' problems; it would only make them worse. As the state's top economic recruitment official put it, the bill "contradicts the message ... that Tennessee is a good place for foreign companies to invest." It's not at all far-fetched to imagine that a Japanese or German executive who might relocate to Tennessee doesn't have a firm enough command of the language to answer questions about turn-lane etiquette in English.
The shortsighted and reactionary legislative efforts of people like Ketron might make their embittered constituents feel acknowledged, but they're a liability to the citizens' interests. Ketron & Co. are essentially branding Tennessee as narrow — and not just geographically.
Hospitality? Just when we thought the black cloud was dissipating from a series of highly publicized gutter attacks on the first family — the "spook" email from a state legislative staffer, the group of Tennessee lawmakers who channeled the federal birthers by filing a lawsuit in U.S. District Court asking to have President Obama declared an illegal alien and stripped of his presidential powers, Chip Saltsman's "Barack the Magic Negro" CD, the state GOP's "Anti-Semites for Obama" press release, etc. — the imbecility among us presented itself again in March, when the state's top hospitality industry executive sent an email to a dozen other powerful people comparing the first lady to Tarzan's Cheetah. Because, you know, nothing says "visit Tennessee" quite like comparing Harvard-educated Michelle Obama to a chimp.
Quality of life? The Tennessee General Assembly, ostensibly representative of our citizenry, is most distinguished by its knack for self-sabotage. To the background noise of chanting tea partiers, a House committee recently passed four separate bills that would except Tennessee from federal health care reform, if not for the inconvenient fact that they're unconstitutional. They're still messing with nullifying the federal health legislation this week, even though their objections are a complete waste of time and won't do a thing to exempt the Volunteer State. Never mind that their efforts aren't in the citizens' best interest.
And now the legislature seems hell-bent on "fixing" its ill-advised guns-in-bars bill — the one that was deemed unconstitutionally vague — by making it far broader and thus even harder to explain away. While economic development officials try to cast Tennessee as a great place to live and work, their recruiters on the ground, state restaurant proprietors and others blessed with the gift of common sense are forced to fight legislation that would allow patrons to pack heat in establishments that serve alcohol. (That was the eventual point of the Schulz op-ed mentioned above.)
Under the legislation, those carrying aren't supposed to nip, but that's an unenforceable proposition. And we know what alcohol can do to people whose friends, co-workers and neighbors say they are otherwise upstanding citizens.
"He was just a wonderful guy, and we think the world of him," Hardaway Construction Corp. spokesman Patrick Parker said of Henry Weisiger, after the half-drunk Weisiger was recently charged with an alphabet soup of offenses for repeatedly ramming a father and his 10-year-old daughter in their car on the way home from school. Weisiger was apparently enraged by the Obama/Biden bumper sticker on Nashville teacher Mark Duren's car. Duren had to dial 911 as he tried to calm his terrified little girl.
This may be little consolation to the people whose jobs entail convincing outsiders that Tennessee is a forward-thinking state interested in embracing public policy and business initiatives that are good for its citizens. But if the General Assembly passes this Smith & Wesson barstool free-for-all, there's a whole world of organizations beyond the NRA who might like to have their quesadillas with a side of doublebarrel flintlock.
The Liberty Belles, Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership, Armed Females of America, Second Amendment Sisters and The Paul Revere Network would probably love to hear from you.