No, Not Our Parks!

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I think we all have one of those relatives who, when wandering around Grandma's house, looks at everything only in terms of dollar signs. Sure, that quilt might have been made by hand by your Great-great-aunt June for your Great-Grandmother's wedding and you know your niece, who's a quilter herself would love it, but Greedy Relative is sure we can get thousands of dollars for the quilt from some collector. Or you may have loved the teddy bear your grandpa had as a boy and found it charming that your grandma kept it, but Greedy Relative threw it out because it "wasn't worth anything."

I'm starting to feel like Governor Haslam is like that — but the house he's rummaging around trying to find valuable stuff in is our state. First there was the Jones Lang Lasalle nonsense, where Haslam let JLL tell us how to best utilize our state office space and then we paid them to move offices around, because, weirdly enough, they found that we needed to move a lot of offices around and pay them to do it.

And now, Haslam's making moves to privatize our state parks. Or as I like to call it — selling off our cultural heritage to the highest bidder. Phil Williams at NewsChannel 5 has the story:

But under the plan being considered by the Haslam administration, operation of some of the state's golf courses, inns and campgrounds, even marinas, could be turned over to a big corporation to operate.

State officials recently asked the industry for ideas about how it might save money in some of the larger state parks.

On the list in Middle Tennessee: Montgomery Bell, David Crockett, Henry Horton, Tims Ford, Fall Creek Falls and Cumberland Mountain state parks. Also on the list: Paris Landing, Pickwick Landing, Natchez Trace, Harrison Bay and Warriors Path state parks.

Tisha Calabrese-Benton, assistant commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, insists that this isn't a done deal, but it's so consistent with Haslam's attitude toward corporatizing everything and treating state employees like they're some terrible burden on tax payers which should be eliminated if at all possible that I'd simply die of shock if this weren't farther along than they're acting.

But here's the absolute best part — "State officials insisted that the idea of outsourcing park operations isn't a radical one. After all, the national park system has done the exact same thing."

So, the Governor is now arguing that, if it's good enough for the federal government, it's good enough for Tennessee? Why is that argument supposed to be compelling when it's about losing control of our parks, but not compelling when it's about expanding Medicaid?

I'll tell you my guess. Because expanding Medicaid doesn't benefit someone Haslam likes. It benefits poor people. But mark my words — when we see what companies choose to bid on this, we're going to see people who are Haslam's buddies.

I can't be rational about this. It just makes me so mad. Every day I hear people talking about how all politicians are the same. But no, folks, these politicians who think government should run like a business, they don't understand the value of parks or of boat docks or of making sure fishermen can navigate our rivers. Things that make life liveable but don't make money make no sense to them as things of value to the people of Tennessee. (And it's why Haslam doesn't have to give a shit about poor people. They're just little walking deficits in the great metaphorical ledger of the state. Whether they suffer or not doesn't matter, because they don't "add value," in the way that men like Haslam measure value.)

I am terrified he's going to figure out that we have valuable items in the Tennessee State Library and Archives and down at the State Museum, because, my god, if the state is going to run like a business why not "monetize" our assets?

I don't want to go to the Marriott at Montgomery Bell State Park. I want the people who work there to have worked there for a million years. I want them to be able to tell me which trails I might like and to tell me whether I need to worry about the White Screamer or if we're far enough away from White Bluff that it doesn't matter. I want them to work there not because it's a job in the hospitality industry but because they love that park.

The problem with the businessman approach to governing is that it assumes that everything that works in a way that is unfamiliar to the businessman must not be working properly. But our state parks are awesome. The people who work at the ones I've been to (and you know me and parks) have been wonderful and helpful. Why would we give that up just for the sake of running the state more like a business?

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