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              Boomer's Corner with

Charles "Boomer" Winfrey

Welcome to a ‘State’s Rights’state, folks States have all the rights, we get the bills

Boomer's Corner - By Charles "Boomer" Winfrey

Now that all the drama surrounding the attempted impeachment of Finance Director Moneybags Marlow is past, perhaps the county commission can get down to the real work at hand, finalizing a budget and tax rate.

It won’t be easy and it won’t be painless. I tried to make that point a few weeks back with one of my typical humor columns, suggesting ways the county could raise revenue without the hated tax increase. All the suggestions were ridiculous, of course, such as operating a chop shop out of the county garage.

The column backfired and I was raked over the coals when it became evident that 1) some of our squires, like the FBI, have no sense of humor and 2) some folks including a commissioner or two, obviously slept through high school English when the teacher discussed the short stories of Mark Twain and the literary art of satire.

So I’m going to stick to being deadly serious this time folks, or as serious as I can manage whenever discussing the Campbell County Commission. Let’s face it, these budget dramas have been going on longer than any of us have been alive, and they never seem to get easier. I was tempted to pull out one of my old stories from the Campbell County Times, circa 1984 or so, and run it this week with all the names left blank. I wager few people would notice the difference and would try to plug in which current squire said what.

Moneybags and Mayor E. L. Morton spent most of the day together Wednesday, not trying to strangle one another but attempting to come up with a balanced budget they hope a majority of squires can live with. I caught a glance of the result. The mayor is abandoning, for now, his hopes for hiring an industrial recruiter. The unavoidable deficits in the ambulance service fund and a couple of other spots are covered by “equity,” which I presume to mean taken from the fund balance.

They are leaving a little less than half of the proposed $1.2 million for road paving, just enough to pave a few more miles of highway this year and cover anticipated shortfalls in state education money over the next couple of years. The proposed budget eliminates some positions, such as maintenance workers at the courthouse and one of the two litter control officers, but those were already on the chopping block. The commission’s discretionary fund is eliminated as well. The bottom line is a proposed tax rate of $2.24 or 2.25, I forget which.

That may be the best the Mayor and Finance Director can come up with, but you can bet it won’t satisfy some of the commissioners such as former Mayor Cliff, Whit Goins, Scott Stanfield and a few others who have been clamoring for no tax increase at all. It certainly won’t satisfy James “No more property tax, no more sales tax, no illegal wheel tax” Slusher, who will undoubtedly not be satisfied no matter what the squires decide to do, and it won’t please many of those misinformed citizens who have been depending on Slusher, Cliff and a few others to tell them the facts.

Personally, I wish Moneybags and the Mayor would give the $1.99ers their way and take it all out of the fund balance. Need more jailers to avoid a federal lawsuit? Take it from the fund balance. Need to make up a quarter million dollars the State shorted the school system? Fund balance. Need to make up $300,000 that Medicaid shorted the ambulance service? Clean out the ambulance service fund balance (Oh, I forgot, they’re actually doing that!)

We can use the fund balance to pave twelve miles of road between White Oak and Duff, more fund balance to give county employees that overdue raise that Mr. Slusher complained they need and deserve, and go ahead with the dream of an active industrial recruiter and enough money to buy up some land to locate new industry. Just borrow the money from ourselves by raiding the fund balance.

Before you know it we will be right back where we were in the early 1990s, before the county had a Financial Management System for commissioners to blame. If one of the garbage trucks gets sideswiped by a drunk driver or worse, blows an engine, we can get a replacement from the rainy day fund. What, no rainy day fund? No problem, Waste Management, Inc. will be happy to haul our garbage to Chestnut Ridge. . . for a price.

Oh no, the county commission gets into another one of those protracted squabbles over the budget next year, tax notices are late going out and tax revenues are late coming in so the county runs out of money because we’ve drained all our fund balances dry? No problem, there are plenty of banks around willing to loan the county money to keep the courthouse open and deputies on the street . . . . for a price.

The scenarios are endless. Ron Dilbeck uses up every dime in his 10 mile paving budget before cold weather starts, then we have another Winter like the last one. Spring rains bring May flowers and twenty miles of tire-busting potholes. Well, we can always take some money from the fund balance to patch those potholes . . . . if we only had a fund balance.

You get the picture. I’d like to give the $1.99ers their way just one time so everyone could finally see the error of going down that path, but it ain’t gonna happen. That danged Finance Director simply won’t allow himself, as manager of the county’s finances and answerable to the State Comptroller of the Treasury as well as Campbell County citizens, to let the county go into default. He won’t deplete fund balances that are required by state law to borrow from Peter to pay Paul, cuss his ornery hide!

Marlow just isn’t a team player, which is probably why some county commissioners, for the fourth time in his tenure, have tried to fire him and get somebody in there who will tell them what they want to hear, whether or not it’s legal, ethical or sound business. After all, that’s what politicians are expected to do, isn’t it - tell the voters what they want to hear rather than the truth?

But I feel sorry for the squires as well, even though I love to needle them as a body. This mess is not of their making. Yes, they kicked the can down the road last year by making up a $1.3 million budget deficit from the fund balance. They had to make that hard decision because the previous county commission delayed the budget until after the election, when most of them weren’t returned to office.

But don’t blame the previous commission either. They didn’t eliminate the coal industry in Tennessee, costing the county $300,000 a year in severance tax. They also didn’t create the maintenance of effort policies that require local government to spend no less on education, highways and law enforcement than in previous years. The county commission did not decide to decrease the amount of money state government gives counties for education each year, nor did the county commission set minimum guidelines for how many prisoners can be housed in a jail cell or what the reimbursement rate will be for hauling Medicare patients by the local ambulance service. Commissioners also didn’t decide to close THP drivers’ license offices and hand that responsibility off to County Clerks.

What county commissions all over the state must do is sit powerlessly by and watch while members of the Tennessee State Legislature meet down in Nashville, thump their chests and brag about how they are cutting state spending and holding the line on taxes. Then they simply pass the costs of running government down the line to the county commissioners to be the fall guys and gals and take the heat from irate taxpayers and voters.

Welcome to a “State’s Rights State” folks, where the State has all the rights and the rest of us just get fleeced.  (08/27/2015 - 6:00 AM)


For your kids’ sakes, vote “no” on Amendment Number Three

The poor newcomers on the county commission and the mayor’s office have survived their first trial by fire, the annual budget dance, and by some miracle have come out bent but not broken.

They reversed a potentially explosive $30 wheel tax hike, held the property tax increase to a manageable level and took a pass on raises for county employees and paving more roads. They also dodged the big budget deficit by using the rainy day fund balance to kick the can down the road until the next budget, when they will have to go through it all over again.

In the immortal words of former Tennessee All-American and Yale football coach Herman Hickman, they managed to “keep the alumni sullen but not mutinous,” the alumni in this case being Campbell County voters.

With the budget behind us, it’s time to concentrate on the next important thing, the November election that is already well underway.

Of course you would barely know that early voting is almost complete, so slow has the turnout been compared to the mobs that voted in the August county elections. Can’t say I blame a lot of voters. In this cherry red state, the results are pretty well set in concrete as far as races for U.S. Congress and Senate along with Governor and state legislative seats.

The TEA Party crowd has stopped attacking moderate Republican Lamar Alexander and he is now portrayed as President Obama’s number one enemy, while his Democratic opponent is portrayed as an Obama clone. Lamar’s re-election is a no-brainer.

So is the re-election of moderate Republican Governor Bill Haslam. Democratic voters had so little prospect of defeating Bill that they nominated Charlie Brown as their candidate for the office. This Charlie Brown is a real person, although the Peanuts comic strip character would stand a better chance of being competitive.

The only thing that really seems to attract voters to the polls this fall are the four constitutional amendments on the ballot, and there is more than enough controversy there to satisfy the news media, political action junkies and advertising agencies.

Amendment One is contentious enough to suit everybody’s tastes. I’m not even going to take sides in that one, not with a family Thanksgiving right around the corner. I have one cousin who once served as the national clinic coordinator for Planned Parenthood. I have another cousin on the same side of the family who once got arrested in Knoxville for chaining herself in protest outside an abortion clinic.

We males are fortunate that in Mother Nature’s miraculous plan, it is the drone bee that mates and then flies off to die. Human males get to hang around on the couch watching football and drinking beer and constantly leaving the toilet lid up. As a drone, I deserve no say whatsoever in a question that involves women and their consciences.

It does disturb me a bit that proponents of Amendment One are encouraging people not to vote in the governor’s race because of a clause in the constitution that requires a successful amendment to receive one more vote than the number of votes cast in the race for that office.

This could backfire big time on the Republicans, who I assume are for the most part in favor of the amendment. What if most Republicans fail to vote for Governor Bill while most Democrats vote for Charlie Brown? Let’s see, Linus could be the Attorney General, Lucy could head up the Department of Health and Human Services and Snoopy could be in charge of state parks. The Great Pumpkin, of course, would become the new Commissioner of Agriculture.

Come to think of it, that could be an improvement.

I do have an opinion on Amendment Three, which would for now and forever forbid the State of Tennessee from invoking a state income tax.

I know, that sounds so tempting, to set in concrete in the state constitution that there will never be a hated state income tax, no matter how many wimpy tax and spend liberals get elected to the legislature.

But think about it for a moment before you push that “yes” lever. That sounds really good right now but what about 20 or 25 years down the road, if Tennessee’s sales tax grows to double digits or the legislature decides to impose, as some other states have, a state property tax.

What if the legislature, in desperation, hits us with a personal luxury tax? In Virginia a former girl friend had to pay an annual luxury tax on her automobile and jewelry. Every time I bought her a necklace or pair of earrings for Christmas, I increased her tax burden, which may explain why she dumped me.

The Tennessee legislature, as incompetent as it often appears, has managed to reject an income tax every time it has been proposed. The Democratic majority legislature during the days of Governor Don Sundquist rejected it and no doubt the Republican supermajority legislature of today would also reject it.

But to say “never,” no matter what the circumstances? That strikes me as being akin to climbing up on your roof to avoid unwanted company, then kicking the ladder away. Might seem like a good idea at the time - until you grow hungry or need to answer the call of nature.

A person with a lick of common sense should never limit their own options. Situations change. Far down the road, the fact that you can deduct a state income tax off your federal income tax might make that a preferred option to paying state taxes on your purchases, your home, your pickup truck and your wedding ring.

And what right do we, living here in 2014, have to limit the options of our children in 2030 or 2040 when many of us will no longer be earning an income if we’re still here at all?

Do your children and grandchildren a favor and vote “no” on Amendment Number Three.  (10/30/2014 - 6:00 AM)  

Boomer’s plan - maybe we really can get more for less or something for nothing

The newly-elected county commission finds themselves, as expected, stuck in the quagmire that is a budget seriously under-funded while the cost of doing business as a county continues to go up.

The squires seem to be hoping that Finance Director Moneybags Marlow will pull a rabbit out of his hat or that the Tooth Fairy will pay a visit to the courthouse some evening while the commissioners are in their beds fast asleep.

Unfortunately, Marlow doesn’t wear a hat while the Tooth Fairy, aka the Tennessee General Assembly, has already visited and taken money away instead of leaving any behind.

The squire formerly known as Mayor Cliff took the bull by the horns Monday night and insisted that the courthouse fee offices should be forced to share in the pain. “Let ‘em sue,” Cliff commented.

Even if all of the courthouse offices manage to trim their budgets by a smidget, even if the squires hold the line and refuse the requests for money to provide security in the schools, raises for school employees and asphalt to pave more county roads, will that satisfy the public?

Of course not. The county is stuck with a tax increase of at least eighteen cents, from the new certified rate of 1.86 to 2.04, just to stay even with last year. Oh, and that “certified” rate of 1.86 is up a dime over last year’s rate already because our county’s net worth has declined.

But the public that will be unhappy with a tax increase will also be unhappy when their roads continue to deteriorate. They will be unhappy when they read about another school shooting somewhere and realize their children and grandchildren attend schools without trained security personnel. They will be unhappy when they’re forced to stand in line for a half hour to renew their car registration or driver’s license or pay their property tax because of under-staffed offices.

That is because the public is human, and we humans have a bad habit of expecting something for nothing, or at least more for less, when it comes to our government.

Well, any mathematician can tell you that “more for less” just doesn’t add up. You pay more for more or pay less to get less, perhaps, but more for less only works in used car commercials and we all know how that usually turns out.

I have given the whole budget thing a lot of thought and my first inclination was that Campbell County should legalize as much sin as possible and then tax it, since sinners seldom complain about taxes.

 However, it was quickly pointed out to me that the State of Tennessee already has a corner on that market. County governments can’t tax tobacco or impose new taxes on alcoholic beverages, the state has cornered the lottery racket and only the state government could legalize prostitution.

So much for sin taxes, we’ll need to find another way to make everybody happy. Then it came to me. We can make everybody happy by eliminating some taxes and to a degree, still make sinners pay for their vices.

First, the challenge of providing security in our schools. I read somewhere that the military is not only donating surplus equipment to law enforcement agencies around the country, but has also given military equipment to some school districts. Eureka!

The Campbell County School Board can apply for some of that surplus military hardware, say a few dozen M-16s, a grenade launcher or two, ammunition and maybe an armored Humvee. Turn all that gear over to our JROTC program, arm the cadets and let them provide security at CCHS. We could also re-establish the JROTC program at Jellico High and provide them with enough armaments to fight a small war.

No nut case potential school shooter is going to mess with a high school where the students are capable of shooting back, with heavier weapons. With security firmly in the hands of the JROTC, the security guards at Jellico and Campbell County High School will no longer be needed and can be transferred to the elementary schools. Problem solved at little or no cost to taxpayers!

But how do we deal with that nagging question of paving the road in front of your porch more often than once every 70 years? And then there’s the request for raises and need to offset all those revenue shortfalls while at the same time not upsetting taxpayers, at least those that vote.

Ahh – those that vote. That’s the real point here, isn’t it? First, eliminate the county’s hotel/motel tax – it’s a challenge to enforce and monitor anyway since only the state has the power to audit books.

Instead we simply change the property tax assessment on all those fancy lakeside homes that are being rented during the summer for $1,500-$4,000 a week. Instead of being assessed as “residential” at 25 percent of the appraised value, we assess them as “commercial” property at 40 percent.

Let’s see, if there’s roughly a hundred lakeside homes being rented and the average value of those homes is conservatively half a million dollars, increasing the assessment from 25 to 40 percent would bring in close to $200,000, which is about what we collect from the hotel/motel tax.

But where’s the gain in that? I’m not finished. We then install toll booths on all roads leading to Norris Lake and turn them into toll roads. Anyone who displays a Campbell County wheel tax sticker gets a free pass on paying the toll. All those tourists from Ohio, Michigan and Abu Dabai pay through the nose every time they drive to the lakeside home they’re rented for the week. Remember, tourists don’t vote for county commissioners.

Next we install toll roads at strategic points around the county. We would need to work out a partnership with the towns but I’m thinking a hundred yards either side of Adult World up on the mountain, and a hundred yards in either direction from the county’s numerous taverns, clubs, liquor stores and similar watering holes. There’s more than one way to collect a sin tax, after all.

We can give anyone with a Campbell County wheel tax decal a free pass on those toll booths as well, restricting collections to truck drivers and Scott County deacons visiting Adult World and residents of the Town of Rocky Top visiting the booze outlets in Caryville.

We could also set up a toll booth near the exit ramp at Caryville to collect money from numerous out-of-county residents who work or shop in Campbell County. If they want to avoid the toll, let them purchase a wheel tax sticker.

Now you’re getting the picture. Wheel tax sales will skyrocket, and enforcement will no longer be a problem. We can eliminate my job as administrator of the Office of Tax Enforcement, since everyone will eagerly pay their wheel tax to avoid the tolls and there will no longer be a hotel/motel tax to enforce!

The excess revenue and savings should be more than enough to pave a few additional miles of county road, give raises to cooks and janitors and maybe hire a few more cashiers in the County Clerk’s office to deal with the long lines of non-residents lining up to pay their wheel tax, which we could probably get away with increasing to $60, even $75 without too much complaint. It beats stopping at a toll booth several times a day, after all.

What, you say this is the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever heard? Businesses will suffer, traffic will be backed up paying tolls and tourists will stop visiting our lake? Well, you didn’t really expect to get something for nothing, did you?    


Being sworn in comes first, being sworn at comes later

You couldn’t stir the crowd with a stick last Friday down at the courthouse. The occasion was the swearing-in of fifteen new or recycled county commissioners, five new school board members, a new mayor, two new judges and various and sundry other office holders.

The swearing-in was on Friday and as I pointed out to Commissioner Forrester Baird, the swearing-at will last for the next four years. The new county commission will likely be the first to be sworn at, as they must grapple right away with a $2 million deficit caused by revenue shortfalls and increased insurance costs.

We’ll soon see how long those “I’m against increasing taxes” campaign promises hold up. Out on the campaign trail it’s easy to tell voters what they want to hear. Then when one actually gets elected, there is reality, staring you squarely in the face.

Forrester is an example of the challenge that I must now face. I’ve got to think of new political nicknames for all these new office holders. Forrester Baird, you might recall, was once part of the commission’s infamous “Three Bairds.” We had Carl “Papa” Baird, Adrion “Mama” Baird and Forrester, the junior or “Baby” Baird of the trio.

Alas, Papa and Mama are no longer with us, so Baby Baird needs a new moniker. We do have another Baird, Charles “Goat” Baird held over from the previous commission. Let’s see, the name Forrester lends itself to something plant-like. Goats eat plants; they’re especially fond of one particular plant. I think I’ll call Forrester “Kudzu.”

I’m sure other nicknames will come to me as the year progresses. Some new squires already have well-established monikers such as “Mailman” Kitts. Depending on how the budget ends up being resolved, we might have to change Dewayne’s nickname to “Postage Due.” Of course I’m always open to suggestions.

Everyone was present at the ceremony to take the oath of office, including four of the five elected constables. The fifth new constable, representing the First District, didn’t bother to show up. He also didn’t bother to run for the office but was elected as a write-in candidate when nobody qualified to be on the ballot from District One.

This is probably the only constable who has a proper grasp for the true meaning of this office, which is that it has no meaning whatsoever but is purely a ceremonial title. Unless an elected constable is deputized by the Sheriff, they have no more powers to arrest someone than your average WalMart cashier. Unless they obtain a handgun carry permit and are bonded to carry a weapon, they have no more powers to use that a weapon than anyone else.

On occasions in the past, sheriffs have given some elected constables real authority by hiring them as deputies, process servers, litter control officers or some other position. That is the exception rather than the rule and for the most part “constable” is an office that is woefully outdated and should be eliminated from the state constitution and the ballot.

Another person who was present at last Friday’s ceremony was local Internet and television pundit Jerry Chadwell. I took the opportunity to thank Jerry for finally recognizing me on his weekly talk show as I was beginning to feel unloved. After all, Jerry has criticized nearly every county official and employee from the former mayor to the lowliest clerks, but he has only now gotten around to attacking the county’s tax enforcement official, arguably the most unpopular job in county government.

Jerry and his guest commentator, former squire Thomas Hatmaker, apparently couldn’t find anything to criticize in my job performance so they concentrated on the fact that I have a county job but live in “distant” Anderson County. Alas, I must plead guilty as my home is a mile and a half across the county line.

Reminds me of a conversation I once had when I was editor of the LaFollette Press and my late friend Larry Dilbeck was the advertising manager. We were discussing the changing demographics of Campbell County as more people of Hispanic heritage moved in, along with doctors from India, restaurant owners from the Orient and so on.

“There’s only two kinds of people in Campbell County,” Larry pointed out. “There’s Them and then there’s Us.”

Intrigued, I asked Larry what it took to be an “Us.”

“Generally, it means people know who your grandparents were,” Larry replied, “although other factors could have a bearing on it.”

Now I felt challenged, so I continued, “Well, I was born in LaFollette, have worked most of my adult life in Campbell County at one job or another, lived at various times in Elk Valley, Caryville and Shady Cove and both of my parents and my grandmother are buried in Campbell County. Does that mean I’m an Us?”

“You’re a big fellow. Did you play football at Jacksboro or LaFollette?” Larry then asked.

“Uh, neither. I graduated from Lake City High School,” I answered.

Larry narrowed his eyes into an accusing stare and concluded the conversation, “You’re definitely a Them.”

Alas, dear readers. I’m doomed to forever be a “Them.” Can’t help it, it’s simply a flaw in my upbringing that I cannot overcome.

Jerry Chadwell also asked his guest if he thought I brought in enough county tax dollars to cover my salary, to which Thomas replied, “I have no idea.”

That answer confirms a suspicion I’ve had for the past four years, that Thomas, who prided himself on being the squeaky wheel on county commission, never bothered to read over the commission agenda packets containing minutes of meetings, reports and other documents.

If he had, he might have occasionally noticed my quarterly reports, summarizing how many enforcement letters had been sent out, how many people had paid their wheel tax after receiving letters and how much revenue had been generated, how much had been collected in officer’s fees for serving delinquent property tax warrants and so on.

Of course it’s always easier to criticize through ignorance. You don’t have to back up your opinions with facts.       (09/10/2014 - 7:30 AM)

With courthouse antics on hold, it’s time to give out “Boomer Awards”

While we’re all waiting for the new Campbell County government to do something - or fail to do something - worth talking about, I’ve decided to fill my column space by commenting on the world at large.

Well, perhaps not all of the world. I see no need to discuss things over which we have little control, such as the Ebola Virus, the mess in the Ukraine or the bigger mess in the Middle East.

The Middle East puts me in mind of the words of that witty American sage of times gone past, Mark Twain. When he took his family on a tour of the Old World and wrote about his travels in “Innocents Abroad,” Twain had this to say about the Middle East:

“There will be no Second Coming. Christ has been here once, not likely to return.”

So, having no answer for the crisis in Iraq, or the crisis in Syria, or the crisis in Afghanistan, not to mention the crisis in Libya, the ones in Somalia, Nigeria and Atlantic City, New Jersey, we will confine ourselves this week to giving out some awards instead.

My first award goes out to the University of Tennessee Athletic Department for bad timing. UT, you may have noticed, is making all kinds of waves about the $1.6 million it must shell out each year to the City of Knoxville for the city’s amusement tax on tickets to athletic events, concerts and the like.

UT, it appears, would like Knoxville to waive the tax, just as the tax-hating Knox County Commission has done, and allow the University to keep the money to pay for upgrades to athletic facilities. UT argues that among other things, many of the men’s restrooms at Neyland Stadium (gasp) still have urinal troughs instead of individual stalls!

Presumably then, UT has no intention of lowering ticket prices if Knoxville waives the tax, simply letting Knoxville taxpayers foot the bill for new toilets that most will never see.

Why does this rate an award for bad timing, you ask? Simple, if the University had made this same demand two years ago, they could have argued, perhaps successfully, that there was nothing amusing about UT football or basketball teams and games at Neyland Stadium should therefore not be considered “entertainment.”

Now that the Butch Jones era is fully underway, fans are being entertained again, making an amusement tax justifiable.

My second Oscar, uh, Boomer, goes out to thirteen members of the Tennessee Legislature, Republicans all, who have successfully beaten a dead horse until it actually came back to life and kicked them where it hurts.

Those thirteen lawmakers went on record this week as insisting that candidates for the position of State Attorney General should answer the question of whether or not they would have joined the Attorney Generals in other states back in 2011 in filing a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act.

The loudest fruitcake, uh, legislator is Senator Mike Bell of Riceville, who was quoted as saying, “Along with a great many Tennesseans, we want to know whether the other applicants would have pursued a case like the majority of other states to defend our sovereignty.”

Well, that’s the first time I’ve heard barely over one-third described as a “majority,” but we’ll ignore Senator Bell’s apparent lack of mathematical skills and concentrate on the Dead Horse Award.

The Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare.” Get over it.

Former Attorney General Bob Cooper is one of the candidates, hoping to retain his position. He simply explained that, “We were pushed by both sides in the Affordable Care Act lawsuit to join their position. We said no to both sides. It would not have been a wise use of state money. Its only purpose would have been to make a partisan political statement on a divisive national issue.”

Was Cooper, who is a Democrat, also playing partisan politics in his refusal to join the lawsuit against Obamacare?  Of course. His decision turned out to be a wise one, however, when the U. S. Supreme Court upheld the Act and sent all those Republican attorney generals home with egg on their faces.

Note to Senator Mike Bell: “Defend our sovereignty”? Check your history books, Mike. The South lost the Civil War. Lee surrendered, Sherman burned Atlanta, the slaves were freed and it took the “sovereign” State of Tennessee the better part of a century to heal all the wounds.

I don’t know about Mike Bell, but last time I checked, I was an American who happens to have been born in Tennessee, not the other way around. Come to think of it, Stacey Campfield hails from New York, the Governor’s brother bought the Cleveland Browns and half of Ohio has moved to Norris Lake. Join the 21st Century, Senator.

My final Boomer Award is presented to America’s airline industry, for “Greed and Hypocrisy Above the Clouds.”

You have no doubt read or heard about the numerous incidents of late where airplanes have been diverted from their scheduled flight plans so that unruly passengers could be taken off after seat-reclining disputes. In the most recent incident, a male passenger engaged a forbidden “Knee Defender” device to block the female passenger in front from declining her seat while he used his laptop.

Words were exchanged, the woman tossed a cup of soda in the man’s face and both were removed from the plane while other passengers had their arrivals delayed.

Despicable behavior? You betcha, as Sarah Palin would say. Predictable behavior? You betcha, considering that airlines continue to shrink the size of seats, lower the number of flights to insure packed airplanes and charge big bucks for window or aisle seats. In a sense, airlines are charging two passengers for the same space. The passenger in front pays for space to recline a seat into a more comfortable position while the passenger behind pays to provide comfortable space for their legs and knees.

When things get out of hand, irate passengers are evicted from the flight while everyone else suffers as well. The airlines punish the passengers but who punishes the airlines? In the business section of the Sunday News sentinel, it was reported that airline stock prices have soared sky-high, to borrow a pun. Most major airlines are so flush with cash that they’re staging stock buy-backs and paying dividends, while their stock index rose 186 percent.

All of that extra cash comes from making passengers pay for checked bags, pay for carry-on bags, pay for aisle or window seats, pay for alcoholic drinks, pay for non-alcoholic drinks and snacks. What exactly is an “airline meal?” Haven’t seen one of those since 1974.

I personally can’t do a thing about most of the fools in our legislature, UT football or the Middle East. I do have an answer to the airlines. I no longer fly the not-so-friendly skies. If I’m planning a trip and can make my destination in two days of driving, I drive. If I want to travel further than that, I’ll consider a bus, or driving to the nearest AmTrack city to catch a train. If I ever decide to visit Europe, I’ll have my head examined, or look into a leisurely trans-Atlantic cruise.

The one exception might be a visit to the Carribbean. I understand Air Jamaica still has comfortable seats and a complimentary Rum Punch for each tourist visiting their island. Of course I’d drive to Miami to catch the flight.  (09/10/2014 - 7:30 AM)      

Campbell election results make strong argument for non-partisan local politics

The August elections may be past, but the fallout is still coming down from some of the results, especially in Knox and Anderson counties.

Long-time Chancery Court Judge Daryl Fansler lost out to a Republican challenger who, it turns out, only recently graduated from an unaccredited law school. The News-Sentinel and practically every lawyer in East Tennessee is up in arms over the election of Clarence “Eddie’ Pridemore, complaining about the “blind partisanship” that led Knox County voters to support a supposedly unqualified candidate for an important judicial post.

Over in Clinton, Anderson County voters ousted veteran General Sessions Judge Ron Murch in favor of a Republican, Roger Miller. Miller is no newcomer to the legal profession, but it turns out he is in default on unpaid state and federal taxes, has unpaid local property taxes and owes $13,600 in past-due child support payments.

Anderson County’s Donkeys asked that Miller not be certified, citing a law that says the election of a person in default to the treasury at the time of election shall be voided. The Anderson County Election Commission, like others in this state controlled by a Pachyderm majority, ignored the Democrats’ complaints and certified Miller last week.

Tennessee’s Democrats continue to take a beating at the polls, one of the unintended consequences of electing a person of color, and Democrat, as President of the United States. Anyone who thinks that racism in the South is a thing of the past need only compare election results in southern states including Tennessee for the past six years with results in the pre-Obama era to receive a harsh lesson in reality.

Of course, Knox County voters are an exception to this rule. If the late Osama bin Laden ran for Knox County Mayor with an (R) next to his name, he would stand a fair chance of being elected as long as his opponent had a (D) next to theirs. I offer as proof the example of Stacey Campfield, arguably the looniest in a long line of lunatics we Tennesseans have elected to represent us in Nashville.

Campfield finally was sent packing by Knox County voters – in the Republican primary. Despite Campfield’s growing list of embarrassing public antics, a Democrat would never have stood a chance of defeating him in his district. It took another conservative Republican to finally rid the state of that transplanted New Yorker.

Tennessee’s Democrats have nobody to blame but themselves for their current lowly state. As soon as the national Democratic Party and the news media painted Tennessee as a “red” state on the national political map, the Donkeys wrote Tennessee off.

With no national campaign money flowing into the state, Tennessee’s Democrats threw up their hands and capitulated. Serious contenders for office either switched parties, gave up on politics for the foreseeable future or moved to Massachusetts.

There were so few qualified Democrats interested in running for Governor against Bill Haslam that the Donkeys nominated the first name on the primary ballot, Charlie Brown. On his twitter account, Brown thanked the Tennessee Democratic Party because “without their incompetence none of this would be possible.”

Bucking this Pachyderm stampede was our very own Campbell County. Here, three Haslam appointees were defeated, with the Chancery Court position going to Elizabeth Asbury who I presume like her late father, is a longtime Democrat.

I can picture Judge Lee Asbury, sitting up on Cloud Nine next to late Chancellor Billy Joe White, also a Democrat. When the election results came in, Lee and Billy Joe, their feet resting on that old pot-bellied stove, clinked glasses of Bourbon and swamp water.

“Time to pay up on the bet,” Lee says to Billy Joe. “I told you an Asbury would have your job one day.”

Why did Campbell County run counter to the Republican avalanche that put unqualified judges in at least two seats? Anderson County voters re-elected a county mayor who has been a center of controversy, fighting with law directors, the sheriff and the commission, but she had an (R) next to her name. Campbell County voters turned out of office a county mayor who had served several terms in the legislature as a Republican. Why?

The reason is simple. Here in Campbell County local races are non-partisan. There are no Donkeys or Pachyderms, only independent candidates for office who must depend on their qualifications or their personal appeal to the voters to be elected. Voters are therefore faced with choosing the best person for the job, with no regard for party affiliation.

We don’t always get it right, of course. The fact that four incumbent school board members, six incumbent county commissioners, an incumbent county mayor and county clerk were all defeated points to voters’ desire for a “do-over” from the last election. But at least we can rest confident that voters supported the candidates that they think will do a good job, rather than candidates who belong to the “right” political party.

Campbell County makes a strong argument for doing away with partisan politics altogether in local elections. I imagine, if all of those candidates in Knox and Anderson counties had an (IND) next to their name on the ballot, results would have been remarkably different.   (08/28/2014)

'You break it, you buy it’ fits Iraq, hopefully not Rocky Top

The battle for Rocky Top continues.  Lake City officials prepare for their big vote/celebration this evening, followed by a blowout 4th of July party at the town’s athletic field next week. (This may be an appropriate place for the party since rumors continue to fly that the Rocky Top entrepreneurs want to turn the athletic field into a parking lot).

Meanwhile, the House of Bryant has appealed the federal judge’s decision that cleared the way for the name change, hoping for a last minute decision by the Federal Court of Appeals that would halt the madness.

Lake City, meanwhile, has already sprung for enough money to print up “Welcome to Rocky Top” signs to replace the old corporate limit signs, as well as doubling the budget for this year’s fireworks extravaganza.  In the immortal words of Admiral David Farragut,  “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” . . . . and let the party begin.

I’m hosting my own party on the other side of Coal Creek, open to all curmudgeons; old Lakers and Doubtful Thomas types.  We’re holding a “P on Rocky Top” party.  We’ll grill meat, pick blackberries, baptize babies and watch the fireworks.  I thought about having some T-shirts made that read “P on Rocky Top” but figured with my luck, the House of Bryant would sue for copyright infringement.  Maybe we’ll settle for a banner reading “Future Home of The Rocky Topless Lounge” instead.

Seriously, since the city fathers appear determined to go through with this buffoonery, I wish them well.  I hope their dreams of a bigger, better town pan out.  If they don’t, of course, the taxpayers including yours truly, will have to pick up the pieces.  Unfortunately, the motto “You break it, you buy it” only works in china shops.  In the world of public policy, its “we break it, the taxpayers buy it.”

Nothing could possibly fit that description better than the latest happenings over in the Middle East, specifically in Iraq.  Remember the warning from then- Secretary of State Colin Powell when President (and I use the term lightly) George W. Bush the Younger invaded Iraq in the aftermath of 911?

Powell was out of step with the rest of the Neocons who surrounded President Shrub and thought it would be a wonderful idea to punish that despot Saddam Hussein.  The Iraqi people would greet American liberators with bouquets of roses, they fantasized, and we would set up a U.S. puppet state right smack in the middle of the Middle East where we could keep a wary eye on Syria and Iran.

Colin Powell cautioned, “You break it, you buy it.”  He seemed to be the only member of the Bush administration who realized that Saddam Hussein, nasty though he was, could not possibly be behind Al Qaida since they hated Saddam almost as much as they hated us.

Powell also realized that fear of the despotic Saddam was the only thing keeping Iraq’s Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds from slaughtering each other in a bloody civil war.

So, Bush held his infamous “Mission Accomplished” press conference on the deck of an aircraft carrier.  Americans continued to fight and die in Iraq for the better part of a decade afterwards, and it was left to Barrack Obama to finally bring the troops home.

Not so fast!  Now that we Americans are no longer over there to provide convenient targets for both sides, the various factions are busy slaughtering each other again.  Obama has been forced to send a few troops back as advisors and the Pachyderms in Congress are screaming “It’s all Obama’s fault,” presumably for bringing American boys and girls home too soon.

I’ve grown accustomed to the constant sniping between the two political parties up in Washington.  I do resent being taken for stupid.  The Obama-bashers seem to think the American people are stupid.  If we pressure the administration into sending Americans back into Iraq to keep the two sides from killing each other by again giving them a common target, we will be stupid.

We broke it once, and bought it with the lives of thousands of American servicemen and women lost or disrupted.  It’s time to let the Middle East stew in its own fat.

I was at a gathering a couple of weeks back where another Obama-basher began ranting about another sore spot, the trade with the Taliban to bring Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl home.  He had found another conservative, who he presumed would share his opinion, and was bashing the administration for negotiating for release of the “traitor.”

It amused me, then, when conservative number two turned on the Obama-basher.

“Don’t matter whether he deserted his post or not.  That’s for the Army to decide, not us,” number two insisted.  “Bottom line is, you never leave a man behind.  You bring ‘em home, dead, alive, wounded or disgraced.  You bring ‘em home, period.”

Turns out the second fellow had a right to his opinion.  He was a decorated Viet Nam veteran and former POW.  The media is now uncovering facts about Bowe Bergdahl that suggest he had mental problems and should more than likely never have been allowed in the military, let alone placed in the line of fire.  You never know how to judge another person unless you’ve walked in their shoes. (06/26/2014 - 6:00 AM)