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Plain Talk – 4.06.10

Plain Talk – 4.06.10

Posted: Friday, April 9, 2010 12:24 pm
By: Nicolle Crist, Guest Columnist

I don’t get paid to write this column every week – it’s voluntary. It takes a little bit of time to gather my thoughts and research the assigned issue but it’s a privilege and I genuinely enjoy it.
Each week we are given a topic by the editor and I am free to write just about whatever I want within legal reason and my own personal judgment.
If I am unhappy that President Obama is expanding our nuclear power infrastructure, I can say that. If I am livid that Congressional Candidate and State Senator Roy Herron supports the Tennessee Health Freedom Act, I can write about that, too.
With the exception of the occasional editing for length and some spelling corrections, I am free to write just about whatever I want and give the readers of Weakley County my honest to goodness opinion, unedited and unfiltered. It’s great!
But what if I were paid by the Democratic National Committee to write this column? Or by an opposing candidate or campaign committee? Or what if I were paid by Goodyear or Pepsi to make as many positive references to their product as possible each week? I’m not, but what if?
All of the sudden, what I can and cannot say would shift dramatically. It might not fly with the DNC if I continuously and repeatedly question President Obama and Se. Lamar Alexander about where those 100 new nuclear power plants are going to be built.
And it certainly would be tough to write about the childhood obesity and diabetes epidemics and somehow work in how much I love Pepsi products. Though I do!
It doesn’t matter if we call it, “biting the hand that feeds you” or “conflict of interest.” When money enters the equation, everything changes, no matter how much we think or hope that it won’t.
It doesn’t matter who you are or what your work is, when you are getting paid to do a job, there will inevitably be things about that job with which you disagree.
You have a right to know if I am paid staffer for the DNC or for Pepsi or for anyone else.
You also have the right to know who is paying your elected representatives.
Wouldn’t it be nice if government actually functioned the way it was taught to us in grammar school?
The people elect the candidate based on the issues and senators and representatives are paid by the people to research the issues and do what’s best for his/her district, state and nation. End of story.
Well it doesn’t. Most of the time, “the issues” are determined by the corporations and the lobbyists. The salary that the people can afford is not enough for the politicians so they want to make sure they have other options, should they ever lose an election.
It’s so expensive to even get the job of senator or representative that many are more concerned with raising enough money to get re-elected next year instead of actually doing the work they were sent to office to do.
Case in point, Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper declared last week that considering the recent Supreme Court decision about corporate campaign donations, the existing Tennessee ban on corporate campaign donations would likely be overturned if challenged in a court of law.
Such donations were not subject to disclosure laws. Yes, you read correctly, “declared.” The law has not yet been challenged in court. Our justice system has not been activated. The AG just “declared” his opinion at the request of one Republican lawmaker and the floodgates are open.
Regardless of what you think about corporate campaign donations and the influence of corporations on American politics, I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind arguing that the people do not even have a right to know who is funding their elected officials but our Attorney General did. Why?
I don’t know, maybe AG Cooper genuinely believes that the people of Tennessee do not have a right to know who is funding campaigns.
Maybe he believes that all politicians are good, decent honest people who would never let a campaign contribution influence their legislative decisions.
Only Attorney General Cooper knows why he declared what he did, but based on reporting from News Channel 5 in Nashville, Lt. Governor and Gubernatorial Candidate Ron Ramsey is likely quite pleased with the declaration.
Journalist Ben Hall, of News Channel 5 investigated and reported that Candidate Ramsey has received over $195,000 in campaign contributions from the Coal Industry and that a member of Ramsey’s finance team, James Powell, owns a construction company that builds coal preparation plants.
Powell’s company and relatives have contributed more than $80,000 to Ramsey’s campaign.
In the interview, Ramsey said, “I am the pro-business candidate. I am the pro-jobs candidate,” despite the fact that the coal industry in Tennessee employs approximately 400 people statewide.
Hall continued his report by interviewing former Republican state senator Raymond Finney, who revealed that he was pressured to recall his bill to ban mountaintop removal mining in Tennessee by Republican Caucus leader Diane Black and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey.
Both Black and Ramsey don’t recall the conversation. Sen. Black is the same Republican Senator who refused to fire a staffer for sending a racist joke email about President Obama from state-owned computers on state-paid time.
Similar legislation to ban mountaintop removal in the state of Tennessee is still stalled in the state legislator but legislation to weaken drinking water standards in the state have passed, paving the way for even more coal mining and influence in state government.
Regardless of your opinion on coal mining, or mountaintop removal or protecting an industry that employs 400 people – you have a right to know what your elected officials are up to, and who is funding them.
If I donate $50 to Mike McWherter’s campaign, anyone can look that information up; if the Attorney General and Candidate Ramsey get their way, when coal companies donate millions, they can do it in secret.
Send your comments by email to nicolle.crist@gmail.com.
WCP 4.06.10

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