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Jewish World Review July 18, 2001 / 27 Tamuz, 5761

Dave Shiflett

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Consumer Reports

Another Levy lost -- WHEN last we looked, a pack of devious state legislators hoped to pass a state income tax for Tennessee, one of a handful of states without that onerous levy. The schemers were lying low, like the dogs they are, waiting for the right moment to pounce. They thought it had come last week. They were wrong.

The pro-tax forces have been kept in abeyance by a coalition of talk-show radio hosts, political opponents, and howling citizens, the latter having mastered the art of intimidating representatives by surrounding the capital at voting time. Many drive around the legislative square blowing their horns. Others attack on foot, making their way into the galley and glaring daggers into the quaking pols. In one earlier instance, a mob stormed the premises, causing such a shock that some legislators had to be carted away in ambulances.

It is all a very beautiful thing.

We pick up the story last Thursday evening. Nashville talk-show host Phil Valentine, a relentless foe of the proposed tax, was doing a remote broadcast 15 miles south of town when he got a call from state senator Marsha Blackburn. The schemers, Blackburn reported, had lined up enough votes to pass the tax (already approved by the House). A vote was set for 6:30.

Valentine immediately sounded the alarm, advising those who oppose the tax to head for the capital and start raising hell. He would meet them there.

"I got within about 2 miles of the place and the roads and streets were jammed," Valentine said. "I had to get out and walk the rest of the way." Citizens were chanting, singing the national anthem, and blowing their car and truck horns. Gridlock commenced when some protesters abandoned their cars. By vote time, about a thousand highly hacked citizens were in full cry. Suddenly, the authorities arrived in force — and in riot gear.

"It was bizarre," Valentine says. "These were citizens opposing an unconstitutional income tax. At about 6:45 the police descended. They started dragging soccer moms out of their cars and handcuffing them. They gave out tickets to people for blowing their horns. They gave citations for disorderly conduct. They tried to keep citizens out of the gallery — though when a lobbyist or state employee with a pro-tax button showed up, they got escorted in."

But the mob would not be intimidated. Some members began banging on windows — at least a couple of which were broken, including one at the governor's reception area (apparently by a stone). Harrowing howls filled the air. "It was mayhem," says Valentine.

Inside, legislators began to sweat. Their brains trembled. Their resolve melted. State Senator Bob Rochelle, a proponent of the tax, had apparently believed his years-long mission to pass a state tax had come. The introduction of mayhem destroyed his dream. His majority headed for the tall grass. All he could muster was a yes vote on a "bare-bones" budget increase of 5.2 percent — Governor Don Sundquist wanted a 9.7 percent increase. Sundquist can now either veto the budget, approve it, or let it sit for ten days, after which time it goes into automatic effect.

The governor was clearly not pleased, and issued an official condemnation: "I appreciate the right of all Americans to free speech and peaceful protest. I do not, however, approve of those who advocate violence and I regret that happened tonight. I am particularly critical of some radio talk show hosts and at least one legislator who encouraged disruptive behavior and destructive acts."

This in turn drew a sharp rebuke from Valentine. "Since I was the only talk-show host there, I assume he's talking about me. Since he didn't name names, I guess I have no legal recourse. But it's quite irresponsible to say what he said. In no way did we incite violence. In his usual fashion, the governor is lying again."

Valentine does admit that things got a bit out of hand. "On my broadcasts I urged restraint and said that anyone who struck a policeman was going to have to answer personally to me. And while I regret the broken window in the reception area, it was apparently caused by a very small rock." The real scandal, he says, was in the treatment of protesters. "I have seen the marks on people's wrists from the handcuffs. Police were threatening people walking on street with arrest. That's ironic because just a few weeks ago the Fraternal Order of Police staged massive public protests to demand a pay raise. But when it comes to regular citizens, they get cuffed for doing the same thing."

The horns have now gone silent in Nashville, giving way to the pleasant sounds emitting from the town's honky-tonks and listening rooms. State residents have been spared the imposition of yet another tax on their incomes. This is the sort of thing that can give political activism a good name.

JWR contributor Dave Shiflett writes from central Va. Comment by clicking here.


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01/23/01: Dubya, First Philistine? It depends on how you define the word 'artist'
01/19/01: Goodbye L.A., Hello Nashville
01/12/01: Elvis and the Rock of Death
12/07/00: Col. Sauls-ders roasts some ducks
11/23/00: Democracy may be under siege, but now comes the fun
11/21/00: The dolt vote
11/15/00: Now what will we do for fun?

© 2000, Dave Shiflett