In a numerical sense, lawmakers in Tennessee have little concern or need for bipartisanship. That’s because the 31 Democrats in the General Assembly are vastly outnumbered in policy debates with the state’s 99 Republicans.
But with the federal government now in Democratic control, state lawmakers have been pushing a slate of proposals intended not just to provoke Democrats — such as pushing new anti-abortion measures, making the Bible the official state book, finding new ways to denigrate LGBT people — but also bills that, some experts say, undermine public health and safety in urban areas.
Gov. Bill Lee himself has suggested that putting more handguns on the streets will vastly improve public safety and expand Second Amendment rights, a claim rejected by law enforcement officials, urban mayors, and murder victims’ advocates. Memphis’ record homicide rate has already been attributed to stolen gun proliferation as a result of previously weakened gun regulations. Now, as Republicans remove the permitting process for carrying guns in public, which includes a short gun safety class, urban communities will likely be the first to learn whether Gov. Lee’s valentine to the NRA and gun manufacturers results in more innocent victims or more streetcorner justice by local heroes with no firearms training.
The pandemic has also revealed tensions between rural and urban lawmakers. As urban health departments tried to slow the spread of the coronavirus by closing down businesses and imposing restrictions, Gov. Lee felt that since the majority of Tennesseans who live in rural areas faced fewer risks they should not have the same moral imposition placed upon them to protect other citizens from infection. Republican lawmakers believe that businesses under urban health mandates and those under rural health mandates should have a choice which mandates best serve their financial needs, just as many rural Tennessee Republicans determined that the science behind mask wearing and social distancing contradicted their desires for personal freedom.
Political analyst Otis Sanford suggests that lawmakers’ disdain for Democrats, urban areas and urban demographics has been long ingrained in Tennessee politics.