Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
The Kingsport Times-News on why the Tennessee House GOP should stop meeting in secret:
Our vote for those who seek to represent us in various levels of government transfers our authority as a citizen — and our trust — to someone we believe will act in our best interests. Government, after all, is an institution of the people, by the people and for the people. Ultimately, we’re in charge.
But what if those representatives suddenly decide to shut us out? What if they decide to meet in secret, as has the majority party in the Tennessee House?
The GOP’s first order of business after the November election was to vote overwhelmingly to close all of its future meetings to the public, including members of the media who strive to keep the public informed about what government is doing on their behalf.
GOP Caucus Chairman Rep. Jeremy Faison said the vote “says to the people of Tennessee that we want to take care of our personal business within our caucus to ourself.”
Personal business? We elect lawmakers to conduct the public’s business. They can keep their personal business to themselves, but we expect, and should demand, that the people’s business take place in the light of day and not behind closed doors.
The state Senate assumes no such privilege. Republicans are also the majority party in the Senate, but by its own rules, all Senate caucus meetings are open to media.
Faison says votes will not take place in secret, only debate. Caucus meetings can include discussions on bills by Republican lawmakers before floor votes. Discussion of proposed legislation is just as important to the public as the final vote. It gives insight into how our elected representatives think, and where they stand and why. We require that information to help us determine who we will support.
Governmental transparency is what separates democracy from other forms of government. Every citizen should have the ability to find out what their government is doing on their behalf. This should apply to everything government does.
Rep. Faison represents East Tennessee’s 11th District, including Cocke County and parts of Jefferson and Greene counties. On his website he states that “When it comes to government, I’m 100 percent dedicated to conservative principles, not party politics. Every single day when I’m in session at the state Capitol I fight to ensure our East Tennessee conservative values are represented, even if it means voting against my own party.”
Do those values include meeting in secret, shutting the public out of an important part of the legislative process?
This isn’t the first time House Republicans have tried to debate in secret. Last year, when they were deciding whether to further support embattled former House Speaker Glen Casada, the caucus banned reporters from debate on important votes.
Rep. Faison says that House leadership will talk to reporters after each meeting to answer questions. That’s not good enough. Government that does not debate openly produces distrust.
House Republicans should reverse this vote. We trust our local representatives will support that effort.
Johnson City Press on the ongoing opioid epidemic:
Remember the opioid epidemic?
Before the novel coronavirus pandemic grabbed the spotlight, opioid addiction was America’s No. 1 health problem. For five years or more, headlines in nearly every newspaper in the country were focused on the effects of abuse, especially overdose deaths and infants born addicted to the drugs. Our region is among the communities particularly stricken by the abuse of prescription pain relievers, heroin and synthetic opioids.
The domino effects from the crisis included broken families, an overwhelmed medical system, financial woes for states and an inadequate workforce.
Did the problem magically disappear when COVID-19 appeared? No, we just stopped focusing on it as a nation. Some reports indicate the problem has been worsened by the pandemic’s fallout, mainly from joblessness, isolation and despair.
The American Medical Association recently issued a statement that it was greatly concerned by an increasing number of reports suggesting increases in opioid- and other drug-related mortality — particularly from illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl analogs.
While data is not yet available for the period after COVID-19 took hold in the U.S. in the spring, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more 19,400 people died from drug overdoses in the year’s first quarter, nearly 3,000 more than in the same period in 2019.
Things were already on the wrong track in the months before COVID-19’s arrival, reversing what had been a positive trend. U.S. drug overdose deaths increased 4.6 percent in 2019 after a 4.1 percent decline between 2017 and 2018.
Thankfully, though, the opioid plague is not off everyone’s mind.
... The Johnson City Housing Authority’s nonprofit development arm, has received a $500,000 Tennessee Housing Development Agency grant to help construct housing for people recovering from opioid addiction. Keystone will provide more than $358,000 in matching funds.
Keystone broke ground on the six-unit, sober-living facility (this month) on Steel Street in east Johnson City. Frontier Health will help identify residents and conduct case management with the facility’s tenants to ensure they’re successful throughout the rehabilitation program.
Leaders hope the new sober-living facility will make the transition easier for people who are attempting to recover from opioid addiction. Unstable housing is one factor that can lead to a relapse.
This sorely needed project is just one of the many efforts still happening in the fight against drug abuse in this region — largely under the radar these days.
Given the state of the American psyche amid the isolation of 2020, we can’t help but believe such projects are more important than ever.
So is awareness. For information about how you can help a friend or family member — or yourself — overcome the struggles of addiction, visit the CDC’s page at www.cdc.gov/rxawareness/.
USA Today Network South on teaching accurate, comprehensive history to U.S. students:
In the South, for decades, the “Lost Cause” narrative of the post-Civil War period dominated how children were taught in school.
The belief goes that Southern supporters of the Confederacy were rightly defending their land and sovereignty.
Even though the Union, aka the North, won the war, that victory became less important.
So did the details of a concerted effort by the region, through laws, the courts and racist violence, effectively to erase the enfranchisement of previously enslaved or under enfranchised Black Americans as equal members of society.
Post-Reconstruction Jim Crow policies entrenched a so-called “separate, but equal” society that valued the rights of white citizens over those of their Black counterparts.
It took nearly 100 years from the first civil rights bill in the 1860s for enfranchisement on paper to be enacted through the Civil Rights Act of 1965.
In 2020, a year of racial reckoning and demands for social justice and action, the conversation about what we should learn in school has taken greater importance.
It is past time to revisit and update textbooks and learning standards, have more meaningful and comprehensive conversations on what happened, and enhance the ability of students to become better critical thinkers and citizens.
Whitewashing or tearing down history will not eliminate it. Adding to history will broaden our full understanding of our past, of why we are where we are today and of how we can make a better future.
The USA TODAY Network South publications have documented in the Confederate Reckoning 2.0 series how education and political officials have failed to give us the full or whole story.
It was only in recent decades, in Mississippi, where a textbook called “Conflict and Change” could be taught in school that went into depth about Black achievement.
Many Black Alabamians said they never knew about their history except from the oral histories that were passed down through generations in their homes.
Tennessee has witnessed botched lessons in teaching slavery that have caused harm and trauma to children of color, but also have misled their white peers, and even resulted in a lawsuit.
There is an appetite for change as voters have signaled their desire to move past outdated symbols.
Alabama is one of five states in 2020 that passed referenda to change, remove or alter racist language in their state Constitutions.
Mississippi, which had earlier in the year agreed to remove a Confederate symbol from its state flag, will be emblazoning the magnolia on it instead, following an overwhelming response from voters.
As of June, Tennessee no longer requires its governor to proclaim a Nathan Bedford Forrest Day, an annual tribute to the Confederate general and first Ku Klux Klan grand wizard that began in 1969.
Arkansas for a few years now no longer has a Robert E. Lee Memorial Day that was concurrently celebrated on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
There has also been pushback to efforts to teach different and new narratives.
The outgoing Trump administration created a 1776 Commission by executive order to establish standards for teaching U.S. history.
In reality, it was in response to The New York Time’s “1619 Project,” which dared to elevate the voices of enslaved Black people who first arrived on what is now U.S. soil in that year.
The new commission along with an order to end diversity, inclusion and equity training were a severe and politically minded overreaction by one person at the top of the federal government.
Educators in local communities should lead a transparent process free from fear that focuses on fulfilling the purpose of social studies: to create more informed, engaged citizens.
Toby Daspit, interim head of the University of Louisiana Lafayette Department of Educational Curriculum and Instruction, said it very well:
“The social studies are there for a reason. We want civically minded, engaged individuals. It is essential to maintaining a democracy. Our democracy is very fragile right now, more so than ever.”
Civically minded engaged individuals are our hope to bridge the divide created by political polarity in the United States and keep us moving forward to a “more perfect union.”