By Steve Hunley

The Knox County Board of Education met last week with the Knox County Legislative delegation and the Knox County Commission to discuss the legislative agenda for the next session of the Tennessee General Assembly.  The vice chair of the board of education was quoted as saying there are no failed schools, only failed communities.  The chairman of the Knox County Commission came out strongly in favor of a gas tax hike and a state senator announced she was not elected to vote for what is popular, but what is right, which is usually code for voting against the wishes of one’s constituency.  It was a garbled meeting with little of substance said and State Representative Bill Dunn stood out like a beacon of hope.  At least somebody gets what just happened in the recent presidential election.  People are wanting and demanding CHANGE from business as usual.  Clearly, a number of our local elected officials did not get the message, much less the memo.

School board member Amber Rountree made the startling pronouncement “the county” is opposed to vouchers.  State Representative Bill Dunn has been an advocate for school choice and has earned the continual ire and opposition of the teachers’ union.  Rountree either misspoke or made some big assumptions. Knox County has never gone on record as being against vouchers and school choice.  In fact, Donald Trump won better than 60% of the vote in Knox County and is an outspoken supporter of school vouchers, as is his Secretary of Education designee Betsy DeVos.  The Knox County Board of Education, largely comprised of former teachers and unionists, very well may be opposed to school vouchers, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to representing the majority opinion of the people throughout the county.  Dunn challenged Rountree’s narrative and pointed out at least four Knox County schools are in the bottom 5% in Tennessee.  Representative Dunn also noted keeping kids in failing schools is blatantly unfair to the students.  Rountree replied the schools are not failing; instead it is the communities that are failing.  Rountree went onto complain about the Tennessee state law that requires schools to be given a letter grade on a scale, very similar to the grade teachers give students.  Most of the board of education are opposed to any kind of evaluation that doesn’t work in favor of the teachers’ union.  Representative Harry Brooks, Chairman of the House Education Committee, made the simple, yet effective point that the Knox County Board of Education could design a program they believe is fair and would work for all concerned.  Of course the likelihood of that happening is about the same as Trump divorcing his wife and marrying Hillary Clinton.

Dave Wright argued in favor of hiking the gas tax, a priority for the Haslam administration.  Wright regurgitated all the usual administration arguments in favor of raising the gas tax to spend $6 billion on road improvements across the state.  Wright pointed out the gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1989 and cars are more gas efficient now, meaning consumers don’t buy as much as they used to.  Automobiles are more gas efficient precisely because federal law required it, which meant automakers passed along the increased cost to buyers.  I simply cannot even begin to understand the logic that a tax should be raised because it’s been a long time since it went up.  We all know they rarely ever go down.

Becky Duncan Massey piped up to say she wasn’t elected to vote for what might be popular at the moment, but for what is right.  Massey announced the gas tax hike is needed.  I would make the blunt observation Ms. Massey wasn’t elected for either reason, but mainly because her name is Duncan.  That will likely avail her little when she comes up for reelection in four years’ time.

Eddie Smith seems to be on board with raising the gas tax, a tax every working family will feel.  The Haslam administration hasn’t exactly been watching where our tax dollars go, but Smith had the all-out backing of Bill Haslam.  Evidently Smith doesn’t realize that Gloria Johnson would have been a better choice for taxing and spending, as she would have been delighted to raise taxes at every opportunity and with gusto.

All of this is all the more puzzling in light of the message being sent by President-elect Donald Trump to the American people.  That message is the biggest tax cut for the middle class in the history of the country, as well as reducing corporate taxes to 15%.  Trump is also pushing a real infrastructure stimulus package that is actually innovative.  Naturally, it took a genuine outsider to propose such a thing, which is completely foreign to politicians.  Wouldn’t it make more sense to see what projects are going to be initiated by the federal government before beginning a sweeping new program by the State of Tennessee?  But of course, that’s not how government has worked and that is a big part of the reason why people demanded change.  Yet here are so many of our local officials who still just don’t get it.

None of these folks, except for Bill Dunn and Harry Brooks, seem to understand the country is changing and moving in a new direction. Here’s hoping they’ll get the message sooner rather than later.