Ben Nelson ‘Politics’ Not Welcome in Tennessee

It is a good thing to try to put a stop to politicians “selling” their vote for something they otherwise wouldn’t support in exchange for a benefit for their constituents that sticks it to everyone. That some don’t think so shows how far American politics has sunk.

America got a close-up look at the ugly underbelly of Washington politics when U.S. Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Nebraska), in exchange for his vote, got his state exempted from the unfunded Medicaid mandate under the federal health care bill. Getting a monetary break for his state suddenly made a bad bill “good.” America was rightly outraged by this act of “political bribery.” Well, something more than Norris Dam is getting ready to be named for a Nebraska Senator, and maybe it will keep Washington politics out of Tennessee.

Last week state Sens. Dewayne Bunch ((R-Cleveland) and Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Reps. Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) and Glen Casada (R-College Grove) filed Senate Bill 3160 and House Bill 3123 to protect the taxpayers of Tennessee from the kind of “political bribery” we all witnessed when some of our nation’s U.S. Senators “sold” their votes on national health care for deals that benefit their constituents while sticking it to the wallets of all other taxpayers.

This bill is intended to make sure this kind of horse-trading for the benefit of some taxpayers at the expense others doesn’t make its way into Tennessee. (I’m not saying it has happened in Tennessee, but there has never been any reason to pursue suspicions either.) The bill deals with basically two different scenarios. The bill would make it a Class A misdemeanor for an official to vote for a bill in exchange for future employment. It would also make it a crime for a legislator to vote for a bill only if that legislator receives for only for his or her district a fiscal or budgetary benefit that citizens of all other districts in the state would not get but would have to pay for through their taxes.

Bribery by Any Other Name

The essence of bribery is offering some reward or favor for the purpose of perverting the judgment of an elected official. In the past, we only thought of bribery in terms of some favor or reward going to the elected official personally, but it doesn’t matter whether it is an individual’s money that perverts an official’s judgment or that of taxpayers. The bottom line is that the legislator’s better judgment has been altered by a financial consideration that is not in the best interest of the whole body politic.

The filing of the bill has been news around the country (though not so much so in our own state, which is part of why FACT exists—to tell you things others think unimportant). When the Omaha World Herald found out about the bill last Friday, they called Rep. Dunn, and he echoed the same sentiment,

Sen. Nelson, even though he realized this could ruin the finances of states, he went ahead and voted for it as long as he protected his state. So he voted for what he knew was bad policy, just because he got favoritism.

Other Senators, of course, did similar things, but fortunately for them they didn’t receive the same notoriety because their vote was not the deciding one.

If the Average Guy Gets It, Why Can’t Everyone Else?

Partly because Sen. Nelson’s conduct isn’t that unusual, some of the politicos across the country laughed at the idea. One was Larry Sabato, political scientist at the University of Virginia, who said, “We don’t have enough prison space in the country to house all the congressmen and state legislators who would have to be incarcerated. Obviously it’s ridiculous. You don’t criminalize politics.”

Actually, liberals and clueless politicians, for example those like Martha Coakley of Massachusetts, don’t understand that a lot of average Americans do think politics itself has become “criminal,” particularly in Washington, where Republicans in 12 years “earmarked” us to the edge of oblivion and Democrats in the last two years shoved us over the edge. If it takes more politicians going to jail to get our governmental policies decided on the merits, then there may just be a growing population ready to say, “Then spend some money to build more prisons … and make sure they serve TEA with every meal.”

That some would see this bill as ridiculous shows just how jaded and out of touch some of those in politics have become. Some can’t even recognize that Justice has had her blindfold off for a long time now and has been wearing dark-shaded glasses with a brimmed hat pulled down over her head. Some have been in the “dark” for so long they don’t know what “light” looks like.

But some do. The average guy does. And I’m sure that’s who these sponsors are counting on to make a statement in Tennessee, one that I hope will be heard around the country. In fact, Rep. Dunn got this e-mail last Friday from a man in Nebraska who read the article in his state’s newspaper:

As a Nebraskan, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for naming your wonderful ethics bill after Senator Ben Nelson. I have been troubled by this individual ever since he steered millions of our tax dollars over to a company his son worked for and chose not to reveal the family connection.

I can tell you that Ben Nelson does not represent the wonderful people of Nebraska who possess some of the finest ethics in the country. As a result of his shameless vote in the Senate, Nelson is now despised in this state.

Please keep up the good work, Mr. Dunn. You, sir, are a great American.

I concur. Thank you, Jack Johnson, Dewayne Bunch, Bill Dunn and Glen Casada, for being willing to take the scorn from those who have come to accept “politics as usual.”