Are We Being Blackmailed by Senator Henry?

I kept waiting to see if other bloggers would write about this, but no one has.  The gist is this–our legislators are considered part-time and they are paid a paltry amount, less than $20,000, which might not be that bad if they really only met for three months a year or something. But being a state legislator is a full-time part-time job.

No one, I don’t think, would argue that it isn’t.

So, in order to compensate for having a full-time job that doesn’t really lend itself to letting you have another job, a lot of our legislators take advantage of the fact that they can get reimbursed for the days they spend in Nashville.

Henry argues

The annual salary of the legislator is $19,009.08. For five or six months per year, he or she can only sketchily engage in his or her normal occupation, from which he or she and his or her family make their living. In view of the months that legislative service takes from a legislator’s time earning income, it seems to me that we Tennesseans stand a better chance of retaining a part-time, as opposed to a full-time, legislature if we do not doubly penalize the legislators, not only by consuming their time, but also by requiring them to live in a hotel in Nashville much more expensively than they can live at home.

Sure, this seems reasonable. But what about the legislator from Lascassas who managed to supplement his income by a hefty amount while not required to live in a hotel in Nashville at all, since he could drive home every night?

The truth is that, while all politics has a bit of the old wink-and-nudge, this is “wink-and-nudge” built into the system at its core. It’s “Yeah, sure you make $19,000 a year, but wink, wink, nudge, nudge, there are ways around that.”

I don’t like it. If you don’t make enough, you need to sell that to your employer, who is, in this case, Tennessee taxpayers and voters. Pretending what you make is okay while you reach your hand in the till is just fundamentally dishonest.

And arguing that we should allow it to continue without too much scrutiny is really disgusting.

But this is the part that sticks in my craw

My thought is that salary and payment of expenses be considered separately in the law. To take a punitive approach, however, to legislative compensation may well lead to a legislature made up of retirees, wealthy individuals and idlers, or ne’er-do- wells.

In that case, the laws would less well reflect life as it is lived by most Tennesseans and, in my opinion, the quality of the laws would suffer.

First there’s the little blackmailing bit. If you don’t let us continue to milk this cow, we’ll go home or we’ll stick you with really shitty laws.

But then there’s the hilarity of this idea that the state legislature is made up of anything but retirees, wealthy individuals and idlers, or ne’er-do-wells already. Senator Henry, look around you! It is physically impossible in some cases to do less well than some of your peers; even if I had all day and a gymnast’s body, I could not contort myself into the ethical pretzels your colleagues get in.

Your worst case scenario?

THAT’S WHAT WE HAVE.  Right now.

And how could the quality of laws suffer?! Seriously, did you even read this out loud to another person before you submitted it to the Tennessean?

I mean, I don’t blame you for blocking out what went on in the first part of the year, but Sweet Jesus, let’s be honest.

Basically all we’re being threatened with here is that, if we don’t let legislators have their extra money, they’re going to stop pretending that things are better than they are?

I, for one, would welcome that.

(h/t Kleinheider)

7 thoughts on “Are We Being Blackmailed by Senator Henry?

  1. Pingback: No More Winking On Legislative Per Diems : Post Politics: Political News and Views in Tennessee

  2. Having the stipend didn’t stop his Democratic colleagues from being bribed by federal agents.

    Just sayin’.

  3. Well, allow me to play devil’s advocate here. As someone whose legislator considers himself full-time (Kernell) and does NOT have another job, I want to say that the Lege IS a full-time job, and should be paid like one.

    Even with all the embarrassment going on up there, you get what you pay for. Why NOT go to a full-time lege with full-time staffs (so the damn LOBBYISTS don’t end up writing the bills). It’s NOT 1803 any more, and the idea of a citizen-legislature in this complex day and age is ludicrous.

    Thanks, I feel better now.

  4. Wait, but if you’re playing devil’s advocate and I agree with you, does that make me the devil?!

    If so, I can think of a certain red-headed state legislator who’s getting prodded with my pitchfork.

    I do think that state legislators should be paid for working what they work, which is a full time job. But I think they need to come out and make the case for that and get it done above board, rather than sneaking around accomplishing a full-time salary behind the backs of Tennesseans.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly. Because not only do we have all the issues raised by your points here, but we also run into hometown corruption on the back end. If your legislator is also a realtor in his home district that forces unfair practices (use me to sell your home or I’ll have a highway routed through your backyard) and stifles the free market.

  6. They also make thousands more a year in per deum, and those who can’t afford their small salary, share a room in apartments with each other and pocket the rest so they are actually making a liveable wage.

    That said, full time, as Cracker said, would be better–but keep in mind, their salary is a lot higher than you are presenting for those who don’t have other jobs.

    Like Steve, Mike Kernell is one of my closest friends, and I’d love to see him make more, but for 35 years, he’s managed, although I’d love to see him make more

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