State’s rights: In the last decade, State’s rights haven’t truly been a big focus aside from arguments over the electoral college or Texas floating a new plan about how they want to secede from the Union. That said, 2020’s introduction of new emergency powers, extensive governmental oversight, and expert recommendations that turn into mandates has Americans schooled and it feels like we’re all freshmen sitting in the front row of Fundamentals of American Governance 101.
The balance between health, safety, and the economy shifts depending on who is doing the weighing and measuring. In Tennessee, the state wants to be in charge of that assessment, and State’s rights are officially in the center of the ring after state legislators sent a clear message during the Covid Special Session. What was that clear message? States are supplemented by the Federal government, not ruled by it. How did our legislation send that message? Well, despite the fact that it was unconstitutional, the state took a preemptive strike against the future OSHA mandates set into motion by the Biden administration by banning vaccine mandates. If Governor Bill Lee signs the Covid bill into law, some Tennessee businesses might eventually be put in a position where they will either decide to violate State mandates or Federal mandates, when it comes to Covid-19 vaccinations.
To buy himself time, Governor Lee recently extended his emergency powers until November 19th. His extended executive orders continue to give parents the right to opt out of mask mandates for their children in school. During this time, Lee is expected to go over the Covid bill. Ironically, the announcement of the Biden administration’s OSHA vaccination mandates for businesses of 100 employees or more by January 4th came the same week as the Covid bill landed on Lee’s desk. Even more amusing, not only has the OSHA mandate already been suspended by a Federal lawsuit, but Tennessee joined many other states in filing lawsuits against the President’s mandate on Friday.
As Tennessee is gridlocked and awaiting a ruling on the OSHA mandates as well as Governor Lee’s decision about the Covid bill, how does this compare to the experience in other states? One example of another red state that weighs the prioritization of health, safety, and the economy in a similar fashion to that of Tennessee is Florida. That being said, Florida has a completely different strategy.
A few differences between Florida and Tennessee’s responses to Federal overreach during the pandemic:
- Florida is strong on the front end meaning the state is assertive, proactive, and decisive in terms of Covid policy, rejecting Federal mandates, and communicating policy for the whole state.
- Florida has an assertive Governor. While it is Florida’s legislation that is quick to create the bills needed to combat Federal overreach, Desantis is very vocal, directive, and proactive in his approach as the executive of the state.
- Florida, specifically Governor Desantis, has become a target of the Biden administration. A good example of this is when Desantis banned mask mandates in schools. The Governor originally threatened to block funding for school districts that didn’t allow parents to make the decision about masking for their own child. The Biden administration fired back by offering extra grant money to schools that defied Governor Desantis’ parental opt out order.
- Governor Lee consistently decentralizes power in Tennessee by shifting it to the various entities of the state. A few examples of this are when he empowered Mayors during covid to create their own masking policies in each county and when Governor Lee refused to call the Special Covid Session despite the pleas of House Speaker Sexton. This forced the Senate and the House to drum up the support of a Covid special session by rallying a 2/3rds majority in both branches.
- Biden takes jabs at Governor Desantis in Florida, but takes jabs at the citizens themselves in Tennessee. Parents raising concerns during school board meetings in Williamson County have been targeted multiple times by President Biden during national addresses. What does this say to you about who the Biden administration looks at as a threat?
- Despite Tennessee making many of the same moves as Florida, ie. protecting and prioritizing the elderly during covid and vaccination rollout plans as well as diversifying treatments and investing in alternative therapies such as monoclonal antibodies, our Governor is consistently quiet. There aren’t earth shattering addresses, comical call outs, or memes of our Governor. Even the language in Governor Lee’s executive orders leaves Tennesseans scratching their heads and wanting more clarity while Desantis is known for very clear executive orders.
What do these differences mean for Tennessee? There are a few things to consider. Florida has a strong central figure in Desantis. His citizens and fellow statesmen derive their fortitude from him, but in Tennessee there is no central figurehead. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Tennesseans should consider the long-term boon of what they might interpret as a short-term weakness in leadership.
The dispersion of responsibility creates fertile ground for the potential of Tennessee to flourish as a truly self-governing state. The state has seen new coalitions, new PACs, more first time candidates running for office, and a more engaged populace in general. Does all this activity truly matter? It depends on how much you like centralized government and how you feel about the United States Constitution. Kind of scary that this is a real topic up for discussion in America at this point, isn’t it?
This brings us back to State’s rights. For the American experiment to truly flourish as it was originally intended, the responsibility of freedom and the delegation of power must always fall back to the citizens themselves. At this point in time, the two most important things Americans who believe in the Constitution possess are their will to take on the burden of freedom and all that comes with it, and the protection from Federal government overreach provided by their state. Which state currently fortifies its citizens and statesmen better? Florida or Tennessee? Perhaps they will both farewell despite two different approaches.