It's Refreshing When Legislators Refuse to Kiss a Lobbyist's, Er, Feet

Where do you find a used crucifix these days?

A gun lobbyist suggests one be installed at the entrance to the General Assembly as a symbol of his plans to crucify the political career of the leader of the Republican majority in the state House of Representatives.

When the Republicans came into the majority in the state House and Senate, they passed a raft of gun bills expanding the rights of gun owners across the state. I doubt you can find a state legislature anywhere more Second Amendment friendly than the folks in Nashville. The list of legislators, especially the Republicans, overlaps a roll call of National Rifle Association members.

So what the hell happened?

The Republican leaders of the House and Senate wanted the focus of this session, in an election year, to be on cutting taxes. Tax cuts were central to Gov. Bill Haslam's legislative package. The Republicans told the gun lobbyists they would take up a controversial gun bill next session, but did not want to bring it up this year. They were warned that it would not be wise to pursue it this session. The bill allows employees to keep a gun locked in their car in the parking lot whether the business owner wants to forbid it or not. It pits gun rights against property rights, a tough call for conservatives.

Some people don't know when to declare victory and go home. Rather than rest on their laurels for previous successes and bide their time until next year, the gun lobbyists went out and found a Democrat to sponsor the gun bill, a former sheriff. So they got a Democrat to take credit for a conservative Republican agenda item, they defied the Republican leadership and began to make mischief—forcing members to vote on a controversial bill in an election year and to distract from the tax-cutting agenda.

If there is one thing you learn in Lobbying 101 it is that you don't make legislators mad. And you certainly don't defy the leadership, committee chairs, and the caucus chair. The antics of the gun lobbyist led to the bill being shunted aside and sent to a summer "study" committee. The prospect of this happening evidently unhinged John Harris, head of the Tennessee Firearms Association. He very personally attacked state Rep. Debra Maggert, leader of the House Republican Caucus, calling on his members, in an e-mail, to crucify Maggert's political career and then erect the aforementioned "used crucifix" at the General Assembly entrance.

Maggert is a tough cookie and is one of the most conservative Republican House members, thus her position as the leader of the caucus. Her response to Harris was that "weak men do not like strong women." Maggert and Harris went to the same high school; maybe there is some history there. Maggert has voted for every gun bill that has come to the floor. But Harris vows to organize for Maggert's opponent in this year's election and her "crucifixion" will be an example to any legislator that doesn't hop to it when a gun lobbyist calls.

So much for legislators being afraid of the gun lobby. They were accused of that when they passed all those gun bills. They demonstrated this year that they call their own shots and will not accept intimidation and rudeness from anybody.

Meanwhile, the gun lobbyists have said they will use legislators' vote on the guns in parking lots bill as a litmus test in this year's election. Since it didn't come to a vote, I'm not sure what they will do. But Maggert may have to take all the abuse as a symbol of Republican failure to kiss the gun lobby's ass.

If the gun lobby groups are smart they will find some new lobbyists before the next legislative session. And members of gun owners associations should remember that the people they are cussing are the same people that expanded gun owner and permit-holder rights in previous sessions.

And they will be the same people there next year when you want another gun bill. Likely, including Debra Maggert.