The 2014 Tennessee gubernatorial Republican primary certainly presents the voters with some interesting choices this year. The favorite, of course, is the incumbent governor Bill Haslam who has certainly made his share of missteps. I personally felt that signing SB 3310 was ill-advised. The bill, which stipulates that all public school sex-education curriculum “exclusively and emphatically promote sexual risk avoidance through abstinence, regardless of a student's current or prior sexual experience” or that district will risk "the withholding of state funds by the commissioner of education", is a misguided attempt to legislate morality while addressing teenage pregnancy.
Regardless of your religious or political affiliation; I think we can all agree that the best way to avoid unwanted pregnancy, venereal disease, and awkward class-reunion encounters is to practice abstinence. For that reason, it should always be presented as the taxpayer-funded recommendation in a public school sex-ed program. However, a state-ordered mandate to ignore pre-marital sex among the state’s teenagers is not only foolhardy but fiscally irresponsible. The truth is that the conservative, southern “Bible-belt” states are leading the nation in per-capita pregnancy among 15-17 year olds. Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas all make the top 5 and Tennessee is not far behind them.
|Image Source: CDC|
While there are several socio-economic factors that contribute to these rates, I seriously doubt the discrepancy is due to unfamiliarity with the concept of abstinence in the southern states or the widespread implementation of it in northern ones. We have to provide age-appropriate, data-driven classes that tout the numerous benefits of celibacy while operating under the assumption that a significant number of students have or will chose a much different path. It is in our best interest to equip these children to mitigate the risks of sexual activity both to themselves and their partners while preventing unwanted pregnancy.
That being said, I decided to investigate the other Republican candidates seeking to unseat Mr. Haslam. First up, we have Donald Ray McFolin. McFolin is a retired commercial wildlife artist who decided to challenge Haslam after the governor failed to respond to concerns about the education that his son was receiving. McFolin seems to be a genuinely concerned parent, but I could not locate any information on his stances outside of education reform so I am reluctant to throw him my support.
|Donal Ray McFolin|
Next, we have Mark “Coonrippy” Brown. Mr. Brown is a divorced father of two who currently lives with his elderly parents in Gallatin. He was inspired to throw his hat into the ring when Tennessee wildlife authorities took his pet raccoon Rebekah and governor Haslam failed to have the animal returned to his care. Coonrippy has enjoyed a level of media notoriety thanks to the YouTube videos of him dancing and showering with Rebekah and her deceased male predecessor “Gunshow.”
Mr. Brown believes that he was targeted by the TWRA and Haslam thanks to his growing Internet fame and the prospect of a reality television show focusing on his life with Rebekah. According to The Tennessean, Brown has held a number of odd jobs including gun safety instructor, firearms dealer, animal control, and an outdoor sports columnist. He also sells handmade crafts and claims to have picked up a little Bosnian from some local mechanics. He told the paper that there are only two authorities that could ever persuade him to drop his bid for governor: The Lord Almighty or the producer of his reality show. Yes kids, we now apparently live in a world where those two entities carry equal weight.
|Mark "Coonrippy" Brown|
That leaves me with perennial candidate and Internet sensation Basil Marceaux (.com). Details about Mr. Marceaux are somewhat sketchy (he claims to be a Marine Veteran and wears dog-tags and a badge featuring the words “Innocent Bystander” in most of his videos) but what is clear is his approach to cleaning up The Volunteer State. One of the cornerstones of his campaign is requiring all citizens to carry handguns or face a fine. He has also stated his desire to end traffic stops and relocate the state capital to Chattanooga. He has taken a hard line on violent offenders “If you kill someone, you get murdered” but favors the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.
Both his speeches and website appear to be rambling stream-of-consciousness political soliloquies with the only difference being that his website also sells telescopes. He has also released a holiday song called “Come Christmas” and a video where he summarizes random Tennessee Supreme Court Decisions over a banjo loop. Despite the eccentricities, his message of government overreach may still resonate with voters.
If only it were possible to combine the platform of the three challengers into a coherent message, Tennesseans could reside in a education-focused, speeding-ticket free utopia where a taxpayer can freely exercise his God-given right to bathe with a tree mammal. In the meantime, the odds favor Haslam continuing to representing the GOP in Tennessee so I prepared a short, open letter.
In the name of all things holy and pure, just give the poor guy his pet raccoon back.
We The People
CDC - State Disparities in Teenage Birth Rates in the United States
Guttmacher Institute's May 2014 Report on Teen Pregnancy