Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dean and Bredesen to Legislature: keep Tennessee out of quicksand

Photo of Rowing Man sculpture, Knoxville, Tennessee, by Lance Smith. Licensed via Creative Commons.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and now-former Governor Phil Bredesen have both raised the prospect of serious economic harm that could come to the Nashville and Tennessee if the Legislature gets stuck in immigration politics in 2011.  If Arizona has gotten itself stuck into some nasty quicksand as a result of its partisan drama on the issue, these two prominent Tennesseans want the Volunteer State to steer around it.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean
In a December 13 address to the Rotary Club, Dean was quoted by the Nashville City Paper expressing concern about economic harm:
I’m not here to tell state senators and representatives what to do...But, I’m asking them, as mayor of Nashville, not to do anything that would put our city and our state at a competitive disadvantage...I’m just asking them that when they’re having these discussions — if they have these discussions — that they seek the opinion and bear in mind what needs to be done to protect the economy of specifically Nashville, Tennessee, and I think also the rest of the state.
Dean, as mayor of the city that has the highest percentage of immigrants in all of the state, which makes him a relative authority on the subject of the costs associated with immigration, wants the legislature to contemplate the danger facing Nashville if its new $585 convention center is subjected to the same fate as the Arizona tourism industry, which has lost more than $250 million since adopting a controversial law in 2010.

Former Governor Phil Bredesen
Now-former Governor Phil Bredesen, who brought numerous international businesses to Tennessee and is an authority on economic development, echoed Dean in comments to the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce on January 12, in the waning hours of his tenure as governor. Bredesen stressed the threat posed by immigration politics to the state's economic development, in excerpts quoted by the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
We are not going to be successful as a country — and we're certainly not going to be successful as a state — if our main focus is on how many different places we can carry our guns, how few languages we use for our driver's license tests or how closely we match Arizona's immigration laws...Those are political distractions, and we need to focus on those things that are really important for our state...We have so much going for us in economic development and education reform right now; let's not ruin that by getting off into out-of-the-mainstream political issues.
Bredesen followed up by telling the CTFP:
I just think it is a dangerous thing to assume that that kind of stuff [immigration politics] is just a sideshow and that it won't affect things like economic development...That's a real and practical issue for international companies operating in Tennessee
Bredesen went on to tell the paper, from personal experience, how he had to defend the state when interested international companies contemplating investment here expressed concerns about Tennessee being a hostile environment, in light of previous years' immigration politics. Every single year for at least the past ten years, Tennessee legislators have proposed new immigration-related state rules.  Some have gone into effect just this year.

Let existing laws take their course. Let business and economic development take root. And let the immigration drama happen somewhere else.

We'll see soon enough if Capitol Hill listens to the pleas of Karl Dean and the advice of Phil Bredesen, or whether they just jump into the Arizona boat without asking where it is headed.

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