Like many residents living in Tennessee Senate District 10, I was shocked to learn that my state senator, Todd Gardenhire, joined with six other Republican senators in voting to turn down federal funding that would have expanded access to Medicaid (TennCare) to more than 280,000 low-income Tennesseans and to over 45 percentof uninsured adults in Hamilton and Bradley counties.

According to the prestigious peer-reviewed international journal Health Affairs, an estimated 24 to 63 people in Tennessee are expected to die every month as a direct result of our state government’s refusal to expand Medicaid coverage. Policies like this kill as sure as a bullet, and by voting against Medicaid expansion, Gardenhire and his Republican allies effectively transformed the specially called Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee into a death panel for our community’s working poor.

When asked why he voted against providing health care access to his constituents, Gardenhire explained to the press that he thought the legislation had “too many parts that didn’t add up,” and he suggested that the governor should bring the legislation back up in the session after Gardenhire “had a chance to understand what is going on.”

It wouldn’t be unfair for District 10 constituents to assume that tens of thousands of our family, friends and neighbors are being denied access to health care because governing is just too hard and too complicated for our state senator. After all, Gardenhire claimed that he himself did not receive state insurance when he voted against providing it to his constituents-a claim that was later revealed to be untrue.


When pressed for an explanation, Gardenhire claimed that he had no idea that he was receiving government-provided health insurance because when he took office, he just signed all the papers that were handed to him without reading them. Apparently, Gardenhire simply can’t expend the time or effort necessary to read, much less comprehend, documents pertaining to governing.

In fact, Gardenhire’s time in office could be viewed as a case study in double talk and hypocrisy: Government insurance is good for me but not for you, which is another way of saying free markets are good for you, just not for me. As a man of faith, Gardenhire doesn’t believe in voting to extend government health care to Tennessee’s working poor. However, as a wealth manager for Morgan Stanley, a too-big-to-fail bank that received trillions (with a “t,” as in “tax-payer handout”) in government bailouts and risk-free loans, Gardenhire apparently does believe in providing massive subsidies to privately owned corporations, like Volkswagen, and then using the power of the state’s purse strings to keep workers from unionizing.

Gardenhire was one of the legislative cartel that organized a press conference last February announcing that the Republican establishment was, in essence, holding hostage hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies-and the 2,000 local jobs those subsidies could bring-to Volkswagen in fear that the company might support the working people of Chattanooga who were organizing on the job. As the guardian of corporate power and privilege, Gardenhire was adamant that Chattanooga’s working families not be provided any opportunity to negotiate for higher wages, increased benefits or better working conditions.

More recently, Gardenhire has co-sponsored legislation that will funnel millions of dollars in public money out of our public schools, which are shamefully underfunded by the state government, and into private schools, further expanding Gardenhire’s “free market” formula of publicly subsidizing private corporations. Schools that are struggling to get by on a shoestring budget will soon be forced to make desperate choices, much like our state’s working poor who are living off minimum wage and forced to choose between medical care and paying rent.

Nothing speaks to Gardenhire’s professed values like his real-life actions: using the coercive power of the state to extort companies and subjugate labor unions, sponsoring legislation that dismantles public schools and decreases educational opportunities, and voting to deny access to health care to our state’s working poor.

Chris Brooks
District 10 Chattanooga resident

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