Show Me the Seersucker: In Defense of the State Legislature

My fellow Tennesseans, I wish to speak in defense of the Tennessee Legislature. During the past session, the Tennessee General Assembly was subjected to a great deal of scorn and ridicule, which, by the way, should not be confused with the law firm by the same name (Scorn & Ridicule LLC). Late-night comedians including Jay Leno, David Letterman,
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have tried to make our legislature a national laughing stock.

Stewart devoted an entire episode of the The Daily Show to State Senator Stacey “Don’t Say Gay” Campfield’s creative legislative initiative designed to encourage poor Tennessee children to do their homework, so long as the assignments do not involve the word “gay.” Stewart, the quintessential bleeding-heart liberal, slammed Senator Campfield’s proposal to cut off welfare checks to a poor mama if her little Bubba or Cissy flunks algebra.

The lamestream media also relentlessly satirized the numerous new gun laws proposed by our legislature. As you will recall, last year our legislature passed a law protecting our right under the Second Amendment to carry guns into bars, because as we all know, two things that definitely go together are firearms and whiskey. This year the right to carry a gun was extended to work site parking lots, and several legislators proposed bills that would allow Tennessee school teachers to pack heat in their classrooms. If cutting off the family welfare check is not enough incentive for little Bubba to study hard, he will now have to always keep in mind that his algebra teacher is armed with more than just a textbook.

And just in case President Obama plans to send federal law enforcement agents into our bars, classrooms and homes to take away our guns, there was a proposal that would criminalize federal officers from enforcing gun laws. You read that right, J. Edgar Hoover-breath! Any FBI agent who comes into the Volunteer State and tries to take away our guns will be … well, shot.

Comedian Ellen DeGeneres went after Tennessee State Rep. Andy Holt, the prime sponsor of the “Livestock Cruelty Prevention Act” passed by the legislature, requiring anyone who videotapes or photographs acts of horse or livestock cruelty to report this to law enforcement officials within 48 hours or risk being arrested for … well, I don’t know, animal abuse cover-up? On her NBC TV show, DeGeneres called the new law the “Ag Gag” Bill, and claimed that Rep. Holt was, in effect, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. She contended the bill was designed not to prevent cruelty to livestock, but in fact to keep animal rights advocates from stopping animal cruelty. [Editor’s note: On May 13, Gov. Bill Haslam vetoed the bill after State Attorney General Bob Cooper said in a legal opinion that the measure would be “constitutionally suspect.”]

DeGeneres wasn’t the only national celebrity to pile on the Tennessee Legislature in the defense of horses, cows and chickens. She was joined by other liberal celebrities including legendary TV quiz show host Bob “The Price is Right” Barker, and vegetarian country music singer Carrie Underwood. Underwood took to the stage of the VH1 Network’s show, “Behind the Music,” and blasted Rep. Holt and the Tennessee legislature for passing a law that she claimed would actually help “factory farms” get away with abusing future steaks and drumsticks.

Rep. Holt responded, calling Ms. Underwood a “self-proclaimed vegan vegetarian.” But he then waved the olive branch, or drumstick, saying, “If Carrie Underwood will stick to singing, I’ll stick to lawmaking.”

I have no idea whether Rep. Holt can sing. But I for one think it would be pretty cool if during the next legislative session, he would agree to switch jobs with Carrie Underwood for one day. She could represent livestock in the legislature while he goes over to the Grand Ole Opry, takes the stage, and sings “I Wanna Whip Your Cow.” We would certainly all be blown away by that.

The relentless attacks on the Tennessee legislature by Hollywood, New York City, and even the Grand Ole Opry culminated in a recent edition of a magazine called Mother Jones, which despite its title, is not a children’s publication. Mother Jones (who is, no doubt, some vegetarian feminist) declared that “Tennessee has the worst legislature in the country.”
Well, to paraphrase a line from the great Merle Haggard, if you’re runnin’ down my legislature, you’re walking on the fightin’ side of me!

The Tennessee legislature is not, repeat not, the worst legislature in the country. That honor truly belongs to the Missouri legislature. Mark Twain once said, “I would rather have termites infest my house than have the Missouri legislature go into session.”

And during the most recent legislative session in the Show-Me State, Missouri lawmakers proved that Twain was absolutely right. So help me, Missouri Democrat State Senator Ryan McKenna offered the following amendment to a higher education funding bill:

Any person living in this state aged 8 and under may wear seersucker suits at their leisure. Any person over the age of 8 living in the state may not wear seersucker suits because adults look ridiculous in seersucker suits.”

You read that right, my fellow well-dressed Tennesseans. There was actually an attempt by the Missouri legislature to ban seersucker in the Show Me State.

I have no idea who Sen. McKenna is, but believe me, he makes Sen. Stacey Campfield look like Thomas Jefferson.

McKenna claimed that he proposed the seersucker ban because he was tired of being “bullied by the seersucker caucus.” He contended that many of his colleagues in the Missouri State Senate were wearing seersucker, and “they are getting stronger by the week.”

Now you would think that Sen. McKenna would have felt the wrath of the cynical national lamestream media. But they did not make fun of him the way they did Rep. Andy Holt and Sen. Stacey Campfield. Esquire magazine defended Sen. Ryan McKenna, stating that his “aversion stems from the notion that seersucker is an anachronistic symbol of southern gentility — a throwback to mint julep-swilling gentlemen chomping cigars at lawn parties held at sprawling estates.”

Well, I have two words in response to Esquire: Atticus Finch. He was the greatest Southern trial lawyer of all time, and he wore seersucker suits. And he didn’t sit on his front porch with Scout and Jim and Boo Radley, knocking back mint juleps and chomping on cigars.

And so my fellow well-dressed Tennessee lawyers, this summer, as you sit in a Tennessee bar with a gun in one hand and a mint julep in the other, take the time to make the following toast to the Tennessee Legislature:

“At least they didn’t try to ban seersucker suits!”


Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a partner with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell. He is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association.