Southern conservatives coming around?

We had an interesting situation play out this week in the Tennessee General Assembly. Gov. Bredesen proposed a "Cover Tennessee" program that would provide bare-bones health insurance for some of Tennessee's 600,000 uninsured, including nearly 200,000 who lost coverage when TennCare (the state's Medicaid program) was scaled back.

GOP State Sen. Jim Bryson, who also happens to be the only credible GOP challenger for Democratic Gov. Bredesen's reelection bid, introduced an amendment that would shift all of the risk to the insurance companies. Bryson, who is running on a platform of "protecting our values and our pocketbooks," said the amendment would protect taxpayers from more out of control state spending on health care. In fact, it would have effectively killed the program, because no insurance company would bid to write these policies without the state subsidy.

Bryson also tried to slip in a "tort reform" amendment that, in addition to being totally irrelevant, would limit medical malpractice claims to $250,000, claiming this would somehow make health care more accessible to more Tennesseans.

Bryson, who said last week that he is a gifted leader, got handed his... well, both of his amendments were defeated in the Republican controlled Senate, much to the consternation of the GOP leadership. Two Republicans crossed over and three abstained on the "tort reform" amendment, apparently not wanting to be associated with a last-minute political stunt by the presumptive GOP nominee for governor. It was a humiliating defeat and an embarrassing failure of leadership for Bryson.

The bill passed in the Senate 31-1 and sailed through the House late yesterday evening with wide bi-partisan support. It goes back to the Senate for a vote on some minor House changes, and is expected to be signed by the Governor in a matter of days. The right-wing pundits and bloviators, who were quite smug and confident they had killed the program, are curiously silent on it today.

Could this be a sign that people are tired of the right-wing rhetoric and failed right-wing conservative policies, and that their representatives in state government are finally getting the message? Let's hope so. This could be a very encouraging development for progressive politics in the South.