GOP Gov Pisses Off All Tennessee With 'Give Money To Non-Tennesseans' Plan

It seems the Republican governor of Tennessee, Bill Lee, has gone and pissed a bunch of people off. And we do mean a bunch of people.

It happened when he posted this video with country star Brad Paisley, announcing that if you'd like to come see Tennessee, the state will pay for it. Or at least for a small part of it. Look, they'll give you an airline voucher for $250, which won't cover your ticket, because prices for flights right now are stupid. But maybe it'll help.

Pleeeeeeease come to Tennessee, they seem to be saying.

Tennessee on Me

In the video, Paisley sings, "Come see Tennessee on me, we'll give you a free flight," because the program is called Tennessee On Me. Anybody who books two nights in a hotel in one of Tennessee's four largest cities qualifies, if you're one of the first 10,000. After that, you're on ya own.

This tweet from the Tennessee Senate Democrats pretty much captures the reaction from the Democrats:

That's true. In fact, Lee's decision to end Tennesseans' access to federal COVID unemployment benefits went into effect just last week. He said he made that decision because Tennessee just has so many available JERBS. Here's the report from the Tennessee Democrats showing that in so doing Lee is taking $486 million from the state's economy.

Fox 17 in Nashville gathered more reactions from Democrats:

"I think it's absolutely ridiculous. I think it's absolutely ridiculous," says Representative Vincent Dixie, Chairman of the Democratic House Caucus.

"This money could go towards childcare, toward food, toward paying bills for people who've had a hard time making ends meet," says Chairman Dixie. [...]

"Our schools are underfunded, our healthcare system is underfunded, they're actually turning down federal taxpayer dollars that would've gone to supplementing unemployment," says Senator [Jeff] Yarbro. [...]

"It would be a real help, but also what would've helped is if he had given the money to those people who need it the most. That's what's gonna stimulate the economy," says Chairman Dixie.

Senator Yarbro feels this is so far down the priority list.

"This whole initiative is labeled "Tennessee on me." We're inviting folks from other states to go to Tennessee on us," says Yarbro.

US House Rep. Steve Cohen, who represents Memphis, weighed in on Twitter:

So that's the general mood from the Democrats, and it is clearly a mood.

What appears to have happened is the super-Republican legislature in Tennessee approved a $2.5 million budget item requested by the governor, for some kind of ad campaign through the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development, in order to goose tourism in this state that depends heavily on tourism. We don't think they knew exactly what they were voting for beyond that, considering how blindsided everybody is right now. The lege certainly doesn't appear to have been anticipating that the governor and the tourism department would be giving free $250 gifts to 10,000 people from states that aren't Tennessee.

Now, if you think that in the absence of this $2.5 million budget item for the tourism department, the kindly and Christian white Republicans of the Tennessee legislature would have instead done something to help the poor and struggling citizens of Tennessee, we have a bridge to sell you. In a way, this story could be headlined "Republican State Is Republican, Story At 5." And if we're talking about Bill Lee slicing $486 million out of the state's economy to fuck the poor, then $2.5 million for a tourism campaign is a pretty apples-to-small-potatoes comparison, if you ask us.

That said, a lot of Republicans are pissed at him too. And some of their reasons are so fucking "Tennessee." Others are just idiot, like this one from the lieutenant governor:

In a statement Tuesday, [TN Lt. Gov. Randy] McNally, R-Oak Ridge, noted the state's tourism industry has "bounced back in record time" after coming to a halt during the pandemic.

He would have preferred "a more traditional approach" to tourism marketing, McNally said, "rather than direct transfers of Tennessee taxpayer money to mostly out-of-state recipients."

"It is especially troubling that the promotion is limited to our major cities," McNally continued. "At least two of those cities exacerbated the economic crisis by instituting overly aggressive lockdown policies. "

It makes little sense to limit the promotion to those cities when our rural areas were hit as hard, if not harder, by the economic crisis than those cities."

Yeah well Memphis and Nashville just had this really weird thing about "don't want everybody to die of COVID." We're Jesus freak hippies like that.

We're not personally sure why this is limited to Tennessee's four largest cities — the other two are Knoxville and Chattanooga — but the spox for the tourism department told the Tennessean that "[w]hile much of the state is seeing pre-pandemic or higher levels of hotel occupancy, challenges remain in our big cities who still feel the loss of conventions, business and international travel." That makes sense, we guess.

This wingnut reaction is very, very "Tennessee":

The Beacon Center of Tennessee, a fiscally conservative think tank, released a statement saying "it's not the role of the government to give out our hard-earned tax dollars to tourists who want to check out Broadway," Nashville's honky tonk strip.

"While Gov. Lee has done a good job of balancing lives and livelihoods during the pandemic, this is is a poorly thought out plan," said Mark Cunningham, Beacon's vice president of strategy and communications.

"The government is picking winners and losers since only four Tennessee cities are included as part of the promotion, and it will likely just end up being another taxpayer-funded gift to Nashville."

Want to piss off a Tennessee hick in 10 seconds or less? Give shit to Nashville. Want to piss them off even more? Give it to Memphis too.

The other Republicans the Tennessean talked to were barely able to muster sentiments beyond "Huh, guess we'll see."

So good job, Bill Lee. At least for right now, you've united most of Tennessee around thinking you're kind of an idiot.

Don't worry, though, he'll still get re-elected. Tennesseans like to elect morons.

[Fox 17 Nashville / Tennessean]

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Evan Hurst

Evan Hurst is the managing editor of Wonkette, which means he is the boss of you, unless you are Rebecca, who is boss of him. His dog Lula is judging you right now.

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