Friday, January 1, 2016

Senator Alexander dissapoints on his support for an Internet tax. It is time for Alexander to retire.

Lamar Alexander
I have remained a supporter of Senator Lamar Alexander's despite many of my Republican friends saying he is far too liberal for their taste. I do not think "working across the aisle" and compromise and bi-partisanship are bad things. I have liked Alexander's moderate demeanor and temperament.  I like that he is polite and thoughtful. I have also liked his support of the great outdoors. I admire his successful effort to finally replace No Child Left Behind with a program that is less federally intrusive.

However, on more and more issues I find myself in disagreement with the positions of Senator Alexander. An example is his recent vote on the omnibus spending bill which he supported. The bill was not all bad and there were a few victories for conservatives in the bill but on balance, I think the proper vote was a vote against it.

Unfortunately, Lamar Alexander is disappointed me on another current issue and that is his position in favor of an Internet tax. I am not speaking of a sales tax on things you buy on the Internet but a tax on the Internet itself.  If you use the Internet or email, he wants local and state governments to be allowed to tax you for Internet service. 

Alexander is not only favoring allowing such a tax by local or state governments but is the lead opponent in stopping a current ban on the tax from becoming permanent. The Internet Tax Freedom Act banning a tax on Internet service was first passed in 1998 and has been renewed every year since.  Now there is a move to make that ban permanent. Alexander argues that Congress has no right to interfere with the states’ abilities to levy taxes.  He says to allow state and local governments to tax Internet access is a case of federalism. I'm not buying it.  The Congress does have a right to interfere with the ability of state and local governments to tax when a state in attempting to tax interstate commerce. They not only have a right, but a duty to do so The Constitution says only Congress can regulate interstate commerce. It is one of the enumerated powers given to Congress and says Congress has the power, "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes."

The Internet is interstate commerce. If you have email and email a message to someone out of state, that is interstate commerce. To pay a tax on that email use would be much like buying a bus ticket in Nashville and paying a sales tax on the full ticket price even though the trip is to Chicago and most of the travel will be outside the state.  There are nuances and various court cases that interpret and apply the Commerce cause and I am not the expert, but the way I understand it, use of the Internet should clearly be considered interstate commerce.

The Wall Street Journal has editorialized in opposition to Alexander's position of allowing state and local government to tax the Internet. Below is an excerpt:
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) R., Tenn.) is leading the Senate dead-enders who are once again holding hostage the popular ban on Internet-only taxes. The House has passed a permanent ban several times, most recently as part of a larger customs bill. But Mr. Alexander and friends are blocking Senate action until Congress also votes on a more controversial measure to give state and local governments more authority to force out-of-state merchants to collect online sales taxes. Sen. Alexander tells us that his opposition to the Internet Tax Freedom Act is a “simple matter of federalism,” and that it’s “none of Washington’s business” whether states and localities want to apply new taxes online. The Senator is mis-defining federalism to justify more taxing. (link
I have supported Lamar Alexander ever since he first ran for governor.  Back then, Tennessee was a predominantly Democrat state. East Tennessee was solidly Republican but the rest of the state was Democrat. Winfield Dunn had been elected governor in 1971 but was the first Republican to win that office in fifty years. At that time Governors could only serve one term. Following Governor Dunn, Democrat Congressman Ray Blanton ran for and won the office of Governor. It was not long into his term as governor that the accounts of corruption began being rumored. It was the selling of pardons and paroles that finally brought him down.

Governor Blanton did not seek a second term and the Democratic nominee in 1978 was Jack Butcher.  During that campaign, candidate Lamar Alexander walked the length of the state from Mountain City in the northeast corner of the state to Memphis in the southwest corner, wearing a red plaid flannel shirt. Along the way he gained attention and popularity and in the general election defeated Butcher.

Learning that Goveror Blanton  was planning a last minute pardon of a large number of prison inmates, Democrats such as U.S. Attorney Hal Hardin, Lieutenant Governor John S. Wilder and State House Speaker Ned Ray McWherter looked for a way to prevent that from happening. They found that the state constitution was unclear as to when a newly elected governor could actually take office and they swore Alexander in three days before the traditional inauguration day. That was high drama at the time.

On the day of the ceremonial swearing in, I walked with hundreds of other people in a parade up Charlotte Avenue to the Capitol building led by Lamar Alexander where he was sworn in. I went and bought myself a red plaid flannel shirt for the occasion. I also wore a button, which I think I still have somewhere, that had on a red plaid background the message, "I walked a mile with Lamar," or something like that. Even since, I have been a fan and supporter of Lamar Alexander.

Over the years, on occasion I have disagreed with votes he has cast but on balance have approved of his service. In recent years however, Lamar has disappointing me more and more often. His effort to stop a ban on a tax of the Internet, may be the final straw that makes me no longer able to support him.  I still like Lamar and don't want to vote against him. In the last election I voted for him, contributed to his campaign and had his bumper sticker on my car.

If he runs again it will depend on who is primary opponent is as to whether or not I support him, of course.  If he was running again against someone like Joe Carr, I would still vote for him despite some recent disagreements with him including his current stand on taxing the Internet. Elections are often about selecting the least objectionable candidate and if the race was between Joe Carr and Lamar Alexander, Alexander would still be the least objectionable candidate and I would still put a Lamar bumper sticker on my car.  Carr was too far outside the mainstream of conservative thought for me to vote for him. He subscribed to the discredited theory of nullification, he believed the First Amendment does not apply to Muslims and that the Second Amendment should allow one to carry a gun onto the private property of another regardless of the desires of the property owner.  Also Carr did not strike me as that competent or smart.

However, if someone who was solidly conservative and rational and smart (someone like Senator Mark Green for instance) was running against Alexander, I think I would have to vote against Alexander. I hope I don't get that chance. I hope I don't have to make that decision.  I really do not want to cast a vote against Lamar Alexander.  I hope that Alexander does little damage between now and the next election and then retires with dignity while still admired and respected. In July he will be 76 years old. He has served as governor, president of the University of Tennessee, Secretary of Education, and Senator. He should retire with dignity and be the beloved elder statesmen.

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