This past week I have been asked many times why I voted for a new Lt. Governor. How could I vote for someone who is not a member of my own political party?
The answer is very straightforward: I voted my conscience.
The most basic tenet of democracy is that the majority rules. In the Tennessee state Senate, Republicans have held the numerical majority for three years. Yet, we were in a "peculiar" situation where the minority continued to keep the majority in the form of the Lt. Governor. That is
not our democracy.
It was time for a change in the structure. The dedication to keeping a status quo was preventing our state from putting real energy and bi-partisan effort into solving problems and moving Tennessee forward.
I chose to break the logjam so there can be a vigorous, but civil, policy discussion over the current and future direction of our state.
We face a host of issues -- from improving education, healthcare, and job creation to new alternative energy proposals and a more open government. We cannot afford gridlock or stagnation if we are to help solve these problems.
It may seem ironic to some, but only now are Democrats and Republicans free to work together on real issues. I voted my conscience.
Now we can work on improving our state's education system - an issue important to every Tennessean. The future of the children of our state depends upon our ability to inspire high school students to graduate and continue their education. We are currently 48th in high school
graduation rates. That must change.
When it comes to higher education, less than one in five Tennesseans has a college degree, several points below the national average. We must provide the hope and the tools to help first-generation college students realize their dreams for a better future.
Our health care system must shift focus to encourage disease prevention and promote individual responsibility so we solve problems before they start. This includes anti-smoking programs and, yes, raising the tax on cigarettes. It is the 4th lowest in the nation.
Open government should also be a part of the legislative agenda. One way to accomplish this would be to allow every voter an equal opportunity to vote for our state's constitutional officers: Secretary of State, State Treasurer and Comptroller. They are currently elected by the members of the General Assembly.
Tennessee is one of very few states where voters are not empowered to make such important decisions on high-ranking government officials. Letting our citizens vote increases accountability and makes sure government is held accountable.
Nationally, Democrats benefited from being in the minority because it forced our party to hone a message that resulted in the tremendous gains of 2006. I believe we can now use this time to communicate a new message to Tennesseans that will emphasize people over party and benefit
our state as a whole.
Every member of the Senate is tired of being 49th in so many areas. I intend to work with my fellow Democrats and Republicans as well as the new Lt. Governor to create legislation that moves our state forward.
The era of the smoke-filled back room is over and we are now free to have a healthy public policy debate that can only benefit the citizens of this great state.
Sen. Rosalind Kurita represents District 22 in the Tennessee state Senate.