Leader Karen Camper offers Democratic Prebuttal to the State of the State

Republican Gov. Bill Lee will offer his State of the State address Monday, Feb. 6

Tennessee Senate Democrats
8 min readFeb 3, 2023

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House minority Leader Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis, offers a prebuttal to Gov. Bill Lee’s State of the State.

Full remarks

(0:00) Hello, my name is Karen Camper.

I am the House Democratic Leader and I am proud to represent the 87th House District and the people of Memphis, Tennessee in the General Assembly.

I speak today, not just to the hardworking families of my hometown, but to all the people across this state who make up the fabric of our success.

My colleagues and I in the Democratic Party want to honor the sacrifices you make on behalf of your families.

We are ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work on passing laws that live up to the example that you — the people — show us every day.

We are working on behalf of the parents, grandparents, children, and extended families that show up for each other, through thick and thin, no matter the cost.

We are working for the teachers and school administrators, the doctors and nurses, the first responders, and everyone else who lays it on the line in service of the greater good.

Your government can and must do better.

We will accept no less than what you are owed; a government that works for you, on your behalf, and for the betterment of all lives.

POLICE REFORM

(1:31) I cannot go forward without first taking a moment to mourn the death of Tyre Nichols — a son and father, a photographer and skateboarder, a Black man whose life had value and is now gone too soon at the hands of police.

The shockwaves from his brutal and senseless murder have jolted our community, our state, and the entire nation.

I wish I could say this was an isolated incident. The misdeeds of a few bad apples. I wish I could say it will never happen again.

But we all know this isn’t true.

Now we are not powerless. It’s not destiny. We can prevent future tragedies. But we must first summon the courage to admit that law can only do so much.

It’s the very culture inside many of our police departments that needs to change.

So I call on Governor Bill Lee and my Republican colleagues to join our efforts to end police brutality. Let us show the nation that we can work together and serve justice for Tyre Nichols and all the victims of police brutality.

Police work and public safety is not an easy job, but high moral standards and accountability must win every day. From the inside out. From officers on the street to judges on the bench.

We owe it to our citizens and every honorable officer, who is willing to run toward danger, to be vigilant and commit to getting this right.

INFRASTRUCTURE

(3:41) On Monday, we hope Governor Lee will tell us more about a long overdue investment in our roads and highways.

If he proposes an equitable plan that replaces our crumbling roads and bridges with resilient infrastructure and if he makes an honest effort to improve transportation in our communities, we stand ready to work with him.

Cities like, Memphis and Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga, Murfreesboro and Clarksville, these are world-class cities and great places to live and raise a family.

Let’s make sure our cities have the resources and freedom they deserve to develop their metro areas into communities, not hampered by congestion, but bustling with movement and opportunity.

This isn’t about roadside photo ops or ribbon cuttings. This is about acknowledging the rapid growth in parts of our state and planning for our future.

We fail the next generation if we pass up the opportunity to invest in long-term regional solutions, like commuter rail, and revitalized public transportation.

The governor’s push for “choice lanes” may be good for a few, but our goal is to get every family, worker and small business owner where they want to go without losing their day in a traffic jam.

All we need are leaders who are willing to put in the work.

The money is there.

Thanks to President Joe Biden’s leadership, Tennessee is flush with cash.

In addition to building roads, we have billions of federal dollars to:

  • upgrade our ports and airports;
  • to extend broadband internet to every corner of our state;
  • to help transition our economy to cleaner energy; and
  • to repair water lines and reduce flooding.

Federal aid has also pumped billions of dollars into schools and businesses in this state.

All of which, Governor Lee and the supermajority have accepted.

HEALTHCARE

(6:16) So now I am call on Governor Lee and the supermajority to accept more federal funding. This time for our health.

If they are willing to accept billions of dollars to improve our drive to work, they should have no problem accepting money to improve our healthcare.

We should expand TennCare, and we should do it now. Every person who works should have health coverage, especially when it’s not offered to them through their job.

Families should not have to rely on internet fundraisers to pay for the care they need. A cancer diagnosis should put families in front of a doctor, not a bankruptcy court.

Too many people will continue having to choose between a life-saving prescription and putting food on their kitchen table until the governor and supermajority choose to do what is right.

The money is there. We’ve missed out on $23 billion so far.

So please, join us in making affordable and accessible healthcare a top priority for our hardworking families.

REJECT DIVISION POLITICS

(7:49) It’s time to leave the politics of division behind us.

The governor and supermajority may have the power to:

  • ban children’s books,
  • abolish gun safety permits,
  • shutdown HIV prevention programs,
  • whitewash Black history, and
  • discriminate against our LGBTQ neighbors.

But it is not conservative to exercise power for the sake of politics.

It is not conservative to use the awesome power of the state to limit the freedom of some groups or the rights of whole communities.

We will never stop fighting for a woman’s right to make personal healthcare decisions — without political interference.

And we will never condone discrimination against our families, friends and neighbors.

Reasonable people can disagree on policy, but it’s time our state focuses on solving problems that affect us all.

DCS REFORM

(8:59) For instance, Governor Lee has expressed his concern for foster children and kids who have been abused. He wants us to believe they are doing everything they can to fix the crisis at the Department of Children’s Services.

We can do more.

First, we must let our faith guide us in the principle that children are not some burden on society.

These are Tennessee’s children. These are our children.

We may not share the same blood, but we share the same path, and we owe it to the most vulnerable children amongst us to leave no challenge unmet.

Right now, our foster families and case workers are bearing the burden of a state government that has failed them and these children.

We must be willing to invest in their future so that they will flourish with the knowledge that they are loved by us all. And that they too will have every opportunity to thrive, no matter the circumstances of their birth.

We need urgent action to hire more social workers, recruit more loving foster families and provide better care and resources for the whole child.

And while reform is sorely needed at DCS, we should also do more to keep families strong so there’s never a need to call the state in the first place.

Let’s make sure every family and every community has the tools they need to build safe, loving and healthy homes.

That means making mental health services available to children and teenagers long before their challenges are left at the doorstep of the juvenile courthouse.

We must have juvenile courts that are ready to steer the children it serves back to the path of redemption, instead of passing their problems along to an already overworked justice system.

EDUCATION

(11:17) And every child should have exceptional educational opportunities that compete with any school in the world.

We call on the governor to stop draining money away from our public schools.

Let’s invest in pre-K, smaller classroom sizes and professional teachers who are preparing our children, not just for this decade, but for those beyond our lifetimes.

I cannot stand by and watch year after year as your tax dollars are siphoned away from your community schools and handed to a chosen few who do not serve our best interests.

We must guard against the expansion of policies that result in the re-segregation of schools. If we ignore our past, we insult the struggles of so many heroes, like Ruby Bridges, the Memphis 13, and Clinton 12, who passed down progress and inclusion to every generation since.

In this, we cannot afford to fail.

ECONOMY & TAXES

(12:36) We can also help kids by restoring some fairness to our tax code. Before the supermajority gives another multimillion dollar tax break to billionaires and big corporations, let’s first cut taxes that make life easier for working families, like the sales tax on baby wipes, diapers and formula.

Another way to break the cycle of poverty, crime and abuse is to respect the contributions every working family is making to our economy.

We all agree it’s important to create an environment that makes our state a beacon for business opportunity, but we cannot lose sight of the people who make the engine of industry work.

Hardworking Tennesseans, small business owners and family farmers are the backbone of this economy. The people who get up in the morning and make it happen have the right to benefit from the wealth their labor creates.

Our success should be measured by whether people have quality jobs, good wages, affordable housing and all the basic things we need to build a good life.

When our people do well, our children do well.

There is plenty of blame for parents when a child strays, but where were we when those same working parents needed us? We are failing them by not providing adequate access to child care. We too often look the other way in their hour of need.

CONCLUSION

(14:23) There are many ways we can better serve our children and families, and we ask the Governor to join us in finding solutions to real problems.

For if we cannot do this for the least among us, working families and the middle class, whom do we truly serve?

We owe it, not to ourselves, but to the world we will one day leave behind, to make every effort to deliver on the promises of our forefathers.

A government that works for the people, that meets them where they are, and walks beside them toward the future that they have worked for and they deserve.

I invite Governor Lee to join us in this noble cause, to work for everyone, and to seize our destiny by living up to the volunteer spirit we hold so dear.

May God bless you and keep you safe, and may God bless the state of Tennessee.

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Tennessee Senate Democrats

Fighting for everyday people in the Tennessee General Assembly