Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN-07) threw a well-aimed punch at former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s glass jaw earlier this month, criticizing him for his role in pushing the Tennessee General Assembly to pass his ill-advised illegal alien driving certificate program, which he signed into law in 2004 and made Tennessee a magnet for illegal aliens.
The program, which Bredesen touted originally as a “common sense solution” was such an unmitigated disaster, he was forced to end it in 2006.
Bredesen’s 2018 campaign team, with the help of a compliant and uninquisitive mainstream media in Tennessee, has attempted to spin his way out of culpability for this serious debacle, but The Tennessee Star has prepared this synopsis of the facts that sets the record straight.
Former Republican Governor Don Sundquist sent a number of very bad policy proposals to the Tennessee General Assembly during the two terms he served between 1995 and 2003.
One of them continues to reverberate throughout the 2018 statewide elections, playing a role in both the U.S. Senate general election between Bredesen, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and Marsha Blackburn, the presumptive Republican nominee, and the increasingly bitter GOP gubernatorial primary contest between front runners Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-06) and Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd.
Sundquist’s worst proposal–the establishment of a state income tax–was defeated in a horn-honking rebellion led by talk show hosts Steve Gill and Phil Valentine, and stalwart Republicans serving in the Tennessee General Assembly at the time, including Blackburn, Rep. Diane Black (R-TN-06), and former State Senator Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet).
Tennesseans did not fare so well when another of his bad proposals, SB1266/HB983–which allowed illegal aliens to obtain a Tennessee Drivers License without a valid Social Security number–which he signed into law after it was passed by the Tennessee General Assembly in 2001.
Marsha Blackburn, a state senator in 2001, voted against the bill. Diane Black, a state representative in 2001, voted for the bill.
That bad law made the state of Tennessee a magnet for illegal aliens.
When Democrat Phil Bredesen was inaugurated in 2003, he continued support for the law until 2004, when he introduced a legislative proposal to the Tennessee General Assembly that he called at the time “a common sense solution” to the issue of illegal aliens driving in the state.
Under Bredesen’s proposal, SB3430/HB3486, which the Tennessee General Assembly overwhelmingly passed in 2004 and Bredesen signed into law, Bredesen made a semantic change in what illegal aliens were allowed to obtain–it was no longer a drivers’ license, it was called a driving “certificate,” and could not, in theory, be used for identification purposes.
In practice, however, his own administration treated the illegal alien driving “certificates” for identification purposes.
Marsha Blackburn was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002, and was no longer serving in the Tennessee General Assembly when that Bredesen-backed illegal alien driving certificate bill was voted on. Diane Black, however, was still a state representative, and she joined the vast majority of her colleagues in voting for the bill.
“Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen on Thursday introduced legislation that will end the practice of issuing state drivers’ licenses to undocumented persons,” the Nashville Post reported in February 2004:
In a release, Bredesen stated “It is clear to me that we need to make some changes, and what I’m proposing is a moderate, common-sense solution that balances homeland security concerns with public safety concerns in a responsible way.”
Under the proposal, immigrants legally in the United States could be issued a Tennessee driver’s license that would be valid during the period of time they are authorized to live in the U.S. If there is no definite end to the time of their stay, the driver’s license will be valid for one year only. Immigrants who cannot establish legal presence in the U.S. would become eligible for a new “certificate for driving” clearly distinguishable from a driver’s license. On the new card it would state prominently that the card had been issued for driving purposes only and not for identification purposes. The new cards would expire annually.
Bredesen is also proposing that Tennessee now offer driver’s tests in multiple languages and also that an ombudsmen position be created within the department of safety to trouble-shoot other issues unique to new Americans.
Bredesen signed his new illegal alien driving certificate program into law in June 2004, but its fatal flaws soon became apparent.
“Tennessee’s answer is the certificate for driving, which is being distributed to drivers who are neither U.S. citizens nor permanent legal residents in the United States. Legal immigrants on temporary student and work visas will receive the certificate as will illegal immigrants,” the Baltimore Sun reported:
But nearly a month after Tennessee began distributing the new card, few people are cheering the compromise. Advocates for immigrants contend that the certificates mark its holders as inferior in the eyes of the state; anti-immigration lawmakers have the opposite view — that the cards give illegal immigrants legitimacy they should not have.
With about 1,200 of the cards issued, many Tennesseans are confused: Will the card be of use when cashing a check, or renting a video, or renting a car? When a police officer pulls a driver over and is shown the driving certificate, can he arrest the holder for failing to show a proper ID? If the card is not identification, what is it?
“This is a disaster, potentially,” said Tyler Moran, an analyst with the National Immigration Law Center, which advocates for the rights of immigrants. “I really think it’s created a bit of a mess.”
For once, Moran is in agreement with state Rep. Donna Rowland, a conservative Republican from Rutherford County. Rowland said she would “absolutely not” advise other states to follow Tennessee’s lead.
“I hope states learn from our mistakes,” she said. “The certificate of driving will become exactly what the driver’s license has become, which is a de facto national ID.”
Tennessee Star Political Editor Steve Gill points out that “nobody seriously believed that tens of thousands of illegal immigrants were flooding into the driver’s license centers across Tennessee to get “certificates” that were not to be used for identification simply because they were desperate to learn the “rules of the road” and drive better. They were looking for ID cards — and they got them.”
“It is also disingenuous for anybody to claim that the driver’s licenses issued by Tennessee to those without social security numbers or other legitimate government issues identification was not intended to put driver’s licenses into the hands of illegals. It is exactly what activists applauded at the time…until driver’s licenses issued under similar laws were issued in Virginia, Florida and New Jersey that terrorists used on 9-11 to board airplanes they used to kill thousands of Americans,” Gill notes.
Bredesen’s “common-sense” solution turned out to be anything but.
“Not wanting to strip licenses from immigrants who currently hold them, the governor approved a second tier of state licensing, creating the certificate. Bredesen, who considers the new law the strictest in the country, knew he risked displeasing many factions in the immigration debate, [Bredesen’s communications director Bob] Corney said,” the Sun reported.
By the beginning of the 2005 legislative session, Black, recently elected to the Tennessee State Senate, realized that the Bredesen-backed illegal alien driving certificate program she had voted for the previous year was a disaster, and she co-sponsored a bill, SB3123/HB2903, to end the illegal alien driving certificate program. The bill passed in the Tennessee Senate, but was blocked in the Tennessee House.
That same year, even the liberal New York Times knew Bredesen’s illegal alien driving certificate program was a debacle.
“From 1990 to 2000, the state’s Hispanic population nearly quadrupled to 124,000, according to census records. Since July 1 , when the certificate program was instituted, more than 21,000 have been issued,” the Times reported ten months later in May 2005.
“Gov. Phil Bredesen’s office said the certificates made the state’s driver’s license policy ‘the toughest in the nation.’ But in fact, Tennessee is one of only 12 states that do not require proof of legal residence to drive legally, according to the National Immigration Law Center,” the Times noted.
By 2006, the program had become such an obvious magnet for illegal aliens coming into the state, along with the associated national security risk, that Bredesen was forced to end the program that he had only two years earlier touted as “a common sense solution.”
“However, in 2006, Tennessee ended its policy of issuing ‘driving certificates’ after the governor’s office was informed that immigrants were traveling from other states to get the certificates using forged documents,” the Johnson City Press reported:
“At this point it just seems that we’ve got this very … serious problem, and we really felt that the appropriate thing to do was to suspend this program,” Bob Corney, then-spokesman for Gov. Bredesen, told the Los Angeles Times.