Brooks said there has not been such a dramatic shift in the Senate and House of Representatives since Reconstruction. No one predicted Democrats would lose 14 seats.
Bell said the most optimistic prediction he heard for his party was that the GOP would pick up 10 seats.
Brooks said it is important for Tennesseans to remember each legislator has one equal vote. Millions of state residents chose how they wanted to be represented.
“We are representational of what folks want,” Brooks said. But, he notes he is very aware that what people want could change overnight in this age of instant communication and gratification, when people get mad because the drive-through lane is too slow.
“I think people are going to go to the polls in 2012, and if they don’t like what happened in 2010, they are going to change it,” he said.
“We are getting to where the election cycles are getting just as fast as Twitter, just as quick as Google and I think that’s something we are all going to have to take into consideration.”
Bell said, “Republicans get to do whatever they want to do” with a 64-34 majority in the House and 20-13 majority in the Senate and a Republican governor.
“The blame will fall on us good or bad because we will have the votes to pass, basically, whatever we want to pass.”
Both Senate and House Republicans are two votes short of a so-called “super majority,” but there are conservative Democrats who will vote with the GOP on most issues.
But, the change in power, he said, is not because everyone is enamored with Republicans as much as the public is fed up.
“It was a repudiation of everything that’s been going on in Washington,” Bell said. “That’s why I think if we don’t fulfill what the voters want us to do, that flip can happen just as quick the other way.”
Another topic of discussion was Race to the Top.
Bell said the state Legislature had to pass legislation before the state could be eligible for federal Race To The Top funds. The state was awarded $504 million over four years.
He said the changes made in state education are works in progress and the final outcomes have not been produced. He voted in favor of the legislation because he believed holding teachers and principals accountable for the product they produce is good policy.
“We hope the outcome is better academic performance by our students,” he said. “It was a big change, but it was not without its critics.”
Bell said no matter how much money is invested in education, student performance is linked to parental involvement. In Washington, D.C., he said schools spend $20,000 per student, which is more than any other school system in the nation.
“They still have failing schools,” the senator-elect said. “It’s a cultural problem where you don’t have the families backing up the students. That’s the worst example, but we have it in McMinn, Polk, Meigs and here in Bradley County. We have parents who are not caring about what goes on with their children.”
Brooks said the legislation illustrated friendships, relationships and how people can work together. The governor called a special session and agreement was achieved between the administrative and both houses in the legislative branch.
“The House, the Senate, governor’s office, teachers associations, we all came together in agreement, in one accord and passed the legislation and made this application a winning combination,” he said.
Brooks echoed Bell’s assessment that improvements in education must begin at home.
“We can’t continue throwing money at these problems and expect them to take care of themselves,” he said. “We’ve got to find solutions that I do believe begin at home.”
But, the representative said the money will be helpful, and Cleveland and Bradley County schools could and should quickly realize positive and tangible results.
The sticking point of the legislation was the requirement for annual teacher evaluations. Prior to the new state mandate, evaluations were required twice within 10 years. However, Brooks said evaluations can be viewed from the perspective of a glass half full or half empty.
As with any other grant, Race to the Top funds are tied to performance. Each school district reports to the state and the state reports to the federal government annually.
“I can’t tell you what the penalty is, but I can tell you there is going to be strict accountability,” Brooks said.