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Capitol View Commentary: April 9, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: April 9, 2010

CREATED Apr 9, 2010

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

April 9, 2010

TO YOUR HEALTH IN THE STATES; MONEY; THE BONDS; METRO ELECTIONS; PEDRO AT THE MOVIES

The national health care debate may have been quiet in Washington the past two weeks because Congress has been off on recess, but the ranting and raving has just moved to the states, especially to the State Capitol here in Nashville.

Republicans, led by Lt. Governor and gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey continue to push hard to pass a resolution asking Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper to join other states in a lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of the new health care law requiring everyone to purchase health insurance coverage by 2015.

The AG, after reviewing the matter, came back and told “his clients” (The General Assembly) that he didn’t think such a lawsuit had much of a chance of success and besides since he is appointed by, and actually works for, the State Supreme Court, lawmakers can’t order him to do anything.

Not surprisingly, within hours of the Attorney General’s opinion, some lawmakers sent him their own reply, approving legislation in committee that would put a state constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot making the AG’s post an elected one. That is hardly a new idea. This legislation has been kicking around the Capitol for several years.  But clearly the timing of the legislation passing in committee is unmistakable in its intent.

Meantime to keep the heat on and keep the Tea Party folks energized, Lt. Governor Ramsey is even talking about lawmakers hiring their own outside counsel to pursue the matter in the federal courts. There is no word on how many thousands of dollars that would cost the state ( I wonder if there will be fiscal note attached to the bill?). But it does appear pretty likely that final legislative action to approve the Tennessee Health Freedom Act will be coming this week (w/o April 12).

MONEY

Not surprisingly, all this health care debate on Capitol Hill has something to do with Tennessee’s governor’s race.

In fact, this debate has been something of a godsend I think for Lt. Governor Ramsey, who has had to rely on keeping voters interested in his gubernatorial campaign through his support and in some cases sponsorship of a whole series of bills that push a very conservative agenda (the health care lawsuit, the no income tax constitutional amendment, gun rights legislation among others).

While his two major opponents, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam and Congressman Zach Wamp have similar positions on most of these issues, since these matters are before the General Assembly it is Ramsey’s chance to show he knows how to get things done on the Hill, leaving his opponents without much more to say than “me,too.” That’s something no one wants to say in response to their opponent’s actions.

This legislation has also given Ramsey a reason to stay in close touch during the session with groups pushing these bills, particularly the guns right people. Because of state law, Ramsey can’t ask these folks for money to support his campaign until the Legislature adjourns (or May 15, whichever comes first). But you can be sure he is lining up all the commitments he can to get a big re-start on his fund raising and this legislative push give him a good reason to stay in front of these folks and keep his name in the news .

Despite the fact that Ramsey has not been able to raise funds since January, he reports he still has just over $2 million on hand which is about the same amount being reported by Congressman Wamp, who has been able to raise money throughout this period. Wamp says his total campaign take is now above $3 million.

But all that pales in comparison with the fundraising haul that continues to be made by Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam. He now reports garnering over $7 million from over 9,000 contributors. And almost none of that money is coming from Haslam’s personal fortune, which means there is lots more than can be raised and spent just out of the Mayor’s own bank account, if needed, later this summer or fall.

It takes more than money to win elections. But in a contest where all the candidates are making their first statewide races and are fairly unknown (especially in West & Middle Tennessee) the money to run TV and radio ads will likely make a big difference down the road.

But grassroots efforts and endorsements count too. That’s why it is interesting to note a release from the Wamp campaign announcing that he will be touring the Criminal Justice Center in Memphis this Monday (April 12) with Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons, who just dropped out the GOP governor’s field. 

Now if Gibbons had a huge amount of support, especially statewide, he’d likely still be in the race. But Shelby County is clearly Gibbon’s base, and an indication like this that Gibbons in some ways favors Wamp over his former opponents, certainly can’t hurt Wamp’s campaign.

INSIDE POLITICS

Mayor Haslam is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. Watch us on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast & Charter cable channels 250, as well as on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

Our air times are:

Friday, April 9………….7:00 p.m.

Saturday, April 10…….5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m.

Sunday, April 11………..5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m.

Also don’t forget there are excerpts of previous INSIDE POLITICS shows available here at www.newschannel5.com. That includes our interview with Congressman Wamp a few weeks ago. And we have interviews scheduled as well in the next few weeks with Lt. Governor Ramsey and Democrat Mike McWherter.    

 THE BONDS 

They’ve been able to convince about two-thirds of the Metro Council that’s it’s a good thing for Nashville taxpayer. The administration of Mayor Karl Dean has not been so fortunate with one of the nation’s major bond rating agencies.

For the second time this year, Fitch Ratings has expressed deep concerns about Metro’s new convention center project, now under construction. So much so that Fitch’s has lowered Metro’s bond rating on its general obligation bonds. The bond rating service cited two areas of concern, saying the tourist-releated taxes to be used to pay for the new center are “untested” and the fact that the city has yet to secure a convention hotel “which has traditionally been a key aspect in the success of convention center projects.”

So why downgrade Metro’s g.o. bond rating which is not a part of the project’s funding? Because Fitch sees “potential additional fiscal strains …upon an already pressured general fund beset by slim reserve levels, significant long-term liabilities and constrained revenue-raising ability.”

Yikes!    

When I worked in Mayor Fulton’s office, if something like this had occurred (the city’s bond rating downgraded), for any reason, some members of the Metro Council would have been trying to run us out of town on rail.

That hasn’t happened this time for a couple of reasons. First, the other two national rating services, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s are supportive of the Music City Center. Secondly, Fitch’s actions comes as the firm is redoing its rating process and there is speculation that Metro’s bond rating may be put back where it was very shortly.

But it is rather an embarrassment for this downgrade to occur just before the city tries to sell the convention center bonds this coming week (week of April 12). To make sure the bond sale goes as well as possible, both Mayor Dean and his Finance Director Rich Rebieling have been spending what appears to be an unprecedented amount of time working the bond project, both here in Nashville and in New York City.            

METRO ELECTIONS

Believe it or not, early voting begins Wednesday (April 14) for the election of Metro’s constitutional offices.

While the crowded contest for Juvenile Court Clerk has pretty much dominated the news, there’s another race that starting to see the fur fly. Incumbent David Torrence is seeking another term as Criminal Court Clerk. He began his campaign a few weeks ago in a somewhat unusual way, blasting his chief opponent, Metro Councilman Michael Craddock for owing quite a bit of money in federal tax liens. How can he run an office like Criminal Court Clerk with these kinds of problems asked Torrence?

Craddock wasn’t long in launching his own attacks. First, he was quick to criticize Torrence’s office when some employee Social Security numbers were wrongly released in response to a records request. But then Craddock went further by demanding that Torrence release information (his card swipe parking records) which would show when he was or wasn’t in his office. Torrence’s on-the-job record has been the subject of speculation for some time at the Metro Courthouse, while Craddock frequently points to his perfect attendance record for Metro Council meetings. Whether those parking records will be released by the city remains to be seen, but you can be sure Craddock will continue to talk about it, as Torrence will continue to point to Craddock’s federal tax liens.

Meantime, the Nashville Bar Association has released its member survey about the upcoming races for both Criminal Court Clerk and Juvenile Clerk. This poll always seem to carry a lot of weight in political contests like these. The results show Torrence getting a majority of support over Craddock in the Criminal Court race, while long-time Metro Court Officer David Smith got the best marks from the attorneys in the Juvenile Clerk’s race. Incumbent Juvenile Court Clerk Vic Lineweaver got poor marks in the poll while potential Republican challenger, Metro Councilman Eric Crafton also fared poorly.           

AT THE MOVIES

You never know what you will find on FACEBOOK.

I joined the social media network back in late January and really enjoy the chance to reconnect and keep up with old and new friends.

That includes former Metro Schools Director Dr. Pedro Garcia who sent me a friends request a few weeks ago. Then I got a second message asking me to join his “At The Movies With Ron Davis and Pedro Garcia” page.

Now I knew that Dr. Garcia, now a member of the faculty at the University of Southern California, was a big Trojans fan (especially the football team) and I knew he collected elephants, but I never knew he was a movie buff.

So I went to the site and sure enough, there are movies reviews and other articles dating back to February of last year. It’s an interesting read, including the web site at http://ronandpedroatthemovies@worldpress.com

So turn down the lights and pass over the popcorn. It’s Pedro at the Movies.