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Capitol View Commentary: April 23, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: April 23, 2010

CREATED Apr 23, 2010

CAPITOL VIEW

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

April 23, 2010

THE BUDGET & GUBERNATORIAL POLITICS; RAMSEY ON INSIDE POLITICS; TV WARS; GOOD MOVES; WASHINGTON  

What started out as "a war of words" over how to handle the state's $80 to $100 million budget shortfall may be headed towards calmer political waters, or maybe not.

This all began when Governor Phil Bredesen announced to legislative leaders he was recommending that the state lift the sales tax cap from the purchase of single big-ticket items costing above $3200 (except for cars, manufactured homes and boats).

It's either that or cut the pay of all state employees 5% said the Governor. Republican legislative leaders, especially Lt. Governor (and GOP gubernatorial candidate) Ron Ramsey, felt blindsided by the proposal and quickly came out in strong opposition, saying it amounted to an unfair, counterproductive and ill-timed tax on small businesses which need to buy equipment and other materials to create new jobs.

Then when Ramsey made his opposition to the Governor's plan the fodder for a campaign e-mail to rally supporters across state that seemed to irritate Governor. He told reporters that while the General Assembly remains in session: "I need a little more Ron Ramsey, the Speaker, than Ron Ramsey, the gubernatorial candidate."   

After that it was the GOP House leadership chiming in their opposition and chastising the Governor for his proposals, saying it is shows "a blatant disregard for the challenges small business owners and average Tennesseans face." Lt. Governor Ramsey promises his own plan by Monday (April 26) to make the cuts required to balance the budget. He says he thinks he has the votes to pass in the Senate, and given the statements of the House GOP leadership, he could be in a good position in the lower chamber. As for the Governor he has now softened his tone, saying he is open to negotiate to come up with what he says can be a mixture of cuts and revenue adjustments to wipe out the deficit.

Well, I am sure there will plenty of cuts, but I doubt the Ramsey plan will contain any increased taxes or revenue enhancements or fees. If it does, he is undermining his own campaign rhetoric and legislative agenda. This is both a golden opportunity and an acid test for him.

If the Lt. Governor can find a way to "win" this legislative budget battle, it will be a real feather in his political cap, one which he will carry with him all over the state (along with those boots J) as an example of why he is the best candidate to be governor. And he has the political stage all to himself on this. None of his GOP opponents are a part of state government. They can only stand on the sidelines and express their opposition to any "new" taxes. Only Ramsey can do anything about it.

If he succeeds it will be a big coup. But if he is outmaneuvered or forced into compromises, it could be an early kiss of death to one of his major campaign themes, which is that he has the knowledge and experience to make the best governor. So there's a lot more than an $80 to $100 million budget deficit on the line for Ramsey.

One last note: when House Speaker Kent Williams has to call down members for their continual bickering on the floor and even threaten to have the Sgt.-At-Arms remove them from the chambers, I think it is will approaching time for lawmakers to quit their posturing, agree on a budget and spending plan, and go home, sine die.

INSIDE POLITICS

Lt. Governor Ramsey is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend.

Of course, we discuss the budget deficit battle that is underway, as well as his efforts (through many bills and resolutions) to stop the new national health care plan from taking effect in Tennessee. Ramsey now wants to allow the Governor (probably the next one) to get an outside attorney to stop the health care from requiring Tennessee to buy coverage. The Lt. Governor claims he has been approached by several attorneys who say they will handle the case for free (if not, surely litigation like this would cost state taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars if not as it works its way through the courts for several years). 

 On INSIDE POLITICS, we also probe into Ramsey's relationship (and large campaign contributions) from coal mining interests in the state, as well as his unhappiness with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) which he describes as "out of control" in the way it is sometimes enforcing environmental laws.

We also talk about how he seems to differ with some Tennessee GOP leaders about national health care (Bill Frist) and congressional earmarks (Senator Lamar Alexander), although claims he is most unaware of any difference of opinion.

You can watch INSIDE POLITICS several times this weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. We are on Comcast and Charter cable channels 250 as well as Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2. Our broadcast times are:

Friday, April 23…………7:00 p.m.

Saturday, April 24……..5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m.

Sunday, April 25………..5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m.

The Ramsey interview completes our effort to have all the major gubernatorial candidates on the show. We hope to have them again before the August primary and, of course, during the fall general election campaign. If you'd like to see our earlier interviews with the other candidates, you can watch excerpts here at www.newschannel5.com

TV WARS

With Congressman Zach Wamp now airing TV ads, all of the major GOP candidates are up with their campaign messages.

I was intrigued to see how Wamp would introduce himself. Yes, I know he's been running for several months, but I believe there are lots of Tennessee voters who still don't know who he is (or for that matter, any of the gubernatorial candidates, since none has run statewide before). As one local candidate told me a few years back, "Until I went on TV, it was like I didn't exist. Once I started television, people began to realize who I was and what I was doing, even though I'd been running for months."

So how would Wamp introduce himself as the final GOP gubernatorial actor on the TV stage? Would he rail against Washington the way Lt. Governor Ramsey has in his TV ad.  Wamp himself has been outspoken on the issue at times, talking about "meeting them at the state borders" to stop further federal intrusion into Tennesseans' lives. But Wamp has been in D.C. for over 15 years and that makes it harder for him to run against the Beltway folks.

So maybe that's a reason why Wamp's first TV ad, somewhat like a spot for one of his other opponents, Bill Haslam, focuses on jobs. In the ad, there is the Congressman (although that word is never used), standing in front of the new Volkswagen plant now under construction in his Chattanooga-area district, touting the work he did to land the project, as well as his 20/20  Economic Plan that he claims will make Tennessee "the most dynamic economy in America."

The knock I have heard on Wamp's economic plan is that it lacks many specifics. But boy, the TV ad has a great special effect that occurs when Wamp opens a copy of the plan on camera. Whether that will get him any voters is debatable, but Wamp himself was quick (as usual) to criticize his opponents' ads as he went on the air, issuing a statement that said in part: "One of my opponents has a red umbrella, one has a boot, but I am the candidate with a detailed plan to make Tennessee an even better state."

And so let the air wars begin. According to Ken Whitehouse at NASHVILLEPOST.com (April 21), Wamp has purchased $130,000 worth of airtime, spending the largest amounts in the Nashville ($31,000), Knoxville ($29,000 ) and Memphis ($27,000) markets. While some may admire Wamp's spunk to go after Bill Haslam on his home turf in East Tennessee, others will ponder the meaning of Wamp spending $21,000 in Chattanooga which is political base. Interestingly Wamp is spending considerably lesser amounts in Ron Ramsey's area of the state, Tri Cities ($17,000) and even less in Jackson and rural West Tennessee ($5,000).

Meantime the Wamp campaign is quite pleased to pick up the endorsement of the Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee. The CWALAC claims to have 500,000 grassroots members nationwide and to be the largest conservative women's public policy organization in the country. In the release announcing the endorsement, there was no word about financial support that might accompany the endorsement or how many active members the group has in Tennessee.

The Wamp team is also touting that three of what it calls "the key players" from the now defunct gubernatorial campaign  of Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons have signed on to help the Congressman win the GOP nomination. But Gibbons himself still remains on the sidelines where he went a few weeks ago after his campaign died due to lack of money and support.

Since all the GOP candidates are from East Tennessee, the inroads they can make in the Middle and West parts of the state will be critical in the weeks to come.  So you can see why the Wamp campaign would tout these staff pickups from the Gibbon's campaign, and why the Bill Haslam team feels very good about its win in the recent straw poll of Nashville/Davidson County GOP party supporters held at the State Fairgrounds.            

GOOD MOVES

The Metro Council made the right decision when it soundly rejected a resolution to support efforts in the state legislature to challenge the constitutionality of the new national health insurance law.

The last City Council used to love to poke its nose into other elected officials' business. I think this group of Metro leaders realizes it has all it can say grace over dealing with Nashville's issues and doesn't need to express its opinion on every matter before state lawmakers, especially one like this which seems to have more to do with gubernatorial and legislative politics than it does with public policy. Besides, since many Council members get the chance to have paid health care coverage for life after serving in the Council, this may be an area where they need to tread a bit lightly anyway. 

Let me also give a thumbs up to those on Capitol Hill here in Nashville who are trying to improve (or least make some sense out of) the latest version of the "guns in bars and restaurants" bill. First, they removed allowing gun permit holders to bring their weapons into bars. Almost no one thinks it is a good idea to mix weapons and alcohol no matter how well trained and experienced those with gun permits claim to be.

Allowing them into restaurants (where more than 50% of the business is derived from the sale of food) can arguably be a different matter. And if enforcement is further strengthened by allowing restaurant owners to post signs that say guns are not allowed, it appears things may be headed in the right direction. At least, Nashville restaurant Randy Rayburn thinks so and indicates he probably would not seek to have this proposal, if passed, overturned in the courts the way he did with a similar bill last year. He is still unsure however about the exact signage needed to ban guns or how to handle places that only serve beer, which is regulated by local government not the state.

I remain a little puzzled on how this new bill is not "unconstitutionally vague" like the previous measure that was struck down last year, especially to a customer trying to figure what is a bar and what is a restaurant without having to ask for a copies of the establishment's financial books before coming inside. But I suspect we still have at least a couple of more "rounds" to deal with in the General Assembly before this matter is settled for the year on Capitol Hill.    

WASHINGTON

While most of Washington is getting ready for a few more weeks of playing its favorite political parlor game which is: "Who will President Barack Obama appoint to the Supreme Court," here's something else to keep your eye on.

Just when it appeared that the debate over financial reform was going the deadlocked, filibuster-killed way of national health care (at least for a while), the tone of the debate has shifted a bit.

Not only did Tennessee Senator Bob Corker continue to say he plans to work with some of his Democratic colleagues to come up with a bi-partisan bill, even GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky started talking nice.

After weeks of attacking the proposed financial reform bill as setting up new government "bailouts" McConnell now says it is time to "move beyond personal attacks and questioning each other motives to fixing the problems in the bill."

Democrats responded positively and while nothing has been settled, the move towards…dare I say it….bipartisanship… seems quite intriguing to say the least. We'll get a better idea of where things stand come Monday (April 26) when a key test will be taken. Senator Corker once said while he opposes the current financial reform bill he thought if all parties got together the matter could be resolved "in about 5 minutes." Now he says, he is a bit more pessimistic things will work out.

Is the anger across the nation (and across party lines) at Wall Street's role in creating the Great Recession so great that even some in the GOP are ready to find a solution they can live with, so they don't go home to voters with nothing accomplished? Maybe, but maybe not .

Already local Tea Party members are organizing protests at Corker's Nashville office to push back hard at even at the suggestion that he is trying to work out a bi-partisan financial reform plan (although reportedly only 25 folks showed up at the protest here in Nashville). Still the Tennessee Banker's Association has come out against the pending bill, while on the national scene (according to Bruce Barry of THE NASHVILLE SCENE 4/22), Corker is being called "Bailout Bob" by some on the right.

Since Senator Corker is not up for re-election this year, that might be considered the end of it. But his term is up in two years (2012) and given the continuing split in the leadership of the GOP in the Senate, who knows what lies ahead. And I am not just talking about the Tea Party movement.

There is also the new Senate Conservatives Fund. According to a front-page story in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL on April 20, "Firebrand conservative Jim DeMint of South Carolina, breaking with the Senate's tradition of deference, is endorsing and funding conservative candidates to challenge the party's establishment picks." So far, that effort has turned upside down races in Florida, California and Colorado and recently I received a fund raising pitch for a conservative GOP candidate trying to do the same thing in Indiana. 

Bruce Barry's on-line SCENE article shows a picture of Senator Corker holding his thumb and index finger close together with a cut-line below with the quote; "Odds I'll be the invited keynote speaker at the next Tea Party convention."

It's a funny line (and probably true). But, if the Senate Conservatives Fund wins few of these races they are heavily involved in (and current polls favor them), this group could wind up being an even bigger re-election threat than the Tea Party itself to Tennessee's junior senator if  he continues his outreach to the other side. That's too bad, no lawmaker should be penalized or castigated just for being willing to listen to both (or all sides) of a debate or for trying to make important legislation better.