Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 18, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 18, 2010

CREATED Jun 18, 2010


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

June 18, 2010


President Barack Obama made his first address to the nation from the Oval Office the other night.

While he's gotten pretty bad reviews from the pundits, I think if he had made the same speech a few weeks ago, things might be a lot different for him.

His efforts to rally the nation behind him in dealing with the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico have come way too late and presently lack credibility. I mean it's been going on for weeks without end now. It's the worst environmental disaster in the history of the country, and we still can't even know for sure just how much oil is gushing out daily, even though we can watch it live 24/7 on a TV webcam.

Yes, we can see it from 5 miles down. But neither the government, nor British Petroleum, can stop it. We have the power to send men to the moon and back, to land rovers to explore Mars. So how did we allow this technological debacle to occur when there appears to be no realistic plans to deal with a disaster like this, nor any effective government oversight? Yes, this problem clearly began under a previous regime. In fact, according to reports I saw on YouTube from the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, there was a very similar extended oil disaster in the Gulf back in 1979, in which the same techniques were used (and failed) to stop the leak even in more shallow waters back then. Guess we haven't learned very much since then. or since the Obama administration took charge almost a year and a half ago.

Just a few months ago, the President even felt better about off shore drilling and began to think about extending the program. Then this mother of all environmental train wrecks occurs! So who has been minding the store? This is land the government leases. We are the landlords, yet we expect, and now fully depend on the tenant, British Petroleum, to fix it. What where we thinking? What will we think in the future? 

This kind of ongoing every day, day-after-day, week-after-week kind of crisis is the worst possible for a political leader. Just ask President Jimmy Carter and the Iran hostage crisis. Now watch the TV news shows give a daily countdown on how long this crisis has lasted, just as they did in late ‘70s during the hostage situation. Then finally, just check President Obama's job approval ratings which are now, for the first time, below 50%, with over 50% disapproval on how he has handled this mess. BP's image and numbers are even worse.

Timing, especially in politics is everything. Being concerned about whether you should appear to be angry or show more emotion is a waste of time; whether you need to publicly exclaim that you plan to "kick some asses" is not the point. Multiple visits to the Gulf look like window dressing.

It is just long past time for demonstrated action. You can't make a speech (as good as the President is at doing that) and expect anything to change. This is especially true when so much time has passed and millions of barrels of oil continue to gush out hour after hour, day after day, spoiling the environment, spreading economic disaster across the Gulf Coast, again, and building increasing dread and revulsion across the nation (as we see the oil-damaged wetlands and shorelines along with the stricken fish and wildlife).

Oval Office speeches are a signal of the highest level of presidential action and concern. President Obama missed an opportunity to put down that marker down several weeks ago instead of letting others, including BP, seem to carry the water in this matter (or in this case, spill lots of oil). From the beginning, President Obama and his team have been very slow on the uptake to understand the enormity of this issue and now it has sucked him in and begun to pull down his presidency.

Is this Obama's Katrina? No, that's different. But in some ways, as this oil disaster continues to unfold, day after day, week after week, this is worse. The oil has got to be stopped. Until then, you really can't begin much recovery for him or for the Gulf, matters will only get worse.

So what does the President do? Well, unfortunately, there appears to be very little he can do directly to stop the leak. His tougher actions against BP could continue to help him as a rear guard effort and buy some time until the oil leak is finally plugged. The $20 billion in BP money put into a new escrow account is the best thing the President has helped make happen so far. Now the funds needs to be signed into checks and circulated ASAP to those in need on the Gulf Coast. Convincing BP not to issue any dividends is also a good move for the President and BP.

Meantime, any commission studying anything about what has happened or needs to happen now, needs to do its job, make its recommendations and get actions implemented, again, ASAP.

Is this an opportunity, as the President suggests in his Oval Office speech, to have the nation approve a new long-overdue national energy strategy to end our reliance on oil, especially oil from foreign, and many times, hostile countries? It could be, but the oil leak has probably got to be plugged first. And if the plan is merely perceived as some kind of new tax (on carbon), it will likely be dead on arrival in Congress.

Interestingly, the President mentioned other environmental legislative proposals, and not a carbon tax in his speech. He says he still supports some kind of "cap and trade" type program, but maybe he knows that is a political bridge too far in a year when his Democratic Party already looks to be in big trouble in holding on to control of the Congress next year.

Despite his many challenges and difficulties over the past year or so, President Obama has proven to be politically resourceful in getting some major things done in Washington such as the new health care law and what appears to be a victory soon in passing financial reform. That is likely to continue to help him going forward.

Nationally syndicated columnist David Broder thinks the President is wasting too much time on the oil spill. His June 17 column (which appeared in THE TENNESSEAN June 18) quotes information from Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper that the President needs to spend more time on the budget and economy (indeed, the latest national polls indicate those are somewhat bigger issues with voters than the oil leak crisis).

Congressman Cooper cites a recent story in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL that indicates U.S. companies "are hoarding more cash---$1.84 trillion—than at any point in financial history." Cooper thinks that is happening because business leaders "were badly burned in the Great Recession and now they are nervous (and holding on to their cash) about the uncertainty of government policy" from energy to taxes, financial regulations and even matters overseas such as the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

Both Broder and Cooper seem to think that if the President and Congress would act, and policies were more certain, then perhaps businesses would start spending their cash. Maybe, but so far, neither the President nor Democratic congressional leaders have convinced any Republicans, nor the public, or even some fellow Democrats, that the stimulus efforts already approved have worked, and so they are skittish about doing more. That's largely because of the rising national debt, which some congressmen and senators have gotten so concerned about, they won't even vote for extending unemployment benefits in an election year with nearly a 10% unemployment rate.       

But that is politics. What is happening in the Gulf, and how the President can finally effectively begin to deal with it, is a measure of leadership. Even if he can't stop the oil himself, he has to stay involved. For now this issue, along with the state of the economy, will be the defining measures of how this administration is evaluated not only for the 2010 mid-term elections, but going forward into President Obama's re-election cycle for 2012.


My guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend is Tennessee U.S. Senator Bob Corker. We talk about all the major issues going on in Washington, including the oil spill and especially his role on the conference committee drawing up the final financial reform bill. Corker believes the reform bill will pass, but he probably won't vote for it.

Senator Corker is due to be up for re-election in 2012. Interestingly, even though I gave him a couple of opportunities to go ahead and say he plans to run in two years, he wouldn't say that. Instead he indicated he would decide what to do after the beginning of the next election cycle (after November) and after talking it over with his family. 

It may not mean anything and I suspect he will run again. But given the rather sudden announcements not to run for re-election made by two recent Tennessee Senators, Fred Thompson, and Bill Frist, I guess nothing is for certain until it is announced. Stay tuned.

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

Friday (June 18)……..7:00 p.m.

Saturday (June 19)….5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m.

Sunday (June 20)……..5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m.

Don't forget, you can watch excerpts of previous INSIDE POLITICS shows (including ones with all the Tennessee gubernatorial candidates) here at newschannel5.com. We also hope to have all the gubernatorial candidates back on the air with us later in the summer before the August primary.


The fundraising machine that is the Bill Haslam gubernatorial campaign continues to rake in the cash. The latest disclosure by the Knoxville mayor shows he has raised more than $8 million.

Wow! And almost none of that is from his own multi-million dollar fortune! Instead the campaign says it comes from a state-record 11,000 contributions given by 7,500 donors from all 95 counties. I still wonder how many $10 donations that last minute e-mail appeal by former Senator (and Haslam's honorary campaign chair) pulled into the coffers. 

It appears a lot of money came in from that big Nashville fundraiser held at the home of Stephanie and John Ingram a few days ago. I guess releasing that internal poll showing Haslam up 13 points wasn't a discouragement for people to chip in. In politics especially, everyone loves a winner, or at least, if you look like a potential winner.

Congressman Zach Wamp is continuing to raise money for his gubernatorial effort as well. In fact, he is announcing a series of fundraising events all across Tennessee from now until the end of June in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville and two in Franklin. As has been his custom throughout the campaign, Wamp's events will feature country music stars such as The Whites, Voices of Lee, Ricky Skaggs, John Rich and, T.G. Sheppard. Dave Ramsey, the syndicated radio host and personal money management expert is also hosting one of the fund raising events.

Wamp says his momentum is growing and could not be stronger, but he adds the money to be added through the fundraising events "will help us stay on TV" during the final 4 weeks of the campaign leading up to early voting, and the 7 weeks until the August primary.

The Wamp campaign has just unveiled a new TV ad. As always, it talks about his 20/20 Vision Plan (which I think is mentioned more in his spots than the candidate's name). This new ad focuses on early childhood education. That is something a little different than Wamp's earlier spots which have focused solely on the 20/20 Plan and creating new jobs for the state. Of course, early childhood education is critical for the state to attract and keep good job opportunities for our citizens down the road. This ad also is about as close as it comes for most of the GOP candidates to endorse the kind of Pre-K education program that Governor Bredesen has been pushing.

Wamp's never uses the word "Pre-K" only "early childhood education," but many of the elements and timing are similar, This ad is clearly Wamp's best so far. I particularly like the effect used as a child goes down the hallway in school and grows up from a third grader through high school and college, then goes out the schoolhouse door ready for the workplace. It's a very nice special effect, which has been something of a trademark of Wamp's ads.

As the final weeks of the campaign count down, the Congressman, like all candidates, continues to learn you can't be everywhere at once. That includes traveling across the state trying to be the next governor and still being in Washington to cast votes on the House floor. Wamp missed a chance in recent days to join his fellow Republicans to try and repeal a part of the new national health care law. This is a subject upon which Wamp has railed about many times. Sure, his vote probably wouldn't have changed matters (the Democratic majority still rejected repealing mandatory coverage), but being there would have given him the chance to get additional media exposure and use his position in Congress as a bully pulpit to reach out further to the GOP conservative base.

Don't misunderstand. The repeal effort seems to have been something of a secret surprise, so I don't think Wamp knew about it quickly enough to be able to get back to D.C.      

As for Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, he has finally gotten to spend his first entire week out on the campaign trail since the legislature began back in January.  In an e-mail to supporters, the Senate Speaker is also touting the job he did in this year's session of the General Assembly, saying he has won praise from Governor Phil Bredesen and even former Governor Ned McWherter (whose son Mike is the likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee this fall).

Actually, Governor Bredesen did have some fairly nice things to say. But you could also read it as a bit of a left handed compliment when he told WPLN, Nashville Public Radio (June 10): "In the end (the closing days of the General Assembly), you have to pass budgets and do things, and I thought Ron Ramsey—at the end---stepped up and agreed to do some things and found out some ways to make some compromises to get the budget passed.." In this context, you also have to remember that, earlier in the session, the Governor was critical of Ramsey and the rest of the General Assembly for arguing too much and staying in Nashville too long (while being distracted on unnecessary hot button issues) before finally reaching a budget accord. 

As for the praise from former Governor McWherter, what he said in an article from the KINGSPORT TIMES –NEWS (June 10) was made as a part of a comparison with former Lt. Governor and Senate Speaker John Wilder. The full quotes in the article make McWherter comments a bit more mixed.  He is quoted as saying: "Wilder was a good speaker and legislator. I've observed Ron Ramsey and I would not sell him short. If I made a criticism…(it would be) some of the legislation he would not allow to pass like the fee adjustments in the governor's budget. In a normal year, I believe he would (support that)…Ramsey has done a respectable, good job. I would pick Wilder because he's always been my friend, but the last four years for Wilder, he became a little senile."

Ouch! And I thought you were not supposed to speak ill of the departed?

It's that time of year on the campaign trail. Ron Ramsey, too, has a new TV spot, once again touting his "give Washington the boot" theme. From talking with voters and political observers, people either love Ramsey's spots or they hate them. The ads appear to speak strongly those who believe it is time to rein in runway federal power in Washington. But others wonder, if Ramsey really wants fight that, why he isn't running for Congress instead of Governor? And some just don't like his upper East Tennessee drawl. 

It appears Governor Phil Breseden will be speaking out soon on the Governor's race, endorsing the likely Democratic nominee to be his successor, Jackson businessman Mike McWherter. The event is set for Wednesday morning, June 23rd at Swett's Restaurant in North Nashville. Strong support from Governor Bredesen could be a way for McWherter to level the playing field this fall against the likely favored Republican nominee (who most believe will be Haslam).

Just how a steep a challenge McWherter faces this fall could be outlined in the latest statewide poll released by Rassmussen Reports (June 17). It shows McWherter losing decisively not only to Haslam (50% to 32%) but also to both Wamp and Ramsey (44% to 33% against each one).

Rasmussen believes in this still early part of the general election campaign that the very favorable or very unfavorable opinions of voters are important, especially with 20% of poll respondents expressing no opinion on any of the four candidates. In this area, here again, Haslam has the best numbers favorable/unfavorable (23%/6%) compared to McWherter (17%/14%) and to Wamp ((17%/10%) and Ramsey ( 11%/11%).     

The Rasmussen poll shows a 75% job approval for Governor Bredesen. While he has not had a great track record in his legislative endorsements over the years (similar to other governors in the past), will his strong support for a successor been seen differently by the voters? Can that make a difference for Mike McWherter? 

By the way, the Governor has already made a major political endorsement for the August primary as you will see and read just below.     


If you live in Senator Douglas Henry's district here in Nashville, you may have gotten a very interesting post card in the mail.

It's from Governor Bredesen. He is giving Senator Henry a strong endorsement for re-election. It comes in the midst of a tough primary election fight. Attorney Jeff Yabro seems to have the support and the money to mount a serious challenge, particularly if some of the Republicans in the district decide to vote in the GOP gubernatorial primary and therefore can't come over to vote for Senator Henry as they often have in the past.

I would say it is more than a bit unusual for a sitting governor to endorse in a primary battle, even a governor about to leave office. But Phil Bredesen also lives in Senator Henry's district and says he plans to vote for him as well.

The postcard endorsement is very strong saying in part: "As Mayor and Governor, I've counted on Douglas Henry to help get me get things done for the people of Tennessee. Time and again, I've turned to him on the important issues of our time."

The Governor then lists Henry's support in passing the recent Race To The Top stimulus funds to reform public education, his votes for Pre-K education as well as his work for the environment in helping create Radnor Lake and other efforts for land conservation. (Senator Henry also just got endorsements from the Sierra Club and the Tennessee Conservation Voters groups as well).

The Governor says the Senator has "been a strong voice for children, for women and for seniors," then adds, "Now, more than ever our state needs Douglas Henry."

Given how early this postcard has been sent out, still several weeks before early voting, it also seems pretty clear to me how important the Henry campaign thinks the Governor's support will be. Bredesen is likely the only Democrat that even has a chance to convince Republicans to abstain from their gubernatorial primary to support the Senator. The Governor can also likely help motivate Democrats in the district to come out and vote. Frankly, with the Democratic gubernatorial primary decided, there's not much (besides the Juvenile Court Clerk's race and some House legislative races) to bring out party members to the polls in that Senate district.

Jeff Yarbo continues to try and motivate voters as well. Women are a group both candidates are targeting with Yarbo holding a Women for Yarbro event Saturday (June 19). An e-mail announcement says: "Jeff will say a few word and answer questions….please feel free to stop-by when you can. This is not a fund raiser. It will be informal, conversational, and we expect, informative."  


 Here it is just past the middle of June, and the Metro Council has already approved a new budget for the next fiscal year which begins July 1. In fact, the Council was done by June 15.

That's fairly unusual, especially in these tough economic times. Why do things look so calm and tranquil?

Well, actually they're not. But the city's plan to re-finance a good bit of its long term capital debt has freed up enough money, hopefully for the next two years, to hold off both a tax increase and any more serious cuts to existing departments and programs. Council members were so pleased they quickly approved the Mayor's budget without almost any changes, especially with no tax increase and with cuts to existing programs and departments being just 1.6% on average.

But the aftermath and recovery of the May Flood could keep city leaders a bit nervous over the next year.  Sales tax receipts from major attractions such as the Opryland Hotel and the Symphony Hall could be worrisome and, while well intentioned and good public policy, giving flood victims tax breaks on their damaged homes for property taxes, sales tax credits on their rebuilding purchases, and no codes fees on their building permits (over 2,000 new ones have been issued recently) is going to have an impact on Metro's coffers.

Metro also must handle how to pay for its portions of some of the recovery efforts, including buying and relocating homes and homeowners from flood-prone areas. The city has already decided its equipment reserve fund (called the 4% Fund) will be done away with this year to help handle any shortfalls. There are also lots of council members worried about the future of the city's new capital plans for many key projects for them such as the 28th Avenue Connector, a new health department HQ, new parks , community centers, police substations and libraries. How much can Metro still do and still pay the bills for recovery?

Now there will be no way at all that there will be a tax hike next year, it is Metro's election time. But more service cutbacks may be harder to hold off especially if the overall economy stays soft. On the positive side, at least for right now, a record turnout last week (and a dollar impact of $24 million to the local economy) from the CMA Music Festival (Fan Fair) sure helps.

There is however, at least one Metro Department, Parks & Recreation, that already seems to be considering new ways to generate additional funds, even if nobody, including members of the Metro Council seem to have been told about it. According to Michael Cass of THE TENNESSEAN (June 15 story posted on line) flyers have been distributed at several of Metro's large regional community centers which sayt beginning August 16, adults will have to pay "membership fees" of up to $3 a day or $30 a month to use the regional community centers, pools and fitness centers. Children under 17 would be exempt and seniors would pay a lower fee rate.

Actually, I am told these adult memberships fees have already been in place and are just being increased by a dollar.  But I sure am puzzled why this increase was apparently not shared much with the community or with other city leaders. User fees are nothing new in Parks, but usually there is some process to announce the proposal, seek public input and then the Parks Board decides what to do. Has this happened? All a spokesperson told THE TENNESSEAN is that "it's not a done deal" and the Parks Board is set to decide at its next meeting on July 6.   Let's see how this goes.   

Meanwhile, in terms of Metro's budget and our overall economy, the full recovery of the Gaylord Opryland complex will be critical to Nashville. And it looks like Metro's hotel-motel tax funds may help foot some of that multi-million dollar repair bill. Actually, the city already had agreed to give Opryland several millions in hotel-motel funds to pay for an expansion that never got off the ground.

Now it looks like those funds will go instead to restore the hotel complex. That makes sense, and I would expect Mayor Karl Dean and the Council to approve that. But there are also rumblings that Gaylord wants still more city funds for their efforts, and that could create some problems and controversy, I'd bet. Metro and Gaylord Opryland have had an up-and-down relationship for years, especially in recent months when the community debated approval of its new convention center which Opryland opposed.  Opryland, however, is too important to our community not to help it out in its hour of need, even if some folks at the Courthouse have to keep their mouths closed and grit their teeth to vote for it. 

The owners of Gaylord Opryland are still most unhappy about the government. This time it's about how the federal Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service kept them informed (or not so much) about impending rainfall and river conditions during the May flooding. The possibility of a lawsuit still hangs in the air. And while such litigation might be a long shot at best to be successful, you might wonder what has happened to the calls for a congressional investigation into this matter? Things have been quiet in recent weeks, but late today (June 18) an angry news release has come out of Congressman Jim Cooper's office which "blasts the Army Corps of Engineers decision out of Washington "not to produce a post-flood report on the 2010 Nashville and Tennessee flood because of budget considerations.

Cooper is now demanding a swift investigation to the Corps response saying: "This is completely unacceptable. I am stunned the Corps doesn't feel it is necessary to investigate their response to a multi-million dollar disaster. The people of Middle Tennessee deserve answers. This shows a serious lack of accountability and leadership at the Corps."

I would not be surprised at all if there are similar angry responses from other members of our congressional delegation. This issue now very much remains back on the front burner and is heating up.         


Speaking of our legislative delegation in Washington and the Flood, all of them, plus Governor Bredesen, have joined together to sign and send letters urging FEMA to give Tennessee flood victims another six months to fill out the necessary paper work to get aid.

Right now that deadline is fast approaching on July 6 and only federal officials, not Congress or the Governor can change it. In a news release the elected officials say we need more time because: "With the unprecedented amount of natural disasters and floods across the country (and here in Tennessee), a real danger exists that a lack of qualified and trained insurance adjusters could create delays that may run past the 60-day deadline."

The insurance inspections and the resulting Proof of Loss claims are imperative to get any federal aid. It all sounds pretty plain and simple and pretty compelling.

Does our delegation and the Governor have the clout to get the 6-month extension granted? Maybe it does. How about this for a clue? Both Senators Alexander and Corker have been urging EPA to waive a new lead-paint rule that they thought would delay tens of thousands of Tennesseans in trying to rebuild their homes. The problem said the Senators was: "The EPA lead-paint rule requires not only the contractor to be certified in lead safe work practice, but that the employees who perform the work be certified as well, adding to the shortage of available contractors."

After some weeks of silence, the EPA has agreed to until later this fall (October 1) for the rule's certification requirement and until December 31 to enforce the rule against "individual renovation workers."

Is a six-month FEMA extension to apply for aid far behind?