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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 25, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 25, 2010

CREATED Jun 25, 2010

CAPITOL VIEW

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

June 25, 2010

ON THE TRAIL; HENRY VS.YARBO; STILL SWIRLING; INSIDE POLITICS; WHO LIVES WHERE

On Tennessee's gubernatorial campaign trail, it's been another week of endorsements, new TV ads and ethical issues being raised (again).

GOP frontrunner and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam unveiled another in a series of TV spots featuring endorsements from everyday-type people who support him. In this case, it's the owner of a Knoxville meat-and-three restaurant who says he first refused Haslam coming to his place to campaign (for mayor) unless he agreed to work in the food service line, handing out the bread (I assume either a roll or cornbread). He says the Mayor still comes back to eat and sneak a piece of chocolate pie every now and then.

Now what's more Tennessee than that?  The Haslam team continues to try and portray its candidate as someone who's a leader who gets things done, but who is also just a regular person and someone not afraid to work. Maybe that's just a good way to position anybody to be governor, but maybe Haslam's campaign research shows his background (very rich) needs that kind of support.

In the area of endorsements, none are more revered these days among Republicans than from anyone that was involved on a major level with former President Ronald Reagan. So the Haslam campaign must love a recent endorsement given by former Reagan economist Arthur Laffer, Sr. (the father of supply-side economics and the Laffer Curve). Laffer says (according to a story in THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL, June 23)" "The policies Bill Haslam espouses are very much in line with President Reagan's economic policies. Pro-growth economics are just what we need to keep our state prosperous." (Laffer moved to Nashville in 2006).   

 But while some like the Mayor's economics, one of Haslam's rivals, Chattanooga Congressman Zach Wamp continues to assail the Mayor's ethics.  This time he is calling for a full explanation of "all the details of…price gouging consumers at (his) Pilot Oil Corporation gas stations in Tennessee and two other states" back in late 2008 following Hurricane Ike. According to a Wamp campaign news release, the Tennessee Attorney General sued Pilot and "the courts later ordered the company to repay every customer who was overcharged…and fined Pilot thousands of dollars for its illegal behavior against Tennessee motorists."

The news release also claims Pilot paid similar monies in Georgia and Kentucky, with the court-ordered fines in the Bluegrass State alone adding up to some $10,000. So far, if there has been a response to this by the Haslam campaign, I haven't seen it.

Much of this information is not new. It was reported in the media back when it occurred nearly two years ago. Of course that was before Haslam was a statewide candidate. But often it is difficult to get the media to re-report stories they've already covered. And it is especially hard to get them to then try and link this to Wamp's other ethics complaints against Haslam (which have also already been reported). Those would include that Haslam has not released his financial dealings and his income tax forms, nor answered all questions about Pilot's involvements with the Tennessee Lottery and Pilot's gambling related efforts in other states.

Meantime Wamp has his own ethics issues in the media. THE NASHVILLE CITY PAPER has written a second major story questioning Wamp's ties to an East Tennessee PR firm and its clients. The allegations also say that Wamp has used his ability as an elected member of Congress to earmark federal funds to help the PR firm and its clients.

For right now, it doesn't appear any of these stories and allegations are having any major impact on the GOP gubernatorial primary race. But if some TV attack ads get involved between now and early voting, which begins in three weeks, or later in the campaign before the final vote in August (or even in the general election campaign this fall), that could possibly change.

Getting back to endorsements, the third major GOP gubernatorial candidate is trying to make it clear he is the choice of the Tea Party movement in Tennessee. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey's campaign has released a list of nearly 50 Tea Party leaders from all across the state who say they support Ramsey. The State Senator Speaker says he has their support because he "is a strict constitutionalist and has a strong conservative record on 2nd Amendment rights, pro-life issues and fiscal conservatism." Indeed, Ramsey is the only gubernatorial candidate to frequently mention pro-life in his campaign and is even running a radio ad on that topic.

There has been quite a bit of activity by the Tea Party movement here in Tennessee, holding regional and even national conventions here, and organizing several well-attended rallies at the State Capitol with help from some local radio talk show hosts. But, unlike in other states where they have also been successful, so far the Tea Party in Tennessee has not fielded its own candidates in local and statewide races here.

Is this endorsement of Ramsey, the beginning of that effort? Or are other Tea Party leaders supporting other candidates such as Zach Wamp? Let's see how it develops.

Finally, as we told you would happen in last week's CAPITOL VIEW column, the lone Democrat in the governor's race, Jackson businessman Mike McWherter, has been endorsed by the current governor, Phil Bredesen. One Democrat endorsing another may not seem big news. Indeed, despite the outgoing Governor's strong job performance and popularity polling numbers, it is very unclear how much his support will help McWherter in the November general election. If the latest polls are accurate, McWherter needs lots of help. And so far, in terms of the Governor's endorsements in previous legislative races, he hasn't done very well, while the Democrats have lost both houses of the General Assembly on Bredesen's watch (although that is not entirely his fault). 

However, in terms of Governor Bredesen's support, it sure is interesting to remember back eight years ago in 2002, when nobody wanted to even be seen with, much less be endorsed by, outgoing Republican Governor Don Sundquist. The former Governor was then, and to some extent still remains, a political pariah largely because of his support for a state income tax.  

Governor Bredesen seems to be trying to position McWherter as the candidate who can carry on his legacy saying: "I have spent eight years working to make Tennessee a better place to raise a family and operate a business, and I believe Mike McWherter is the candidate best suited to build on this foundation." Legacy it seems always becomes important for outgoing presidents, governors and mayors. It also appears to be in part why the Governor has made a rare primary endorsement for Nashville Senator Doug Henry, who he believes can help continue the governor's work. He obviously feels the same way about endorsing McWherter. But how much will that matter to the voters?

McWherter's campaign must obviously be thrilled to have the Governor out early on his behalf, including helping him raise money (McWherter seems to need lots of help and the Governor has always done very well in that department). Overall, the Governor's endorsement may be the best thing Mike McWherter has going for him, along with his dad's last name (former Governor Ned McWherter). But now, what can he do with it?

 Much like Bill Haslam (who may be the GOP candidate that will most compete for some Bredesen-type voters), Mike McWherter is also trying to project an image of someone who can understand the issues and challenges facing business folks and families across the state.   That's why he is doing his "Mike Works" tour. In fact, even just minutes after the endorsement event with the Governor at Nashville's Swett's Restaurant, the candidate was rolling up his sleeves to bus tables and wash dishes at the popular meat-and-three location.   Maybe McWherter thinks that is a better position than being in the food line like Haslam giving out rolls and cornbread, especially now with Governor Bredesen behind him.     

HENRY VS.YARBRO

The Nashville State Senate Democratic primary race between long time incumbent Doug Henry and attorney Jeff Yarbro continues to offer many twists and turns.

Of course, there is a challenge from one candidate to the other to hold several forums and debates in the final weeks. Usually that almost always comes from the challenger in the race (Yarbro) and some usually interpret that as a sign of who is running behind.

I have not seen any polling, so I am not sure where the race actually stands but I can understand why Yarbro would want to have debates and forums. He has worked very hard during the campaign not to make an issue of Henry's age, nor to attack him any way personally. But forums and debates can help make some contrasts in both those areas that could helpful to him.

I can remember several campaigns (including the 2004 Presidential race) where during forums and debates it became clear if one candidate still had it "on the ball" or if he or she had slipped a bit. And that can be observed without anyone raising the issue.

As for criticizing Senator Henry, during the campaign so far, Yarbro has been critical instead of the actions and failures of the General Assembly in general, rather than the Senator himself. But if you take a hint from a campaign e-mail sent out by Yarbro recently he appears to be sharpening his focus on some recent votes by the Senator about which he objects. Those votes are related to women's reproductive rights, immigration, strip mining and nullifying the new national health care act. These are perfect topics to bring up during a forum or debate to try and put Henry on the defensive.       

 So far, I have heard no response from the Henry campaign about doing any forums or debates as Yarbro has requested. But both sides are working hard. Yarbro has several fundraisers underway including one at the home of Charles Bone, a very politically active attorney. He is supported by a strong list of prominent West Nashville movers and shakers.

The Henry campaign is touting a special lifetime achievement award that is being given to the Senator by the Nashville chapter of the Kiwanis. The civic club names an Outstanding Nashvillian of Year every year (Mayor Karl Dean just received it), but it has never given a lifetime award.

Why now? According to a Henry campaign news release, says Kiwanian and Nashville civic leader George Armistead: "Senator Henry is on the list of nominees every year for Outstanding Nashvillian of the Year. So we decided we will do something special for him. He has done so much for Nashville, never seeking any glory for himself."

Surely many will agree with that, but you can be sure some in the Yarbro campaign will also surely wonder why this is being announced during a hard fought, primary campaign? Actually, the event to give this special honor to Senator Henry is not set to occur until after the August vote. It's on August20 and it will likely be either a big community thank-you for the Senator's continuing public service or a farewell honor as he begins to end his time on Capitol Hill here in Nashville which first began back in 1954.      

STILL SWIRLING

The politics of the aftermath of the great May Flood of 2010 continue to swirl.

It appears the federal Corps of Engineers finally seems to be getting a clue about how it needs to properly respond in the aftermath of this disaster.

After several weeks of questions and some criticism from elected officials such as Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper and Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, the Corps is now relenting and agreeing that it will conduct an extensive investigation into the matter.

That is something called a "Post-Flood Report," which Congressman Cooper says is the "gold standard" needed to investigate an event like this. But for the past several weeks, the Corps had been saying it only needed to do a less intensive and inexpensive study called an "After Action Review." The Corps claimed the Post-Flood Report was too expensive and it didn't have the money for that. The Corps stayed in that public posture even after the Senators and Congressman agreed to seek extra money from Washington right away, if necessary.

With the Congressman and Senators keeping up the pressure and continuing to talk about a full congressional investigation into the disaster, a Corp spokesman then made this astounding statement following a meeting with Congressman Cooper in Washington (Thursday, June 24).    

Quoting the story from THE TENNESSEAN (June 25); "The Corps is required to complete a "post flood report" on such a large disaster"…and "the Corps always had the intention of doing the report."

Well, maybe I can't hear or read very well anymore. I am getting older. But that is NOT what the Corps has been saying, especially its' very confusing and (now apparently incomplete) statement made to the media on June 22. I am very glad The Corps has finally changed its mind. But here's a suggestion, especially as the agency moves forward to now complete both the after-action report (in about a month) and post-flood report (in about six months).

Try to be a little more responsive and transparent in your dealings with the public. If you knew and meant to say you planned to do both studies, and were REQUIRED to do so, why didn't you say so….and do that weeks ago?  

Don't forget I suspect both Congressman Cooper and the Senators will be watching closely, and a full congressional investigation could still result if this matter isn't handled well. 

Meanwhile, the controversy between the Corps of Engineers and Gaylord Entertainment has passed into calmer waters as company officials have decided not to pursue legal action against the Corps. But that doesn't mean the company is happy or satisfied. According to THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL (June 24) Gaylord CEO Colin Reed "is still seeking answers, saying that people would have died if Gaylord had trusted the Corps' predictions and failed to evacuate the (Opryland/Gaylord) resort as floodwaters rose" and over $200 million in damages were done.

 The U.S. Senate is another place where the aftermath of the Flood is tied up in politics. Republicans and Democrats are blaming each other for why Congress has not re-authorized federal flood insurance (which many folks in this area would now love and need to buy so they can rebuild).  Congress is fighting over how to handle future spending (including ongoing unemployment benefits for those who still can't find work). Normally in these hard times, that would not be an issue, but with the spiraling the national debt, Congress can't seem to find a way to do it.

Meanwhile, even though the money for federal flood insurance is already available, it appears its re-authorization is being held hostage by both sides in Congress as leverage on other issues. That's stupid and almost cruel to those who need the help, I'd said.

Fortunately, FEMA and the SBA continue to be responsive. After a request from the entire congressional delegation and the Governor, the federal agencies have granted another 30 days for individuals who suffered losses during the Flood to apply for assistance. The deadline had been July 6 and there was growing concern that many folks could not get their paperwork ready in time. The request for additional time was for another six months. That was not granted, but another 30 days is sure to help.      

The flood damage estimates from May continue to rise. The Schermerhorn Symphony Center will cost $42 million to repair, which is $15 million more than earlier estimated and will require the Symphony to find a way to raise $10 million on its own, after the funds it receives from insurance coverage and from FEMA.

Nashville sure knows how to raise relief funds, and in a very special way, with the Nashville Rising Concert on June 22, bringing in over $2 million to the coffers. This is a wonderful and unique thing for Nashville, but as the dollar amounts rise, there continues to be a lot of confusion and lack of understanding about how the dollars will be allocated and spent….and when. This needs to be addressed soon, or some credibility issues may soon arise.

Metro Government continues to do a remarkable job. Less than two months after the disaster, it is now working ahead to make offers to buy up to 300+ damaged homes which were in the flood way or flood plain. Now this won't be a quick or easy process. The feds and the state officials are involved as well, paying for 85% of the costs, while Metro puts up 15%.

Metro's never bought this many homes at one time (maybe a few dozen at most in the past). So, there remain lots of questions. Will Metro's purchase offers be seen as credible by the displaced homeowners? This process could take up to a year to complete, so how can the homeowners survive paying a mortgage and rent for where they are now, as well as for the home that's been destroyed? Who has that kind of resources without some help? Why are most of the buyout offers concentrated in just three council districts and very few in the hard-hit Bellevue area?  Why do they seem concentrated more along the Cumberland River as opposed to the Harpeth? And is this all? Will there be other buyout efforts later? The answers to any of these questions could set off a lot of political controversy, although, for now, Metro should be commended for getting this far, this fast on this project.

 INSIDE POLITICS

As if President Barack Obama doesn't have enough active controversies to deal with from the economy to the oil spill disaster in the Gulf, now comes a renewed one surrounding the war in Afghanistan and some very derogatory public statements (in ROLLING STONE magazine) about the President and his administration by his own commanding general there.

Not surprisingly, that General is out and the President seems to have pulled out a major political save by replacing the disgraced General Stanley McChrystal with the hero of "The Iraq Surge", General David Petraeus.

But the incident has brought new public concerns and perhaps controversy over how the war in Afghanistan (along with Iraq) is going and what the future holds.

We have two local experts to discuss that on INSIDE POLITICS. They are Middle Tennessee State University professor Dr. Sean Foley and Vanderbilt professor of political science, Dr. James Ray. 

 INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast and Charter cable channels 250, as well as on Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

Our broadcasts can be seen at:

7:00 p.m. Friday, June 25

5:00 a.m & 5:30 p.m., Saturday, June 26

5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. Sunday, June 27

You can also find excerpts of previous INSIDE POLITICS shows here on the NewsChannel5 web site.

WHO LIVES WHERE

I see some council members want to amend the Metro Charter to require all department heads and their assistant directors to live inside Davidson County.

Now I have no idea how many department chiefs and their top aides live outside the city. But changing the charter like this (which requires 27 votes in the Council along with voter approval) seems to me to be like using an atom bomb to kill a gnat (if the gnat even needs to be killed).

I am not sure the Council is the best group positioned to play HR Director for the city. But if in their wisdom they believe this needs to be done, draft an ordinance, pass it on three readings, including getting at least 21 ayes on the third and final vote, then convince the mayor to sign it. (And that may take some convincing I suspect). Most mayors prefer the ability to hire the best person available and not worry about exactly where he or she lives.

This is not a matter that needs to junk up the charter. The charter got littered with all the deals that were made to pass it almost 50 years ago. That's why the Metro Health Director is the only city department head whose contract must be approved by the Council. That makes no sense, but Dr. John Lentz, who was the powerful County Health Director back in the early 1960s wanted it that way, and so that's how it was placed in the Charter, and how it remains to this day.

This kind of misguided, restrictive language is also why the original charter capped the mayor's salary at $25,000. It stayed like that for years, making a mockery of the city's pay plan, and making local officials look stupid to place a hard-to-change requirement such as that in the local constitution.

What I really think this charter proposal means is this. For what whatever reasons, some folks in the Council are mad at a few department heads, and this is the way to send a strong message to scare them.

Under the charter, the Council is only allowed to send amendments to the public for a vote twice during its four year term. If this department head proposal is the best they've got, forget about it. Pass an ordinance if it's really all that important (and I'll bet it really isn't).