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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 2, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 2, 2010

CREATED Jul 2, 2010

CAPITOL VIEW

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

July 2, 2010

INSIDE POLITICS FOCUSES ON THE GOVERNOR'S RACE IN JULY; MORE ON THE TRAIL; GORE; BACKWASH: RACOON

Historically, there is nothing like the 4th of July holiday weekend to really start voters focusing on the upcoming governor's race, leading up to the August primary. Maybe it's the patriotic nature of this important day in the founding of our nation. Maybe it's everyone gathering together for cookouts or neighborhood parties which inevitably start conversations about politics. Maybe it's something in the hot dog relish or the mustard on those hamburgers.

Whatever it is, the 4th of July is like lighting the grill for the political feast that's coming. So for the month of July, beginning this weekend, we here at the NewsChannel5 Network plan to host all four of the major gubernatorial candidates for interviews on my INSIDE POLITICS show over the next few weeks. We've had them all on before, of course, but now I suspect there will be a lot more interest in what they have to say (and I suspect a larger viewing audience).

To that end, INSIDE POLITICS will air at 6:30 p.m. each Friday evening on NewsChannel5's main channel (WTVF-TV) beginning July 2, and continuing each of the next three weeks while we plan to have the other gubernatorial candidates join us (July 9, July 16 and July 23). INSIDE POLITICS will also air at 5:00 a.m. each Sunday morning on the main channel during this time period providing an additional expanded viewing opportunity then (or for those who find TiVo better to use at that hour of the early morning).

Of course, as always, we will have our broadcast times on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast & Charter cable channels 250 and on NewsChannel5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2. Those times are: Fridays at 7:00 p.m., Saturdays at 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., and Sundays 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

MIKE MCWHERTER

The Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike McWherter, who is unopposed in the August primary, is first up for us on INSIDE POLITICS. Here's a bit of an appetizer about what we discussed with the Jackson businessman, who is also the son of the former governor, Ned McWherter.

Not surprisingly, Mike McWherter was talking a lot about his recent endorsement by current governor Phil Bredesen. It appears this was in the works for several weeks, just waiting for the General Assembly to adjourn. The Governor didn't want the announcement to get involved in the politics of the closing days of the legislature (and it would have), so they waited. And you thought everybody else was anxious for our lawmakers to leave! Mike McWherter knows the Bredesen endorsement is best thing to happen to his campaign, and having to wait to get it announced must have been a bit frustrating I'd bet.

McWherter says Governor Bredesen will be campaigning with him all across the state, along with holding a fundraiser for him in his home (something which the Governor has never done). McWherter also strongly hints Governor Bredesen will be doing TV ads for him, although he remains unclear about that and about when he will become the final gubernatorial candidate to get on the tube.

In fact, McWherter is trying to make a positive out not being on the air, while his Republican opponents have already spent millions. The latest polls show McWherter down by at least 10% or more against any of his fall opponents. Big trouble, right? No, the way McWherter sees it, he already has at least a third of Tennessee voters supporting him and he hasn't run a single TV ad. He believes he will do well once he starts his spots.

But when will that happen? Will he wait until after the primary? Will go on while the Republicans start beating each other up in the final weeks (which, if it happens, should start happening pretty soon). The key is, of course, money. With the latest campaign finance deadline having just passed (June 30) we ought to get a pretty good look at where the McWherter campaign stands. And, if he wants to be competitive, he better show that he's raised a lot more than he did in the last finance report which was just a few hundred thousand dollars once you take out his own personal contribution of $1 million.

McWherter says his money totals will look much improved. They better, or he will quickly kill whatever momentum he could be building from the Bredesen endorsement.

We talk about a lot of other things as well in our interview, so take a watch. It's very interesting.

POSTSCRIPT: After we taped the McWherter interview, news broke that Pilot Oil, the family business of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Haslam is merging with one its major competitors Flying J. Not only is that a big business story, but not surprisingly it's becoming a political one as well.

It seems the Federal Trade Commission is filing a complaint about the merger raising concerns that it might lead to higher diesel fuel prices for long-haul trucking fleets. Picking up on some of the same attack themes previously raised by Republican gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp about past charges of price gouging on gas by Pilot Oil after a hurricane hit the Gulf Coast a couple of years ago, the McWherter campaign took full aim: "It's no wonder Bill Haslam refuses to disclose his financial information, he is afraid average Tennesseans might see him as an oil sheik rather than the average man character he has spent millions of dollars trying to create in his TV ads." Ouch!

However, for balance, it should also be reported that Mayor Haslam's campaign is the first out with their latest fund raising numbers (July 2), and given how good they are, why wouldn't they be pushing them out quickly. The disclosure shows Haslam has now raised $8.7 million from 12,000 contributors across the state including $700,000 in just the last two weeks and $3 million total from hometown supporters in Knoxville. Despite all the attacks that have, and will continue to come against Haslam, some folks sure seem to like him.

MORE ON THE TRAIL

If you are like me, your e-mail (and maybe your snail mail) boxes were clogged with last minute appeals from all the campaigns and the national political parties for money. A June 30 deadline will do that and no amount seems too small to request. I guess the Obama campaign in 2008 proved that can work (if you can get enough of them).

Endorsements also remain out front for the campaigns, especially those that likely come with major donations. It's perhaps not surprising given the gun legislation passed the last two years in the General Assembly, Lt. Governor and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has gotten full support from the Gun Owners of America Victory Fund.

The news release circulated from the Ramsey campaign does not say how much money the group is giving the Lt. Governor, but it does take some strong shots against his two Republican opponents.

That includes Mayorl Haslam, who once belonged to a national group called "Mayors Against Illegal Guns." According to the Gun Owners' news release, the group, led by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg sent at least letters in past years to Democratic congressional leaders (with Haslam's name on them) to support anti-gun legislation. Haslam has since quit his membership in Mayors Against Illegal Guns but that only seems to have made the Gun Owners organization madder.

"As soon as Haslam announced his bid for governor, he left Bloomberg's anti-gun group with much haste. If that isn't the clearest sign of pandering, then we don't know what is."

And Ramsey's other GOP primary opponent, Congressman Zach Wamp also got slammed in the Gun Owners news release, criticizing his support of the Campaign Finance Reform Act passed by Congress a few years ago.

The Gun Owners release charged that Wamp put "a stranglehold on free speech" and called him a "Republican turncoat" by supporting the measure, which was recently struck down in part by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Gun Owners group is also strong in endorsing Ramsey saying he "displays a constitutional and historically accurate understanding of the Second Amendment and the threats it faces today." The group also likes Ramsey on the 10th amendment adding: "We must have a governor who can stand up to federal officials who want to erode our basic rights."

My, my…a news release from a group that not only gives an endorsement, but blasts your two major opponents. Not a bad day's political work, especially when you read the fine print at the bottom of the release which says: "Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee."

In recent days, I‘ve only seen one new gubernatorial TV ad It's from the Zach Wamp campaign and for the first time it's doesn't mention his 20/20 Vision Plan for Tennessee (imagine that) ƒº Maybe the ad is trying to try tap into the mood of the 4th of July holiday because the theme is clearly friends and family. It features endorsements from the Congressman's wife and children (always a nice touch), as well as Wamp's friends (and stars) in the country music business such as Ricky Skaggs, John Rich, Michael W. Smith, and TV financial guru Dave Ramsey.

By the way, a recent Wamp fund raiser held at the home of John Rich here in Nashville seems to have just further alienated the country star's already very poor relationship with his neighbors. There is now legislation being proposed in the Metro Council that seems aimed at Rich by limiting how often a local street can be closed off for events as well as limits on parking or handling large on-the-road tour buses along residential streets. The Wamp campaign should hope the Rich fundraiser brought in lots of money, because I doubt it got him many votes from the neighbors around that neighborhood (which has the ironic name given the circumstances) of Love Circle.

Social networking also remains very important in all the campaigns. Take the Ramsey campaign which recently sent out an e-mail offering supporters the chance to receive the latest updates drom the candidate on their cell phones. All they have to do is sign up by calling a certain number, then entering the word: BOOT.

So what else did you expect it to be? LOL

Finally, money appeals also continue to be a way for campaigns to push out their own polling numbers. Take the 5th District Republican Congressional campaign of Jeff Hartline, who appears to be the front runner in a crowded field of 11 trying to take on incumbent Democratic congressman Jim Cooper this fall.

Here's what the fund raising message from Hartline campaign finance chairman, Andrew Miller says. "We have a poll that proves that his (Cooper's) "Hard Reelect Rate" is ONLY 23%. (The capitalizing and quotation marks are from the campaign document). It then continues, "The Polling Company Told Me They HAVE NEVER seen an incumbent get REELECTED with a number that low!.... CAN JIM BE BEATEN BY JEFF HARTLINE? NO DOUBT, IF WE FUND HIS CAMPAIGN!"

Of course, Congressman Cooper is out raising money as well. In fact, he has a major event ($500 per person) set for July 6 at the Cabana, backed by a Host Committee of 130 people which include Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and his wife along with a host of very prominent community, political and business leaders.

According to Nashville's Post Politics (July 1), Congressman Cooper had an interesting contributor back in 2002. It was Bill Haslam who reportedly gave $1,000. "The Mayor has been supportive of many candidates over the years," explained a spokesman for the Haslam gubernatorial campaign. That's very likely true, but I can tell you that line of explanation is not playing well, at least in the GOP's 8th congressional district primary race here in Tennessee. Charges and counter charges have been flying back and forth among the candidates about who has supported or even voted for what Democrats in the past, and who might have even had a family member run for office as a Democrat down in Shelby County (horrors!).

Actually for the first time in several election cycles, there are a number of interesting congressional races shaping up in Tennessee. I will try and spent more time talking about them in the weeks to come.

GORE

OK.

I will admit it.

I can't make heads or tails about Al Gore these days.

I was taken totally off guard when he and his wife Tipper announced they were separating and seeking a divorce after nearly 40 years together. That's what I told one national news representative who called me seeking any rumors or insights I had about whether there had been issues between the two.

Sorry I didn't see any or hear even a hint of rumor about anything like that. Ever. Now Al Gore is not a close friend of mine. I did know him a bit when he was a reporter at THE TENNESSEAN. I covered his first race for Congress as well as his campaigns for the Senate. I have certainly followed and commented on his national political career. But his private life, I just assumed was as dull and boring as everyone thought.

So now here comes the latest: allegations of an attempted sexual encounter/assault in Oregon. That seems even more bizarre to me. And bizarre also seems to be the word to use in describing how the victim has acted after the alleged event, as well as how by the authorities have handled the matter so far. Gore's office completely and strongly denies doing anything wrong.

So I am sitting on the sidelines on this one, just waiting to see what happens next. Weird

BACKWASH

In dealing with the remaining major challenges from the May Flood, a lot of activity is revolving around Washington.

Fortunately, Congress is finally getting its act together and has approved a reauthorization of the federal flood insurance program. For weeks this has been held up by some of the usual silly political fights inside the Beltway. All this while Tennesseans languished in frustration needing to buy flood insurance to rebuild or wanting to extend their existing flood insurance policies. But, unfortunately, they couldn't do so because the politicians were playing games about how to deal with the federal deficit. Kudos to Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and Congressman Jim Cooper for showing the leadership to finally get the matter resolved and the reauthorization extended (even if just for a few months).

Senator Alexander also wants more answers about how the Flood itself was handled. He was the first Tennessee public official to say that questions needed to asked and answered following the disaster. Now one of the subcommittees on which the senior Senator serves (Energy & Water Appropriations) will hold a hearing in D.C. on July 22 with major topics of discussion to include (according to a CITY PAPER story on June 28) "how the federal Corps of Engineers and the National Weather Service communicated information to the public as the flood unfolded, whether the Corps acted properly in releasing waters from dams along the Cumberland River, and whether those releases resulted in additional flooding in Nashville."

Along with officials from the Corps and the Weather Service, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, the mayor of Millington, TN near Memphis as well as the head of Tennessee's Emergency Management Agency will testify among others. This congressional hearing could be the forum for the first look we will have at the results of the Corp's initial study into the flood. Exactly how much new information or findings will come out of that is hard to say. It may well be that it will take a second, more extensive study to be done by Corps (which will take several more months) before we learn much more.

Meanwhile, Metro government continues to move quickly to try and help homeowners who were devastated by the flood. Those 300-plus homeowners in the floodway who have been offered the possibility of the city buying their houses rather than rebuilding, have been learning more details about that through a series of public meetings being held around town. And that's where a major issue continues to emerge.

There are probably lots of eligible folks in the floodway who would love to have Metro buy their homes but if that takes (as the city admits) up to a year or longer occur, they are in a real dilemma. Many still have mortgages to pay for their destroyed property, while also now paying rent or another mortgage on where they currently live. If that's the choice, some of these "eligible" home owners might sooner just walk away and abandon what they've lost.

Another challenge is likely soon to become more apparent, as folks in or near the floodway in other parts of town want to know why they aren't eligible? No doubt, Metro's working very hard to make this outreach work. But it is just very difficult to bring all the moving pieces together quickly, especially dealing with federal, state and local agencies.

Metro is also beginning to deal with how to help flood damaged residents who live outside the flood way. Here the problem is that the dollars available from the federal government through FEMA and the SBA aren't nearly enough to fix up the damage for many folks. And they often don't have the wherewithal to get bank loans to rebuild either.

Hopefully, a new program unveiled by Mayor Karl Dean will help. It's called "We Are Home" and it plans to offer a variety of grants and loans (from 0% to 4% interest) that will provide additional monies to help Nashvillians make repairs.

"We Are Home" is planned to be a public-private partnership leveraging both government and private funds. That includes some of the millions of dollars donated by people all across the community to provide flood relief. There have been growing questions about how much money has been raised and how it would be spent. This begins to provide an excellent answer about how some of it will be applied.

Now I am sure this effort will have its challenges and difficulties. It will probably take some time to get organized and funded well enough (some federal monies are still pending in Washington) to start getting many checks written. In some cases, the program may still not be able to provide enough aid for some people to rebuild.

But this outreach should be applauded for what it is: an unprecedented effort in Nashville history in response to an unprecedented disaster. It may also take all of us once again to dig into our pockets as Mayor Dean indicates the goal is to raise $50 million for this program. That's the toughest kind of money to find as the days, weeks and months go by after the flood, and community interest invariably wanes.

But if We Are Nashville, we can and will do this!

Kudos to Regions Bank as it has stepped up and pledged $1 million to this effort. Hopefully all our other banks and financial institutions will do the same, as well as all of us as individuals.

There was one other flooding-related incident that set alarms bells ringing in my head a few days ago. It turned out to be a false alarm it appears, but when a large sinkhole appeared next to L.P. Field and words were used in the first news reports that seem to indicate the possibility of some kind of structural damage, I feared the worst.

Unless you've been on another planet over the last decade or so, you know pro football and the Titans are the sports kings of this community. Interest in what happens concerning the team is never ending (read the daily sports page and watch the TV sports reports). Football in general in this part of the world has almost a religious fervor. And we are just about a month away from interest and excitement in the sport about to peak with the beginning of training camp in August and the new season in September.

It occurred to me that if something had happened to endanger the fans of this area being able to use L.P. Field this season, it would have been a major, and unexpectedly cruel blow for the spirit of this town, as we recover from the flood. Fortunately, it appears that won't be the case and the repairs needed for LP Field can be handled without endangering the use of the stadium. Whew!

RACCOON

Refugees from the flood continue to pop up as the days go by.

However, at least in one case, the refugee appears to be hiding. I am talking about the raccoon who found his way inside the Legislative Plaza following the flood, after likely being forced out his normal habitat by rising waters. Now the animal is hiding out on top of the ceiling titles inside the infrastructure of the building which is largely below street level (the War Memorial Plaza).

This has, of course, led to many wisecracks and jokes around the Hill. My inquiring mind offers its own thoughts and questions: Is this really "Rocky Raccoon" of Beatles fame come to Nashville waiting to reunite with Sir Paul McCartney when he comes to town for a major concert later this month? Is it the ghost of former Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver who made Tennessee and national political history by wearing a raccoon cap, first as a symbol of his quest to defeat the Crump political machine in Tennessee, and then as a way to gain national prominence (ala the very popular Davy Crockett TV series back in the 1950s) as the Senator twice ran for President?

But more importantly, if the raccoon stays around long enough on the Hill, can he qualify for per diem?

My last comment would be that this raccoon is not well versed in recent Tennessee political history. For years, former House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh (who is still a Democratic leader and holds the honorary title of Speaker Emeritus in the House) has held an annual Raccoon Supper, which is a must-attend event for lawmakers and lobbyists. While the Supper is held in Naifeh's West Tennessee district, no self-respecting raccoon wanting to keep his fur intact, has ever been so bold as to invade the Speaker's home turf in Nashville. What have things come to on the Hill!

Happy 4th of July, everyone!