Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 9, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 9, 2010

CREATED Jul 9, 2010


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

July 9, 2010


As we continue our interviews with those who would be the next Governor of Tennessee, this weekend's (July 9-11) guest on INSIDE POLITICS is Republican candidate Ron Ramsey. Here are some brief highlights of our interview with the GOP Lt. Governor and Speaker of the State Senate:

Ramsey says he is THE Tea Party candidate for Governor. He adds those who claim (as his opponents Bill Haslam and Zach Wamp do ) that they also have Tea Party support and that the Tea Party movement is not organized enough to be behind just one candidate, are wrong. Ramsey claims Tea Party support will make a big difference for him come the August 5 primary. He also believes he will get a big boost from his supporters in Upper East Tennessee (including recent endorsements from many members of the State House and Senate delegation in that area) as Ramsey tries to become the first governor in 90 years to hail from that part of the state.

Will the GOP gubernatorial campaign go negative in its final weeks (early voting begins Friday, July 16)? Ramsey would not pledge that he will avoid airing "comparative" ads in the weeks ahead. So I would guess he might have some ready to air (or quickly produce) if he decides to do so. The problem is (and we will talk more about this in other races) in a three-way contest it is hard to successfully go negative unless you attack both your opponents. I am not sure how well that will work in this governor's race. However, I would certainly not be surprised to see those "comparative" ads begin soon, coming most likely from the Wamp campaign.

Getting back to Ron Ramsey and our interview, he was not ready to disclose his latest fund raising numbers, but he did indicate that he expects to show dollar amounts raised that are close to or ahead of what Wamp has reported at over $4 million. Therefore he seemed to indicate he will have the funds to stay on the air with TV and radio ads (although by my viewing his ads don't seem to be playing as much recently). Ramsey says he will bringing on new TV ads soon, and ones which will no longer focus just on the theme of "giving Washington the boot."

If he doesn't win the nomination, will Ramsey support the winning GOP gubernatorial candidate? After all, he has said that Haslam is "not ready to be governor" and that Wamp is "the king of earmarks in Congress," along with being someone who has anger issues. But, in some surprising candor I thought (especially with this much time left in the campaign) Ramsey says, flat out, he will support the GOP nominee because either Haslam or Wamp are "better than the alternative," which is Democrat Mike McWherter. But is Ramsey also saying that because he is beginning to realize he might not win? Nobody's polls show him better than a somewhat distant third right now.

When I asked Ramsey about a frequent comment I hear from some Republicans that they wish he would stay as Lt. Governor, which is a position perhaps almost as powerful as governor and which is not term limited, Ramsey answers that he tells folks that if he's done a good job, he ought "to get promoted" and be elected governor, where he can do even more good for the people of Tennessee. But I could tell by the way he nodded and smiled, that as many times as he has given this answer, it may not be getting the desired result.

It's an interesting interview. I hope you'll watch it. Again, we are airing on the main channel (WTVF-TV, Channel 5) at 6:30 p.m. Friday evening (July 9) as well as Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. (July 11). You can also catch the show several times on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast and Charter cable channels 250, as well as Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2. Our air times on the PLUS are 7:00 p.m. Friday (July 9), Saturday (July 10) at 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., then on Sunday (July 11) at 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.


I know all the gubernatorial campaigns are working full out these days, but it seemed kind of a slow week to me. Maybe it's the short week after the 4th of July holiday.

Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam did hit a lot of mail boxes with an interesting direct mail flier. It tries to show that he is fully supportive of 2nd amendment rights despite questions raised during this campaign, particularly concerning his past membership in a group headed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg that opposed illegal guns (critics say the group was just anti-gun). With the $8.7 million the Haslam campaign has already raised, they can do lots of damage control mailing out pieces like this. It's a luxury the other campaigns just don't have.

However one of his hometown Knoxville TV stations (WBIR-TV) has raised some questions about a couple of claims made in Haslam's mailer, specifically concerning his length of NRA membership and how "gun friendly" a Tennessee big city Knoxville really is.

The other GOP gubernatorial campaigns are also fighting back on this issue. The Wamp team has sent out a new endorsement for their candidate. It's from Ronnie Barrett, who according a news release is "a revered icon in the world of firearms manufacturing (CEO of Barrett Firearms) and staunch defender of the second amendment." And of course, the Ramsey campaign is still touting his endorsement by the Gun Owners Association of America based largely on the many pro-gun laws the Lt. Governor has helped pass in the General Assembly.

Getting back to campaign money, as these words are being written we still haven't heard from Mike McWherter concerning how much he's raised and spent (the deadline is July 14). I've mentioned before, to capitalize on any momentum from his recent endorsement by Governor Phil Bredesen, he needs to show a strong financial report this period. In that regard, I've heard some discouraging news for the McWherter team. While the recent fund raiser held for the Jackson Democrat by Governor Phil Bredesen reportedly raised somewhere around $200,000 or so, the hope was that it would reach a target of half a million dollars, particularly since part of lure to get donors to come to the event was to be able to visit the Governor's private home in Nashville where he has never hosted a fundraiser in the past.

McWherter in recent days also joined all his GOP opponents in publicly disagreeing with the Obama administration over the lawsuit it has filed challenging the constitutionality of Arizona's new immigration law. This has surprised and disappointed some parts of his Democratic base, but perhaps the strategy is to try and find a way to show some daylight on a few issues between an unpopular president (in Tennessee) and the Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

If so, Republicans are fighting back on that. The State Party has sent out an e-mail contrasting McWherter's latest statement ("I think the administration is wrong on this one") versus what he reportedly told the media just a month ago (June, 2010) after a Republican-led Tennessee General Assembly passed a resolution praising the Arizona bill. Said McWherter then: "I really think the immigration issue is a federal issue…it's got to be solved on a federal level."

Calling that a "flip-flop" the State GOP e-mail says McWherter is "making politically convenient statements meant to pander to voters."


The State GOP has its own problems, by the way. The Federal Election Commission has determined that it failed to report thousands of dollars in campaign donations and spending back in 2005 and 2006 as well as violating other finance laws. Party officials say corrections have been made, and even an outside vendor being used has been fired. But the allegations are certainly embarrassing particularly in the heat of the campaign season. You can be sure the Democrats will be looking for ways to continue to bring up this matter between now and November.


Ray Barrett has been around local government and elections in Nashville for as long as I can remember. As Administrator of Elections, he's brought stability to the Davidson County Election Commission and its work over the past few years. Given the history of that government agency, that's not easy to do.

Now Ray Barrett is retiring at the end of the year, in hopes his successor can be selected and come on board for a few months to learn the ropes during the fall election period. But Barrett's departure could signal the potential for political fireworks. While Nashville and Davidson County remains a heavily Democratic area, because the state legislature is controlled by the Republicans, the members of that body (local state GOP lawmakers) appoint the majority of the persons on the 5-member Davidson County Election Commission. And that's true in all the other 94 counties in Tennessee.

While this GOP control has worked well under Barrett (who was selected by a Democratic-controlled Commission), this will be the first time in modern history that a GOP controlled Election Commission has ever selected someone to run elections in Nashville. While members of the Commission on both sides are saying they hope to find the best person to be the next Administrator of Elections, regardless of party affiliation, we'll see how that works out.

As for Ray Barrett, congratulations on a job well done and good luck with your retirement!


One of the elections Ray Barrett will be overseeing here in Davidson County before he retires is the August Democratic State Senate primary between long-time incumbent Douglas Henry and young lawyer Jeff Yarbro.

This race continues to grow in intensity and interest with both candidates now going up on TV. The Yarbro ad seeks to explain why he is running now instead of waiting for Henry to retire. In the ad, Yarbro says it's because we can't wait on issues like school reform, so he needs to be elected now to help get that job done.

That idea, however, runs headlong in Governor Phil Bredesen, who has strongly endorsed Senator Henry and who is featured in the first Henry TV ad. The Governor specifically says one of the reasons he urged Senator Henry to run again is because he is needed to follow through on the school reforms that the Governor and the Senator helped get passed in the special session of the General Assembly back in January. Given the Governor's strong job approval numbers, his words may trump with voters over what Yarbro is saying. Also the Henry campaign has just released a new long list of education leaders (including current and past chairs and members of the Metro School Board and others) who endorse his re-election.

The Senator joins the Governor in the Henry TV ad, and here's where the spot may have a weakness. Several folks I have spoken to (not in the district) think the Senator may have come across to some as a little feeble in his short remarks. Age is an issue Yarbro has stayed away from in the campaign. But could the spot raise the question all by itself?

Yarbro is still raising other issues with Henry. That includes his pro-life reputation at the Capitol. Yarbro has sent out a new direct mail piece vowing his opposition to a proposed amendment to Tennessee constitution that he says restricts a woman's reproductive rights. This is clearly an effort to chip away at Henry's support among women in a district that, at least in some parts, is pro-choice.

Actually, it seems the deciding matter in this campaign may really be whether several of Senator Henry's long time supporters, who are usually Republicans, decide to stick with him and vote in the Democratic primary, or instead stay home and cast a vote in the hotly contested Republican gubernatorial contest. They can NOT do both. The early vote numbers could give us some clue about what they decide, although many may agonize right up until Election Day on August 5. Another deciding factor on this could be a public perception about whether the Republican gubernatorial race will be close or become a runaway for a particular candidate (Haslam?) by Election Day.


I will admit it.

Until I saw one of her yard signs the other day, I had never heard of CeCe Heil. She is a Nashville attorney with ties to the music industry, a small business owner, mother of 2 and a GOP candidate running for the 5th District congressional seat.

Of course, there are ELEVEN candidates in that race, so finding a way to stand out is certainly a tough job, especially since most political observers have seen Jeff Hartline as the front runner in the primary largely because of the financial support he is receiving in the Nashville business community, particularly from the Ingram brothers.

But CeCe Heil has now gotten some visibility in the race. Former Alaska governor and GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has endorsed her, saying she is someone who can "help restore common sense to Washington." Palin, who appears to be eyeing a run for President in 2012, is endorsing several congressional candidates across the nation, and calls Heil "a momma grizzly," apparently one of the pet terms she uses to refer to the women candidates she is supporting.

While the Palin endorsement will clearly give Held visibility, as far as support and votes that remains to be seen. Palin is a controversial figure, even among Republicans. She is hated by most Democrats. Her endorsement record is at best mixed. And besides whoever wins the GOP 5th congressional nomination will face a major uphill fight against incumbent Jim Cooper in a district that has been solidly Democratic for generations.


If you are looking for two August races that have gone negative in these final weeks, watch the TV ads in the 8th District GOP congressional race and now the GOP contest for the 6th District congressional seat.

The "Fighting 8th" has been a brawl from the beginning, but now the fight has reached a new level with candidate Ron Kirkland going hard against opponents Stephen Fincher and George Flinn. He's criticized Fincher for the farm subsidies he's received and Flinn for some past votes on taxes and to spend large amounts of money while in local elective office. Both of those attacked are fighting back as well against Kirkland and his record in public service (although I am not seeing any Fincher TV ads presently). You will notice that the candidates are attacking both their opponents, not just singling any one out. In a multi-candidate race that seems to be about the only way attack ads work.

This could all be just a warm up for the fall, as likely Democratic nominee State Senator Roy Herron is sure to have his hands full trying to keep the seat in his party's column as long time incumbent John Tanner is retiring. Based on what's happened so far, you can also expect the Republican National Congressional Committee to weigh in.

You will see the attack ad in play as well in the 6th District GOP congressional race where the first negative spot has now begun airing. It is coming from Murfreesboro businesswomen Lou Ann Zelenik. Her latest TV ad goes hard against her opponents, both of whom are members of the Tennessee State Senate, which probably makes her targeting of them rather simple to communicate. Plainly put, the Zelenik ad accuses Senators Diane Black and Jim Tracy of hypocrisy: talking about cutting government and spending in Washington while growing government and spending as elected officials in Tennessee.

Let's see if Black or Tracy decides to response. Usually the candidate who is behind make the attacks and those in the lead decide whether they need to respond based on community reaction and internal polling. Government spending is such a hot issue this year, Black (as the perceived frontrunner) may have to react, although maybe not on TV, unless the response to the Zelenik ad is so strong (and that may depend in large part on how much of her personal fortune she wants to spend to keep the ad on the air).

Black got up on the air first and began her ads several weeks ago. While she is considered to be the front runner, in some ways that may be more because of geography due to her voter strength in northern part of the district, while the other two major candidates (Tracy & Zelenik) are splitting the southern part around Murfreesboro and Shelbyville.

Jim Tracy seemed to wait a long time to get the air, to the point where I know some of his closest supporters had gotten concerned. Now you have to wonder if his ads will ever get out of the barbershop location used in both his spots so far. Is it a good idea running against two women to cast your TV spots in an all-male environment (although I noticed Tracy's second ad has added a token woman to the barbershop scene)?

Tracy's first ad was much like his other opponents, going strong against Washington (although his spot focused more on Congress and not President Obama. His second TV ad is even more interesting, as Tracy has gone strong against illegal immigration. With all the controversy about the new law in Arizona, does Tracy see this as his way to leap to the front? Will it also play in any way with the issue in Murfreesboro about building a new mosque and Islamic Center, which Zelenik has strongly come out against (although so far she has not mentioned on TV)?

With long time Democratic Congressman Bart Gordon retiring, this is the most likely congressional seat the GOP will pick up in Tennessee. So what happens in this primary race over the next few weeks could likely decide just who the new congressional representative will be from this part of the state.


If you ask most people outside of Nashville about what was the important facility damaged in the recent flood, probably the first thing they would mention is the Grand Ole Opry House. It is clearly Nashville's most prominent icon among tourists and conventioneers.

So that seems to be the thinking behind Mayor Karl Dean's decision for the city to contribute up to $20 million in Metro's hotel motel tax dollars to help Gaylord Entertainment, which owns the Opry House, to repair the extensive flood damage. The matter has to be approved by the Metro Council, but that seems likely to happen to me, along with an additional appropriation of $200,000 in hotel-motel funds to help promote the other tourist-related businesses in the Music Valley area around Opryland, which have been hard hit by the temporary closure of the Opry House and the Hotel.

There was also talk about Metro giving funds to repair the damage at the Hotel as well. But that seemed to give city officials some pause. Perhaps it might be considered setting a precedent of city funds going to any local hotel in the future damaged by fire or some other disaster.

I am somewhat surprised that Gaylord isn't making a bit of fuss about not getting help for both the hotel and the Opry, especially since this hotel-motel money had already been set aside by Metro to give to Gaylord to pay for a possible expansion of the hotel, although that was shelved even before the flood. But I suppose getting something at all is seen as a good thing by Gaylord, which has had an up and down relationship with Metro government, especially recently while the city debated building a new convention center.

Construction of the new Music City Center is well underway. But like any major project (and this is the largest in Nashville history), there are a few growing pains. First, some Metro council members and others are disappointed at how few construction contracts have been awarded to local companies so far. Also, they ask, where are all the local jobs that have been promised? After at first saying not to worry, the new Convention Center Authority seems to be taking some steps to get more local people hired. They also promise many more contracts will be awarded and more of those are likely to be given out locally. But watch this issue. You can be sure those who have been complaining will continue to watch it like a hawk.

Another question is when will the Greyhound bus station finally move so the full construction site can be cleared? A temporary location has been ready for weeks at a former car dealership on Charlotte Avenue. But apparently bus officials don't want to move until they have a final OK in place for their permanent new location which is somewhere along Lafayette Street I am told. But how much longer will Metro wait before they feel forced to go back to court to force the bus station to move?

And speaking of waiting, how are things coming on a new convention hotel? Metro had to delay that part of the Music City Center project because frankly, it just doesn't seem to have the money to be a part of a public-private partnership to build it. The Dean administration says it is talking to several hotel groups and developers, but so far no one seems to be able to come up with a plan.

That seems to be making local convention and visitors officials a bit nervous. Many convention experts believe a new convention center can only be successful with a new hotel closely adjoining the convention center. Local convention and visitor officials swallowed their concerns and doubts when the city deferred the hotel.

They knew the important thing then was to get the Center itself approved, which has been done. But what happens now? There are also those in the hotel community (Opryland, in particular) who are strongly opposed to Metro having any ownership in the hotel, because it would likely put them into competition with the government (which they probably couldn't win).

Right now, that's not the biggest issue, as Metro has yet to identify a revenue stream to fund how it could even be an ownership partner in a hotel. But it still needs a hotel. It is perhaps the biggest remaining problem for the new Music City Center, and one that will only grow in concern as the new center rises and moves towards completion without a deal for a new hotel.


One last note: why has Congress decided that it needs to get religion about balancing the budget and cutting the debt? That's easy, the election is coming and voters are mad.

But if they really want to solve the issue, why are they deciding to balance the budget by refusing to approve the funds to aid the long-term unemployed? Thousands every day, including folks in Tennessee, are losing their unemployment compensation monies and are left without that important safety net of support.

These folks did not cause the Great Recession, so why should they should they bear the burden? Why are playing political "gotcha" games more important than really addressing the deficit issues which have a lot more to do with runaway entitlement programs not unemployment monies?

What Congress ought to do is cut off its' own funds and perks until the members begin to resolve this matter. Then maybe they will now understand just how so many people in this country are hurting and having a really tough time, and why that is so unfair, especially since you can argue that many of them have lost their jobs because of the policy blunders of the past made in Washington and by Congress.