Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 23, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 23, 2010

CREATED Jul 23, 2010


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

July 23, 2010


As we conclude our conversations with those who would be the next governor of the State of Tennessee, Chattanooga Congressman Zach Wamp is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. Actually, the GOP gubernatorial hopeful was the first candidate we had on the show for this race when we begin inviting them come on back in the spring. So I guess there's some symmetry there.

INSIDE POLITICS has hosted all four of the major candidates for governor twice for interviews, including each of them over these last four weeks in July. To say the least, it's been quite interesting to talk with them, especially as we enter the final weeks of the campaign and early voting begins. The ratings have been growing too!

Zach Wamp is always energetic. He believes he is the candidate with momentum, with a special surprise coming Election Day when he thinks he will show unexpectedly strong support in the Memphis/Shelby County area. He believes that will happen because he has spent a lot of time there especially after local DA Bill Gibbons dropped out of the race. But with Wamp going on the air about a week ago with the first attack ad of the campaign against perceived frontrunner Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, it appears Wamp is likely still in the challenger's role along with Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey.

You can once again see INSIDE POLITICS on WTVF-TV, NewsChannel5 at 6:30 p.m. tonight (Friday, July 23) as well as on Sunday morning at 5 a.m. You can also catch us on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS on Comcast & 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 (tonight), 5 a.m. & 5:30 p.m. Saturday (July 24) and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. Sunday (July 25).


We'll get a new update on where the governor's race stands on Sunday (July 25). An alliance consisting of the state's major daily newspapers, are unveiling an independent statewide poll on the contest. That will be followed in next few days with survey results of what voters see as the major issues.

My guess is the poll shows Bill Haslam still in the lead. But what about all these TV attack ads that now all three candidates in the GOP primary race are airing? What is that doing?

The short answer is it's hard to say for sure, but here are some thoughts. The Wamp ad began a week ago and followed a somewhat similar attack spot against Haslam aired by a shadowy outside group from Iowa.

The law does not allow outside groups to coordinate their efforts with any candidate, and while some media reports (NASHVILLE CITY PAPER 7/23) have cited potential links between the Wamp campaign and the American Future Fund, no firm evidence has been presented about that, and the Congressman, during his interview with me on INSIDE POLITICS, denied any relationship between himself and his campaign with the American Future Fund group.

The Haslam team's first response to both these TV attacks was to air a thirty-second spot featuring the candidate, with his wife by his side, saying it has been his hope to keep the campaign about the issues, not attacks, and that he planned to continue to try and do that. He deplored the attacks and dismissed them as distortions and "the politics of Washington, not Tennessee."

The Haslam ad was not specific in mentioning or refuting any particular charge or attack. It appeared to be something the Haslam campaign already had produced some time ago and was ready to take off the shelf for use as soon as any attack was made.

But it appears this first ad was not enough for the Haslam campaign. Even before the first spot seemed to run its schedule, a new sixty-second ad (double the time of the first commercial) was released on Thursday (July 22). It is entitled "Enough Is Enough", and Haslam took off the gloves. Speaking directly into the camera, he took on Zach Wamp personally, not just trying to refute his charges but making some of his own as well.

"Zach Wamp knows I support the Second Amendment. He knows that Knoxville has the lowest property tax rate in over 50 years," said Mayor Haslam, among other responses. Then he went after the Congressman directly: "(He) wants to talk about my money because he doesn't want to talk about what he's been doing with yours. He has never made a payroll and never balanced a budget. He broke his promises on term limits and accepting special interest money." Haslam also went after Wamp about his vote for earmarks in particular "The Bridge to Nowhere," then closing the spot, he asked voters to "listen to the facts, not the attacks." (By way, even though we taped our INSIDE POLITICS show with Wamp prior to this new Haslam ad, I asked him specifically about many of these charges and issues).

So why did the Haslam campaign double up on its response ads? Was it just having enough, and responding by letting Wamp have it, but good? Or is this a sign that the Haslam campaign's tracking polls show some movement by Wamp? After all, it does appear that Haslam was still running his ad taking the right road about attacks at the same time he began making attacks on his own? Is the Haslam camp getting nervous?

Maybe the new statewide poll will shed some light on this come Sunday, although that survey may or may not have been in the field at the right time to measure any late movement in the race.

What about Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey's campaign? He's gotten into the attack act too. In fact, he has the only TV spot that attacks both of his rivals, while also extolling his own virtues for stopping tax increases in the General Assembly. Ramsey is airing two other new TV spots, both trying to attract voters to his side with issue-oriented ads, one showing his tough stand on immigration and the other a testimonial about his strong support for gun rights.

As this column is being written, Ramsey is calling on Tennessee's Attorney General to join as a friend of the court in support of the State of Arizona in its lawsuit with the federal government about the state's pending immigration law. This is clearly an effort by the Ramsey forces to build support for his campaign by leveraging the public controversy and outcry over this matter. It mirrors what Ramsey tried to do earlier in the year in a failed effort to get the state's AG to file a lawsuit against the new federal health care law. I suspect this immigration effort by Ramsey will also fall on deaf ears with AG Bob Cooper. But Ramsey doesn't have to succeed to make this immigration issue work for him to motivate his base and give them even more reason to vote for him for governor. And even if he loses the governor's race, Ramsey can still pursue this matter as Lt. Governor including seeking to amend the state constitution to have future AGs elected by the voters not by the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Congressman Wamp said in our interview during INSIDE POLITICS that the Ramsey's campaign is losing supporters in droves who are coming over to his side. But that is perhaps some wishful thinking, as Wamp and Ramsey have been splitting the conservative vote and money throughout the campaign, dearly costing both of them in the race against Haslam.

You can look for still more attack ads in the governor's race in the days to come. Given the direct approach by Haslam calling out Wamp personally on the air, I would suspect he will respond in kind (Wamp's first ad was delivered by a spokesperson, not the Congressman). Look for Wamp's response soon.

But frankly the heated rhetoric and back-and-forth charges in the governor's campaign pale in comparison to what is going on with the TV ads in both of this area's open congressional races (6th and 8th). Like the governor's contest, both feature major three-way fights among Republicans, and frankly there are so many claims being thrown back and forth, you almost need to have a printed program to keep up with who is saying what about whom. I would bet nearly all of them would tell you that Ronald Reagan is one of their political heroes. Well if he is, they've all forgotten one of his cardinal rules, his 11th commandment he used to call it: "Never speak ill of another Republican." Boy, has that been thrown out the window in Tennessee this summer!

I think there might be one other downside for the candidates in all these political attack ads. It's a pet peeve of mine that the ads for candidates these days are often remiss in telling viewing for what position they are seeking. With multiple campaigns in different races airing attack ads in the same TV market for sometimes unspecified offices, pity the poor voters in trying to figure out, not just who to vote for, but who is even running for what and against whom.

But until Election Day, much like our very hot, humid weather, you can expect at least more of the same, if not still more political ads every time you flip on the tube, turn on the radio, pick up your mail or read your e-mail.

It is the season.


The Federal Corps of Engineers finally got smart. They apologized.

The agency went to Washington for the congressional hearings sponsored by Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander concerning the devastating May Flood here in Nashville, and finally admitted what everyone has known: the Corps did a terrible job in communicating its actions and the dangers the community faced during this disaster. That terrible job cost lives and millions of dollars in unnecessary damages as public officials, businesses and residents did not get the correct information they needed in order to evacuate people and possessions out of harm's way. It would have made a big difference!

The Corps is still denying that the way it released water out of area dams before, during and after the flood made a big deal, but I am not sure they are exactly dealing from a position of strong credibility these days given their other actions. In fact, Congressman Jim Cooper is still so steamed about how the Flood was handled he says most Boy Scout troops are better prepared than the Corps was for what happened. Remember for a couple of weeks after the Flood, the Corps first denied any need to do an extensive study about what happened, before changing its mind. Then right before the congressional hearings, The Corps likely angered congressional leaders by saying it wasn't sure the first study about the flood would be ready in time (even though that was why the hearing was scheduled).

At least Corps officials got the study completed, then came to the hearing and apologized. They also pledged that they would work to make sure something like this never happens again. Those statements will make a big difference for the Corps going forward in dealing with the public.

I would not be surprised to see more congressional hearings happen as another more extensive study is done by Corps. Meanwhile, Senator Alexander seems ready to continue to push for a national new warning system about flooding that will be as quick and effective as what we all see when tornadoes and severe storms are occurring. That's a very good idea, and could at least bring one positive legacy out of how poorly the Corps, and to some degree, the National Weather Service responded in this Nashville disaster.

I also expect Congressman Cooper will continue to talk a lot of about the Flood in his re-election campaign this fall. He can claim (rightly I think) that he had a lot to do with the positive help FEMA and the SBA brought to residents here. And he can cite how tough he's been on the federal agencies that haven't done so well, such as the Corps. Besides, in this election cycle as a Democrat and an incumbent, it's sure better for him with many voters to be talking about those matters than the new national health care bill or immigration.

By the way the race to win the GOP nomination to oppose Cooper this fall continues to attract some national figures. With Ce Ce Helm garnering an endorsement from Sarah Palin, now former presidential candidate and Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is doing robo-calls for Jeff Hartline, who is considered the best funded GOP candidate in this congressional race.



In not much of a surprise, Senator Alexander has announced he will vote against Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. I suspect his GOP colleague, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, will also soon announce the same.

In something of a surprise last year (which angered many Tennessee conservatives), Senator Alexander did vote for President Barack Obama's first Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor. But he voted against Kagan in 2009 for her current position as Solicitor General. It seems his vote this time is based on the same rationale as before. Senator Alexander says: "I remain deeply troubled by her aggressive opposition to allowing military recruiters the same access to the Harvard Law School as other prospective employers when she was its dean." The controversy then surrounded the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding gays serving in the military.

Alexander says that remains relevant for him because he has no judicial record to review for Ms. Kagan since she has never been a judge. But frankly, given judicial appointments, it is hard to say how the Senate makes up its mind on some judges.

Take the nomination of Nashville attorney Jane Stranch to the U.S Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. She was nominated way back in August of last year, yet a vote on her nomination can't seem to get to the floor of the full Senate. She got a positive vote in committee back in November. There's not any apparent public effort to block her, even Senator Alexander says he supports her. So what's up? Who knows other than maybe just petty politics?

Recently, it was the Senate Minority Leader himself, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky who objected to having a floor vote saying: "I know my good friend from Tennessee is interested in this nomination. There were however some no votes in committee and we'll be running the traps on our side to see if we can work out both a debate time and a time to take this nomination in the not-too-distant future."

I am not sure how the good Senator measures time, but clearly his watch runs slower than most, since he is still "running traps" about members who cast no votes about this matter some 8 months ago. The Senate has many anti-democratic rules that allow for a single member to hold up legislation and nominations just because they want to or feel like it. They don't have to give a reason. They can even do it anonymously.

And this is not something new. The Democrats did the same thing, when the Republicans controlled both the White House and the Congress.

But it's time it stopped.