Capitol View Commentary: Friday, September 3, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, September 3, 2010

CREATED Sep 3, 2010


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

September 3, 2010


He's carried Tennessee twice while being elected President of the United States.

So can Bill Clinton help Jackson businessman Mike McWherter be elected governor in November, even though at least one poll shows the Democratic nominee is at much as 25 points behind his Republican opponent, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam?

That's a pretty tall order, even if (as McWherter claims) Clinton will likely come here several times in the next few weeks to campaign. His first visit is for a campaign rally in Nashville, September 9. It's not surprising Clinton would come to help. McWherter's father, former Governor Ned McWherter has been a long time family friend and advisor.

Former President Clinton may also be the only national Democrat that could help McWherter. He has the chance to be able to motivate the base of the party here, something which seems to be lagging, not only in Tennessee, but across the nation, while Republicans seem energized.

I would doubt President Barack Obama or Vice-President Joe Biden could help much in the polls although they (like Clinton) could likely help raise money. However, in coming here, even for a private fundraiser, the presence of the President and others (besides Clinton) would likely hurt McWherter by allowing Republicans to tie him further to an increasingly unpopular administration in Washington. The same is true if some reason House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid dropped by.

Regardless, at the end of the day, the McWherter campaign needs to continue to define its candidate and its campaign for who he is…not for who is endorsing him. It won't be nearly enough to put McWherter over the top in November if he has to continue to lean on those who endorse him (his father and former Governor Ned McWherter, current Governor Phil Bredesen and now former President Bill Clinton), rather than effectively telling voters who he is and what he can do for Tennessee as its next governor.


I realized after finishing last week's column it was the first time in many months, I had written little or nothing about the governor's race. I doubt that will happen again before November.

For the first time since they won their nominations, both Bill Haslam and Mike McWherter appeared together on the same stage on August 31. It was part of a Town Hall forum organized by First Lady Andrea Conte at the new Conservation Hall facility at the Governor's Residence. It was not a debate and the candidates did not respond to the same questions. But it was a fascinating evening, if for no other reason than who the questioners were…Nashville high school students from both public and private schools, many of whom will be voting for the first time this fall. How did they do? Out of the mouths of babes! The students asked informed, in-depth questions on many important issues, especially in the area of education. (Full disclosure: I acted as a mentor for the students at Father Ryan to help them formulate the structure of their questions) What did the candidates think? Well, both of them told me afterwards that the students' questions were better than mine! Ouch!

The candidates only got a minute to respond to each question, so no breaking news occurred, although for the first time Haslam indicated that TennCare is likely to be a part of future state budget cuts due to the state facing a $1.5 billion shortfall when the new governor takes office in January. Actually it is one of the first times Haslam has pinpointed any state agency or program for possible cuts.

McWherter made headlines by condemning the recent arson and vandalism that occurred at the proposed controversial Islamic mosque site in Rutherford County. (The governor had made similar comments earlier and Haslam added his voice in condemning the arson and vandalism to reporters after the event).

It didn't get picked up in the media, but one other part of Haslam's responses during the event seemed strange to me. When I have seen or interviewed him, he rarely struggles with an answer. But when a student asked him a question that led him to speak about the governor's weak veto powers, the Knoxville mayor flubbed it. He kept saying that it only took "one vote" to override a gubernatorial veto. That's not right. It takes votes in both the State House and the State to override a veto (although just a simple constitutional majority not some super majority like a 2/3 vote. He probably just got confused or misspoke, but it's something he'll to understand very well if he becomes our state's next chief executive.


I mentioned earlier that the Governor and both the candidates seeking to take his place have issued strong condemnations against the vandalism and arson committed against construction equipment on the site of the new mosque planned to be built in Murfreesboro.

But while such statements have found strong support in the community, there are some who wonder if they come "too little, too late" Such is the headline on an article by Andy Sher of THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS (September 1). He quotes Ibrahim Hooper from the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Of Governor Bredesen he says: "That's a good statement, but perhaps it would have been more beneficial coming earlier and also coming earlier in the repudiation of the voices of bigotry that have been very loud in this debate."

The Governor's spokeswoman says he wasn't asked for his comment by the media until he made them just the other day, which was "after this escalated to a level that he clearly feels is out of line."

As for the gubernatorial candidates, Hooper has some qualms about their positions as well, despite both of them calling for those responsible being caught and punished to the full extent of the law. But what bothers Hooper is what a Haslam spokesman also said: ""The mayor's faith is very important to him, and he respects the right of others to practice their faith, so long as they are respectful of the communities in which they live and the laws of the land." The statement makes Hooper wonder if that carries "an implication that somehow Muslims are not respectful of the communities in which they live or the laws of the land. I guess that (Haslam statement) is what you'd call a back-handed compliment."

Hooper also says he thinks some of what Mike McWherter said is "very strange" as well. Said the candidate: "There's a reason why our forefathers adopted that (freedom of religion), adopted that as the First Amendment to our Constitution. But having said that, I truly understand the concerns in some neighborhoods about bringing these kinds of institutions in. You can't just drop these into the middle of a very quiet neighborhood and expect the same quality of life."

Responds Hooper: "It was very strange. You know, kind of like we don't want any more black families in the neighborhood because more might come in."

I think that may be a little harsh in an analysis of both candidates, but it's clear that for whatever reason and motivation, it took acts of arson and vandalism before our political leaders got the guts up to finally say much of anything at all about this controversy (other than those who pandered to it during the primary season). When I questioned the gubernatorial candidates in the last few weeks, I only got a litany of platitudes from the candidates trying to be on both sides of the issue, saying things like: "freedom of religion is important, but this is a local zoning issue."

Now that hate has (as it always does) overplayed its hand, it has forced candidates to finally stand up and at least try to take a stand.

Says Hooper: it's "better than never (to say something) but still too late."

BREAKING NEWS: The FBI has called a news conference Friday afternoon (after this column was being written) to give an update on the vandalism and arson investigation.)


Also as this column is being written, there is word that GOP gubernatorial rivals, Bill Haslam and Congressman Zach Wamp are having lunch today (Friday) in Oak Ridge.

Everyone is saying nice things now in the media, so I think we can rule out a political nuclear explosion of some kind coming out of the meeting.

But right after the primary, Wamp was very cool to the GOP nominee both in his concession speech ("sometimes the best candidate doesn't win") and at a GOP unity rally, where Wamp looked like he really didn't want to be there or even shake hands with Haslam.

Some kind of public display of togetherness between the two would be good thing for the Tennessee GOP. But, for right now, wouldn't you just love to be a fly on the wall during their lunch? Or will this estrangement remain a fly in the ointment (or in their soup) for Republicans in Tennessee?


The campaign of Republican 5th district congressional candidate David Hall remains a real puzzlement. After seemingly coming out of nowhere to win the primary in an 11-candidate field, there remain questions about he got so many votes. Was it: his first position on the ballot; his grass roots campaigning especially in areas of the district outside Nashville, his last name being the same as Nashville Sheriff Daron Hall, or his previous race for State Senate in 2008 when he got over 40% of the vote against a strong incumbent in a Democratic year?

No one can say for sure, and now there are more questions arising about his campaign tactics. First, the Federal Election Commission has questioned in-kind contributions of over $200,000 he received from a mysterious marketing group which Hall now claims he owns and can make the contributions as personal donations (even though he seemed to portrayed as fundraising numbers during the primary).

But it takes a reporter like NewsChannel5's Phil Williams to raise the most interesting questions about the Hall campaign. In a recent interview, Williams wanted to know more about Hall charging young people $250 to attend a summer camp here in Nashville where it appears their major tasks were to do campaigning for Hall, including waiving his political signs in front of early voting sites.

While that all by itself might raise some questions about Hall's actions (perhaps giving a new meaning to the word "campaign volunteer,"?) in talking with Williams Hall seemingly compounded the matter by repeatedly telling Phil that the camp never happened and that repeated information posted on his campaign Facebook page about the camp being under way and bringing young people to town was posted in error by a campaign volunteer. Finally, he even told Williams he should interview his one of his sons about the matter, not him, because his son was who was supposed to organize the camp.


And, believe it or not, it gets even stranger. As a part of a very politically-involved family, another Hall, Dymon, one of the congressional candidate's sons, won the Republican nomination to run this fall in House District 50 here in Nashville. He has asked the Davidson County Election Commission to appear on the ballot as Dave Hall (he says Dave is his middle name). Not fair said another candidate, Dave Rosenberg and he took the Commission to court when they allowed Hall to appear under the name he requested.

Rosenberg claims that the younger Hall is using identical campaign branding and even the same robocalls as his Dad. He claims that with Hall allowed to use the almost identical name of his father, it gives him an unfair and illegal advantage in the race. A Chancery Judge has now ruled in Rosenburg's favor, issuing an order to the Election Commission "to require further identifying information on the 2010 general election ballot so that the Republican candidate for the 50th District of the Tennessee House of Representatives is described as either by his legal name "Dymon Dave Hall" or that name under which he sought nomination "Dymon Hall" in order to reduce misleading of confusing voters using that ballot."

The Court has allowed the Election Commission to appeal the ruling at a hearing on September 13, but given legal deadlines for finalizing the ballot, there won't be much time to litigate this. What a strange situation indeed.

Ironically, it seems the younger Hall and candidate Rosenberg will likely get more public notice and publicity out of this legal matter, than anything they've been able to do on the campaign trail so far.



I want to tell you about our next two INSIDE POLITICS shows.

This weekend we will feature a lively conversation with two well-known local political consultants: Larry Woods, an attorney and a prominent Democratic activist, and Chip Saltsman, a former GOP State Party Chair and a consultant who has worked for presidential candidate Mike Huckabee among others.

With the Labor Day holiday weekend being the historic kick-off time for the fall general election, I can't think of a better time for these two to analyze the national and state political scene and tell us how they think things are looking to shake out come November.

You can catch INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. That includes Comcast & Charter cable channels 250 as well as Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2. Our air times are 7 p.m. Friday (September 3), 5 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday (September 4), and Sunday (September 5) at 5 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

Next weekend (September 10-12), our INSIDE POLITICS show will take a look at the new $250 million, 800 room Metro Convention Center hotel proposal. While it will now be privately financed, is it a good deal for Nashville, given the large incentive package (well over $100 million) that the city must pay to the Omni Hotel owners who are building and will own the facility?

Our guests will include Nashville businessman Marty Dickens. He is the chairman of Metro's Convention Center Authority which has already given preliminary approval to the plan, along with three Metro Council leaders (Emily Evans, a sometimes critics of the Convention Center plan, Rip Ryman, the chair of Council's Convention Center committee, and Megan Barry, who is the chair of the powerful Budget & Finance Committee this year).

Our air times on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS are the same as usual each weekend.

It's a very interesting discussion and hopefully it will provide a lot of insight about this project which combined with the new convention center itself is clearly the largest single development in the history of our city.

I am promoting this second show ahead of time because along with the Labor Day holiday, I am taking some time off and there will no CAPITOL VIEW column next week.

Enjoy the Labor Day holiday weekend!


I suspect Governor Phil Bredesen will enjoy the holiday. Surely, he is feeling good, particularly about a new national report that shows, based on our size, Tennessee has the least amount of debt of any state in the nation!

Maybe the Governor can toot his own horn about it on Facebook. That's right, our state's chief executive has now joined that social media craze. I found his FB page the other day and sent him a request to be friends (which he granted).

I'll bet the Governor has one advantage over many of us being on Facebook. Given his Harvard degree in Physics and his expertise in computers, he probably really understands how all these bytes and other things work on FB, which I guess can be both enlightening and maybe a little scary as well.