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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, October 1, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, October 1, 2010

CREATED Oct 1, 2010

CAPITOL VIEW

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

October 1, 2010

COMPLETING THE CIRCLE; THE YEAR OF THE CRANE; METRO COMMITTEES; EMERGENCY RESPONDERS; INSIDE POLITICS; DEALING WITH THE DAMAGE

Slowly, but surely, Nashville is recovering from the devastating May floods. While still too many people and families are struggling to make their way, and too many homes still lie abandoned, there are continuing signs of hope.

The recent re-opening of the Grand Ole Opry House gave the community a chance to celebrate the progress that has been made, as well as the apparent significant improvements to the Opry's dressing rooms and other parts of that facility. There will likely be more of the same type of celebration coming on New Year's Eve when the Schermerhorn Symphony Hall is set to re-open a month ahead of schedule after the repair of its severe flood damage.

There were times in Nashville's history (the Opry is about to celebrate its 85th birthday) when our political and business leaders acted like they didn't really care about the Opry and maybe didn't even want it in Nashville. Now fortunately that's changed. What also hopefully will change is the antipathy by some in the community against the Opry's owner, Gaylord Entertainment. Some still hold a grudge that it closed the Opryland theme park.

But Gaylord should be commended for what it doing to restore the Opry House and, for that matter, the Opryland Hotel, which should be re-opened in just a few weeks. Particularly as it concerns the Opry, this flood disaster could have offered Gaylord the opportunity to begin to move away from Opry, maybe (as has been rumored in the past) to give it to the Country Music Foundation. But Gaylord is obviously committed to the Opry, to the hotel and, it appears, to Nashville.

That's a circle we need to keep unbroken for as long as possible.

Among the various homes of the Opry, it has always been the Ryman that seemed closest to everyone's hearts. But the flooding and restoration of the New Opry House seems to have finally crystallized and brought to the surface, a deep affection that has grown up around the Opryland facility which was originally opened and dedicated on a night almost 36 years ago (1974) when Roy Acuff and then- President Richard Nixon took turns on stage playing with a fiddle and a yo-yo.

But some financial storm clouds remain close by. The continuing difficulties of the Opry Mills mall next door (where the old theme park was located) remains a concern, especially with it likely remaining closed throughout the coming holiday season because of an ongoing dispute with its insurance carrier about who pays what to repair its extensive flood damage. And since Opry Mills attracts customers on a regional, not just local basis, the loss of sales tax revenue for Metro could be serious and not something that can be made up by former Opry Mills shoppers going to Green Hills Mall or elsewhere. There also appear to be some stores already jumping ship and either leaving town or relocating elsewhere outside Davidson County. That could be another issue for the city, and if Opry Mills never reopens, things could go from bad to worse for Metro financially.

Within hours of the Opry House celebration, we've learned again that local folks can lose everything in a flash: their homes, their keepsakes and all their possessions. This time it is not from water but from fire as a rash of major apartment house fires in Nashville and across the mid-state have devastated dozens of families. Hopefully, much as we did for those impacted by the flood, our community will rally around those in need once again.

THE YEAR OF THE CRANE

In recent days, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has been making the rounds with the local media reflecting on his first three years in office and (more or less) announcing what everyone already figured….that he is running for re-election next August.

The Mayor appears to be in a very strong position. His accomplishments (including the approval and construction of the new convention center and his leadership in the wake of the flood) will make him tough to beat. In fact, right now, despite those who continue to criticize his handling of the state fairgrounds, it is hard to see Mayor Dean have much serious opposition next summer.

There will be a test soon in the Metro Council about the fairgrounds issue. Councilman Duane Dominy (who is also running for the state legislature) has introduced legislation to keep the State Fair and the Expo Center operating at the Fairgrounds until a plan for the future is in place or a new location is chosen within Davidson County. The Mayor wants Metro out of the fair (and racetrack) business and, after giving a one-year extension, he wants to shut everything down at the Fairgrounds at the end of the year.

The Mayor has also likely divided his Fairgrounds opposition by the city renting and/or buying space in the Hickory Hollow Mall to house the outside vendors who have been at the Fairgrounds and it current Expo Center such as the monthly Flea Market, and the annual Christmas Village and the Lawn & Garden Shows. That move, plus the Council's reluctance so far to speak out or buck the Mayor on this matter, and I would think he will come out on top here.

In fact, Mayor Dean may well be able to spend much of his time campaigning for re-election by going to groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings for the dozens of new facilities all over the city that Metro plans to build over the next year or so, all of them funded by two recent large bond issues (in the hundreds of millions of dollars) approved by the Metro Council. In addition to the convention center, that includes a groundbreaking a few days from now that will bring work to revitalize the East Bank of the Cumberland River with a water park and several other new amenities.

There is so much that will be going on that the mascots for the Mayor's re-election campaign could be the overhead crane and a bulldozer. And he is talking about other projects, a new downtown amphitheater, a baseball park at old Sulphur Dell, even building more light-rail mass transit service for the city.

Most importantly, he can tell voters that he has done all this without raising property tax during his entire four-year term, the first time that has been done in Metro since Mayor Richard Fulton's first term from 1975 to 1979.

Of course, major new developments like these (police precincts, schools, libraries, parks) don't just have the capital costs to build them, there's also the operating costs once they are complete and openj for business. So come the next term for Mayor Dean and the Council, they may need some new mascots, like chickens coming home to roost.

METRO COMMITTEES

The Metro Council has taken many votes to approve the new convention center, and more loom ahead as city leaders consider approval of an adjoining 800-room hotel that will be built by the Omni Corporation.

Some council members (mostly those who opposed the convention center) feel the way their committee appointments have been made by Vice-Mayor Diane Neighbors there won't be sufficient debate allowed over the hotel. That's political baloney.

Metro's committee system in the Council is open to all its members. Any council person can come and engage in the debate. They can't vote in the committee unless they are members, but the local process here is not like the Tennessee General Assembly. All bills are reported to the floor for action. Committees cannot bottle up legislation like they can on the Hill, so the committee makeup is not nearly so critical for approval.

Those who are complaining just need to get more votes on their side if they want more debate (so the previous question isn't called) or to amend defer or defeat the proposal. That's called the legislative process in this country. Based on the past convention center votes, which were lopsidedly in favor of the bills, those folks have some work to do. That's where they need to spend their time, not worrying about who is appointed or not appointed to committees, although the Vice Mayor needs to be sure that both fairness and expertise are recognized in how those slots are filled.

There's one other interesting note to observe about the convention center. According to an on-line story by Michael Cass of THE TENNESSEAN (September 30), there appear to be some glitches or a delay in efforts by Omni and the Country Music Foundation to include an expansion of the Country Music Hall of Fame into the construction of the Omni Hotel. This is a joint effort that Mayor Dean has raved about in discussing how unique and important this could be to the overall success of the new convention center.

But Finance Director Rich Riebeling told the Metro Convention Center Authority that Omni and the Country Music Foundation "can't negotiate forever" and indicated there's about one month left to reach a deal before Metro needs to move ahead so the hotel will be open sometime in 2013. So is this a real probIem? Or is Riebeling just trying to get one or both sides off the dime and work out a deal? Stay tuned.

GOVERNOR'S RACE

"I'm right where I want to be right now if want to know the truth about it."

That's what Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike McWherter told reporters in Nashville the other day. Right where he wants to be, huh? So that's 20 points or more behind in every poll I've seen, and so underfunded, he admits he is going to have to put a significant amount of his own fortune (McWherter has already given $1 million) into his campaign coffers to get his TV ads back on the air before early voting begins October 13. Is that really where he wants to be?

And then there's this from Governor Phil Bredesen, whose endorsement is probably the best thing McWherter has going for him. According to a posting on the HUMPHREY ON THE HILL blog (compiled by KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL reporter Tom Humphrey) Bredesen was campaigning for Democratic state house candidate Nathan Vaughn who is seeking to regain his seat in Upper East Tennessee. Bredesen says he believes Democrats might just pull a surprise and find a way to win back the lower chamber November 2. But as for endorsements, the Governor admitted this:

"I never believed in the coattail notion. I just think people make their decisions….When I ran for governor the first time (unsuccessfully against Don Sundquist in 1994), (outgoing Democrat governor) Ned McWherter (Mike's father0 was going out of office in great popularity and in the end that stuff doesn't do anything."

So, in light of those comments, again, is Mike McWherter really where he wants to be?

On the positive side, McWherter, a Jackson businessman (a beer distributor) has garnered a major endorsement from THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES newspaper. According to a news release from the McWherter campaign, the endorsement was given because of McWherter's "business experience and transparent approach to governance." Contrasting that with Bill Haslam, the paper said: "He (McWherter) personally financed and built his own business…it wasn't handed to him. Thus he has bona fide hands-on understanding of what makes small businesses tick, the necessary fuel for ginning up the state's most reliable job generator." The paper also criticized Haslam for not disclosing his personal finances saying: "That what you get for opening your wallet."

But Republican Haslam continues to roll along. He got an endorsement vote of over 90% from the Tennessee members of National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and even got the nod from a labor union (the Southeast Laborer District Council). Haslam also has a major fundraiser coming up in Nashville on Monday night (October 4) hosted by former Tennessee U.S. Senator and Majority Leader Bill Frist and his wife, Karyn. They are backed by a who's-who list of local Republican leaders on a host committee. It is said the fund raiser (likely the last one of the campaign) could raise between half a million and a million dollars (tickets are $1000 per person).

The Haslam campaign has also begun running another very interesting (and probably effective) TV spot. It's another endorsement ad, but this time, the man speaking has a little existing profile, at least in West Tennessee. His name is Franklin Smith, the Mayor of Haywood County. He's says he is "100% Democrat and never voted for a Republican for governor, ‘til now."

Smith says he has been trying for 5 years to get the new mega-site industrial park in his county underway because "we needed these rural jobs". But he says until he got help from "a few Democrats and one great Republican mayor" he couldn't get things moving. Now he claims (sitting on a roaring bulldozer at the site) "soon these ‘dozers will be rolling."

"I am voting for the man, Bill Haslam," he continues. "I don't care if he's a Whig or a Mugwamp!"

I don't know how many "yellow dog" Democrats they are who feel like this, but an ad with this kind of message coming from a politician in West Tennessee (the home base for McWherter) can't be good news for the Democratic candidate. On its face, it would appear to be even more powerful than the list of 100-plus prominent Democrats and Independents who announced their support for Haslam a few days ago.

Now there are a couple of efforts to pull down the Haslam vote. McWherter is running radio ads on thel talk shows questioning Haslam's true conservative credentials on issues such as gun control and taxes. The purpose is probably not to get those listening to vote for McWherter but maybe not vote at all, which would help the Democrat by denying those votes to Haslam.

There is also an effort underway by some of the independent gubernatorial candidates to ban together and pull off a most unlikely upset by defeating both Haslam and McWherter November 2. According to the Tennessee Tea Party Newsline (which says it is not endorsing this plan), independents Samuel Duck and Carl Whitaker are announcing they are ending their campaigns (even though it is too late to get off the ballot) and now endorsing Brandon Dodds for Governor.

Their release says: "…It is Tennessee's turn to score a major victory over the political establishment. We are called the Volunteer stare because brave men like Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone laid down their lives for the state of Texas at the Alamo."

Uh…Daniel Boone did not die at the Alamo. Perhaps they are confused with Sam Bowie. Either way, this last minute scheme has probably less than a zero chance of going anywhere, but it does shows the anger out there in some quarters against any candidate of either of the major parties.

EMERGENCY RESPONDERS

The 5th District congressional race has been kind of quiet it seems to me. But there has been quite a scramble to garner endorsements from the area's First Responders. It began with the local Andrew Jackson Lodge 5 of the Fraternal Order of Police endorsing Republican David Hall, which came as a shock to most observers.

But Democratic incumbent Jim Cooper was quick to respond with his own endorsements including Nashville Sheriff Daron Hall and Wilson County Sheriff Terry Ashe along with the Nashville Chapter 140 of International Association of Firefighters and the Veterans of Foreign Wars political action committee.

Hall seems to be underfunded, and clearly would love to get support from political action committees. But the most active one around this cycle for Republicans, operated on behalf of likely GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has not come to the party. The "Free and Strong America" PAC has announced endorsements and money ($2500) to almost every congressional Republican in a contested race in Tennessee, but not Hall.

Congressman Cooper meantime is trying to get his own funding from Congress for a long-overdue new Federal Courthouse here in Nashville. While plans have been in the works since the 1990s, the project here has always been shoved down the line for funding by those who use (some say abuse) the earmark process. Cooper has refused to play that game, but with the Nashville courthouse project continuing to flounder, he is now getting active to try and get the Nashville project (to be named in honor of Senator Frist) to be become a reality. It seems Cooper is realizing that while you may not like the earmark process, if you don't find other ways to fight for projects in your district and "bring home the bacon" (get this federal courthouse project funded), it can come back to haunt in an election year a little tougher than usual for all incumbents.

Congress itself has now adjourned until after the election, leaving town a week early and, as usual, with no decisions made about almost any of its appropriations bills for the new federal fiscal year which begins today (October 1). This has been a chronic problem no matter which party runs in the show in the House or Senate.

Compounding the issue this year, is that Congress has also adjourned without deciding what to do about renewing or repealing the Bush-era tax cuts. While both parties will use this indecision as a political football to throw at the other side, the lack of any closure on this matter likely leaves many taxpayers and businesses unsure about what to do in making their budget plans for next year. And that will likely translate into still more uncertainty in the economy. The plan is for Congress to come back and try and deal with this matter during its post-election (also known as the lame-duck or rump session) in November.

Good luck. I saw a recent poll from the Pew Center which said the public is split into thirds on this issue: one third in favor of extending the tax cuts for everyone, one-third extending it just for those who make under $250,000 a year, and one-third who want to repeal it completely and raise taxes for almost everyone.

Look for the election results to give lawmakers a clue about how resolve this impasse.

Actually it seems rather appropriate for Congress to leave now as there is a major leadership change ahead at the White House with the resignation of Rahm Emanuel, the President's Chief-Of-Staff, who going back to Chicago to run for mayor.

A relentless, hard driving politico, who always said he saw a crisis as an opportunity for action, Emanuel managed to help push through an amazing amount of Mr. Obama's legislative programs over the past two years, despite all the controversy many of those measures stirred up especially among conservatives. Having large Democratic majorities sure helped. But not keeping 60 votes in the Senate proved time and again to be a major barrier. Now the Democrats will be fewer in numbers and may even lose one or both Houses of Congress in the mid-term election, so a different kind of leadership to get things done from the Chief of staff at the White House seems like just the thing to do for the President.

INSIDE POLITICS

This weekend (October 1-3) on INSIDE POLITICS, we focus on the 4th District congressional race pitting incumbent Democrat Lincoln Davis against Republican candidate Dr. Scott Desjarlais.

Congressman Davis is by far the most conservative of Democrats in our delegation. Yet he is being strongly criticized by a well-funded Desjarlais campaign for being too close and supportive of President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Davis is trying to make it clear that, while he says he is "an American first and a Democrat till I die," he is really an independent, someone not completely tied to either party, looking for ways for Congress to solve our problems as "Americans." Davis also says despite rumors, he has no plans to switch parties if he is re-elected.

As for Desjarlais, he told me INSIDE POLITICS was the first extended interview he's done on TV during the campaign. He handles his talking points pretty well I thought, although he did get confused at one point when he referred to "Speaker Obama" in criticizing Washington. He also might raise a few eyebrows when he told me that as a way to ‘cut the deficit and the spending" (one of his campaign mantras) it might be a good idea to completely abolish the IRS.

Watch us. Beginning this week, we are back on the main channel (WTVF-TV, NewsChannel 5) at 5:00 a.m. every Sunday morning (October 3). Either get up early or fire up that DVR. You can also watch us as usual on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast & Charter Cable channels 250 as well as Newschannel5's over-the-air digital channel, 5.2. Our broadcast times are 7:00 p.m. Friday (October 1), 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Saturday (October 2) and 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Sunday (October 3).

 

DEALING WITH THE DAMAGE

Your momma likely told you that when you made a mess, even if by accident, it was your job to clean it up. And so, Governor Phil Bredesen is doing just that concerning the makeup of the Tennessee Board of Regents, which oversees all higher education institutions in the state outside the UT system.

The mess that was made occurred when the Governor gave appointments to the Regent Board to folks who were all Democrats, even though state law requires at least 3 members always be of the other party (Republicans). The Governor says he and his lawyers didn't know about the law. Now 3 long-time members of the Regents Board, with more than 20 years combined experience have volunteered to step down so the Governor can make new appointments with folks who have clear GOP pedigrees.

In a statement from his office, the Governor said that the 3 departing Regents, Pam Fansler, Judy Gooch and Stanley Rogers "are true heroes, both for their service to the Board of Regents and for their willingness to help me reconcile issues that have been raised regarding the makeup of the Board." Translated it means:"Thanks, folks, for getting me out of this political crack."

The new Regents Tom Griscom, Emily Reynolds and Danni Varlan should satisfy most (but probably) not all the Republicans who are upset about this issue. In fact, state lawmakers are likely to continue to hold hearings investigating Board of Regents, particularly its recent hiring of outgoing Deputy Governor John Morgan to be the next Chancellor of the board.

There continue to be questions about how and why the qualifications for that position were changed (and made Morgan a more qualified candidate), as well as the huge salary and pay raise he was offered (and later declined) to take the post. There are other personnel issues at the Regents that are also likely to be probed going forward.

Will it result in any new legislation? I can't say just yet. But clearly this matter is not over on Capitol Hill. In fact, if the GOP takes more complete control of state government after the November elections, life might become more and more difficult for those few remaining top state officials (such as Morgan and Attorney General Bob Cooper) who are still identified (or at least were appointed by Democrats).

Here's another example, former State Senator David Fowler, now head of Family Action of Tennessee, has sent out an e-mail criticizing Cooper for declining to join other states' Attorneys General in supporting a Friend of the Court brief in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of defining marriage as "one man-one woman." You will likely also see renewed efforts to take the appointment of AG away from the Tennessee Supreme Court and make it a statewide office elected by the voters.

Chancellor Morgan, who takes office soon, will likely have his political challenges as well, particularly as the state reorders its higher education system and the funding levels of each of its institution based now on graduation rates and not just enrollment.