Capitol View Commentary: Friday, October 8, 2010
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations
October 8, 2010
HUMBLED; RECYCLED; VOTE DO-OVER; THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL; PAY UP; GUN SUPPORT; INSIDE POLITICS
Let me begin my column this week by saying how shocked and deeply humbled I am that my CAPITOL VIEW commentary has been named BEST POLITICAL COLUMN by the writers of THE NASHVILLE SCENE as a part of its annual BEST OF NASHVILLE edition. I had no idea anything like this was in the offing and I really appreciate the kind words written by Bruce Barry.
I have now been doing this column since January, 2002, which means I am about to head into my 10th year. I work hard to pull it together every week and the recognition makes me feel like the efforts are worth it.
Thank you so much for reading.
Now enough puffery: back to reality.
The older I get, the more I realize that sometimes the news is not new, it's kind of recycled.
Earlier this week (October 5), THE TENNESSEAN on-line ran stories from both THE ASSOCIATED PRESS and U.S.A. TODAY about the firestorm of controversy that has arisen in South Fulton, Tennessee (a far western Tennessee city) after firefighters there "let a mobile home burn down because the owner didn't pay a $75 yearly fee for fire protection." The posting generated hundreds of responses, especially on Facebook, where many seemed outraged at such behavior by local officials. Several follow up stories across the nation have generated similar outcries and even some editorials.
Actually, I had seen and heard it before. The story immediately flashed my mind back to the late 1970s when I was a young reporter at Channel 5. There was a very similar situation that occurred here in Nashville (and ironically, concerning the current story being in South Fulton, TN, the Mayor of Nashville then was Richard Fulton, who obviously shares the name).
At that time in the late 1970s, Metro fire service was provided only to those who lived in the city's core area, called the Urban Services District (USD). Residents paid higher property taxes for fire protection and other services such as trash pickup and street lights (which they still do today).
If you lived outside the USD in what was called the General Services District, you got fire protection by paying an annual fee to a private, usually volunteer, fire department. If you weren't a subscriber and you had a fire, you were on your own, unless you could convince the private fire fighters to come and put out your fire and then get paid later.
Eventually the private companies got tired of that and announced that if you weren't a paid-up client, they would not come protect your home. And sure enough, there were several fires in the next few weeks and months where houses burned to the ground, sometimes with the private fire companies on the scene, pouring water and protecting homes next door and nearby whose owners were subscribers.
While I don't remember the Nashville story getting nearly the news play back then as what is happening now (a likely function of the 24/7 news and social media cycle now), as you might expect people back then went crazy in reaction too. However, I don't remember it ever getting as bad as it did in the recent stories in South Fulton, where the son of the owner of the double wide that burned reportedly later showed up at the local fire hall and punched out the chief.
Still, there was quite a bit of political heat generated back in the ‘70s for Metro to buy out the private fire companies and take over fire protection countywide. That is exactly what happened. The GSD property tax rate was bumped up slightly to provide additional fire halls, firefighters and even some fire hydrants to provide protection. The service provided was good enough that in some areas, home owner insurance rates went down because the fire protection was so significantly better.
Progress was clearly made, but as is so often the case in politics, only after some serious problems were created before action was taken. By the way, it has been a long time since that GSD fire tax levy has been raised. It's pretty clear the USD taxpayers are subsidizing fire protection in the outlying areas of Nashville, especially since the Metro Fire Department treats every fire with the full response needed to put out the blaze not matter where the fire occurs.
Sometimes it's not just the news that's redone, so are elections. It appears in Nashville-Davidson County the 2010 election cycle won't end now until March 15 of next year (2011).
You'll remember that one of Nashville's satellite cities, Lakewood, held a vote in August about whether to dissolve itself, surrender its charter, and become a full part of Metro. The vote came out 400 in favor, 399 against.
That soon led to a lawsuit by Lakewood officials amid charges of voter fraud and other irregularities. After further looking into the allegations, it appeared clear there was really no good way to determine who won or voted wrongly, although there appears to be some evidence that people did. So Metro, Lakewood officials and the citizens group seeking to dissolve the satellite city, agreed to drop the lawsuit and hold the election again on March 15, 2011 with better security, particularly to guard against voter intimidation.
The Ides of March is it? I hope there's no significance to that (to beware of) come next year.
ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL
With Early Voting beginning in less than a week now (October 13), the campaign activity in almost every race continues to pick up speed, especially in our congressional districts.
That's true even here in Nashville where Democratic incumbent Jim Cooper is facing his most serious challenge in years. In fact, Cooper is even running TV ads. And as I expected, he is using his constituent work during the May floods to have happy constituents tell the cameras what a great job he did to help them cut through the federal red tape.
They give strong testimonials: "It didn't matter if you were a Republican or a Democrat.. Jim Cooper is not just a congressman….he was a neighbor when I needed him. Jim Cooper is my friend…Jim is always at my side."
It's a bad year to be running as an incumbent or anyone who can be labeled a career politician. But if you can show in your ads and your overall campaign that you are someone who knows how to help and get things done for people perhaps that will make a difference. After all, the polls still show many people still like their own Congressman even if they despise Congress as a whole.
But Cooper's opponent, David Hall, has his own message about Jim Cooper. It's a part of the TV ad he has begun running. It's done in a cinema verite, black and white format that looks a little something like a YouTube video. Hall seeks to reach out to tap into the anger in the electorate particularly concerning skyrocketing federal spending and the rising national debt. He says:
"Here's how it works in my house. We have just so money to spend each month and once that runs out, we have to stop spending. You know that. I know that. But Washington, D.C. hasn't learned that. We need to send a man to Washington that has the courage to make tough decisions. Someone who won't talk one way in the district, then act another way once he gets to Washington. I believe I am that man."
It is a simple message, one that is being delivered by Republican candidates all across the nation. For Hall, the big question may not be message, but how much money will he have to deliver it effectively across the district in the next few weeks?
You can hear that same message in the ads for GOP congressional candidates such as Dr. Scott Desjarlais (4th District), Stephen Fincher (8th District) and, State Senator Diane Black (6th). Obviously, the attacks on incumbents or "career politicians" work better for those who have not held office before such as Desjarlais and Fincher, a little less so for Senator Black, who could clearly be labeled a career politician in her own right on the state level (and was during the primary).
As for Desjarlais and Fincher, they might want to have some talking points ready since the recent deficits first began growing quickly back when the Republicans last held power in the Congress. Just saying
As for Senator Black, it plays to her favor that her Democratic opponent, Brett Carter, is not well funded and right now does not appear to have any TV ads on the air. In fact, according to recent article on-line by Tom Humphrey of the KNOXVILLE NEWS-SENTINEL, the Democratic National Congressional Campaign Committee has written off Carter (in terms of providing any support) and won't help him try and hold the 6th District seat. The national Democratic group is also still accessing whether to stay on board and help State Senator Roy Herron to win the open seat in the 8th district against Fincher.
The other major Democratic congressional candidate in these parts is incumbent 4th district member Lincoln Davis (running against Desjarlais). Davis continues to run more as an independent than a Democrat. His latest ad shows an X sign not only over the face of the Republican leader of the House, John Boehner, but also his own party's leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Did Democrats ever think it would get so bad that their candidates would be running away completely from their own national leaders like this? An X in your TV ads over the face of the Speaker of the House of your own party!
Desjarlais' campaign has also just released a new internal poll that claims the race is now tied at 42-42. Obviously they are using that information to claim momentum, since the last poll they released showed the Doctor down by four points. But given the margin for error in the poll, at that time Desjarlais was already claiming the race was a "dead heat." So the question is, again given the margin for error, has the race really changed that much?
Meanwhile, based on some of latest TV ads, it appears in this election cycle the bulldozer is competing with the pickup truck as the vehicle of choice for candidates to show how strong they are, at least based on the latest ad by Congressman Davis, showing him running a ‘dozer and the Haslam ad that shows the Mayor of Haywood County showing his support for the Knoxville Mayor by firing up some earth moving machinery. Roy Herron however is showing a pickup truck in his TV ad, so that political vehicle of choice still continues.
Herron also has a new ad going on the offensive against Fincher called "Goin' Huntin'." The spot (along with another TV ad) plays strongly off the continuing and growing criticism within the district (as reflected by comments by outgoing Congressman John Tanner and news stories and editorials in the local newspapers) raising questions about Fincher's campaign disclosures and his financial dealings.
Now Fincher received a lot of attacks on these and other issues during the primary and still got over 50% of the vote. But this time, the media seems to be more aggressive about it, particularly since, so far, they say Fincher won't do interviews on these topics and he is declining to engage in debates with Herron. Stay tuned. We are trying to get both Fincher and Herron to be INSIDE POLITICS in the next couple of weeks.
Going back to the governor's race, while the Haslam campaign continues to grind out new TV spots just about every week, his Democratic challenger, Mike McWherter, has been dark for a while. Now he's scrambling with Early Voting about to start, to get two new spots on the air. One is an attack on Haslam, once again calling him a "billionaire oil man" and charging that his family company, Pilot Oil, has been buying oil from Venezuela, a nation which is far from a friend of the United States. Will this charge gather any more traction than the one McWherter tried a few weeks ago when he attempted to tie Haslam through a business partner to doing deals with Iran? We'll see, but unless McWherter can show more than he does on the TV ad, I am doubtful.
The other new McWherter spot focuses on his rural roots, something which obviously Haslam doesn't have. Says the spot as it closes: "Rural Tennessee, it's not a campaign stop. For Mike McWherter, it's home."
The spot has something of feel of an introductory ad, which is interesting since it debuts on the air less than week before Early Voting starts. With a picture of Mike and his father (former Governor Ned McWherter) talking things over while leaning on a fence, the announcer says: "You can tell a lot about a man by where he calls home. Mike McWherter (is) a man of faith, born in rural Tennessee where he raised his family and built a successful small business. He knows what it takes to get all of Tennessee moving again."
Then the ad touts his plan to give businesses a tax cut for creating new jobs. It's a good spot I think, but will he have the dollars for people to see it enough times to make a difference? We are about to get an update from all the candidates about how much money they have raised and spent. McWherter not only trails by 20% or more in the most recent polls (although those surveys are getting a bit old), he also is way behind in money. The Jackson businessman has raised about $1.6 million and contributed over a million himself to his campaign (a figure he says is likely to rise significantly when the new disclosures come out).
But he will still be way behind GOP candidate Bill Haslam, who has raised at least over $9 million and contributed another $1.5 of his own monies. It would be impossible for McWherter (or maybe anyone) to compete dollar-for-dollar with Haslam. The question is can he find enough funds to get any kind of message out?
With the imminent approach of Early Voting and just restarting his TV campaign, the job gets tougher for McWherter. TV ads, even the best, don't usually have an immediate impact. They need a few days, even weeks to work and help build momentum, something which McWherter doesn't have.
Perhaps the best quote I've seen about the race was in an article by Dave Flessner and Andy Sher of THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES-FREE PRESS (October 4). They spoke to Nathan Gonzales, the political editor of the national Rothenburg Report, which handicaps the Tennessee governor's race as "currently safe Republican." Adds Gonzales: "I think the only person who can defeat Haslam right now is Haslam. I don't think there is anything McWherter can do to change the dynamic of the race."
In his defense, McWherter recently told reporter Jeff Woods (NASHVILLE SCENE, October 7) that his campaign is operating like the old WWII classic movie, RUN SILENT, RUN DEEP which was about submarine warfare. "You develop your program and then you surface and then it's game on." McWherter believes this can work because "John Q. Public and Jane Q. Public do not focus on the race until October. You can spend as much money as you want…but they are not listening to what you say until October." OK, but then why are the undecided numbers in most of the polls in the teen some as low as 10%. If the polls are accurate, and McWherter managed to get all the undecided which is highly unlikely, he would still be well behind. So will McWherter's stealth strategy work or has his shipped already sailed (and sunk)?
If there is a chance for something to happen, (for Haslam to beat Haslam or for McWherter to somehow change the dynamics of race) maybe it will come in the two final debates of the campaign Thursday night (October 7) and next week (October 13). Because of my schedule I will be filing this column earlier than usual and won't have a chance to critique what happens until my next posting here. But it would be a real surprise if something happens in either encounter to change things.
Whoever the next Governor is, he and state lawmakers will come into office facing some unhappy workers who haven't had a pay raise in three years.
Of course, during these difficult economic times that may not be all that unusual. But state employees are particularly unhappy because they had hoped for a one-time bonus this year which has now gone by the boards because state revenues continue to slump. Nevertheless, they say they want to be first in the line (for a change) in the new governor's first budget and be given a pay raise of 7%.
Given what I have heard from both gubernatorial candidates when I've interviewed them, I doubt they'll commit to that. Oh I am sure they will reassure state workers they'll do all they can to get them a raise as soon as they can, but 7% right away, when as Bill Haslam says the state is facing a deficit next year of a billion and half dollars, and Mike McWherter admits the budget will be tight, I am not seeing that happening either on the campaign trail or next year unless the state budget improves quickly and very dramatically.
As we approach the beginning of early voting, you will see a lot of group endorsements being announced by the candidates.
For example, 8th District Republican congressional candidate Stephen Fincher has a news release out talking about his endorsement by the National Right to Life, along with another release about a special free concert and barbeque dinner being given for his campaign by country music legend Hank Williams, Jr.
Fincher's opponent, State Senator Roy Herron is talking about his endorsement by the National Rifle Association, based on his long support for gun-related issues during his time in the General Assembly. Another Democrat who has long-time strong NRA support is 4th District Congressman Lincoln Davis.
So how do you counter that if you are Scott DesJarlais who is Davis's GOP opponent? How about a news release that claims another gun group, the Gun Owners of America has given you its highest ranking, while the NRA has also given you the highest marks "a first time office seeker can receive" from the NRA.
In other words, do what you can to minimize whatever Davis can get with voters from the NRA endorsement by touting your own credentials in the same issue area. So what will he do now with Congressman Davis also receiving both the Tennessee and National Right to Life endorsements?
One last gun note, the NRA is not endorsing either candidate in the Governor's race. According to an Associated Press story I found on line at THE TENNESEAN's website (October 6) information on the NRA web site gave Haslam a grade of B- while McWherter got a C-.
It looks like Haslam's involvement a few years ago in a reported anti-gun group headed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg still haunts him on this issue, although that is unlikely to create enough problems for McWherter to gain much advantage out of it.
McWherter, a life-long member of the NRA (and who is shown hunting in one of his new TV ads) He seems to be getting low marks from NRA officials because they reportedly didn't like some of his answers when he filled out the NRA endorsement forms. McWherter earlier was also critical of some of the ‘guns in bars" legislation passed by the General Assembly.
We continue our focus on our area congressional races with Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper and his GOP challenger David Hall as my guests on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend.
Given what we've already discussed here in the column, it promises to be a couple of very interesting interviews.
Our show is back on the main channel WTVF-TV, Channel 5, on Sunday mornings at 5:00 a.m. (hopefully on something of a permanent basis). You can also watch us, as always, on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast & Charter cable channels 250 and Channel 5's over-the-air channel 5.2
On THE PLUS our broadcast times are 7:00 p.m. Friday, 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Sunday.