Capitol View Commentary: Friday, October 22, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, October 22, 2010

CREATED Oct 22, 2010


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

October 22, 2010


As Campaign 2010 comes down to the finish line, we are honored to have the two major gubernatorial candidates join us on INSIDE POLITICS these final two weekends leading up to November 2.

Democrat Mike McWherter is on the show this weekend (October 22-24), while GOP candidate and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam is scheduled to be with us the final weekend of the general election campaign, October 29-31.

Despite polls which show him over 20 points behind, McWherter believes he can still pull out an upset as he convinces undecided voters to come his way. He also believes his opponent Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam peaked a few weeks ago.

You can watch INSIDE POLITICS on the main channel, WTVF-TV, Channel 5 at 5:00 a.m. on Sunday (October 24) as well as several times on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. THE PLUS can be found on Comcast & Charter cable channels 250 as well as Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 250. Air times are 7:00 p.m. Friday (tonight); Saturday at 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. and Sunday at 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.   


For the first time, at least during the general election, Haslam has had some negative issues and significant push back to deal with on the campaign trail. First, was the revelation of his board-level involvement with a Dallas-based clothing store chain, Harold's, which is now in bankruptcy court. There has also been a sharply critical report done by the trustee in the case which criticizes the actions of the board as the company went down. The report alleges the board and the company's officers "grossly mismanaged the company with a level of indifference that amounts to bad faith."

Haslam claims he was never involved in the day-to-day operations of the company and did what he could to save it. Last month, the bankruptcy judge in the case denied motions to dismiss the claims by the trustee against Haslam and others, but he added "there are no factual allegations that support the trustee's allegation regarding bad faith."

But you can bet there are plenty of opportunities here for opponents to use this as a political attack point, especially since Haslam had built much of his campaign to be governor around his success as a businessman, particularly with his family business, Pilot Oil. But Haslam also had some issues in business concerning his performance in running an on-line division of Saks.  Indeed, McWherter is on the attack about all of this when he appears this weekend on INSIDE POLITICS. But I doubt he has the time or the money (for TV, radio ads and direct mail) to take much advantage of it. In fact, his current TV ad is just more re-cycled charges about Pilot's oil problems with over-charging some customers after a hurricane a few years ago. It's an issue that didn't get much traction in the primary with Zach Wamp pumping it up and it hasn't so far for McWherter either.          

There's one other thing to ponder here about this particular issue. This legal matter surrounding the clothing chain has been in the courts for several months if not a couple of years. Political campaigns spend big money for "opposition research" looking for "issues" like this. How did this not come up on the radar screen before it was first reported a few days ago by THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL?  In fact, McWherter tells me on INSIDE POLITICS, the first he knew of this matter was when he read the story when it was re-printed in THE TENNESSEAN. Wow! And what happened to Zach Wamp and Ron Ramsey's campaigns? They made a lot of charges and accusations questioning the qualifications of Haslam. How could they miss this?

Meantime Haslam has been trying to deal with another serious controversy surrounding his campaign.  It comes from comments he made during a campaign appearance a few days ago before members of the Nashville chapter of the Tennessee Firearms Association. That's when he told them that if the General Assembly passed a bill to eliminate the need for a gun permit in Tennessee (something the Firearms group plans to do in the next session of the Legislature) he would sign it into law.

Because we taped McWherter's INSIDE POLITICS appearance before this matter came to light, you won't hear him talking about that on the show. But Haslam's remarks have created something of a political fire storm. Governor Phil Bredesen has told reporters (TENNESSEAN, October 22) that such a repeal of the state's handgun permit law could hurt the state's reputation and its ability to attract business investments. The Governor who twice failed to veto bills to allow hand guns to be brought into restaurants and bars added: "Just because the legislature does something stupid, doesn't mean the governor has to go along with it." Added the MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL in an editorial (October 21): "If Haslam as governor would sign anything the legislature passes, what other opportunities to lead would he forfeit? Is he so malleable that he would never take what might be an unpopular stand?"

By the way, Mike McWherter is sounding off as well, saying Haslam "has shown a complete lack of common sense and will say anything to anyone to get elected." Ouch!  


As Tennessee's two hottest congressional races (the 4th and the 8th) come down to the wire, there are several interesting developments to consider.

Highly-respected national political analyst Charlie Cook now says it's "a toss up" between incumbent 4th District Democrat Lincoln Davis and Republican challenger, Dr. Scott DesJarlais. Previously Cook had rated the race as "Lean Democratic."

This race has been marked by a series of attack and counter-attack ads surrounding some almost lurid allegations made in a divorce case involving DesJarlais a few years ago. That continues to dominate the air waves (along with DesJarlais and the National Republican Congressional Committee blasting Davis for being too close and voting too often with President Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi). Davis and his supporters have stuck to the attack message, although now the ads about the divorce matter are coming from the National Democratic Congressional Committee, while the Congressman has gone back to his "bulldozer" ad, which proclaims his independence as an elected representative.

Why the change? The political insiders I have spoken to say the switch is a sign that the attack ad is working, but that when it came directly from the Congressman (‘I am Lincoln Davis, and I approve this message") it may have been bouncing back in a negative way on  him as well. So the decision is to let the outside national group carry the fight and let the Congressman go back to a more positive message.

Another way the Davis campaign is trying to keep the divorce allegations alive as a political issue is by releasing a letter (late Friday afternoon, October 22). It comes from two chiefs of police and one former sheriff in the district. They are demanding "an immediate apology from Scott DesJarslais to the law enforcement community" concerning some alleged comments the doctor has made.

"Domestic violence is a very serious matter. DesJarlais' joking manner when discussing allegation that he was a perpetrator of domestic violence on his first wife shows he has not learned his lesson….we hereby demand that Scott DesJarlais come clean about his history of domestic violence and issue a public apology to his first wife and to all law enforcement officials in Tennessee." Given the breaking nature of this news, the DesJarlais campaign has not yet responded. But I am sure they will…and I doubt it will contain any apologies as this political fight in the 4th District continues to intensify.      

Congressman Davis would appear to have plenty of money (finally) to fight his battle in the last days of the campaign. According to an on-line article by THE HOTLINE (October 22), Davis has brought in $243,000. "That's significantly more that Republican challenger Scott DesJarlais, $53,000. Davis has a $385,000 to $3,500 cash on-hand advantage in the final stretch." 

But, remember outside groups like the Republican and Democratic Congressional Committees should also be kept in mind when considering all the potential resources that could come into play. And who knows what other "independent" groups could jump in late.

DesJarlais is also trying to leverage last minute endorsements (Associated Builders & Contractors) as well as outside political "stars" to come to district to help, such as Congressman Marsha Blackburn and Republican House Leader John Boehner.

Boehner is reportedly also making a brief appearance to help 8th District GOP candidate Stephen Fincher (Examiner.com, October 21). Fincher's opponent, Democratic State Senator Roy Herron continues to hammer the Frog Jump farmer and gospel singer about a bank loan he got to finance his campaign. Herron is being joined by an independent candidate (Donn Janes) in criticizing Fincher, as well as outgoing Congressman John Tanner.

Now there is confirmation in recent days that the Federal Election Commission is investigating the matter. But it is unclear and probably doubtful whether any conclusion from the probe will be forthcoming to help Herron, or clear Fincher, before the November election.

Nevertheless, while Fincher continues to decline most, if not all media interviews (including INSIDE POLITICS), THE JACKSON SUN (October 19) wants action now; "The implications are significant. Residents should not be left to find out after Election Day that they made a big mistake—either electing someone who staked his campaign on false complaints about financial matter or be electing someone who did not follow the rules.'

THE JACKSON SUN has endorsed Herron, as did almost every major newspaper in the 8th District. Herron now has a TV ad touting that fact. Too bad for his campaign, that this is not 25 to 50 years ago when endorsements like that really carried a lot of political impact. 



It's been almost six months since Nashville was devastated by the Great Flood.

We've come back a long way.

But we still have a ways to go for some of our citizens to recover, and then there's the need for a Long Term Recovery Plan.

The city is working on such a plan and wants your help this weekend.

On Saturday there will be a series of six community planning and design workshops being held throughout Davidson County. Saturday morning that includes sessions from 9 a.m. until noon in Antioch (Hickory Hollow Mall), Bellevue (Cross Point Community Church) and in the Delray/Charlotte Avenue/Nations communities (St. Luke's Community House).

In the afternoon from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. there will also be workshops in the Bordeaux/West Hamilton area (Temple Baptist Church), East Nashville (St. Ann's Episcopal Church) and the Pennington Bend Community (Donelson Fellowship).

These meetings are the beginning of a process that will last through October and November before the Long Term Recovery Plan takes full shape. If you can't attend the meetings but have some ideas to share go to www.nashvillerecovery.com






Nashville has lost another leading citizen and a legendary attorney with the death of Jim Neal.

 His career covers many significant and historic legal cases from prosecuting Teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa to being the special associate prosecutor during the Watergate scandal, where as THE NASHVILLE POST remembers (October 22) "CBS News Anchor Walter Cronkite was heard to comment that his (Neal's) summation in the Watergate trail was the ‘finest closing argument' he had ever heard in 30 years of reporting on litigation.

Neal was equally distinguished and renowned as a defense lawyer with such clients as former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, Elvis' doctor, Dr. George Nichopoulos and as the NASHVILLE POST listed "two major corporations that faced criminal charges: Ford Motor Company the case of allegedly exploding Pinto automobiles, and Exxon Corporation, following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska."

Being involved in any one of these cases would be a career moment for most lawyers, for Jim Neal it made him a national legal icon in his own lifetime, as he and his friend Aubrey Harwell formed one of Nashville's powerhouse legal firms, Neal & Harwell. It is a firm that represented Channel 5 for many years (including while I was a reporter there). It always gave me great comfort to have those folks on my side when we got into some legal areas where we need guidance.

The statements of praise for Jim Neal upon his passing will likely and rightly continue for several days. Already Governor Bredesen has called him "a classic American success story: a man who rose from a Tennessee farm to the top of his profession nationally." Said Mayor Karl Dean, himself an attorney: "As a student at Vanderbilt Law School and a young attorney,  I was impressed and proud that the best trial attorney in the United States lived and practiced in Nashville. Jim Neal was an inspiration to me and all other trial lawyers." Reflected  Senator Lamar Alexander about Neal: "He was often encouraged to seek public office, and, had he chosen that path, he would have been a formidable candidate and would have served well."

As a reporter, I greatly admired Jim Neal, especially his willingness to talk with the media. I can remember back during the Watergate scandal how he came and spent an evening with us at a meeting of the local Society of Professional Journalists. He answered all the questions he could, and as a struggling radio reporter, it gave me a lot of great copy and comments to report the next day.

But most of all, I remember that, over the years, I considered Jim Neal a friend, something I will treasure for the rest of my life. May he rest in peace.