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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, November 12, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, November 12, 2010

CREATED Nov 12, 2010

CAPITOL VIEW

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

November 12, 2010

INSIDE POLITICS ON "TRANSITIONS"; INGRAM: THE SPEAKER'S RACE; COMPETING PRIORITIES; THE CONTINUING SAGA OF THE STATE FAIRGROUNDS; THE DEMOCRAT'S SAVIOR; A COUNCIL RACE

The election may be over, but politics never stops.

This week on INSIDE POLITICS, we take a look at Tennessee ‘in transition" as Governor-Elect Bill Haslam has begun his work to put together a new administration to take office January 15.

There's also the building battle among Republicans in the State House over who will be the next Speaker of that legislative body. And don't forget the upcoming session of the General Assembly. How will the new Governor work his agenda (jobs, jobs, jobs and cutting the budget) while also getting along with the large number of Republicans (lawmakers from the Governor's own party) trying to exercise their own legislative priorities on issues such as illegal immigration or cuts they want to make in the budget regarding Pre-K .

We also talk about what remains of the Democratic Party in the state and speculate how it can work out its way of the wilderness, even as the Republicans seek to solidify their gains in both the General Assembly and Congress by redistricting all the political boundaries in the state. Actually, the GOP may have more problems among itself just trying to keep all its incumbents happy with their district boundaries.

Our guests on INSIDE POLITICS are Clint Brewer, Political Editor of THE TENNESSEAN, Joe White of NASHVILLE PUBLIC RADIO and Ken Whitehouse of NASHVILLEPOST.com. These three journalists are on top of what's going on in this state politically and they share their insights about what's happening or may be yet to come in this time of transition. That includes some name speculation by Ken Whitehouse about who might be new commissioners in the Haslam administration. You can read his full list at the Nashville Post web site, although it is for subscribers only right now.

You can see INSIDE POLITICS several times this weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That's includes 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning (November 14) on the main channel, WTVF-TV, Channel 5. We are also available on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast and Charter cable channels 250 and Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2, at 7:00 pm Friday (tonight), 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m. Saturday, and 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

If you live outside the Nashville area or don't have cable access, you can see excerpts of previous INSIDE POLITICS shows right here at newschannel5.com.              

INGRAM

On INSIDE POLITICS, Clint Brewer remarked that the Haslam transition effort, so far, looks a lot like the gubernatorial administration of now U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander. Indeed with former Alexander top aide and Deputy Governor, Tom Ingram heading up the transition team, along with another former Alexander assistant, Nashville non-profit executive Lewis Lavine also on board, it does look like déjà vu all over again with Haslam's campaign manager Mark Cate also a part of the transition group.

Some governors in the past have appointed large committees to help them vet and select their cabinet even though most of the work was usually done by a much smaller group. Haslam appears to be cutting to the chase and working pretty close to the vest in how he moves forward here.

That may place some additional focus on Ingram as the leader of the transition effort. While he is a Tennessee political legend for how he has helped so many major GOP candidates win state wide races, there are some in the Republican ranks who remember his support eight years ago for current Democratic governor Phil Bredesen. They therefore wonder if Ingram (who was a top campaign advisor to Haslam) is a RHINO (Republican In Name Only) and whether he is too squishy (moderate) for their political tastes. That may place even more scrutiny on the political leanings of the new Haslam Cabinet, both collectively and individually in some key posts, as they are appointed.

Ingram has one other potential challenge to address. He has said he does not plan to be a part of the new administration, remaining instead with his consulting business, which also does some lobbying. Therefore, he will need to be careful and transparent about how he handles his transition work, so it doesn't wind up placing him and his firm in some potential conflicts of interests down the road if they ever have to lobby those cabinet members or other Haslam administration officials.    

THE SPEAKER'S RACE    

Historically, the race for Speaker of the Tennessee House has been an exercise in political "inside baseball."  It was a matter of discussion or dispute among the caucuses of each party and their members. Outside groups certainly cared what was going to happen, but they usually communicated that privately and didn't seek to publicly influence the matter.

However with the Republicans now holding an overwhelming majority for the first time (63 seats), and because of the way some groups believe the GOP won some of those seats, that doesn't seem to be happening this time. Groups such as the TEA Party and the Gun Owners Association are speaking out and urging their members to contact their representatives and tell them who they should support.

The involvement of both of those groups I mentioned above is likely bad news for Nashville Representative Beth Harwell, who seems to be the major rival for the Speaker's gavel against current GOP House Caucus Chair Glen Casada of Franklin, who is seen as the more conservative lawmaker.

So far, the Gun Owners group seem to be somewhat low key, in a public message reminding their members about who is running and what their records are (NRA rating), then urging them to contact their lawmakers.

But one Tennessee Firearms Association Chapter Leader out of West Tennessee, C. Richard Archie, has sent out a much more fiery e-mail across the state. Upset that Harwell has been endorsed by outgoing Speaker Kent Williams (who won election as a Republican with the help of all the House Democrats two years ago), Archie sees a similar deal being cut; "It has been suggested that she has promised the Judiciary Committee chair to a Democrat for their support. As you know, all 2nd amendment proposals must pass through that committee. Between a Democrat Chair and a RHINO Speaker, we can forget anything moving related to gun issues…..We stand our best opportunity with re-districting to shape the course of Tennessee for years to come but Beth Harwell at the helm will cost us 10 years to get another chance to things as they should be."     

A message from the Memphis TEA Party also shows that group ready to be much more direct and involved in this leadership fight. Quoting from that message: "Beth Harwell is damaged goods and a RHINO!...We must stop Beth Harwell with all our collective efforts…..We can do this by creating a campaign to elect Casada through contacting our own local House Reps and Senators, calling for our membership to call and write and possibly doing letter writing to our local papers and educate the electorate as to the correct choice."

Now I am pretty sure trying to get State Senators involved in this would not be a perceived as a good idea by any State House members. They never want the Senate to mess in their business for any reason. But bringing in outside pressure through constituents calling their lawmakers (especially many of the new ones from rural area) could well have an impact on the race, and likely benefit Casada in either gaining or holding some votes in the GOP House Caucus.

Most observers I talk to seem to see Casada as the favorite, but no one is ruling out Harwell just yet.

COMPETING PRORITIES

If you visit Governor-Elect Haslam's web site, you will see his priorities listed as jobs, jobs, jobs and balancing the state budget.

But when you listen House GOP lawmakers you will hear something a little different. One of pieces of legislation they would like to get passed early in the session is a bill aimed at combating illegal immigration that is very similar to one passed earlier this year in Arizona.

Governor-Elect Haslam endorsed such a measure on the campaign trail, but sometimes the way state lawmakers talk about this matter, it may make him cringe a bit. Take the comments made by State Representative Curry Todd during a recent committee hearing on the Hill when he compared illegal immigrants to "rats."   According to the NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL (November 11) Todd has apologized for the comment but says "something must be done to protect Tennessee taxpayers" especially the health care costs of illegal immigrants children (which was the subject under discussion during the hearing). But comments like these could well create negative perceptions about Tennessee across the nation and the world and cost the state business, something very much at odds with what Governor-Elect Haslam wants to do in trying to balance the budget and bring more jobs and businesses to Tennessee.

THE CONTINUING SAGA OF THE STATE FAIRGROUNDS

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean's efforts to redevelop the Tennessee State Fairgrounds continue to generate controversy.

He started catching flack last year when he first mentioned closing down the Raceway and the annual State Fair held at that South Nashville location for nearly a century. The Mayor said both operations need to go because they are money-losers with the land being redeveloped for a park and a major mixed use development (as yet unnamed).

The Mayor proposed moving the rest of the ongoing activities at the Fairgrounds (the monthly Flea Market, Gun Shows, Christmas Village, the Lawn & Garden show and other events) out to the Hickory Hollow Mall in Antioch where a new Expo Center would be created (along with other city facilities being located there such as a library, a health clinic, a community center, even the Metro Archives).

But even with the Mall area needing a major economic boost, the Hickory Hollow plan has met with some opposition as well. Some of that is coming from neighbors who successfully opposed a health care clinic (WIC) in the mall last year. They seem to fear for some reason that Metro is dumping a bunch of unwanted operations in their area. Someone even hired a person to go to the recent CMA Awards festivities and march around outside the Bridgestone Arena carrying a sign that read: "Flea Markets in Malls?....Hmmm… Antioch: Dean's Dumping Ground."

Actually it should be mentioned that several Flea Market vendors have also expressed opposition to moving to the Mall and so have some supporters of the Archives who feel Antioch is too way far away from the central part of the city for researchers and tourists coming to Nashville to do genealogical research to go there.

All this has led some members of the Metro Council to question the closing of the Fairgrounds (and even introduce legislation to stop it). They also want to stop the lease the Council is being asked to approve for the Hickory Hollow project.                   

The debate is getting more and more heated as the weeks go by. The Mayor's office has launched its own public relations campaign. That began with a news conference announcing that the plans to close the Fairgrounds would also include creating a new city park and cleaning up Brown Creek, one of Nashville's long-neglected urban streams, which flows through that area. Not just giving his efforts a "green" environmental thrust, Mayor Dean then released a new economic development study conducted by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce which claims redeveloping the Fairgrounds could create the opportunity for 6,500 jobs, $200 million in capital spending and a total economic impact of $2.5 billion. Wow! Those are big bucks, especially since no one can (or has said for sure) just what the Fairgrounds would become.

The charges and counter-charges continue as the proposed legislation to keep the Fairgrounds open and the Hickory Hollow lease come up for votes on November 16. This appears to be one of the toughest Council lobbying jobs the Dean administration has had in its three years in office (rivaling only the Music City Center). But looking at the media coverage to see which Council members seem to be taking sides, it appears (much like the Convention Center fight) the Mayor has the votes to get the Hickory Hollow lease approved and defeat the keep-the-fairgrounds open" bill.

However, there are some rumblings about the Council amending or even rejecting some provisions of the lease. That includes Metro not being able to cancel the agreement if things don't work out.

It could be an interesting Council meeting Tuesday night.

THE DEMOCRAT'S SAVIOR

There's been some local media speculation (Clint Brewer's article in THE SUNDAY TENNESSEAN, November 7) that one of the big winners in the November 2 election is Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, who has done such a good job in his current position that could be a rising star in the state Democratic Party and a future contender (a savior for the Democrats) to run for statewide office.

Whoa! I certainly agree the Mayor has done a good job, and that could well make him an attractive candidate for another office in the future, even a statewide one. But first he needs to get re-elected to a second term next August. And while that race looks like a walk-over with no significant opposition on the horizon, talking up the Mayor like this could also make him a potential target for defeat.

Even though the Mayor is elected and serves without a party affiliation, Republicans could decide to try and nip his statewide political career in the bud by finding and funding a candidate next year. So while the Mayor surely can't control what the media writes and reports, he might be wise to do what he can to downplay his interest in other races, at least until after he's won a second term. That is, if is interested in being a statewide candidate.

Meantime, the Tennessee Democratic Party continues to try to recover and pick up the pieces from the smashing defeats it suffered in the recent election. Will party leaders keep Chris Forrester as Chairman? He announced on INSIDE POLITICS last week (and in a letter to the State Executive Committee) that he intends to run again. With a couple of prominent Nashville attorneys (David Briley & Jeff Yarbro) now saying they aren't interested, who will be Forrester's opposition, if there is any? Will the Democrats find a solution or will they continue to wander even deeper into the political wilderness in the months and years ahead?

A COUNCIL RACE

We've reached that time in the Metro political cycle. With the August elections less than a year away, candidates are beginning to announce their intentions.

That includes former mayoral aide Brady Banks who says he plans to run for the Metro Council seat of Parker Toler (District 31/Brentwood, Antioch, Cane Ridge area). Toler is term-limited. Banks ran unsuccessfully for one of the five Metro At-Large posts three years ago, but with all five incumbents likely seeking re-election, Banks is probably making a wise decision to seek a district post.

But it could set up an interesting race. Local architect Fabian Bedne ran against Toler and lost in 2007. Now with the growing number of Hispanic voters in that area, will he seek the post again and try to become the first Hispanic member of the Metro Council? Bedne told Michael Cass of THE TENNESSEAN (on line political blog site, November 12) that he is "planning to make an announcement but declined to comment further."

It's beginning to look a lot like election time….again.