Capitol View Commentary: Friday, November 19, 2010
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
November 19, 2010
MADAME SPEAKER PRESUMPTIVE ON INSIDE POLITICS; FAIRGROUND STRUGGLES CONTINUE; NASHVILLE'S NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT; COOPER TO STAY IN CONGRESS
The 2010 Elections have been over for a few weeks now, but the historic ramifications of what happened November 2, continue to play out on Tennessee's Capitol Hill.
On Thursday, November 18, the enlarged GOP majority in the State House (64 out of 99 seats) voted to set in motion a process that will almost certainly lead to the election of Nashville Representative Beth Harwell as the first woman to ever hold the office of Speaker of the House in the Tennessee General Assembly.
Fresh off that hard-fought victory in a secret-ballot vote over current GOP House Caucus Chair, Franklin's Glen Casada, Representative Harwell is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week. This is one of her first extended interviews since she became Madame Speaker Presumptive. And while she still must be formally elected when the full Legislature convenes in early January, given the size of the Republican majority, it appears a certainty that she will become the first uncontested Republican to be Speaker (current Speaker Kent Wiliams doesn't count to most Republicans) since Bill Jenkins held the post between 1969 and 1971. Representative Harwell will also be the first Nashville representative to be Speaker since Jim McKinney took the post right after Jenkins from 1971-1973.
Our interview covers a lot of topics surrounding the tough fight Speaker-to-be Harwell had with Tea Party and State Gun groups who launched an unprecedented public attack on a speaker candidate, calling her a RINO (Republican in name only) and urging voters to write and call their lawmakers because they said Harwell must be stopped from taking this leadership office. Representative Harwell says she holds no grudges and adds that it is time for Republicans to stop labeling each other and to come forward to work together for the betterment of the state of Tennessee.
By the way, Representative Harwell did confirm to me that Governor-Elect Bill Haslam (who she strongly supported for his new job) quietly made some calls to lawmakers on her behalf before the vote on Thursday. I sure don't think it hurt her, and probably helped a lot, although he was wise not to intervene publicly in this Speaker race).
Speaker Harwell may also be the best news to come out of this recent election for the city of Nashville. With current Governor Phil Bredesen and so many other Nashvillians leaving the state with the end of the current administration, Speaker Harwell will now become the most influential Nashvillian in the state and one of the most powerful and influential people in the state as well.
And what great political symbolism her election will be as she will rise to take her oath of office in the same chambers that 90 years ago this year (1920), the Tennessee General Assembly gave the final approval needed for women nationwide to gain the right to vote. And now, nine long decades later, a woman will finally now be in charge of that House.
As always, you can see INSIDE POLITICS several times this weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning on the main channel, WTVF-TV. We will also be featured several times on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, which can be seen on Comcast & Charter cable channels 250 and on Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2. Our air times on the PLUS are 7:00 p.m. Friday, 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 Sunday.
Mayor Karl Dean's continuing efforts to close down and redevelop the city's historic South Nashville Fairgrounds continue to make progress in the Metro Council. But it also continues to struggle a bit as well.
The administration got blindsided at the last council meeting by opponents of his Fairgrounds plan along with others who don't like his idea to move some of the Fairgrounds current activities (The Flea Market, Christmas Village, The Lawn & Garden Show, guns shows and other events) to the ailing Hickory Hollow Mall. They got the Council to approve an unprecedented suspension of the rules to hold an impromptu public hearing on the Hickory Hollow leases which were on first reading before the Council.
Now, usually bills are first reading are adopted in omnibus with other first reading bills, and are approved without debate, and certainly without a public hearing.
So even though the Council ultimately approved the lease on this initial vote by a wide margin, it seems to me they are sending the Dean administration a strong message that they are not happy with all the phone calls and e-mail messages they are getting from those who don't like the Mayor's Fairgrounds and Hickory Hollow plan and they want some changes. That may be particularly true about some parts of the leases before the Council.
The Council also had a chance to kill another bill that would have stopped the Mayor's Fairgrounds closure, but by one vote, it did not. Why? Again, I think lawmakers are unhappy being put in the middle by the Mayor's plans and want to send a message that they want some changes, and will keep open the idea of stopping the project as some additional leverage.
All that could translate into deferrals in the weeks ahead which could create more angst for the Dean administration as it tries to close out the Fairgrounds (move ahead on whatever redevelop plans are ahead) while also successfully transplanting some of the current Fairgrounds activities to the new Expo Center at Hickory Hollow.
NASHVILLE'S NATIONAL SPOTLIGHT
While many families and businesses continue to struggle to recover from the devastating May floods, the re-opening of Nashville's Opryland Hotel with its annual Country Christmas festivities was surely the strongest signal yet to the nation and the world that Nashville will and is coming back strong from our disaster.
Having 400 invited meeting planners in town for the first weekend of Opryland Hotel's operations sure can't hurt in getting that message out, as well as the fact that Opryland is now better than ever, using the flood repairs to renovate and improve the facilities. While Nashville has often had conflicted feelings at times about Opryland and Gaylord Entertainment, we should be grateful that this major corporate citizen has decided to re-invest in our community in such a major way. Given how much Opryland means to the tourism and convention business here (read sales tax and other revenues) this is a real plus for Metro government, although the continued problems and delay in re-opening the adjacent Opry Mills Mall (no longer owned by Gaylord) leaves a continuing cloud of this situation.
Meantime, Nashville's other convention destination (Music City Center) continues to take the city to the next level, even before it opens its door. The announcement that the National Rifle Association will hold its national convention here in 2015 indicates that Nashville may be moving up to a higher level in terms of competing for convention business. That's a good thing since we are pretty well redoing a good bit of downtown and investing major Metro resources for many years to come to build these new facilities.
A major facility that is already a big part of our current convention and entertainment efforts downtown is also being recognized nationally. According to an article on-line by the Nashville Business Journal (November 15), the Bridgestone Arena is a finalist for the Pollstar Magazine's Arena of the Year Award. We will know in February how the Arena stacks up against similar facilities in Toronto, Tulsa, San Jose, New York City, Los Angeles and St. Paul.
Frankly, I think it will be hard to beat the year that the Bridgestone Arena folks have had in 2010 which has included a first-ever for Nashville Paul McCartney concert, the final Brooks & Dunn concert, the 2010 Men's SEC tournament and, coming soon, nine, sold-out Garth Brooks concerts for flood relief. More importantly, despite the May's floods, not one event was cancelled or even postponed due to the high waters. It shows what a great staff and facility we have at the Bridgestone Arena and why this venue is in such high demand especially for sports activities such as SEC and NCAA basketball. By the way, the Arena has already received one award given last month by the International Entertainment Buyers Association.
A final Nashville institution in the national spotlight is our Metro Public Library system which, according to a news release from Congressman Jim Cooper, has been selected for the 2010 National Medal for Museum and Library Service. The National Medal is the nation's highest honor for museums and libraries and is awarded to institutions that make extraordinary, civic, educational economic, environmental and social contributions. Five museums and libraries are chosen each year for the award which is presented by The Institute of Museum and Library Service, with the awards ceremony to be held at the White House.
It was Congressman Cooper who nominated our Public Library system for this honor. He says: "Nashville deserves a great library and this award is proof we've got the best in the country. Donna Nicely and her team deserve tremendous credit for leading our library through tough times without compromising excellence."
What this award reminds of are those bumper stickers from back in the day when Mayor Phil Bredesen was trying to get a tax increase approved to build the wonderful new main library building downtown as well as the new regional libraries in the system. The bumper sticker said: "A world class city needs a world class library."
While we still have lots of problems and challenges to face here in Nashville, given all these current awards and recognitions, maybe we are really starting to get there.
COOPER TO STAY IN CONGRESS
Speaking of Congressman Cooper THE HILL (November 18) reports that he is already qualifying to run for re-election in 2012.
What? Didn't he just win re-election? Yes, he did. So why qualify now for a contest two years from now?
The article speculates (and I agree) that perhaps he is doing so to send a signal to state Democratic leaders that he has no interest in running against incumbent GOP Senator Bob Corker who is up for re-election (if he decides to run) in 2012.
So watch Mayor Karl Dean, they could be coming after you next.
Meantime it appears Congressman Cooper is stuck in a time warp in Washington where not much seems to have changed since the election. The rump session of the old Congress shows few signs that some resolution will come over pending legislation to extend or scuttle the Bush-era tax cuts or even pass what used to be Congress's annual and most important duty, pass the government's annual budget appropriations.
As for the rush to ban congressional earmarks, that's more blue smoke and mirrors in terms of the money it will save. Even the latest converts to this new Congressional craze such as Senator Lamar Alexander, admit this is much more symbolic than impactful in cutting back government spending or the debt.
There appears to be little will on either side to compromise or work matters out. With the new Congress coming in January even more even divided, that likely spells gridiron on many issues, maybe even another government shutdown, in the New Year.
Speaking of shutting down, with Thanksgiving being such a short work week politically, there will be no Capitol View column next week.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!