Capitol View Commentary: December 10, 2010

Capitol View Commentary: December 10, 2010

CREATED Dec 10, 2010

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
December 10, 2010

MAYOR DEAN ON INSIDE POLITICS; MORE CABINET MAKING; ASKING THE WRONG BOSS FOR A RAISE; MAKING A DEAL IN WASHINGTON; THE POLITICAL FALLOUT FROM BELMONT; THE BATTLE OF NASHVILLE

As we begin to round out the year 2010, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean joins us on INSIDE POLITICS.

It's been something of a Dickens' of a year for the Mayor, meaning both the best of times and the worst of times. His smashing success to gain approval of the new Music City Center was both a legislative and financial tour de force.  But then came the disastrous Great Flood of May 2010, perhaps the greatest calamity to befall this city since the Civil War. But in those "worst of times" for Metro, Mayor Dean, through his calm and decisive leadership, had perhaps his finest hour.

However in the closing weeks of the year, the Mayor has now suffered his first major setback, backing away, at least temporarily, from his plans to redevelop the State Fairgrounds property in South Nashville, moving the Flea Market and some other related activities to the Hickory Hollow Mall property in Antioch. But despite the Mayor's efforts to begin to diffuse the controversy, it seems to continue to intensify, particularly the potential of demolishing the Fairgrounds' Speedway, which many racetrack supporters believe is historic and must be preserved. 

We talk about all those issues and more on this week's show. You can watch INSIDE POLITICS every weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network. That includes Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. on the main channel, WTVF-TV, Channel 5. You can also see us on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast & Charter cable channels 250, as well as Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2

Our program times on the PLUS are 7:00 p.m. Friday evenings, 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturdays, and Sundays at 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

You can also find excerpts of previous INSIDE POLITICS shows here at www.newschannel5.com.

MORE CABINET MAKING

Governor-Elect Bill Haslam's cabinet continues to slowly take shape. And like a expert, hand-crafted furniture maker, such as my ancestor Melchior Thoni, nothing seems to be mass-produced or rushed in Haslam's process, with appointments being announced no more than one or two at a time.

The latest announcements on Wednesday, December 8 included one for a commissioner for a new combined department of Safety & Homeland Security. It's of all people….Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons, who was one of Haslam's primary opponents for Governor, and one of his loudest and longest critics about the Governor-Elect's continuing refusal to disclose his tax returns and other financial information. Obviously, the two have now kissed and made up politically with no hard feelings.

But those who have concerns about the new administration having too many RINOS in it (Republicans in name only) likely got some new ammunition from the Gibbon's appointment. He was clearly the most moderate of the GOP gubernatorial candidates, including being the most outspoken against new laws passed by the General Assembly to allow guns in bars and parks. Now he is perhaps the top law enforcement officer in Tennessee, having jurisdiction for the Highway Patrol as a part of his duties as Safety & Homeland Security Commissioner.

Another cabinet appointment, one I think that is likely to be warmly received, is Tennessee Farm Bureau Chief Julius Johnson becoming the next Commissioner of Agriculture. Not only he is well liked and respected on the Hill (and in the statewide agricultural community), Johnson's predecessor, Dan Wheeler, made a similar job change from the Farm Bureau to the Cabinet as Agriculture Commissioner under a previous governor (Sundquist).

Governor-Elect Haslam has lots of positions left to fill, so he is likely to be busy over the holidays and probably working to complete his Cabinet right up until his swearing-in ceremony on Saturday, January 15. Eagerly anticipated are the appointments of the new Economic Development Commissioner and the new Finance & Administration Commissioner. Not already having a Finance Commissioner on board has struck some as strange since the Governor-Elect is talking so much about working on his new budget for next year. You'd think he'd want his chief financial officer already with him to do that. But again, so far, the Governor-Elect is working with his own timetable.

Here's one last confirmation of that. While many appointments remain to be announced, there are those already pointing out that all the Governor's key appointments so far lack diversity. They are all white men, with no women and no people of color making the cut. Surely, that will change. But given the timetable the Governor is following in making his choices, which is completely his own,  disclosing them to meet with some perceived standards of political correctness doesn't seem to be important at all to him.

ASKING THE WRONG BOSS FOR A RAISE

You can't blame them for asking.

State workers haven't had a raise in years.

But the Tennessee State Employees Association asking Governor Phil Bredesen to call a special session of the General Assembly (in their waning days in office), to give them a bonus, is frankly asking the wrong boss for a raise.

There was a plan in the current budget to give state employees a bonus if state revenues improved by a certain time. That didn't happen so the plan fell through. Now revenues are up over projections for three consecutive months, so you can see why employees would want to ask again for help.

But any decision of that magnitude ought to be done by the incoming Governor and Legislature. It's going to be their job very soon to run the ship of state, and our outgoing leaders ought not to try and change things now.

MAKING A DEAL IN WASHINGTON

Who says the two parties can't work together in Washington?

Of course they can, especially when it comes to spending money.

That's the bottom line of the new deal between President Barack Obama and Republican leaders in Congress to keep the Bush tax cuts in place for everyone for another two years and long term unemployment compensation going for another year.

While it adds again to the growing national debt, it's in effect another economic stimulus plan for the country (especially with payroll taxes being further reduced), although I am sure the Republicans would never want to admit that.

As for Democrats, several of them are almost irrationally angry at their President for cutting the deal with the GOP, even though there have been several votes (especially in the Senate) that make it clear what the President negotiated was the best and likely only deal that could be reached to resolve these issues.

And not resolving these issues would be politically disastrous for both parties going into next year when political gridlock seems even more likely on most issues as both sides struggle to achieve the holy political grail in Washington….60 votes in the Senate to end a filibuster and pass legislation.

But speaking of being a little irrational, President Obama, in his recent White House news conference defending his deal with the Republicans, used some language (comparing the GOP members to terrorists holding the American  people hostage for example) that was at best a bit extreme and way over the top for any President to espouse.

If he wants his spokespeople or stand-ins on the Sunday talk shows to use those kinds of analogies fine, but not out of the mouth of the President. For someone who always struck just the right tone, and found the right words to say on the campaign trail, President Obama has developed quite a tin ear in the White House.

It does appear however that the President has a new plan about taxes. Instead getting ready to fight the same fight in two years over the Bush tax cuts, the President has told NPR (December 10) he is looking at an overhaul of the tax system to make it more simple and to get rid of many of the tax loopholes and exemptions that have grown up over the years. Now the President is not being very clear about what exemptions will be ended, but he does believe his plan will help allow the country to make tough decisions about what needs to be cut to reduce spending and reduce the national debt.

Maybe so, but remember every one of those tax exemptions has a special interest and lobbyists waiting to defend them in the halls of Congress. In fact, it could be a political fight that would make the national health care debate we witnessed throughout 2009 look like a kindergarten playground.

THE POLITICAL FALLOUT FROM BELMONT

It has not been a great couple of weeks recently for Belmont University. A controversy has arisen, now going nationwide, over the school's dismissal of the women's soccer coach after she revealed that she and her same-sex partner are expecting a child.

Already there appears to be the chance that this matter will have an impact on local politics. Metro Councilwoman At-Large Megan Barry tells THE CITY PAPER (December 8) that "she looks forward to the day when Nashville joins the many other cities and counties across the nation including Louisville, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, Kansas City, St. Louis and Atlanta, that have written sexual orientation into local discrimination laws."

Councilwoman Barry helped pass legislation in the Metro Council that prohibited local government from using sexual preference as a means to fire or discriminate regarding employment. Extending that to private businesses or non-profits institutions such as Belmont is likely to set off quite a debate throughout the community. That's something which I suspect many politicians will not look forward to dealing with, especially just a few months (August, 2011) before many of them are on the ballot seeking re-election.   

But this Belmont matter right now does not seem close to a resolution, so it may fester in the public arena a bit longer, especially after school officials from the President, to the Board Chair and key donors making statements that do not seem to be completely on the same page about how Belmont should respond and/or act in the future.

Belmont has been working hard in recent years to create a positive national image. There has been much success in that area through its basketball teams making the NCAAs and especially through the school's successful hosting of one of the 2008 Presidential Debates. This current controversy will now clearly be an ongoing challenge for the school in telling its story.  

THE BATTLE OF NASHVILLE

This coming week (December 15-16) marks the 146th anniversary of the Battle of Nashville in 1864. It's a Civil War conflict that noted historian Stanley Horn once called "decisive". Indeed it was the final major battle of the Western theatre of the War and resulted in a major Union victory along with the near total destruction of the Confederate Army of Tennessee.

There were more battles fought in Tennessee during the Civil War than any other state than Virginia. So why with national military battlefields and cemeteries all over the state, did Nashville and its "decisive" battle get left out?

According to a recent article I found in Tennessee Historical Quarterly published in the fall of 2005, author Timothy B. Smith maintains it wasn't for lack of trying. Unfortunately, those who worked for many years to preserve some or all the battlefield never had good timing or good luck for their efforts. For example, he says when Congress was at its heights of spending funds to built these national parks and cemeteries in the 1890s, the battle of Nashville was not thought by the Civil War veterans helping to make the decisions to be as important to preserve as Antietam, Gettysburg, Vicksburg, Chickamauga-Chattanooga, and Shiloh. In the light of history, that is hard to argue. Also having two of the major parks already in Tennessee probably didn't help Nashville's chances either, although parks and cemeteries have been developed over the years at Ft. Donelson, Franklin and Stones River in Murfreesboro over the years.

By the time Nashville had other opportunities for federal funding, much of the local battlefield had been lost to development. Besides by that time in the early 1900s, Congress had grown opposed to spending more money for new battlefield parks. (Yes, there was a time when Congress didn't like to spend money, believe it not). According to the Tennessee Historical Quarterly article, even with the strong help of Nashville's Congressman Joseph Byrns, who supported legislation to establish a military park in Nashville from 1910 until well into the 1920s, the effort also got caught up in an ongoing feud between the War Department and a congressional committee so the effort died.

It some ways that probably worked out for the best for Nashville. Can you imagine how different the western part of the city would be with hundreds of acres of the battlefield as a military park, rather the now developed areas of 21st Avenue and Hillsboro Road, along with Forest Hills, Oak Hill and Green Hills? That's some pretty expensive, densely developed real estate that would not now be on the tax rolls.

But Nashville did receive some government help during the Depression (through the WPA) to help rebuild one of the important forts of Nashville's defense, Fort Negley (near Greer Stadium). While even the ruins of the fort (built and manned by black Federal troops) had all but disappeared at one time, with some of its materials being used to build a nearby reservoir, there was enough left to do some restoration and, some years later, that has now led to new efforts to turn the Fort into an excellent interpretive center about the Battle of Nashville that is helping to attract the growing number of Civil War tourists who are likely to expand in numbers in the coming years as the sesquicentennial of the War is commemorated beginning this coming April which is the 150th anniversary of the bombardment and surrender of Ft. Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina where the war began.

As a child of the ‘60s, I was keenly aware of the Centennial celebrations of the Civil War between 1961 and 1965. I am looking forward to 150th anniversary with perhaps the opportunity to educate my grandchildren on the importance of that conflict; why we need to be constantly vigilant in our politics to never go through something like that again; and how one of the outcomes of the war, the end of slavery, has been such an important step in building the greatness of our country and its democracy as it has evolved over the centuries. And the Battle of Nashville played a role in that which we should never forget even if we don't have a military park here.