Capitol View Commentary: January 14, 2011
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
January 14, 2011
POWER TRANSITIONS; FIRST ACTIONS; ARIZONA; INSIDE POLITICS; FIREWORKS AT THE COURTHOUSE; ANOTHER COUNCIL HEADACHE AHEAD; FESSING UP
One of the great strengths of American democracy will be on display this weekend (Saturday, January 15) here in Nashville. It's the peaceful transfer of power from one governor to another, from one political party to another as former Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam takes the oath of office to become the 49th Governor of the State of Tennessee, succeeding two-term Governor Phil Bredesen.
So join Scott Arnold and I for live coverage of this historic event at 11:00 a.m. Saturday. You can find us almost everywhere on the NewsChannel5 Network, the main channel, WTVF-TV, Channel5, NewsChannel5 Plus (Comcast & Charter cable channel 250, as well as Channel 5's 5.2 over-the-air digital channel), and with live streaming video here on NewsChannel5.com.
Actually, in other ways, the power transition began a few days ago with the organizational session of the new 107th Tennessee General Assembly. That's where Republicans finally cemented their complete takeover of the State House of Representatives with Representative Beth Harwell of Nashville becoming the first woman to ever hold that position. Based in part of the GOP's strong majority in the House (and I think because Harwell's popularity among all colleagues) she was given the rather rare honor of being elected without any dissenting or abstaining votes, even from the Democrats.
What a difference two years or four years makes! In 2009, it was a Republican defection by Representative Kent Williams who joined with all the Democrats to upset the plans of Republican Jason Munpower to be House Speaker (with Williams instead becoming the House leader). That followed a similar defection two years earlier in 2007 that saw then-Democratic Senator Rosalind Kurita go over to the GOP to elect Ron Ramsey as the first GOP Lt. Governor since Reconstruction after the Civil War.
When you look on the platform for the swearing-in Saturday, the Republicans command all they survey in Tennessee government, except the Supreme Court and Attorney General‘s position. Even the two U.S. Senators are Republicans as are most (7 out of 9) of the Congressmen. It shows how much politics has changed in the last few years.
Here's another note of change: This will be the first swearing-in since 1971, some 40 years ago, that the late Democratic Lt. Governor John Wilder will not be presiding. And that's another point for the new Governor to remember: the Governor is sworn in during a joint session of the General Assembly. In other words, our Tennessee founders, our constitution writers in 1870, wanted the General Assembly to be the top dog politically and so they gave lawmakers the power to install the Governor. It's an interesting concept, although as a true power equation it rarely translates that way in state government.
What I will be watching for mostly closely Saturday will be what Governor Haslam has to say in his inaugural address. What kind of clues he will give or comments will he make about how he plans to implement his campaign promises for jobs, jobs, jobs, along with balancing the state budget, and improving public education.
You know, "That's what matters now," as Mr. Haslam said in all his TV commercials.
On a couple of his major issues, jobs and the state budget, the Governor –Elect has had to do a little backtracking from some earlier comments. At first, Mr. Haslam told reporters he didn't think he'd have to lay off any state employees this coming fiscal year despite the state's very difficult budget situation. After some further review however, and comments from Lt. Governor Ramsey that avoiding layoffs may be all but impossible, the new Governor seems to be hedging that promise a bit.
The Governor also has some transition issues to deal with. There are some cabinet posts still left unfilled and there's the issue of how to deal with a clear conflict of interest for the new ECD Commissioner. ECD oversees the TNInvestco program, in which the new commissioner has a relationship with a firm that has received money from the program. So far, the Haslam administration says they are aware of the issue and plan to have the Commissioner place his assets in the blind trust. But will that work? It's hard to say without more details, especially since we've learned over the years, that some blind trusts aren't as blind as others.
In terms of her first actions as Speaker of the House, Speaker Beth Harwell has (not surprisingly) followed the long time legislative tradition in both parties of putting their members in leadership control of all committees and sub-committees. What did raise interest on the Hill was Speaker Harwell's move to greatly reduce the number of sub-committees (where controversial legislation often goes to die or be "studied" further). She believes this change will greatly streamline the work of the General Assembly, and that there will still be plenty of sub-committees to handle legislation that needs to be further debated or studied (or killed).
While we glory in the public and peaceful transition of power in this country, another long-time American political tradition, the town hall meeting with our Congressional representatives, seems to be an increasingly risky endeavor.
First, there was all the rancor and harsh words in the summer of 2009 when opponents of the health care overhaul proposed by President Barack Obama gave their congressional representatives a piece of their minds in no uncertain terms.
Now, the nation is trying to come to grips with the senseless mass shooting in Arizona last Saturday at a congressional town hall meeting which gravely wounded a U.S. Congresswomen and killed six people (including a federal judge and a 9-year old child).
It does not appear the gunman acted out of any political malice but that hasn't stopped either of the political extremes on the left or the right for playing political games and blaming the other side for what happened.
Maybe it's just time for everyone to cool it, lower the noise, give the other side the benefit of the doubt and have a little less forthrightness about what we say and believe. Our Presidents in recent years have assumed the duties of being Comforter-In-Chief in times of national tragedy. By all accounts (even Glenn Beck said something nice), President Obama clearly did a masterful job in his speech at a recent memorial service.
Let's hope everyone takes it to heart and please pray for the families of those whose lives have been changed forever by what happened in Arizona.
The Arizona shooting is one of many topics I discuss on this week's edition of INSIDE POLITICS with Tennessee U.S. Senator Bob Corker.
By the way, despite earlier statements in the media, the Senator made it clear to me that he DOES PLAN to seek re-election in 2012. He adds he doesn't know why he continues to be a target for a primary challenge by Tea Party supporters. He says he is just trying to do his job the best he can.
That work presently includes an effort to pass legislation to a put a cap on federal spending over the next 10 years. The Senator says he is getting a lot of support for the idea and he believe Congress ought to act on the measure (along with actually starting to make cuts) before it considers raising the country's debt level (something which the Congress is likely to have to look at doing later this spring).
You can see our interview several times this weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes 5 a.m. on Sunday morning (January 16) on Channel 5, WTVF-TV as well as on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, which can be seen on Comcast & Charter Cable channels 250 along with Channel 5's 5.2 over-the-air digital channel. Our air times on THE PLUS are 7:00 p.m. Friday (January 14), 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m. Saturday (January 15) and 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Sunday.
FIREWORKS AT THE COURTHOUSE
When I was a child attending the annual Tennessee State Fair, one of the highlights came at the end of the evening with a fireworks show.
If you come to the Metro Courthouse next Tuesday night (January 18), you will see another political fireworks show over the future of the Fairgrounds property.
At issue this time is a bill, supported by Mayor Karl Dean, to continue, at least for now, some of the current operations at the Fairgrounds (the monthly flea market, and the State Fair if Metro doesn't run it). But the pending legislation would authorize demolishing the Racetrack facility in order to develop a new park.
This matter has been growing in controversy for months, and with the legislation also involving a public hearing before the Council on Tuesday evening, a big crowd of supporters on both sides of the issue are expected to jam the Chambers.
Those supporting the Raceway have managed to stay united with Flea Market and State Fair advocates. Working together they earlier derailed a proposal from the Mayor to completely shut down the Fairgrounds to make it available for redevelopment. Now the Fairgrounds advocates have come up with their own plan for how to redevelop the property and keep it as the Fairgrounds .
While the timing and exact financing for this new plan could be considered somewhat murky if not suspect, the plan may give the Fairgrounds advocates the advantage of having pretty pictures and plans to show about what they'd like to do, something which the Mayor does not have, although he does have a study from the Chamber of Commerce estimating the millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs (although unspecified) that could be generated by redoing the Fairgrounds property.
The Mayor seems to working to build his crowds of supporters, especially for Tuesday night, re-enlisting the Chamber to speak out again as well as some others (the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors, which full disclosure is a client of mine) and some other groups who helped the Mayor gain Council approval for the new Convention Center a few months back.
Add it all up, and it could create quite a political bang (and a long evening) at the Courthouse come Tuesday.
ANOTHER COUNCIL HEADACHE AHEAD
As if the Fairgrounds controversy isn't enough, now it appears a major fight is brewing over pending legislation that would extend Metro's anti-discrimination rules regarding sexual preference to include anyone that does business with the city.
This matter came to the forefront most recently after a nationwide controversy arose a few months back over how Belmont University handled the continued employment of its one of its athletic coaches after she announced she and her same-sex partner are having a baby.
The extension of Metro non-discrimination policy (which was adopted over a year) to anyone doing business with the city may well take the matter to a whole new level in terms of politics.
Media reports indicate that several local conservative business leaders are organizing in opposition and they are talking with Representative Glen Casada about the General Assembly passing state legislation to preclude Metro's action.
Without getting into the merits of any of this, in terms of pure politics, I would suggest that those opposing the new anti-discrimination bill might try and get local Davidson County state lawmakers and council members to speak out and support their efforts and not have state lawmakers or for that matter religious leaders from other surrounding counties get involved in a high profile way. Nobody likes folks from other counties butting into their affairs.
One other thought politically about this legislation.
While lawmakers may feel that they have to do what they have to do, regardless of the timing, Metro Council elections are just a few months away. This would be a difficult topic to deal with for many lawmakers no matter when it comes up. But right before an election could be particularly tough and maybe a little annoying since the two major sponsors of the bill are both not running for another term in office (one is term limited, the other has decided not to run again).