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Capitol View Commentary: February 11, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: February 11, 2011

CREATED Feb 11, 2011

CAPITOL VIEW

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

February 11, 2011

GOVERNOR HASLAM ON JOBS; GOVERNOR HASLAM ON THE BUDGET; SPEAKER HARWELL ON INSIDE POLITICS; SENATOR ALEXANDER ON A ROLL; MAYOR DEAN ADDS TO TEAM; CLARIFYING BEFORE THE VOTE; SNOWPOCALYPSE; EGYPT

It often seemed to be his number one issue on the campaign trail and in his many TV ads.  Jobs

New Governor Bill Haslam repeatedly indicated he would offer a plan to create and bring more jobs to Tennessee.  Remember, "That's what matters now," he would say?

For weeks, many voters and legislative leaders have been in eager anticipation of what the Governor might propose on this issue when he makes his State of The State address and submits his first budget in March. 

But perhaps to tone down overblown expectations, the Governor now says (as quoted by THE CITY PAPER from a speech to the Tennessee Press Association 2/11): "I don't think that we are going to solve Tennessee's employment issues with legislation. I just don't."

It appears "the jobs package" may be as small as just two bills….tort reform and changes in rules and regulations to encourage insurance companies to come to Tennessee. Says the Governor (from the same CITY PAPER article): "I think they (jobs) can be created…by looking at the different rules and regulations that are put in place by government that sometimes make it difficult to do business and often can encourage businesses to go somewhere else besides Tennessee." Governor Haslam has also put a 45-day moratorium on any new state rules, although exactly what that will do is not yet clear.

The Governor says he is encouraged by what he sees in the economic development pipeline to bring jobs to the state. But, of course, those are long term prospects, not something likely to quickly help the thousands of folks in Northwest Tennessee who could be severely impacted by a major company deciding to close its tire plant facility which was announced in recent days.

Actually, no one should be surprised by where the Governor is coming from on this issue. He made that clear when he rejected the idea of giving tax breaks to employers creating new jobs in Tennessee which was being touted by his Democratic opponent, Mike McWherter. Then candidate Haslam said we couldn't afford that, and since he has now seen our budget prospects first hand, I am sure he feels even more strongly about that.

But without giving tax incentives, there is very little Tennessee can do directly to help create new jobs. This is not the federal government, and besides the ruling Republican majority in Tennessee doesn't like job creation by government anyway.

Sure, creating a more pro-business climate in Tennessee can help create jobs. But this state is already pretty strong in that area and I wonder if the Haslam administration will be able to make any predictions on exactly how much tort reform and regulation relief will translate into lowering the state's 9% unemployment rate.

But that's the jobs plan. Sometimes talking about creating and bringing more jobs to the state makes for a great sound bite on the campaign trail, but when it comes to public policy, it much more difficult to do.  

GOVERNOR HASLAM ON THE BUDGET

As state budget hearings move ahead and revenue projections come in, it is pretty clear Governor Haslam has some very tough decisions to make about what to cut…and what to fund in next year's budget.

And while state revenue collections have now begun to increase for the first time in nearly 2 years, that is likely creating a political problem for the budget. Governor Haslam knows that overall state monies, even with a sizable increase from recent holiday sales, are still more than a billion below what they once were. Meanwhile state reserve funds (the rainy day monies) are depleted.

So much like Governor Phil Bredesen before him, Governor Haslam says he wants to hold back spending any "new" money that comes in from state tax collections to build back the rainy day fund. That's probably a very wise idea. But once the public and lawmakers start seeing and hearing what is going to be cut in the new budget, you can expect a loud outcry from those worried to see their favorite programs axed or cut back, saying those additional tax monies need to spent not saved.

This could well become the dominant issue to the budget debate going forward.

INSIDE POLITICS

One of the legislative leaders involved in that debate will, of course, be new House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville. She is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend.

We will be discussing the budget as well as legislative efforts (with help from Governor Haslam)  to come up with an omnibus immigration bill to hold down the confusion and (maybe) some of the animosity that comes from having so many different pieces of legislation dealing with this matter. And while the Governor says he doesn't want more government regulation, I suspect the omnibus bill will require businesses to use a federal program to check worker documentation and set up other rules and regulations in other areas of immigration as well. So don't expect even an omnibus bill to pass without a lot of concern and controversy.

Then there's the latest effort by Republicans in the State Senate to kill Obamacare. They want to pass legislation along with other states that would ask the Congress to let Tennessee and the other states make up their own health care rules. I doubt such a compact would be approved by the Congress (especially the Senate) nor signed by the President, but it is another attempt by some in the GOP to show they "trying to do something" to stop the new health care law. As for Speaker Harwell, she certainly did not speak against the idea, but I did not detect a lot of support for the compact idea either.       

We also talk to the new Speaker about education reform proposals, including a ban on teacher collective bargaining. And there's the annual effort to let wine be sold in grocery stores. This year, there is new, compromise legislation that would allow wine in grocery stores while also letting liquor outlets sell food and other items that have been banned in the past. That has Speaker Harwell (who support wine in groceries) to say she now believes the effort has its best chance ever to pass. But the lobbyist for the liquor store industry still says no way that the votes are not there.

We also spend some time with the Speaker about how she adjusting to her new duties and responsibilities and how that works with the rest of her legislative responsibilities and the rest of her life. 

It's a good chat.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes Sunday morning at 5 am on the main channel, WTVF-TV, Channel 5. You can also watch us on NEWSCHANNEL 5 PLUS, which broadcasts on Comcast and Charter Cable channels 250 and Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2. Our times are 7:00 p.m. Friday, 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

SENATOR ALEXANDER ON A ROLL

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander continues to rise in power and prominence in Washington and he may be moving even higher soon in the GOP leadership of the Senate.

After recently being named "ranking member" on both the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration (critical to future debates about filibusters) and the subcommittee on Energy and Water Appropriations (critical to overseeing funding for Oak Ridge, Y-12, and locks and dams in Tennessee), there is even a bigger position soon to be vacant.

The Senate Republican Whip  John Kyl of Arizona (number two on the GOP totem pole of power in the upper chamber) has announced he will not be seeking a fourth term next year. Alexander is right behind Kyl in leadership and says he plans to run for the Whip position

Alexander has tried to do that before, but ended up with an embarrassing defeat, losing to Senator Trent Lott a few years ago. Alexander has become quite close to the number one Republican Senator, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of  Kentucky, so that could be very helpful this time. But Senator Alexander in his role as Conference Chair has become invaluable in coming up with excellent talking points on the issues before the Senate, which often are quite helpful in winning the public opinion debates about these matters.

So will his colleagues want to elevate Senator Alexander to be Whip? It could become an even more important decision as the GOP stands a good chance of taking back control of the Senate in 2012.

Tennessee's other senator, Bob Corker is also pleased with his committee assignments staying on the Banking, Energy and Foreign Relations committee and staying as ranking member of the Special Committee on Aging. His office in a news release said it leaves the Senator who is running for re-election next year "well positioned to address the nation's foremost challenges."        

MAYOR DEAN ADDS TO HIS TEAM

Even though he has no opposition so far in seeking a second four-year term, Mayor Karl Dean is taking no chances.  He has brought on board an experienced and distinguished group of advisors, media consultants, pollsters, fund raisers and others to guide him successfully through the August election. It's just one more thing to think about for those contemplating taking His Honor on this summer.

The Dean team is also being expanded at the Metro Courthouse with two former key players of the state administration of former Governor Phil Bredesen, Tam Gordon and Jim Fyke, coming on board. Both also have many years of experience in Metro and should be able to hit the ground running.

Having known (and reported) on both of them for many years, I admire their abilities as public servants.  And while being my friends make it tough to be completely objective, I think the Mayor has made some excellent choices. Budgets are tight, but administration officials say their positions can be handled within existing funds. I still wouldn't be surprised to hear some carping about it from a few members of the Metro Council, and maybe even some pointed questions during Council budget hearings this summer.

CLARIFYING YOUR POSITION BEFORE THE VOTE

While Mayor Dean may have an easy time winning a second term, that doesn't mean there aren't tough issues out there that he has to deal with these days. That includes a bill in Metro Council that would require any firm doing business with the city have a nondiscrimination policy regarding sexual preference. It is up for a crucial second reading vote next Tuesday (February 15).

Metro already has such a law in terms of its own personnel policies. When extending that idea to cover all businesses that work with the city came up (in the wake of the Belmont University women soccer coach matter), the Mayor told me on INSIDE POLITICS that he didn't think legislation was necessary, that Metro should lead by example and that would be enough.

But late Friday afternoon, his office issued a statement that seems to be a further clarification on where he stands:

The Mayor says because Nashville is "a friendly and welcoming city that doesn't tolerate discrimination (and because Nashville) is a city that does tolerate discrimination… (the idea of such a new law) makes sense."

But then the Mayor adds: "The Council initiated this legislation. If they pass it, I will sign it. If it does not move forward at this time, I will encourage those on all sides to come together in the spirit of cooperation to talk through issues and continue to work towards that goal."      

Clearly the Mayor is trying to make the best situation he can out of being in tough spot. He has supporters in Nashville's conservative business community who strongly oppose the bill. He also has supporters that want such a measure signed into law. It seems to me the Mayor is making it clear that while he did not propose this measure, he supports it and will sign it if the Council gives it OK, a vote that some are saying could be very close.

The Mayor knows the timing of this bill is pretty bad coming during election season. But while it is not his time of choosing, he does support the overall goal of the bill and therefore will sign it if passed. He also says, if it doesn't pass, he is ready to work together to find some common ground in the future to achieve a non-discrimination policy throughout Nashville.

That would obviously takes months to work through, but that is just what it took the first time around before Metro approved the non-discrimination policy for its own personnel matters. We'll see what happens Tuesday night and then for third and final reading of the bill in the Council down the road.     

SNOWPOCALYPSE

I won't bore you with a lot of details about my Nashville snowstorm nightmare from Wednesday (February 9). Suffice it to say it took me over 3 hours to get home from the office, a drive that is normally 15-20 minutes. And from what I have heard, I had it easy compared to some.

Actually I had been caught in a similar situation 8 years in 2003. This time, I found a lot of Nashville drivers did a much better job under the circumstances.  I didn't see any wrecks. I didn't see nearly as many people getting caught in intersections when the lights changed, blocking everyone from moving. I didn't see as many people tailgating or gunning their engines to get more traction and speed, only to spin out or slide into a ditch.

It seemed more people drove slowly and used their lower drive gears to stay under control and moving. But, don't be fooled. There were still more than enough idiots out there to screw things up.

Now before the local media goes on a crusade about who is to blame for the gridlock that occurred, everyone take a chill pill (pun intended). Given how and when this snowstorm blew through, I am not sure what could be done. Warning people to stay off the roads is likely to only have a marginal impact. Plans to allow people to leave for home based on car colors are just ridiculous and completely unenforceable. With all the police have to do during a time like this, checking car colors and issuing tickets is just silly. And did anyone think every car will look white during a snowstorm?

Putting some police officers to direct traffic in and around major intersections, especially near interstate entrances and exit might be helpful. But I am not an urban planner or traffic engineer and I don't even play one on TV. I am just another survivor of Nashville's latest Snowpocalypse.

EGYPT

In the annals of man's quest for liberty and freedom, what's happened in Egypt will never be forgotten. The citizens there never gave up, despite many setbacks and surprises, and ultimately they seem to have prevailed.

But we have seen this before. Often winning the revolution (even when it's televised or now promoted through Facebook and Twitter) is much easier than winning the peace. What happens now in Egypt? Who will be in control of the government? What will that mean for Israel? What will it mean for the U.S. and for the rest of politics in the Middle East? What will it mean for other Arab governments in that region who have also been despotic and autocratic (often with tacit approval of the U.S.)?

For now it looks like the Obama administration came out on top as the side it seemed to back, won. But what will we think six months or a year from now? And what will history says 5, 10, 15 or even 100 years from now? It's another brave new world in one of the most unstable areas of the world. Will it make things better or worse?