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Capitol View Commentary: March 4, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: March 4, 2011

CREATED Mar 4, 2011

CAPITOL VIEW

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

March 4, 2011

TENNESSEE BUCKS; INSIDE POLITICS;  STREET CARS; BUYING TIME; CORKER REMAINS IN CROSS HAIRS FOR 2012; REDISTRICT NOW; ARCHIVES TO BEN WEST; FESTIVAL OR FLOP?

Everyone knows that passing a state budget is one of the most important (and this year likely most difficult) things the Tennessee General Assembly has to do.

But how about creating Tennessee's own currency?

That's a proposal for study being made by Murfreesboro Senator Bill Ketron (who is carrying a lot in very interesting and controversial legislation this year). He says the state needs to be prepared in case hyper-inflation or something else bad happens to our economy and our current national currency system collapses and the Federal Reserve goes away.

Say what? This sounds like one of the latest manifestations of the conservative GOP agenda that says anything from Washington is suspect and needs to be kept at arm's length, if not repealed, or declared null in void in the state, such as the new national health care law.   

Senator Ketron says a couple of other states (Georgia and South Carolina) have set up special committees to study this matter and that's what he wants to do in Tennessee. If approved, the study group would be made up of three members from the State House and three from the Senate. They would report back by February 1, 2012.

Wow, setting up your own state currency! That would be a very interesting task. What would we call our currency? It couldn't be greenbacks, how about (big) orangebacks? What faces would adorn our bills? You'd think surely our three U.S. Presidents from Tennessee would be selected, after all Andrew Jackson is already on the U.S. five-dollar bill. But maybe not, since Jackson was a Democrat and you can be sure Republicans will control this study committee. Being a Democrat probably also eliminates James K. Polk and while Andrew Johnson was something of a Republican when he served as Vice-President and then President, he really had his roots in the Democratic Party and was largely disowned by the Republicans nationally during his ongoing fight over Reconstruction with the Radical Republicans in Congress.

So how about our Governors (most likely the Republicans again)? What about Davy Crockett? Cordell Hull? Or maybe just use the State Capitol building? The last time Tennessee issued its own currency was during the Civil War and some photos of the notes I found on line show the Capitol on the front. By the way, while the Confederates lost and the Tennessee currency likely quickly lost most, if not all of its value, some of the items I found on line are quite valuable now. For example, a 25-cent note issued by the Bank of Tennessee is now selling for $125, while an 80-cent note from Planters Bank of Tennessee now sells for $295.

We should hope all our money appreciates in value like that over time!

But most likely, if the national currency goes haywire, Tennessee will do what has always happened here in times of deep economic hardship, people would be creating their own money known as "scrip." The Associated Press did a great article on this subject (August 9, 2009) back during the Great Recession. During bad times in the past in Tennessee and across the country "cities, counties, businesses and even wealthy individuals issued IOUs printed to look vaguely like currency. The scrip notes were then used to make payroll, pay off creditors or purchase goods at local stores." The AP says the use of scrip in Tennessee dates back to 1816 and it peaked in use during the 1930s and the Great Depression. "The system depended on people's faith in the person or entity issuing the scrip…usually that faith was rewarded…(and the scrip) was redeemed for cash (but)…in the meantime people could buy and sell, local businesses stayed afloat and workers got paid."

So do we really need a plan for a Tennessee currency? Or if the worst ever happens, are we better off letting our scrip system work again? Or is this just a state lawmaker feeding out some political "red meat" to his conservative constituents who are anti-Washington about anything and everything these days? And how comfortable are we having six members of our General Assembly drafting up this currency plan?

Looking at the actions of the General Assembly these days, do you find any inconsistency that some GOP state lawmakers are constantly complaining or looking to nullify or undermine any plans or new laws coming out of Washington, using the argument of states' rights? Yet at the same time, some state lawmakers are seeking to dictate what things city and county governments can do in terms of rules and regulations regarding zoning, living wage, or in the case of the city of Nashville, anti-discrimination in terms of sexual preference. An effort to stop the Metro proposal failed in a House committee in the recent days as it seems some legislators are having second thoughts about telling their local government colleagues what to do.

But as Metro prepares to give final approval on March 15 to its anti-discrimination bill, I am told after some small amendments are made, there will be renewed attempts in the General Assembly to take more local government's powers away.

INSIDE POLITICS

With the Legislature now well into the second month of its regular session, we thought it was a good time to see how things are shaking out on the Hill.

So we invited the Dean of the Capitol Hill Press Corps, Tom Humphrey of THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL and long-time journalist, Joe White of NASHVILLE PUBLIC RADIO, to be our guests on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

We discuss a wide variety of the hot topics and issues now before the General Assembly. I think you will find the discussion most enlightening.

You can see INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes being on the main channel (WTVF-TV, Channel 5) at 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning as well as 5 showings on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those air times on THE PLUS are 7:00 p.m. Friday, 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday, and 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Sunday. NEWCHANNEL5 PLUS is available on Comcast & Charter cable channels 250 and on Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2

STREET CARS

I always find it fascinating how history tends to repeat itself, not only in efforts to have our own Tennessee currency, but in our urban planning.

Recently the Metro Planning Commission sent me an article "36 Reasons Streetcars Are Better Than Buses." All I can say is…where was this article back in the late 1930s when the city of Nashville completely dismantled a fairly expansive electric trolley car system (one of the first in the nation) that had helped develop Nashville's original suburbs in exchange for a transit system of rubber-wheeled buses.

I also read an article recently in one of the local newspapers where developers are now saying they would like to place their new retail and residential developments nearby wherever new mass transit options, such as light rail or streetcars, are put in place. With gas prices soaring again, it all sounds good. But it's not a new idea.

When Nashville developed its streetcar system, an enterprising young man, H.G. Hill rode the system and looked for property to develop around the stops, especially at the end of the lines. That's where he started his chain of grocery stores that served several generations of Nashvillians. They found the stores very convenient because they were located so close to their homes as well where they caught the streetcars to go to and from work.  

As I said last week….everything old is (or can be) new again in both politics and urban planning. However that doesn't include costs. Building a new trolley system will be very expensive and may be hard to fund in these days of our mood of anti-tax and anti-Washington spending. 

 BUYING TIME

So Congress found a way to buy some time in funding the federal government and avoiding a shutdown. But only 2 weeks? Is it really going to be possible to work out a longer term solution on cutting federal spending in that short amount of time (and remember longer-term means only until October 1st when the new federal fiscal year begins).

The temporary budget extension does reflect some $4 billion in cuts agreed on by the House GOP leadership and the White House and Senate Democrats. But how much more negotiations can be done? Already there are e-mails flying from conservatives and Tea Party supporters which are blasting Republican House Speaker John Boehner for agreeing to just $4 billion in cuts while the full House approved $100 billion.

And so some final solution can be worked out in less than two weeks? I guess anything is possible, but considering most of the cuts under consideration still don't touch entitlement programs (the most sacred political cows in Washington), you can see how difficult and time consuming this will be. And there is the need later this spring to raise the national debt limit to keep the country from defaulting on its debt.

It ain't going to be fun.

Meantime, new Tennessee GOP Congresswoman Diane Black continues her meteoric rise to prominence and leadership in the House, having been selected to give the Republican response on March 5 to President Barack Obama's weekly national radio address. That's coming a long way in a short time from a State Senator representing a suburban area just north of Nashville, to a national spokesperson for her party. Having also garnered a prime committee appointment on the House Ways & Means Committee, Representative Black is clearly one of the stars of the new large class of rookie Congressmen in Washington. 

CORKER REMAINS IN THE CROSS HAIRS

In the midst of all this budget turmoil in Washington, for some reason, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker remains in the cross-hairs of those who say he will have a tough race to win re-election in 2012. 

THE NATIONAL JOURNAL (February 28) lists the junior senator from Tennessee among 11 members of the upper chamber who "face the toughest bids for re-election in 2012, some from primary challengers."

 But the article lists no potential challengers, primary or general, for Corker. It only says that the authors of the article "matched those teetering incumbents with their 2010 voting records and found that most are in the moderate wing of their respective parties."

Maybe they know something I don't. But despite the persistent drum beat out of some in the national media that Bob Corker is in trouble next year, I have yet to see any sign of a viable, well funded candidate who is looking at such a race. Strange

REDISTRICT NOW

In light of questions and concerns expressed by some Metro Council members and threats of a lawsuit by Nashville attorney George Barrett, the Metro Planning Department has reversed course and plans to have a redistricting plan, based on the new Census, ready for approval and implementation in time for the Metro council elections in August.

With computers it should be easier to draw the maps, so getting something to the full Planning Commission for approval by April 8 seems plausible. But then the Metro Council must approve it as an ordinance (three separate votes) and get it all done and in place before the May 19 qualifying deadline.

Could that happen? Possibly, but that is a very, very tight deadline, especially to also meet what the Planning staff says is one of its top priorities: "appropriate opportunity for public comment." Council members may also not like the way the lines have been redrawn and that could slow up the process as it did 20 years ago, when the matter went to a public referendum (as required by law) to resolve.

This is a recurring issue every 20 years, and while waiting four more years to deal with redrawing the lines often leads some neighborhoods to be ignored or orphaned as council members drop and swap neighborhoods, it seems to me there is no guarantee this effort to more quickly redraw the lines will resolve the matter.

ARCHIVES TO BEN WEST

The administration of Mayor Karl Dean has made a wise decision concerning the Metro Archives. According to an article in THE CITY PAPER, efforts to move the Archives from the Green Hills area to Hickory Hollow Mall have been dropped.

Good call.

If the city can't afford or wouldn't give the Archives its own new facility, it ought to be moved to the old Ben West Library building downtown. It's vacant and not being used, it has plenty of room, it's close to the State Library & Archives and it just makes good sense.

Putting the Archives closer to Rutherford County (Hickory Hollow) than the rest of Nashville made little sense. Being in the Ben West facility and close to the State Library & Archives will facilitate genealogical and other research because the two facilities will be within easy walking distance of each other.

It's time the Archives quits being an afterthought, an orphan, a place holder for city property. Our civic history is too important for that. Deciding not to go to Hickory Hollow is a good first step.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have been a strong supporter of the Archives for many years, including serving as President of THE FRIENDS OF THE METRO ARCHIVES support group. 

FESTIVAL OR FLOP?

I am not sure what to make of the recent announcement of plans to create THE FESTIVAL TENNESSEE theme park and $750 million in surrounding private development (hotels, a conference center, shopping, TV production studios, even an NBA team and a charter school) down in Spring Hill. 

Surely all those things would be a god-send to all of Middle Tennessee, especially all the good jobs that would be created in a community that has been devastated by the closing of the old GM Saturn Plant. But to this point, I am not sure the developers have presented enough information to convince folks that what they are proposing is feasible or likely to occur.

Now I guess the developers don't really have to do that. No one in the group is asking for government support (although surely they will need help with roads and other infrastructure improvements). But, especially at the beginning of a project like this, particularly one this large and ambitious, winning public confidence will be important. So the developers would be wise to show their financial cards a bit more to convince the public and the media that this is more than just another effort by Charlie Sheen to say he's going to rehab soon.