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Capitol View Commentary: March 11, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: March 11, 2011

CREATED Mar 11, 2011

CAPITOL VIEW

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

March 11, 2011

NAME CALLING & PARTISAN DIVIDES; GOOD PUBLIC SERVANTS; THE NEXT GENERATION; THE DONALD ON TENNESSEE POLITICS; THERE'S ALWAYS A NASHVILLE CONNECTION; FUNDING THE SCHOOL BUDGET; SPRING BREAK; NOT SO HAPPY BUT VERY SOBER; JOHN SEIGENTHALER ON INSIDE POLITICS

For the first time, new Governor Bill Haslam seems to feeling some heat. And so is Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey.

The Governor has told reporters on two separate occasions in recent days that (according to Tom Humphrey of THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL, March 7) "he will rise above the name calling at a recent Tea Party rally….(where he was) called weak on efforts to do away with teachers' collective bargaining rights in Tennessee" and (to THE CITY PAPER, March 8) where he said "Democrats have said certainly things about Republicans and about me that I don't particularly like. So that's why I want to get past all of that….There has been more of a partisan divide, which I don't think is healthy for solving problems." Then the Governor called "for bi-partisan problem solving…and dismissed rebukes from conservatives and liberals alike over his refusal to take positions on controversies in the rancorous legislative session (teacher collective bargaining)."

Rancorous? Any legislative session has its moments of heat and strong disagreements. But so far, while the some of the rhetoric is getting a little over the top, I would say I've seen and heard lots worse over the years, and so has the Lt. Governor I suspect. As for the Governor, having been an elected official (Mayor of Knoxville), he should know when you try to stay above the fray and stay out certain legislative controversies that that is sometimes a clear invitation for both sides to go after you a little, not leave you alone.

Lt. Governor Ramsey says he is particularly upset about statements by some Democratic leaders about the GOP's teacher legislation (both changes in tenure and collective bargaining), saying: "When we get called terrorists, when we get called fascists, we're going to respond back."

Well, now that's bound to help the level of dialogue, I'm sure.

Actually, while some Democrats are maybe getting a little over the top, given the breakdown in numbers in both houses, what the Democrats say really doesn't matter. They don't have the votes to stop or even modify any legislation (unless they pull a Wisconsin and leave the state, which isn't likely to happen). And besides, as we've now learned from Wisconsin, you can always find a legislative maneuver to trump the other side (if you have the votes in the first place). 

Now if the Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly get divided, that is another matter and therefore the heat from the Tea Party should probably be more worrisome, in particular to Team Haslam, than what the Democrats say.  

After being rather timid in the early weeks of the session, it appears Democrats will continue to speak out. That includes going after Governor Haslam and the GOP on his tenure reform bill. In the wake of that bill easily passing the Senate (and look for the House to concur shortly), Democratic Senator Eric Stewart of Belvidere was not happy that the GOP majority had rejected his amendment to delay implementing the new tenure plans until the necessary evaluations have been drafted and implemented. "Instead, the majority party is focused on punishing teachers, printing their own money and ignoring Tennesseans." Added Democratic Senate leader Jim Kyle of Memphis: "We have spent another job-killing day telling our teachers that they're the problem. I'm waiting for Republicans to start blaming teachers for our rising unemployment."

Nice quotes and sound bites. But again, there is not much the Democrats can do but talk. As for the Governor, he should work hard to seek as much bi-partisan support as he can on all his legislative priorities, but he shouldn't expect miracles to occur, especially when there is an onslaught of legislation he and other Republicans are pushing that really take off hard after a major Democratic support group, teachers. Ditto for the Lt. Governor.

 Governor Haslam is about to take center stage (Monday, March 14) with his first annual State of The State and Budget Address. If you'll remember this was supposed to be, and likely still will be one of the major focuses of this session of the legislature. If you possible the Governor should hope he gets some that bi-partisanship to deal with all the major budget cuts that lie just ahead.

One other issue to watch is what the Governor will do with the bill finally passed by the General Assembly to allow Tennesseans to opt-out of the national health care law. While several states have already passed similar legislation, its legality remains uncertain. Governor Haslam has previously indicated he approved the concept of the bill. But after it passed the General Assembly, he did not readily tell reporters that he would sign it into law. That's likely being properly cautious until a full staff review can be done of what was actually passed. But if some reason Governor Haslam doesn't sign it, you can expect the Tea Party folks to be back on the warpath and they'll be calling the Governor a lot worse things than anything the Democrats have been dishing out.

GOOD PUBLIC SERVANTS

While it seems to be open season these days to criticize public employees, we lost two of the best recently with the deaths of long-time Metro Nashville Zoning Administrator Sonny West and Maxine Roberts, the long-time top aide to former Lt. Governor, the late John Wilder.

Both knew how to do difficult political jobs very well.  West had served Nashville for 55 years while Roberts was in public service for close to 40. Well done.     

THE NEXT GENERATION

We talked about this on INSIDE POLITICS just a few weeks ago with her father, Congressman Jim Cooper.

Now, it's happened.

Mary Cooper, a junior at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has been elected student body president for the upcoming academic year 2011-12. UNC-Chapel Hill includes some 29,390 students.

President Cooper is an environmental health sciences major and, according to a news release from the school, she made a campaign pledge of seeking "a green certification by the UNC Office of Waste Reduction and Recycling in an effort to meet the university's goal of becoming coal-free by 2020."

According to the news release as Student Body President, she will lead the executive branch of student government and will advocate for students. She will also appoint a cabinet of other students, who will chair committees to help her work to enact her platform which also includes setting up a student enrichment fund "that will give grants to students to attend conferences, lectures or seminars and gain exposure outside Chapel Hill." She also wants to expand the school's computing initiative to "unconventional locations such as…Greek houses…(and she wants to provide) a flat rate taxi service to transport students safely off-campus."

Wow…that's quite an aggressive list of campaign promises! Whatever happened to just improving the food in the cafeterias on campus?    

Obviously, being around politics and political campaigns is nothing new for Mary Cooper. It must be in her genes actually, In addition to her dad, who has served in the Congress from two different Tennessee districts, her grandfather (the Congressman's father) Prentice Cooper was Governor of Tennessee some years ago.

So has a new generation of a Tennessee political family been born into politics? Stay tuned.

BIPARTISAN

Since Governor Haslam wants to have a more bipartisan tone to the state's politics, maybe he better talk to The Donald.

How about this from an article on "Dru's Vues, too" by Dru Smith Fuller: On a recent broadcast of MORNING JOE on MSNBC "Donald Trump called Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander "a very ineffective Senator" and predicted Alexander won't be there for another term. Why? "The people of Tennessee are very smart. They voted against Al Gore."

How about that for being "bi-partisan," insulting prominent Tennesseans in both parties? Apparently, Trump is not happy that Senator Alexander said that the multi-billionaire businessman is "famous for being famous" and "has absolutely no chance of winning the presidency" (which Trump says he is considering for 2012). Why Trump is mad at Al Gore? Who knows?

I am also not sure what makes Trump an expert on Tennessee politics. Senator Alexander is not up for re-election until 2014, and at this point, no one knows if he will even seek another term. But if he does, and I had to put his years of public service in Tennessee up against Donald Trump, I think I know who the voters would decide to ‘hire" and which one they'd say "you're fired."

And after all, having made two unsuccessful runs for President himself, I think Lamar Alexander knows a thing a two about who has a chance to be elected President.

THERE'S ALWAYS A NASHVILLE CONNECTION

The world watches in shock and sorrow as Japan begins to slowly recover from the biggest earthquake (and resulting tsunami) in its history. The toll of death and destruction will likely continue to rise for several days yet.

In this day of easy worldwide travel and communications, all of us are touched in some way by what has happened. Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper has set up a special hotline for this weekend to help people with friends and loved ones in Japan learn more about conditions there and the ongoing search and rescue effort. He is posting information as well from the State Department on his congressional web site.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is also getting a personal look at the situation. Just hours after the disaster struck, his office announced the Mayor is going ahead with a planned economic development trip to Japan. According to a news release from the Mayor's office, "(Japan's) Counsel General Hiroshi Sato ensured Mayor Dean he would not be in the way. While the earthquake may require some changes to his itinerary, most of the cities the mayor plans to visit have not been heavily impacted by the disaster."

The Mayor will be visiting officials of Japanese companies who already have a significant presence in the Nashville area (such as Bridgestone and Nissan). He will also learn more about mass transit alternatives being used in Japan and look to increase cultural and civic ties between our city and Japan. He is traveling as a guest of the Japanese government, so the trip will be at no cost to local taxpayers.

FUNDING THE SCHOOL BUDGET

When Mayor Dean returns to Nashville, he will begin his annual budget hearings, working on the annual spending plan he must submit to the Metro Council in May.

All recent budgets have been tough, and this coming year's will no exception. In fact, based on the preliminary money numbers released by Metro Schools, the budget for public education in Nashville may need another $30 to $40 million dollars.

Education has always been Mayor Dean's top priority along with public safety and economic development. He has prided himself that he has always fully funded what the school system is requesting.

That will be a very difficult task to do this year to say the least, even though of all years, it is something you know the Mayor wants to be able to do as he seeks re-election.

 SPRING BREAK

A lot of people are going to be out of town for spring break over the next few days. That apparently may include some Metro Council members. The Council has a major third and final reading vote on the new anti-discrimination bill which prohibits companies doing business with the city unless they have policies outlawing discrimination due to sexual identity or preference.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in this column that having only received 21 votes for the bill on second reading (which is the bare minimum required for final approval), it might be tough to hold all their supporters. I never thought it would be spring break that would create the issue. But according to an article in THE CITY PAPER (3/11) there appears to be enough concern about some council members being absent that there may be a two-week postponement.

Of course, the opponents of the bill might try to force a vote anyway in an effort to defeat it. But supporters say they'll just reintroduce it.

Meanwhile, according to an article in current edition of THE NASHVILLE SCENE, there are some questions arising about the constitutionality of the measure, so debate on this matter may continue for at least a few more weeks yet.     

NOT SO HAPPY, BUT VERY SOBER

I found two recent national polls that have some fascinating results regarding Tennessee and Nashville.

One survey done by the Gallup Organization along with the Healthways Well-Being Index (March 8) found we are not so happy overall, ranking 40th among the 50 states with Hawaii, 1st, West Virginia last and our neighbor, Kentucky, next to last (49th).

The survey is based on questions asked in several categories such as life evaluation, emotional health, physical health and job satisfaction.

The second survey is from THE DAILY BEAST (March 10). According to an article on line at THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL, Tennessee has three of the most sober cities in the nation with Nashville first, Kingsport-Bristol second, and Memphis, third!

How in the name of Jack Daniels, Beale Street and the Bristol Motor Speedway can this be right? Not to mention Yazoo Beer and all of country music?

To quote the poll's methodology: : "To find the driest towns in America, we considered the average alcohol consumption over a month, the percentage of binge and heavy drinkers, and the portion of the population that suffers the potentially dire health consequences of drinking too much."

Putting it all in together, the NBJ article says "the typical adult in Nashville consumed 8.92 drinks a month (as compared to) Boston where adults slam down the most drinks, 14.4 per month." And just in time for St Patty's Day!  

Now some might say they see a correlation between a state being not so happy and being very sober. I don't know about that. What I do wonder is this: Did the survey leave out the alcohol consumption in Nashville during the months when the General Assembly is in town? And will this poll become some kind new talking point in the never-ending debate over allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores? Just asking.             

INSIDE POLITICS

Our guest this week on INSIDE POLITICS is a national journalistic legend, and a Nashville treasure, John Seigenthaler.

The Chairman Emeritus of THE TENNESSEAN and FOUNDING EDITORIAL DIRECTOR OF USA TODAY, John is one of the folks we want to invite on every so often to have him share his wisdom and insights on a number of different topics, so we are so very happy to have him.

John also takes time to share some news about his recent illness which has been the subject of many rumors in the community. Listen to what John has to say, but I can tell you, it's a positive report, thank goodness!

You can see INSIDE POLITICS several times each 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 multiple times on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Our air times are 7:00 p.m. Fridays, 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m, Saturdays and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. Sunday. NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS can be seen on the Comcast and Charter Cable channels 250 as well as Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

Next week on INSIDE POLITICS (March 19-22), we plan to have noted Vanderbilt Law Professor Jim Blumstein on the show. He will talking about why Tennessee needs tort reform as proposed in the General Assembly by Governor Haslam. Professor Blumstein will be the other side to former Senator Fred Thompson who expressed opposition to the tort reform proposal on our show a few weeks back.

One last note, it's time for some warm breezes and shouts of "Play Ball" so there will NOT be a CAPITOL VIEW column next week.

Look for my next column on Friday, March 25.