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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 25, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 25, 2011

CREATED Mar 25, 2011

CAPITOL VIEW

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

March 25, 2011

LT. GOVERNOR RAMSEY ON INSIDE POLITICS; NOT DISCUSSED; THE WORLD CHANGED LAST WEEK; THE METRO REDISTRICTING  MESS

With the General Assembly about to finish its third month in session, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend.

On the whole he says he is quite pleased by what his Republican-controlled State Senate and the overall Legislature has done so far. He believes they can accomplish even more now that they have all but approved Governor Bill Haslam's tenure changes. Both houses have approved the bill and there are only a few minor differences that still need to be worked out. Final approval will give the Governor his major legislative win.

One area of concern for Speaker Ramsey is in another area of what he calls "education reform." He is strongly in favor of eliminating collective bargaining by teacher groups (unions) in Tennessee, but the House, with the support of its Republican Speaker Beth Harwell, seems headed towards approving a bill that allows some exceptions to that. Ramsey says he strongly supports the collective bargaining ban and he doesn't want to compromise on that issue (although he says he knows compromise in politics is always somewhat inevitable).

I would imagine the Lt. Governor remains unhappy and perhaps a bit frustrated that Governor Haslam says he is "neutral" about this collective bargaining issue, even though there are numerous reports Mr. Haslam actually favors Speaker Harwell's House bill. Republicans truly dominate state government now in a way the party has not done since Reconstruction times. These days the only way Republicans on Capitol Hill in Nashville can be stopped is by other Republicans. If the party becomes split, it is possible their key legislation might not be able to pass.

In fact, the real test for this General Assembly will be how its GOP leadership and members can find common ground on this collective bargaining issue and pass a bill they can support. The Lt. Governor is not ready to say how that will happen, but he does say one way NOT to do it is for Tea Party officials to call Governor Haslam a "socialist" for how he governed as Mayor of Knoxville and for not supporting the ban on teacher collective bargaining.

On another issue, Speaker Ramsey is not exactly sure how the state can best deal with the once again rising meth drug problem in Tennessee. It appears lawmakers may pass a bill that will better track cold medicine purchases to cut off the supply of the ingredients needed to make meth. But nobody is really sure that will work, and if it doesn't says Ramsey, the next step may be requiring all cold medicines to be sold by prescription only, which won't be popular at all. 

There is also a major money problem facing Tennessee over the cleanup of meth labs. The Feds no longer provide grants to pay for it and local governments sure don't have the funds, and neither does the state, says the Lt. Governor. He's not sure how that problem will be solved but it's one not likely to go away. In fact, it could get much worse as these meth labs are very, very toxic and make any areas involved with the labs completely unfit for human habitat. Cleaning up that mess is expensive, but leaving untreated or cleaned up could create some real major public health issues.

We talk with the Lt. Governor about a number of other issues before the Legislature and you can see and hear us talk about all of them several times this weekend on INSIDE POLITICS airing on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK.

That includes 5:00 a.m. Sunday on the main channel (WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5) as well as on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, which airs on Comcast & Charter channels 250 and Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2. Our air times on the PLUS are 7:00 p.m. Friday night, 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

NOT DISCUSSED

One budding legislative controversy I don't discuss with Lt. Governor Ramsey concerns tort reform. My public relations firm (DVL Public Relations & Advertising) has just been hired to help those trying to pass Governor Haslam's bill. If you've read my column in the past, you know I try to make it a practice to be transparent and declare my conflicts of interest if I have a client involved in a political matter.

So I won't be discussing tort reform here in the column or on the INSIDE POLITICS show for now. I don't think there is any way I can do that and appear credible. By the way, we have presented both sides of this matter on INSIDE POLITICS already, and fortunately for me, we did so before DVL was hired.

THE WORLD HAS CHANGED

A lot happened last week while I was away.

The terrible natural disaster of earthquake and tsunami in Japan, which killed tens of thousands and caused billions in damages, has now had an ongoing nuclear nightmare added to its woes as some nuclear power facilities were heavily damaged by what occurred. There are also radiation leaks under investigation and constant monitoring. About a 30-50 mile area around the plant has more or less been evacuated. 

These developments have likely once again put plans for more nuclear power plants in the U.S. in some doubt. Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander has been a long time supporter of more nuclear power and he was politically wise to say that the best thing to do now is to closely study and research what happened in Japan, and to use that knowledge to make whatever we do in America in terms of building new nuclear plants better and safer.

Good idea. But even with nuclear power possibly providing a way to hold down global warming and climate change, we may be returning to a public opinion mood against nuclear energy much like what happened a few decades back after the Three Mile Island disaster in the U.S. and what happened in Chernobyl in Russia.     

Oh, and there was one other way, our nation and world changed in a major way last week.

We went to war again, in fact, for the third time in recent years against a country in the Mideast.

This time it's Libya, where a popular revolution against long time dictator Moammar Gadhafi threatened to go south unless the U.S. and other countries imposed a no-fly zone over that country to nullify Gadhafi's huge advantage in air power. Will that be enough to keep the revolution alive and ultimately defeat the Libyan strongman?

Nobody seems to know for sure, nor do we have a firm timeline or exit strategy to keep us from adding boots on the ground to "win" the war there if no-fly doesn't work. Sound familiar? While the details are different, this sounds a lot like what happened in terms of having a clear strategy and mission for how the U.S. went into both Iraq and Afghanistan, where we are still fighting, at one level or another, nearly a decade later.

Already the Associated Press reports our no-fly efforts in Libya are reaching a cost of nearly $1 billion and counting. This cost may not rise as quickly in the immediate future if NATO takes over leadership of the no-fly operation. But it will still go up, and like everything else in Washington, our government isn't paying for these wars. We are putting them on the federal credit card. So, just on the cost issue alone, where are the Tea Party members and the Republicans who are so concerned about the deficit and the "exploding national debt?" Why aren't they (or for that matter, the Democrats) speaking out about this?

Does it mean that all the rhetoric we've heard in recent months about federal spending and the deficit is really more about political agendas and settling scores against opposition groups and not really good public policy?

Wars cost money…a lot of it. It adds to the deficit and the national debt. And, as you can see from the cost numbers in Libya, it can add up really quickly even in just a few days. With all the "pro-democracy" upheavals going on in many other Arab countries, what do we do when popular revolutions break out there? More no-fly zones, more actions to protect citizens, maybe even troops on the ground if those other actions don't work? When does "the cop of the world" say enough is enough, we just can't afford it? Or are we really all that concerned about the federal deficit and our national debt?

On a personal level, the world changed for me (and for Nashville) last week with the death of John Connelly, who had just recently retired as Davidson County's official Historian, a position he held for over 15 years.

A long time teacher and educator, nobody knew or loved Nashville and its history more than John. He was a driving force over the years in saving his historic church, Monroe Methodist in Germantown, as well as revitalizing that entire community through the annual Octoberfest, an event which he helped start several years ago.

John also served for many years as a member and as Chairman of the Metro Historical Commission. He was instrumental in both the founding and continuing support of the city's Archives. Indeed, John founded the Archives' support group, and while I succeeded him as Chair after a few years, he has always been its guiding light and driving force. If this city ever gets the good sense to finally give our Archives a new permanent place to preserve and display our rich history, it ought to bear John's name. You will be deeply missed, my friend.   

METRO REDISTRICTING MESS

I told you I had a lot of misgivings about this.

After attorney George Barrett threatened to sue Metro if it didn't try and redraw its 35 council districts prior to the August elections, the Planning Commission took on that task (having received the new 2010 census data just a couple of weeks ago).

The result of the first drafts of a new redistricting plan has been confusion, concern and opposition. It arises from some city and neighborhood leaders (and potential candidates) who haven't liked how city planners have re-crafted the district lines (and renumbered them to add even a little more confusion).

Now redistricting efforts are always contentious and folks don't like them because they don't like change or having to change their plans (especially those who have already printed their campaign and other information). There also appear to be potential new district where two incumbents are drawn into the same district. That's why doing all this with the qualifying deadline just a few weeks away on May 17 has, to me, always seemed overly ambitious, if not foolhardy.

Yes, we did this in 1971 when there were no computers. But computers are not going to be the problem. It's finding 21 votes in the Metro Council to approve a final redistricting plan before mid-May. That's right, the Council must approve, without any amendments, the final plan recommended and submitted by the full Planning Commission.

City planners should be commended for holding several public hearings to get input and suggested changes from the community and maybe they will come up with a plan that can get a majority Council vote.  If not, we will be running in the old council districts come August, and likely voting to choose between the Planning Commission's plan and whatever the full Council comes up with as an alternative.

But those new districts won't go into effect until four years later in the 2015 Council elections. Given the growth in the city that will leave many neighborhoods feeling orphaned as their council representative will either ignore them or pay more attention to those in other neighboring districts who will be a part of his or her re-election bid next time around.

It might just be easier to move Metro's elections to something other than an odd-number year where we are assured every 20 years we will run right smack into this same problem. I guess things could be much worse. We are dealing with how to handle our political boundaries in a growing community, while some other cities such as Detroit, are facing just the opposite, having lost population over the past decade, with the Motor City itself by declining in size by 25%!