Capitol View Commentary: April 1, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: April 1, 2011

CREATED Apr 1, 2011


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

April 1, 2011



Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

After just finishing his annual budget hearings and now facing a deadline to submit his tax and budget plans to the Metro Council by May 1, there is a lot to discuss. That includes city department heads who proposed some difficult service cuts (closed community centers, shorter library hours) if they have to implement 3% budget cuts as requested.

Now Metro has been doing these budget cutting "exercises" for several years and the actual impacts either don't happen or are much less severe than what was predicted. But this year, both Metro Schools and Metro Police (two major priorities for the Mayor) indicate they need additional dollars to cover federal funding shortfalls or to open new facilities. Can Metro avoid some of these cuts in other departments this year? Hear what Mayor Dean has to say.

We also talk with the Mayor about his recent trip to Japan, pending education legislation in the General Assembly, the future of professional baseball in Nashville and several other issues.

Watch us. INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NewsChannel5. You can also watch our program on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, which can be seen on Comcast & Charter cable channels 250 and on Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2. Our program times on THE PLUS are 7:00 p.m. Fridays, 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m. Saturday, and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

You can also see excerpts of previous INSIDE POLITICS show posted here at www.newschannel5.com.


It's another sign that despite their strong majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, Republicans are struggling among themselves to agree on and pass some portions their agenda on the Hill.

The Speakers of both houses have long had the authority to cast a vote in any legislative subcommittee or full committee to break a tie on a particular bill. But that power has rarely been used over the years.

This past week it happened twice, with one deciding vote each being cast by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, Speaker of the Senate, and Nashville Representative Beth Harwell, Speaker of the House. In both cases, their affirmative votes kept legislation alive (judicial elections & restrictions on teachers collective bargaining rights) that you would think would pass out of committee easily if the vote went strictly along party lines. 

But obviously not all Republicans are united behind these bills. Some of that is due to differences between the Speakers themselves and/or with Governor Bill Haslam.

Now, so far, nobody is calling anybody out or even arguing out loud, but these differences on policy are fascinating to watch as Republicans continue to figure how to successfully govern after years of being either in the minority or working with very narrow majorities in both Houses. It's really not all that unusual. The Democrats, when they were in the majority, had these same differences. It's called politics.  

In that regard, it appears the Democrats just can't resist tweaking the Republicans a bit on their differences. According to a story by Chas Sisk on THE TENNESSEAN's political blog (March 31), here's what House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner said about Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and his recent effort to launch a red-tape cutting website and differing with Governor Haslam and Speaker Harwell about the teacher's collective bargaining bill.

"I like Ron. He's got his own agenda. I don't know if he's running for the Senate or if Lamar (Senator Lamar Alexander) steps down or something. He might be getting ready to run for governor again in the future. I don't know. But Ron's out there. I'll say this: He's a lot more visible this year than he was last year during the session." (Editor's note: Lt. Governor Ramsey actually WAS running for governor this time last year).

In response to Representative Turner, the Lt. Governor says about running again for governor in four year, "No, period, under no circumstances. It's not even on my radar screen."

The Lt. Governor seems to blame the media for trying to drive "a wedge" between the Republicans on the Hill adding, "..If there were no disagreements, the story would be that the Republicans are walking in lockstep, like storm troopers or something. That's fine. I couldn't have a better relationship with Governor Haslam."


It seems more and more likely that New York billionaire businessman Donald Trump is running for President in 2012 and that he believes a key issue for him is whether President Barack Obama is really an American-born citizen (and therefore eligible to be Commander in Chief). Trump seems to think Mr. Obama is not native-born saying it is the greatest scam ever that he became President.

There are many in the Tea Party movement who seem to share those views. But they are not getting very far in the Tennessee General Assembly. According to an on-line article by Tom Humphrey (March 30) a bill requiring presidential candidates provide their birth certificates to Tennessee's Secretary of State as a condition to get on the ballot in Tennessee failed in a House subcommittee on March 30.

After some debate in the majority GOP sub-committee, a voice vote was taken and the chairman, according to Humphrey, "promptly declared the bill had failed." Said Democratic sub-committee member Mike Turner after the vote (Turner seems to be making all the media statements for the Democrats these: days):  "I think this shows some people up here don't believe that crazy birther stuff." And apparently some of them (at least on the subcommittee) have to be Republicans.                  


Another area where Republicans and Tea Party folks seem to be in a growing disagreement is how to compromise the federal budget impasse in Washington.

After passing several stop-gap, temporary funding measures, it appears both Republicans and Democrats in Washington want to settle this matter once and for all by the end of next week (April 8) when the next spending authorization is due to expire.

But, as I predicted to you a few weeks back, this has proven to be very difficult…and it's not getting any easier. According to a story by Stephanie Condon of CBS News (March 31) , Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has told reporters "that Democrats and Republicans have agreed upon a number on which to base … budget cuts" (Vice-President Joe Biden says it's a total of $33 billion).  But Republican House Speaker John Boehner denies there is any such agreement and he says he wants cuts closer to what the House has already approved at $61 billion. Other Tea Party zealots want at least $100 million in cuts.

Holding the Speaker's political feet to the fire are Tea Party members who are rallying in Washington (although media reports say they only attracted a few hundred protestors). Nevertheless, some Tea Party members say that the new Speaker is not tough enough and he needs to go. That includes Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips of Nashville who puts it bluntly: "Boehner must go. The Tea Party must unite and make sure Boehner is replaced in the next election. We need people in leadership who are committed to cutting spending and eliminating…programs." 

Wow! That was quick. Boehner's only been Speaker since January. Interestingly, Congressman Boehner is taking the high road in response, telling reporters about the Tea Party folks: "I'm glad they're engaged in the process. You know, I said over a year ago that we should talk with the Tea Party folks, that we should listen to them and we should walk amongst them. I don't feel any differently about it today. Any time Americans want to engage in their government… we should welcome that."

But Speaker Boehner also knows he needs to be careful playing hardball. If no extension or long term budget agreement is reached there will be at least a partial shutdown of the federal government. The last time that happened was in 1995 and the GOP got blamed for it. I am sure the Speaker doesn't want that on his resume any more than he wants the Tea Party yelling at him and trying to oust him.

So if there is another temporary deal done about the federal budget or even a permanent agreement to cover the rest of the fiscal year (all the way to October 1) I wouldn't look for anything to be finalized and voted on until very late next week right before the April 8 deadline. I am not sure Congress knows any other way to do it, and the rift between the Republicans and the Tea Party is making it tougher.


 The latest national job figures seem to indicate that the economic recovery is not only well underway but gaining speed, including, finally, among the unemployed. The new 8.8% unemployment figure is lower than expected and, in fact, it is the lowest number in two years.

National unemployment has gone down a full percentage point in just the last four months and indeed, that's the largest four-month drop in joblessness since 1984 according to a CNN article (April 1).

However it should be pointed out that even with these positive signs, we still have a long way to go when the drop in unemployment began well into double digits. But still the momentum of all this should not be overlooked politically.

What if job creation continues growing and unemployment continues to slowly decline between now and election season next year? That will be a very big plus for President Barack Obama in seeking re-election. And while there are many ifs and buts to consider about whether the economy will continue to go forward (gas prices, housing, the Middle East), remember for the voters, the key issue is always the economy, stupid.

So while national GOP leaders spend this April Fool's Day launching a satirical national TV ad mocking the President, they might want to keep checking their talking points to make sure they are ready if the economy shifts because it will change our political landscape.  The GOP would also benefit from a stronger field of potential presidential candidates, none of whom seem to be setting the woods on fire out there with the voters. And none of them are ahead of the President in any current head-on-head polls. 


While there is little doubt that some Metro council members and neighborhoods are still not happy, I believe it is more than fair to say that the Metro Planning Commission and its staff have done a terrific job putting together (then revising several times) a new Metro Council district rezoning plan for the upcoming August city elections. 

Trying to draw new lines in light of the 2010 Census would never be an easy job, especially dividing the county into 35 different districts. But trying to do so in a matter of just a couple of weeks, so the plan can be reviewed and approved by the full Metro Council and everything is ready prior to the May 17 qualifying deadline for candidates, has been a truly herculean task.

I am not sure if there are 21 votes to approve this plan in the Council. But I do feel that the chances for Council approval have risen significantly because of the outreach and response by the Planning staff to seek suggested changes and in several cases adopt them.

Will that be enough to garner 21 votes? We'll see. If not, then the current lines stay in place for another four years (creating fair representation problems of its own), while the Council drafts a rival redistricting plan and then a public vote is held sometime in the future for the voters to decide whether they want what the Planning Commission has crafted or whatever the Council comes up with.

Democracy is messy sometimes, and this is a good example of that, especially working within these very tight deadlines of the arrival of the final Census results and the timeline for Metro's election. It's going to happen every 20 years. Looking ahead to 2031, do we really want to go through this again? Or should we start thinking now how to make this process work better in the future, particularly by moving Metro elections to something other than the late summer of an odd-numbered year when it falls right after a census?