Capitol View Commentary: Friday, April 29, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, April 29, 2011

CREATED Apr 29, 2011


By Pat Nolan, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

April 29, 2011


Looking back on his first 100 Days in office, Governor Bill Haslam has told reporters that he is pleased with how his legislative priorities are progressing through the General Assembly. He should be. All of his bills (including his proposed budget) seem to be on the way toward relatively easy passage in the next few weeks (some like his teacher tenure bill have already been approved and signed into law).

There does appear to be an effort underway to restore some proposed cuts in the areas of mental health and disabilities which the Governor seems to be supporting. So that could well making passing his budget even easier.

Frankly, like everyone else, what the Governor is really looking forward to is for lawmakers to finish their business and get the heck out of town.  That will allow him he says to spend some quality time doing the other things he wants to do as governor including "more meetings with business leaders and making sure the state's bridges are in a good state of repair." (Jackson Sun, April 26)

I also suspect the Governor will be happy for the Legislature to finish up and go home because it remains very clear his agenda is a bit more moderate than the many right-wing members of this GOP-controlled General Assembly who seem to be more and more dominating the agenda being passed on the Hill.

Governor Haslam doesn't often say much about it, and he has signed all the bills they've sent him. But left to his own devices I am not sure he'd really want some of these measures that could be coming to his desk. How about that "Don't Say Gay" bill or the one that will let him and the Attorney General decide who or what groups are terrorists? And what about the proposed legislative ban on collective bargaining for teachers?

The Governor has indicated he would like to see a bill that still allows bargaining in some areas. However it looks like Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey's push to ban bargaining is now about to prevail in both houses and a bill to ban the process could be headed to the Governor soon. Will he sign it?  

Maybe if the Governor spoke out more it might help. Recently, both he and Lt. Governor Ramsey (for different reasons) both said enough is enough concerning more gun rights bills. After that happened support seemed to waiver for two such proposals, one to allow employees to keep guns in their cars at work and another to allow faculty and staff to bring weapons on state college campuses.


Another bill likely headed to reach the governor's desk for his consideration soon is one that (as predicted in last week's column) has now passed the House. It would seek to overturn a new law passed in Nashville's Metro Council that would require anyone doing business with the city to adopt non-discrimination policies involving sexual identity or sexual preference.  

A number of other cities across the country have adopted similar laws. But GOP opponents in the General Assembly (along a few House Democrats who voted with them) say the Metro law is too broad and goes beyond what state law allows in terms of discrimination. So they want to strike it down (and while the bill is still in committee in the Senate, there is a good chance the upper chamber will concur).

Supporters of the Metro override say businesses need a consistent and stable environment in Tennessee so they can be successful. Those who support the Metro discrimination bill say the veto effort is anti-gay and homophobic. They questioned the constitutionality of the state voiding a local law. But a ruling from the State Attorney General says it likely is constitutional. However, a challenge in the federal courts may be coming not long after the bill passes.    

This whole concept of building and keeping a consistent and stable pro-business environment in Tennessee is an interesting one. If we want businesses to know what to expect throughout the state, wouldn't it also be a good idea that they know exactly what level of education is being offered in all our schools, or some consistency in our local and state services and our property tax and sales tax rates across all the counties in Tennessee? Wouldn't bottom-line issues like these be more important to keep and attract businesses to Tennessee and keep our current businesses growing?

As far as allowing some counties to be different in their governing policies than others or from the state itself,  we will soon begin to celebrate the approval by Davidson County voters 50 years ago (summer 1962) of the formation of our combined city-county Metro government.

That decision has likely been one of the best moves this community ever made. It took state legislative approval to get the process started. I wonder if today's "we know better than you" lawmakers at the Capitol would allow Nashvillians today to make up their own minds about what is best for our city.

While they constantly want to brag about reducing the size and scope of government and lecture the federal government about being overreaching, when it comes to putting local governments in their place, there seems to be no reluctance whatsoever. Sometimes it is perhaps best for lawmakers to know they have the power to do something, but have the wisdom not to do so.


On the other end of Deadrick Street, Metro Nashville's government, under the leadership of Mayor Karl Dean will have another year without a property tax hike. That's the major headline coming out of the Mayor's Annual State of Metro address given (April 26) to council members and civic leaders.

The speech was given at Nashville's oldest public school, Hume-Fogg High. That site once again underlines the Mayor's ongoing commitment to fully fund the budget requests of local school officials even if that means once again tipping into reserve funds to make up a nearly $40 million deficit this year due largely to the end of federal stimulus funding. Metro will take over $13 million out of its savings account with $10 million of that going to schools. Another of the Mayor's priorities, Metro Police will get an extra $3 million to staff new precincts and a crime lab. Most other city departments will have figure out how to handle 1-2% budget cuts again this coming year.

If his budget is approved by the Metro Council (and with few changes it will be) Mayor Dean will have gone his entire first 4-year term without raising property taxes. That's the first time I can remember that happening since Mayor Richard Fulton's first term between 1975 and 1979. And actually it's been more like 6 years (2005) since the last time taxes went up locally which was during the second term of Mayor Bill Purcell.

Our tough economic times have all but dictated the need to hold the line. Refinancing a lot of the city's long term debt last year helped a lot too. But even as much as Mayor Dean rightly bragged during his State of Metro speech about what a great job city workers have done in the wake of several tight budgets and last year's May flood (they'll get another 1.5% one-time bonus for their efforts in this year's budget), eventually there will soon come a time to have to pay the piper. After all, you can only re-finance and spend your reserves (one-time money) to pay for recurring operating expenses before that won't work any longer.

Since this is an election year, It will happen for this budget and there won't be any tax increase. But come 2012 or 2013, the Mayor may need all the political capital he can muster (and earn from his likely re-election victory) to figure how to properly fund Metro going forward and also deal with a city charter amendment that would seek to limit how much of a property tax increase would be allowed without a public vote.


Speaking of a referendum, there's a move afoot to gather enough signatures on petitions in the next several days to place a city charter amendment on the August ballot, requiring that the State Fairgrounds (along with its raceway, the State Fair and the Flea Market) be required to stay where they are forever.

This, of course, is the latest installation of an ongoing political feud between Fairgrounds supporters and Mayor Dean. Earlier this year, they successfully opposed Mayor Dean's efforts to close the Fairgrounds and move all its activities to other locations in order to redevelop the South Nashville property. Now by the Council's orders, there's supposed to be a master plan developed for the future of that area.

Clearly, Fairgrounds supporters must be concerned they won't win the master plan fight, so they are trying to take the matter to the voters instead. Although maybe this petition drive is an effort to breathe some life into the campaign of Mayor Dean's major opponent, Metro Councilman Michael Craddock, who has been a strong supporter of keeping the Fairgrounds as is.

From what I have heard, while there is a relatively small, but very passionate group of Fairgrounds supporters, I am not sure most local voters are really all that concerned one way or another about this issue. So, even if the effort makes it on the ballot, there is no clear indication that it will drive much turnout to the polls.

But will the Mayor decide to defeat the effort the way he did with English Only? Or the way that mayoral candidate Phil Bredesen did in 1987 to oppose horse racing in Nashville? Or will Mayor Dean just run his own race and more or less ignore it if it does get on the ballot?     

Leaving aside the politics, this charter amendment proposal is foolish public policy. Times change, communities change. While supporters of the Fairgrounds may find it hard to believe, there could well be a time when the city should and will want to do something else with that property. Besides, they won the political fight so far to keep the Fairgrounds open and at its current location. If that's too much hard work to do (as Councilman Jamie Hollin has been quoted saying, well, that's too bad. That's the way the political process is.

If we are going to protect the Fairgrounds, then go even further and prohibit the city from ever leaving our courthouse, police stations, fire stations or any public facility including our schools. I know lots of communities have fought and would fight again today to keep their neighborhood schools open and operating. That's a political battle worth fighting in some cases, but putting prohibitions in our city charter or constitution is a bad way to do the public's business.


This "birther" issue in American politics remains beyond ridiculous.

It's been clear for a long time that those who continue to question whether President Barack Obama was born in this country (Hawaii) did so, not to seek the truth, but to spread doubt and disinformation.

Those who said he wasn't eligible to be President were telling lies. They clearly should have known better, but they persisted, including The Donald, billionaire businessman Donald Trump, who has been using the issue to build a potential presidential campaign (and pimp his network TV reality show). 

Now the President has finally put an end to this farce by releasing every bit of his birth certificate (of course, the usual short form that most of us use to prove our date and place of birth would never do for these folks). Now, showing absolutely no shame, Trump and others are taking some kind of credit for what they did.

I'm sorry, the way I was raised by my parents, if I repeatedly called someone out and raised questions about their heritage (birth place) and I was found to be completely wrong, the first thing I would do would be apologize and move on.

Maybe the President should have released all this information a long time ago but that's his own business. After all, remember there's NOTHING to these false charges about his birth place, so it is not something to continue to question as some kind of badge of honor. It's time to move on to the many more important issues facing all of us.

But even there, Reince Priebus, the new Republican National Committee Chair is trying to blame Mr. Obama, saying in an official statement: "The President ought to spend his time getting serious about repairing our economy, working with Republicans and focusing on the long term sustainability of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Unfortunately, campaign politics and talk about birth certificates is distracting him from our number one priority—our economy."

Incredible! It's clearly not the President who has continued to bring up this topic or be distracted by it. It is people in Mr. Priebus' own party, including several folks who seem to want to be his party's nominee to run for President next year who have been fanning these false flames of alarm. If he has the gall to lecture anyone on this topic, shouldn't it be his fellow party leaders who have tried to dishonestly keep their bogus issue alive?

That's enough, in fact, more than enough. Surely there is a better way to continue to play this never-ending political game of gotcha.

Ironically, the President's move to end all doubt about his birthplace, may help Republicans and hurt the President in the choice of what GOP candidate may oppose him. The current presidential field on the Republican side is, to say the least, unimpressive, and lately, dominated by Trump, who as the political "flavor or the month" has moved to the top of the field, largely due to his false "birther" bravado.

Now if…and given some responses this week it remains an if… the birther issue is finally going to die, it could open up the field for some more serious candidates to come to the forefront, including, candidates who aren't in the field today. At least some party officials privately hope so.      

DEJA VU         

We all knew that strong reminders were coming in the next few days about the one-year anniversary of the May Flood. Just look at the calendar, watch the media or attend one of the many local events commemorating what happened during Nashville's most perilous and ultimately, most triumphant time last spring.  

But Mother Nature's pre-anniversary efforts all across Tennessee and the much of the southern United States this week have sure given us more than a scary feeling of déjà vu. This has been the most tumultuous spring for weather I can ever remember in my nearly 60 years in Nashville, with storm and flood watches and warning out at least once if not twice a week. In Nashville, these last few days have combined the aspects of the strong and dangerous storms from the spring of 1998 tornado combined with the heavy rains and flooding of May 2010.

Fortunately, the level of death and destruction in our city was nowhere near what we experienced then. That's a blessing to be sure, although with nearly 300 people killed across the South, including at least 34 in Tennessee, our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones along with property loss and other damages from the wind and the rain. The tornado outbreak the last few days across the South is among the worst natural disasters in this country since Hurricane Katrina, which ironically is exactly where we were here in Nashville and across the Middle Tennessee just about a year ago.

I never thought I'd say it, but I am almost looking forward to the heat and humidity of a Nashville summer which usually means the end to stormy weather for the most part. But then there's the latest cicada invasion on the way…..  


We will not be doing our regular INSIDE POLITICS show this week.

Instead, in conjunction with Public TV, WNPT Channel 8 here in Nashville, we will be presenting a special half-hour interview done by NEWSCHANNEL 5's Rhori Johnston with Tennessee's First Lady Crissy Haslam.

The program will air throughout the weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network in our INSIDE POLITICS time slots. That includes at 5 a.m. Sunday on the main channel, WTVF-TV, Channel 5, as well as on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS at 7 p.m. Friday, 5 a.m. & 5:30 p.m. Saturday & 5 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS is broadcast on Comcast & Charter cable channels 250 as well as on Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.