Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 6, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 6, 2011

CREATED May 6, 2011


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

May 6, 2011


Usually Washington plays the blame game.

This week, following the stunning announcement of the killing of Osama Bin Laden (the World's Public Enemy Number One), the game has changed.

It's now who gets the credit….. or who shouldn't.

Political operatives on all sides are working overtime in the media and on line (especially Facebook) pushing why the credit should or shouldn't go to either President Barack Obama or to former President George W. Bush. Even in issuing their obligatory public statements in reaction to the news, you could see the difference (usually along party lines) as to who should be singled out for praise.

The only thing everyone seems to agree on is give praise to those in our anti-terrorism, intelligence and military communities who worked so hard and so long (nearly a decade) to finally bring Bin Laden to justice. And, that's especially true for those brave Navy Seals (with help from a helicopter group from nearby Ft. Campbell) who pulled off the successful mission almost flawlessly.

Of course the troops and those involved in tracking down Bin Laden deserve all the honor and praise they can get. But this fight over whether President Obama or former President Bush ought to get the lion's share of the praise is just silly and mean spirited.

It's long been said that success has many fathers, and that's clearly the case here. While there are those who will fault former President Bush for seeming to sometimes take his eye of the ball in searching for Bin Laden, he clearly rallied the country and our resources to seek and destroy this leading enemy of America from the earliest days following the tragedies of September 11. That should be recognized and honored now that the job is done.

But it is under President Obama that the job was accomplished. To leave him completely out of any statements from politicians reacting to the Bin Laden death is petty and completely political. I applaud Republican Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander who did mention the President in his comments (of course along with those who in our military and intelligence communities that made it happen successfully).

Another reason the President should get some credit…..failure is an orphan. If this operation had not worked you can be sure Mr. Obama would have gotten all the blame. So now that it has succeeded it is only fair he get some credit. Frankly, I think if this effort had not panned out, any re-election chances he had would have been zero. He would have been labeled another Jimmy Carter, whose failed effort to rescue the Iranian hostages helped doom another four years for his administration back in 1980.

Of course, it was not an easy or quick decision for anyone to make, and using Navy Seals to capture of kill Bin Laden rather than bombing him into oblivion (while better in terms of being able to prove Bin Laden was really dead) also raised the stakes and the chances for failure. As for releasing the photos of the dead man, I tend to agree that it would likely appear like "spiking the football" after a score (as the President has said) or providing propaganda assistance for future terrorists. As for those who remain unconvinced, they would likely remain that way regardless. Just remember those who still don't buy into the Presidents birth certificate even with all proof that's now out there. Maybe with even Al Qaeda admitting Bin Laden is dead, that dispute will fade away.

But don't forget, those who don't want to believe can always find a reason not to do so.

Having said all that, and even discounting for the "fog of war" that always occurs during a major crisis, the Obama administration apparently did not do a thorough job in either debriefing or communicating what really happened during the Bin Laden raid. The ultimately wrong information that depicted Bin Laden as armed and using his wife as a human shield (or whether she was killed) seems particularly odd since the events were reportedly broadcast (and taped) in real time as they occurred (although there are some reported gaps in that data). It seems the administration which did very well in executing its plan, is struggling to explain exactly what happened in the aftermath.

Despite those flaws, there's still a lot of credit to go around for everyone involved, now and in the past, as hopefully we are finally moving towards some closure on the events of 9/11.

As for what the Bin Laden death will mean politically for the President in 2012, so far I don't see the bump in the polls you might expect. But at the very least, this success for the President should strengthen him against the usual Republican attacks that all Democrats are soft on terrorism and foreign affairs. For now, the President seems to have undertaken something of a victory tour, visiting the sites of 9/11 and thanking the soldiers involved, including a visit (along with the Vice President) to Ft. Campbell.

It is interesting to note that according to a story on THE HUFFINGTON POST (May 3) by Andrea Stone, the largest bookmaker in Ireland, Paddy Power, now says the likelihood of President Obama's being re-elected is up to 71% in the wake of the Bin Laden's killing. That's going from odds of 4 in 7 to 2 in 5, which are the shortest odds Mr. Obama has had since he took office in 2009.

As for possible Republican candidates, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has the best odds according to the Irish bookmaker at 10 to 1, with Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels at 12-1. From there Sarah Palin, Senator John Thune, and General David Petraeus are at 16-1, Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and former Governor Mike Huckabee are at 22-1 with anyone else even longer shots.

There was even more bad polling news for Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. Reuters reports (May 4) that a new Quinnipaic University poll finds nearly 60% of Americans say they would never support either of them for President. The same poll found about half say they would consider or be enthusiastic about backing either Romney or Huckabee. Speaking of Huckabee there are late breaking reports that FOX News is giving him an ultimatum that he must decide whether or not to run by the end of May or he is off their network as a contributor and show host.

All this comes as the first GOP Presidential debate was held (May 5) with almost none of the leading potential candidates attending. It's a race that continues to be very slow starting. The race also seemed to get even more muddled after the debate with some news stories and polling results saying that Herman Cain, a little known former top executive of Godfather's Pizza made the best impression on the largely very conservative audience that attended the event.

As for the President, perhaps the most important clue to his future political status came out today (May 6) with reports of continued strong job growth last month (244,000 jobs). There had been concern that rising gas prices might reduce those job creation numbers and unemployment did go back up to 9%. But that seems to be happening because discouraged workers are back out looking again for work, perhaps another sign of renewed confidence in the economy.

it still appears clear, even with the demise of Bin Laden, the 2012 elections will turn more on the state of the economy and not on foreign affairs or terrorism (absent some major new attack especially near the election).


So in light of Bin Laden's demise, what is the future of terrorism and our war on terror? What happens now in Afghanistan, Iraq, and with the Arab Spring? And who gets the credit for finding and taking out Bin Laden?

These are among the many topics and question we will discuss on this week's INSIDE POLITICS.

Our guests are two local experts on terrorism, Dr. Carter Smith of Middle Tennessee State University and Dr. Jeffrey Rush of Austin Peay State University.

I think you will find our discussion both enlightening and somewhat surprising.

You can see INSIDE POLITICS several times this weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning on WTVF-TV, Newschannel5 as well as on NewsChannel5 Plus at 7 p.m. Friday night, 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

Newschannel5 Plus airs on Comcast & Charter Cable channels 250 and NewsChannel5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2


Just when it appeared assured that final passage of the bill to end collective bargaining rights for Tennessee teachers was about to happen, a snag has occurred in a House committee.

In fact, in a somewhat rare move, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell took action to reopen the House Education Committee (which had finished its work for the year) in order to rescue the proposal. She still predicts passage (THE CITY PAPER May 6) but admits that the votes in the committee are "razor thin" for passage (TENNESSEAN May 5). She also told reporters that while she is working hard to pass the legislation it has never been one of her priorities, nor a priority of the GOP House Caucus or Governor Bill Haslam. That seems a rather strange message to send at this point. Is it only the priority of Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and the State Senate, which has already passed the bill?

I have been hearing several times that there are some East Tennessee Republican lawmakers who just don't like this collective bargaining ban. Their committee placements along with Democrats on the panel could tip the balance to defer or defeat the bill this year.

We'll see pretty soon as the House committee reconvenes Tuesday. Lawmakers are grinding somewhat quickly towards a hoped for adjournment date of Memorial Day Weekend, so time is growing short for many bills.

That includes efforts to pass tough new anti-immigration laws which seem to be losing steam. Several of the bills that would place new screening requirements on employers have run aground in committee (deferred) because of their extra costs to the state. Business leaders are also opposed because of the additional costs it will place on small businesses.

It has been a much more difficult session for business interests than what was expected given the large Republican majorities in both houses. But they are beginning to feel better about things as legislation such as the proposed immigration laws and other measures, such as changing tax-increment laws and allowing guns on business property seem blocked for the year.

Another sign of the coming wind-down of the legislative session, Governor Haslam has moved to build support for the most controversial part of his first state budget, the multi-million dollar cuts being made to TennCare. Because of additional federal monies and slightly increased state revenue collections, the Governor is now proposing more funds for programs such as those at Meharry Medical College here in Nashville that provide indigent care as well as wellness program to the needy.

The Governor's move brought a news release from Democratic State Senator Thelma Harper who announced the availability of the new funds, then added "I am extremely pleased to see that they (the Meharry programs) are once again a priority." It's the first time I have heard any encouraging words from Senator Harper lately about the Republican Haslam administration. She sure didn't have much nice to say about Team Haslam when she was on my INSIDE POLITICS shows a few weeks back.

Along with trying to work out budget deals the Haslam administration is unfortunately getting a lot of on the job experience doing what its' predecessor, the Bredesen administration had to do quite frequently in recent years, putting together all the information needed to request federal disaster aid in the wake of still more violent and destructive weather in Tennessee. This time it is both the damage from the massive number of deadly tornadoes (which struck particularly hard from Chattanooga through upper East Tennessee), as well as the ongoing flooding that is inundating farmlands and requiring significant evacuations from communities in West Tennessee, including Memphis and Shelby County and other areas along the Mississippi River.

It appears the Haslam folks have learned well, because requests for the aid have been put together quickly and been approved equally quickly in Washington.


Deadlines loom large in the continuing efforts to save Nashville's Fairgrounds.

There was a move afoot in the General Assembly to have the Tennessee Department of Agriculture take over the annual State Fair held on the South Nashville property. According to an article on THE TENNESSEAN's web site (May 3) "control of the Fair would go to a non-profit group, run by a volunteer commission and overseen by the Department of Agriculture."

But lawmakers felt that it was too late in the legislative year to effectively deal with this issue, so it has been sent out to a summer study committee (and may or may not come back next year). The delay also means that those seeking to put on the Fair this fall likely won't be getting any state aid to do it, at least not this year.

Meantime, those who want to ensure the Fairgrounds stays where it is forever (along with all its programs including the Fair, the Raceway and the Flea Market) are continuing their petition drive effort to place such language in the Metro Charter.

It will take 15,000 signatures of registered voters to place that amendment on the August ballot. Supporters say they now have at least 10,000 and seem hopeful they can gather the rest by a deadline of May 16, which is not very far away at all.

In fact, it would be wise for the Fairgrounds folks to submit a lot more than 15,000 signatures. Judging from previous petition efforts, unless those gathering the signatures are very, very careful, they are likely to gather some who really aren't from active registered voters, or who don't live in Nashville or did not sign their names correctly on the petition.

History also shows a petition effort like this can be done successfully. Reaching the 10,000 voter signature level seems to indicate a good likelihood this issue will be before voters this summer.

That would have to be good news for Metro Councilman Michael Craddock who has been an outspoken supporter of saving the Fairgrounds and who is also the main competitor opposing Mayor Karl Dean for re-election. Mayor Dean has unsuccessfully proposed shutting down the Fairgrounds and redeveloping the property. It seems pretty clear this referendum is another effort to defeat the Mayor on this issue and maximize an anti-Dean vote to try and upset his attempt for a second 4-year term.

Frankly, Councilman Craddock can use all the help he can get these days. In addition to his uphill fight to oppose Mayor Dean, who appears to be much better much better funded and organized, Craddock just had emergency surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon. It's an injury he suffered while cutting down a fallen tree off his garage after one of our many recent storms.

With the election about 13 weeks away, it appears Craddock will now have to campaign wearing a cast for 10 weeks of that time as he recuperates. But despite those difficulties, he vows to stay in the race.

Councilman Craddock has run countywide before. Last year he lost by a landslide vote in trying to oust longtime Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence. Surely , Mr. Craddock must wonder what a difference a year might have made.

A series of recent local TV investigative reports (Channel 4) have revealed that Torrence works only 3 days a week, drives his government car for personal business, plays golf on taxpayer time and has even employed two sons at high salaries in positions he never advertised as being open and about to be filled.

What makes all this even more unusual (shocking, perhaps) is that Torrence rather brazenly defends his action saying this is his last term in office and this is how he wants to act.

Not surprisingly, there has been a strong push back against the Criminal Court Clerk, including calls from some members of the Metro Council for a full audit of the Clerk's office and for Torrence to resign. Such a resolution is pending on the agenda of the next Council meeting on May 17.

Even the office of District Attorney Torry Johnson says it is looking into the matter, while Mayor Dean has given an interview where he says simply that Torrence needs to get back to work.

Despite how brazen and unbelievable Torrence's actions may appear, I doubt they violate any laws and only the use of the ouster procedures might come into play here.

All this reminds me of a saying the late Governor Ned McWherter used to use up on Capitol Hill back when he was Speaker of the House. When lawmakers used to complain about the long hours they have to put in especially in the closing weeks of the session, McWherter used to tell them: "You should have known what you were getting into when you ran for office. If you didn't want to do the work, you shouldn't have hired out."

In the wake of this political firestorm, Mr. Torrence seems to be finally having a change of heart. He has issued a news release apologizing to his staff and the taxpayers for his actions, adding: "I deeply regret all this has taken place…..I will be fully and completely devoted to my position as Criminal Court Clerk for the remainder of my elected term. I will be dedicated to not causing any future embarrassment to the office and staff of the Criminal Court Clerk."

So will that be the end of the matter? Maybe not, I am told the controversy will not end until the Clerk also take steps to remove his sons from their new jobs in his office.


Duren Cheek was one of the best political reporters I have ever known.

I have been thinking about that a lot in the last few days after learning of his death at the age of 73. He's been retired for a few years and I have missed seeing him on the Hill or reading his articles in THE TENNESSEAN.

I was so fortunate to get to know Duren when I first started out in the radio news business back in the late 1960s and early ‘70s. I was working in the WLAC Radio newsroom and he was then UPI Bureau Chief with offices just down the hall.

I continued to learn from him when I was reporting on Capitol Hill for WPLN Radio back during the Dunn and Blanton administrations as well as later in my career at Channel 5. It wasn't just me. He had a real reputation for being willing to help out new reporters, even those who didn't work for him.

But don't get me wrong. Duren was a tough, competitive reporter. He didn't give away any scoops…and nobody was better on pulling together a breaking story on deadline. I guess that was his wire service training and his great reporting abilities.

But I really got to know Duren best as a fellow cast member performing for many years in the annual Gridiron Show, a roast of our local politicians put on by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) to raise money for college scholarships for aspiring reporters.

We didn't do it because we had any great theatrical talents (heavens, no). We did it to help others and really to just have some fun together, especially out in the "parking lot" during rehearsals when we should have been studying our lines and lyrics instead enjoying some adult beverages which we thought would make us perform better. They didn't.

Duren's willingness to help aspiring journalists went beyond what he did for me and other young reporters or what he did with the Gridiron Show. For many years, he also organized the annual "Duffer's Tournament" held at the Henry Horton State Park golf course to raise still more money for SPJ and its journalism scholarships. Of course, Duren loved golf too, so he was combining two passions in his life while playing those rounds.

How appropriate that Duren's ashes will be spread over that golf course now that he's left us. I join many others in saying I will miss Duren, and especially the way he often greeted his friends (my late friend, Eddie Jones, used to use the same expression): "How it's going, sports model."

It goes well, my friend, especially because we knew you, Duren. Rest in peace.