By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
May 20, 2011
THE FINAL FOG ON THE HILL; GOP; INSIDE POLITICS
It's the final days, if not the final hours of this year's session of the General Assembly. That means so many things are happening so quickly, a sort of a fog envelopes the Hill and it can be hard to keep up with all the developments.
With the goal of still getting everything done (only passing an operating budget is required) by sometime Saturday, or maybe coming back early next week if needed, here's where many of the key issues still stand as this is being written Friday afternoon.
- The deal to allow Amazon.com to avoid paying sales tax appears to be a go. Governor Bill Haslam finally spoke out and made it clear he planned to honor the agreement made by the outgoing Bredesen administration to allow Amazon not to pay sales tax in exchange for at least two (if not 3 or 4) new facilities being built in the state, creating thousands of jobs. GOP legislative leaders had threatened pass legislation to block the plan by requiring Amazon to pay sales tax (that's only fair said a group of rival large and small retail businesses who pressed lawmakers to stop the Amazon deal with a statewide media ad blitz). But within hours after the Governor spoke out, the bill was dropped, leaving the Amazon plan to move ahead. Lawmakers say they may bring their bill back next year, but with thousands of folks likely already hired by that time, pulling the plug then will be even harder to do. Meanwhile, (according to a story by WPLN-Nashville Public Radio, May 17), lawmakers are also looking to seek an audit of past economic development deals to make sure the state has gotten what it was promised in terms of jobs and other benefits. Tennessee is not the only state doing a deal with Amazon. South Carolina has reconsidered and has now approved a similar deal there. Will that keep Amazon from adding the extra retail outlets and jobs in Tennessee? Stay tuned, this saga may not yet be over, especially if the Amazon facilities to be located in the Chattanooga area wind up hiring a lot of folks from nearby Georgia and not Tennessee.
- Another jobs issue threatens to gum up final state budget approval according to an article (May 20) by the Dean of the Capitol Hill Press Corps, Tom Humphrey of THE KNOXVILLE NEWS-SENTINEL. Since April, some 28,000 Tennesseans have lost long-term unemployment benefits because the state did not contribute the $3 million needed to match some $60 million in federal funds. The State House seems willing to add in the money to the new state budget. But the Senate says no, with Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey being quoted as saying;" Obviously your heart goes out to people that are on unemployment. But somewhere, you just have to admit that the government can't afford it." Governor Haslam is apparently not taking a position and will let lawmakers decide. Democrats are unhappy since they thought a deal had been worked out. But if not, look for them to use this as an issue in next year's elections. Otherwise, it appears the full budget will pass easily (although it has not yet made it to the floor in either house for consideration). That's odd compared to past years. But then it's also odd that the Governor could try to add more revenue to the budget (to mend some previous cuts) without also kicking off a food fight for extra money among lawmakers in both parties for various pet projects.
- Perhaps the biggest fight in this year's legislature, collective bargaining rights for teachers, remains in an uncertain status during these final hours. The Senate has passed a bill that would end any collective bargaining powers for the Tennessee Education Association and its affiliate unions on behalf of teachers across the state. After a four-hour plus debate on Thursday (May 19), the House has passed a more moderate bill that would still allow some bargaining over wages and benefits, but not school assignments and other personnel issues. The different versions are now being sent to a conference committee made up of members of both houses appointed by the Speakers, to see if a compromise can be reached. Most indications are the Senate bill to ban collective bargaining will prevail in the conference. Will that pass muster in the House? There's only about 10 votes to spare from the earlier 59-39 House approval. This legislation has been full of a lot of twists and turns throughout this session, so let's see what happens. Supporters say it will help education reform and end the roadblocks that teacher unions have caused to improving classroom instruction. Opponents say this is just pay back for teachers supporting Democrats and not the GOP in the past.
- A somewhat watered down version of the "Don't Say Gay Bill" has passed the Senate. The bill now says any instruction or materials at a public elementary or middle school must be "limited exclusively to age-appropriate natural human reproductive science." Before the bill said "no instruction or material (is allowed) that discusses sexual orientation other than heterosexuality." For now the wording may not matter much. The bill appears dead in the House and can't come back up until next year. But the final hours of session can be strange, so watch out.
- Early in the session, it appeared that a number of anti-immigration bills were headed for passage. In the end, it appears the only one likely to gain approval soon is a watered-down version of a bill requiring employers to more closely check those they hire to make sure they are really citizens. Originally the bill would have required all hires be checked through the federal government's E-Verify system. But business leaders complained about the expense involved especially in terms of buying computers to do that. So the latest measure approved by the House early Friday morning (according to the CAPITOL UPDATE newsletter put out by the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce & Industry) removes the E-Verify mandate, saying that process can still be used or "an employer (can) keep copies of the driver's licenses of all new hires on or after the phase-in period for employers "(the phase-in would come over time with employers larger than 500 by January, 2012, smaller firms after that and any business with 5 or fewer workers is now exempt)
Republican Presidential candidates are joining the 2012 race, while others are dropping out. The result is probably just more confusion if you are looking for a clear-cut front runner to take on President Barack Obama.
First, Donald Trump announced he is not running (after weeks of what appeared to be activities and statements by the Donald that sure looked and sounded like he was a candidate). The billionaire businessman said he was certain if he ran he could win. But he now appears to be in a distinct minority of folks who still think he has much of a chance, and now Trump has wisely finally fired himself. Oh and by the way, the announcement came just as network TV rating sweeps were about to come to an end, in case you, like many, thought that had something to do with this boondoggle.
On a more serious note, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee says he won't run again in 2012. While that decision was not unexpected, it did bring some additional clarity to the field. It has led some to name former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney the front runner, especially after he raised $10 million dollars in one day (May 16)alone (by the way, Romney reportedly has a fund raiser coming up in Tennessee this month according to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL/May 18)).
But Romney's problem continues to be an image of being a "flip-flopper" particularly on the issue of health care. While he was governor, Romney passed a statewide health care program, that like the much reviled (at least by Republicans) Obamacare requires all individuals to purchase insurance coverage. Despite doing a recent major speech to prove that what he passed is not the same as the new national health care plan, so far that doesn't seem to be working for him, despite all the money he's raising. THE WALL STREET JOURNAL said this on the subject during an editorial on May 12: "Mr. Romney is compromised and not credible. If he does not change his message, he might as well try to knock off (Vice President) Joe Biden and get on the Obama ticket."
Romney is not the only Republican presidential candidate who is having trouble with the health care issue. So is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who in the past has spoken in favor of the individual health insurance mandate. But that's only one of several issues Gingrich is trying to explain to voters. His biggest goof was calling Representative Paul Ryan's Medicare plan (which all but 3 GOP congressman have voted to support) as "radical…right wing social engineering."
This has set off a political firestorm throughout the Republican Party including Tea Party members, The Club for Growth and others questioning his temperament and his abilities to be President. Disclosures of his Tiffany's credit card bills and being hit by a glitter bomb during a book signing event didn't help either. This was clearly a most forgettable political week for the former Speaker who has long been known to shoot from the lip. Maybe the only Republican who had a tougher week was former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who has admitted he had a love child ten years ago with a family maid and now his wife has left him.
Getting back to health care, even candidates not in the field are being attacked because of their past support of the individual health care mandate. That includes Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels (who is set to come to speak to Tennessee Republicans later this summer). An article on HUFFPOST POLITICS on May 19, reported Democrats heaping praise on the former Office of Management & Budget Director under President George W. Bush for the work he is doing to implement Obamacare in his state. The article also cites an October 23, 2003 story in THE SOUTH BEND TRIBUNE where gubernatorial candidate Daniels was reported as follows: "The candidate said he favors a universal health care system that would move away from employee-based health policies and make it mandatory for all Americans to have health insurance."
On another topic, another GOP would-be presidential candidate former Senator Rick Santorum got some pushback after he criticized the GOP's 2008 presidential candidate Senator John McCain. McCain has been outspoken in criticizing those who said Osama Bin Laden was captured because of "enhanced" interrogation techniques. Not so says McCain. But according an article on Salon.com by Justin Elliot on May 17, Santorum on a recent syndicated national radio show (Hugh Hewitt) said McCain "simply doesn't understand how enhanced interrogation works."
Oh, yeah. Isn't this the same John McCain who spent over 5 years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and was interrogated while undergoing a series of beatings and torture? Are you sure about that, Senator Santorum?
Moving on to another potential GOP candidate, despite her steep decline in recent voter polls, former GOP vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin looks like she may get in the 2012 race after all, sending out a message to supporters that "2012 can't come fast enough" and later telling reporters that she thinks she has "the fire in the belly" it takes to run.
But for now, it seems the more things change in the 2012 Republican presidential race, the more they stay the same….more than a bit muddled with no clear front runner emerging yet.
As the Tennessee General Assembly begins to go home, the Metro city elections are about to move to center stage here in town. The qualifying deadline was last Thursday (May 19) with well over 100 candidates in the field to be Mayor, Vice Mayor or one of the 40 members of the Metro Council (they can still withdraw from running before May 26).
So what will this election be? What are the key races and issues? To answer those questions, I have invited two local government reporters to join me on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. They are Micheal Cass of THE TENNESSEAN and Joey Garrison of THE NASHVILLE CITY PAPER. Join as we discuss where the campaigns stand and what to expect this summer. That includes a discussion of the possible Metro Charter amendment to make it almost impossible to ever change the use of the State Fairgrounds property in South Nashville.
It will still be a couple of days yet before we know for sure if supporters of the Fairgrounds got the voter signatures needed to put the matter on the ballot. But in the meantime there continues to be speculation that the Fairgrounds amendment is an attempt to boost the chances of term-limited Metro Councilman Michael Craddock, an ardent Fairgrounds supporter, who is seeking to oust Mayor Karl Dean, who has wanted to redevelop the Fairgrounds for other uses.
Micheal Cass doesn't mention this on the show, but he does have a piece on THE TENNESSEAN's political blog site that says that the Craddock campaign and the SAVE OUR FAIRGROUNDS group do share a common telephone number. I guess that could be a clue, huh?
You can see INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL 5 NETWORK. That includes on the main channel, WTVF-TV, Channel 5 on Sunday morning at 5 a.m. You can also see us 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 PLUS air times are 7 p.m. Friday, 5 a.m. & 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 5 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Sunday.