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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 15, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 15, 2011

CREATED Jul 15, 2011

CAPITOL VIEW

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

July 15, 2011

HERMAN CAIN ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE WASHINGTON BLAME GAME; CARVINGS; GOVERNOR HASLAM'S LIST; METRO ELECTION MUSINGS; METRO CLERKS UPDATES

HERMAN CAIN ON INSIDE POLITICS

Atlanta businessman and Tennessee native (born in Memphis) Herman Cain has, so far, been the surprise candidate in the race for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. He's running third in most polls, especially in some of the early caucus and primary states such as Iowa.

Mr. Cain is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week. Since it's the first time we've had a presidential candidate come on our show, we are kind of excited about that and hope it opens the door for the other major Republican candidates to join us over the next several months. That includes President Barack Obama too, if he would like to come.

Herman Cain believes Tennessee will be a critical state in the nominating process. That's because as the state has become more Republican it is getting more delegates to the GOP convention in 2012, thereby giving it more clout.

Cain has been quite outspoken on the campaign trail saying if he is President he would erect a "Great Wall" to protect our borders (he says he was joking when he added it should have electrified barbed wire and moats with alligators). Drawing even more criticism are his statements that he would not appoint anyone of the Muslim faith to be in his Cabinet or serve as a federal judge as a "precautionary measure."

Our interview airs several times this weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. on the main channel, WTVF-TV, Channel 5. We are also on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, seen on Comcast and Charter Cable channels 250 and on Channel 5's over-the-air 5.2 digital channel. Our air times on THE PLUS are 7:00 p.m. Friday; 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m. Saturday, and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

THE WASHINGTON BLAME GAME

After it appeared for a brief while last weekend that a "Grand Plan" was possible among the politicians in Washington to resolve the debt limit/budget deficit crisis, now we are back deeper than ever into the blame game as the nation (and perhaps the world) creeps ever closer to the danger of another economic meltdown if the U.S. runs out of authorization from Congress (on August 2) to spend money to pay our existing debts.

Already two major rating agencies, Moody's and Standard & Poor's, have warned that the U.S. will soon lose its top credit rating if something isn't done soon. Others predict a default or even the likelihood of a default could cause a sharp rise in interest rates and a potential collapse of economic markets in the United States and even around the world causing another major recession, if not a depression.

Now some in the Republican Party and the Tea Party just don't believe that. They say the government is still taking in enough funds to pay our existing debts and all the threats of "Social Security checks not going out in early August" are scare tactics.

Maybe so, but there is clearly disagreement in the GOP about continuing to draw a hard line in the matter( i.e., no deal on the debt limit even with significant spending cuts if it also includes closing tax loopholes or raising revenues).

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky believes continuing to hold firm will likely backfire on Republicans, making them "co-owners" of any economic downfall that might occur if the debt limit isn't raised and then world markets and our debt-holders rebel. Senator McConnell has offered the alternative of Congress allowing President Barack Obama to raise the debt limit on his own with Congress having a potential veto power with a 2/3 vote override.

That idea has already been rejected by Republican leaders in the House largely because the conservative Tea Party wing of the GOP is up in arms about the idea of allowing the President such authority. Howard Cain reacted to me on INSIDE POLITICS this way: "That would be like giving a loaded gun to a 6-year old."

There are efforts to keep Senator McConnell's plan alive in the Senate, tying the president's new debt limit powers to direct spending cuts. But if this proposal doesn't grow a lot more support in the House it is hard to see it ever becoming a reality as the clock ticks down on an August 2 drop-dead deadline for the Congress to act on the debt limit issue.

Meantime there is late word that House Republicans are hoping for a floor vote early next week to pass a measure similar to one being pushed in the Senate by Tennessee's Bob Corker to cut, cap and balance the federal budget as a solution to the debt limit crisis. But it is not clear it has enough support in the Senate to pass.

Meantime, leave it to Senator Bob Corker to tell the political truth about what is really going on in Washington. According to an article on HUFFPOST POLITICS (July 14) Corker, during remarks on the Senate floor said "about a dozen Senators from both parties…had dinner on Monday (and) all expressed "tremendous frustration" with the way electoral politics have taken hold in the Senate as a potential debt default looms."

"I won't mention names," Senator Corker continued. "But all agreed that "most Senators in this body are nothing but two-bit pawns…as a political fight is underway, basically to lay out the groundwork, if you will, for the 2012 elections."

The article also quotes Corker as saying: "Maybe the debt ceiling was the wrong place to pick a fight as it related to trying to get our country's house in order. Maybe that was the wrong place to do it."

Here's something else for Senator Corker to consider in that regard. According to Salon.com (July 14) a Quinnipiac University poll shows voters, by a 67%-25% majority, say that any agreement to raise the debt ceiling should include tax hikes for the wealthy and corporations, not just spending cuts.

Uh oh

And there's more. The survey "suggests that voters still blame former President George W. Bush for the state of the economy more than President Obama." With 71% saying they believe the country is still in a recession (even though technically it is not), and over half of those respondents (54%) "blame Bush for our economic problems compared to only 27% who blame Obama."

Washington is being pushed to the brink with frequent name-calling on both sides ("childish" seems to be the favorite barb these days. There are also daily, fruitless negotiating sessions and frequent news conferences by both sides, all of which lead to nothing but the pleas to "eat your peas", or vows to hold fast regardless of the other side. It's all political theatre.

Clearly it is well past time that Plan B be found that is a way out of this mess. A plan that is best for all of us as Americans, not as Republicans or Democrats or Tea Party members.

Some of the star players in the National Football League (such as Peyton Manning) are saying "it's time to settle the deal"(to end their league's lockout) so the games can begin. Inside the Beltway, we need to say let's quit playing all the political games, so we can get to a deal that is best for the country.

Now

CARVINGS

It made news nation-wide, if not world-wide, this past week.

Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell announced that rookie State Representative Julia Hurley had agreed to pay for the damages she made to her desk on the House floor when she carved her initials there.

Quoted in an Associated Press story on July 12, Speaker Harwell said that Representative Harley acted "in the excitement of being a freshman (lawmaker) at the end of the session. "

Speaker Harwell added: "As with any state property, we will take steps to have the desk restored and I'm sure Representative Harley will be more than happy to compensate the state to make the repairs."

But GOP Representative Hurley tells her story a little differently. "It was like 1 in the morning…I wasn't thinking straight. " Then she added: "I don't understand why it is news, and I don't want to talk about the desk."

Nevertheless, based on a Google search I made on Wednesday, July 13, the desk and her carvings are all over the news and everyone is talking about it especially in the blogosphere. As you might imagine, most of the comments are not favorable.

If you've seen a photo of the Hurley carvings (which were made right on top of one of the corners of the desk) they look a lot more like vandalism than someone's initials.

But, in fairness, it should be pointed out that in another context, carving your initials inside a desk in another legislative body, the United States Senate, actually represents an important part of the history and lore of that legislative institution. For many years, Senators have carved their initials inside their desks on the Senate floor and they take great pride in who sat at their desks in previous years.

For example two former Senators, John F. Kennedy and Barack Obama wound up using the same desk in the Senate. And so you will find the handy work of both U.S. Presidents (i.e., their carved initials) inside that desk, leaving lasting and historic markings in the Senate chambers.

I don't know exactly when that tradition began in the Senate. But it doesn't exist in the House of Representatives in Tennessee, even though its Chambers are nearly as old and in some ways have as much history as the U.S. Senate.

It is pretty clear that 1:00 a.m. in the morning on the last day of the session was not a good time for Representative Hurley to try and begin a new tradition in Tennessee, especially carving her name on the outside of the desk, and doing so after the state spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years to restore the House chambers to its full glory.

GOVERNOR BILL HASLAM'S LIST

Transparency

Governor Bill Haslam pledged when he took office last January that he and his new administration were committed to governing in an open way.

But questions keep being raised about that commitment particularly in the media across the state.

The latest controversy over this issue is, in some ways, a bit bizarre.

For several years (and throughout the preceding administration of Governor Phil Bredesen), a daily e-mail update has been sent out from the governor's communications office to many supporters, lawmakers, lobbyists, members of the media and others across the state.

While I personally never made the list of those receiving these updates, its daily content appears to have included announcements, news stories and other state government information from all across the state. Items that not everyone was able see and/or read, especially all in one communication. As THE JACKSON SUN put it (July 9): "It was a good way to keep people in the loop and maintain a relationship with them."

But almost inexplicably, Governor Haslam's office decided to cut down the e-mail list of those receiving the daily updates from about 1,100 recipients to just 150.

There might have been a time in the past (before electronic communications) that sending out a daily communication piece like this would be just too expensive to do for over 1,000 folks. But e-mail doesn't have much, if any, printing or production costs and you don't need stamps to send it out. You might have also said in the past, that putting something like this out every work day just took up too much staff time. But assuming you are still producing it for about 150 folks, it doesn't take any more staff time to produce it or send it out for over a 1,000 people, except maybe for updating the e-mail list.

To again quote THE JACKSON SUN: "This (daily update) can be a powerful tool for the administration… We are puzzled by (Governor) Haslam's reluctance to engage the media and others who are conduits of information about state government operations…People are genuinely interested in what state government is doing. That should be encouraged by making more information available to more people. Haslam is doing the opposite."

Now I do suspect a lot of the recent complaining about a lack of transparency in this e-mail list controversy is actually about something else. The same folks complaining are still ticked off about the Governor's decision not to continue Governor Bredesen's executive order about how much personal financial information he and the members of his administration must disclose each year.

Frankly, this latest tiff is almost silly. It should be ended by Governor Haslam by either restoring the full e-mail list to receive the daily updates from the governor's office, or just doing away with sending out any daily updates all together.

METRO ELECTION MUSINGS

Early voting for the August 4 Metro elections starts today (Friday, July 15) and continues (except for Sundays) through July 30.

From all indications, it will be a rather low turnout. That's usually the case when there is no hotly contested countywide race for Mayor. Mayor Karl Dean will win in a walk against three nearly-unknown challengers. The other countywide races are for Vice-Mayor and the five Metro Council At-Large seats.

Incumbent Vice-Mayor Diane Neighbors will also win handily, which perhaps sets her up in four years to run to be the first woman to hold the city's top post (Mayor Dean will be term-limited). As for the At-Large contest, it always generates a large field of candidates, but with few issues and the chance to cast multiple ballots, it never by itself turns out voters.

Because it's a contest mostly dominated by name recognition, no At-Large incumbent has ever lost re-election. But never have all five incumbents been seeking re-election at the same time. So the streak could be put to the test. However, looking over the field and reviewing the fund raising totals so far, it appears to me all five At-Large incumbents (Tim Garrett, Megan Barry, Ronnie Steine, Charlie Tygard, Jerry Maynard) are in pretty good shape to either win (maybe 2 or 3 of them) on August 4 or make it into a September runoff for the remaining unfilled seats. Steine boosted his chances in terms of resources by being the second At-Large incumbent (along with Jerry Maynard) to get help from Mayor Dean, who, along with Congressman Jim Cooper, is sponsoring a fund raiser for him Monday (July 18). Cooper previously headlined a fund raiser for Megan Barry.

As for the challengers, the ones to watch include Renard Francois, Ken Jakes and a trio of term-limited district council members Eric Crafton, Vivian Wilhoite and Sam Coleman. All but Jakes and Crafton are minority candidates and their chances to win or get into the runoff may hinge on the size of the black turnout August 4. Four years ago, minority turnout was elevated, especially to help former Vice Mayor Howard Gentry in his bid to be mayor, which fell just short of making the runoff.

There is no expectation black voting levels will be anyway close to that this time and that could hurt Wilhoite and Coleman in particular, who may also struggle with the fact that except for Charlie Tygard no district councilman has ever been elected At-Large.

Things may break differently for Francois, a Nashville-native and a high-profile lawyer. He has raised the most money among the At-Large challengers and seems to be building a larger support base that also includes the general business community as well as some progressives. For example, local businessman Bill Freeman and former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter held a major fund raiser for Francois July 14.

That leaves among potential At-Large contenders, Eric Crafton and Ken Jakes, both of whom are seeking to capitalize on the votes of the most motivated group going to the polls, those supporting the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. They are fired up to preserve that historic South Nashville property by voting yes for a Metro Charter amendment that makes it impossible for any change in operations concerning the annual State Fair, the monthly Flea Market or the Raceway without a 2/3 Council vote.

Both Crafton and Jakes are strongly supporting that amendment and seeking votes from the Fairgrounds backers, although strangely I recently received a campaign postcard from Jakes that never even mentions the word Fairgrounds. As for Crafton, he likely has the greatest name recognition among the At-Large challengers, but not all of that is positive, especially due to his leadership in trying to pass the ill-fated English-Only ballot initiative last year.

The Fairgrounds issue is generating lots of interesting undercurrents. While the Metro elections are done on a non-party basis (no one runs as a Democrat or a Republican), the Davidson County Republican Party is continuing to try and flex its growing political muscle by urging the adoption of the Fairgrounds amendment. They are also saying some good things about council candidates like Crafton and Jakes too.

Local GOP leaders say they are getting involved in the charter amendment effort because of strong support among their members as seen in a recent straw poll they conducted. Maybe so, but it's also likely they are jumping in because they see a potential opportunity to help pass the Fairgrounds proposal and embarrass Mayor Karl Dean (the major supporter of redeveloping the Fairgrounds). Mayor Dean is a Democrat and some see him as perhaps the next best hope for Tennessee Democrats to win a statewide contest in the future. So what better reason, say some observers, to inflict a political wound on the Mayor by passing this amendment, especially just as he is being re-elected.

So can the Fairgrounds amendment pass August 4? Increasingly, the consensus I hear from both candidates and political observers is that it can, especially given the strong motivation of Fairgrounds supporters versus the overall apathy of the rest of the Nashville electorate about the August ballot.

And as early voting begins, you are beginning to see efforts to turn out the pro-Fairgrounds vote. As he hinted he would last week while appearing on INSIDE POLITICS, retiring Metro Councilman Jamie Hollin, who is spearheading the Fairgrounds campaign, has launched an mass e-mail push featuring links to a new website (saveourfairgrounds.com); a You Tube video on the history of the Fairgrounds featuring another council supporter Michael Craddock, and at least one radio ad (paid for and voiced by Hollin). So far it is unclear whether the ad is airing on more than one station (WAMB, 1200 AM) and there are also questions about whether any of the spending for these advertising-type efforts need to be reported to the Election Commission under the disclosure laws that govern raising or spending money to promote the passage of any referendum or the election of a candidate.

So will those who oppose the charter amendment launch their own media campaign? Apparently they will not. Mayor Dean would seem to have enough money to do so (he disclosed raising $332,000 in just the last quarter with $473,000 in the bank). But with early voting starting and no Fairgrounds push underway to challenge the amendment, it appears there will be no organized message to try and stop it.

In fact, when I talk to those who would likely be against amendment I am now hearing comments such as: "Well, it might pass. But if it does, it's not the end of the world. The Mayor probably needs to get a 2/3 vote anyway for whatever he would propose to do to redevelop the Fairgrounds."

Does that sound like a little pre-emptive damage control?

If you look at what the candidates are saying in their ads their only mention of the Fairgrounds comes from those who support the amendment or those who support the process (favoring allowing the voters to decide). I don't see or hear anyone speaking against it (including the Mayor, at least in his TV spots and campaign materials I've seen so far).

Also, as Joey Garrison of the CITY PAPER (July 15) notes, it is interesting how little conversation is being made by candidates about the new Music City Center which is well under construction downtown. Is that because the Center is a done deal so what is there to say? Well, the project was touted as a jobs package for Nashville (and lots of folks are working at the project site). So why not take credit for that if you voted for it? After all, we sure do need jobs. Are we not hearing much because the new convention center is unpopular among those who support the Fairgrounds? I don't know but I agree it sure is quiet on that topic.

It will also be interesting to see what the Fairgrounds measure does to the Mayor's winning percentage in August. The all-time Metro record for a re-elected mayor is just under 85% of the vote when Mayor Bill Purcell won his second term in 2004. Will Karl Dean challenge that or will his numbers be held down by the Fairgrounds vote?

Here's one last Metro election tidbit:

I am told there's an endorsement message being mailed out soon from former Governor Phil Bredesen on behalf of challenger Sarah Lodge Talley in her 24th District Council race against incumbent Jason Holleman.

The 24th District race is already well on its way to setting what must be an all-time local record for most money raised and spent in a single district campaign (combined both candidates are already over $100,000). Now it may be setting records for attracting high-profile support from outside the district, especially for Talley.

Governor Bredesen has already made a $1,000 contribution to Talley as has former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike McWherter, Metro D.A. Torry Johnson and others.

METRO CLERK UPDATES

Today (July 15) is the last day on the job (or at least the payroll) for Metro Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence. He is retiring rather than face an ouster suit to remove him because, among other things, he hasn't been showing up for work more than 3 days a week.

Torrence is not the only Metro clerk under fire. The recent revelations unveiled in reports by NewsChannel5's Chief Investigative Reporter Phil Williams, now have Metro County Clerk, John Arriola on the hot seat. And it could get even hotter I am told as Phil continues his probe.

Meanwhile it will be up to the Metro Council to fill David Torrence's seat until the August election of 2012. Outgoing Councilman Michael Craddock has expressed some interest in seeking the appointment, but so has former Vice Mayor Howard Gentry, who could likely quickly emerge as the frontrunner for the post.

It is believed the Dean administration would be supportive of Gentry and it is understood that the current chief clerk in the office, Tommy Bradley, is ready to forgo seeking the top job himself and stay on to help run the Criminal Court Clerk's operations under Gentry. The former Vice Mayor would also be the first African American to ever hold one of the constitutional offices in Davidson County.

There is still a fairly long nominating and screening process to go through before the Council holds its vote during its last business meeting on August 23, and it is possible due to an unforeseen delay, the matter might be deferred to the next council which won't be elected and take office until as late as October.