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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 29, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 29, 2011

CREATED Jul 29, 2011

CAPITOL VIEW

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

July 29, 2011

CASS & GARRISON ON INSIDE POLITICS; INSIDE THE METRO EARLY VOTE; CONVENTION CENTER $$; ARRIOLA DEVELOPMENTS; DEBT CRISIS; NO MORE TO NO CHILD IN TENNESSEE

INSIDE POLITICS

With the Metro elections now less than a week away (Thursday, August 4) and early voting ending this weekend (Saturday), interest in the various countywide (Mayor, Vice Mayor, Council At Large) and the 35 Council district races is peaking.

So if you are interested in getting one last fix before Election Night about the pending hot races, join us this weekend on INSIDE POLITICS. My guests are Michael Cass of THE TENNESSEAN and Joey Garrison of THE CITY PAPER.

These guys have been out in the field covering all these races, so they really know what's happening and can share their keen insights about what is likely to occur when the ballots are tabulated.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning on the main channel, WTVF-TV, Channel 5. We also air several times on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, which can be seen on Comcast & Charter cable channels 250 as well as Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2. 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.

And please join us on THE PLUS Election Night, Thursday, August 4, for full coverage of the returns from 7:00 until 8:00 p.m.

INSIDE THE EARLY VOTE

As happens when there is no hotly contested county-wide mayor's race, it appears the August 4 vote will be about 40% lower than what it was four years ago (around 60,000 to 65,000 total votes compared to just over 100,000 votes in 2007).

That's assuming that the Election Day vote percentage-wise will be at or about the same as happened last time. Early voting in 2007 was just over 50% of the total vote. So if that holds true this year, with an expected 30,000 early vote, we should see the 60,000 to 65,000 total. But given the very hot, humid weather we are experiencing, I would not be surprised to see turnout not make the 60,000 mark.

What else can we learn from going inside the early vote? Thanks to some information I received from the Metro Election Commission, here's a breakdown (through Wednesday, July 27) outlining what council districts are turning out the most voters so far. I am noting the council district race, because it is the only thing different on the ballot depending on what district you vote in.

DISTRICT 25 (Sean McGuire vs. James Kaminski) 1445

DISTRICT 24 (Jason Holleman vs. Sarah Lodge Talley 1270

DISTRICT 22 (Seanna Brandmeir vs. Sheri Weiner 1218

DISTRICT 23 (Emily Evans unopposed) 1197

DISTRICT 35 (Tonya Jones vs. Bo Mitchell) 1175

DISTRICT 34 (Carter Todd unopposed) 1102

DISTRICT 1 (Lonnell Mathews, Chuck Hoosier, 1095

David Phillips, Roosevelt Williamson)

So what does this tell us? Well, a contested council race such as those seen above in 25, 24, 22, 35 and 1 (although the turnout in the 1st District is a surprise to me) can certainly drive voters to the polls. But frankly, when you also see among the heavier early voter turnouts so far being in the districts without contested council races (23 &34), you can see that there are parts of town (in particular southwest Nashville) that turn out to vote every election regardless of what is on the ballot as compared to other areas in Davidson County.

You can also see this as we break down the Top 5 precincts in terms of early voting turnout through Thursday. You can also see indications of where there are other hot races to watch Election Night:

Top 5 precincts turnout in raw numbers

DISTRICT 22-03 BELLEVUE MIDDLE SCHOOL (Brandmeir vs. Weiner) 566

DISTRICT 35-03 HARPETH VALLEY SCHOOL (Bo Mitchell versus Tonya Jones) 562

DISTRICT 4-01 GRANDBERY ELEMENTARY (Brady Banks, Eugene Batsuk, David Patterson, 450

Carolyn Petrone, Rene'e Rathburn, Peter Tuttle

DISTRICT 1-06 CATHEDRAL OF PRAISE (Mathews vs. et all) 439

DISTRICT 24-06 WEST END MIDDLE (Holleman vs. Talley) 430

Top 5 precincts turnout in terms of by percentage of registered voters

DISTRICT 25-01 HILLSBORO HIGH SCHOOL (McGuire vs. Kaminski) 17.2%

DISTRICT 22-03 BELLEVUE MIDDLE SCHOOL (Brandmeir vs. Weiner) 15.04%

DISTRICT 24-06 WEST END MIDDLE SCHOOL (Holleman vs. Talley) 14.25%

DISTRICT 1-03 TEMPLE BAPTIST CHURCH (Lonnell Mathews vs. et. all) 13.95%

DISTRICT 1-05 BORDEAUX LIBRARY (Lonnell Mathews vs. et. all) 13.69%

It is also interesting to note which district races considered hotly contested did not make this list. That could change, of course, between now and the end of early voting Saturday and certainly could change on Election Day). Here's the early vote in some of those districts so far:

DISTRICT 5 (Pam Murray, Amy Bryson, Scott Davis, Priscilla Eaton) 372

DISTRICT 6 (Bob Borzak, Dave Rich, Hans Schmidt, Peter Westerholm, Morelia Cuevas 439

DISTRICT 8 (Karen Bennett, Nancy VanReece, Nina Ground) 713

DISTRICT 18 (Burkley Allen, David Glasgow) 625

DISTRICT 20 (Buddy Baker, Mary Carolyn Roberts, J Gower Mills) 349

DISTRICT 28 (Duane Dominy, Tanaka Vercher, Travis Danker) 359

DISTRICT 29 (Arnett Bodenhamer, Karen Johnson, Ricky Martin, Isaac Okoreeh- 622

Baah, Vicky Tayaryn)

DISTRICT 33 (Robert Duvall, Page Turner, John Kincaid) 656

A couple of other related campaign notes: Mayor Karl Dean has now gotten directly involved in four different district races. In three, he is supporting challengers (Sarah Lodge Talley, Tanka Vercher & Page Turner) against incumbents (Jason Holleman, Duane Dominy & Robert Duvall). In another, he is giving last minute support to an incumbent (Sean McGuire) whose race has likely tightened after the county Republican Party came out in support of a challenger (James Kaminski)

In all four races the Mayor has sent out mailers to voters in support of his candidate. The mayor's campaign even paid for the mailers going out in Districts 28 and 33. These four contests will also provide another way to assess the Mayor's success Election Night along with his overall re-election percentage, and the fate of the Fairgrounds amendment.

In the Talley-Holleman race there have been still more endorsements coming out. Attorney and former State Senate candidate Jeff Yarbro has sent out an e-mail giving his support (he lives in the district) to Talley, while Holleman has sent out a mailer and an e-mail with some 20 neighborhood leaders in the district endorsing him.

As for the at-large race, Ken Jakes, running as a businessman and a Fairgrounds supporter, is making a late push with some TV ads. He is the second at-large challenger up on the air (joining Renard Francois). Three of the five at-large incumbents are also airing TV spots including Ronnie Steine, Megan Barry and Tim Garrett. At this late hour, it appears the other at-large incumbents will not go up with TV spots.

CONVENTION CENTER $$

We've discussed before how the Music City Center, the new convention facility under construction downtown (and about 40% complete), has not been an item for much discussion this election season.

It has however suddenly become a major item of budget concern for city officials.

That's because of a jury decision saying Metro didn't pay Tower Investments enough money (to the tune of up to $15 million) when its property was condemned to be a part of the footprint for the new center.

So what will Metro do to make up for the $30 million judgment (Metro had offered $14.8 million)? There was some talk about going back to the Metro Council for more bond funding. That could be tricky given how many new Council members are about to be elected and it might renew debate about the feasibility and financing of the Center. Given how far along Metro is, it is highly doubtful the project would be scrapped. But this issue is probably not the first one the Dean administration wants to spend its political capital on at the beginning of its second term.

Besides, it appears the city has some grounds to appeal the issue (and therefore perhaps buy some time before having to come up with any more money). The $30 million Tower ruling by the jury came despite a jury of real estate experts involved in the case which recommended a value of $16.1 million, somewhat higher than Metro's value, but way below what Tower asked for and has now been awarded.

That seems to be one of the major reasons the city has announced it will appeal the matter. There are also two other property owners who are appealing what Metro paid them for their convention center land. That could also ultimately factor in into how much more money will be needed to pay for the Center. Legal costs and potential interest on the Tower judgment while it is under appeal may also have to be factored in.

ARRIOLA DEVELOPMENTS

While the current Metro Council prepares to select (August 16) an interim Criminal Court Clerk to serve until next year's elections (primary in March, general election in August), that body is also pondering whether to get involved in the ousting of another local clerk, John Arriola.

There is a non-binding resolution on the Council's agenda August 2 to ask that County Clerk Arriola be removed from office. It is similar to a resolution the Council approved earlier in the year that ultimately led to former Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence retiring rather than be ousted by the District Attorney after an investigation of his activities in office (particularly not showing up for work).

Arrriola faces a similar investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation after a series of hard-hitting reports by NewsChannel5's Chief Investigative Reporter Phil Williams.

But there are some efforts being made to get the Council not to act until the probe is done. When the Torrence matter was considered in the Council, there was no probe underway and some Council members are concerned about getting involved when an investigation is being conducted.

So it is unclear what will happen this Tuesday, although obviously the seriousness of the probe can be seen by Arriola's decision to hire prominent local attorney George Barrett to represent him in this matter.

If the Council decides not to act Tuesday night, it is pretty clear any action would be deferred to the new Council (if it wants to weigh in) That group will not hold its first business session until October.

DEBT CRISIS

Congress has made a living for years waiting until the last minute to resolve a controversy or crisis (usually giving final approval to something in the middle of the night and/or right before one of its frequent recesses or "district work sessions" as they are officially named).

But this time with the debt crisis approaching and the apparent drop-dead date of August 2 just a few short days away, Congress is outdoing itself with a political high-wire act that threatens to create a new national recession and perhaps even a worldwide recession.

Nobody seems to know what will happen. After numerous attempts between President Barack Obama and Republican leaders to come up with "grand bargains" or even short term solutions, it doesn't appear both parties can find a solution even among their own members.

The split is particularly pronounced among the Republicans and its Tea Party wing, some of whom don't see any need to raise the debt ceiling at all. What they want is deep cuts in federal spending without any balance to that of increased tax revenues including closing loopholes. The Democrats are not keen on some of the cuts being proposed by the President and it is not clear at all that Senate Democrats can come up with any last minute deals by amending the likely ill-fated plan of GOP House Speaker John Boehner. As these words are being written it is not even clear that Speaker Boehner can come up with enough votes within his own party to pass his plan in the House.

Even Republican conservatives, such as David Brooks, the editorial page of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and, believe it or not, some of the commentators on FOX News are pleading with their Tea Party colleagues to take a more broad-minded view. Former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson joins them. In an open letter to the House GOP, he urges them to "accept a well-won victory and move on."

It is Thompson's view (and he is right) that the Republicans have completely changed the debate about federal spending in Washington and now they ought to accept a reasonable compromise. Says former Senator Thompson: "As someone who understands the pressures and difficulties you have been going through, I want to say, "Congratulations. You won, and so did the country."

But Tennessee Senator Bob Corker remains concerned not only about the resolving the debt ceiling issue, but the possibility of the country's credit rating still being downgraded soon without a long term plan to reduce the national deficit. He hopes the country doesn't lose the opportunity to address our long term debt problems because of the timeline crunch regarding the debt limit. He also told MSNBC (July 29) that hiking the debt ceiling in stages (as called for in GOP House bill) "could fuel economic uncertainty." What isn't uncertain in Washington right now?

As for Senator Alexander, his latest statement points out the need for everyone in Washington to try and craft an overall debt limit and debt reduction plan that can pass BOTH houses of Congress, otherwise nothing much will be accomplished. But the political ability for all sides to maneuver and especially to compromise may be vanishing as the final hours to the debt limit deadline approach.

There is of course great anger rising in the nation over all this. Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper has submitted legislation "to stop paying all congressman and senators if America defaults." I certainly agree with his sentiment. But given the fact that Congress sets its own pay, I have a lot of doubt they would ever cut off their own compensation, even if it was so richly deserved (and it would be if this nation goes into a position of default). So the Cooper legislation shouldn't raise any false expectations in my view.

It is a little crude, but the current situation we face is perhaps in some ways summed up by the comments of Tennessee's other Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen. On the floor of the House the other day, Cohen said: "In my life, I have had kidney stones, and they are easier to pass than this (the debt ceiling/budget crisis legislation)."

I have no predictions left to offer. Your guess is as good as mine, as to what the President and Congress will work out, if anything. I hope and the pray they will do the right thing in time. I also fear our future and the future of our children and grandchildren hang in the balance. I do know its' well past time for decisions to made based on what is best for the country and not how best to position each political party for the 2012 election cycle.

I am hopeful that will happen. But frankly, I am not very optimistic. Let's see where we are next week, and let's hope in the meantime world markets, our debtors and others continue to have more faith in the United States and its leaders to resolve our nation's fiscal problems than what we have been seeing in Washington the last few weeks. Pray.

NO MORE TO NO CHILD IN TENNESSEE

Another issue Congress has refused to deal with effectively in recent years, is updating (or even scrapping) the federal NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND ACT.

According to THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL, Governor Bill Haslam told reporters today (July 29) that Tennessee is asking for a waiver to law's standards, primarily because there is no way it can meet the requirement of 100% proficient by all students by 2014.

Tennessee is not alone. Several other states seem ready to ask for waivers from Washington and the Obama administration says it is open to received them.

The Governor we need to get away from the punitive mandates of the No Child legislation, adding this about the Bush-era law. "While it has been very valuable, we believe it may have outlined its usefulness in its present form."

OK, but like so many things in Washington, what comes next?