Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 5, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 5, 2011

CREATED Aug 5, 2011


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

August 5, 2011



It was great night for incumbents in the Metro elections last Thursday.

Mayor Karl Dean easily won a second term with nearly 80% of the vote over a field of three political no-names. Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors also handily won a second term, as did all five incumbent Metro Council members-At-Large. All this continues a streak that no Metro Mayor, no Vice Mayor nor any At-Large members have ever been defeated for re-election in the nearly 50 year history of Metro government. 

It was even a good night for Metro Council district incumbents with 18 being returned and only 2 being voted out (Ann Page & Jim Hodge) while another (Robert Duvall) is being forced into a runoff September 15.

But that doesn't mean there won't change coming to the new Metro Council when it convenes for business in October. Thanks to term limits, there will be 17 new faces (out of 40) and the Council will welcome its first Hispanic member with the election of architect Fabian Bedne who was born in Argentina.

The new Council will also be more diverse in terms of gender with at least 11 female members (up from 9 in the current Council) and there are two other women still battling for seats in the September 15 runoff election.   

The racial mix will change too.  Minority membership is already about the same as the current Council (9) with at least one, if not up to 3 more blacks, contesting runoffs to win seats in the new Council.

Winning re-election was a forgone conclusion for Mayor Karl Dean. The question was, by what margin would he prevail, given the Fairgrounds referendum proposed (which he opposed) that was also on the ballot?

Not to worry for the Mayor. His nearly 80% majority gives him a strong endorsement from the voters (at least the few who voted) and lots of political capital to spend in his second 4-year term. But with voters also overwhelmingly approving (69%) the Fairground charter amendment (which makes it harder to redevelop that property) it does give the Mayor his third setback on this issue. For now, the Mayor indicates that other than completing a Council-mandated master plan for the Fairgrounds, he has NO plans to get re-involved in any redevelopment efforts involving that South Nashville property.

The Mayor's involvement in supporting challengers against incumbents also did not turn out all that well for him. Jason Holleman won a lop-sided victory over Sarah Lodge Talley in District 24 (West Nashville) in what turned out to be the highest profile and most expensive district council race in history. The Mayor took a split in South Nashville trying to oust Councilman Duane Dominy (he won anyway) and Robert Duvall (he has been forced into a runoff against the Mayor's candidate).

The Mayor indicates he will continue to be active in that race and perhaps others in the runoff this fall. There's only 5 seats left undecided, which is a very low number historically. But while the Mayor won in several council races backing incumbents for re-election, his loss in those other district contests plus the Fairgrounds outcome could continue to create challenges for him in the new Council. Whenever, as an elected official, you display a weakness, there will always be those who will try to test that. Look to see when that occurs in the new Council. For now though, the Dean administration is looking at addition by subtraction for them in the Council since due to term limits the new body won't include past opponents such as Michael Craddock, Jim Gotto and a few others.

As for the Fairgrounds, it had some strange coattails. It may have taken a couple of points off the Mayor's totals, but it did not seem to have much impact at all on the At-Large race. If it had, you'd think Ken Jakes and Eric Crafton would have done much better, and that Megan Barry and Ronnie Steine would not have been at the top of the returns.

But it does appear the Fairgrounds vote did have some impact in at least one (Anna Page) and maybe both (Jim Hodge) races where incumbents went down.        

As for the Davidson County GOP, which tried to flex its growing political muscle in this area by supporting the Fairgrounds and sending out an endorsement list of some 24 candidates…it had a very mixed result. The local Republicans had just 9 of their candidates win (and 3 of those were in uncontested races) while the GOP lost 11 races (including two of out three of its At-Large candidates) with 4 candidates still in runoffs.

The local Republicans probably tried to get into too many races, but you can be sure they will be touting all of their wins (in this traditionally dark-blue county), especially the Fairgrounds, where they seemed in particular to be trying to embarrass Mayor Dean who they see as a future statewide Democratic candidate for office. 

I haven't seen any precinct breakouts, so I will talk some more about this in next week's column.

By the way if you think overall turnout was bad (and it was) at just over 60,000 or so out of 285,000-plus registered voters, think how much lower it might have been had the Fairgrounds issue not had been on the ballot or if there had not been early voting. Then think about turnout if the election had been Wednesday when temperatures went to a record 102 degrees or today (Friday) when those vicious thunderstorms rolled through at mid-day.

None of that is an excuse for not voting. Your local government has the greatest impact on your day to day life. Ignoring elections mean you have no right to complain because you get the government you deserve when you don't participate.

Let me also thank all those who ran or worked in the campaigns. In researching the candidates for Election Night, I was impressed at the number, depth and quality of those offering themselves for service. Running this summer in particular was tough with the very hot weather and the general dislike even anger of all levels of government. Thanks for trying to make a difference. Even if you didn't win stay involved. We'll all be better off for it.        



This weekend on INSIDE POLITICS we look back on the Metro elections. Our guests include Mayor Dean, along with outgoing pro-Fairgrounds Councilman Jamie Hollin. We also welcome Councilwoman-At-Large Megan Barry who led the ticket in the at-large contest. Newly re-elected 24th District Councilman Jason Holleman joins us too along with Councilman-elect Tony Tenpenny, who was one of only two candidates to defeat an incumbent (Anna Page in District 16 the Woodbine/Flatrock area near the Fairgrounds) Thursday night.

It's an interesting half-hour of political talk.

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes 5 a.m. Sunday morning on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NewsChannel 5. We also can be seen on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS at 7 p.m. Friday, 5 a.m. & 5:30 p.m. Saturday and 5 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. Sunday. THE PLUS is on Comcast channel 250 & Charter Cable channels 150 as well as on Channel 5's over-the-air 5.2 digital channel.  If you are outside the Nashville area, you can see excerpts from this show (and previous shows) here on newschannel5.com.


When former Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence got caught not doing his job, members of the Metro Council couldn't wait to file and pass a non-binding resolution telling him to resign. So why did the Council defer similar legislation a few days ago asking County Clerk John Arriola to step aside after some potentially even more serious charges were leveled against him in a series of reports by NewsChannel5's Chief Investigative Reporter, Phil Williams?

Timing is the difference say lawmakers. There was no TBI investigation underway involving Torrence when the Council acted in his case (although one was later done and led to Torrence's resignation under pressure of an ouster suit). There is already an investigation underway into Arriola's actions which involve him charging a $40 "gratuity" in cash for conducting marriages and for the payment of his former campaign manager as a 20-hour per week Metro employee, even though there appear to be no records to prove he has ever done any work for the city.

So the Council put the resolution off for two weeks, fearing they might somehow interfere with the ongoing investigation. That's a little dubious but it is probably better to err on the side of caution rather than grandstanding especially since the Council's action on the resolution play absolutely no role whatsoever in whether Arriola can stay in office or must go. But obviously it could play large role in the court of public opinion. So you can see why Clerk Arriola himself showed up at the Council meeting with his lawyer asking for this issue to be put off.

The Council deferral puts the matter on the very last calendar and the last meeting night for this Council, raising the distinct, if not likely possibility that it will do nothing about Arriola before a new Council is elected and holds its first meeting in October. Of course, the TBI probe could be done in two weeks, but that seems unlikely as well.

What all this inconsistency by the Council really shows is that lawmakers need to always hold off and let the system and investigations work, and not just pass their own meaningless resolutions seemingly motivated more on looking good during re-election time rather than on justice. They shouldn't let John Arriola being better liked by most of the Council than David Torrence drive their decision either.

I will add this. In talking with many council members, they see the issues surrounding John Arriola as being much more serious, even criminal, than what Torrence faced. So that's another reason they say to go slow on expressing their judgment. Also there are questions at the Courthouse about whether Arriola has retained an attorney in order to help negotiate a deal similar to the one worked out with District Attorney Torry Johnson for David Torrence…which would be resign and leave office with any possible charges being dropped?        


Well, Congress pulled another one of its hat.

When I was asked a couple of weeks ago when our lawmakers would finally come together and resolve (at least temporarily) the debt ceiling and deficit crisis, I joked that if the absolute deadline to act is August 2nd, they would resolve it on either August 1st or the 2nd.

I guess it turned out my prediction was not a joke, even though Washington is once again the punch line of many gags by late-night comedians.    

On the surface, the plan looks like a typical congressional compromise. While it ultimately received landslide support in both houses, nobody seems to like it. Republicans don't think enough cuts were made, while Democrats are upset that it contains no new revenues through changes in the tax code or closing loopholes. About all the compromise does seem to do right away is increase the debt ceiling until after the 2012 elections while making immediate spending cuts of the same size as the future authorized increase in the debt.

It has left everyone in Washington battered and bruised after playing this elaborate game of chicken and holding the economy hostage. The damage from all this is reflected in the polls. Congress' job ratings overall are as low as 14% with Republicans in the House are getting the biggest amount of blame for all this delay and controversy (along with the jitters it caused in national and world markets). But President Obama took his lumps as well, with his job performance numbers down now in the low 40s.

He has been particularly wounded in his Democratic base which feels he caved in to the GOP and especially the Tea Party folks, giving up way too much. Indeed, it seems about all the Democrats can brag about coming out this scrap is that they somehow saved Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid from any immediate service cuts.

Several top Democrats minced few words in how they described what Congress (including the Democratically-controlled Senate) approved. In a Twitter message, the head of House Black Caucus, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver now famously suggested it was: "a sugar-coated Satan sandwich. If you lift the bun you will not like what you see." Added former Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, now House Minority Leader, the Satan Sandwich comes with "satan fries on the side"

So what does the use of the "S" word mean? Well, maybe more than just that the devil is in the details of this new law or that agreeing to the plan is making a pact with the devil. Some suggest the "Satan" word is really a substitute for a four-letter expression that I can't repeat in this column. My research on the phrase itself found the 2004 Urban Dictionary defines a Satan Sandwich as "the chiefest of hell's dark delights, it is said just one bite of it arouses an unspeakable lust of terrific potency."

Actually some pundits say that while many are relieved the debt ceiling crisis is over for now, others just feel indigestion if not disgust by how much wasted time and energy Congress expended on this matter. However one did add that perhaps the Satan Sandwich might be better received than Obama's "peas."

So what happens next? Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander says, "Congress has changed its behavior from spend, spend, spend to cut, cut, cut." It may look that way. But I am not so sure Congress has really changed. All the latest plan does is kick the can down the road again with still more potential deadlocks and moments of crisis looming ahead.

What happens next is that a 12-member "Super Congress" is appointed with an equal number of members from each party and each House. They will review and recommend another trillion dollars and more in cuts or tax changes that the full Congress must vote up or down by the end of this year. If voted down, automatic cuts will be made throughout the federal budget (including defense), which most lawmakers say they would prefer not to do.

But since it appears all the GOP members about to put placed on this "Super Congress" committee are likely to be firmly pledged to a "no tax increase or revenue increase" platform, what to keep this from becoming another stalemate like the one we've seen for the last couple of months? And what about more moments of crisis such as another potential government shutdown when it's time for Congress to try and pass a federal budget? That's something which lawmakers have all but abandoned trying to do in recent years no matter which party has been in power. Even continuing resolutions have been hard to do and could present another crisis.           

 Here's the most powerful example of why Congress is still not changing its ways. A dispute between Senate Democrats and House Republicans has led to a weeks-long partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration. It has meant the loss of jobs as FAA employees were furloughed and construction workers idled while airport improvement projects were stopped all over the nation (including, according to NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL 8/3, a couple here in Nashville).

What's even worse is that this stalemate has cost the government a lot of money in airport user taxes (paid by travelers on their plane tickets). Those monies are now lost forever. Some say the amount could go as high as a billion dollars if Congress waited to come back from its summer recess (which has now begun) to correct the matter. Now it appears there is a compromise solution is being put in place which will solve this shameful situation which should have resolved BEFORE Congress left on its vacation.

It seems that Congress always goes on a recess break after "solving" a crisis like this most recent one over the debt ceiling. Lately, just two summers ago, during the debate over the new national health care law, lawmakers got a very hot, angry reception from constituents. It was the launching point for the Tea Party movement. This summer I expect voters to be almost equally unhappy about the state of the Union and will be giving their representatives their own version of a "Satan Sandwich" to chew on.

It won't be nearly as tasty as one of the specialties at one of the annual Labor Day Bar-B Ques. In fact some of the elected officials may find themselves as their own main dish roasting over the political spit at their late summer town hall meetings.                   

 But given how Congress and Washington continues to act, who can be surprised that while our nation's credit rating continues to be AAA, that it is still very likely that one day in the not-too- distant future, it will be lowered, with dramatic impacts on our nation's and the world's economy.

Already you can see that in the stock market's reaction going down over 600 points Thursday, the largest one day drop since the fall of 2008 (the last time we faced a recession). The market had already been declining even before Congress finally acted. Some of this may also be due to the continuing economic uncertainty in Europe, but the situation in the U.S. isn't helping things.

There seems to be little indication that the debt ceiling/ budget crisis bill passed by Congress will help revive the economy, at least in the short term. Less government spending, combined with reduced expenditures by consumers and businesses because of the uncertainty in Washington is just creating a vicious cycle that keeps our economic prospects depressed and unemployment high. The jobs report Friday of 117,000 more jobs created in July is better than expected, but not nearly enough to cut into unemployment.

Sure a tough situation for an incumbent president to get re-elected and surely not the 50th birthday present President Barack Obama was likely hoping to receive this past week. But then you wonder, what's happened to that field of Republican challengers to President Obama and how did they seem so quiet during this recent fiscal fight? Or did all the media focus on D.C. and forget them? If so, what will these candidates do now to refocus attention on their races from both reporters and voters?

Frankly, the only ray of hope I've seen in national politics in recent days was the sighting of Representative Gabriel Gifford's returning to the House floor after her miraculous recovery from being shot point blank in assassination attempt a few months ago. Her personal courage and the warm response she received from members from both sides of the aisle shows that as Americans we can come together for the betterment of our country, overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles, including hopefully, one day, our extremely partisan politics in Washington.