Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 19, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 19, 2011

CREATED Aug 19, 2011


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

August 19, 2011



After almost disappearing from public view for several weeks, the 2012 Presidential race is back in full swing. It has experienced something of a fruit basket turnover with one candidate dropping out (Tim Pawlenty), another winning a key early vote (Michelle Bachman) and a strong new candidate (Rick Perry) entering the field.

And who knows some media reports say there may still be more candidates jumping in soon?

To analyze where we are and where things are going (including how things stand for the incumbent, President Barack Obama) join us this week on INSIDE POLITICS. We have a great bi-partisan panel of political experts to share their wisdom.

That includes long-time Democratic activist Larry Woods and Tea Party leader Judson Phillips who is the head of the Tea Party Nation. We had a GOP strategist lied up to join us but a scheduling snafu kept him from joining us. Nevertheless, Larry and Judson do a great job outlining the current status of the presidential campaign and what lies ahead going into 2012.

INSIDE POLITICS is seen several times each weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes Sunday mornings at 5:00 a.m. on the main channel, WTVF-TV, Channel 5. We also air on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, which can be seen on Comcast Cable Channel 250 and Charter Cable Channel 150. THE PLUS can also be found on Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

For those outside the Nashville area or who don't have cable service, excerpts of this and past INSIDE POLITICS shows are available here at newschannel5.com. Just go to the web site and enter INSIDE POLITICS into the search engine.


The current Metro Council, which has served in office since the fall of 2007, is now history.

In its final meeting, it not only took care of some loose ends, it made history, electing the first minority to ever serve in one of Davidson County's constitutional offices. Former Vice-Mayor and Councilmember-At-Large Howard Gentry will take over the duties of the Criminal Court Clerk replacing David Torrence. Torrence resigned in disgrace a few weeks ago after a TBI investigation (sparked by some TV investigative reports) found that he had not been performing his duties. In particular, he had not been coming to work.

So Torrence was offered the option of either retiring or facing ouster proceedings. His exit has opened the door for Gentry (who missed making the runoff for mayor by an eyelash four years ago), giving him the chance to return to public service and to elected office.

It seems only appropriate that Howard Gentry would be selected to be the first African American to serve in a Davidson County constitutional office. After all he was the first minority to serve as Vice Mayor and in the first group of African Americans (along with Carolyn Baldwin Tucker) to be a council-at-large member. He is used to be a successful trailblazer in public office and has already built himself quite a legacy in Nashville political history.

Looking ahead, it seems Gentry will be on the ballot quite a bit in the next few years. He says he has already begun to campaign to keep the Criminal Court Clerk's job. First, he must prevail on the ballot next year in 2012 (primary in March, general election in August) to serve out the rest of Torrence's original term. Then Gentry would be seeking re-election in 2014 for a full four-year term of his own.

But could Howard Gentry decide to run for Mayor in 2015? The seat will be open (Mayor Karl Dean will be term-limited). And while Gentry says being Clerk has been on his "bucket list" of things he wanted to do in public service, he hasn't ruled out making another race for mayor or any other office for that matter.

With the mayor's seat open in 4 years, you are going to be hearing a lot of local elected officials making statements like that. That could also include Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall who is facing an embarrassing court decision fining Metro $200,000 for shackling a prisoner during childbirth. The controversy has already been raging for months gaining headlines all over the nation. That could well continue if the matter is appealed which Sheriff Hall says he plans to do.

As for Howard Gentry, his first challenge is to restore public confidence in the Criminal Court Clerk's office and staff. He has some solid help available with Chief Clerk Tommy Bradley who is staying on board. But there are challenges ahead, especially in how to handle some ongoing personnel matters surrounding the former clerk's sons who also still work in the office.

Getting back to the last meeting of the current Metro Council, it was most appropriate that it has decided to name the Council's chambers in the Metro Courthouse in memory of long-time Vice Mayor, the late David Scobey.

Scobey served with distinction for nearly 4 decades in that body, both as an original Council member (At-Large 1963-1971) and as Vice Mayor (1971-1999). He remains perhaps the dominant personality of Metro Council during its nearly 50-year history and his leadership remains the standard by which all Vice Mayors continue to be measured.

This is an honor long overdue.


Even though the Davidson County Election Commission has certified the results of the August 4 Metro balloting, it may not be over.

No, I don't mean the five remaining district council seats still in a runoff status set for a vote on September 15.

No, I am talking about a lawsuit that has been filed over the 20th Council District results. Challenger Mary Carolyn Roberts is citing numerous voting irregularities in her race against incumbent Buddy Baker. According to a CITY PAPER web site story (August 17) Roberts says some voters claimed their businesses addresses to vote rather than their residencies which are outside the district. Others had moved out of the West Nashville area, but still voted in the 20th District. She claims there were even state prisoners who voted even though they are incarcerated in another part of the state.

Roberts believes all this uncertainty should mean there are at least enough votes up in the air (she needs at least nine) to have the race declared eligible for the runoff election on September 15. But is there enough time for the courts to do that? And is she correct in her claims?

So far, Davidson County election officials are not commenting, although earlier they said some of Roberts' complaints about prisoners were not a valid claim under state law. Councilman Baker has just been saying all of it is sour grapes by Roberts. She says that's not true. She just wants to be sure the voting was done fairly and accurately.

Stay tuned.

Let's hope we don't get more rounds of vote recounts as we did in last year's State Senate race between incumbent Doug Henry and challenger Jeff Yarbro. Both campaigns could not have been nicer or more courteous in a very difficult situation that always ensues with a razor-close vote, the problem was ever time the vote was counted and re-counted, there was a slightly different result. All in Senator Henry's favor, but still a bit unsettling that the vote numbers never added up the same twice.

And this is not the only August 4th election matter that appears headed to the courts. According to THE TENNESSEAN (August 18), two unsuccessful At-Large candidates (Ken Jakes and Donna Crawford) "allege that the election commission misinterpreted the Metro Charter when it said the five incumbent at-large members won re-election without a runoff." They say "the standard should be either 50% plus one vote or 20% plus one vote to win."

If that's found to be true in the courts, it won't just be the current Election Commission that has goofed. Metro election officials have been interpreting the Charter that way ever since Metro government began almost 50 years ago! So would that mean all our previous At-Large members were elected illegally over all these years? I can all by guarantee you none of them receive 20% of the vote much less 50% of any of those elections. Mark me skeptical this election challenge is going anywhere. But I will also say that I have learned over the years that when any matter gets into the court, it is always difficult to predict with absolute certainty what the final ruling will be.

And there is still a third legal challenge coming out of the August 4 races. Attorney Joe Johnston has sued the State and Metro over its write-in candidate requirements. Those rules state that anyone mounting a write-in campaign must notify the election commission 50 days in advance if they want their votes to be counted. That says Johnston is unconstitutional.

Why is that important? Well if Johnston's votes are counted (or for that matter any other write-in votes in the 18th District), the race between Burkley Allen (who has certified as the winner) and her challenger (David Glasgow) is so close it could add enough tallies to tip into a runoff.

Who knew the Metro August 4th election would lead to full employment in the city's Chancery Courts and, again, there's not much time to decide these matters if the goal is to place any of the possible races on the September 15 runoff ballot.


Some 50 Tea Party advocates protested a few days ago in front of U.S. Congressman Diane Black's office in Murfreesboro. They are upset that their representative voted in favor of the recent budget deal in Washington that also raised the national debt ceiling.

According to media reports (WPLN/August 18) Representative Black says she was "Tea Party before Tea Party was in vogue" and that she has been walking hand and hand with the group on policy issues. But that's not how those protesting see it. They feel Congressman Black has betrayed the Tea Party and they were chanting "Bye, Bye, Black."

That remains to be seen in the 2012 elections. What does seem pretty likely is that those protesting in front of Black's office in Rutherford County (if they also live in that community) may not get a chance to vote against her. That's because, due to the congressional redistricting that will be done early next year to account for the most recent federal census, there's a strong possibility Rutherford County will be moved out of Congressman Black's district and placed either in Congressman Scott DesJarlais' district or combined with a part of Davidson County and placed in the district which Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper now represents.

So in other words, the protest except for its limited media value, may not really matter all that much.


According to an Associated Press story (August 19) the Haslam Administration is asking all state agencies to put together budget plans to "cope with losing 15 to 30% of their federal funds in anticipation of coming spending cuts" from Washington.

Given what may well happen when the "Super Congress" reconvenes this fall this is likely to be much more than a mere exercise. For one thing, there are the bond rating firms such as Standards & Poors, Moody and Fitch, a couple of whom are already looking closely at lowering the state's AAA credit rating (which S&P has already done to the federal government).

Why cut Tennessee? Well over 40% of our $30.8 billion dollar annual budget comes from federal sources so obviously it is a legitimate question to wonder how our state would cope if Washington cuts back dramatically. Tennessee officials have already met with Moody's and Fitch last week and had already planned another session this fall in New York before this latest fiscal crisis exploded.

So you can see it is not a surprise that State Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes announced, as he did just a few days ago, that any extra sales tax and other funds the state collects this year ought to be left in reserves. Although the Commissioner is also making it clear that departments should "not…assume that state funds will make up for losses in federal money." In fact he is asking that state agencies identify ‘state funds that would no longer to be needed to draw down federal funds….(to) enable the Administration to recommend priorities for the use of unmatched state funds."

Last year when the Haslam administration took office there was much concern about how difficult the budget making process might be due to the end federal stimulus dollars. Now we may have a whole new round of budget headaches again because of still more and deeper cuts coming out of D.C.