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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 26, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 26, 2011

CREATED Aug 26, 2011


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

August 26, 2011



Nashville and the entire state of Tennessee are mourning the loss of former State Supreme Court Chief Justice A. A. Birch yesterday (August 25).

Justice Birch was the first person of color to serve in his position. But in many ways, he spent most of legal career as a pioneer. He was also the first black ever elected countywide in Davidson County winning a General Session judgeship in 1969. To put that in some perspective, he was elected just a year after the Martin Luther King assassination in Memphis and less than a decade after minorities in Nashville were not even allowed to sit at a downtown lunch counter and order a cup of coffee.

Justice Birch's extraordinary legal career continued when he was elected to the Criminal Court in 1976 and then appointed to the State Court of Appeals before joining Tennessee's highest court. In fact, A.A. Birch is the first person in the history of the state, black or white, to serve at each level of our local and state judiciary.

My good friend David Ewing, a local attorney and Nashville historian, may have hit the nail right on the head when he told THE TENNESSEAN that in many ways A.A. Birch was Tennessee's Thurgood Marshall.

Justice Birch had an impact in the community beyond the courts. In his final years, he served with distinction on the Metro Parks Board, and his early support of Karl Dean for Mayor played a major role in building the community-wide support that first put Dean into the city's top office four years ago. Justice Birch remained a close friend and key advisor to Mayor Dean until the end of his life.

Justice Birch did live long enough to see the fruits of his labor in the legal and judicial fields. He was also honored with his name being placed on the new beautiful Metro Davidson County Criminal Court building when it opened in 2006.

But A.A. Birch never dwelt on his trailblazing achievements. In fact he called himself, as Mayor Karl Dean remembers in his eulogy statement on the Justice's passing "immeasurably blessed" by his life and legacy.

Actually, it was the city of Nashville, our citizens and all the citizens of the state of Tennessee that were blessed by his presence and his deeds.

I will always remember Justice Birch for what turned out to be the very last time I saw him and spoke with him. He appeared on a panel I moderated at Father Ryan High School last winter, reflecting on the civil rights movement in Nashville.

In his calm and genial manner, there was the former Chief Justice reminding today's rising generation how far we have come as a society in terms of equal opportunity and equal rights. But he was also reminding all of us, as he did as a friend and mentor to so many over the years, how far we still have to go.

Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. Again as Mayor Dean said, "our city is eternally grateful to them to them for sharing the life of such a significant man."

Justice Birch's death comes at an ironic time in some ways. We are just days from celebrating the dedication of the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, the first such monument in our nation's capitol to honor a black person, or any individual person not a President. Here in Nashville, we are also just days away from Howard Gentry, Jr. being sworn into office as the new Criminal Court Clerk, the first minority to ever serve in a constitutional office in Nashville/Davidson County.

Howard Gentry has told the media how much Justice Birch meant to him and how disappointed he is that he won't be. But in many ways, at least in spirit, the legacy of Justice Birch will be there and it live among us hopefully for many, many years to come.


The latest numbers from a couple of nationally known polling groups have some very interesting results to ponder in terms of the U.S. economy, President Barack Obama, and the GOP presidential race.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll (telephone survey August 18-22 involving 1,000 adults), shows not surprisingly, that 86% of adults surveyed see the economy as "poor." That's 6% worse than just last month. The poll also shows approval numbers for the President's economic stewardship are at all-time lows for him. 63% disapprove of his handling of the economy, with almost half (48%) strongly disapproving. 75% of poll respondents say the country is heading in the wrong direction. That includes 61% of Democrats with that number rising from 46% last month. Overall, for the first time in the AP poll, a majority of adults disapprove of the President's overall performance (52%) up from 47% in June.

And if you think those numbers are dismal for the White House, wait until you see the results of the latest Gallup survey. It finds a new low for the President with a job approval rating of 38%. Gallup pollsters also say at the rate Mr. Obama's numbers are dropping (down 14% in the last three months) he has a chance to surpass the all-time low in the history of presidential unpopularity which was for President Harry Truman (22%) in February, 1952. Despite his recent changes in immigration policy the President's popularity among Hispanics has also fallen to a new low of 44%. For comparison, it was as high as 85% in the spring of 2009.

But despite all these numbers and even with unemployment stubbornly hanging at around 9% nationwide, there are still some hopeful signs for the President. The AP-Gfk survey shows no significant change in the number of people who say he deserves re-election (47%) as opposed to last month (48%). And in the Gallup poll among the critical group of independent voters he is still receiving a 43% approval rating just one per-cent down from last month.

But the Gallup poll also shows that there is a new leading candidate among Republicans vying to take on the President next fall. Gallup shows Texas Governor Rick Perry who has only been in the race a few weeks, now holds a double-digit lead over the previous front-runner Mitt Romney (29% to 17%) with Ron Paul (13%) and Michele Bachman trailing behind. So despite criticisms of the GOP field still lacking a strong candidate from THE WALL STREET JOURNAL and Karl Rove, the Gallup polls shows Perry leading the field in several different categories including income levels and education. Even he also leading in this poll among regular church goers which can't be a good sign for Bachman who is seen as his most serious challenger for evangelicals and devout church-going Republicans.

Before anyone marks down Perry as the nominee, a couple of caveats should be made. The nomination is won on a state by state basis. Romney has already all but conceded the Iowa Caucuses, and while he looks very strong to win in New Hampshire, he will have to win elsewhere in the early states such as South Carolina to remain a contender. Bachman, who won the Iowa straw poll now needs to win the Caucuses in January or face being on the decline. The question may be, given his strong overall poll numbers where does Perry break in and win in some states?

Also keep in mind Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson who placed a strong second in his first Gallup poll (to Rudy Giuliani) in 2008 then quickly faded from sight as other candidates picked up their pace (and attacks) the Senator faded away. But, while it is still very early, Governor Perry looks very strong indeed so far.


With public education remaining such an important focus for our elected officials, and with the beginning of a new school year, we thought it was appropriate to have the leader of the largest school system in our viewing area (Metro Nashville) join us again on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. Dr. Jesse Register has the very difficult task of turning around a major urban school system which has struggled for several years.

The latest effort to improve things is going to a "balanced" school calendar approved by the Metro School Board just a few days ago. It will increase the number of instructional days to start classes as early as August 1 next fall. While shortening the summer break, it will allow for additional shorter breaks during the school term, all in an effort to keep students up to speed, and not falling back in their knowledge retention. The theory is that should help Metro's all-important student test scores.

But there are lots of questions and concerns about this move, especially since the School Board did not adopt all of Dr. Register's plans that also included spending an additional $20 million to more teacher in-service days and intensive volunteer tutoring sessions for at-risk youngsters to be held during school breaks just before the tests. The Register plan also would have moved up the school opening date into July which is also not popular.

We'll discuss all that with Dr. Register along with all the other major education issues of the day (continued very low ACT scores, new state laws and regulations among other matters). You can see INSIDE POLITICS several times each week on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK.

That includes 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning on the main channel, WTVF-TV, Channel 5. INSIDE POLITICS is also on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS several times each weekend. It starts 7:00 p.m. Friday followed by 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday as well as 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. Sunday.

NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS airs on Comcast Cable channel 250 as well as Charter Cable channel 150. It is also broadcast on Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.


Reading and watching the news these days can seem almost frightening. Without all getting all end-of-the-world about it, we might seem to some to be in apocalyptic times with wars (Libya) and rumors of wars (Syria) and famines (East Africa), extreme drought (Texas) happening with increasing frequency. And then there are the unexpected earthquakes which happened a few days ago along the East Coast of the United States as well as smaller quakes in Colorado and South America.

While it happens almost annually in late August, this weekend also features a potential major hurricane adding more uncertainty to the East Coast as roars up out of the southern Atlantic Ocean.

Add in all the political and economic uncertainty we are facing in this country and worldwide and it seems hard to find much hope these days.

But then we see the example of those with extraordinary vision and leadership and how they handle even their most difficult personal times.

Steve Jobs and Pat Summitt are clearly extraordinary people. They have set the standard for excellence in their professions as CEO (Apple) and Coach (women's college basketball for the University of Tennessee Lady Vols). Now, with both facing major health challenges, they are again stepping up in showing how to deal with life-threatening circumstances with grace, dignity and determination. It is much the same way both during their careers have used their leadership, vision and determination to make their company and their teams the best ever.

Indeed, for Steve Jobs, his efforts have been ongoing for several years before he acknowledged a few days ago the need to step back to a position of Chairman of the Board at Apple and leave the day-to-day CEO responsibilities to others. For Pat Summitt, it was a deep shock to many to learn that she has been diagnosed with the early stages of dementia. But in the way she was open and honest, and fearless in how she announced her illness and how she plans to deal with it, she has given all of us a stirring example in how to deal with adversity, especially when it comes unexpectedly.


It's an issue that just won't go away.

Should the internet business giant Amazon pay sales tax in Tennessee even if it build a couple of new facilities in the state and creates over 1,200 new jobs? Would Tennessee be going back on its word given by former Governor Phil Bredesen and backed up by current Governor Bill Haslam if it requires Amazon to pay up like all other businesses that operate in the state?

And what about other states competing with Tennessee to attract new businesses, are they reminding prospects that Tennessee doesn't keep its promises? Governor Haslam told a civic group they would be "dead wrong" to say that. Actually I doubt they are saying that directly. What I'll bet they may be saying is that its state ALWAYS keeps its promises and let the contrast (if there is any) speak for itself.

And that's where the rub is for the Governor. He keeps saying he plans to honor the no sales tax agreement but he adds he is in negotiations with Amazon that might well lead to the company paying sales tax in the future. But so far I haven't heard Amazon say anything. What I am hearing is a louder chorus of Tennessee businesses (led mostly behind the scenes by the big box competitors like Walmart) that it is only fair that Amazon pay taxes and not get a major competitive advantage.

Some lawmakers hear that too, including several in Governor's party (Republican) which controls the legislature. That likely means the Haslam administration will have to fight renewed efforts in the General Assembly (when it returns to Nashville early next year) to pass a law to require Amazon to pay up.

What the Governor would like to have happen is for Congress to deal with this matter on a national basis, which is really the most logical way to handle it. But putting Congress and logic in the same sentence along with the word taxes is probably not going to work either. You sure don't see our congressional delegation leading the charge to get this matter on the floor of the House or Senate.


Count me among the 545,000-plus who attended the recent Wilson County Fair. It's the first time I have attended such an event in many years. But with two grandchildren (ages 2 & 4) eager to go and my son-in-law entering his restored vintage car (he won 3rd place in his division), we went and had a great time.

While I did have some trouble finding the entrance to buy tickets after parking, overall we had a good experience with the rides and the exhibits. It left me in a puzzlement why Nashville has struggled so with our State Fair in recent years. Maybe it's the topography, maybe it's the general atmosphere or safety concerns, but I doubt any of those are complete deal killers. Now unlike the Wilson County Fair, the State Fair does start after school begins and that could be a crowd killer. Regardless, the folks in Wilson County have the magic formula for success while Nashville is still trying to figure it out. Unfortunately, look for another tough run for the State Fair next month because (due to all the ongoing controversy and fighting surrounding the Fair and the overall Fairgrounds itself) organizers got a very late start.