Capitol View Commentary: Friday, September 16, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, September 16, 2011

CREATED Sep 16, 2011


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

September 16, 2011


It must be something in the air or the water at the Metro Courthouse.

It is something which is convincing several of the most prominent women in major offices in local government to announce in recent weeks that they are taking retirement.

Following Metro Clerk Marilyn Swing, Director of Libraries Donna Nicely and Metro Legal Director Sue Cain, the latest major local government official to announce she is stepping down is long-time Circuit Court Judge Barbara Haynes. She will retire November 15.

The Judge is a very dear friend and she will be sorely missed. A pioneer for women in the local judiciary, Judge Haynes first took to the bench by winning a General Sessions seat in 1982. In 1990, she was elected to move up to the Circuit Court. At that time she was already Chair of the Tennessee Sentencing Commission, appointed by then Governor Lamar Alexander. Judge Haynes successfully took on the very difficult job of redrafting the state's antiquated criminal code and reforming its sentencing laws.

I think Tennessee's Chief Justice Connie Clark said it best about Judge Haynes. "(She) represents everything a person could want in a judge. She's bright, uses common sense, is fair and impartial, and has dedicated her heart and soul to the judiciary." Added Davidson County Joe Binkley, the presiding Judge of the Davidson County trial courts: "Our courts won't be the same without her."

So who will take the Judge's place? It will be Republican Governor Bill Haslam's job to decide, and it will be his first such appointment in Davidson County. Already you can hear calls from local Republican stalwarts that it must be someone with a strong Republican pedigree. Whether or not that becomes important, here are some names I am hearing, some of whom have clear Republican ties:

Paul Ney, a long time local lawyer, now affiliated with the Waddey & Patterson firm. He was also recently the Economic & Community Development Director in Nashville's Mayor Karl Dean's office.

Scott Carey, General Counsel of the Tennessee State Republican Party and a lawyer at the Baker Donelson firm

Elaine Heard, a criminal attorney I am told, who has her own firm, The Heard Group. She is a Vanderbilt and University of Miami Law School graduate. In looking through some records on line, I found that while she was a Certified Legal Intern at the State Attorney General's office, she had the distinction of winning every case she tried.

One final name I have heard is Linda Whitlow Knight of the Gullett Sanford Robinson & Martin law firm. She has been very active in civic, bar and judicial activities after being a law clerk to former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Drowota. She was also a founding member of the Tennessee Ethics Commission.

Now I have no idea if any of these folks are interested in the job. It's not a completely direct gubernatorial appointment. First, candidates must submit an application for review by the State Judicial Selection Commission. That group will select 3 nominees for the governor's consideration. He can select one or reject all three and ask the Commission to try again. Whoever is selected, it does appear they will picked to be able to handle all the different kinds of cases that come before a Circuit Judge, not just domestic cases (divorce and child custody) which many of the other local judges would like to delegate to the new incoming jurist (largely because they don't really want to do it).

Besides whether to hear domestic cases, whoever takes Judge Haynes' seat will have a very important choice to make when it comes time to run for re-election. Does he or she run as a Republican or a Democrat? It makes a big difference in this county. In fact going back nearly 40 years, there is only one Republican (Ben Cantrell, later a State Supreme Court justice) who has won election to a local judicial seat.

It began with Republican Governor Winfield Dunn back in the early 1970s who appointed Judge Hamilton "Kip" Gayden. Amid pressure that he would defeated for election if he ran under the GOP banner, Gayden decided to be a Democrat and has stayed on the bench ever since.

Then there was Rose Cantrell appointed by Governor Alexander in the ‘80s. She ran as a Republican to stay on the bench with her still-memorable campaign slogan of "5 foot-2 and as big a man as any of them." Maybe so, but she lost to former Public Defender Walter Kurtz who is also still on the bench.

Finally, there's Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle, who when first appointed to the local bench by GOP Governor Don Sundquist back in the 1990s sought election as a Republican. She lost to Democrat Carol McCoy who remains on the bench. But Lyle got another chance. Governor Sundquist appointed her to another vacant local judgeship. This time she ran…and won to stay on the bench….as a Democrat.

So will history repeat itself for whoever takes Judge Haynes' post? Nashville is not as Democratic as it used to be, witness now having 2 Republican members of our state legislative delegation. And who knows what will happen to our local Senate and House members once the GOP-dominated General Assembly decides how to redistrict this area. But still, I doubt it will be easy to win a judgeship in this county with GOP written on your political forehead.

Trust me nobody will be more keenly interested (from afar) about all the political machinations that will surround this judicial seat than Judge Haynes. She has one of the keenest political minds I have ever known. But for now I am told she will be busy with a major family building project. I feel a little sorry actually for the contractors involved. I doubt they've ever had a "straw boss" quite like the Judge.

Best wishes, Barbara, and thank you for your many years of service to the community


With the September 15th Metro runoff election now over, the roster is set for the new 40-member Metro Council.

The selection of the final five members gave all the political groups a little something to be happy about. For Mayor Karl Dean, while he lost his bid to get Page Turner elected in Antioch, he is likely pleased to have his former Office of Neighborhoods Director Brady Banks on board as the new Councilmember from the 4th District as well Peter Westerholm, the latest progressive councilmember from the 6th District in lower East Nashville (unless Westerholm becomes the second coming of his predecessor Mike Jamison who sometimes feuded with the Dean administration).

Republicans will be happy that conservative Robert Duvall kept his seat (over Page Turner) and that Josh Stites, who works in the State Treasurer's office, will take Karl Burch's place in District 13.

Finally, in the race with the largest margin of the victory of the night (nearly 70%-30%) voters in the 5th District in East Nashville decided (decisively this time) that they really meant it when they ousted former Councilmember Pam Murray from her seat (for the first time in Metro history). This time it was NASHVILLE PRIDE newspaper executive Scott Davis who soundly defeated Murray, after an election campaign that sometimes resembled the Wild, Wild West.

As for the full Council, it shapes up demographically to be one of the most, if not the most diverse Councils in Metro's nearly 50-year history. It has 10 minority members, plus the city's first Latino Councilman (Fabian Bedne). It will also have an increase in women, who will now hold 11 seats (over 25% of the 40-member body). I am also told by THE TENNESSEAN's Michael Cass that there is something of a generational shift in the new Council with 12 members now in their 30s and just 8 in their 60s and 70s.

Where all that younger, new energy might lead to is hard to say. One thing is for sure with 17 new members (none of which have previous Council experience) there will be a significant learning curve and likely a honeymoon period with Mayor Dean. That would be bit unlike 4 years ago, when the new Council had to dive right in to several tough issues including how to keep the city's NHL hockey team from leaving town.

Our next glimpse of how this Council and its leadership are shaping up will come next week when Vice-Mayor Diane Neighbors is expected to announce committee chairs. While all those posts are important, the Chair of the Budget & Finance Committee is always the greatest among equals. That's particularly true this coming year with the possibility of a property tax increase being proposed and debated.

It would seem likely that all the committee chairs will be experienced council members (second termers or more). It would be preferable for whoever chairs Budget & Finance to have previously held that post and maybe even done so in a tax-increase year. But it has been such a while since there a property tax hike in Nashville, there aren't that many choices other than At-Large members Ronnie Steine or Tim Garrett. Another At-Large member, Megan Barry, just chaired B&F, so that might make her chairmanship this coming year less likely.

Stay tuned.

Meantime, the budget crunch Metro faces is clearly a statewide issue. An Associated Press story (September 13) found that 27 of the state's 95 counties are tapping into their reserve funds to make ends meet, several say they plan to do it again next year, while seven report they are raising property taxes this year with 17 others saying they anticipate a similar tax hike next year.

The overall message from the Association of County Mayors is clear. State lawmakers, please don't shift costs to local government in the next legislative session.

And that brings us to our next part of this story.


The dog and pony show in New York City is done.

The State of Tennessee including Governor Haslam, Finance Commissioner Mark Emke, and even Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey have given it their best shot. They have explained to the major international bond rating firms (Standard & Poors, Moody's & Fitch's) why Tennessee should stay with a AAA rating even if the national government is downgraded and even though Tennessee gets almost 40% of its revenues from Washington each year.

The pitch was that, unlike Washington, Tennessee is mandated to make sure its operating budget balances every year, avoiding deficit spending and out of control. They also showed the bond officials how Tennessee has a plan it has put together to handle the problems major federal cutbacks will obviously cause in Tennessee and its annual spending plan.

Everyone came home feeling good about, but the Governor did concede to reporters that it might all come down to what happens in Washington and how the bond rating services react to that.

Stay tuned. For now it's all up to the Super Committee (or Super Congress) and what kind of plan they come up to cut back on federal spending and the deficit. Will they "go small" like Congress did before its summer recess or "go big" and seek a larger $$ cut, longer-term plan to address these problems.

And if they do, what will that (along with whatever Congress and the President can agree to, if anything, about taxes, new spending and trade) do to an economy teetering on the brink of another recession? All this with poverty levels rising for the third year in a row and medium income levels going down, it seems to make the middle class even more of an endangered species in America.


Now I am far from an expert about guitars. I can't even play one.

But Nashville is a special place for this particular musical instrument. Anyone remember the 1967 pop hit record "Nashville Cats" by the Lovin' Spoonful?

I found someone on line who called the song, "a celebration of this city's remarkable musicianship, especially guitar pickers."

For those too young to remember or who've forgotten their ‘60s music….here are some of the lyrics by John Sebastian.

"Well, there thirteen hundred and fifty-two Guitar pickers in Nashville,

And they can pick more notes than the number of ants on a Tennessee anthill.

Yeah, there's thirteen hundred and fifty guitar cases in Nashville and anyone that unpacks his guitar could play twice as better than I will.

"Nashville Cats, been playing since they's babies….

Because it's custom made for any mother's son to be guitar picker in Nashville

And I sure am glad I got a chance to say a word about the music and the mothers from Nashville."

Maybe even more so today, almost 45 years after it was recorded and released, this song has a strong ring of truth.

I think it's big reason why there is so much interest and controversy here (maybe more than anywhere else in country) involving the ongoing federal investigation of Gibson Guitars, which is headquartered in Nashville. There have been two separate raids by federal agents on Gibson's offices looking for evidence concerning potential use of illegal woods in making its instruments. Gibson denies it, and its CEO indicates he feels a little picked on by Washington regulators, who are actually enforcing laws originally passed in other countries.

Of course, in of all this, our politicians have been doing back flips getting involved in the matter. That includes Congressman Marsha Blackburn, who invited Gibson's CEO to Washington to sit with her on the House floor during the President's recent jobs speech. She has been a great defender of Gibson, even though ironically she once voted in favor of the bill that approved the illegal wood standards.

Meantime, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey also has jumped into the fray claiming that the reason Gibson is being investigated is because its CEO makes donations to Republicans, not Democrats. But this is not a completely partisan issue. Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper has several times opposed the bill in Congress that imposed these guitar wood standards. He says the law is way too broad and vague.

He is probably right. How all this works out, I can't say. But clearly Nashville understands, perhaps more than any city in the country that our Music City name is not only our heritage it's big business and that includes anything that impacts how instruments are made, especially guitars.

Another sign of how Nashville now seem to get it regarding its special place in music comes from an announcement out of the Mayor's office today (September 16) unveiling what it calls "a revolutionary new approach to music education in Nashville's public schools." Called "MUSIC MAKES US: The Nashville Music Education Project, the school system's "music program will be overhauled and will include a new contemporary curriculum that utilizes new technologies in a way that reflects today's diverse musical landscape. "

That will include "new classes in songwriting and composition, rock band and hip-hop performance and technology-based production such as recording and DJ/remixing." All of these are expected to become a part of the core curriculum at Nashville middle and high schools "starting as early as next school year. At the same time, traditional music curriculum in band, orchestra and choir will be enhanced."

Wow! Can I go back to school?


It is pretty clear to me that the most compelling ongoing political story in this country today is the upcoming 2012 presidential race.

That's why we are inviting in another bi-partisan panel of political analysts and consultants to give us their thoughts about where things are and where they are going as we head in the last part of 2011.

Our group of experts is a little different this time. Republican consultant and former GOP State Party Chair Chip Saltsman is our guest along with Nashville attorney and former Democratic State Party Chair Bob Tuke. Nashville attorney Judson Phillips rounds out the panel, back again in his role as head of the Tea Party Nation.

You can watch INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETW0RK. That includes 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning on the main channel, WTVF-TV, Channel 5. We are also shown several times on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, including Friday at 7:00 p.m., Saturday at 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. and Sunday at 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS is on Comcast Cable Channel 250, Charter Cable Channel 150 and on Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2

If you are outside the Nashville area or don't have cable, excerpts of this and past INSIDE POLITICS shows can be seen here at newschannel5.com.