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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, October 28, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, October 28, 2011

CREATED Oct 28, 2011


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

October 28, 2011



The twice annual (spring & fall) statewide public opinion poll conducted by students at Middle Tennessee State University is out. It has gotten a lot of publicity, particularly for what it shows about how increasingly unpopular President Barack Obama is in Tennessee. That includes a negative job performance opinion expressed by nearly two-thirds of those surveyed (63%) as well as the President running well behind (by double digits) all the leading Republican candidates for President (Romney 44% Obama 29%; Perry 41% Obama 28% and Cain 39% Obama 28%).

The failure of the President to crack 30% support in any part of the survey isn't completely surprising. But it does show what a nearly impossible task he faces running for re-election in the Volunteer State (so like 2008, except for the Belmont debate, don't expect to see him on the campaign trail here). The President's standing in Tennessee is also very bad news for those who will still have to share the ballot with him come November, 2012. That would include Democratic state legislative candidates as well as whatever sacrificial lamb the Democrats come up with to run against GOP U.S. Senator Bob Corker.

In related development, THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS is reporting (October 26) that former Governor Phil Bredesen says he will campaign for President Obama. No details were announced about where or when the former Governor might be out on the campaign trail. The announcement is a tad odd to me since Bredesen was often very critical of the President, especially his signature national health care reform legislation.

You might think former Governor Bredesen would be most effective for President Obama by campaigning for him here in Tennessee. But while he was one of the most respected and (by the end of his second term) most popular governors in recent history, Bredesen always struggled to translate his prestige and support for other candidates into victory at the polls. I suspect his campaigning for President Obama will be a struggle for success as well. It would appear Bredesen himself knows what a struggle Democrats in Tennessee are facing, telling students at a forum at the University of the South (again according to THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS) that the state party needs to re-envision itself and not keep living in the world of political ideas from 30 years ago.


The findings of another part of the MTSU survey caught my eye, especially in light of recent developments on Capitol Hill here in Nashville regarding the Occupy Nashville (Wall Street) protestors. It's the job performance numbers for Governor Bill Haslam who has just finished his first nine months in office. He received just a 51% job approval number (barely a majority), with 16% saying they disapproved of his work, and 33% saying either they don't know or wouldn't answer the question.

That's not a bad negative number, but, if accurate, the somewhat low positive response and high don't know numbers (one out of three) should be a little concerning to the Governor and his staff. After a mostly successful transition and first session with the General Assembly, there wouldn't seem to be any reason for his job performance numbers to be that low. Frankly, he ought to still be on something of a honeymoon with voters and be pulling stronger job numbers.

Looking deeper into the MTSU poll numbers, it appears the Governor may have a couple of problems if these numbers are accurate. While, as you would expect, he is getting his highest marks from Republicans (71%), that's a number that appears to me to be at least five to eight points below where you might expect them to be. While only 7% of Republicans said they disapprove of Governor Haslam's work, 21%, or one in five, said they didn't know or would not answer. Is that a lingering indication that some in the GOP base consider Bill Haslam a RHINO (Republican in name only)?

As for Democrats, not unexpectedly, they gave the new Governor his lowest numbers: Only 33% approve, 29% disapprove and 39% either said they didn't know or wouldn't answer. The don't know or won't say answer also seems to be a problem for the Governor in terms of independents with 36% giving that uncommitted response along with 48% approval and 16% disapproval.

Those won't say or don't know numbers seem awfully high to me across the board, making me question the validity of the overall results. I'd like to see some other surveys on this topic before drawing any firm conclusions.

But it does provide some food for thought and for political discussions. And when I have had those discussions with some Republican sources in recent days, some opined that perhaps the lackluster job numbers for Governor Haslam could be because of his more low-key, try-to-get-along leadership style, allowing (except on a few issues) for legislative leaders to dominate the headlines and the bully pulpit on the Hill. Said one GOP source to me:"If you want to be leader, you have to lead."

That brings me to the early morning arrests Friday (approved by the Governor according to his Safety Commissioner) of some 29 Occupy Nashville protestors. They have been camping out on Legislative Plaza the past three weeks, joined daily by dozens of others as a part of the nationwide Occupy demonstrations. The arrests came after a variety of sometimes halting and confusing efforts by the Haslam administration in the last two days to try and get the protestors to leave.

First, according to several different news reports I've seen and read, the protestors were told they needed to be gone by 8 p.m. Thursday night or face arrest. Then there were new regulations announced saying permits were needed and daily fee ($65) paid to hold any protest at the Capitol along with the sponsoring group having up to $1 million in liability insurance.

A nightly curfew was set to be imposed beginning at 10 p.m. Thursday and lasting until 7 a.m. Friday, although that was later reportedly push backed to begin the following night. However, the delay of the curfew was then followed by the 3 a.m. Friday morning arrests of the protestors who were taken to Metro Court only to have a local judge refuse to sign the warrants for their arrests due to a "lack of probable cause."

State officials insist they have not been over-reacting to the matter, that the around-the-clock protests have caused security and health issues at the Legislative Plaza. Meantime the previously-arrested Occupy Nashville protestors marched back to the Plaza chanting, "Whose plaza? Your plaza!" and "We're still here! We're still here!" But THE TENNESSEAN reports they will still have to appear in court next month to answer criminal trespass charges which are a misdemeanor.

Fortunately, while tensions seemed to run high, no one was hurt during all this, unlike what has occurred in other cities such as Oakland, CA. But it's also obvious this matter is not finished (at least not as I write these words). For example, what happens tonight (Friday) when curfew time arrives?

All this also means the challenge remains for Governor Haslam and his administration as to how to appropriately and effectively deal with this situation, as do questions about freedom of speech rights versus the need for maintaining public health and safety. Is the Governor overstepping his bounds? For what it's worth, as of 3:00 p.m. Friday, an on-line survey on THE TENNESSEAN's web site (which is not scientific), is running close than 80% yes (that he is overstepping).

On another matter, I am not sure how this fits in the category of leadership or that it will help the Governor's job performance numbers, but it's a good idea that he is taking some of the state's annual budget hearings on the road to East and West Tennessee. Budget hearings can be boring (trust me I covered Metro's for many years). But they can be insightful and they can give the Governor a great platform for his bully pulpit on how he wants to govern the state.

Until Governor Bredesen came to power, the hearings were done in private. Now taking them across the state, could well help citizens in other parts of Tennessee feel more a part of state government. I have often heard people in other parts of the Volunteer State refer to "Nashville' in same tone of voice they do "Washington, D.C." And that's not a good thing. So kudos to the Governor for making the budget process a statewide road show.


Like Congress, the Legislature never gets good job performance marks in surveys like one taken by MTSU. poll. So for the poll to show 39% approval for lawmakers with 30% disapproval and 32% not sure or not answering, that would look pretty positive for the ladies and gentlemen who represent us on the Hill.

Or maybe it just means absence makes the heart grow fonder (or more forgetful). Let the lawmakers get back into town in January and take the survey again this spring (which MTSU will do) and see if the job numbers go back down to the bottom as lawmakers get embroiled in their usual controversies and arguments.

One controversy somewhat avoided (or at least muted) in recent days came with the decision by Memphis Representative Curry Todd not to proceed with a campaign fund raiser, which he planned to hold on the same day he is due in court in Nashville to face DUI and gun charges growing out of his arrest by Metro Police about two weeks ago.

Talk about bad timing. Sure he needs to raise money for his re-election and he has to get that started before session begins in January (by law, legislators can't raise funds during session). But while this situation is so prominent in the news (which it surely will be on the day he goes to court), it doesn't make sense to force your supporters to have to perform a political perp walk in front of the TV cameras when they show up for your fundraiser.

Despite his hard-right, pro-gun views, including being the prime House sponsor of the "guns in bars" law, Todd actually is considered to be somewhat moderate on other issues, such as ones regarding organized labor. Those types of bills often come before the State & Local Government Committee that Todd chaired until his recent scandal. That's also probably one reason why some Democratic House leaders such as Nashville's Mike Turner were not that harsh on Todd when he was arrested.

But for now Representative Todd has to understand that since his arrest, political life has changed for him (maybe forever) , and he needs to keep that in mind as he plans his future course of action.

One last legislative matter to mention, both Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and the League of Women Voters want your help (if you are political wonk or a party activist). They are both holding contests to get public input on how to redraw all of Tennessee's legislative and congressional districts in light of the 2010 federal census results.

Lt. Governor Ramsey says: "This year's redistricting process will be the first in history to be open to any Tennessee citizen with access to a computer." He'd like to receive your complete plan by November 1 with more information now available at http://www.capitol.tn.gov/senate.redist/redistricting.html.

The League's "Map It Out" contest has extended its deadline to Friday, November 11 with more information at http://tnmapitout.org/

What do the "winners" get for their redistricting entries? The League is holding an awards ceremony in Nashville on November 17. I can't find any promised awards or ceremonies in the Lt. Governor's latest news release about this. Maybe he'll let the winner(s) come into the secret back-room meetings where the Republican legislative leaders will make the final decisions about redistricting.

Or maybe not

Regardless, the final legislation will be on the fast track, set to be introduced and passed by the General Assembly in early January just after lawmakers return to Nashville.



Getting back to the MTSU poll, it provides some interesting results on a couple of ongoing state issues.

It finds that while 71% of the public is aware that they will be asked to show a photo ID when they go to the polls to vote beginning next March, there remains some confusion about exactly what kind of photo ID will be acceptable. The survey finds "about half or fewer…know the specifics about the law as to whether valid forms of ID include an expired Tennessee driver's license (yes), a University of Tennessee student ID (no) or an employee ID issued by a private company (no).

The percentage of public awareness about Photo ID for voters is getting better, but with nearly 30% still not aware, and confusion remaining about which forms of ID are acceptable, the Republicans who now run all aspects of our state government, including our elections system, better keep working very hard to avoid mass confusion at the polls, creating lots of angry voters come the presidential primary election day in March.

There also appears to be more work needed on the process for how to give out those "free" ID cards which lawmakers promised to voters (mostly seniors, students and poor people) who are less likely to have a regular driver's license. According to media reports, one former veteran even got charged $8 the other day for his "free" ID. I am sure it was a mistake. But before the Lt. Governor starts saying that the only opposition to Photo ID is coming from a few Democrats and their friends in the media, he needs to make sure the new law he helped pass will work well on Election Day. Right now, the early results don't appear favorable. The Lt. Governor should be commended for following through on his pledge to help provide transportation to help those who need IDs to get them.

The MTSU survey also seem to be telling lawmakers to quit messing with the Tennessee Lottery scholarships and let the program continue to offset any annual operating deficits by drawing on reserves, at least until the economy improves.

Let see if lawmakers pay any attention. Ever since the Lottery was approved by voters, our representatives just can't seem to keep their hands off tinkering with the program, its eligibility, the size of the scholarships, etc.

That's what has caused the lottery program to be approaching future money problems. Maybe the new plans they are considering to tighten eligibility and push more students towards community colleges (with a lower scholarship amount) is exactly what is needed. But based on the MTSU poll, somebody needs to convince the public about that.


The political phenomenon that is Herman Cain continues to move ahead.

The latest CBS News/NEW YORK TIMES poll shows the Atlanta businessman now leading the former front runner Mitt Romney by about 4 points. This comes after the candidates were tied in the same poll just last month.

Another sign of Cain's continuing success is that some of his opponents feel the need to copy him. Cain's 9-9-9 tax reform proposal has been one of his trademark (and most controversial) proposals. It has galvanized support for Cain in some portions of the GOP base. Now rival Rick Perry has followed suit with an attempt at his own "flat tax" type proposal. It's a nearly 20% flat tax which is very similar to one offered a few years back by former presidential candidate, Steve Forbes. By the way, Forbes has endorsed Perry and joined the campaign as a top advisor.

To soften criticism leveled against many flat tax proposals that it is really just another tax cut for the rich, Perry's plan continues many popular deductions for things such as mortgage payments and charitable donations, making the plan more complicated and even making a writer in the WALL STREET JOURNAL (October 26) question whether the proposal makes the tax system less complicated than what it is now.

If Herman Cain is the latest "flavor of the month" this presidential election cycle, it seems to me, like movies in the old days, he may be on his way to being "held over" by the voters for at least another look. There do remain serious questions about how well Cain can compete in raising money and putting together the organization he will need to win primaries and caucuses beginning early next year. But even his early TV ads and YouTube videos seem to be successful (with one having over a million hits so far on YouTube) despite its lack of production values and a few other things that seem to make the spots a little different, if not strange (his campaign manager smoking in the ad and the candidate's intriguing smile at the end).

So can Herman Cain endure?

In looking at the GOP field right now, where do those now flocking to Cain go if he falters? To Romney? No, they are going to Cain because many of them won't ever support Romney and they believe Cain is the best anti-Romney candidate in the Republican field. To Perry? Given his track record in the race so far (raising the birther issue again and saying he may duck some future debates) that's doubtful. Will they go to Bachman, Gingrich, Santorum, Huntsman? Again, I doubt it, especially Huntsman who is closer to Romney than any other candidate in the Republican political spectrum (moderate).

So this developing situation could raise some major questions if the GOP can't find a way to keep everyone in the same tent (and ready to vote against President Obama) should Romney indeed be the last man standing by early next spring.

On the Democratic side, the President continues his efforts to show he is trying to do "something" about reviving the economy even if the Republicans in Congress won't go along. Using his presidential powers, he is reviving efforts to assist homeowners who have been paying their mortgages but are stuck with homes whose values are underwater because they are worth less than what they paid for them. The President is also trying to assist current and former college students who are so overloaded with loans and debt, they are a serious drain on their abilities to start and maintain their careers. Student debt is now overall than the nation's entire credit card debt. Ouch!

The President has tried to help before in both these areas, with marginal results at best. Will this be any better? Let's wait and see, but he may again get more credit for trying than actually accomplishing much.

Meantime, a new poll from TIME Magazine shows continued strong public support for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton if she decides to leave office and run for President in place of President Obama. She keeps saying no (and I expect that will continue to be her answer). But the numbers are fascinating. The current Secretary of State trounces GOP candidates Romney (by 17 points) and Perry (by a 26 percent margin).

Now every would-be presidential candidate these days looks better before they get into the race than after they get into the fray (ala Rick Perry and, four years ago, Tennessee's Fred Thompson), But perhaps what this shows is something else.

I would dare say if the President and his economic team had been nearly as successful over the last three-plus years as what has happened with Secretary Clinton and the others working in the areas of foreign affairs, national security and the ongoing fight against terrorism, Barack Obama's poll numbers for re-election would likely look a lot like Hillary's in that TIME Magazine survey.

But this election will be about the economy, stupid, as was once said in Secretary Clinton's husband's successful presidential campaigns. Running on anything else just won't get it done.


While Herman Cain has probably spent the most time of the any of the GOP presidential candidates in Tennessee, I believe the interview he did with me last summer (airing the weekend of July 15) on INSIDE POLITICS is the most in-depth conversation he's had with anyone in the media around here.

At that time, I don't think folks paid him a lot of attention. He was considered at best a marginal second-tier candidate.

Obviously things have changed. He's now the front runner in several recent polls.

So we've decided to re-air the Cain interview on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. I've looked back at conversation, and it hasn't gotten very dated at all, even though we did talk with the candidate before one of his major rivals, Rick Perry, had actually entered the race (which he did on August 13).

By the way, we are seeking to have Cain come back on INSIDE POLITICS whenever he is back in Tennessee and we will extend invitations to all the other GOP candidates as well when they come to the state. The more, the merrier…and that goes, of course, for President Obama too, should he come to the state.

As usual, you can watch INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK.

That includes 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning on the main channel, WTVF-TV, Channel 5 as well as on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS.

THE PLUS airtimes for INSIDE POLITICS 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. THE PLUS can be seen on Comcast Cable channel 250 and Charter Cable channel 150 as well as NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

If you don't have cable or are outside the Nashville area, you can find excerpts of previous INSIDE POLITICS shows (including the Herman Cain interview) here at www.newschannel5.com.


If it's been a while since you've driven out 2nd Avenue South to the old Howard School/Metro Office Building complex, I encourage you to make the trip.

You won't believe your eyes. What for many years was a real dump has now become a showplace for how to rehab historical buildings and other city facilities, and do so in a way that is both beautiful and environmentally sustainable.

For me, the best part of all this came just a few days ago when the entire campus along 2nd Avenue South was dedicated in honor of former Nashville Mayor (and Congressman) Richard Fulton. FULL DISCLOSURE: He was my boss when I worked in the Mayor's office as his Executive Assistant & Press Secretary from 1985 to 1987).

Mayor Karl Dean and his administration should be commended for what has been done with what is now the Richard H. Fulton Metro Complex. While the redo actually began under the previous administration of Mayor Bill Purcell, it was the Dean team who decided to take the extra time (and expense) to make the project more environmentally friendly. It a visionary thing to do, looking to create a better Nashville for the future.

Long term it will also pay off financially for the city, I suspect, much like the early visionary projects Mayor Fulton undertook to revitalize downtown back in the late 1970s and early 1980s with Riverfront Park and the first Metro Convention Center. Like Mayor Dean today, Mayor Fulton back then also saw the need to maintain our history, finding ways to adapt and re-use historic structures such as Union Station and the Customs House.

While Mayor Fulton took a lot of political heat for doing what he did, it has paid off many years later because it laid the groundwork for the kind of special city Nashville is becoming. Mayor Fulton knew that when he also championed city-wide fire protection and water and sewer services throughout Davidson County. He also knew what was important when he was in Congress and supported open housing and voting rights legislation for all citizens.

I can't think of a better person to have his name placed on this newly restored and environmentally sustainable Metro complex than Richard Fulton. He's always been looking ahead for the city he loves. I am just glad he is still around to see his hard work come full circle to success.



I close this column in sorrow with the news that one of Nashville's most devoted civic leaders, Charles Howell III, has passed away.

A charter member of the Metro Council (1963-1966), a state legislator (1968-1970) and Commissioner of Conservation under Republican Governor Lamar Alexander in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Howell was a strong environmentalist and historic preservationist during a time when that was not nearly as popular as it is today, particularly in his own party.

He was a leader on the boards of many local governmental, civic, educational and charitable groups. I particularly recall his work to organize an annual "Descendants Day" to encourage the community to remind mindful of the needs of future generations for a sound environment.

I can remember many times having spirited political discussions with Charlie, especially during our year together as classmates in Leadership Nashville (1982-83). I will miss those talks and I will miss Charlie

While he was in poor health during his later years, he left a lasting mark on Nashville. One of his former bosses, now Senator Lamar Alexander, said regarding Howell's passing: "Charlie Howell was an entrepreneur, a conservationist, and a free spirit who involved himself deeply with his family and his community." Amen and rest in peace, Charlie.