Capitol View Commentary: Friday, November 4, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, November 4, 2011

CREATED Nov 4, 2011


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

November 4, 2011



Would House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville give up her powerful position and safe seat in the State House of Representatives to run for Congress against incumbent Democrat Jim Cooper?

That seems to be the focus of a professional telephone poll that's been making the rounds in recent days asking voters who they would support. Sources close to both the Congressman and the Speaker say this isn't their poll, leading to speculation that it might be funded by one of the national parties' congressional committees. Mostly likely it would be the GOP testing candidates to see which might be the strongest competitor to take on Cooper.

But since the congressional districts haven't been redrawn just yet (they will be before the next election), how do pollsters know exactly who to survey? Do you call voters in the current 5th District which includes most of Davidson County and parts of Wilson County? What about parts or all of Rutherford County along with the southern part of Davidson County (including the area now represented by Congress by Marcia Blackburn)?

How the district is shaped will make a great deal of difference in how the poll shakes out and whether Harwell of any Republican can defeat Cooper. My sources close to Speaker Harwell say she won't be running for Congress and that her long term political interests are now on the state level. But obviously there are many in the Republican Party who see Cooper as vulnerable, especially with the right candidate and the right district. That's also why you are seeing the National Republican Congressional committee sending out critical e-mails regarding Cooper to both reporters and fundraisers (at least six in the last two months according to THE TENNESSEAN 11/4). Turnabout is fair play (especially in politics) so that's the reason why the Democrats are doing the same thing to Republican rookie congressmen Stephen Fincher and Scott DesJarlais whom they consider vulnerable, even though nobody yet knows for sure exactly how the congressional districts will be configured.  

Representative Cooper says in response to the e-mail criticizing him: "I put my country first, not my political party. Republicans and Democrats should stop bashing each other and start solving our national problems." In that regard, Cooper has once again joined Democrats and Republicans in asking the Super Committee in Congress to "go big" and come up with a comprehensive plan for how to cut the federal budget and reduce the spiraling deficit over the next few years.   

But in the last few days, there's also a report out that may raise another campaign issue for Cooper. The report says the Congressman has racked up $47,000 in expenses on six privately financed trips in the past year. That's the highest travel tab of any member in Congress. These trips are not at taxpayer expense but they are always a bit controversial because they are paid by outside groups. In Cooper's case the trips were billed as "fact finding" missions, some went overseas, to research issues such as energy security, education and one looked into "policy challenges in the Muslim world."


 If I saw a theme in at least a couple of this week's news stories, it is crisis management or the lack thereof. Here's what I mean:


When you are the frontrunner in the presidential race, especially this cycle, you better be ready for some intense scrutiny about every part of your life, present and past. When you get up to 10-12 days to be ready to respond to a potentially devastating news story concerning alleged incidents of sexual harassment that occurred some years back, you better have your story straight.

For Atlanta businessman Herman Cain, so far he's flunked in his response to these stories. Maybe it's his lack of experience, having never run a national campaign or even held an elected office. Maybe it is his lack of experienced staff. Whatever it is, his stumbling and changing responses have him in an increasingly difficult situation.

Despite having more than a week to get ready prior to the publication of the first story by POLITICO, the candidate and his campaign have gone from an initial "no comment" (always the worst response, the public assumes you have something to hide) to a complete denial he's ever sexually harassed anyone. He stuck with that line of response for about a day or so, but then slowly started changing his answers during each passing media interview.

As Ruben Navarrette, a CNN Contributor put it in his column on November 2; "(First) he claimed to know nothing about the case. Then he claimed that he did know a little about the case, but that he didn't know there had been a settlement. Then he tried to maintain there's a difference between a "settlement" and an "agreement." And by the end of the day, he was admitting that there had been a settlement and that, in the case of one woman, it had amounted to about three months of salary."

While Cain still denies he has ever sexually harassed anyone, this somewhat painful journey to get to what he finally seems to want to say may have left people with still more questions than answers. Such as, if Herman Cain can't handle this personal crisis, how will he handle more important matters as President? The continuing crisis has also led to an attorney for one of the women involved to ask that the National Restaurant Association (who employed Cain at the time and paid the settlements) to drop the non-disclosure agreement that she agreed to when settlement was made.

A decision by the National Restaurant Association on what it will allow is expected sometime today (Friday). How that plays out could well decide the future credibility of candidate Cain and the sustainability of his candidacy. I have no idea what Herman Cain did or did not do in these matters. But it is pretty clear, when it comes to responding to a crisis like this, so far, he has proven to be not nearly ready for prime time.

So is this hurting his front runner status in the GOP? Not yet, at least if you look at the most recent poll in the early primary state of South Carolina. Rasmussen's poll was taken Tuesday (November 1) after two days of media coverage concerning the allegations of sexual harassment against Cain. It shows the candidate still commanding a double digit lead (33% to 23%) over Mitt Romney, while Newt Gingrich is starting to rise in the polls at 15%.    

Within the next few days, we will know more about whether all these charges (a third woman has now come forward with similar allegations) amount to more than just he-said/she-said. There is another TV debate coming and we will see how his opponents play the matter. Given how poorly Cain has responded overall (now he is getting testy with reporters and threatening to sue POLITICO over the original story) they would be wise to remain quiet and let Cain continue to handle it himself (or not handle it). A dispute has already arisen between Cain and the rival Rick Perry campaign. Cain says the harassment story was planted by the Perry crew. Perry's aides deny it. But the controversy continues to distract both campaigns from their core messages for why their candidates would be the best person to be president.   


If this has been the first major crisis/leadership test for Governor Bill Haslam and his administration, the marks are not so good regarding how they have handled the ongoing Occupy Nashville demonstrations on Legislative Plaza in Nashville. In fact, so far, it has been a full-blown PR nightmare.

First for nearly three weeks, the protestors were ignored. Then the Haslam administration decided it was time for them to leave, due what they said were growing health and safety concerns. But their methods and their timing to communicate all this, both to the protestors and the public, seemed constantly out of sync at best, and were later found to be wanting legally by both a Nashville night magistrate and later a federal district judge.

To make matters even worse, two journalists were arrested as a part of the Trooper sweeps which gathered up to 50 folks over two nights. One journalist was taken into custody despite clearly identifying himself several times. Others in the crowd vouched for him only to be threatened with arrest as well.  Even more amazing was that the journalist who worked for THE NASHVILLE SCENE was not only given a warrant for criminal trespass (as all those arrested were) but was also struck with the additional charge of public intoxication. That seems to be based strictly on the arresting trooper's opinion as no field sobriety or other tests were administered. All of this was captured on video tape, which did not seem to show the reporter under the influence.          

When reporters feel they are being stopped from doing their constitutionally-protected (1st Amendment) jobs, for any politician/elected official, you are asking for trouble. Both the publisher of THE NASHVILLE SCENE, Chris Ferrell along with the local Society of Professional Journalists have demanded a personal apology from the Governor. So far, that hasn't happened as an investigation of the matter is reportedly underway by the state. But that's likely only to buy some time. This matter isn't going away and the Haslam administration will need to deal with what happened (which was an obvious mistake) sooner or later.

In the meantime, the Occupy protests at the Legislative Plaza are back bigger than ever, with even more ongoing media in attendance. Ironically before the crackdown, news coverage had begun to wane as had the numbers of those staying overnight. Not now. In fact, even those in opposition know where to go as the Young Republicans at Vanderbilt staged a surprising friendly counter-demonstration on the Plaza.  And Occupy is even moving around town, going to the Nashville Electric Service today (November 4) to protest the lavish spending policies by NES officials (as revealed by NewsChannel5's chief investigative reporter Phil Williams).    

Those who are staying at the Plaza don't have to worry about getting arrested now as there is a temporary restraining order in place issued by a federal judge. Interestingly, the state had already quit making arrests for two nights prior to the court order. Did someone at the State realize they had created a potential problem?

Governor Haslam has continued to defend his actions to remove the protestors due to health and safety reasons. But, again strangely, when the matter went to court (after Occupy Nashville and the ACLU filed the federal lawsuit), there was no effort by the state's lawyers (the Attorney General) to object to the restraining order being put in place. So why did the Governor defend his actions everywhere except the federal courtroom?

The Governor has said he decided to act because of rising complaints and concerns from state lawmakers and employees about possible health and safety issues. That's understandable and perhaps that's why the state is now working with some of the Occupy Nashville protestors to have port-a-potties and other necessities brought to the area along with better overnight security. But strangely, unless directly asked by reporters, other than the State Republican Party, I have seen very few public comments or statements backing the Governor for his actions.        

And it's not over yet. The full lawsuit is set to be heard in federal court later this month and the Governor has indicated to me the state may still pursue in Metro Court those criminal trespass charges imposed against all the Occupy Nashville protestors taken into custody. That ought to bring back all that "great" national and international publicity we saw when this began late last week.        


 Governor Haslam is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. I always appreciate him coming on the show, but most especially at this particular time, when he could have easily decided he was too busy with the Occupy Nashville crisis to answer my questions.

But he did make that time, and while we taped the show early in the week (before the temporary injunction was issued), I still think you will get a good flavor for what this ongoing controversy is all about.  

Of course there's lot of other issues surrounding state government these days including school vouchers, Voter ID, immigration, redistricting, the budget and on and on. We talk about all those topics on the show. Watch us!

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5.

You are also see INSIDE POLITICS on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. We are on at 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 is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and Channel 5's 5.2 over-the-air digital channel.                   


Even before Congress passed the financial credit reforms a few months ago to bring more regulations to how bank and financial institutions can operate, Senator Bob Corker has been warning that the new law would result in banks instituting monthly fees on all of us who use bank debit and ATM machines.

Sure enough that's exactly what was on the way, but then something happened. The public raised hell. Many of them got organized, encouraging folks to withdraw their accounts from banks charging such fees. Even the marketplace responded with competitors of the major banks, including savings & loans, credit unions, even small local banks taking advantage and urging unhappy customers to come to their financial institutions where they would not have to pay monthly fees.

So guess what? It worked…and now almost every one of the major banks…including the largest, Bank of America, have retreated and said they won't be instituting the fees.

Now I am sure the banks will find some way to recoup any losses, but at a time when people feel so frustrated and estranged from government, business and even everyday life, this does show that if people get organized on the right issue, they can find ways to work together to make things change. That's the real legacy so far from both the Tea Party and the Occupy movements. Occupy appears to have play a major role in public push back on the bank fees, while clearly  the Tea Party has reshaped the Republican Party and in some ways our entire political discussion in this country over the last few year. People do the power….and when they work together, things can and will change.   


 Congratulations to the Metro Board of Parks & Recreation for voting unanimously to make acting director Tommy Lynch, the permanent head of that vital city agency.

A native Nashvillian and someone who has worked his way up the leadership ladder since joining the Parks 40 years ago, Lynch has done an excellent job since he took over the reins on an interim basis in January, 2010.

He is a worthy successor to those who came before him in this agency such as Charlie Spears and Jim Fyke. Metro has developed a near world-class parks and recreation system and done so despite ongoing budget challenges.

Mayor Dean has a great new member permanently joining his cabinet of Metro department heads.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have known Tommy Lynch as a friend nearly all my life. We went to both grammar school and high school together. I have also known his brother, Billy, who has headed several Metro agencies over the years (Human Resources Director, Chief Jailer to the Sheriff, Fire Chief, Public Works Director). It's quite a family devoted to public service in Metro government.