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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, November 11, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, November 11, 2011

CREATED Nov 11, 2011

CAPITOL VIEW

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

November 11, 2011

5TH DISTRICT; CAIN; THE TENNESSEE PRESIDENTIAL DIVIDE; THE DEMOCRATS' PLIGHT; JUDICIAL SELECTIONS; TAXES & TECHNOLOGY; INSIDE POLITICS & WORLD WAR II IN TENNESSEE

5TH DISTRICT

I had no idea my item in last week's column about the congressional polling being done concerning a potential race between incumbent Democrat Jim Cooper and House Speaker Beth Harwell would get such major news coverage.

I don't know anything about the results but some of the reactions have been most interesting. Madame Speaker told the CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS (November 10) that running for Congress is not on the top of agenda right now. But while those close to her politically tell me the Nashville representative's future is to stay in state government and in the much more powerful Speaker's position (as compared to being a Congressman), she didn't rule out a congressional brace.

That's understandable politically, but it potentially puts her more on the spot going forward in trying to say she wants to be "fair" in how the new congressional lines are being drawn. Now everyone will be watching even more closely as to how the Hermitage District is crafted in the new reapportionment plan coming from the Republican leadership of the General Assembly (of which Harwell is a key player).

Already there are lots of rumors circulating, including reports that neighboring Congressman Marsha Blackburn will lose her very Republican boxes in Davidson County back to the current 5th District while she would add (not willingly I'd bet) the northern part of Davidson County including the historically black areas around Tennessee State University, Fisk and Meharry.

That would definitely make the Cooper district more competitive for a Republican, but would it raise legal questions with the federal government about diluting minority representation?

Stay tuned.

CAIN

The longer I see and the more I hear about the sexual harassment charges swirling around GOP presidential frontrunner Herman Cain, the more I feel like I need to take a bath.

That's not an indication that I am convinced he is guilty, although the increasing number of she-said accusations coming from women going public with seemingly credible stories (and with even more women coming forth soon according to Cain himself), it does raises serious doubts about his credibility and his complete denials of any inappropriate behavior.

What is also really concerning is how quickly there are stories coming out in the media (and on the internet) questioning the motives of all the women who have spoken up. In some cases, the response stories don't really speak to the facts of their accusations, just insinuations or questions about the character and backgrounds of the women involved. Again, I can't speak to the truthfulness of the counter-stories except to say you can see why women in cases like this don't speak out for fear of being tarred and feathered over things in their past lives that may or may not have anything to do with their charges. It's called re-victimization.

Herman Cain seems to be saying he is the real victim here that "the Democratic machine" is trying to get him out of the presidential race in order to keep a businessman out of the White House. I seriously doubt that. Most Democrats I talk with would be thrilled to have Cain be the GOP nominee. They think President Obama can beat him.

Now that's not to say the President can win re-election especially since so far after over two weeks of daily attacks on the harassment issue Cain is still holding his own in most polls (Newt Gingrich does continue rise to a respectable third). Cain in fact is ahead in the first Rasmussen poll coming out of Florida. But how long can Cain stay afloat especially since he has been off message (why he would be the best president) for many days now? Based on reviews I have seen from the latest televised debate he may really need to work on his foreign policy answers (quit reading them off note cards) and try to remember that China has had nuclear weapons for several decades now. Finally not all his answers need to pivot back to another endorsement of the 9-9-9 plan.

But Cain may be hanging tough in the race because many of his supporters don't like or trust the national media where most of this information is being reported, so they tend to believe Cain. Also remember that old saying in politics, "that which does not kill me, makes me stronger." If these accusations don't take Cain out, he may truly be in an even stronger position to win the nomination.

National politics, especially this current presidential campaign, have become full combat contests with gotcha and counter-gotcha being critical tactical pieces in all sides' political arsenals. It can be very dirty work as you can see. Excuse me while I take a minute to at least wash my hands.

THE TENNESSEE PRESIDENTIAL DIVIDE

Slowly but surely Tennessee's Republican leaders are choosing up sides in the GOP presidential race. A whole slew of state officials have joined Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey in endorsing Rick Perry. That includes Senate Republican Caucus Chair Bill Ketron (reportedly under some private pressure from Ramsey according to my sources).

Ketron is joined by two Senate colleagues Brian Kelsey and Jim Summerville along with three House members, Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny, Don Miller and Mark White.

But have they signed on to a political Titanic? Perry has struggled at the various candidates' debates ever since he got into the race. The most recent debate on MSNBC may have done him in for good. It happened when he raised the topic that he would get rid of three cabinet level departments when he was elected. Then he could only remember two of them (Commerce & Education) forgetting Energy. Rote memory should not be the only criteria for choosing a president. But not being prepared with your own cheat sheets and talking points is inexcusable. It raises still more questions about Perry being ready for prime time (ready to be president).

Getting back to Tennessee, there have been other endorsement activities in recent days. That includes Mitt Romney getting support from two prominent East Tennessee Republican business leaders named Haslam, the father and brother of the Governor. So what will Bill Haslam do? Well, I've asked him several times in recent weeks why he seems so reluctant to join his kinfolks and support Romney as he did four years ago, including a financial donation? While the Governor more or less avoided a direct answer to my question, saying he is too busy being governor of the state (which may be true in some ways), he may be biding his time because there is really nothing for him to gain endorsing Romney or anyone now. In fact, it might hurt him because I doubt Romney is running all that well in polls taken in Tennessee these days. So why endorse him now?

Meantime the Governor is still dealing with the backwash of his bungled effort to remove the Occupy Nashville protesters from Legislative Plaza. News report indicate that under cover snooping on the group failed (those being watched knew what was going on and who was watching them). The Governor also wisely decided to drop plans to continue prosecution of the criminal trespass charges against those arrested. It would only give the Occupy folks another publicity opportunity and open the door for another unneeded First Amendment loss for the Haslam administration.

THE DEMOCRATS' PLIGHT

A couple of days ago, you would have thought Tennessee and in particular Nashville, was at the heart of the presidential campaign as Vice-President Joe Biden came to town for a fund raiser at a Belle Meade home.

But Tennessee is still a backwater in the race, strongly red and ready to support whoever the GOP nominates. The truth is all the candidates and political candidates want to come here…but not to campaign for votes. They want to raise money. The Nashville area has several zip codes (including 37205 in Belle Meade) that are among the nation's leaders in giving campaign funds. So that's why the VP came to Middle Tennessee and tied up traffic all day in West Nashville and along the interstates to and from the airport.

Lots of Republican money is being raised here. According to an article in THE TENNESSEAN (November 10) Perry has raised the most money in the Nashville area (by zip codes) while Romney is first statewide. But there are some things more important apparently than raising money in Tennessee. Rick Perry changed his plans and stiffed a fund raiser being held for him in Franklin (November 10). Not even having the Governor of Louisiana Bobby Jindal come to town to introduce him and country music stars to entertain, Perry decided it was better to go to New York City and appear with David Letterman and his nightly TOP TEN segment in an effort to get the recent "debate gaffe" behind him. Perry did a good job on the show, but unlike his debates, he had cue cards to read this time.

Meantime, the real plight for Tennessee Democrats was shown in another news story in recent days. THE TENNESSEAN.COM reported on November 7 that the last Democrat holding a major elected position in Rutherford County, Road Superintendent Mike Williams will retire from office at the end of his fifth term next year.

The Democrats used to hold most if not all the offices in fast-growing Rutherford County but not anymore. And it's not just Rutherford County. It's true all over Middle Tennessee which was once a Democratic bastion but those are gone and do not likely seem ready to return anytime soon.

JUDICIAL SELECTIONS

In the next few weeks you are going to hear a lot about selecting judges in Nashville.

On Tuesday night, the Metro Council will select an interim replacement for the late General Sessions Judge Leon Ruben Ten candidates are under consideration with the Nashville Bar Association letting its members provide some insight through a poll of its members.

Courthouse sources all seem to agree that former Councilman Mike Jamison is most likely to be the Council's choice. He got the highest marks from the Bar Association poll (44% highly qualified) with two other attorneys Lynda Jones Kenigson and John P. Brown (son of the former judge) coming in second and third in the bar survey. Whoever wins will have to scramble to keep the seat as the qualifying deadline for the March Democratic primary to select a permanent replacement (until 21014) is December 10.

It's not the only Nashville judicial race up for grabs. There should be a public hearing soon, then nominations selected from a field of 10 by the Judicial Nominating Commission. It will select three persons for Governor Haslam to choose from to fill the Circuit Court vacancy created by the retirement of Barbara Haynes.

Several sources tell me the most likely person to come out of the process and be named Circuit Judge is attorney Phillip Robinson. Robinson has practiced for several years in the local courts and he is a member of a longtime influential political family which includes his late father, Rob Robinson, who was a state representative and other relatives who have served on the bench and even many years ago as Sheriff of Davidson County and one of the heads of the dominant political machines in Davidson County in the late 1940s and 1950s (Garner Robinson).

Robinson appears to be getting strong support for several reasons. First, many current judges want someone with Robinson's background in handling domestic cases. With current domestic judge Carol Soloman stepping away from that work Robinson could come right in (the other judges flat don't want to handle those kinds of difficult cases).

Robinson's family politics also helps. He is seen to have enough of a conservative political pedigree to mollify some (but maybe not all) Republican leaders in the county, while also getting strong backing from Democrats. In fact, if he is appointed by Governor Haslam, a Republican, look for Robinson to seek re-election as a Democrat (maybe as early as the March 2102 primary). That's because since 1970, only one judge appointed by a GOP governor (Ben Cantrell) has managed to get re-elected running as a Republican in Nashville, even though several have tried. Like any governor, Bill Haslam would like to see his choices ratified by the voters, especially his first judicial selection in the county where he now lives.

TAXES & TECHNOLOGY

In Tennessee, our taxes and emerging technologies are at odds.

We all know about Amazon.com coming to Tennessee to bring thousands of jobs but not wanting to pay sales tax because they are an on-line business. Governor Haslam has cut a deal to give them a window to avoid those taxes until 2014, subject to legislative approval. Everyone knows the only way to solve this problem is for Congress to pass a national standard on sales tax transactions like these. Given the atmosphere in Washington, especially all those in the GOP primarily who oppose any tax increases for any reason, don't expect anything to happen. But credit Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander again showing his new independence after leaving the Senate Republican leadership by co-sponsoring a bi-partisan bill to solve the problem. (Alexander this week also bucked many of his GOP colleagues by supporting new environmental standards they want to repeal).

But it's not just internet sales tax issues where Tennessee taxes and emerging technologies are at odds. Look at all the growing number of electric or non-gasoline powered cars coming onto the roads. They don't need to buy gas so the state doesn't collect any taxes from those drivers to help maintain and expand our road system (all other motorists pay 21.4 cents per gallon in gas taxes to the state when they fill up).

The state is already being squeezed with cars getting higher miles to the gallon and therefore not needing to fill up as often (and paying less gas tax). Add these two challenges together and state transportation officials say the state may need to revisit how gas taxes are levied and collected. Not surprisingly the Governor is not thinking about changing that or proposing a gas tax hike this year. But according to a story by WPLN (November 7) he told reporters during state budget hearings this week "….logically 10 years from now there's no way we're doing it the way we are now."

Well, I hope he's right. But I would point out that the ban on internet sale taxes have been in place for longer than a decade. And who thinks Congress will address any issue facing the states if that means raising or changing taxes?

INSIDE POLITICS & WORLD WAR II IN TENNESSEE

With Veterans' Day being today (November 11) and the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor and America's entry into World War II coming up next month (December 7), we thought we'd had a little different kind of INSIDE POLITICS show this weekend.

My guest is Woody McMillin, the author of IN THE PRESENCE OF SOLDIERS: The 2nd Army Maneuvers & Other World War II Activity in Tennessee.

Even if you grew up here, you will be amazed to learn all the things that happened in this area, and not just the Manhattan Project and Oak Ridge. We are talking several years of many training exercises and maneuvers along with POW camps, military base developments and just how to deal with the nearly 1.5 million troops that came through here for training and war games.

Woody is a former colleague of mine at DVL and he has written a wonderful book, especially if you were part of or had relatives who are a part our Greatest Generation. It is amazing that this is the first time a comprehensive effort has been made to capture the story of what happened during the war years in this state.

You can watch INSIDE POLITICS several times this weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5. You can also see us on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS at 7:00 p.m., Friday; 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday and 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Sunday.

THE PLUS airs on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and Channel 5's 5.2 over-the-air digital channel.