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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, December 16, 2011

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, December 16, 2011

CREATED Dec 16, 2011

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

December 16, 2011

CHRISTMAS BREAK; SANTA UPSTAGES THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES? LT. GOVERNOR RAMSEY ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE GOVERNOR CONTINUES TO SPEAK OUT; EMANCIPATION; RAPID BUSES; TEN YEARS OF CAPITOL VIEW

CHRISTMAS BREAK

Are our members of Congress just like a bunch of college students always waiting until the last minute to get their work done, especially when final exams and the Christmas and New Year's holidays approach?

The quick answer is definitely YES. Congress always pull itself together and gets its most pressing work done, but only just before it's time to split town and go home to their families and the voters.

A couple of weeks ago in this column I said I sensed perhaps our lawmakers were about to change their ways and work together towards a rather quick solution in resolving the impasses over continuing the payroll tax cut, extending long term unemployment and passing a yet another continuing budget to keep the federal government going (which has just now gotten done).

But other than avoiding a government shutdown, boy, was I wrong!

While I still believe Congress will soon patch some compromise together because they want to go home for the rest of the year and they don't want to get blamed for raising taxes or cutting off unemployment assistance for those who have run out of help, the level of rancor on The Hill has once again been extraordinary in the last few weeks. Both parties have seemed to go out of their way to set up legislative roadblocks and non-starters (such as pipeline approvals and millionaire taxes), all in an effort not to solve problems but to make sure it's always the other side's fault if things didn't go right.

As this is being written, it's unclear just how the deal will get done to extend the payroll tax holiday and the additional unemployment assistance. It could well be another "kick the can down the road" approach, approving a two-month extension and trying to work out a final deal around Valentine's Day. There must be a congressional recess coming up then too.

Most of Congress' problems these days revolve around its lack of budget making. For several years now it has not been following its own deadlines or procedures to do that important work. So Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper has introduced a bill that would cut off congressional pay any time he and his colleagues don't meet a budget deadline.

Now that's not going to get approved. But it's a good idea in my book. If it had been in effect in recent years our elected leaders would have missed a lot of paychecks and learned first-hand how tough it is out there in the real world outside Washington.

SANTA UPSTAGES THE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES

Will Santa Claus do what Donald Trump couldn't with his failed attempt to host yet another GOP candidate debate?

Will Santa and the overall holiday season put the GOP presidential race out of the spotlight and onto the back burner in most peoples' minds just a few weeks before the first votes are cast in the Iowa Caucuses on January 3?

January 3? Wow that's early! Most voters will still be putting up the eggnog and the holiday lights. Who in Iowa will remember and be ready to tune back in and tromp through the snow to spend two to three hours trying to select their caucus choices. This could be very interesting situation since this election cycle has already been short on many of the leading candidates putting together the kind of organizational strength it usually takes to identify their voters and make sure they get to the polling (or caucus) locations.

So does give an advantage to Congressman Ron Paul? He is running a close second in the polls in Iowa behind new frontrunner former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and for Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Paul has always been panned by the national pundits because it seems all he can do is win straw polls. That's true, but he wins because his supporters are almost fanatical in doing whatever it takes to make it to the straw polling events and casting their ballots. If they do the same in Iowa, and the other candidates like Gingrich and Romney can't get as many of their folks out after the "tune out" holiday season, Paul might give the GOP race a real surprise!

While Paul is way too much of a Libertarian (and his foreign policies stances way too out of line for most Republicans) if he even briefly becomes a major contender in the GOP race, it would really scramble the bacon and eggs of this contest one more time.

While Iowa is always first in the balloting process, its winner has never gone anywhere since the days of Jimmy Carter. But New Hampshire is next and it has a history of really liking quirky conservative candidates. With a boost from Iowa, Paul sure might fit that bill, although his poll numbers in the Granite State are not that great right now. New Hampshire is supposed to be Romney country since he was governor next door. He must win there, or after having already lost in Iowa, face a long series of potential primary losses since it appears Gingrich is well positioned to not only do well in Iowa but win in the other early states such as Florida and South Carolina. The recent endorsement of Romney by South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley might begin to change that dynamic for him down south, at least in the Palmetto State. It also remains to be seen how well Gingrich can turn out caucus goers and voters. Can he match his poll numbers or will he be a Republican-version of Howard Dean?

This is shaping up to be a presidential race like we've never seen before. Debate performances have counted more in the polls than the key elements of past cycles such as endorsements, fundraising, grass roots organizing and local level retail politics with the candidates shaking hands, touring the early voting states. Sure, that's still happening, particularly as we head down the stretch to Iowa and New Hampshire, but not nearly as much as in the past, and it's is not the key element moving the polls….the televised debates are…with the last one of them prior to the Iowa Caucus held last Thursday (December 15).

Not surprisingly that session saw front-runner Gingrich being attacked from nearly all sides, particularly about his true conservative credentials and his ongoing Washington relationships with the federal housing agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Congresswoman Michelle Bachman was particularly sharp and insistent in her attacks. She has to be. After winning the earlier Iowa Straw Poll a few months back, she has badly faded. If she can't win or be surprisingly strong in the caucus January 3, she may be out of the race for good.

Gingrich did not appear damaged by the attacks (indeed, for once, no candidates made a big mistake or a flub). Gingrich seemed to try and act the front runner, not getting defensive or "zany" in his remarks. There are a lot of pundits and others in Washington who say it is just a matter of time for the former House Speaker to go off message and hurt himself. But so far, that hasn't happened and his considerable political; baggage does not appear to be weighing him down. But without his best political tool (these debates) over the next several weeks, can Gingrich stay flying high?

As for the incumbent, President Barack Obama, it's been another week of less than wonderful job performance polls. Some now show that the number of people who say he shouldn't be re-elected is slightly larger than those who do want him back in the White House for another four years. But in another sign of how jumbled (some would say weak) the field of GOP opponents are that face Mr. Obama, he wins head-to-head matches with all of them right now.

It doesn't look like Santa can do anything about that, at least between now and Christmas or now and the early voting in Iowa and New Hampshire.

IT'S OVER

While our war in Afghanistan is the longest in our nation's history (and is still going on), the fighting in Iraq has always seemed to engender the most anger and frustration in our nation.

Multiple-troop deployments by the same units taking serious casualties, has been a sore point in both wars. But surely the deeper resentment and controversy over Iraq was generated over why and how the war was started and conducted (particularly the fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction).

It is therefore ironic, that given the focus on our serious economic issues today, it is somewhat hard to remember what a dominant political issue the war in Iraq once was.

It's probably also why President Barack Obama is going to such lengths to make sure the media and everyone else remembers our troops (as of the end of this month) are now completely out of that country as he promised. Of course, some Republicans will point out the actual timeline to withdraw from Iraq was first drafted by the administration of former President George W. Bush as a part of the ‘surge" he championed in his final years in office.

Regardless, our most difficult war is over after nearly a decade of great sacrifice by those who served there along with their families.

Welcome home! While many have questioned the policies of our government being in Iraq, few can question the valor, the courage and the success of the fighting men and women we sent there to do a job. They did it well.

LT. GOVERNOR RAMSEY ON INSIDE POLIITICS

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey is my INSIDE POLITCS guest this weekend. I think you'll want to see what he has to say.

He is quite outspoken on a number of topics including his opposition to Tennessee going along (and putting in its matching funds) to extend unemployment compensation payments to those who remain out of work (if Congress approves an extension). Senator Ramsey also wants to require anyone receiving unemployment payments or other benefits in Tennessee to have to undergo drug testing. All that ought to create a stir when lawmakers come back to town in January!

The Lt. Governor also wants something done and soon to remove the Occupy Protestors still on Capitol Hill here in Nashville. In fact, he indicates that if nothing is accomplished prior to the return of the General Assembly, they may take matters in their own hands and pass legislation to force action.

Of course, we also take time to discuss legislative priorities for the coming term which are likely to include issues such as redistricting, new gun laws, judicial selection and…of course…the annual budget. One other "news item" from what the Lt. Governor said about redistricting. He thinks the congressional district plan the General Assembly will pass will keep the party balance in our delegation 7 Republicans and 2 Democrats. That would seem to indicate that proposals to defeat Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper by dividing up Davidson County into multiple congressional districts won't be pursued by Republicans. If that's proves to be true, it may be the best Christmas present Congressman Cooper gets this holiday season.

Focusing back on the state budget, Lt. Governor Ramsey does believe, contrary to Governor Bill Haslam, that Tennessee can afford (over a couple of years) to get rid of some of its regressive and non-productive taxes such as the Hall Income Tax on investments and dividends as well as the state's estate taxes. But Ramsey is not ready to support a broader tax cut such as reducing the sales tax on groceries. He says many Tennesseans don't even know how much sales tax they pay and how it varies on the items they buy at the store.

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. We also air on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS which can be seen on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable Channel 150 and NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel which is 5.2.

Our show times on THE PLUS are 7:00 p.m., Friday; 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday & 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m., Sunday.

This is our last new show for 2011. For Christmas and New Year's weekends will be encoring shows we did earlier in the year. One features local author Woody McMillan and his fascinating book about World War II in Middle Tennessee. The other holiday show will be an interview with the Chairman of the Metro Historical Commission, Dr. William (Bill) McKee, who through his teaching at Cumberland University in Lebanon, has developed a class profiling a number of famous Tennesseans, who you've probably never heard of, but people you should definitely know more about..

THE GOVERNOR CONTINUES TO SPEAK OUT

He's done it again.

After first speaking out against weakening the state's Open Meeting law, Governor Bill Haslam is now doing the same on some other political issues even if what he is saying is different from what other Republican leaders are espousing.

I've already mentioned the repeal of the Hall Income Tax and the state's estate tax. While the Governor doesn't like either tax because of their regressive nature, he says a repeal can't be done now anyway, due to the state's continuing tight budget condition. I haven't heard him back off much even when Lt. Governor Ramsey says it can be phased in over time.

The Governor is now also taking a few other legislative positions that seem at a bit at odds with his fellow Republicans in the Legislature. That includes opposition to a ban on Tennessee cities establishing their own "living wage" standards. That's of note since the Governor signed legislation last term that quashed Nashville's efforts to set up its own anti-discrimination standards with businesses with which it works. Mr. Haslam maintains local governments setting "living wage" and anti-discrimination standards are very different issues. Maybe in his mind, but frankly, other observers seem puzzled to understand how that is so.

At any rate, developing his own voice and being willing to speak out when he doesn't agree with what is going on in the General Assembly, (something he didn't do much at all last year) is a good thing I think for the Governor. Who knows how much his "bully pulpit" efforts might impact the process even if his veto power is the weakest of any governor in the nation.

In another action late in the week (Thursday, December 15) the Governor showed another way he can work his will on an issue. His office issued a news release that can only be interpreted as a temporary derailment of another key legislative effort led by some GOP leaders to set up a school voucher system for Tennessee.

For several weeks now, the Governor has been trying to make up his mind about whether to support a limited voucher plan that passed the State Senate last year. Without even mentioning the word "voucher" the Governor's new release outlines the appointment of a task force "to make recommendations on what an opportunity scholarship initiative might look like in Tennessee based on best available research."

In other words, says the Governor, let's wait on moving ahead on vouchers saying: "I support school choice options and I believe opportunity scholarships could be an impactful tool…We should offer alternatives to low-income students and their parents who may feel stuck in failing schools….I think these discussions (by the task force) need to happen before legislation is pursued any further in this session."

The task force is made up of state officials (such as the Commissioner of Education), local school leaders, academics, lawmakers (including the sponsor of the current voucher bill), and other stakeholders. They are charged to "engage a variety of (other) stakeholders including parents, education professionals and business leaders "with a deadline of presenting recommendations to the governor in the fall of 2012."

That means the voucher plan is likely off the table until the next General Assembly is elected and takes office in January, 2013.

By the way, so far, the Governor taking a more active role in legislative affairs doesn't seem to be ruffling too many feathers. According to an on-line article by THE TENNESSEAN's Chas Sisk (December 15) Lt. Governor Ramsey says he and the Governor have never been closer. In fact they were set to be out in the rain today (Friday) going 4-wheeling together.

 

EMANCIPATION

Congratulations to Governor Haslam and the staff of the Tennessee State Museum for landing a prized manuscript to come to Nashville in 2013. It's the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War in early 1863. The document freed millions of African-American slaves and changed not only the course of the Civil War but, obviously, altered American history as well.

Indeed up until the time the document was issued by President Lincoln (and Federal forces won a key victory at the battle of Antietam in Maryland in the fall of 1862) there was much speculation that Great Britain was about to intervene in the conflict on the side of the Confederate States of America. But the victory at Antietam (also known the Battle of Sharpsburg) gave the President the military strength to redefine the war (through the Proclamation) as a battle for basic human rights (the right to be free). And that eventually ended any chance that the English would become involved in the war.

The Emancipation Proclamation will be on an unprecedented tour of the country in 2013. Nashville is the only stop for this priceless document in the Southeastern United States. This rare manuscript is normally kept full time at the National Archives. It will be part of an overall exhibit from the National Archives called DISCOVERING THE CIVIL WAR. The overall run of the exhibit in Nashville will be from February 12, 2013 (President Abraham Lincoln's birthday) until September 2 of that year.

The exact dates of when the Emancipation Proclamation will be in Nashville have not been announced but you will need to hurry to see it when it does arrive. Due to the fragile nature of the document it can only be exposed to light for 72 hours while it is in Tennessee. So it will be displayed at intervals during the time frame when it is here which will be about a six day period.

If I remember my American history correctly, there is a bit of irony in the Emancipation Proclamation coming to Nashville. The document did free the slaves, but it did so only for the slaves held in Confederate territories. And while that covered many of the slaves in Tennessee at that time, it did not cover those in the immediate Nashville area. That's because the city was captured and occupied by Federal forces from the early part of 1862 until the war's end in April, 1865. Indeed, Nashville is the longest occupied American city in history.

Any slaves in the Nashville area would eventually be freed by constitutional amendment after the Civil War.

RAPID BUSES

Another week in Metro brought yet another consultant's report concerning a potential major and expensive new project for the city.

Two weeks ago it was site locations (and preliminary costs) for a new professional baseball stadium, with the East Bank being the singled out as the best place to build the park over two other potential locations (Sulphur Dell & the North Gulch).

Now comes another consultant recommendation for a $136 million project to bring bus rapid transit to the area between White Bridge Road and Harding Road in West Nashville down the West End corridor through downtown and over the Cumberland River into Five Points in East Nashville.

For both consultant studies there was strong support voiced by the Dean administration, although exactly how the developments would be funded remains unclear. There were those who expressed disappointment that the transit plan did not recommend a trolley based system. But while that might be more attract to tourists, it would reportedly cost at least twice as much and that seems out of the question financially.

There is irony in the demise of a new trolley system. Back in the later part of the 19th Century Nashville was one of the first cities in the United States to install a trolley rail system and it covered much of the same territory as the new bus rapid transit system would.

Unfortunately, the city torn up the old trolley system back in the late 1930s and replaced all it with rubber-wheeled buses, proving that all the short-sighted planning decisions made in Nashville did not occur in the just the past few decades.

As for funding the new proposed rapid bus transit system, logic says federal grants will pay for most of it (as it has in several other cities). But Washington may soon be getting out of that business, so the city would be wise to act fast if it wants that kind of help. There is a local match (about 10-20% of the total cost) that will be required. Those funds might be included in Metro's next big capital plan with the funding also tied perhaps to a possible property tax hike this coming spring.

As for funding the baseball park, a public private partnership is being discussed involving Metro and the city's current professional baseball team, THE NASHVILLE SOUNDS. Nothing is certain at this time, but it is believed the baseball club, joined with a private developer would likely fund the construction of the new ball park and any surrounding mixed use developments, with Metro covering land acquisition and relocation costs for existing businesses in the area.

If the preferred East Bank site is chosen (PSC Metals) the estimated acquisition and relocation costs contained in the consultant's report are large. It is not known how Metro might fund those costs, although there is now renewed speculation that the State of Tennessee might be asked to help. In his last year in office (2008) Governor Phil Bredesen did get state lawmakers to approve money for a major economic development project in Nashville. Nothing ever came of it, but it was believed the project was to acquire and redevelop the East Bank.

Could that deal be reauthorized now this ballpark plan has come forward? Does Mayor Karl Dean and his administration have that kind of relationship with Governor Haslam and his economic development team or can that kind of support be built?

Stay tuned. (Full disclosure: PSC Metals is a client of mine).

TEN YEARS OF CAPITOL VIEW

This is my last CAPITOL VIEW column for 2011.

It also marks ten years of writing this weekly commentary since I sent in the first one to be posted on NEWSCHANNEL5's website back on January 18, 2002.

My records show I've done a total of 475 columns since that time. That covers a lot of typos, mistakes, misspelling, left out words and just plain being wrong over the years. But I hope my columns have also contained a lot of good, useful information that you as the readers found interesting and informative (even if you didn't agree with what I had to say).

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I look forward to writing posting my next CAPITOL VIEW column on Friday, January 6, 2012.