Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 20, 2012

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 20, 2012

CREATED Jan 20, 2012

INSIDE POLITICS

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

January 20, 2012

OPRYLAND 2.0; MORE WACKYINESS ON THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN TRAIL; OBAMA'S PIPELINE RISK; A CORKER OPPONENT?; INSIDE POLITICS WITH SPEAKER HARWELL; CHICKEN RIGHTS BAD PRECEDENT

OPRYLAND 2.0

January 19 was country music super star Dolly Parton's birthday. And while Nashville Mayor Karl Dean presented her with flowers to mark the occasion, it was the city which got the best present.

Parton is joining with Gaylord Entertainment to build a first-of-its-kind, $50 million, year-round water & snow theme park along Briley Parkway. It will be located just across the road and not far from the old Opryland facility and the current Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center complex.

The move fills a void in Nashville for family tourist entertainment which has persisted ever since Opryland closed over a decade ago. It also hopefully ends years of mourning by the community about the loss of the park.

With construction of the new downtown convention center topping out this past week, and other economic indicators rising, this town is clearly on a roll. But this new water & snow facility is not the same as Opryland and won't pack its overall economic punch say most experts, although that could change down the road as it appears this is just the first phase of the new development.

The new park probably also won't deliver the sales tax revenues of the Opry Mills regional Mall that replaced the amusement park. But with Opry Mills about to re-open after recovering from the devastating May, 2010 floods, now we will have the advantage of having both amenities open and operating in the near future.

One thing I would suggest Dolly and Gaylord do quickly. Give this new facility a name, otherwise it is likely to get a nickname that will stick (and they may not be crazy about it) such as "Opryland, Jr." or "Opryland 2.0"

MORE WACKINESS ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

The South Carolina primary vote on Saturday (January 21) could all but wrap up the 2012 GOP Presidential nomination for Mitt Romney (after votes in only 3 states).

But maybe not

It's been another wild and very wacky week on the campaign trail, with some of the developments indicating that perhaps the nomination might stay in doubt if Romney stumbles (and he has not had a good week to ten days in the Palmetto State). Late word indicates Romney advisors are downplaying expectations for the South Carolina, an indication Romney could lose.

The recent decline for Romney actually began in a rather positive way. Jon Huntsman withdrew from the race after his lackluster finish in New Hampshire (he had almost been living there for several months). Huntsman has now endorsed Romney. But Huntsman really doesn't have that many supporters (especially in a deeply conservative state such as South Carolina) so the impact for Romney is, at best, only marginally positive.

Then on Thursday of this past week (January 19, for several reasons one of the most remarkable days in recent presidential election history), another candidate quit. It was Rick Perry. He had originally all but quit after the Iowa Caucus, but decided to hang on and try again in South Carolina, where he originally announced his presidential effort as a frontrunner a few months ago.

Now finding little traction, he officially quit three days before the vote and threw his support to Newt Gingrich. That boosted the effort to identify just one Not-Romney candidate to take on the national frontrunner. But Rick Santorum still remains in the field (as does Ron Paul, who will likely stay in the race until the end, trying to land enough delegates to get some say in the GOP platform and other issues).

Meantime, Santorum got a boost (again on Thursday, January 19) when GOP and state officials in Iowa announced that after a recount the vote leader (sometimes called the winner) in the Iowa Caucus on January 3 was actually Santorum by 32 votes, not Romney by 8.

Now Santorum has not been able to capitalize on his strong showing in the Hawkeye State, both in the subsequent primaries and nationwide, but the recount in Iowa likely does give him renewed energy to move ahead. It also messes up the Romney's mantra that he is the ultimate choice for the GOP nomination and has unstoppable momentum because he is the first Republican non-incumbent to win in both Iowa and New Hampshire. That appears to be untrue now, although with results from 8 precincts declared missing and lost, the "certified" results in Iowa are being classified as a tie (whatever that means).

The Iowa debacle not only changes the narrative of the campaign, I think it raises the specter of Iowa in the future losing its prominent position as one of the first-in-the-nation states to vote in the presidential nominating process. If you can't get it right, why should you get to always go first?

As for Newt Gingrich he came into South Carolina still angry about how he was politically carpet bombed with TV ads in Iowa by Romney. It led to the former House Speaker losing his lead there and continuing his tumble in New Hampshire. But with TV attack ads paid for and placed by his Super Pac (much like Romney), Gingrich seems to be getting his revenge.

With some help from Santorum, Paul and Perry (before he got out of the race), Romney has been placed on the defensive over how he has accumulated his massive wealth over the years through his work with firms such as Bain Capital. Perry coined the phrase that Romney is more a "vulture" capitalist than a venture capitalist. And while Perry is now gone, the moniker for Romney seems to be sticking.

Romney's response has been scattered and not well focused. He had been trying to stay above the fray and concentrate his attacks on President Barack Obama, who he wants to oppose in the fall. But in the first sign that the Romney camp was becoming concerned his opponents are gaining on him, he changed tactics and began to attack his opponents while also trying to answer their charges directly.

He also changed course (again under pressure by his opponents) by agreeing to release his income tax returns (but likely in April, well after the South Carolina vote). This is another explosive issue for Romney and again his responses have been fuzzy and not well focused. Already even before his tax numbers are out, he is getting criticized about his own admission that he likely paid his federal income taxes at a lower rate (which is 15% for investment income) rather than the much higher rate most people pay for wages received from their jobs (which can be as high as 30%).

This is a year when the haves versus the have-nots ( the 1%ers versus the 99%ers) has become a major political issue and the ongoing topic of conversation in the news. Therefore this tax-rate paying disparity could create further problems for Romney this fall. Combined with the criticism of Romney's Bain Capital work, several prominent Republicans (even some not supporting Romney) have taken alarm and urged Gingrich and others to tone it down (i.e., quit giving the Democrats and President Obama more ammunition for the fall).

Romney on the stump, however, continues to make it worse. In speaking with reporters, he mentioned his tax returns would also likely contain some income he's made doing speaking engagements, but a very small amount he claims. Yeah, right! It turns out Romney's small amount is well over $300,000, a figure well above what 99% of Americans annually earn or make from all their income sources. This gaffe is one of several Romney has committed during his campaign, starting with his now infamous response to a campaign protestor that "corporations are people too." Later, he told an audience that he really "likes to fire people." Now that comment has been taken out of context by some Romney opponents, but given the controversy over the rather large layoffs which have sometimes occurred during his work with Bain, it could take on a more sinister turn, and indicate that Romney needs to be more careful in his public comments and not to appear to have a serious political tin ear in how he relates to those with lesser means.

All this has led the latest South Carolina polls to show Gingrich narrowing the gap against Romney. Having two more national cable TV debates has helped Gingrich as well. It is a format that Gingrich excels in, while the other candidates are frankly just not as good.

Will all this be enough for a Gingrich upset? What impact will all the developments of January 19 have (the Iowa vote change, Perry quitting the race and endorsing Gingrich, etc.)? That also includes, perhaps most importantly, the ABC News/Nightline interview with Gingrich's second wife, who said he approached her about living in an "open marriage" so he could continue to see his mistress (a former aide, who is now his wife). Gingrich denies the charges and blames the liberal national news media for the story.

Indeed that response given by Gingrich to a debate audience Thursday night, played to a standing ovation. But South Carolina also has a lot of religious conservatives. In their heart of hearts in the voting booth, how will it play with them?

The decision could be pivotal. South Carolina has chosen every GOP nominee as its primary winner since 1980.

OBAMA'S PIPELINE RISK

With gasoline prices at an all-time high for January; with unemployment nationwide still at 8.5%; with Iran threatening to cut off our supply of oil from much of the Middle East, I think the President is taking quite a political risk, and handing the Republicans a fresh issue, by rejecting the new Canada to the Gulf of Mexico pipeline.

Of course, he didn't have much choice. Congress passed a law requiring him to decide within two months, and he says that's just not enough time to properly review this complicated and environmentally sensitive project. Maybe so, but while the delay delights the President's environmental supporters, it risks angering his labor base, which could use all the new jobs the pipeline would create.

It's a very sticky situation and it seems to me about all the President can hope for is that none of the issues outlined above regarding oil and unemployment become a huge crisis and that all the hot-air political rhetoric resulting from this matter just becomes another part of the ongoing political gridlock in Washington which the public hates, tries to ignore and tends to blame on Congress.

A CORKER OPPONENT?

Here we are just a few months away from the qualifying deadline (April 5), and the Democrats have not found a candidate to run against GOP Senator Bob Corker.

Now there is word (Associated Press story 1/18) that State Senator Beverly Marrero says she is "stunned" by an online effort to draft her to run against the junior senator from Tennessee.

Marrero may need another race. She's been re-districted into the same state senate seat as fellow Democrat and Minority Leader Jim Kyle. Senator Marrero adds the draft idea is a "very lovely gesture" and she is not ready to rule anything out.

OK, but if she's running against Corker, she is way behind the curve to get started. I would suggest those trying to draft the Memphis-area State Senator find her lots and lots of financial resources and help her immediately in all 95 counties to build an organization. Otherwise, the effort is a fool's errand and Senator Marrero a political sacrificial lamb, something which state Democrats have gotten pretty good at fielding in the last few statewide contests.

Meantime, it does seem Democrats in the General Assembly were correct when they said the GOP was moving too fast in passing redistricting in less than a week. Maybe if they'd slowed down, they would have caught the embarrassing error in the bill to redistrict the State Senate which left out Tipton County. So what you say, that's just a minor error. True, but Tipton County is in the district of the Senate Majority Leader, who was the main sponsor of the bill. Whoops!

The error has been corrected and the final bill sent to Governor Bill Haslam for his signature. Another bill making a little progress in that direction is a constitutional amendment making a state income tax illegal now and forever. The bill passed overwhelmingly in the House (as it did in the Senate last year). Now it must pass again in both houses by a two thirds vote in the next (108th) General Assembly before it goes on the ballot in November, 2014. Given the current votes in the House and Senate, and Tennesseans' almost pathological hatred of an income tax, I don't think final approval will be a problem and the amendment will join a growing list of constitutional changes up for consideration in 2014, including an anti-abortion rights measure and possibly an amendment regarding Tennessee's judicial selection and retention process for appellate and supreme court justices.

INSIDE POLITICS WITH SPEAKER HARWELL

House Speaker Beth Harwell is my guest this weekend on INSIDE POLITICS. We look back and reflect on her first year running the House and look ahead to the issues before the General Assembly (including the recently approved redistricting measure).

As for her political future, she seems to be pretty well ruling out doing anything but running for re-election and remaining speaker. That's means no run against Jim Cooper for Congress or moving to the State Senate. What about running for Governor in 2018? Too far ahead she says, but she didn't say no either.

We did our interview before Madame Speaker decided to endorse Mitt Romney for President. If the GOP nomination isn't resolved in South Carolina or Florida, Tennessee might become an important state on March 6, Super Tuesday when we hold our primary. Including the Governor and others, Romney now has quite an array of prominent supporters. With Rick Perry out, it leaves Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey to ponder his future if he wants to endorse someone else. Newt Gingrich is now showing some effort and support in Tennessee, issuing a news release listing his statewide campaign executive committee and county chairs in several counties. That's quite an improvement over a few months ago, when Gingrich failed to file a full slate of delegates for the March 6 election.

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

THE PLUS airs on several cable systems throughout Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky including Comcast channel 250, Charter channel 150 and Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

 

CHICKEN RIGHTS BAD PRECEDENT

By the narrowest of margins (21 votes), the Metro Council has approved the right for local citizens to keep a limited number of chickens on their property (no roosters allowed). That is, unless you live in one of eight districts whose council members exempted their residents from the new law

I don't have a dog (or a hen) in this fight but it does concern me when it appears the only reason this bill passed is because of the exemptions. If it's a good idea (at least for a two year trial period before the council reviews the situation) then it's something everyone should have to live with, not exempt certain parts of town somewhat randomly. This could set a bad precedent for future legislation. The new council may have set itself up for problems down the road (whether the chicken crosses the road or not).

 

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