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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 3, 2012

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 3, 2012

CREATED Feb 3, 2012

CAPITOL VIEW

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

February 3, 2012

CHANGING TALKING POINTS; LET THEM EAT CAKE; STATE OF THE STATE; EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN; OCCUPIED NOT MUCH LONGER; CLEANING UP ITS ACT; INSIDE POLITICS

The key talking point for all the Republican candidates for President, particularly front-runner Mitt Romney, is that the Democratic incumbent Barack Obama has made the economy worse while he's been in office the last three years.

But there are continued signs that that talking point may need to be amended if not completely repositioned by the Republicans. Unemployment figures just released today (Friday) for January show another 243,000 jobs added (almost all in the private sector) reducing the unemployment rate to 8.3%.

Now that's still by historical standards very, very high. In fact that's higher than any incumbent President has ever had and gotten re-elected. But here's the potential difference. Unemployment has decreased for the fifth month in a row and it is now at its lowest level since February, 2009 (one month after President Obama took office).   

So if this trend continues, in terms of unemployment, the Obama administration may soon be able to say they have made things better since taking office (even though it's taken a while). In fact, this is the three year anniversary of when President Obama told an interviewer that if he couldn't get the economy turned around in three years, he might just be a one-term president. It's a gaffe I am sure he and his handlers wish he had never uttered, even if things are now beginning to improve some.  

For now, if are ifs, and nothing remains certain. Here's one more sign of how far the economy has to go. We would still need to add about 5.6 million more jobs to get back to 2008 employment levels.

However, in the world of politics, it is often about trends and "what have you done for me lately."

In that regard, things are looking up a bit for the President for these days.

LET THEM EAT CAKE

"I am not concerned about the very poor."

That statement by the GOP's leading candidate for President may well go down in campaign 2012 history as Mitt Romney's "let them eat cake" comment.

While the remark can (and is) be taken a bit out of context (he was trying to show his support to help and protect the middle class), what he said is yet another indication that Romney has a "tin ear" in how he relates to voters in terms of his own wealth and the economic status of many in this nation.

Over the past several months, he's told groups he's "unemployed" (when he makes millions each year off his investments); that "corporations are people too." He's struggled in explaining his tax returns (including his Cayman Island bank accounts and his lower rate of taxation at less than 15%). He has also stumbled when he said the amount of money he's made through outside speaking engagements was "a small amount', when the total ($350,000+) was much greater than what most Americans make annually.

His lack of touch with the common man has been occurring over and over, including, when to prove a point during one of the GOP debates, he offered to bet Rick Perry $10,000, a staggering amount of money for most folks to even think, much less to wager. Romney's even told audiences in hit-hard foreclosure states that he was in favor of just letting the process work  "until it bottoms out," an attitude which came across as quite harsh to many folks.

Romney's comment about the poor was perhaps the only blemish on his political week which saw him re-assume his favored front runner status, using another avalanche of TV attack ads to not only come back, but clobber Newt Gingrich in the Florida primary, winning by well into double-digits. That not only avenged his loss to Gingrich in South Carolina, it put him well into the lead in delegates (all of Florida's 50 delegates are winner-take-all).

Gingrich is pursuing a fool's errand in trying to challenge Florida party leaders to change to a proportional allocation of delegates, but frankly the overall outlook for the Gingrich campaign looks increasingly bleak.

There's a break in any TV debates for the next couple of weeks, denying Gingrich a forum that has become his campaign's lifeblood. Also the states holding caucuses and primaries in February are not likely to be friendly for the former House Speaker (they are friendly for Romney). It all leaves Gingrich hoping he can rally enough money and support to make a last stand and breakthrough in a couple of the states voting on Super Tuesday (March 6). That's why I still think it's possible Tennessee might play a key role as it is one of the Super Tuesday states where there is some logic for Gingrich to try and compete (if he can get the money, especially from his Las Vegas supporters to keep his Super PAC going).

Rick Santorum faces an even more dire outlook, clouded by the illness of his young daughter which took him off the campaign trail for a day or so. With both Gingrich and Santorum staying in, they continue to split the anti-Romney vote (along with Ron Paul) making it easier for Romney to stay as the frontrunner.

The politics of endorsement also came to the forefront in recent days with little or no impact. Former candidate and front-runner Herman Cain tried to boost Gingrich with an endorsement in the final days of the Florida campaign. It went nowhere. Then there's the endorsement of Romney by The Donald….a billionaire endorsing a multi-millionaire.

Maybe Donald Trump's blessing will help Romney by keeping him from launching a third-party effort of his own. But it seemed aimed more at one-upping Gingrich whose camp was already leaking out the word that Trump would endorse their guy just hours before Trump did the opposite and endorsed Romney. But it is a curious endorsement to say the least. Take a look at the video put together on the Huffington Post detailing all the very negative comments Trump has made about Romney in recent months.

Finally, harking back to another Romney gaffe on the campaign trail (when he said he "liked to fire people"), why do you want the endorsement of someone who's made much of his recent fame (besides being a very rich businessman and developer) by starring in a TV-reality show where he is constantly telling people on every episode: "You're fired!"?

None of these goofs by Romney will hurt him all that much on an individual basis, but collectively they could be very damaging over time. They are something the Romney team needs to work to prevent in the future (much as was done to improve the candidate's debate skills which played a key role in turning around Florida).    

I see Romney is already saying he "misspoke" in his "very poor" comments. Trying to end the ongoing controversy with an effort to apologize and clarify what he meant is probably a good move. That is if he doesn't goof again anytime soon. 

 STATE OF THE STATE

 Governor Bill Haslam delivered his annual State of the State address a few days ago (January 30). His theme was "believe in better" for Tennessee as he touted the state's low debt, low taxes and the increase in new jobs being created in the past year. To make Tennessee even more efficient, the Governor is now proposing structural changes in the state's hiring practices and in civil service. In the speech, he also talked about the reductions and consolidations he is proposing for several state boards and commissions. But from a news perspective, the Governor had already stolen much of his own thunder by unveiling many of these plans in his legislative package which was announced a few days earlier.

Still, he did still find some newsy things to unveil. That includes a budget that allows for a 2.5% pay raise for state workers and a long requested study to make sure salaries are competitive with similar jobs in the private sector. With improving state tax collections, the Governor recommends restoring $100 million in core services (largely for health and education), which had been scheduled to be on the chopping block this year. There is also enough additional money to fund new capital outlays for higher education, including the much-delayed new science building at MTSU and other facilities on campuses in all three grand divisions of the state.

The Governor also announced some additional layoffs and cutbacks in some areas, although these now appear to be more for priorities and policy reasons rather than just a lack of funds.

 It was interesting how the Governor said almost nothing in his speech about his new plans involving teacher class size and merit pay. It is also somewhat surprising to see how lawmakers are already trying to one-up the Governor in his efforts to cut the food tax on grocery. The Governor wants to see a very small reduction of .2% in the grocery sales tax this year, expanding it to a full half per cent in three years. But, according to the MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL (February 1), both Democratic and Republican leaders seem ready to work together to make the reductions even larger and take effect more quickly. And so you see the GOP's Glenn Casada and Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh working together to find common ground in this matter. Who would have seen that coming a few weeks ago?

It seems like Democrats and Republicans will clash over the Governor's proposal to sharply reduce and ultimately eliminate Tennessee's inheritance tax. The Democrats will try and make it look like the ongoing fight over taxes in Washington, saying the inheritance tax cut only benefits a few millionaires and not the average citizen. The Republicans (who easily have the votes to prevail) will counter by saying that our inheritance taxes are so high in the state it drives out the wealthy and family-owned businesses who like to live in Tennessee, but would rather die in Florida where the taxes are lower.

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

With all the talk about the state being more efficiently run and the General Assembly getting its business done and adjourning for good by the end of April, why did we need 1,641 new bills filed in the Legislature this year? That's according to Tom Humphrey of the KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL and dean of the Capitol Hill Press Corps.

A couple of the bills must have been filed tongue in cheek. They were put in by the House Democratic leadership. According to a story by Erik Schelzig of the Associated Press (January 31), it would require the General Assembly to meet only every second year (which it used to do years ago) and it would also place a cap on lawmaker's daily  expenses and require bill sponsors to divulge if their legislation originated with a national group.

The Democrats claim they are serious about the measures which they claim are good government measures and a way to try and save the state some money. Republicans see it all as "election-year games" pointing out the Democrats proposed none of this when they controlled the Legislature for many years. Speaking of playing politics (and when don't they on the Hill) there is also a Democratic proposal that would require all state lawmakers and their staffs to undergo periodic drug testing. Clearly this is a response to GOP lawmakers who are constantly proposing bills that anyone who receives any help from the state as welfare and food stamps be drug tested.            

And so it goes as the bills pile up.

But let me a take moment to heap praise on one state lawmaker for his actions this week. Republican State Representative Tony Shipley of Kingsport reportedly saved the life of a Dallas man when he collapsed in the lobby of a local hotel. Shipley was at the hotel with friends, saw what was happening and quickly used his skills as a paramedic until help could arrive. He is brushing off being hero. But nevertheless, he is.

 

 

 

OCCUPIED NOT MUCH LONGER

It's been coming ever since lawmakers got back to town in January. Many of them don't like the ongoing Occupy Nashville protesters being encamped on the Legislative Plaza.

So there are bills now moving through committees in both Houses to make camping on state property on a nightly basis illegal and lead to the Occupy encampment coming to an end. Floor votes could come as soon as next week.

The lack of rules and regulations in this regard has prohibited the Haslam administration from acting in the matter, especially after the federal court stepped in and issued a restraining order on any effort to remove them (following a botched effort by the Governor to arrest the Occupiers and take them to jail).   

Obviously the Occupiers don't like it, claiming the proposed new laws would limit their First Amendment rights. They've also send a letter to Governor Haslam saying they will respond if evicted by challenging the matter in court and by occupying the State Capitol; occupying other unspecified public properties (both abandoned and in-use); reclaiming foreclosed homes and occupying the restrooms of all Pilot Travel Centers. That last tactic could be very interesting indeed.

CLEANING UP ITS ACT

With congressional approval ratings still stuck at all-time lows, legislation appears poised to pass both Houses that will end the use of insider information for personal gain by members and staff on the Hill in Washington.

The proposal comes after an investigative story on CBS' 60 MINUTES which raised serious questions about whether some members of Congress were more interested in serving themselves financially by using insider information rather than serving the public. The new law when passed will also require more frequent reports on major financial transactions by members of Congress and allow those reports to be filed electronically.

The Senate has already approved the bill 96-3. The House is expected to follow suit although they might be passing an even stronger version of the bill which the House GOP leadership is drafting.

As usual, Congress needs to be careful not to make the perfect the enemy of the good. Already in the Senate there were unsuccessful efforts to add on lots of other amendments to deal with other perks and problems in D.C., such as ending earmarks and requiring members of the administration to do further disclosures. Some of these may be good ideas, but doing it through separate legislation is probably a better idea than passing some last-minute add-on to another bill.

 

 

 

NEW CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE

Last week I wondered if Rutherford County, now part of the new 4th congressional district, would have its own candidate this year.

With both its State Senators declining to run, it looked like the largest county in the district might not be represented in the congressional race.

But now I am told that prominent local Murfreesboro pharmacist and GOP activist Shane Reeves is strongly considering challenging incumbent first term GOP congressman Scott DesJarlais this summer. Reeves was strongly urged to run two years ago when Rutherford County was still in the 6th District and the seat was open because long time Democratic congressman Bart Gordon was retiring. He declined. But this time, sources say, it looks like Reeves is likely to get in the race.

INSIDE POLITICS

With our leaders touting America's future focus being in the Pacific, we sure have a lot of unfinished business in the Middle East these days. Our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week, Tennessee native (Memphis) Margaret Scobey knows a lot about that. She is the former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt and Syria.  She gives us her insights on what's going on in that part of the world, including the ongoing Arab Spring.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes 5:00 a.m. Sunday on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5. We can also be seen on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Our show times 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 airs on cable TV systems throughout Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky including Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel, 5.2

If you are outside the Nashville area, you can watch excerpts from previous INSIDE POLITICS shows right here on www.newschannel5.com.