Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 17, 2012

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 17, 2012

CREATED Feb 24, 2012


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

February 17, 2012



Early voting has begun for our presidential preference primary to culminate on Election Day, Tuesday, March 6. So is this finally Tennessee's chance for a moment of fame in selecting a presidential nominee? Perhaps, but our moment in the spotlight for Super Tuesday could come late and go by quickly. Here's why it looks that way right now.

So far only the Super PAC affiliated with Mitt Romney has come to Tennessee and purchased air time for commercials (and I am told they are purchasing more next week). After losing all three primaries and caucuses on February 7 to Rick Santorum (and just barely squeaking by Ron Paul in the week-long Maine caucus) Team Romney seems to be deciding to use its huge advantage in money and organization by trying to compete everywhere it can (and that could be in a lot of places on Super Tuesday with 9 othee states besides Tennessee holding elections that day). The questions are will the Romney campaign itself buy TV time here or make any candidate appearances?

As for Romney's rivals, Newt Gingrich who mentioned the Volunteer State a couple of weeks ago as a "key element" in his "southern strategy" to revitalize his campaign, has so far only asked for TV rates in some local markets, making no buys yet (although that could change in an instant). The same for Santorum, although I have not heard his campaign has even looked at TV ad rates here.

Gingrich is set to come to Tennessee on February 27 for a fundraiser in Franklin and perhaps to meet with the media. Santorum is coming to Chattanooga on February 25 to speak to a Tea Party Forum. Without spending any time or money here, the latest poll (American Research Group) shows the former Pennsylvania Senator ahead in the Volunteer State with support from 34% of those responding to 27% for Romney, 16% for Gingrich 16% and 13% for Paul.

I would predict that Santorum's support is coming from the same groups of voters he has enlisted in other states, specifically social conservatives and evangelicals. They tend to build their political support with effective, but lower profile efforts, on the internet and social media and along with church networks.

Why the overall slow start for the GOP candidates in Tennessee? Opportunity for Santorum and protecting home turf for Gingrich might be among the reasons. Polls in Michigan (which holds its primary February 28) show Santorum with a chance to upset Romney in his boyhood home state where his father was once governor and a major business leader in the auto industry. Frankly, a Michigan loss would be disastrous for Romney and might even knock him out of the race and force a brokered GOP convention. So, with more limited resources, you can bet Santorum will put all the time and money he can in Michigan and therefore may not concentrate much in Tennessee until after the end of the month (or if he decides Michigan is no longer in play for him). The same is true for Romney who seems to be spending all his candidate time there these days. He may need to add Arizona to that list as the latest Rasmussen poll shows that race (February 28) tightening with Romney now leading only 39% to 31% over Santorum.

As for Gingrich, polls in his home state of Georgia show he is being challenged. A loss there on March 6 would all but scuttle his chances for good. So given his even more limited financial resources than Santorum, the Gingrich brain trust will have to invest their time very wisely to do well. That could mean Tennessee may not get a whole lot more than his visit set for February 27, and even that could be rescheduled or scrubbed as circumstances change on the campaign trail in other Super Tuesday states. Right now, Gingrich appears to be making most of his campaign appearances in other Super Tuesday states such as Ohio.

So enjoy what you can of the political limelight for Tennessee (if you enjoy that kind of thing). And remember, especially given this wacky political year, it could all change completely in a heartbeat!


After spending several days lambasting President Barack Obama's new budget as a "re-election" ploy and not good policy to move the country forward, Congressional Republicans are now backtracking more than a little bit, conceding to the President and Congressional Democrats that the payroll tax cut (about to expire again the end of the month) needs to be continued for the rest of the year even if that means adding to the massive national deficit.

The Republicans are also supporting a modified extension of unemployment benefits and once again delaying cuts in Medicare payments to doctors. Those ongoing costs are being offset by other cuts in the federal budget, but the GOP's willingness to agree with the President and Democrats took some on Capitol Hill off guard.

After months of fighting and gridlock on these issues, why is the GOP conceding? Simple, the President and the Democrats have won the battle for public opinion. While both sides have been hurt by this tussle, it's the Republicans who have taken the greater hits and they know if it happens again (and especially if the payroll tax cut expires, they will get blamed for taxes going up in an election year). Even the latest Rasmussen poll (usually considered a Republican leaning survey group) indicates 52% of the public says it better for the GOP to work with President Obama than stand on principle. Enough said.

With Congress, of course, taking action just before its goes off on recess for the President's Day Holiday, it appeared at times this "bi-partisan compromise" could still fall apart including late reports of problems in the Senate. But it passed in both Houses by wide margins. For sure some Tea Party-related congressmen and senators didn't like it. Even some Democrats such as Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper voted no when the House approved the measure. Cooper, a renowned fiscal hawk, is opposed because the measure will add more than a $100 billion to the deficit just for the rest of this year.

But for the GOP, to me this latest retreat is another sign of a party in deep turmoil, still not sure of exactly what it wants to do in terms not only of a presidential nominee but also its legislative strategy between now and November.

In this regard, there is even more ominous news for the Republicans in the latest CNN poll. It shows the GOP's advantage in enthusiasm among its voters over the Democrats has now vanished and the "country on the right track/wrong track "question has shown a 15% improvement (in the President's favor) since November. However, it should be noted that 6 out of 10 surveyed still believe the country is going in the wrong direction.

Still the President's approval numbers have inched back above the 50% level in the CNN poll and he defeats all the GOP candidates in head-on-head races (51%- 46% over Romney, 52%-42% over both Santorum and Paul, and 55%-42% over Gingrich. President Obama also has an edge among the critical independent vote in all those poll pairings.


A couple of years ago when the Tennessee General Assembly was much more evenly divided politically than it is now, word that a lawmaker might be changing parties would be front-page news and have the halls of the Legislature rift with rumor and speculation.

But apparently, that's not true now. According to a story by Erik Schelzig of the Associated Press (February 14) Republican House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga (already with 64 members in his caucus) is "cool" to the possibility of Democratic Representative Eddie Bass switching over and running as a Republican this summer. McCormack says "he is satisfied with (the) potential GOP candidates considering a bid in House District 65," adding, "I'd rather he'd stay where he is, to tell the truth. He's not doing himself any favors running that gun bill."

That bill is one backed by the National Rifle Association that would guarantee workers the right to store their firearms in cars parked on company lots. Many powerful business interests strongly oppose the measure saying it would interfere with their rights to set rules on their own property. It's apparently a measure GOP leaders don't want to anything to do with in an election year, or possibly welcome into their party, the bill's main sponsor.

Bass says he will make up his mind as late as the qualifying deadline in April to decide under what party label he will seek re-election.


150 years ago this week, Tennessee lawmakers and the Governor were headed for the hills (actually Memphis) as Nashville was about to fall to Union forces during the Civil War. It was a time of complete chaos in the city and perhaps our darkest hour, as Nashville was about to enter into the longest occupation ever endured by an American city…three-plus years long.

Nashville's official County historian, Carole Bucy joins me on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend to look back on this tumultuous period and the impacts it still has on our area today.

This is a little bit of a different topic for our show, but I think you will find the discussion fascinating.

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NEWCHANNEL5. We can also be seen on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS with show times 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 found on several cable networks throughout Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky including Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

If you live outside the Nashville area, don't forget excerpts from this and previous INSIDE POLITICS shows can be found right here on www.newschannel5.com


There are Civil War-type echoes even now in the current session of the Tennessee General Assembly.

According to an article by the Dean of the Capitol Hill Press Corps, Tom Humphrey of THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL (February 14), a House Judiciary sub-committee was recently debating a bill that would require federal agents to notify local authorities before coming into the state to make arrests. This seems to have some support in the wake of the federal raid involving Gibson Guitar a few months back.

But supporters say it is really just the next step of previously successful efforts in the Legislature to curb an overreaching federal government. This has already been done they say through legislation passed last year to preempt the new federal health care law from taking effect in Tennessee, and as well as legislation approved which says federal gun laws cannot be enforced in the state if the weapon involved was made within Tennessee and never taken outside the state.

But during an hour-long debate before the bill was deferred for possible amendments, lawmakers raised questions about whether it is wise for Tennessee to nullify federal law. Maybe what got everyone's attention in this legislation is that this federal agent's notification bill makes it a Class E felony if the notification doesn't occur, punishable by one to six years in prison if convicted.

Nullification, particularly over the issue of slavery, was a major part of the North versus South battle prior to the Civil War. But its historical roots go back even further to battles in the 1820s and 1830s over tariffs. South Carolina, led by then former Vice President and later Senator John C. Calhoun, carried the nullification fight as the Palmetto State tried to exempt itself from the federal tariffs. He was opposed by Tennessee's most famous President, Andrew Jackson who thundered in a famous toast offered in a response to an equally challenging toast by Calhoun at a Washington event: "Our federal union, it must and shall be preserved." Knowing Jackson's steely determination and likely willingness to use federal troops to enforce the law, Calhoun and South Carolina backed down.

And so while the issues change a bit, fights between our state and federal governments over jurisdiction do not abate even 150 years after we fought a war over it.


I am hearing more names on the GOP side for the 20th District State Senate race to take the seat of Nashville's Joe Haynes, who is retiring. Apparently ready to join Dr. Steve Dickerson are long-time GOP activist and fund raiser Scooter Clippard along with Lipscomb graduate and former Young Republican activist Rob Mortensen. Mortensen was also an active member of Governor Haslam's campaign committee in Davidson County two years ago.

The potential field for the Democrats has almost certainly gotten smaller by one candidate with Metro Councilman Brady Banks' shocking arrest as a part of a prostitution sting. Still there are plenty of candidates likely to tee it up on both sides to make this a very interesting race both this summer and into the fall.

One other longtime Nashville Democratic state representative not seeking another term on the Hill is Janis Sontany, who says she wants to spend more time with her family. Her district was also changed quite a bit in the recent redistricting done by the Republicans. It still remains a district that leans Democratic but it may also contain so many new voters that Sontany decided not to seek election one more time. Like all these open seats, you can be sure plenty of potential candidates will be coming out of the woodwork to assess their chances to win.


Those in the Metro Council still pressing for County Clerk John Arriola to step down or repay those folks he married and charged an inappropriate $40 fee (according to an audit by the State Comptroller) for his services, may have a new problem coming out of the Brady Banks arrest.

While the charges are vastly different, council members may be reluctant to vote to take a stand on Arriola's issue without also dealing with what to do (if anything) regarding Banks' new legal problems (ask he step down, censure?)

So while the Council is still trying to figure out what it wants to do about one of its own, that may mean still more deferrals on the Arriola legislation while everyone waits to see what District Attorney Tory Johnson will do with the County Clerk's case.


The Occupy Nashville protestors are likely in their final weekend on Capitol Hill before state lawmakers give approval to make camping out illegal on state property (to the tune of a fine of $2,500 and nearly a year in jail). The House has already overwhelmingly approved the new law with some 70 yes votes while the Senate is expected to concur next Thursday (February 23).

Those harsh penalties may be the reason some of the Occupiers have already split with the number of tents on Legislative Plaza down to less than half of what it was last fall when these protests began. Governor Haslam says he will sign the new bill when it reaches his desk, although he wants his legal team to review before any evictions begin. You'll remember how embarrassed the state was when state troopers and other law enforcement officials arrested and removed the Occupy protestors (and some reporters) last October only to have a Metro magistrate and a federal judge throw the cases out of court and impose a restraining order on any further evictions before the state went through the public process of approving new rules and regulations concerning public use of the Plaza and other state property.

Governor Haslam has indicated he still prefers pursuing that process even though it is going quite slowly. So it could be a while, if ever, before the new law passed by the General Assembly is enforced by state officials. Having made their point, it seems most Occupiers are packing up their pup tents, and while some vow to remain to be arrested and challenge the constitutionality of the new law, it appears most protests in the future may be done by 24/7 protestors who may carry signs or chant but don't pitch tents or sleep over.