Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 10, 2012

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 10, 2012

CREATED Feb 24, 2012


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

February 10, 2012



We talked a lot this presidential campaign season about the many verbal gaffes that the candidates have committed from Rick Perry and Michelle Bachman to Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Rich Santorum and Mitt Romney. Just about all of them have made a big goof of the mouth.

But there can also be policy gaffes that can put a candidate and a campaign (in this case President Barack Obama) in a very difficult situation. And so it's been these last several days as the Obama administration has been trying to deal with the political firestorm that has erupted over a new federal mandate requiring religious groups to fully pay for birth control and other related procedures for their employees (exempting those who work directly for an actual church).

The U.S. Catholic Bishops took particular strong offense since this would directly impact the church's hospitals, schools and social services agencies. They've mounted a strong offensive calling for the new regulations to be rescinded because they are an affront to religious liberty as protected under the 1st Amendment. Now, sometimes in the past, statements by the Bishops have been more or less ignored by Catholics sitting out in the pews. But that didn't appear to be the way this matter was going. (full disclosure: I am a life-long practicing Catholic).

The Catholic vote was critical to Barack Obama becoming president in 2008, and he needs it again to win in 2012. So sensing a major political disaster quickly brewing (especially with Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail picking up the issue), the President has outlined a compromise. It would, he says, protect religious liberty but also ensure that women have access to free contraception. That would happen by employees of religious institutions being able to get free contraception but getting it directly through health insurance companies not through the church-owned or related institutions.

Will that sell as a compromise and begin to stop this controversy? As I write these words it's hard to say for sure, the response seems split from the bishops and other Catholic groups so far. Stay tuned, this issue, if it continues, could be critical in the fall campaign.



Just when you thought the 2012 GOP presidential nomination was headed towards Mitt Romney, the former governor has had another in a series of "bad weeks" losing all three of the most recent contests in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado. How bad was it? According to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (February 9) Romney did not win a single county in either Minnesota or Missouri. He also lost in Colorado, a state he won handily 4 years ago when he ran. Can you say Romney is a candidate having big trouble closing the deal with the conservative Republican base?

It was Rick Santorum who won in all three states, resurrecting a campaign that seemed headed for oblivion after belatedly winning the first contest of the year with the Iowa Caucuses in early January. With Newt Gingrich still struggling (although vowing to fight on) and Ron Paul concentrating more on winning some delegates and not winning the nomination, where are we now in this election cycle?

That's what we asked our panel of local experts we brought in to discuss the race this week on INSIDE POLITICS. That includes Republican Chip Saltsman, Democrat Larry Woods and Vanderbilt political science professor John Greer.

They seem to believe that Romney is still the most likely person to win the nomination (Woods is not completely sold) They also think that the struggle will continue at least through the Super Tuesday elections in 11 states on March 6. That includes our vote here in Tennessee, which for once means our state could really matter in the nominating process. Already I know there have been inquiries about ad availabilities here in Nashville (but no buys yet so far as I know). Maybe we will know something next week about ads and the candidates making campaign trips to Tennessee. That's when early voting begins. Our panel also believes that Rick Santorum has a great chance to win in Tennessee despite endorsements of Romney by Governor Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell.

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


Besides the presidential primary, one other big thing to monitor on our March 6th election day is how well the state and voters handle the new voter I.D. requirement when they come to the polls.

More than a few folks have raised concerns about voter confusion and other problems with the law. Now maybe even some of the Republican leadership that rammed the voter I.D. mandate through the General Assembly is having second thoughts.

According to an article by Andy Sher of the CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS (February 7), GOP House Leader Gerald McCormick is sponsoring legislation to allow employees of cities and counties to use their local government-issued IDs to satisfy the requirement. That is ticking off his leadership colleague, Caucus Chair Debra Maggart because some local officials she says might abuse the situation. That happened in Indiana Maggart claims and so that's why Tennessee decided its law would not allow that along with photo IDs issued by colleges and universities.

McCormick says he believes the voting process using IDs should be made "as simple as we can" and that's why he is proposing the change. It could also be a sign that some in the GOP are concerned they'll have a mess on their hands at the polls on March 6 and they are trying to position themselves to correct it before the August and November elections come around.


The No Child Left Behind legislation was clearly well intentioned and it likely did some good for students often ignored or indeed truly "left behind" in the past in seeking a quality education. But its use of strict deadlines and sanctions (failing schools and removing faculty) by invoking standards that did not make any sense doomed it to failure. That was particularly true in having immigrant students being forced to take critical tests in English even before they'd had time to learn that language.

So Tennessee is among the first states being allowed by Washington to get out of the No Child standards and come up with our own guidelines and procedures along the lines of what we outlined in winning the Race to the Top monies a couple of years ago.

That was during a time when it appeared everyone, including the political parties, teachers and school administrators were together on how to move ahead in education. That has not been true the last two years with bitter fights in the legislature over tenure and collective bargaining among other education-related issues. There also appeared to be more fights ahead with Governor Bill Haslam suggesting allowing local school systems to increase class sizes and have more flexibility on teacher pay. But according to an article in THE TENNESSEAN (February 10), the Governor may be having some second thoughts about that, at least in terms of class size.

After talking with teachers and other educators across the state, the Governor says he is concerned that rather than helping education, larger class sizes might become an excuse for laying off teachers. So he seems to be stepping back on that proposal which is likely a good idea.

But based on the sudden changes (and high level dismissals) made late last week in the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, the Haslam administration is sure not afraid to make changes and the Governor means it when he says he plans to pursue a "top to bottom" review of all of state government and its departments to make sure it is operating as effectively as efficiently as possible.


Tennessee and Nashville are losing one its best state lawmakers with the announcement of long-time State Senator Joe Haynes that he is retiring and not seeking re-election.

Haynes' district was one of many changed significantly by the GOP-led redrawing of the General Assembly. The Senator says he thinks he could still be re-elected if he ran again and that's not why he's leaving. He could be right, although his district is much more Republican than in the past.

Not surprisingly with an incumbent stepping down, lots of folks want to take his place. A CITY PAPER article by Joey Garrison (February 6) listed no less than 5 or 6 potential candidates (At-Large Council members Tim Garrett & Ronnie Steine, new 4th District Council member Brady Banks, former At-Large Councilman David Briley and attorney Kevin Doherty) looking to run as Democrats. Even Jeff Yarbo who lost a primary battle for Senator Doug Henry's seat in 2010 is on the speculation list.

The Republicans think they have a better chance than ever to win this 20th District seat, so there are a couple or more potential candidates lining up on that side too. They include Dr. Steve Dickerson who also lost a Senate bid to Doug Henry two years ago, along with former Metro Councilman Eric Crafton. There's probably not enough money and support for everyone to run, but this could shape up as the most interesting county race this summer and fall. In fact, according to an on-line article by Chas Sisk of THE TENNESSEAN (February 8), Dr. Dickerson is already running some radio ads which tout his conservative credentials and drive potential supporters to his campaign web site which is already up and running.

One last political election note, the Rutherford County pharmacist Shane Reeves who was looking strongly at challenging GOP first-term Congressman Scott DesJarlais in the new 4th District has decided, due to family considerations (young children), he will not run. That probably leaves DeJarlais with no strong primary opposition this summer.