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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 2, 2012

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 2, 2012

CREATED Mar 7, 2012

CAPITOL VIEW

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

March 2, 2012

SUPER TUESDAY/TENNESSEE VOTE LOOMS; INSIDE POLITICS; HONOR THE VET; GUNS IN PARKING LOTS SHOWDOWN; COUNCIL/MAYOR VERSUS CHAMBER

SUPER TUESDAY/TENNESSEE VOTE LOOMS

So here we are, just a few days ahead of Tennessee's chance on March 6 to have its say in the 2012 Republican Presidential race. Nationally, Mitt Romney is once again the frontrunner after winning in both Michigan and Arizona last Tuesday (the latest Rasmussen survey has him up 40%-24% over Rick Santorum, a huge turnaround from last week when Santorum was ahead).

Here in Tennessee, it looks like the former Pennsylvania Senator is going to win in a walk, with at least two statewide polls showing him ahead by close to 2 to 1. That lead might be surprising to some since Santorum has only spent about a day and half in the state and has run no TV ads (and neither has his Super PAC). It appears Santorum's strength with social conservatives and evangelicals, whose network is quite strong in church circles and in social media, is the key to his likely victory in Tennessee.

Overall, it appears Super Tuesday will be a wash nationally in terms of determining a nominee. The key battleground state seems to be Ohio where Romney and Santorum will battle it out (Rasmussen's latest report has it a tossup, Santorum 33%-- Romney 31%). Frankly, the proportional allocation of delegates is making it more difficult for a single candidate to emerge and so this fight may go on well into the spring and maybe similar to what happened in the 2008 Democratic race (Obama-Clinton) and the 1976 GOP battle (Ford-Reagan), it may take Super Delegates to decide it in the weeks leading up to the Republican convention (which should favor Romney).

As for the other candidates, Newt Gingrich has been active in Tennessee, spending a whole day in the Nashville area campaigning and raising money. He even has a statewide bus tour going on with one of his daughters and former candidate Herman Cain as the headliners (the candidate will not be board). The best scenario for Super Tuesday for Gingrich appears to be just hold on and win in his home state of Georgia (a Rasmussen poll has him up 12 points over Romney). As for Tennessee, after saying the state would be a key part of his strategy to stage a comeback in the race, about all he says now is that he hopes "to do well." I translate that to mean a surprise second over Romney or a close third so he can get a delegate or two.

Ron Paul hasn't been here at all, and seems to be continuing his strategy to pick up a delegate or two wherever he can and use them as leverage at the convention either to select the nominee or more likely have some impact on the party's platform.

The real signal that Santorum seems poised to win easily in the state is that Romney has not come here to campaign either. Ironically, his Super PAC has probably been the most active group on TV in the state (Gingrich's PAC has run ads too). But apparently those spots have done little to boost their candidates or cripple Santorum. While almost all the ads here have been of the negative or attack-variety in one form or another, I did actually see a Romney Super PAC ad that was completely positive about Romney and didn't attack anybody. The message, a testimonial by a father about how Romney helped find his daughter, missing for three days in New York City, was quite compelling and put a much needed warm and compassionate face on Romney, who continues to suffer in relating to voters.

Indeed there is a growing gloom among some national observers about the electoral outlook for the Republican field. Take for example, the well-respected Charlie Cook, who has a reputation for being a straight shooter in how he talks about politics. In a recent article (I read it on February 28 the day of the Michigan and Arizona primaries), Cook wrote: "My assumption was that Romney would be the nominee and would make a good run. Now I have begun to doubt both propositions. His odds of winning the nomination are growing longer. And even if he does, he has twisted and turned himself into a human pretzel. I'm not sure how electable he is. The alternatives, however, seem even less so."

Indeed, perhaps in part due to the overall negative tone to this GOP contest, turnout in Tennessee (as measured by early voting) appears to be down, as it has been across the country. But a recent Gallup still shows GOP voters more enthusiastic to vote in November than Democrats by a 53 to 45% margin. That means the strong desire of Republicans to oust President Obama may yet unite the Republican Party behind its nominee. But will independents and swing voters do the same? Remember neither party can win with just its own supporters. Independents and swing voters are where this race will ultimately be decided. Which is the reason why it is so silly and counterproductive for Romney and Santorum to be fighting in recent days concerning whether it's proper to try to attract Democrats and Independents to vote in states with open primaries.

There are also growing indications that the GOP may be hurting itself in attracting and keeping female voters. While a group of pro-life conservative women are bringing a bus tour through the state in support of Rick Santorum (including a stop in Nashville Friday morning according to Michael Cass of THE TENNESSEAN), GOP congressional leaders holding hearings on women's health issues and only have men to testify, plus the outrageous recent comments by conservative radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh calling a pro-choice supporter " a slut" for being in favor of free birth control access is likely to backfire, no matter how much GOP leaders seek to distance themselves.

Super Tuesday is going to be a very interesting night. So join Rhori Johnston and myself on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. for full coverage of what is happening in Tennessee and across the nation. We will also be reporting on some of the local judges' races and other elections in the area.

INSIDE POLITICS

With Tennessee getting its brief moment of fame in selecting the GOP Presidential nominee, just where do we stand nationally and where do Tennessee voters stand in making that choice? Once again, we are bringing back our political wise men to give us their insights on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend.

Our guests are Chip Saltsman, a Republican analyst and consultant; Larry Woods, a Nashville lawyer and Democratic insider; and Judson Phillips, the head of the Tea Party Nation.

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK, including 5:00 a.m. on Sunday morning on the main channel, WTVF-TV NEWSCHANNEL5. We are also shown several times on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, including 7:00 p.m., Friday; 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday, and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.

NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS is featured on several cable systems 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.

HONOR THE VET

One of the major issues facing Governor Bill Haslam's effort to reform the state's civil service system has been that his original legislation no longer gave veterans extra points in being hired by the state. In fact, the points system would be completely eliminated. In last week's column I called that getting rid of preferential hiring treatment. The Governor's communications director, Alexia Poe, send me an e-mail taking some issue with that and asked for a clarification.

Here's what her e-mail said in part: "Under our TEAM Act, the current points system that gives veterans extra points goes away, but under our proposal, veterans are guaranteed an interview (which they weren't in the past), so there is certainly "preferential hiring treatment."

OK, fair enough. I told Alexia I would report her comments. But apparently, the original version of the Governor's bill has not been enough to mollify some state lawmakers who have objected to the change. Now according to an on-line story by Tom Humphrey of THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL (February 29) , "an amendment passed Tuesday in the Senate State and Local Government Committee would require that, all things being equal, a veteran's service be the deciding factor when interviewing for open civil service positions. The amendment also ensures that veterans will continue to receive five year's worth of work experience credit for their military service when layoffs are considered." There is also language in the amendment that if a veteran is not hired for a state job he or she must receive a written notice they were not selected.

The bill with the amendment has now passed the full committee and is headed to the Finance Ways and Means committee for further consideration. And in a sign that this kind of "preferential treatment" for veterans is significantly helping getting the full bill passed in both houses, the amendment (apparently supported by the Haslam administration), has been praised by Democrats on the Hill who had been quite critical of the measure before. The NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL also reports (March 2) is also reporting that the Governor is also picking up key business support for his proppsal.

GUNS IN PARKING LOTS SHOWDOWN

It's a bill many Republicans have been trying to avoid this election year.

But it is coming up for a hearing and possibly votes in several legislative committees on the Capitol Hill in Nashville this coming week. The legislation would allow workers to store their weapons in their locked vehicles on any employer's property. It has strong backing from the National Rifle Association.

On the other side…in this nightmare fight for the GOP and other lawmakers….are many state business leaders, along with law enforcement and other associations such as the Farm Bureau and the Hospital Association. According to an article (March 2) by Andy Sher of the CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS, an 18-member coalition of such groups has sent a letter to all legislators calling the measure a "major infringement on private property rights." They add in the letter: "You cannot expand the rights of one person by restricting the rights of another….Under current law, private owners and employers have the authority to make rules on their own premises. But when it comes to guns, this legislation would take that freedom away."

Legislative leaders in the House have been seeking a compromise (even Governor Haslam has reportedly tried to help). But to no avail. In fact, John Harris, the Executive Director of the Tennessee Firearms Association has lashed out, labeling House Speaker Beth Harwell, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and GOP Representative Debra Maggart as an "axis of evil" on this 2nd amendment issue." His attack continues: "They are working to kill it (the bill) in order to appease Big Business—big money investors in the House leadership. Sadly for conservatives, this support is apparently based more on Chicago-style influence peddling for dollars rather than supporting bills based on conservative and constitutional principles that directly impact the citizens."

Ouch! These ought to be some very interesting hearings.

METRO VERSUS CHAMBER

The Metro Council has always jealously guarded its powers in the areas of land use and zoning. Anytime that's ever been challenged, it has generated strong opposition and push back by city leaders.

So that's why it seems both very interesting and quite odd that the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce is joining with some Republican leaders in the General Assembly to push statewide legislation to limit local powers regarding non-conforming properties and other zoning and land use issues just as creating special historic or other zoning districts without the consent of all property owners.

The Chamber seems to be responding to continuing complaints by some of its members and other business people that Metro's rules and regulations are both confusing and unnecessarily restrictive on an owner's property rights. But this legislation is also being pushed by the same Republican lawmakers who last year clipped Metro's wings by nullifying the anti-discrimination law passed the Council. It has also been inspired by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey's statewide "Red Tape" tour earlier this year when lots of complaints were made that local governments are often changing the rules in the middle of the game making creating new developments and jobs often quite difficult

But given the cast of characters involved (state versus metro) there was already some bad blood in the water before this current tiff. The Council has overwhelmingly approved a memorializing resolution opposing the state legislation and Mayor Karl Dean appears to be strongly on the Council's side. That makes matters even more dicey for the Chamber which is normally all but in lock step (at least publicly) with the administration on key issues.

At risk for the Chamber could also be the annual contract worth hundreds of thousands of dollars it has with the city to help with convention, tourism and economic development efforts. Some members of the Council have questioned and have not liked the large size of the contract in the past. This spat could give them support to oppose or cut the contract.

Politically, another question why the local Chamber has gotten out front on this matter, is that the bills pending in the General Assembly have statewide implications, it's not just local legislation impacting Nashville. So therefore several of the other major cities in the state are now stepping up to express their concerns and opposition to the bills, probably reducing the chance for passage before the Legislature adjourns for good by the end of April. But it's not likely Metro Council will forget that easily before they take up those Chamber contracts during Metro's budget making process later in the spring.