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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 9, 2012

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 9, 2012

CREATED Mar 16, 2012

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

March 9, 2012

SUPER TUESDAY REFLECTION & A LOOK AHEAD; THE JUDICIAL SHOCKER; SOME GOOFS; CHAMBER BACKS DOWN; TAX BREAK TEST; END OF AN ERA; LT. GOVERNOR RAMSEY ON INSIDE POLITICS

SUPER TUESDAY REFLECTIONS & A LOOK AHEAD

 Despite a last minute flurry of polls indicating that the race has tightened to a toss-up, GOP Presidential candidate Rick Santorum easily glided to victory in Tennessee's presidential primary on Tuesday, March 6. As soon as I heard the (CNN) exit polling that 66% of Tennessee voters identified themselves as evangelical or "born again", I knew it was going to be a Santorum night.

The 9% margin looks even bigger when you take it county-by-county. Santorum carried 91 out of 95 counties, leaving rival Mitt Romney with only 3 (even less than 4 years ago when he also lost the state) and Newt Gingrich carrying just one county. Fortunately for them, both losing candidates did well enough statewide (over 20%) to share in the delegate allocation. That may be the only saving grace for Governor Bill Haslam (Romney's highest profile supporter in the state). He took something of a political black eye from the loss. As for those many state lawmakers who endorsed Romney (some of whom say privately they had felt pressured to do so), they now must defend that choice with supporters in counties that voted otherwise. So, it was a somewhat embarrassing night for them too, even though nationwide Romney did win (barely) the key battleground state of Ohio (dampening the night for Santorum) and he took 6 of the 10 primaries and caucuses overall on Super Tuesday, doubling his delegate count.

While it is becoming increasing difficult mathematically for his rivals to catch Romney, neither Santorum nor Gingrich are ready to drop out. Indeed they may give Romney some more "bad days" (which he warned his supporters about in his victory speech Tuesday night). That's because the next couple of primaries and caucuses are in primarily southern states (Kansas, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana) where Romney has not won. Florida doesn't count. It is southern only in geography. Ironically, Gingrich has won only in the south (including his own only Super Tuesday win in home state of Georgia). He must now continue to win in this region to stay viable (although to not to be considered strictly a regional candidate, Gingrich must also win soon somewhere outside the south).

Santorum is the only Romney challenger who has won in several regions of the country, but he has now missed several key opportunities to gain the upper hand on Romney, blowing big leads in the pre-election polls in both Michigan and Ohio. And he may have almost done it in Tennessee if you believe he was up as much as 2 to 1 as reported in some early polls. Santorum took a big chance not responding with his TV own ads to respond the TV attacks here in Tennessee by Romney's Super PAC. But he probably just didn't have the money to do that, and he likely benefited from an advantage in the early vote, which largely started before the Romney attacks began and took hold.

It all adds up to a continuing long journey for Romney to gain the nomination which still may stretch until the late spring or summer. And when it's over, after Romney reunites his party (and he will by and large with President Barack Obama as his opponent), will he be so far to the right on some issues ( such as women's health and immigration) that he can't attract enough independents and swing voters to win?

THE JUDICIAL SHOCKER
The most shocking election upset on Super Tuesday in Nashville came in the Democratic primary regarding the General Sessions judicial race to fill out the term of the late Judge Leon Ruben.

Rachel Bell, an energetic, young (34) African American attorney and a former star basketball player (Hillsboro High & Auburn) stunned interim judge and former Metro councilman Mike Jamison. She took an early strong lead and never gave it up.

Everyone I talked to said Jamison would win. He had the best support in the Nashville Bar Association poll, many current and former local elected officials (former Mayor Bill Purcell, almost all the Council At-large members and several Nashville state representatives) endorsed him, he raised plenty of money and had seemed to run a good race (including airing some late TV ads featuring his sons).

So what happened? Well, first Rachel Bell ran a good race too. She raised enough money to get her message out (direct mail pieces, other print advertising) and she worked very hard from all accounts. She also likely benefited from an active Republican primary to select their presidential candidate. My theory is that many folks in the legal community (and likely Jamison voters) thought he had it in the bag, so they spent the day supporting their presidential candidate, leaving Jamison waiting at the altar.

The progressive community in Nashville may have also been split. Bell got the endorsement of THE TENNESSEAN, which said the city needs more gender and racial diversity on the bench (there is only one African American women serving right now out of 11 General Sessions judicial posts). Add that to the fact that blacks and women have been running increasingly well in this county the last  few cycles, and the upset happened.

SOME GOOFS

It seems for the most part the elections in Tennessee went well, especially the first time around for Voter ID. That's good news and surprising to some (including myself) given the continuing public confusion over what kind of photo ID is OK and which is not.

The real test may not come until the November election which always attracts the largest voter turnout.

There are always goofs in elections and this time there were some "good" ones. The one that got the most publicity came when former Congressman Lincoln Davis was denied the right to vote in the town where he has lived for decades. Turns out the election commission there goofed and purged his voter registration because they thought he had moved and registered in another country. He is registered there but only for local elections because he owns property there. State law allows that and it does not invalidate any other voter registration where you live. The Republican-led election commission in Davis' home county now says it made an error which has been corrected.

Metro Nashville had its mistakes too. First, during early voting the Election Commission shut down voting on the Saturday of President's Day weekend. State law makes it clear early voting must include such Saturdays, so being closed was an error. The error is an odd one since the Voter Registar in Rutherford County more or less lost his job due to a similar error a couple of years ago. So you'd think Metro would know better.

Metro also goofed when it tried to send out information to assist voters on where to go to get a free photo ID. According to THE TENNESSEAN (March 9), the phone number listed was for a Bank of America call center servicing those with delinquent loans. Oops!          

 

 CHAMBER BACKS DOWN

Last week we talked about the support of the Nashville Chamber of Commerce for a bill pending in the State General Assembly to greatly restrict the powers of local governments in the area of zoning.

Mayor Karl Dean and especially Metro Council members did not like that one bit. So joining with other urban chambers across the state (who also got grief from their local lawmakers) the Nashville Chamber is now pulling back to take a neutral position on the legislation.

So that probably means the Chamber's annual city contract to provide services to enhance tourism and conventions in Nashville is secure for another year. Good timing with the new Convention Center now well on its way to completion and general tourism activity on the upswing. This would not have been a good time for our community's efforts in this area to be at risk because of an important, but unrelated, dispute.     

TAX BREAK TEST

When it was announced a few weeks ago, many in the city could not have been more excited. But now that Mayor Karl Dean has requested Metro Council grant a 60% property tax break for the planned water and snow park near the Gaylord Opryland Hotel & Convention Center (being built in conjunction with country music superstar Dolly Parton) I wonder if that will change?

There has been some unease in the Council about monetary incentives to private businesses to come and/or invest in Nashville. This new amusement park could mean (according to a THE TENNESSEAN article, March 9) more than 1,900 new jobs (direct and indirect) during construction, 1,800 permanent jobs, 500,000 visitors a year, $1.6 million in annual sales taxes and $60 million in annual "gross economic output." The property tax break also requires an investment of up to $50 million by the developers by 2015.

Sounds like a good deal to me. We will see what the Council thinks of this deal for "Opryland 2.0" in the next few weeks.     

END OF AN ERA

After 38 years in office, House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Nafieh is announcing his retirement. The Democrat Republicans hated the most (and tried to defeat) during his record 18 years as Speaker is leaving because redistricting by the GOP has now left him a district in which he likely can't get re-elected.

His leaving is the end of an era. Jimmy Nafieh came to the General Assembly about the same time I did in 1974. In those days Democrats (under then-House Speaker and later Governor Ned McWherter) ruled the roost, having much the same overwhelming advantage in numbers in both Houses that Republicans have today. Nafieh used that advantage when he became speaker in 1991 to rule with an iron fist, and if that meant being partisan, well that's what it meant.

Now he leaves with the Democrats in retreat, and the party in shambles. Some of that decline can likely be traced to some of his decisions, particularly to back the income tax with Republican Governor Don Sundquist. But it goes deeper than that. The Democratic Party is in trouble throughout the south, and Democrats continue to find it difficult to win elections with the candidates, policies and positions coming from the national party.

But as he announced his retirement a few days ago, Nafieh found respect and admiration for his service to the state of Tennessee, even from those who've wished him gone for years. Current GOP House Speaker Beth Harwell gave the gavel to the Speaker Emeritus to let him run a floor session of the House one last time. Republican Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey adjourned the State Senate, so members of both parties, several of whom served with Nafieh over the years, had time to come over to listen to the  speeches being made on the House floor to laud Nafieh.

While politicians and elected officials, especially of different parties, often fight like cats and dogs, there is many times a deep respect and even friendship among them on a personal level. They are all part of a unique fraternity/sorority that builds a special bond of shared experiences among them, even though they don't always show it or even admit that it exists.

LT. GOVERNOR RAMSEY ON INSIDE POLITICS

On a week chock full of politics in Tennessee, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS.

Among the many topics we touch on, he has some very nice words to say about Speaker Emeritus Nafieh, as well as sharing some details about all the personal calls he's received in recent weeks from the GOP presidential candidates seeking his endorsement. So far, he is still not committing to anyone, although he believes Romney will be the nominee eventually.

We also discuss many of the bills and controversies in the General Assembly from "guns in parking lots" to tax cuts such as the sales tax on groceries, the Hall Income Tax and the so-called "death taxes" in Tennessee  on estates and gifts. 

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, NEWSCHANNEL5. INSIDE POLITICS can also be seen on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS at 7:00 p.m., Friday; 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m. Saturday; 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m., Sunday. NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS airs on several cable systems throughout Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky, including Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150, and on NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

Excerpts of this and previous INSIDE POLITICS shows can also be found here at www.newschannel5.com