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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, April 13, 2012

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, April 13, 2012

CREATED Apr 13, 2012

CAPITOL VIEW

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

April 13, 2012

HASLAM'S HASSLES; THE MAIN EVENT BEGINS; COOPER AND THE BRAVE 38; STATE PARTY LEADERS ON INSIDE POLITICS; CUMBERLAND PARK AND NASHVILLE'S RENEWED LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE RIVER

HASLAM'S HASSLES

This is the first time Governor Bill Haslam has experienced the end of a two-year legislative session with the General Assembly (which should be over by the end of the month). It's always a stressful (some might say) "crazy" experience. To that end, I think we are seeing a little frustration on his part.

The Governor complained to a recent audience about how the media is covering the Hill (always a dangerous topic for an elected official). Not enough reporting the Governor says on the substantive bills he and other lawmakers are offering on issues such as revising the state's hiring and civil service rules, and too much coverage of what he calls the "crazy" bills regarding baggy pants, evolution, sex education, United Nations resolutions (and the list goes on and on).

The Governor is blaming the messenger. From what I've seen anytime his bills or other bills of substance have made headway (or been deferred or derailed in the Legislature) that action has been well reported. That includes approval of his civil service changes this week in the House and the Senate (a real coup for him on a very tough political issue, by the way). It's also true concerning the sales tax reduction on groceries and the ultimate elimination of the inheritance and gift taxes, both of which the Governor supports and appear headed for full legislative approval. His reorganization of state boards and commissions is also moving ahead towards approval passing by a large margin this week in the House. So the Governor's having a good session with his legislation overall (although his bill to allow school districts to waive class sizes was ditched as was an effort to keep details of economic incentive deals secret).

As for the "crazy" bills, sure they get coverage. Man bites dog is always news and voters need to know how lawmakers are spending (or wasting) their time in Nashville. After all, taxpayers foot the bill.

Most of these "crazy" bills seem to be coming from members of the Governor's own party. If he thinks they get too much ink and air time, maybe the best way to get rid of them is for the Governor to continue to use his office and position as a "bully pulpit" to encourage these proposals not be introduced or certainly not passed. He's done more of that this year and that's to his credit. But just because these issues are now beginning to appear on the Governor's desk for action, don't blame the media. They sure didn't get them passed.

That includes the bill regarding the teaching of science in Tennessee schools (allowing the questioning of theories such evolution & global warming). Governor Haslam recently allowed that measure to go into law without his signature. That's the first time he's done that. I hope he's not expecting any leadership awards for doing that from anybody involved with this controversy.

Given the weak position of all Tennessee governors in terms of veto powers (an override with just a simple constitutional majority is a joke), the Governor is right that it would probably be foolish to veto the measure. But by Governor Haslam's own admission, this now new law is not "good legislation" because it brings more "confusion" than "clarity". He also said this legislation will not make any real changes in "the scientific standards that are taught in our schools or the curriculum that is used by our teachers." Those statements are certainly good reasons not to sign the bill, but aren't they also good reasons not to allow the bill to go into law at all? It would appear the only justification offered for why this ought to go into our legal canons is that it was approved with "bipartisan support, passing the House and Senate by three-to-one majorities." That seems more a political reason to allow the bill to go into effect rather than a good public policy rationale.

That could become even more important with the news earlier this week that the very controversial "guns in parking lots" legislation, which has divided lawmakers and Republican constituencies like no other proposal this term, may still be alive, passing out of a Senate sub-committee. State legislative leaders had proclaimed it "dead", hoping that they could avoid a full vote in committee or on the floor of one or both chambers until at least next year (and a new General Assembly). But now the National Rifle Association (the strongest supporter of the bill) is even threatening to get this legislation pulled directly up to the House or Senate floors for a final vote if it gets stuck again in committee.

While opponents lump this bill among the "crazy" legislation this term, and the Governor himself once expressed grave concerns about the proposal, there is a suspicion that if this comes to an up or down vote, it will pass and perhaps again (in this election year) receive large majorities in both the House and Senate.

So what will Governor Haslam do if that happens and he has the final word (subject to a potential veto override) on the bill?

I told you the end of a two-year legislative session can be stressful, even "crazy." Keep watching, this could get very interesting.

THE MAIN EVENT

Just a few weeks ago, it was thought the GOP presidential contest might go into June before it was clear who the nominee would be. But not anymore, the nominee will be Mitt Romney.

With his closest rival Rick Santorum suspending his campaign, Romney can now start to re-unite his party and begin the main event of this presidential campaign cycle, taking on the incumbent, Democratic President Barack Obama.

That won't be easy, but it's more doable if Santorum is out of the race. Sure, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul are still in the field, but they haven't been serious threats for some time now, and Gingrich was talking about in his campaign in the past tense the other day. As for Santorum, as we debated on INSIDE POLITICS last week, he probably has left at the right time. First, his young daughter remains ill, and while she's out of the hospital now, her health had clearly become an ongoing distraction. Santorum clearly and rightly believes his family comes first. He could have stayed in to fight in his home state of Pennsylvania. But a defeat there looked more and more likely. Then he would been all but forced out of the race and had no legacy or leverage for the future even though the primary road would seem to go through more favorably states beginning in May.

But that would have further wounded the party. Now Santorum can be an honored party leader, who fought the good fight against Team Romney which has always had an overwhelming advantage in money and organization that finally bested the former Senator. But given some of the harsh things he (and his Super PAC) said about Romney in the past few weeks (especially the ad that morphed a photo of him into President Obama), don't look for Santorum to be too out front right away or be on the ticket as the Veep. An endorsement by Santorum of his former opponent is surely to come (he's reportedly already taken all the negative Romney stuff out his campaign web site), but there are likely too many embarrassing questions if he gets out on the trail for Romney right away.

COOPER AND THE BRAVE 38

It is interesting to note how the early campaign clashes between Mitt Romney and President Obama have been revolving around the federal budget (or lack thereof) in Washington, along with the growing federal deficit, which is now $15.6 trillion and growing about a trillion a year. Perhaps that's a hopeful sign some might think that both parties now understand that something must be done and soon to address this crisis.

But probably not

So far, both sides in Congress are holding show votes. The GOP-led House unanimously rejects President Obama's budget, then approves its own plan, which the Democratically-controlled Senate will reject. That's called gridlock, not a new condition inside the Beltway in recent years.

Even bi-partisan efforts to address the budget and deficit are going down in flames. Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper joined with his Ohio Republican colleague, Steven LaTourette to seek House approval of a budget based on a proposal from President Obama's fiscal commission issued back in 2010 (the Simpson-Bowles Commission). That Commission was a bi-partisan group too, but it has been pretty well abandoned by both parties and the President since its recommendations were announced.

Congressmen Cooper and LaTourette thought they had over 100 members convinced to vote with them on their budget. That's not enough for passage, but it would have sent shock wave through Capitol Hill. Then the opponents of the proposal and their lobbyists went to work. That includes Republican groups who could not support the tax increases the Simpson-Bowles budget requires and the cuts in entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare that most Democrats won't back.

Add it all up and the final vote was 382-38 against the plan. According to an editorial in USA TODAY (April 4), members of Congress "came around afterwards (the vote) to sheepishly apologize. One member told (Congressman) Cooper if he hadn't voted no, his favorite lobbyist would have been fired."

Congressman Cooper calls those who stuck with the bill "the brave 38." The vote clearly shows that as the Congressman jokes: "There are only two things in the middle of road (where compromises can be done in Washington) yellow lines and dead possums." You can add 38 members of Congress to that list, 22 Democrats and 16 Republicans who were willing to put country above politics (or a lobbyist's employment) to begin to address a ticking time bomb that is set to go off early next year.

You might remember when Congress settled the debt-ceiling controversy a few months back they put in place $8 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts over the next ten years. Those take effect on January 1, 2013 and while they may help deal with the deficit, they could sink the economy in the process.

The theory in Washington is to do nothing about this looming threat until after the election and leave it to a rump session of Congress (reading the tea leaves of the election results) to decide what to do. If that's not a continuing mandate for fiscal disaster I don't know what it is. Most in Washington privately believe the overall outline of the Bowles-Simpson plan is what the country will have to ultimately adopt to begin to solve our budget and deficit crisis and to avoid the random and crippling nature of the automatic cuts and tax hikes Congress has in place.

But zealots in both parties believe that their side will prevail overwhelmingly in the November election (which is not likely), and then their budget and deficit plan will prevail (again not likely). Says Congressman Cooper: "They'll stick to that until November 6. Then they'll wake up and realize it won't work."

What a way to run a railroad or especially the world's only remaining super-power! But that's Washington these days and that's the malarkey you'll be hearing from both parties on the campaign trail during the Presidential and congressional races this spring, summer and into the fall.

PARTY LEADERS ON INSIDE POLITICS

We will be discussing all these state and federal issues on INSIDE POLITICS this week. My guests will be the state party chairs, Chris Devaney for the Tennessee Republican Party and Chip Forrester of the Tennessee Democratic Party.

I think you will find it to be lively debate!

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes Sunday morning at 5 a.m. on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5.

The program also airs on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, including 7:00 p.m. Friday, 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday and 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., Sunday. THE PLUS airs on several cable systems throughout Middle Tennessee including Channel 250 on Comcast Cable, Channel 150 on Charter Cable and on NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2. Excerpts of this and previous INSIDE POLITICS shows can be found on WWW.NEWSCHANNEL5.COM under the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS segment of the web site.

CUMBERLAND PARK AND NASHVILLE'S RENEWED LOVE AFFAIR WITH THE RIVER

If you get the chance, come to the grand opening Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. for Nashville's new Cumberland Play Park. It's located near LP Field on the east side of the Cumberland River downtown between the Shelby Street Pedestrian and the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridges.

The park includes walking trails, a spray park (with water jets), green areas and other "nature-inspired play features" along with a kayak and canoe launch. A news release from the Mayor's office also says the park is "innovative" and "unlike any (other) in Nashville" also including "a stone climbing wall."

I had a chance to tour the facility the other day with MDHA Executive Director Phil Ryan (whose agency oversaw the construction). It is a real showplace which I think will be an instant hit with Nashvillians. It is also located next to the restored Nashville Bridge Company headquarters building which will be the new Metro Parks Headquarters. There will also be a new large restaurant facility there as well as other space that can be rented for events such as wedding receptions and parties. I think that will be very popular too, especially with the spectacular views that it (and the entire Cumberland Play Park) have of the downtown skyline. The facility ought to also ease the ongoing concern from some East Nashville residents that the "other side of the river" has often been shortchanged in downtown redevelopment activities (other than LP Field).

As Nashville continues its renewed love affair with the Cumberland River (from whence the city was founded in 1779 and which began with Riverfront Park's construction in the early 1980s), also don't miss what the city and MDHA are doing on Rolling Mill Hill and the old General Hospital property on the west side of the Cumberland. It's wonderful…a true transformation of that area.

The new workforce housing, the new office space in the old trolley barns and what is about to occur to create new studio and loft apartments for artists will completely remake this part of the river on the west side. Again, the views of the River from there are spectacular and the area now connects to the downtown greenway. It's worth a trip all by itself to see what is going on. It's a part of Nashville you may not have seen before or haven't seen for several years. But now you'll want to see it and visit it again and again.

Add this in to what is going on with the extension of the Gateway Bridge Parkway and the new Music City Centre and you will soon see the entire area of South of Broadway completely transformed in the next few years. There's even the new $400,000 renovation of the historic Ryman Alley downtown (where Grand Ole Opry stars used to slip out to get a bite to eat and a beer during breaks in the show). The new Alley is bound to give our tourists and convention visitors something else to see and take pictures of when they hit town.

Reports by THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL in its current edition (April 13) that the Medical Mart scheduled to take over the space of the current Convention Center may be "dead in the water' are troubling and could leave a big hole on Broadway. The Medical Mart developers dispute any demise and say they are now 40% leased and hope to soon have over 60% occupancy under contract so financing can be done.

So overall, the outlook for downtown and the rest of the city is bright, including TRAVEL AND LEISURE MAGAZINE naming Nashville as one of the "hippest cities" in the nation. It's as "hip" as I've ever known it in the 60 years I've lived here and it's wonderful to see the Riverfront becoming more of an attraction once again.