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Capitol View Commentary: Thursday, May 3, 2012

Capitol View Commentary: Thursday, May 3, 2012

CREATED May 3, 2012

CAPITOL VIEW

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

May 3, 2012

A TEST OF LEADERSHIP AND SALESMANSHIP; MAYOR DEAN ON INSIDE POLITICS; SINE DIE; TWO YEARS LATER COME THE LAWSUITS; AN INCUMBENT'S ADVANTAGE

A TEST OF LEADERSHIP AND SALESMANSHIP

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean knows a challenge of leadership when he confronts one.

His calm, cool-under-pressure courage and take-charge attitude during the May 2010 Flood were major factors in our city weathering and ultimately triumphing over the most difficult crisis it had faced since the Civil War.

While he didn't come out and make any direct comparisons, I couldn't help but think back to those Flood days (two years ago this week) when the Mayor outlined his requested 53-cent property tax increase during his annual State of Metro address. Proposing and passing tax increases are among the toughest things a mayor has to do. I know. I've been there. I had just come to work with Mayor Richard Fulton back in 1985 when the task was to get a property tax hike through the Metro Council, something which had failed just the year before. This time we succeeded, but not without a lot of hard work. Nobody likes to pay more taxes. So building support (and getting 21 votes in the Metro Council) is never easy.

But, after months of being coy about what he planned to do, and after five years in office when the Mayor felt the local economy and other circumstances would not allow for higher taxes, he was quite blunt throughout his State of Metro speech about what is at stake.

Read through these passages:

"It's a choice between doing what it takes to keep our city strong, or letting our city fall backward….Our city has another pivotal decision to make.(It's) a decision that will alter our course for decades to come. Do we continue our forward momentum? Do we continue to invest in these critical areas (funded by the tax hike)? Or do we risk falling backward? Do we risk derailing our city from its path to greatness?"

"Without it, we could lay off 200 police officers, 200 firefighters, 200 teachers, close all four regional community centers, all five regional libraries---and still not come close to making up even half what the tax adjustment will generate."

Wow! If those things happened due to a natural disaster, there is not much doubt in my mind the community would respond strongly to do whatever it takes for the city to recover much as it did after the May 2010 Flood. But this is about a tax increase, so it will take more than just strong words or scary predictions which some will interpret as threats.

It will take not just leadership but salesmanship. Mayor Dean will have to sell his plan and his vision to the Metro Council and to the community at large over the next two months. I know if you've hear the Mayor speak, he's been selling Nashville and his vision for it ever since he came into office. He has built a successful brand around his three-priority approach of emphasizing public education, public safety and economic development. But now the rubber meets the road. He's got to convince Council members and leaders in the community to buy in and build a joint vision for what he means when he says: "A city has to have enough confidence in itself to invest in itself." In a way, he did this to gain approval for the new convention center. But that project is different since the funding was not from property taxes and that made some difference in getting the Council's OK.

The Mayor's put his vision on the line and most observers at the Metro Courthouse believe he is on his way to getting the votes he needs in the Council for approval. But he must make his plan "we" not "I" and he must be as flexible (compromises) as possible and prudent to build the coalitions necessary for success. Being stubborn or possessive could create a lot of problems. We are in somewhat new territory with this tax hike request. We haven't had a tax increase in 7 years (2005). That's a long time, perhaps among the longest in Metro's 50 year history. While it won't require a public referendum under the Charter amendment, it is also the first such tax request since the Great Recession and the general rise of strong public opposition to government in general and taxes in particular in this country.

Passing a tax hike is doable I think, but it won't be easy.

MAYOR DEAN ON INSIDE POLITICS

Mayor Dean is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. In our conversation we get down into the details of what he is proposing in his budget and tax increase and why.

We'll also discuss some other major issues facing Metro these days that aren't directly a part of the budget.

I plan to bring Council leaders on the show in the near future to get their take about the budget and taxes, as well as representatives of those in the community  who are organizing against the tax hike proposal.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5. We are also on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Our show times include 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 can be seen on several cable TV system 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.

If you don't have cable access or live outside the viewing area, you can see excerpts of this week's and previous INSIDE POLITICS shows here on www.newschannel5.com. Just go to the site and click on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS and you can find the links there.

SINE DIE

They're gone.

The 107th General Assembly is over, adjourned sine die.

You can take the fine china and silverware out of hiding. You can let the women folk move around freely again.

They're gone and are not likely to come back to Nashville until another bunch gets elected in November and comes to town next January.

The lawmaker's second session this winter and spring took a little longer than the GOP leadership wanted, not finishing until the second day in May, instead of getting through in April as they predicted would happen. Nevertheless it was one of the quickest legislative gatherings in recent years (the earliest adjournment since 1998).

And it sure wasn't dull especially the last couple of weeks.

Governor Bill Haslam came away pleased. He should be. He got just about everything he wanted from lawmakers including: historic changes in the state's civil service and hiring system along with a major reorganization of state government involving several of its agencies and commissions. There was also tax relief (reductions in the grocery and estate taxes with lawmakers ending the gift tax too); tougher laws on gang violence, prescription drug abuse and repeat domestic violence perpetrators.

Lawmakers also rewrote the state's school accountability system to replace No Child Left Behind. In fact, they passed and considered so many education-related bills (a part of a raft of hot-button social issue legislation put before them), that you might have thought the General Assembly was a school board not a legislative body. That included cracking down on baggy pants (Governor Haslam once labeled it among the "crazy" bills but signed it into law anyway) as well as a science bill the Governor allowed to go into law without his signature granting teachers the right to present creationism and evolution as equal theories as well as arguments for and against global warming.

New laws like that along with a bill passed late in session to require drug testing for those seeking welfare assistance have already gotten the state quite a bit of negative national publicity along with the "Don't Say Gay" bill aimed to keep teaching about gays out of sex ed classes in elementary and junior high. That's even though the state doesn't have any sex ed classes in those grades. Go figure.

Despite a late push, "Don't Say Gay" did not pass. So did some other interesting bills. Changes in the qualifications for a lottery scholarship died late in the session because it looks like lottery ticket sales are up and so are reserves.  The most controversial bills, guns in parking lots and guns in trunks, never came to a final showdown, as the legislative leadership, caught in the middle between guns-right advocates and property-rights advocates, managed to bury the legislation in a summer study committee, and the National Rifle Association, after threatening to do so, never attempted (didn't really have a 2/3 majority?) to pull the bills directly to the floor for a vote. Look for both the guns and lottery issues to return next year.

There is still some other unfinished business, especially for the Governor, dealing with the massive number of bills passed by lawmakers late in the session. A little more than 24 hours after the General Assembly adjourned the Governor exercised the first veto of his term (some would say finally). It concerns a bill passed by legislators to ban state colleges and universities from having an "all comers" anti-discrimination rule for campus organizations. What bothers the Governor was applying the bill to Vanderbilt University, which already has already has a controversial "all comers" rule (except interestingly for fraternities and sororities). The Vandy policy has stirred up quite a bit of opposition, particularly from religious groups. Through a late amendment, the bill passed by the General Assembly seemed to single out and warn Vanderbilt about its rule and indicated it could lose state health care money if it isn't changed in the next year.                   

So the Governor saying the state shouldn't interfere in what private institutions do vetoed the measure. He is also reviewing another sex education proposal that lawmakers approved. It would strengthen the state's "abstinence" instruction to include avoiding "gateway activities" such as hand-holding. I'll make one suggestion to the Governor while he ponders that measure and other bills. If he's not happy with them, veto them. Letting them just go into law (such as the bill limiting the number of foreign nationals that can work in a charter school) seems a weak response. Besides, a veto now is a bit different. Lawmakers are gone and the chances they will be called back for a veto override session are very remote.   So use what's called your "pocket veto" power, Governor. This time you won't have to worry that it normally takes just a majority vote to override your veto stamp. Try it….you might even like it.

And so lawmakers head home to retire or campaign for re-election in the new districts they made for themselves earlier this year. Most political observers believe the Republicans did well politically in redrawing the lines for the first time ever. The result should be even larger majorities for the GOP next January (above 2/3 control in each house and maybe even a quorum proof majority).

That could create even more uncomfortable legislation for Governor Haslam to deal with next year. But surprisingly with the votes seemingly there for approval, why in the late hours of the session did lawmakers drop a bill to loosen the fund raising laws governing PACs and insurance companies? It may not make complete sense, but one of the sponsors, Representative Glenn Casada explained it this way to THE TENNESSEAN (May 2): "I could just tell, everyone was done, just done. You just don't push people more than when they're done. They're done."

Sounds to me like a pretty good way to sum up the 107th General Assembly. They're done.

 

 

TWO YEARS LATER COME THE LAWSUITS

For many years to come, the first few days of May will always be a time to look back and remember the tragedy (11 deaths) and the triumph (the outpouring of community spirit and help) Nashville experienced two years ago when the great Flood enveloped us. 

And while it is getting harder with each passing month to find flood-ravaged areas, they are still there, with people who need our assistance.

But as we pass the second anniversary of the Flood, I was also struck by the run to the federal courthouse that has now occurred. Maybe the statute of limitations is about to run out. Regardless, a number of major businesses damaged in the Flood (Gaylord Opryland, Nissan, Verizon, among others) have filed suits in federal court seeking damages from the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Weather Service for not doing their jobs correctly and in not warning the community about the severity of flooding that was about to occur.

These are charges and arguments that raged through the city in the weeks and months that followed the Flood. It will be interesting to see the proof put on by all parties if the cases go to trial. I never bet on the outcome of a lawsuit….and each takes on a life of its own is my experience. But I will say winning a case like this in the court of public opinion is one thing, winning it in a case against the federal government (the sovereign) in a court of law is something else entirely.

It's not the only interesting lawsuit now in the federal courts regarding Nashville. So is the desegregation case challenging the current school assignment plan. After nearly three years of preliminaries, it's been given class action status and hearings are on going on in court as I write these words (even Mayor Dean has been asked to testify). Nashville spent almost 50 years in court trying to get desegregation right. We will see soon in the eyes of the court if we still do.

AN INCUMBENT'S ADVANTAGE

When you run against an incumbent President, there are certain advantages the person in office has that a challenger just has to deal with going forward.

The President has the power to command the public and media spotlight anytime he chooses, particularly in the area of foreign policy. So Mitt Romney, the nominee-apparent for the Republicans in 2012, needs to be careful how he complains about how President Barack Obama has capitalized on the one-year anniversary of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. 

The President going to Afghanistan to sign a new agreement with that country about our future relationship with that nation seems to be an appropriate way to mark that one-year anniversary. Sure it underscores perhaps the single most important foreign and military affairs victory for the Obama administration, but that's the way it works in government and politics if you risk it all and are successful. We already know what happens to Presidents when he holds an event and says "mission accomplished" when it isn't.

Now that's not to say President Obama and his team haven't run a few victory laps and appeared to spike the ball a bit on the campaign trail regarding the takeout of Bin Laden. But it's not a good idea for Mitt Romney to say "even Jimmy Carter" would have made the decision to go after and kill the Bin Laden. Anyone who has read or seen the inside stories now coming out about this matter, knows how close a call it was, and how many good advisors to the President were split in their advice to him about what to do.

Mitt Romney has a disadvantage in running for President with his lack of foreign affairs experience. He shouldn't reveal his lack of knowledge and background in this area by making some of the statements he's making, and he should be glad that the race is likely to turn more on the state of the economy not the diplomatic aplomb he's showing.  Taking out Osama Bin Laden was a victory for all Americans and the entire world period. Denigrating a former President to score political points with your base is beneath someone who aspires to be President.