Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 11, 2012

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 11, 2012

CREATED May 11, 2012


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

May 11, 2012



With President Barack Obama now fully "evolved" into a supporter of gay marriage the political question is: Will his support be an historic political masterstroke or an election year blunder? The signals are mixed.

One of the one hand, 30 states have now adopted constitutional amendments recognizing marriage as being between one man and one women, essentially outlawing gay marriage and in some cases even civil unions. That includes North Carolina which voted to do that just a few days ago (May 8). That's a particularly significant state politically since the President narrowly carried it four years ago, and wants to carry it again this November. To nominate him for a second term, the President is also holding his party's national convention in North Carolina's largest city, Charlotte. Given the state's vote to change its constitution and the President's announcement in support of gay marriage coming within days of each other, the two now seem a bit of an odd couple to be matched up politically this summer.

On the other hand, the public polling on the issues of gay marriage and gay rights have been changing. No longer is it a 3 or 4 to 1 majority against. Now it's closer to a 50-50 proposition or in some polls it's even a bit positive in favor of gay marriage. Blacks seem more favorably inclined than in the past and several states in the Northeast (along with Iowa) have passed laws recognizing and/or allowing gay marriage.

So while the White House has insisted that the way the President's announcement came down on this topic was not orchestrated, you sure have to wonder. It began with Vice-President Joe Biden expressing his support on MEET THE PRESS last Sunday, followed by the Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan doing the same the next day and then finally the President. Does the Obama administration have some preliminary polling that shows this move will ultimately help the President more than hurt him? If not, why in the world would he make this move now? To fulfill a long neglected pledge that the gay community felt he made back in 2008?

Clearly this is an issue where the President and his likely GOP challenger, Mitt Romney have a major difference of opinion and policy. It is also an issue that will fire up each party's respective bases. Which way will the issue cut? Which candidate will it benefit? Again, the signals are a bit mixed.

Can Romney make gay marriage an issue that will allow social conservatives to finally warm up to his candidacy? Will recent news reports about Romney's "high jinks" as a high school boarding student  apparently bullying at least one fellow student (who later revealed he was gay) create any ongoing image problems for his campaign even after he has apologized for his long-ago actions?

As for the President, will his gay marriage decision reinvigorate supporters (particularly the youth vote) who have seemed a bit more jaded about him this time? Many of those against gay marriage are likely already going to vote against Mr. Obama regardless, based on a number of issues, and this just gives them another good reason to do so. For the President, it may bring more of his 2008 supporters to the polls, folks who otherwise planned to sit at home. So there could be some advantage there for the incumbent (although this year around the world it's not shaping up to be a good year for incumbents at all). 

It will be interesting to see what the polls show about this in the coming days, especially how this issue plays in the dozen or so swing states that will likely ultimately decide the election in November. I still believe the economy will drive the overall vote, but issues like gay marriage and national health care could be wild cards in the deck too.


For 36 years, Republican U.S. Senator Richard Lugar was a political icon in Indiana. He was so strong that he was sometimes not even opposed for re-election by Democrats.

He was considered a leading expert in Congress on foreign policy as well as someone with a strong conservative voting record.

But Lugar was "moderate" enough that he was open to working with the "other side of the aisle" on some issues. That included voting for President Obama's Supreme Court nominees and other administration efforts regarding immigration and energy He even defended earmarks. All that became a major part of his downfall this election season. Last week (May 8) he lost re-nomination to serve a 7th term in the Senate to a Tea Party candidate, Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock.

Lugar is now the latest "RINO" (Republican in name only) to be hunted down by the Tea Party and voted out of office.  And while Democrats see an opportunity to win this Senate seat in the fall, Senator Lugar sees something else and gives this warning to his potential GOP successor:

"He (Mourdock) has pledged his support to groups whose prime mission is to cleanse the Republican Party of those who stray from orthodoxy as they see it. This is not conducive to problem solving and governance. And he will find that unless he modifies his approach, he will achieve little as a legislator. Worse, he will delay solutions that are totally beyond the capacity of partisan majorities to achieve." (If you don't believe Senator Lugar, just watch Congress and see how even when the members agree on issues such as keeping interest rates on student loans from doubling come July, they can't find any common ground on how to pay for it).

And Senator Lugar adds this: "I don't remember a time when so many topics have become politically unmentionable in one party. Republicans can not admit to any nuance in policy on climate change. Republicans members are now expected to take pledges against any tax increases. For two consecutive presidential nomination cycles, GOP candidates competed with one another to express the most strident anit-immigration view, even at the risk of alienating a huge voting bloc."

But while Senator Lugar has his points, he made it easy for his opponents to portray him as out of touch with voters in his home state (he didn't even live there anymore). Therefore he was easier to beat, especially being a long term fixture in Washington in an anti-incumbent, anti-Washington election year            

There is speculation (TENNESSEAN on-line article, May 10) that Lugar's demise could be a political boon for Tennessee's Bob Corker. Corker is the second ranking GOP member on the prestigious Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That's mean Corker (if he is re-elected as expected this year) could move up and even become Chairman of the Committee if the Republicans retake overall control of the upper chamber. Of course, Corker's colleagues would have to select him to hold that position and he might prefer being head of the Banking Committee where he is also high up in leadership.

All this is a pretty interesting development for Senator Corker. You will remember he was a class of one when first elected to Congress back in 2006. In fact, he was last in seniority in the entire upper chamber when he took the oath of office for the first time six years ago. Now he might have his choice of prime committee leadership posts.

But somehow with the defeat of Senator Lugar, I can't help but reflect on Tennessee's other Senator, Lamar Alexander and how he has stepped down from leadership in the Senate. When he announced that decision a few months ago, Alexander seemed to say he was doing so because he felt some of the same restrictions and conflicts articulated by Senator Lugar (although Senator Alexander was not nearly as strident or issue-specific in his language).

Senator Alexander's seat is up for election in two years (2014). He says he plans to run again. He is a political icon in Tennessee much like Senator Lugar has been in Indiana. Will Alexander face a Tea Party challenge similar to Lugar's? If so, I strongly suspect Senator Alexander won't get caught in some of the same political traps Lugar fell into allowing him to be labeled as "out of touch" with voters. But "RINO" hunting by the Tea Party is sure not over (indeed, to quote Mark Twain, the demise of this political movement may indeed be greatly exaggerated), so this is something to watch over the next several months.              


It's not just Senator Lugar calling out Republicans, read Democratic strategist James Carville's latest CNN commentary (May 8).  He says as he talks with Democrats across the country, including fundraisers, supporters and politicians he says they have all "lapsed into the sentiment that the president is going to be re-elected and that we (Democrats) have a good shot to take back the House while holding the Senate."

Says the colorful Carville; "What are you smoking? What are you drinking? What are you snorting or just in what in the hell are you thinking?"

 He then points to the governments and incumbents all around the world going into down in flames politically this year. He also goes through the overall election polling this year which doesn't really look all that hot for the Democrats right now.

Add it all up and Carville says: "Nothing is in the bag. Nothing can be taken for granted…you can shoot five Bin Ladens, you can save 10,000 banks and 20 car companies, even pass the most sweeping legislation in modern American history; if people don't think you are connected to their lives and fighting for their interests they will vote your tush out of office in a nano-second. For historical reference see the Winston Churchill election in 1945 and President George H.W. Bush in 1992."

Well said.


If you think with the General Assembly gone home for the year, that all that's going on up on the Hill these days is signing ceremonies for the Governor to put into law his key legislation, think again.

Behind the scenes there is furious lobbying going on by various outside groups trying to influence Governor Haslam about which bills he ought to veto or which he should sign or just let going law without his signature.

That's even true about the one bill that the Governor has indicated he does plan to veto, the anti-"all comers" bill aimed at Vanderbilt University and its much maligned anti-discrimination policy involving campus organizations including religious groups. The Governor says he doesn't support Vanderbilt's policy but he also doesn't think the Legislature ought to stick its nose into a private institution's business. That stance hasn't stopped the conservative Family Action of Tennessee group from mounting a public campaign to pressure the Governor to change his mind.

The Family Action group is also trying to get the Governor to sign the new sex education bill passed by the General Assembly while the ACLU is weighing in to get the state's chief executive to veto another measure that would require drug testing for some future welfare recipients.

It's unclear how effective any of these lobbying efforts will be with the Governor. That's particularly true with the Vanderbilt bill. In a related development, some 36 members of Congress have sent a letter to Vanderbilt urging them to drop their "all comers" policy in regards to religious groups. Those signing include 4 of Tennessee's 9 congressmen (Blackburn, Black, Fincher and Fleischman). But with the Governor already taking some political heat for his timidity in using his veto pen in his first two years in office, backing off on the one bill he himself has singled out to block would likely only amplify that kind of criticism. So odds would seem to favor him staying the course and vetoing the Vanderbilt-related bill. 

We'll know one way or another fairly soon. The Governor has a limited number of days to decide what to do with legislation once it reaches his desk and the clock is already ticking on almost all these measures.  By the way, all by himself the Governor decided not to sign (but allow to go into law anyway) the somewhat kooky Agenda 21 resolution passed by large majorities in both houses of the General Assembly.

The bill has been pushed by several right-wing groups (including the John Birch Society) in opposition to a 20-year old United Nations plan which some believe is a plot to take over the world. Whatever

According to research by WPLN/Nashville Public Radio and cited by THE TENNESSEAN in an on-line story (May 11), this appears to be the only resolution (it's non-binding) passed by the General Assembly which the Governor did not sign. Both the Lt. Governor and the Speaker of the House however did decide to sign it.        

There is also continuing discussion on the Hill about what was the most controversial bill in the last session, the guns in parking lots and guns in trunks proposals. Effectively blocked from floor votes by the Republican House and Senate leadership, it seems highly likely the bills will come back when the new General Assembly convenes in January, 2013.

The fight over the bill has had lawmakers caught in the middle between Second Amendment gun rights advocates and businesses trying to defend the rights of private property owners. Throughout the session, and again in recent days in an interview with Nashville Public Radio (May 9), Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey has been saying he is convinced that a compromise can be hashed out, using the time between sessions for tempers to cool and cooler heads to prevail with "a common-sense piece of legislation."

Maybe he's right. But after all the heated rhetoric over this proposal, including threats of political "crucifixion" for some lawmakers, I sure can't wait to see what this "common sense" proposal looks like come next year, especially if there is still more political bloodshed  over the issues in this summer's and this fall's legislative elections.  


This week on INSIDE POLITICS we feature an encore performance of my interview with local author, Woody McMillin. We discuss his fascinating book, IN THE PRESENCE OF SOLDIERS, a comprehensive look back at the little known story of the major role the Middle Tennessee area played in preparing and training our soldiers for battle in World War II.

It's a very good book and I highly recommend it. This is also a very appropriate time for us to re-air this interview with Cumberland University in Lebanon bestowing honorary degrees in military science to some of the surviving veterans who trained here and the families of those who have passed away. 

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5. INSIDE POLITICS also airs on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, although some of our shows may be pre-exempted this weekend by the ongoing gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Madden murder case on THE PLUS. That's very likely the case for our show at 7:00 p.m., Friday on the PLUS. Hopefully, our other show times at 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday; and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. on Sunday will air as scheduled.

THE PLUS can be seen on several cable TV systems throughout Middle Tennessee and Southern Kentucky. That includes Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and it can be seen on NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2

If you don't have cable or live outside the NEWSCHANNEL5 viewing audience, excerpts of this and previous INSIDE POLITICS shows can be found at www.newschannel5.com. Go to the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS area of the website and follow the links to INSIDE POLITICS.  The this weekend's interview with Woody McMillin and IN THE PRESENCE OF SOLDIERS is already posted there from its previous showing.