Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 18, 2012
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President DVL Public Relations & Advertising
May 18, 2012
THE REAL DRAMA IN NASHVILLE; INSIDE POLITICS FEATURES COUNCIL REACTION & TAX OPPONENT; LIVING IN THE COUNTY; SNIPERS; FIXING CONGRESS: THERE'S A CAUCUS FOR THAT; HOW STRONG IS YOUR TEA?
THE REAL DRAMA IN NASHVILLE
It was announced a few days ago that ABC Television is picking up a new series for this fall called "NASHVILLE."
It's reported to be a drama/soap opera "set against the backdrop of the city's music scene." It might be fun to watch, especially since I assume it will be filmed or taped here in town, so you can pick out all the local points of interest. It's also great to see Nashville get some more national "buzz," which a series like this can generate, especially if it becomes a hit. If not, it won't stay on the air all that long anyway.
But for now, the real political drama/soap opera in Nashville is increasingly focused on the looming battle at the Metro Courthouse over a proposed 53-cent property tax increase.
And the issue is showing signs of going national through a group called AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY. AFP claims to be "an organization of grassroots leaders who engage citizens in the name of limited government and free markets on the local, state and national level." AFP claims 2 million supporters nationwide with chapters and affiliates in all 50 states including Tennessee.
It's the AFP Tennessee State Director Brad Stevens that has staked out a claim in the Nashville tax fight. In a blog posting on the AFP web site, Stevens claims Nashvillians are "under attack" because of Mayor Karl Dean's budget and tax plan. AFP is urging Nashvillians to contact the Mayor and Metro Council members to tell them to support "cutting spending not huge tax increases."
Despite this being the first property tax increase request in seven years and after the Dean administration says it has cut nearly $60 million and hundreds of employees out of previous Metro budgets, AFP says Nashville city leaders have shown a "lack of fiscal responsibility" pointing out the budget funds 226 Metro employees who make more than $100,000 per year, including five assistant directors in the Parks Department and the city's homeless coordinator. "Local government is bloated. We need to send a message to Mayor Dean to be responsible with taxpayer money and to cut spending."
But not fast, says the Tennessee Democratic Party. In a statement on their website, the TNDP says Americans for Prosperity are a group "bankrolled and started by the Koch brothers". The statement adds: "If their actions in other states are any indication, they (AFP) may escalate with outside money to run a negative faux-grassroots campaign against the proposal (the Mayor's budget and tax plan).
Says the Tennessee Democratic Party about AFP: "These groups, with their almost limitless resources and lack of ethics, pose a significant threat to our democracy. Their anarchistic viewpoints towards government would see the elimination of public schools and almost all services that our society relies on."
Usually city government politics here in Nashville is done on a non-partisan basis (read: no-party affiliation). But if this kind of rhetoric from both sides is any indication, maybe not in this budget and tax debate.
Local groups are choosing up sides too. Mayor Dean is getting support from the local Firefighters Association along with the influential Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors (full disclosure: GNAR is one of my clients). On the other side, opposing the pending budget and tax proposal are the Nashville Tea Party and a new group called Davidson Conservatives (so far, membership unknown).
In an e-mail (May 15) being circulated from this group and reported on-line by THE TENNESSEAN's Michael Cass, and also posted on the HOMEOWNERS AGAINST A PROPERTY TAX HIKE Facebook page, this strategy was proposed for those in opposition:
"Have you asked your Council Member how they plan on voting on the tax increase?
Many of them won't give you a straight answer.
Call them, record the conversation, and demand they give you an answer on what they think about the increase. But realize that undocumented private promises are worthless. If they won't take your call, or if they refuse to give you an answer on the phone, then show up at their doorstep and ask them yourself. Bring a camera and record it. Get them on tape, and let them know their answer will be posted on YouTube.
Don't let up until they say on camera they will vote against it. Then demand to know what action they will take to proactively prevent the tax increase. Get that on camera too.
Applying this kind of pressure is the only way we are going to be able to defeat the tax increase theft from Metro government."
Wow! That's seem a little over the top to me. I wonder what kind of response that will get from council members? Probably not real friendly, I'd say.
Another sign of how social media is impacting the debate is reported by Michael Cass of THE TENNESSEAN. In a May 15 on-line story, he writes Metro Councilman Josh Stites , using his Twitter feed, was critical of both the Nashville Chamber and GNAR for endorsing the tax increase and budget, calling the groups "political pawns." Adding: "If you polled the(ir) constituency…. it would not reflect support of a tax increase."
But what did Councilman Stites think last year when he received and listed the endorsements of both GNAR and the Chamber (through its Nashville Business Coalition group) on his campaign website? The headline on Michael Cass' article asked "Biting the hand?"
Already some of the 40 members of the Metro Council are showing the heat from all the controversy being stirred up. Several of them (including some running for the General Assembly this summer) either abstained or voted no against the budget and tax levy bills when they came up for the first of three votes this past week.
Such actions make for great political theatre, but it's really not too bright. In fact, if the majority of the Council had either voted no or abstained, the bills would have failed, and under the city's charter, the budget and tax plan submitted by the Mayor would have been approved automatically. Know the rules, folks. Also remember voting for a bill on first reading is merely procedural. It does not commit anyone to voting for or against the measures the next two times they come up for approval. It merely allows the process to work and for the Council to hold its own budget hearings over the next few weeks through its committee system (more particularly the Budget & Finance Committee).
Meantime not all the grassroots efforts in the community are opposing the budget and tax increase. One, Moving Nashville Forward, is supporting Mayor Dean's plan in full. The group led by former Metro Councilman Erik Cole, public education advocate, Francie Hunt, and area pastor, Michael Joyner believe what is being proposed by the Dean administration, for education, public safety and capital improvements is exactly what Nashville needs to continue to move ahead.
"The rest of the country is finding out that Nashville is a great place to live, work and play," says Cole. "We want it to stay that way. Now is the time to move Nashville forward."
And so the debate continues until a final decision about what to do is made by the Council no later than June 30th.
INSIDE POLITICS FEATURES COUNCIL REACTION & TAX OPPONENT
After hosting Mayor Dean two weeks ago on INSIDE POLITICS to explain his proposed budget and tax plan, this week we bring on Ben Cunningham, one of the strong opponents of the Mayor's request and the spokesman for the Nashville Tea Party.
We'll also talk with three leaders in the Metro Council (At-Large members Ronnie Steine and Jerry Maynard along with District 23 member Emily Evans).
As you can see from our discussion above, this is not likely to be a dull conversation.
INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes Sunday at 5:00 a.m. on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5. The show can also be seen on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Our air times are 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 airs on several cable TV systems in the area, 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 Nashville viewing area, you can find excerpts of this and previous INSIDE POLITICS shows here on newchannel5.com.
LIVING IN THE COUNTY
The Nashville tax and budget debate also seems to have resurrected another old issue in Metro….requiring city workers to live inside Davidson County.
That used to be the law years ago, but the power of the employee unions and some federal court rulings had such requirements repealed. Now Councilman-At-Large Charlie Tygard has told THE TENNESSEAN (May 17) that he plans to introduce a bill to require all new city employees to be Nashville residents. Tygard gives this rationale to the newspaper: "If you are asking for raises and you want support, we want you to be a resident of this county."
But remember he doesn't mean all city employees. Tygard's bill grandfathers in all current Metro workers. Nevertheless, don't expect the city's labor unions to support the measure. That's understandable, but ironic in a way. You can draw a direct timeline from the repeal of residency requirements to the decline in the political power of the unions in local politics. Hey, say the Metro politicians, if you don't live here and therefore can't vote for me, why should I care all that much about what you want me to vote for. or do?
Indeed, THE TENNESSEAN article quotes figures from Tygard and the Metro Council's staff office that show "55% of Metro firefighters live in other counties while "more than 46% of sheriff's office workers live outside Nashville/Davidson County." I am sure looking at the rosters of many other city departments you will find similar percentages.
This is not the first time this matter has been debated since the residency rule was rescinded. Over the years, a lot of the Council's minority members have filed and supported legislation to require Metro workers to live in the city. Indeed, Councilman Tygard says his fellow At-Large member Jerry Maynard will be a co-sponsor along with others.
But it will be enough to pass Tygard's bill? And what will the Dean administration do? It appears this legislation applies to all new hires and so that includes the mayor's top staff, city department heads and their top staff. In previous administrations, there has been opposition to residency requirements because it potentially limits the city from recruiting the best candidates for critical jobs just because they live right across the county line.
It sure won't be an easy or fun political fight to decide this. But it sure may sound familiar. That includes the argument that many Metro workers want to live outside Davidson County because property taxes are lower.
First, it was political "crucifixions", now John Harris of the Tennessee Firearms Association is telling his members that GOP state legislative leaders (especially GOP House Caucus Chair Debra Maggart) could (and should) be taken out of office if "conservative voters and organizations…form a consensus and start picking these incumbents off like political snipers."
It's the latest round of incendiary rhetoric revolving around "the guns in cars and pickup trucks" legislation that failed to pass the General Assembly earlier this year. That's much to the ongoing unhappiness of some 2nd Amendment advocates such as Harris, who blame House Speaker Beth Harwell, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and most especially Maggart for the bills not becoming law.
Harris, adding more fuel to the fire, says, while he and his members can't beat all 14 RINOS (Republicans in Name Only) he identifies in the House, they can isolate and beat at least a couple of them like Maggart with candidates such as Maggart primary opponent, Courtney Rogers. He says: "Make political examples of them. Use their political careers as "hides" and as a political warning and demand accountability from others. Take them out of office so that true conservatives…in the rank and file can get enough courage and enough of a numerical majority to take control of leadership, replace Beth Harwell and others in the Republican leadership and install into leadership those who place duty to the citizen above partisanship."
But not everybody in the conservative and Tea Party movement is buying Harris' rhetoric. According to a TENNESSEAN on-line article by Michael Cass on May 18, the Sumner County Tea Party has issued a news release saying it "will be staying on the sidelines" in the Maggart/Rogers race, adding they find both women to be "excellent candidates" and the group says it disagrees that Maggart has blocked or defeated "certain legislation." More later in this column on divisions surrounding the Tea Party.
FIXING CONGRESS: THERE'S A CAUCUS FOR THAT
These days, if you have a problem to solve or a big project to do using your smart phone or computer, there always seems to be an app for that, right?
Well, Nashville congressman Jim Cooper is joining with a few colleagues on both sides of the aisle (including possibly his office says, his Tennessee neighbor 6th District Representative Diane Black) to fix something that's broken. All of them are coming together to: Fix Congress Now!
It's a lofty and admirable goal for sure. Unfortunately, even with today's smart phones and computer technology, I doubt there's an app for it.
So the Congressional method of finding "an app" is to form a caucus. There are at least dozens if not hundreds of them on The Hill. According to a news release announcing its formation, the top priorities of Fix Congress Now are "reforming the benefits of Congress, addressing the inefficient and unaccountable budgeting process that leaves the country without a budget year after year, and finally elevating the debate from the bitter partisanship now rampant in Washington"
What no time for a cure for cancer or to discover the secret to eternal life?
Again, I applaud the efforts of Congressman Cooper and others trying to correct the ills of our legislative branch of the federal government. But it sure isn't going to happen this election year or anytime soon as long as the folks in Congress keep having so much fun playing political games of "gotcha" and raising so much money by gumming up the works in Washington so nothing ever gets done of much substance.
It would be nothing short of amazing if Congress passed the first bill being pushed by the Fix Congress Now Caucus. That's the No Budget, No Pay Act prohibiting members of either chamber "from collecting their pay for each day beyond October 1 if they are late in passing a budget and annual spending bills." But the No Budget, No Pay bill has only 49 sponsors in the House and just 10 in the Senate. If it could even find a way to get to the floor for a vote, it would likely be crushed just like a similar effort earlier this year by Congressman Cooper and others to get House endorsement for the budget-cutting recommendations of a recent bi-partisan blue ribbon commission appointed by (and then abandoned) by President Barack Obama.
There is no real consensus that Congress wants to "fix itself." If anything most of the members seem bent on scoring political points by passing or blocking needed legislation, meanwhile delaying any serious work until the "rump session" of Congress that will be needed after the November elections.
We're in a "fix" with Congress alright and it's not a pretty sight, although I give Congressman Cooper and those working with him credit for at least trying.
HOW STRONG IS YOUR TEA?
In politics you know there's going to be trouble when the "perfect" becomes the enemy of the "good."
And so it is with the Tea Party movement.
According to a TENNESSEAN on-line article (May 15) by Elizabeth Bewley, there's one national group, The Club for Growth which has done a study on the voting records of first-term conservative Congress members, including Tennessee Republicans Diane Black and Stephen Fincher. The findings of the "Just How Tea Party Are They?" study show "Black and Fincher have voted for limited government, pro-growth policies just 71% and 69% of the time respectively" over the last two years. "Those scores place them right in the middle of the 87 GOP freshmen, whose scores ranged from 37% to a perfect 100%."
But how does that square with another ranking produced in February by THE NATIONAL JOURNAL which gave Black and Fincher "the joint title of most conservative House members" along with 8 other colleagues?
I suspect the discrepancy has something to do with which pieces of legislation were focused on in the different studies and how they were weighted in importance. You know, it's somewhat akin to how you like your tea (with or without lemon, sweet or un-sweet, hot or iced, fresh brewed or instant).
By the way, the article says Chattanooga congressman Chuck Fleishmann, locked in a tough 3-way primary fight for re-election, got the best scores from the Club for Growth with an 86% while the fourth Tennessee GOP rookie congressman, Scott DesJarlais registered 77%. Remember, these numbers could impact what kind of financial support the very active Club for Growth might decide to spend or contribute on behalf of these representatives.
Another ranking of our rookie Tennessee congress members also found they like to send out government-paid mail to constituents (otherwise known as using the oft-criticized congressional franking privilege).
Scott DesJarlais ranks third among all of the House members last year (2011) in mailing out information to his voters spending $282,385 on some 669,436 pieces of mail. Representative Black ranked 24th according to a TENNESSEAN on-line article (May 16) "spending $194,910 to mail 252,632 brochures, fliers and letters."
Reps. Fleischmann (137) and Fincher (147) were further down the list of spenders on the franking privilege, using around $80,000 each. Both DesJarlais and Black defend their actions pointing out the importance of constituent outreach and how they have both returned money to the Treasury (DesJarlais $126,000 and Black $85,000) by cutting back on other expenses in their congressional offices. Indeed, USA TODAY says last year DesJarlais has spent less money on employee salaries than any other House member.
So are these Tea-Party supported rookie Tennessee congressmen voting and living up to their pledges to cut wasteful government expenditures? Or does it just depend on how you look at it? How "perfect" is good enough?