Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 1, 2012
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
June 1, 2012
TAX TACTICS; COUNCIL CHALLENGES; PRESIDENTIAL RACE UPDATE; MOSQUE CONFUSION; PANTS ON FIRE; THE LINE; INSIDE POLITICS
With a public hearing and a second reading vote by the Metro Council looming on June 5 (Tuesday) over a proposed 53-cent property tax increase, both sides were working to get their message out and their support up this past week.
Mayor Karl Dean was back on the road, touring the site of the new Madison Police Precinct where the city is also planning to build its new Crime Lab. The Mayor says public safety is critical and the new tax hike will help Nashville continue to move forward not only to keep residents safe, but also to improve public education and the quality of life here. He is likely hoping the citizens group, Moving Nashville Forward, will turn out supporters for his plan on Tuesday night, although other than an original news conference and some e-mails, the group has been somewhat quiet with less than 300 supporters listed on its Facebook page.
On the other side, the Nashville Tea Party had somewhere between 100 and 200 people (according to media reports) who turned out for an anti-tax rally (Thursday). Those attending said the tax hike is not needed to move the city ahead and besides, in these tough economic times, many people just can't afford it.
Some Tea Party speakers compared their group to the grass roots movement that stopped the Mayor's State Fairgrounds redevelopment in 2010. But, so far, there have been few signs they are generating those kinds of numbers and support, although if a Facebook page is any sign of strength they have well over 800 folks who've "liked" their page Of course, their site has been up much longer too. Maybe we will see soon how many anti-tax yard signs, being circulated by the Tea Party, will start popping up.
It is also now clear to the anti-taxers (as I pointed out in last week's column) that being against the Mayor's budget and tax hike is not enough. In fact defeating it without a financially balanced substitute plan adopted by the Council with 21 votes by June 30, will only mean the Mayor's proposal would go into effect by default. That reality is probably why you see the Tea Party supporters complaining on their Facebook page that's it not fair they don't have more time to research and draft their own plan.
Well, they have more time that what the original Metro Charter allowed the Council. Back then, it said the Mayor had until May 25 to submit his budget and tax proposals. That was changed to go all the way back to March, but except in years when there is a tax increase proposed (and there weren't any), that proved to be way too much time for Council review. So the current May 1 date is something of a compromise, approved by the voters by the way.
While the Council continues to grapple with the proposed budget and property tax increase, the rest of its agenda is beginning to resemble a "greatest hits" redo of previous Council debates. That not only includes a measure re-instating the requirement that all (new) city workers must live in Davidson County (which we discussed last week), but also bills that would strip Council members of their city-subsidized health-insurance-for-life policies as well as a change in the date for future Mayor, Vice Mayor and Council elections.
The health insurance issue has been a controversial one ever since it was adopted a couple of terms ago. It allows Council members who have served the maximum two terms (8 years) to continue health insurance for life (after they left Metro) as long as those who want the coverage continue to pay 25% of premium costs (while the city pays the remaining 75%).
Council members do not receive a full-time salary and can't qualify for a Metro pension, so supporters say this is an appropriate perk for those who have devoted their time to public service. Opponents say it's too expensive especially with health insurance costs continuing to rise every year. They also say with the Council looking at imposing a property tax hike, this is a good way to show voters that Council members are doing their share to hold down the cost of government.
The bill's sponsor (Carter Todd) has told the media he doesn't expect his proposal to pass even though it grandfathers in all existing former council members who receive the benefit. Still you can expect this proposal to add a little further spice to the tax debate for some, even though the amount of money to be saved ($300,000 annually) is very small compared to the overall city budget or the tax increase.
Another blast from the past pending on the Council agenda is an amendment to the Metro Charter proposed by Councilman-At-Large Charlie Tygard. It would change the city's election cycle. If adopted by a two-thirds (27) vote majority in the Council, and then approved by voters in November, the next election for Mayor, Vice Mayor and Council in Nashville would be in August, 2016, one year later than presently planned.
Tygard says the move would save voters money by consolidating elections. Maybe so, but there would still need to be runoff elections later in the fall (Metro is the only government entity around here that requires its officials to be elected with a 50% plus one vote majority). So we may not save as much money as some think, unless the runoffs are combined with the November general election, which would make for an awfully long runoff campaign for candidates and make them have to compete every four years with the election of the President and other federal and state offices which could easily overshadow the local contests.
There is, however, some precedent in changing Metro's election cycle.
Fifty years ago, when Metro voters instituted consolidated Metro government (combining the city and the county), the first Mayor, Vice Mayor and Council were chosen in the November, 1962 elections. That wasn't a presidential year but it did compete with federal and state elections (including the first election of then-Congressman, later Mayor Richard Fulton to office). The Metro elections were also done that way in 1966.
But then city leaders at that time, felt that the Metro elections were too important (and had too many contests, especially with a Mayor, Vice Mayor, along with 35 district and 5 at-large council seats to fill) and decided to put Metro on its current off-year or odd-year election cycle beginning in 1971. So the Mayor, Vice Mayor and Council elected in 1966 served a 5-year term just as the current Council would do if Tygard's charter amendment is approved.
So is it worth it? No, I don't think it is. It won't save that much money and even if the runoff election is pushed back to November it would likely create a lot of confusion for voters, especially with a presidential election competing with an open mayor's race which could easily go into a runoff (as almost every open Mayor's race has since 1962). If it is not broke, don't try to fix it.
One last election-related matter (looming like déjà vu) over the Metro Council chambers is a possible recall of District Councilman Brady Banks. He upset some of his constituents a few months ago after being arrested in a police sting operation for patronizing prostitution. That's a misdemeanor charge which was dismissed by the courts earlier this month after the Councilman completed the city's "john school." That's the way matters like this are handled for first-time offenders.
The Councilman has publicly apologized for his actions. But that's not enough say those who are organizing a recall election to oust him from office. According to an on-line article by Michael Cass of the TENNESSEAN (May 30), they will soon file notice with the Metro Clerk's office to put the recall question on the November ballot. That will reportedly take gathering on petitions about 15% or more than 1,900 valid signatures of registered voters in that district. It's not an easy task, but after the successful re-call and ouster of District member Pam Murray in the last term of Council, nobody should take matters like these lightly anymore.
But the reason to sign an ouster petition is something those adding their names on the dotted lines and other voters need to consider very seriously. Committing a misdemeanor may be one thing, recalling a councilman because he or she votes for a property tax increase is something else I think. But already in Michael Cass' TENNESSEAN article, one of the recall organizers is referring to Banks as "the mayor's boy" and says she planned to attend the rally against the tax hike on May 31, seeming to draw a connection for voters (if the matter winds up on the November ballot) between Brady's legal problem and his vote on the budget and tax increase.
PRESIDENTIAL RACE UPDATE
If the economy and jobs remain the key issues in this presidential race (and they are), President Barack Obama got some very bad news with the latest economic report that came out today (Friday). It shows the economy added just 69,000 jobs in May, the fewest number in a year, while unemployment rose from 8.1% to 8.2%. That's the first increase in joblessness in 11 months.
Most economists believe a healthy economy needs to add around 200,000 new jobs a month. For a while late last year and early in 2012, that was happening. But now, much like 2011, job growth has slowed again. With an even worse slowdown underway in Europe, it is getting harder to see how the President and his economic team can make things better in time for his re-election vote in November.
The job stall also comes as recent polls show Mitt Romney (the now certain Republican nominee) showing positive movement on a couple of fronts. A Gallup poll indicates 50% of Americans see Mr. Romney in a favorable light, an 11% increase from February. A WASHINGTON POST-ABC NEWS survey showed similar results, with Mr. Romney up six points from just a month ago.
Among registered voters Mr. Romney holds an evenly split favorable-unfavorable rating of 44% pro to 43% con while President Obama is at 49% to 48%. What's important to note in that survey is that for Romney it's the first time voter attitudes towards him did not decline since January. What a difference not having a contested primary fight makes!
You can see this happening in particular among Republican women in the WASHINGTON POST- ABC NEWS poll with 80% now holding a favorable view up from 59% last month.
But not everything is positive in the polls for Romney. The enthusiasm level in the WASHINGTON POST-ABC NEWS poll shows nearly six in ten Democrats are "strongly favorable" about the President, while just 35% of Republicans say the same about Romney. Further reinforcing this finding are the results of two polls by the GOP-leaning Rasmussen group. One survey shows 46% of likely voters see the Obama-Romney race as a "choice of the lesser of two evils," while a second survey says only 19% see Obama/ Romney as the best possible presidential candidates and 64% say those two are definitely not the best possible nominees.
Other recent national polls have shown an even split among voters as to which candidate they think can do the best job with the economy. So the less than good jobs news for the President could be a boost for Romney. You can also bet that both sides will continue and intensify their current attacks on each other…the President going after what he says is a bad jobs record for Romney while he was Governor of Massachusetts (added to his jobs record with Bain Capital)…and Mr. Romney responding by focusing on the failed Obama stimulus efforts with Solyndra and other missteps along with, now, of course, the continued slow growth in jobs.
But of course, there will always be the side show issues in the race. How ironic it was that in the week that Mitt Romney clinches the nomination with his victory in the Texas primary, one of the original frontrunners in the GOP field, billionaire businessman and TV reality star, Donald Trump, re-emerged to peddle the ‘birther" issue that helped take him to the top of the polls early on, then took him out of the race when hard evidence came out that the President is indeed a natural born U.S. Citizen. Of course, Trump remains unconvinced and continues to spew his birther tales (with no evidence to back up it). What remains more interesting is how Mr. Romney won't rebuke his supporter. I guess in a race where the likely winner is the one who can best motivate and turn out his party's base, Mitt Romney is coming out on the side of being with his friends and not saying or doing anything to make anybody in the GOP mad.
The President continues to have his surrogate problems too. The latest is former President Bill Clinton who told CNN (June 1) that Mitt Romney has a ‘sterling business record" and that his work with Bain Capital and as Governor pass the threshold for him to be qualified for President.
I will say it one more time. In politics, it's not your enemies who will get you, it's your friends (surrogates)
After nearly two years of controversy and dozens of court hearings, a Chancery Judge in Rutherford County has ruled local officials did not properly follow the Sunshine Law in the way the Planning Commission advertised its meeting to approve plans for a new mosque to be built in Murfreesboro.
So does that mean construction work will cease until the matter is corrected? Not so far. An injunction is being sought by those pushing the lawsuit, but that could take up to thirty days to decide and for the judge to sign such an order. Even then, there is a likely appeal by the defendants. So far, no official in Rutherford County is trying to halt construction and so it appears the project is still on its way to completion by sometime in July.
The Chancery decision came as something of a surprise since earlier rulings in the case had gone in favor of those building the mosque and so they went ahead with construction. Of course, anytime you are involved in an active lawsuit, you proceed to do anything at your own risk. But right now, the only thing that seems likely is that there will be still more controversy and more court hearings on the way.
These latest developments have also given new talking points to Lou Ann Zelenik, who is running in the August Republican primary in the 6th Congressional District against incumbent Diane Black. Black narrowly defeated Zelenik two years ago in a bitter race. Now Zelenik is praising the court ruling as a victory for victims of "Islamic lying" used by those trying to get the local mosque built. She is also blaming Congresswoman Black, saying:. "For over 2 years my opponent has been and still is on the sidelines of this issue. This is not a partisan issue, but an American issue and her silence is deafening."
Zelenik claims she has endured "numerous death threats" for opposing the mosque and she says Islam is not a religion "but a social and political system that intends to dominate every facet of our lives and seeks to dominate its host culture by any means including force and violence" (charges which have never been proven in any way in regards to this mosque project).
The Murfreesboro mosque controversy did a lot to help Zelenik in her congressional race two years ago. But Rutherford County is no longer in the 6th District and it is not at all clear that this will be a major issue in the new district (which Zelenik had to move into to run).
And so the mosque controversy continues as well as the likely ongoing national publicity which has not made our state look very welcoming to outsiders.
PANTS ON FIRE
Elected officials should remember: Reporters do read what you send out of your offices to voters and they check out the facts.
That's the case with Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. He recently sent out a newsletter that took credit for the recent quarter-cent reduction in the sales tax on groceries passed by the GOP-led General Assembly, adding: "We gave Tennesseans tax relief by again reducing the food tax—reductions previous Democrat regimes refused to make."
Not so, says the Truth-O-Meter, which is part of the political web site PolitiFact Tennnessee operated by KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL and the MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL. In an on-line article reviewing the matter, the ruling was: " …it was Democrats who were primarily responsible for keeping the sales tax on food lower than the overall sales tax in the 2002 budget deal, and it was in fact a Democratic legislature and governor who pushed through a half-cent tax cut in 2007. Ramsey is also on the record as not being a proponent of cutting the sales tax on food."
The article admits, citing previous comments made by the Lt. Governor, that he "may or may not be right about how closely Tennesseans follow the taxes on their pork and beans and toilet paper, but he's wildly misleading on the history of who was favoring cutting the state sales tax on food and who has not. We rate this claim Pants on Fire."
So just where do state party officials see "the line" in this fall's Tennessee legislative races? By that I mean, how many seats do they see winning or losing? You could be surprised and maybe even a bit confused by some of the responses coming out.
My eyes almost fell out of my head a few days ago when I read the lead article in THE CITY PAPER where reporter Steven Hale quoted Democratic State Party Chair Chip Forrester saying that "the line" Democrats hope to hold this fall is "24 seats in the House and in 8 in the Senate." What! Democrats presently hold 34 seats in the House and 13 in Senate. Surely, Chairman Forrester is not predicting another loss of 10 seats in the House and 5 in the upper chamber come November?
Well not exactly, it seems. According to an additional article by THE CITY PAPER's Steven Hale on THE NASHVILLE SCENE'S PITH IN THE WIND Blog (May 31), Forrester claims what he was referring to is the number of incumbents the party has seeking re-election in both the House and Senate this year (a quick note: you can see the toll redistricting by Republicans and subsequent retirements by Democrats is already taking on the Party of Jackson). Forrester adds he is not writing off any open seat races or Democrats challenging incumbent Republicans. Indeed he is excited about the potential for a number of first-time Democratic candidates (including Nashville's Darren Jernigan and Phillip North) to win.
But that's not how other people interpreted Forrester's comments. Even the Democratic Leader in the House, Craig Fitzhugh was quick to issue his own statement saying…"I part ways with him on the assessment of our current situation." Even State Republicans chimed in. GOP Party Chair Chris Devaney in his monthly Chairman's Review e-mail to party leaders quoted Fitzhugh and then added: "Our (GOP) goal this year is to gain a walk-out proof majority in the State House and State Senate, which is 2 seats in each…It appears the Tennessee Democratic Party believes our Party will do much better."
Forrester clearly misspoke. His slip of the lip (Freudian or otherwise) has sure provided some great political bulletin board material that could possibly further energize Republicans. It could also demoralize Democrats who have been hoping to begin a slow turnaround this November after the disasters of the last few state election cycles.
Our INSIDE POLITICS show this weekend is an encore presentation of our interview with Dr. Bill McKee, the Chairman of the Metropolitan Nashville Historical Commission and a professor at Cumberland University.
He has a fascinating presentation he's put together about famous Nashvillians you probably know nothing about, but should. If you haven't seen this show, watch it. You can learn something about the fascinating folks who've lived here over the years, who've done very significant things, but who have been more or less lost to the pages of history. And what better time to re-air this show than on Tennessee's Statehood Day weekend. Today, Friday June 1 marks the 216th anniversary of when we were admitted to the Union. Happy Birthday, Tennessee!
INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes Sunday at 5:00 a.m. on the main channel, WTVF-TV NEWSCHANNEL5. We are also on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Our show 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 can be seen on several cable TV systems all across Middle Tennessee. That includes Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and on NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.
If you are outside the Nashville-area or don't have cable, you can probably already find excerpts of Dr. McKee's INSIDE POLITICS show here on the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS section at www.newschannel5.com.