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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 8, 2012

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 8, 2012

CREATED Jun 8, 2012

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

GETTING DOWN TO CASES; STATE DEMOCRATS TRY TO STAY RELEVANT; THE TOUGH MONTH OF JUNE; THE TEA FIGHT GOES ON; TENNESSEE DOING BETTER THAN MOST STATES; INSIDE POLITICS UPDATES THE ARAB SPRING

GETTING DOWN TO CASES

Everyone's had their say. Both sides in the ongoing property tax fight in Nashville turned out their troops in force and told the Metro Council (for hours during a public hearing) what they thought of Mayor Karl Dean's budget and 53-cent property tax increase to fund it.

Now it's up to the Metro Council to decide what to do, with a final vote set for June 19 (although technically, lawmakers have until the end of the month to finish action).

The Council's Budget & Finance Committee is the formal group in that body that always leads the budget deliberations (and budget hearings have another few days to a week to go). But this year, something else is happening, as well, that is a little different.

District Councilman Steve Glover this weekend (June 9 & 10th) is holding a couple of "roundtable" meetings at his private office where he and his colleagues (the public and the media are invited as well) can discuss (says THE TENNESSEAN 6/8) the "potential repercussions and unintended consequences of Dean's plan and discuss any alternatives."

Actually, according to THE CITY PAPER (June 8) these meetings organized by Glover, also a former school board member, have already been going on for several weeks since the Mayor announced his budget and tax plan back on May 1. The CITY PAPER article lists close to a dozen Council members who have already attended at least one session. More are expected this weekend. "We just talk," says Glover. "We share things. We ask questions….The rule is no voting because it's not a committee. We do not want to interfere with any committee work that the council does." No votes, OK. But you can be sure lots of trial balloons will be launched to see what kind of support they get.

Actually, what's happening is as old as time in Metro. There have always been off-site budget discussions among Council members are about what to do, especially in a tax increase year. What is a bit different (and hopefully encouraging) is that now members of the public and the media are being invited to attend.

Now I hope having everyone present will open a dialogue (especially among council members) to do as Glover says "look at everything thoroughly…and find common ground." Now that won't be easy and could get even harder if the meetings become opportunities for grandstanding and political theatre.

Just as a rule of thumb, each penny of the tax increase generates about $2 million. So to cut a nickel out of the tax increase, you will to cut $10 million out of the budget, 25 cents cuts up to $50 million. To cut out the whole proposed tax hike, about $106 million. Easy to say in concept, very hard to do in political reality (especially since the council must get at least 21 votes for any alternative budget).

And so let the hard work begin. And please, comments such as one made at the public hearing that "all taxation is theft" is just a non-starter to get anything done. Meantime, Mayor Dean continues to be out selling his plans to the community with a major speech planned Monday (June 11) before the Downtown Rotary Club, perhaps the city's most influential civic group.  

STATE DEMOCRATS TRY TO STAY RELEVANT

Facing increasingly gloomy projections about the outcome of the fall elections for the next Tennessee General Assembly (see the projections put out by the well-respected TENNESSEE JOURNAL a few days ago), state Democratic Party legislative leaders are looking for a way to stay in the debate as Republicans angle to (and likely will achieve) walkout-quorum-proof majorities in both the State House and State Senate.

So at a news conference a few days ago, Democratic lawmakers touted a bill that they believe should get bi-partisan support, but never even got close to passage last session. The proposal would provide preferences for Tennessee-based companies to get state contracts. What a better way to encourage job creation in the state, Democrats say, serving notice they plan to put the bill up again next session.

But will there be enough Democrats left to make any difference? GOP leaders don't seem to think so. They quickly dismissed the jobs proposal, saying Democrats remain out of touch, out of ideas and will soon be voted out of office. That's awfully dismissive for an idea that at least on its face seems workable and is clearly a way the state can help protect, even create jobs in Tennessee.

THE TOUGH MONTH OF JUNE

June is only about a week old, and it's already been a very tough period politically for Democrats on the national level too, especially for President Barack Obama. It all began with that lousy jobs report on Friday, June 1, followed by former President Bill Clinton more or less rebuking the President on a couple of his key talking points for re-election (Mitt Romney's business record and renewing the Bush tax cuts)          

And it gets worse. The recall election defeat for organized labor in Wisconsin can't help but hurt the President even if he tried pretty mightily to stay out of it. Will it make this normally blue state turn red in November? Based on exit polls, it may not. But the GOP has to love how well its ground game worked to turn out the vote and the huge money advantage it had from what Governor Walker raised and all the outside groups who weighed in.

 Now add in new figures that show Mitt Romney raised more money than the President for the first time last month and you wonder just where the presidential election is headed? So far, Mr. Obama is remains slightly ahead, but polls in battleground states are tightening and tilting a bit towards Mr. Romney in terms of momentum.

And June is still not over. One day very soon, the Supreme Court will be issuing its decisions on the national health care law and on the immigration legislation passed in Arizona. Both cases could have huge policy and political implications. If one or both go against the Obama administration, you have to wonder if it will put them in such a defensive position on so many fronts how can they regain their footing and show momentum for the fall?

Already the President is trying to push another economic plan through Congress to bolster the weak economy against the economic headwinds coming from Europe and China. There would seem to be no chance of passage for that unless the President can cut an overall larger deal with Republicans (which failed a year ago) to address the many budget and deficit problems looming over the country at the end of the year. But does the GOP have any real incentive now to make such a deal?

THE TEA FIGHT GOES ON

Even as Republicans continue to enjoy complete control of state politics, there are still problems in paradise for them.

A record number of GOP lawmakers (20 out of 64) are facing primary fights, most of them coming from Tea Party challengers.

It's one of the main reasons Governor Bill Haslam will be out on the campaign trail and sending in contributions this summer to help support "his friends" in the General Assembly. The list is getting fairly long. It includes House Republican Caucus Chair Debra Maggart (Sumner County), Representatives Kevin Brooks (Chattanooga), Richard Montgomery (House Education Chair from Sevierville) and Senator Doug Overby of Maryville. And there could be more including Mount Juliet's Linda Elam who is being challenged by a former House member, Susan Lynn, now Chairman of The Conservatives Fund (a coalition of Tea Party groups according to an article published 6/4 by THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE-PRESS).

A sign of the deep conflict and resentment that these kinds of primary fights are building up in the Tennessee Republican Party is reflected in a story by Michelle Willard, in the MURFREESBORO POST on June 6. It recounts how "tempers flared at (a meeting of) the Rutherford County Republican Executive Committee" recently with "the meeting nearly turning into a riot, one witness said." 

What happened?

Apparently an Executive Committee member sent out an e-mail encouraging local Republican candidates in the August Primary "to steer clear of activities sponsored b y the Rutherford County Tea Party and the 9/12 Project."

The e-mail said" "I urge you not to participate in this unauthorized "vetting" process. No organization outside the Republican Party has the right or responsibility to vet, interview or determine who the Republican Party's nominees should  be."   Later the e-mail implied the effort by the Rutherford County Tea Party was a "power grab."

Another Executive Committee member expressed disappointment that such a "divisive" e-mail would be sent out. That reportedly led the Chair of Executive Committee to lose his temper, and start "cussing and banging his gavel," according to the POST story.

Tea Party officials say no power grab is involved, and it does not intend to endorse candidates. What it says it wants to do is to get information out to voters through a series of debates among the candidates.

Personalities and conflicting support for various candidates seems clearly involved in all this. But it also shows the biggest problem facing Republicans this Tennessee election cycle is not from Democrats, but from others in their own party. For years, the GOP was a pretty solid cohesive coalition in state politics. Not so, anymore it seems. It reminds me of the state politics I grew up with in this state back in the 1950s and early 1960s, only then it was the Democrats who ruled the roost and the only way they could be stopped was by fighting among itself.

Everything old in politics can be new again. It just might happen with different parties and under different political colors (red not blue).    

TENNEESSEE IS DOING BETTER THAN MOST STATES

While no one seems very happy with the state of the economy, according to a least one measure (gross domestic product on a per capita basis), Tennessee is doing better than most states in recovering our economic output compared to where we were at the end of 2007, before things began to go south.

According to an article in USA TODAY (June 6) only 9 states (ND, OR, LA, WV, Alaska, NH,, MA, NEB, S.D.) are back in positive territory and another 12 states have recovered better than we have. But Tennessee is now just 2.2% below ($41,623) where it was about 5 years ago.  That's not good but we are ahead of 28 other states and better than the national GDP average which is still down 3.6% at $48,079.

Of course our remaining big problem is how much lower we are in overall gross domestic product per person than most other states.

I'd like to see these numbers broken down by cities. I suspect Nashville's recovery might rank even higher nationally. Let's also hope during this, our annual Music Week in Nashville and Middle Tennessee, with both the CMA Music Festival and Bonaroo fans crowding our roads, they are spending a lot more money for food, fun and trinkets than they planned. We can use the sales tax monies to make up for any of the aggravation we might experience. Actually, I think this week is one of the best efforts we make to solidify and expand our special brand as Music City. It's a week to be proud as we see the nation and world come to town to see what a great place we are, with such special and talented people in our creative community, even if just for a weekend.          

INSIDE POLITICS UPDATES THE ARAB SPRING

While our main focus in this country these days is on the economy and the upcoming presidential race, there is clearly a lot going on around the world, especially in North Africa and the Middle East, surrounding the ongoing "Arab Spring."

This week on INSIDE POLITICS my guest is Professor Mark Schwerdt of Lipscomb University. He gives us an update and an outlook on what is happening and what is likely to happen in countries such as Syria, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.

While U.S. foreign policy is reportedly "pivoting" towards Asia and the Pacific region, this remains  a critical part of the world. So we want to do some periodic updates to keep those interested in our audience informed. Watch us!

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 can also be seen 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. NEWCHANNEL5 PLUS airs on 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 or live outside the Nashville TV area, excerpt of this and other INSIDE POLITICS shows can be seen at www.newschannel5.com . Just go to the site and click on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS at the top of the page then scroll down to the INSIDE POLITICS link there.