Capitol View Commentary: Friday, November 16, 2012
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
November 16, 2012
MOVING ON; CONGRESSMAN COOPER ON INSIDE POLITICS; HEALTH EXCHANGES, GUNS IN PARKING LOTS AND STATE OFFICE BUILDINGS; KEEPING A PERK; GREAT HEARTS NOT MOVED; HE NEEDS TO GO; PAYING IT BACK;
If you didn't like the way the presidential race turned out, you have every right to feel sad, depressed or even put up snarky comments on your Facebook page or Twitter account (just no threats on the life of the President, please). You also have every right (under the Bill of Rights in our U.S. Constitution) to petition your government to state your concerns and seek redress.
But if you want Tennessee or any other state to succeed from the Union because President Obama was re-elected, don't expect that to be taken seriously or as anything other than being a "sore loser."
We had a Civil War about this (and about slavery) 150 years ago. It was the most tragic period in our history with more Americans killed than all our other conflicts combined. We settled the matter. We are the United States of America and you can't just quit and leave the Union because your candidate lost an election.
Besides in Tennessee, when we left in 1861 it came after two statewide referendums not some semi-anonymous on-line petition. It made us a true bloody "battleground state" with large portions of Tennessee under military occupation and East Tennessee thinking of splitting off on its own as West Virginia did from Virginia in 1863.
I don't think anybody wants to try that one more time. After all, there will be elections again, for Congress in 2014 and the Presidency in 2016. The party out of our power can and has retaken control of the White House and Capitol Hill. It can, and likely will happen again in the future. Our continuing ability to peacefully transfer and continue governmental power in this country is the true genius of our American democracy.
So let's move on and begin discussion of how we can come together as a nation on the issues that divide us.
In that regard, I applaud Tennessee Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, long a Tea Party favorite, who in the wake of the election told an East Tennessee television station (WJHL-TV) that he and his party need to take another look at immigration reform including a new path to citizenship. He said:
"Now I am not for amnesty, and we need to police the borders, but let's face facts. They're here, they're hard-working people, they are Christian Roman Catholics, they think like Republicans do, they are conservative, and so we need to figure out a way for them to become citizens."
Sure you can criticize the comments for being politically self-serving and/or an effort to cultivate and even pander to an increasingly powerful group in the American electorate, but what the Lt. Governor says also seems to me to mark a real opportunity for progress on an issue that has bedeviled us for several years now. We need to seize that chance not look for ways to further divide us through some frivolous effort to "succeed from the Union."
And let me commend Brentwood businessman Steve Wise who sent an e-mail to the President (which he read in part during his nationally televised news conference on Wednesday). The message Wise sent was that while he voted for the other guy (Mitt Romney) he will "stand ready to support your efforts to move the U.S. forward and deliver solutions that will solve our important issues." Wise sent similar messages to his Tennessee representatives who are all Republicans (Congressman Marsha Blackburn and Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker). Classy
According to the President, Wise made it clear "if we don't make enough progress, he'll be back in touch." Good idea to stay involved with the process, don't drop out or quit. Wise later told THE TENNESSEAN: "It drives me crazy that people are still focused on the election. Whether its business or politics, decisions are made, thing happen and you deal with what you've got and make the best of what you've got. The fact that we seem to focus on why did he get re-elected, and why we can't get along seems a waste of energy. I felt like there needed to be a change, more of a business focus. But I am realistic now that we've made a decision who will lead. It's time to move on." Amen.
CONGRESSMAN COOPER ON INSIDE POLITICS
In that regard, Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper, my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend, says he is more optimistic than in the past that the lame duck or rump session of Congress, now underway in Washington, can find a way for the nation to avoid falling over the "fiscal cliff" that threatens to take the nation into a new, deep recession if some alternative isn't found to the tax hikes and sharp budget cuts set to take effect January 1.
I still have my doubts but I hope he's right. There's not much time to get things done, and while both the President and House Speaker John Boehner say they are open to compromise, if the Republicans oppose any tax rate increases for the rich and the President says he won't sign any extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, some middle ground seems hard to find.
This is one of several hot topics we discuss with the Congressman on the show. It's a good conversation so join us.
INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. Our air times include 5:00 a.m. Sunday on the main channel, WTVF-TV NEWSCHANNEL5. We are also on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS at 7:00 p.m. Friday, 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday, and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m., Sunday. THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.
HEALTH EXCHANGES, GUNS IN PARKING LOTS AND STATE OFFICE BUILDINGS
The deadline from Washington was supposed to be today (Friday) concerning whether Tennessee will create and run its own health care exchange under the new national health care law or let the feds do it, Governor Bill Haslam was among several governors across the country indicating he wanted a little more time to decide while he continues to either await or digest further information he has requested from the Obama administration. So now the feds say he has until December 14 to make a decision.
Already other Tennessee officials are weighing in. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey told THE TENNESSEAN (November 16) that he expects the Governor to have the state set up the exchange ( Mr. Haslam has indicated he is leaning that way). But interestingly, since the exchange needs legislative approval, I didn't see any indication in THE TENNESSEAN article whether Governor Ramsey and the new super majority of Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill plan to vote for the idea).
Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais (in that same TENNESSEAN article) is urging the Governor to reject setting up the exchange. He says the feds don't have the authority to do it and therefore this is the way to stop Obamacare one more time. By the way, most legal scholars, citing the U.S. Supreme Court, don't agree with DesJarlais on this (more on his continuing personal issues later in the column).
While in his public comments the Governor continues to say he thinks the state can do a better job with the exchange and that local control can provide tax breaks for businesses, the real convincing the Governor still likely needs to do is among the super majority of GOP lawmakers in the General Assembly, many of whom ran their re-election campaigns against the President and especially Obama Care. The concept that they would now embrace the program enough to get involved in approving this exchange seems like a long political putt to me.
The Governor, in a statement he issued today (November 17), is already trying to defend himself in case he gets attacked for moving ahead with the state setting up the exchange. He reminds everyone that he opposes the Affordable Care Act and that he joined "with other Republican governors earlier this year to fight the law" before the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the measure. The Governor adds: "I understand there is a lot of passion and uncertainty about the health care law, and I share that frustration. As Governor, I believe my job is to put emotions aside and to make the tough decisions on the serious issues that impact Tennesseans. That is what I'm working to do."
Maybe the Governor can use his strong public opinion polls to build support among lawmakers for whatever he wants to do about this issue and any other legislation he wants. A recent MTSU survey shows the Governor not only getting high marks among Republicans, but also 54% of Democrats and 76% of Independents.
He may need it as another issue likely to split lawmakers again this upcoming legislative session, is the "guns in parking lots" bill. A recent WPLN story (November 12) says an effort to seek compromise between businesses and property owners on the one side and gun rights supporters on the other may not be succeeding. Concerning the idea of letting employers and property owners "opt out" is getting bad reviews by John Harris of the Tennessee Firearms Association. He says lawmakers can't "serve two masters."
Kudos as well to WPLN for sticking it out during the recent state budget sessions held by Governor Haslam, including the hearing for the State General Services Department.
It resulted in a story by Blake Farmer (November 8) that says the state "is making plans to sell off some of its large office complexes" in downtown Nashville including the massive Cordell Hull buildings right next to the Capitol. State officials say Cordell Hull, along with the Tennessee Regulatory Authority building on James Robertson Parkway and some other state buildings in Chattanooga and Memphis, have become "functionally obsolete" because maintenance and upkeep have been so neglected over many years to the point that the half-dozen buildings "aren't worth saving."
Maybe not, but the state needs office space for the agencies in these "obsolete buildings" so what will be the plan? Sell the current buildings to the private sector, then have them demolish or renovate the structures for a buy-back or lease deal for the state for newly built or redone office space? Or will the state look to build additional offices (again likely with private sector involvement) near land it owns around the Bicentennial Mall?
KEEPING A PERK
I will admit to mixed emotions about the Metro Council deciding to keep its perk of allowing members with at least 8 years of service (two terms) to have life-time health care insurance largely at taxpayer's expense (Metro covers 75% of the premiums).
On the one hand, we don't pay our council members much of a salary for a full-time part time job and they don't qualify for a pension. But on the other hand, the perk is awfully expensive and the Council has decided to continue the benefit at a time right after property taxes were raised. It also continues at a time when Mayor Karl Dean is asking some city workers with many years of service to take a buyout and leave public service early. The buyout is a move, aimed at least in part, to hold down costs in the future.
And there are likely to be still more tough financial choices ahead for this Council including whether to keep Metro General Hospital open for in-patient care in the future. Politically, you have to wonder if Council members might regret not trimming back on their health care perks for future members when they have to ask others to cut back in the future. Now it's not the same amount of money in comparison, but the bill defeated to revise the health care perk didn't cut off any former councilmembers or spouses now receiving the benefit or any current council member that might be eligible in the future.
Let's see how this develops. This issue may not be going away.
GREAT HEARTS NOT MOVED
A late-minute effort by the Metro School Board to "kiss and make up" with the private Great Hearts Charter School group (which the Board rejected repeatedly earlier this year to build a charter school in West Nashville) has been rebuffed.
Great Hearts says it won't come back to Tennessee and apply for a charter school until the approval process is run by the state not by local officials, something which state lawmakers just might approve next year in strong reaction to how Metro handled the Great Hearts situation. Also don't expect state education officials to give back the millions of dollars it fined Metro for twice defying direct orders by the state to approve the Great Hearts application.
I interpreted the School Board's effort to make up with Great Hearts as a sign it really doesn't want to go to court against the state to get back the money it was fined. So what now, Metro?
HE NEEDS TO GO
Despite being easily re-elected just a few days ago, Congressman Dr. Scott DesJarlais needs to go. Resign. As soon as possible
Court documents just released concerning his 2000 divorce case show (by his own testimony) that not only did he engage in or condone behavior he claims he strongly opposes as a conservative pro-life congressman (abortion, sex with two of his patients, sex with co-workers among other matters), he has consistently lied about it to voters in his campaign.
Anyone can change their life, and perhaps the Congressman has done so since this divorce case occurred many years ago before he ever went into politics. But the consistent lying by the Congressman and his refusal to be open and honest about these matters is why he needs to step aside and allow his constituents to select a replacement they can trust.
Sure that will mean a special election to fill the seat, but under the law that can be done fairly quickly and we already know candidates are looking to oppose the Congressman in two years anyway. If the reason many Republicans said they voted for DesJarlais was to keep House Speaker John Boehner in power that will likely be assured before the special election is done anyway. So DesJarlais needs to go.
Lots of important decisions need to be made by Congress now and over the next two years. The voters of the 4th District of Tennessee need a representative in which they have trust and confidence. That is not Scott DesJarlais. He needs to resign.
While on a topic like this, I must say I find the continuing sex scandal in Washington surrounding former CIA Director and 4-Star General David Petraeus to be fascinating. No, it's not the sex, per se. Sex scandals are a dime a dozen in politics. No, it's more the timing of this one (coming out within days after the election and while the CIA is dealing with the blowback on the Benghazi incident, the shoot down of an unarmed drone by Iran, and other matters). No, it's more how this scandal also continues to grow and involve another high ranking general, another socialite, and even a bare-chested FBI agent.
I am not a big believer in conspiracy theories and maybe everything and everyone involved in this matter has or soon will be disclosed. But for some reason I keep waiting for another shoe or shoes to drop in this case. Maybe not, we will see.
PAYING IT BACK
As the Thanksgiving season approaches, I clearly have a lot more than usual to be grateful for this year.
Just still being here for one thing, given the stroke I suffered on June 28.
I was reminded of this when we had our annual Thanksgiving lunch feast here at DVL yesterday (Thursday). My goodness, how the people who work here can cook! And while I tried to be careful about my sodium intake, I did eat my share of the feast laid before me, and boy, was it good!
There was also an opportunity during our meal for us to write on a white board "things we are grateful for" this Thanksgiving. Mine were easy.
"A return to health, good friends, a great family and DVL"
That pretty well covers it. I am so blessed. And in that regard, I had lunch today with some of my therapists at Vanderbilt's Stallworth Hospital where I first began my in-patient rehabilitation. That includes one of my "left handed ladies", my occupational therapist, Allison Koch. She was always on my case (in a good way) to use my left hand during therapy and not use my more dominant right hand, which was less impacted by my stroke.
It was so great to see her again. I updated her on my ongoing recovery, including my outpatient therapy at Bill Wilkerson, my sleep machine use, my weekly workouts at the Y with a personal trainer, my driving tests, my return to work and all the rest, including cutting way back on large daily soda consumption and holding down my sodium intake.
But primarily, I just wanted to thank her again for all she and the other therapists at Stallworth did to start me on the road to retaking my life. Today was my first day back at the hospital since I was discharged nearly four months to the day (July 19). As always, returning for the first time back to a significant place in my life was a little odd, and made me somewhat reflective on how my life has changed.
This was particularly true when we were finished our lunch and I picked up my cafeteria tray to deposit my trash. "Look at that, using your left hand," said Allison. She's right I did it that way (carrying the tray with my left hand), and thought nothing of it. But after she said that to me (ever the left-handed lady that she is), I realized in this small way, how far I truly have come.
Four months ago when I was doing Allison's therapy, it's likely I would picked up a cafeteria tray with my left hand, and thinking I was carrying it straight to the trash, instead would have dumped some or all of it on the floor because I wasn't strong enough to carry it straight and properly.
Thanks, Allison, and thanks to all my family and friends and all those here at DVL (and NEWSCHANNEL5) for your ongoing help and support in my stroke recovery. You've done so much, and meant so much to me, I will always be in your debt!
I am planning a brief column for next week and because of the holiday, will plan to post it on Wednesday this time rather than on Friday.