Capitol View Commentary: Friday, November 30, 2012

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, November 30, 2012

CREATED Nov 30, 2012


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

November 30, 2012



It may have been true even before Tennessee Speaker of the House and Nashville Representative Beth Harwell was unanimously nominated this week for another two year term by her 70-member strong caucus (out of only 99 seats). But if it was already true, it is even more assured now.

Beth Harwell has quickly become the most powerful woman in Tennessee politics EVER.

Tennessee has never had a woman serve in our three major statewide offices (U.S. Senate and Governor). And just four years ago, Beth Harwell was the only GOP member of an otherwise all All-Democratic Nashville/Davidson County state legislative delegation. Back then, the entire House of Representatives was also evenly split enough that a renegade Republican (Kent Williams) managed to embarrass his party leaders and join with Democrats to elect himself Speaker.

My how things have changed

By deftly helping Republicans win elections (read: raise PAC money to contribute to candidates) and build GOP numbers in the last two cycles (redistricting all the seats too), Harwell has built the political support and IOUs necessary to build a 64-seat and now a 70-seat super majority that gives her one of the strongest political bases ever for a Speaker, and never before for a Republican, male or female.

Add that into the growing powers of office that both the House Speaker and Lt. Governor have had added to their duties and responsibilities by preceding General Assemblies) (particularly the powerful state commissions they serve on, and the appointments they make to a myriad of other state boards and agencies), I am told the Governor recently privately told someone, Beth Harwell may have more power in state government than he has. It may not be an exaggeration.

Now Speaker Harwell is not a fluke or an overnight success. She has spent many years in the House and had a very successful stint as GOP State Party Chair as few years back. She has learned well over the years, worked hard and taken full advantage of her opportunities. One sign of how expertly she now wields her gavel came in how she handled a brief power challenge a few months back.

In August, the second-in-command in the Republican House leadership, Speaker Pro Tempore Judd Matheny announced he was considering running against Harwell.

It was a costly blunder for him on several levels. First, he quickly learned he didn't have the votes to win. That's information he should have known before he ever said anything publicly.

Matheny complained in August he had felt sidelined and underutilized by leadership (read: Harwell) particularly in the fight over the "guns in parking lots" bill controversy. But it was about to get even worse for Matheny.

After quickly dropping his Speaker's bid, Matheny developed opposition to keep his Pro Tempore leadership position….and he lost it by secret ballot in the GOP Caucus to Clarksville Representative Curtis Johnson . And the Madame Speaker never had to say a word publicly.

It reminds of that old saying in Tennessee (and probably other states) about political power: "If you want to kill the Big Dog, you better shoot him (or her) with the first shot and do it from the porch, not out in the yard."


This weekend on INSIDE POLITICS we will look ahead to the upcoming new General Assembly and talk about that and overall state politics with Andrea Zelinski of THE NASHVILLE CITY PAPER, Chaz Sisk of THE TENNESSEAN and Blake Fulton of WPLN, Nashville Public Radio. There are so many topics to choose from with some already coming to a boil politically, I hope we can get to most of them during our brief time to together. 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.


Count me among those still dubious about an overall solution to the "fiscal cliff" being reached anytime soon (before the end of the year). I hear all the "guardedly optimistic" statements by President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner and all the others on Capitol Hill about how they are open to compromise and negotiation to get themselves and the country out of this fiscal mess. And I applaud those who are finally moving away from silly "no tax increase ever" pledges. But while they seem to mouth solutions, their words often outline retrenchment to other issues and new fights on slightly different but related, political ground (i.e., raising new revenue through raising tax rates versus closing tax loopholes) resulting in….still more gridlock.

In that regard, we can always rely…..at least for comic relief….on former House Speaker and GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich.

In a HUFFINGTON POST article (November 29), Gingrich reportedly said during a speech at the Reagan Library that Republicans should just back out of all negotiations with the President, because "they were ceding their leverage even talking with the White House."

The former Speaker adds: "The president is overwhelmingly dominant in the news media. You start setting up the definition of success (as) finding an agreement with Obama, you just gave Obama the right to say to you ‘Not good enough."

Well, I suppose that's true, but isn't all this expressing "disappointment" with the other side's offer or drawing "lines in the sand" just part of the normal (if maddening at times) negotiation process? And if the groups don't talk to each other how can anything get done?

But wait, Speaker Gingrich's comments go further. He calls the fiscal cliff as a "fantasy Democrats (are) using to push higher marginal tax rates on the wealthy while squeezing out the GOP's goal of large-scale entitlement reform and spending cuts." Gringrich says actually the Republicans are "in the drivers' seat" here and they have a mandate like the re-elected President because they still hold a majority in the U.S. House (although it is several seats smaller than two year ago you'll also note).

But where is the talk in all of this about what's right and best for the country, not just the political parties? You'll also remember when Speaker Gingrich was in charge in the 1990s, he went head to head with President Bill Clinton on fiscal/budget issues that shut down the government twice…..and the Speaker and the GOP lost both times. That not only helped lose Gingrich his leadership post, it also lead to Republicans losing the 1996 Presidential race.

More of the same coming, Mr. Speaker?


It's my fault.

I developed a pretty painful urinary tract infection over the past couple of weeks.

I kept thinking it was nothing. That it would run its course.

But it did not.

Instead by last weekend, I was so miserable feeling that I had to constantly go to the bathroom, I was completely worn out and finally had to go to a walk-in medical facility on the holiday weekend (Saturday) looking for help.

I got it and the antibiotics I was prescribed have pretty much cleared things up and I feel much, much better. I take my final pills today.

Naturally, the members of "my committee" (in this case with wife and daughters) have been a bit miffed that I kept this condition to myself for at least a few days. They have a right to be mad. I was a stupid and I am not sure why I stayed quiet. I need to remember, I am still in recovery for my stroke, and while my focus now is on exercise and on healthy lifestyle habits, if I ever feel something is not quite right physically I need to speak up right away and get help if I need it.

Lesson learned. I think I had a similar infection in the hospital, when getting in and out of bed was tough to do. It was likely from catheter use. My mind is not clear about those days, but this latest infection seemed much worse to me. Regardless, if I even suspect it might ever be happening again, you can be sure I will be seeking help more quickly.

As to what caused this latest infection, I don't know. What I have learned, thanks to my son-in-law Shane Cortesi (Kelly's husband) and some internet research of my own, is that urinary tract infections, while somewhat less common for men than women, do increase with age and are a not uncommon side-effect of a STROKE. REALLY.

Every time I think I know what I need to know about this illness, I learn (in this case somewhat painfully) that I need to constantly learn more.

Now a lot of these post-stroke infections are likely similar to what I had in the hospital, but to be sure, I have some questions now for my medical providers on what steps I should take to hold down the likelihood of future infections.

I will let you know what I find out.

And please don't worry, I am fine and feeling stronger again every day.