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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, December 21, 2012

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, December 21, 2012

CREATED Dec 21, 2012

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

December 21, 2012

DIFFERENT THIS TIME; NO PLAN B, NOW WHAT; FITZHUGH ON INSIDE POLITICS; CHANGES IN THE HOUSE; GOING AFTER DESJARLAIS; DO I LEAN LEFT?

DIFFERENT THIS TIME

It seems to be different this time.

In the wake of the Newtown massacre of the innocents, the nation is reacting with greater passion (than to some of the other mass murders that have occurred in recent months), but also, so far, the response seems to show a greater public willingness to have a true dialogue and discussion about what should happen in the future to prevent such tragedies.

Look at the number of lawmakers in Washington who have previously been cool to any gun law changes. They now say the status quo on this issue is no longer acceptable Take the somewhat measured response so far by the NRA (an almost conciliatory first statement saying the group wants to make "a constructive contribution" to the national discussion and not issuing a quick and sweeping refusal of any gun law changes as it has done in the past). And there's the President (appointing a task force not automatically filing legislation and demanding immediate votes to re-ban assault weapons and high capacity ammunition).

This willingness to dialogue may not last very long. Already there is a so-far unfounded, but none the less real concern among some that the government will try to confiscate weapons. So gun and ammo sales are at record levels across the country and here in Tennessee (even more than usual after mass murder incidents in the past). The sale of armored school back packs has also skyrocketed.  But if we truly want to honor the memory of those little ones senselessly murdered December 14, this must be a time for us not just to stock up but to come together to solve the complex and multi-dimensional problems we face.

Of course, we do already have the zealots on both sides mounting their soap boxes to argue their cases and abandoning efforts to find common ground. Take for example here in Tennessee, where some lawmakers are again talking about passing legislation to allow teachers to go armed in classrooms to protect themselves and their students. This comes at the same time that business leaders and gun right activists continue to face off over allowing gun permit holders to bring their weapons to work and keep them locked in their vehicles. Complicating the dispute is extending that gun carrying right to the parking lots at state colleges and universities which education officials and Governor Bill Haslam oppose.

So far, the "teachers with guns in classrooms" concept is not getting a passing grade with one legislative leader.  Says House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville in a CITY PAPER on-line article of December 19: ""I think it would be asking way too much of our teachers for them to armed in a classroom, and I'm not in favor of going down that route. …I really think you have to be highly qualified to handle a gun in a high-stress situation, which is in fact what is was (Newtown)."

As for the impact of the mass shooting on the guns in parking lot debate, the Speaker says she is unsure, but added: "It makes me realize how careful we must be---that we are impacting a lot of people."

And pocketbooks, perhaps. Already every school board in Tennessee and probably across the country are reviewing their security plans (always a good idea). But for the first time that seems to include placing armed and trained resource (police) officers in elementary schools. While finding such security officers in middle and high schools is not uncommon, we would be going to a whole new level (including costs) with it becoming commonplace in the halls of learning even for our youngest students. Does it have to come to that before we try and find some common ground to address the causes that seem to have led to these public shootings including better mental health treatment and the increasing overall level of violence in our society and media? Metro schools director Dr. Jesse Register estimates the cost of a resource officer in every school in Nashville to be at least $15 million annually. What would it be statewide? Or nationwide, as the NRA has now endorsed this idea? One estimate by SLATE magazine is $5.4 billion!

Elsewhere in reaction to the mass shooting, there's the on-line movement to petition the city of Nashville to rescind its contract to host the NRA national convention in our city in 2015. It would be a purely symbolic effort that would likely change no minds or public policy while it would hurt the city's pocketbook in the liquidated damages it would have to pay and the millions of dollars in lost revenue local hotels and other convention related businesses would suffer.

No doubt those that want to strike back at the NRA have strong feelings and the best of intentions. Protesting NRA policies while the group is in Nashville is certainly one way to express those concerns (especially if not much has changed on this issue by then). But cancelling the convention is the wrong message for Nashville to send as it seeks to continue to expand its reputation as being a welcoming community, especially for groups to spend their convention dollars.

NO PLAN B, NOW WHAT…

Everybody knows in politics when Plan A isn't working you come up with a Plan B, right? But since Plan B is an alternative, and a deadline is usually fast approaching, shouldn't you be pretty sure your new plan will work?

So what in the name of the fiscal cliff was House Speaker John Boehner thinking? Why did he, as predicted in my column last week, concede the issue of raising income tax rates on the wealthy (millionaires)? Why did he propose that to President Obama, unless he knew for a near certainty that his GOP House caucus members would support him? And why, not knowing what level of support he had, did he propose to run the bill on the floor of the House only to learn then (according to THE WASHINGTON POST, December 21) that up to 48 of his GOP members (largely the Tea Party wing) would not vote for it, meaning he was close to 20 votes short of passage (assuming all or most of the House Democrats would vote no)? What an embarrassing defeat for a man who still hopes to be re-elected House Speaker next month!

It looked so promising a few days ago. Both sides made significant concessions (the President in particular on limiting the size of future Social Security increases, angering some in his own party). The remaining differences between the parties, while still in the billions of dollars, are small potatoes compared to the overall size of the federal budget and its revenues.  Still the key remaining solutions to a final "Grand Compromise" remain, once again, elusive.

So with Congress gone home for Christmas (and out of Washington until next Thursday December 27) it will be well into the final week of the year with our elected leaders still struggling to find a way to avoid the sharp tax increases (on everyone) as well as the crippling budget cuts of the fiscal cliff taking effect as the New Year begins.

And just how stupid is this situation? Congress itself (with approval of the President) created this Frankenstein-monster of the fiscal cliff, predicting it would force them and the administration to finally come to a deal over taxes, budget and the debt. Wrong, at least so far. No wonder Congress has such bad job approval numbers. I wonder how it will go if we tumble over the cliff and the economy heads back into recession? And while polls indicate the Republicans will get most of the blame, President Obama and the Democrats will likely take a hit too if everyone's taxes go up and the economy falters. All those in Washington should be glad their re-elections were back in November not next month.

So with a broad overall agreement seeming more and more unlikely, it may now come down to what can Congress and the President do next week to buy some time? To again kick the can down the road and find some temporary way to avoid the fiscal cliff monster and let the new Congress figure it out (good luck with that)?   And so like the old movie serials, the fiscal cliff is becoming a fiscal "Perils of Pauline" and of course we are coming to the final seconds of the last episode to see how it turns out.

FITZHUGH ON INSIDE POLITICS

Newly re-elected Tennessee House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh is my guest this weekend on INSIDE POLITICS.

He is pretty candid about the very tough position Tennessee Democrats are in the next General Assembly with Republicans holding 70 of 99 seats in the House. He also admits with redistricting in place for the next decade and an unpopular (in Tennessee) President Obama in the White House for another four years, it will be hard for his party to rebound.

But he actually thinks as the economy improves so will the President's popularity (even here) and he maintains that in some ways (unexpectedly capturing seats in Nashville and Knoxville) his party did better than expected in November. Really? How many seats did Democrats really fear they'd lose?

Fitzhugh is equally candid about his minimal chances for success if he runs against incumbent Governor Bill Haslam in two years, especially with Haslam showing 68% job approval numbers and already starting his own re-election efforts early with fund raisers soon in both Nashville and Knoxville.

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.

CHANGES IN THE HOUSE

I must say I applaud the rules and committee changes House Speaker Beth Harwell is proposing for this term, especially the ones limiting the number of general bills (10) lawmakers can introduce and reinforcing the rules on those who are casting votes for other members (responding to an investigation by NEWSCHANNEL5's Jennifer Kraus last spring).

I know the bill limitations will create some heartburn for lobbyists and others, but the fact is, there are way too many proposals filed each year (creating a lot of expense and paperwork), many of which have no chance to pass and are just a waste of time and money.

The idea of combining and changing some committees to equalize work load sounds like a good idea too. But the real test of what that will mean politically won't be known until the new rules are approved and the new committee chairs and committee memberships are announced by the Speaker. Pay close attention, committee structure and committee leadership and membership has a lot to do with what bills get passed and which ones get buried.

GOING AFTER DESJARLAIS

He has not even started the third term he was elected to just last month in the Tennessee House of Representatives, but already Rutherford County State Representative Joe Carr appears to be planning a bid for another job in two years.

He has become the first potential 4th district congressional candidate to form an exploratory committee to take on embattled Republican incumbent Scott DesJarlais in the August 2014 primary.

And chairing his committee is a very prominent conservative Nashville businessman (Lee Beaman) who has been a big financial supporter of DesJarlais in the past. Carr may be fighting another state lawmaker in trying to oust DesJarlais. State Senator Jim Tracy also represents Rutherford County, which could represent close to half the overall vote in that congressional district. And there are others eyeing the race which already seems to well underway nearly 23 months before the November, 2014 general election.  

Without a runoff law, the more opponents the merrier (increasing chances for re-election) for DesJarlais especially if they split the largest voting bloc in the district. But the very early beginning of this race also shows how politics abhors a vacuum and how opponents can smell the vulnerability of a weakened incumbent.

DO I LEAN LEFT?

That's not a political question about what you think about this column.

It's the continuing challenge I face in my ongoing recovery from a stroke as I approach the six-month mark (December 28).

Leaning left has been an issue since day one, and while I am better about not doing it, I still have challenges with it at times when I exercise or drive or even sit on the couch at home or while riding in the car. I have to constantly think about correct posture and frankly, I just don't do that enough….so I find myself leaning left.

And even when I do try to correct my leaning, I feel like I have to lean to the right (at least that's what my brain is telling me I am doing). My exercise trainer or others tell me (when I feel I am leaning right) that's I am actually properly postured. So it's just my brain that's lying to me. I also need to watch my posture to make sure I keep my shoulders down and back and keep my head erect, with my chest pushed up and out (no slouching). 

I have mentioned this before. Left leaning was a major challenge in getting approval to drive again. To solve it, I put two pieces of duct tape on my windshield. If I keep the left hand tape from touching the dividing line on the road I stay centered in the road. At first, my brain was screaming I was too far to the right and I was driving off the shoulder. That wasn't true and my brain warnings have decreased because I now know better.

But when I am just driving along, thinking about something else, I sometimes find myself drifting back a little to the left. So I use the tape to get and keep myself centered. It works and frankly I would be a bit terrified to drive if my pieces of tape were gone.

What I need is some way to find some tape substitute for my body. I can't tell (or I am not aware) sometimes when I am leaning left and I need to find some way to sense it and correct.  I guess I could carry a mirror around all the time, but I am not sure how practical that would be. Much like I didn't appreciate what was happening when I was having a stroke, (I was aware of the symptoms but I didn't appreciate what that meant), I am not very good at listening to my body and paying attention to what is going on.

I am working on this challenge in my weekly session with my trainer at the Y. He's asking me if I feel which muscles or parts of my body are being stretched and which feel exercised. For example, he asks me if I am centered on an exercise machine. Sometimes I am not and I have "lean to the right" to be correct, even with brain telling me I am a little crooked (which again I am not).

As for exercising, sometimes I can tell what muscles are being worked or feel pressure, but other times, I am so busy just doing the exercise and getting it done, I am not paying close attention to what parts of my body are doing what or feeling what (unless it's painful, which it isn't). I think this comes from too many years of being a non-exercise person so I don't know how to fully read and understand what my body is doing or what it is saying to me.

This is my challenge as I begin 2013.   Since the Mayans are wrong, and the world continues, I will be back at it at 7 AM at the Y on the day after Christmas and on January 2.   I also plan to soon add a second day a week going to the Y because one day can only do so much.

But for now, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

No column next week and INSIDE POLITICS (the weekend of December 28-30) will be an encore showing of my interview with local author Stephen Mansfield focusing on his new book about the faith challenges of President Abraham Lincoln. Watch for my next CAPITOL VIEW column on Friday, January 4.