Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 15, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 15, 2013

CREATED Feb 15, 2013


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

February 15, 2013



Usually it's rather sleepy in the early weeks of the Tennessee legislative session, but not this term. Along with the negative national media coverage generated by Knoxville Senator Stacey Campfield concerning his latest round of controversial legislation, the new Republican super-majority has already worked its will in the Senate on the "guns in parking lots/trunks/cars" bill. Spearheaded by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, it easily pushed through legislation that stymied lawmakers all last year and even cost one GOP House leader her seat being ousted in the August primary by unhappy gun rights activists.

This quick passage is exactly what legislative leaders want. Come to a quick consensus to pass a bill, and then move on to other matters. In this case, the consensus came by changing this year's legislation to make it apply only to those with state issued gun permits. Then despite continued concerns raised by business concerns that the law violated their property rights under the Constitution and would hamper the recruitment of foreign business companies to Tennessee, the bill is now headed to the House where it likely to pass easily too, and in fact, passed out of sub-committee after just six minutes of consideration.

However, it will be interesting to see if any amendments creep into the legislation that could create a need for further consideration by the Senate or even a conference committee, which is unlikely I think.

Final passage will set up a decision for Governor Haslam on what to do. He has been supportive of opposition to the bill by higher education officials. But after learning more about what is already allowed under state law about who can bring guns on campus, he may decide not to use his veto pen on this matter and this latest guns bill will become law in all likelihood.

Another strategy to move key legislation forward (this time championed by House Speaker Beth Harwell) is the bill to allow the state, not local school boards, to authorize new charter schools in communities. This is only an issue so far in the Nashville and Memphis areas. In fact most local school boards wouldn't look kindly on the state taking over their authority (but most are not involved in charter school efforts anyway).

So the bill has been drawn to apply only to Nashville and Memphis, and while litigation could ultimately result in the matter, targeting the bill this way will likely make it much easier to pass. It is already out of sub-committee and is headed to the full House Education Committee soon.


This weekend on INSIDE POLITICS we'll take an in-depth look at the early weeks of the General Assembly and what lies ahead. We have an expert panel of legislative reporters joining me who know the Hill inside and out. That includes Tom Humphreys of THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL, Chas Sisk of THE TENNESSEEAN and Mark Bellinger of NEWSCHANNEL5.

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. For those outside Nashville or who don't have cable access, portions of INSIDE POLITICS interviews are later posted on NEWSCHANNEL5.com.

By the way, on the show Tom Humphrey reports (as does THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL), now  that the bill filing deadline has passed, the House has 1340 bills in the hopper, the Senate 1394. That's quite a drop from the normal 2000-plus bills per year in past legislative sessions. So the House bill limit of 15 per member pushed by House Speaker Beth Harwell seems to have had a significant impact.


I am not sure how many votes it carries in the 4th Congressional District but Murfreesboro State representative Joe Carr is getting some major support on the conservative Tea Party website RedState.com.

A recent un-bylined article on the site calls Carr "a rising GOP star" and says "let's pray he winds up running" for the federal post. The article contends "Carr has a special talent and ability to inspire conservatives. Carr is a conservative marching to the sound of gunfire, a most unusual quality for an elected official. Instead of shying away from tough fights, Carr rather relishes sprinting full speed towards them." The article gives Carr particular credit for stopping any effort to set up health insurance exchanges in the state as well as his proposed bills to nullify any new laws or executive orders that "assault the Second Amendment."

As for the embattled congressional incumbent Scott DesJarlais, the article calls him "ethically challenged" and endorses the idea that he needs to go. The RedState writer also has little good to say about a possible Carr opponent already in the race, State Senator Jim Tracy, dismissing him as "a good foot soldier in the state senate, but he's not embraced tough issues during his 9 year term. He's unlikely to transform into a conservative titan should he go to Washington…I'm confident Tennessee can do better." Ouch! This race, as it seems likely to develop, could get nasty.    


I was out celebrating my baby sister's birthday so I missed President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech. I'm sure the State of our Union is "sound and strong." It is every year as reported by every President.

And now Mr. Obama, also like several previous Presidents is out across the country holding media events to sell his programs to the public, including universal Pre-K, a higher minimum wage and more manufacturing jobs for the nation, among other things. It is clear this President is in a much better position politically coming off his stronger than expected re-election victory and due to the continued divisions between Republicans and their Tea Party members.

But even though it looks like he has stronger than expected support for at least a portion of his gun violence legislation package (expanding background checks to gun shows and private sales), it remains unclear just what Congress will pass if anything of what the President proposed in his State of The Union. His Defense Department Cabinet appointment of former GOP Senator Chuck Hagel also is in some peril with some Republican Senators at least temporarily blocking the appointment with a filibuster which Democrats fell 2 votes short of the 60 needed to overcome. GOP Senators, including Tennessee's Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker say they have more questions and need more information (mostly about the Benghazi affair in which Hagel had no apparent involvement). The Republicans indicate if their questions are answered they will be happy to allow an up or down vote requiring just 51 for approval. We'll see what happens when the Senate reconvenes after a week's recess.

The real situation in Washington is that despite the President's new second term strength and more Democrats in both the new House and Senate, the Congress and the President remain gridlocked on most key issues, especially the fiscal ones such as the automatic budget cuts left from the fiscal cliff (set to start March 1), the debt ceiling and continued ongoing funding of the government. All these matters, having been ignored and/or kicked down the road by the previous Congress but are about to move back to center stage in the next few weeks and once again, it's not going to be pretty.

In fact, it's no wonder that just a few news cycles after the latest State of the Union address, the enduring back story and image from the evening seems to be of Republican responder, Senator Mario Rubio of Florida (a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2016) and his water drinking habits during his speech.