Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 22, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 22, 2013

CREATED Feb 22, 2013


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

February 22, 2013



The quest to allow Tennessee gun permit holders to take their weapons anywhere in their cars (guns in trunks/parking lots) continues to gain momentum. It passed in a House committee (Wednesday) and is headed to the House floor for final approval (the full Senate has already said yes) as early as next week.

But the other prominent bill steaming-rolling its' way through Capitol Hill hit a little speed bump with the legislation giving the state full authority over authorizing charter schools being deferred a week in committee . The move, and talk of a compromise, comes amid growing opposition and seeming second thoughts from lawmakers, despite the legislation being targeted to impact only Nashville and Memphis which are the only parts of the state where there has been much controversy over charter creation.

But the possible compromise seems a strange one to me. It would create an appeals process along with new state review board that could trump local decisions if a school board rejects a charter school. That's already the law involving the State Board of Education, and was a major part of the controversy last year when Metro Nashville rejected a charter school application from the Great Hearts group from Arizona. Metro refused several times to approve Great Hearts and got a hefty fine from the state, but the charter group then withdrew its application, leaving the matter somewhat unresolved. Maybe the compromise makes the state's decision final, end of story?

But if so, why would the compromise apply statewide perhaps creating even more heartburn among rural legislators whose local school boards are likely not to cotton to the idea of state appointed officials telling them as elected officials what to do, even though it's about an issue that so far is not a big deal for them. Beats me.

For a bill that got rolled in committee for a week, the Authorizer measure sure is getting a lot ink. That's not only because who's supporting it (House Speaker Beth Harwell)of Nashville) but also who's against it (a majority of the Metro School Board, many Davidson County Democratic House members and a number of high profile Metro At-Large Councilmembers).

The day before the deferral, it was the opponents who came to the Hill calling the legislation "horrid", "taxation without representation" and an attempt to revert back to the days of segregation because they say it would take away the right of local school officials to decide whether to allow a new charter school.

Usually when you see At-Large Council members such as Ronnie Steine, Megan Barry and Jerry Maynard you could also assume Nashville Mayor Karl Dean would be with them too. But that's not so in this case. Beginning last year with the rejection of the Great Hearts application by the Metro School Board Mayor Dean has been joining Speaker Harwell in supporting the state taking over full control of charter schools in order to give local parents more choice in where they can send their children.

That stance by the Mayor has stirred up as much controversy for him as the Authorizer bill itself has. That's because there have been a couple of other recent controversies where state lawmakers have been at odds with Metro (nullifying a Metro anti-discrimination law and threatening to take over some city zoning powers) that had the Mayor joining them in opposition. So why switch now they ask?

It's about providing parents more choice replies the Mayor's spokesperson, but the divide is a ticklish one for him and one that looks likely to fester a while as the Authorizer Bill tries to makes its way through the General Assembly. Along with threats of a lawsuit if the measure passes, a memorializing resolution against the bill has already been passed by the full Metro Council.

While not required, such resolutions do routinely cross the mayor's desk for his signature (or perhaps not in this case). It's sticky situation to be sure. The Mayor surely won't sign the Council resolution, but does he veto it or just ignore the matter and let it pass without his signature? Whoever thought charter schools would become the burning issue driving Metro politics? But that's what it is today.


Rick Scott, a former health care magnate (HCA), the current Governor of Florida and a longtime, strong critic of ObamaCare has become the latest GOP leader to accept the millions in federal dollars available to his state (with for at least 3 years no state matching monies required) to expand Medicaid health services to the poor.

Tennessee's Governor Bill Haslam is still trying to decide what to do. Our TennCare program is one of the largest and most complex Medicaid programs in the nation. Will the Governor go along too, especially if he can negotiate still more money, incentives or waivers from the feds in operating the program? Stay tuned.

Even if he does, how can he possibly persuade the GOP super majority in the Tennessee General Assembly to go along? They hate ObomaCare intensely. What about the conservative/Tea Party wing of the GOP? They've been a bit wary of the Governor since before he took office. Taking ObamaCare money to expand TennCare won't help their perceptions.

On the other side, hospitals across the state say TennCare expansion is vital or some of them could close. Some business groups say it will impact jobs and leave tens of thousands without help when they seek care in emergency rooms, while their counterparts in other states get health coverage.

A tough political situation in which to make a decision to be sure, and as time passes, it seems to be getting tougher.

Maybe it's not as tough as imagined. Late word on Friday: Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (another long- time, strong ObamaCare critic) has told reporters he is open to expanding Medicaid/TennCare if the Governor can get a good deal from the feds (i.e., more money) and he is willing to help Governor Haslam round up votes in the State Senate. Wow! What a potential change! Will the sun come in the west tomorrow?


State Senator Jim Tracy is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. He's also running for Congress in the 2014 August primary against incumbent GOP Representative Scott DesJarlais. So we have lots to discuss including the TennCare developments we just discussed. Tracy is also sponsoring some controversial anti-abortion legislation requiring any woman about to have an abortion undergo an ultrasound or be told what her fetus looks like and how its heart sounds.

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.


That's the headline on a mostly-glowing article written by POLITICO writer Alexander Burns (February 20) about Governor Bill Haslam. It praises Tennessee's Chief Executive for how effective he's been in his first two-plus years in office (tort reform, changing teacher tenure and civil service, cutting taxes, expanding charter schools) without getting much national attention (both the good and the bad) that some other GOP governors have been getting. The article says of what Haslam has accomplished: "It looks like a version of the pro-growth platform Washington Republicans have been grasping for." There are even positive comments in the story from former Governor Phil Bredesen who says he thinks he and Haslam share some of the same voters.

So is the Governor a possible 2016 VP running mate (as suggested by former Knoxville Mayor Victor Ashe in the article) or even a presidential candidate for the GOP one day? Haslam says a national campaign is "not on my agenda" but adds: ‘I do think it helps to have been a governor and say, here's a place where we can show we've done that."



If Nashville is the IT city, are we ready to be an Olympic city?

THE NEW YORK TIMES (which recently gave us the IT moniker) also reported recently that Nashville is one of 35 cities across the country asked by the U.S. Olympic Committee if we'd like to bid to host the 2024 Games.

It gave me a strong sense of déjà vu. You see, I wrote such a response letter back in early 1987. I was working in Mayor Richard Fulton's office back then, and one day he gave me a letter and asked that I draft a response. I saw the Olympics rings on the letter, but at first I thought it was for the city to host an Olympic swimming competition since we had just opened the SportsPlex in Centennial Park. Then I saw it concerned hosting the entire 1996 Olympic Games. Wow! So I went back to the Mayor to make sure. But before I could even open my mouth, he said: "I know what the letter says. Draft a response that we are interested in bidding."

So I wrote that letter. Later in March, 1987, I was part of a delegation from Nashville attending a meeting at the USOC's headquarters in Colorado Springs to further outline what a bid required. The City of Atlanta was there too that day, beginning its successful bid to capture the Centennial Olympic Games. I later read a quote from one of the Atlanta Olympic organizers who said that they didn't get interested in bidding until after they read and heard news report that Nashville planned to do so. Therefore I have always taken a little pride that my response letter in some ways might have played a little role in the history of bringing the Olympic Games to the South.

So is Nashville ready to bid again? I know there are lots of pros and a whole lot of cons. I also know how big a job it was just to put together a bid like we did in 1987. But I know as well we are in a lot better shape facilities-wise to bid now than back then. Remember we put a plan together (and it would have worked at least on paper) when we didn't have the Arena, the Stadium and the many other sports and other facilities we have now on our college and university campuses (although probably a new separate Olympic Village for athletes would be required along with other new facilities and much more mass transit to move people around).

We are a lot closer in the hotel accommodations required to host the Games. We have almost 36,000 rooms available now with a lot more under construction or being planned with the new Music City Center opening soon. Can we get to the required 45,000 rooms? Maybe not, but the 2024 Games are still over a decade away.

The politics are very tough too. If Chicago and New York couldn't the get the Olympic nod in their recent bids (after reportedly both spending at least $10 million each on the efforts), how could Nashville? I am not sure we can, or that we should, but I know Nashville's growing world brand is a real plus that most of other cities (including Memphis which was also asked to bid) would have trouble competing.

But for now, at least we can dream. And it's cities with dreams that make things happen. For me, it just brings back some great memories from over 25 years ago.


I really should have posted these comments last week, but frankly it took me some time to assess my thoughts.

Some of the events of the past week would have had our ancestors thinking the end times were approaching….a large meteorite hits Russia, a large asteroid just misses the planet, the Pope retires from office for the first time in over 400 years. It makes you think.

I've had some of that kind of change in my own life recently. No, I am not talking my stroke. I am talking about two close friends, one a current the other a former client, who have announced plans to leave their posts. I'll admit I didn't see it coming, and it shook me up a bit at first.

Both are handling their life changes with grace and style. Both Don Klein of the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors and Phil Ryan of the Metropolitan Development & Housing Agency have done great things for their organizations, taking them to new heights among their peers nationally over the past several years. Both have been so devoted to their work, they leave some big steps to fill for whoever follows them. I know I am more than a bit biased having worked closely with both, but they have also done great things for Nashville, and this community should be in their debt for what they've accomplished to move our community ahead.

I have been blessed to work with so many wonderful clients over the years and I hope I can find a way to continue work with these two wonderful men in the future.


If you think you got tired of hearing the words "fiscal cliff', get ready for another political expression (and it's a mouthful) "sequestration." It's a remnant of the cliff, the automatic across the board budget cuts that go into effect for both domestic and military programs on March 1 unless Congress and the White House agree on a deal to settle our fiscal issues.

Now a deal is not likely to happen, so it's possible, maybe likely, Congress will postpone the cuts and kick the can down the road again, delaying "sequestration" one more time. But the difficulty is, just ahead also lies the debt ceiling limit (again) and reauthorizing the government's overall budget so it can keep its doors open. All these fiscal issues keep piling up on one another.

In the meantime with Congress on recess again this week, keep listening for our political leaders and members of the Obama Administration to wail and grind their teeth about the difficulties the budget cuts will cause. In many ways they are correct, the cuts are short-sighted and badly planned. But like many governmental budget cuts I have heard threatened over the years, they always seem designed to exact the most political angst possible.

It reminds me in Metro when the Health Director always used to say any funds reduction would mean the end of the city's rat control program, with little babies then at risk of being bitten by a rodent while lying in their cribs. Or there was the Fire Chief who warned if his department had to take any more budget cuts, people would have to make an appointment if they had a fire.

The point is, it was Congress and the Obama Administration who approved sequestration. If it's so bad, do your job and fix the problem, finally. Otherwise, as The Bard said, I think you doth protest too much.