Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 1, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 1, 2013

CREATED Mar 1, 2013


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

March 1, 2013



Based on public opinion polls, it may be the most popular vote taken by our state lawmakers in years. It's the 5-4 decision by the sub-committee of the State Senate State and Local Government Committee (boy, that is a mouthful) to approve legislation to allow grocery and convenience stores to sell wine.

It's a measure that been pending on Capitol Hill in Nashville for what seems like forever (maybe longer than some wines take to age). But it had never come up for a vote in any fashion until now. Don't pop the cork on the sparkling beverages just yet. The bill, which requires public referendum approval before taking effect in any city or county already having liquor stores or liquor-by-the-drink, must still pass the Senate Finance Committee as well as multiple committees in the House before it gets the floors of either legislative chamber to pass and get to the Governor's desk for final approval.

Nevertheless public support for wine in grocery stores seems to be growing. A new poll from MTSU (reported by THE TENNESSEAN on line 2/28) found more than 2 to 1 support (65% to 24%) for the concept. In fact, favor for more access to buy vino and related products seems to now cut across many demographics with support from both young and old, and even evangelical and non-evangelical Christians.

But given the very tight margin of approval in the sub-committee (which came only because of reported strong lobbying efforts by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey) there is no certainty the bill will keep moving forward. The journey of a thousand miles does begin with a first step and this vote seems to at least be that. However, those representing the liquor industry are well known for their political prowess, so it's likely the battle is far from over.


Despite last minute efforts by Democrats in the House to add amendments, the Republican super-majority has passed its first major piece of controversial legislation this term. The lower chamber voted overwhelmingly 72-22 to approve the guns in parking lots/trunks bill. The measure now goes to Governor Bill Haslam (who despite some earlier stated reservations) seems likely approve it or let it go into law without his signature.

Democrats tried to exempt schools, long term parking lots and unemployment offices from the bill. But all such exemptions were rejected or tabled by Republicans in moving final passage. That includes allowing individual employers to opt out. Many larger businesses had strong concerns about the bill at one time. But their vocal objections have become more muted after the measure was amended to give property owners immunity if anyone gets hurt with a gun on their property and the carrying rights are only allowed to those who hold state handgun permits. Nevertheless, the new law is likely to bring still more national attention to the state, which some will find unneeded and not particularly flattering, especially given the issue involved (guns). THE WALL STREET JOURNAL even made a front page mention of the measure the day the bill came up for its final vote (2/28).


The Governor's school voucher plan has taken its first move towards legislative approval, successfully coming out a House Education sub-committee. Some observers wonder why there were no moves to broaden the scope and financial impact of the bill by allowing more students to participate beyond just those in failing public schools located largely in Memphis and Nashville.

Lots of Republicans in leadership on the Hill (including one of main sponsors of the Governor's proposal according to WPLN 2/28) seem to want a bigger bill, so that could come in due time (if there is a consensus on just exactly what they want).

They may also have to build more public support for the overall concept of vouchers. A surprising telephone poll released by Middle Tennessee State University (reported by THE TENNESSEAN 2/26) found 46% of those surveyed (650 total) oppose vouchers with only 40% liking the idea. The numbers get even more interesting when broken down by race: 63% of minorities support the voucher idea while only 37% of whites do.

Maybe the move to build a brand for vouchers is already underway. The conservative Beacon Center think tank has begun running a TV ad that promotes vouchers as "the change we need to improve Tennessee's public schools" particularly our low test scores (4th lowest in the nation it claims).

The ad says vouchers will put parents in control of their children's education. It blames our past political leaders for Tennessee's failure to reform schools. But the lineup of leaders shown in the ad might seem selective to some. The photos of former Governors displayed (including some going way back) include Democrats Frank Clement, Buford Ellington and Ray Blanton. The only Republican shown is Don Sundquist.

Those Governors from recent Tennessee history (from the 1950s forward) not pictured in the ad are former Republican Governors Winfield Dunn and Lamar Alexander along with former Democratic Governors Ned McWherter and Phil Bredesen. No reasons are given in the TV spot for why certain photos of Governors are used and others are not. But it should perhaps be noted that all the Democratic governors included are deceased while the only Republican (Sundquist) remains very politically unpopular especially among Republicans.

Among the Governors not mentioned, Alexander, Bredesen and Dunn remain politically active and popular while McWherter just recently passed away and is very well remembered. So maybe the group just doesn't want to pick a political fight with those former State Chief Executives who are still around and who have continuing political clout. Besides there's only so much room on the TV screen anyway, right?


Sometimes our state lawmakers clearly put themselves right of the middle of the great political debates of the….19th Century. And so it was for the second week in a row that members of the State Senate Judiciary Committee spent (wasted?) their time debating whether Tennessee could nullify a federal act by empowering local sheriffs to arrest any federal agents who try to enforce any new national firearms laws.

Asked his opinion the State Attorney General said no, that would not be constitutional. According to a NASHVILLE SCENE article (2/27) even a representative of Governor Bill Haslam told the committee he probably wouldn't sign any such bill if lawmakers approved it.

But still, much as in the days before our Civil War when we argued over tariffs and slavery (John C. Calhoun vs. President Andrew Jackson , the North vs. the South) the committee debate raged on, until finally it voted 4-4 to kill the measure sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers, at least for now. According to the SCENE article Beavers took the loss in stride saying it was "the best debate we've ever had on the Constitution." Maybe, but the matter was actually decided way back in 1865.


Happy Sequestration Day!

For once, Congress did not kick the can down the road and effective today (before midnight tonight), $85 trillion in across the board spending cuts are begin to take place in both federal domestic and defense programs. The sequestration cuts were never intended to happen and almost everyone admits they are poorly drafted. They were supposed to spur Congress and President Barack Obama to make an overall larger budget and deficit spending deal to end our ongoing political fiscal deadlock.

But it didn't work and now an overall government shutdown also looms at the end of March if the parties can't come to an agreement or decide to continue departmental funding on a continuing basis as it's been doing for months now.

How bad will the sequestration be? Will it impact our daily life? There seems to be some dispute about that at least in the short term. Some Republicans say it may not be that tough. The White House has released a state-by-state breakdown which shows (among other "highlights") a loss in Tennessee of nearly $15 million in education funds for primary and secondary education (threatening 200 teacher jobs); over $2 million lost in grants and funds to address public health and substance abuse issues; $4 million in environmental funding for air and water quality along with fish and wildlife protection.

It will likely take a few weeks before we begin to see a lot of impact from the cuts which must be done before October and could range up much higher over the next decade if Congress doesn't repeal the sequestration. What seems to be raising the greatest concern immediately among state officials, including Governor Haslam, are the employee furloughs and cuts that could impact government programs in Oak Ridge and at Ft. Campbell near Clarksville. The Governor believes the feds need to spend less, but the across the boards cuts under sequestration are likely be counter-productive he believes. But I doubt he is concerned enough to follow a suggestion by State Senate Democrats who want to use some of the state's Rainy Day fund to offset the federal sequester cuts in Tennessee.

The way the Governor handles our budget issues came in for some national praise recently in an article by POLITICO. And it's happened again with President Obama citing the Governor and the state in recent remarks before the National Governors Association meeting in Washington. According to an article in the CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS (2/26) the President told the group "governors know compromise is essential to getting things done…that's how Governor Haslam balanced his budget last year in Tennessee while still investing in key areas like education for Tennessee's kids. Like the rest of us (he knows) we can't cut our way to prosperity. Cutting alone is not an economic policy."

While I am sure Governor Haslam appreciates the praise, getting put into the middle of the fiscal fight between the President and Republicans in Washington has got to make him a little uncomfortable. He's a consensus kind of guy which you find very little of in Washington these days. We'll see in the days ahead what kind of consensus sequestration brings. Don't hold your breath.


We talk about all these matters occurring on Capitol Hill and Washington (and a lot more) with our guest this weekend on INSIDE POLITICS. It's State Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle from Memphis. Like all Democrats he is adjusting to being in the super minority on the Hill. I am sure it's not easy, especially when like Senator Kyle, you can remember when your party ran the place. Now they don't even count for the quorum. 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. For those outside Nashville or who don't have cable access, portions of INSIDE POLITICS interviews are later posted on NEWSCHANNEL5.com.


For the first time since coming back to work (mid-September) from my stroke last summer, I am taking some time off next week. So there won't be an edition of CAPITOL VIEW next Friday (March 8). Look for my next column on Friday, March 15.

There will be a fresh INSIDE POLITICS show airing the weekend of March 8-10. We are honored to have the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Nashville (Middle Tennessee), the Most Reverend David Choby to be my guest. We'll be talking about the recent surprise resignation/retirement of Pope Benedict XVI and the impending selection of a new Pontiff. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest human organization on the planet with a reported 1.2 billion members. When the Church undergoes a leadership change (there have been just 265 Popes over nearly 2,000 years) I think it's worth some time to discuss on my show even if it's not exactly the kind of inside politics we usually focus on. By the way for full disclosure, I am a life-long practicing Catholic.

On another personal note, I am really looking forward to the break this coming week. Like anyone trying to get away, it's been a very busy time getting ready to go with lots of important client matters, and other activities to attend to. I was concerned the schedule might be too much for me this past week, but I've held up pretty well. I was pretty tired at the end of each day, but I have come back strong and refreshed each new morning.

The continued compliments I get about how good I look sure help a lot. Working out weekly at the Y and doing some daily exercises at home have a lot to do with that. The new suits I got from my family at Christmas help as well. There's nothing like clothes that fit!

When I return I plan to start my Y workouts twice a week. My trainer is giving me some routines to do using the weight machines. It will sure help that I'll know how to properly use the machines so I get maximum benefit and don't wind up hurting myself instead! Maybe one day I will be ready for the treadmills.

I am still battling my left side weaknesses. When I pull or lift weights on the machines, I have to tell my left side at least two times what I tell my right to do (and even then I need to check it visually to be sure it's happening). As before, things are slowly getting better and my strength and range of motion in my left arm and shoulder continue to increase too. I am getting another massage this weekend to further check on how things are going.

So while I look forward to soon hearing the crack of the bat and enjoying some warmer weather, I know how blessed and fortunate I am in my life. I have just passed the eight month mark since my stroke and my recovery continues quite well I think. God is good and He blesses me every day.