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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 15, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 15, 2013

CREATED Mar 15, 2013


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

March 15, 2013


Like a fine vintage that had aged its time, it appeared the wine in grocery stores legislation might finally be on its way to being approved on Capitol Hill, with voters then giving the final sign off in parts of the state that already have liquor stores or liquor by the drink.

But after living a charmed legislative life, passing out of two House committees, each time by one vote, (including one cast by House Speaker Beth Harwell to break a tie) the vino suddenly went flat, failing, again, by a single vote in a third House committee (Local Government).

The latest somewhat stunning development led to the bill's opponents cheering its now seeming annual demise while others in the hallways of the Legislative Plaza and in the media (NASHVILLE SCENE, March 13 & 14) speculated on political revenge and other motives for why the measure went down.

One member who changed his vote to no said he did so because several pending amendments had not been heard. But one of THE SCENE's articles says something else. It claims the bill failed (believe it or not) because this same House member was angry his right wing backed proposal to prohibit United Nations officials from monitoring elections in Tennessee had not been scheduled for a full House vote. A little kooky, huh?  But others on the Hill ill just wonder why the bill's sponsors, including the House leadership (Speaker Harwell), took the risk to lose the bill (and face political embarrassment) when no one knew for certain they had the votes in the final, fateful committee and could (and should) have rolled (deferred) the measure until another day.

Meanwhile, others in the Senate (including Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey) have not given up hope the matter might still be revived, either though the grocery/wine bill was burdened down with several amendments during a committee debate in the upper chamber, then sent to a sub-committee to sort things out.     

Lawmakers often like to send bills off to subcommittees to force both sides in a hotly charged political issue to work out a settlement.  I guess that could still happen, although now there is now little or no incentive for the liquor industry to strike a deal with the wine in grocery stores bill lying flat on its vino again in the House.


It's good times this past week for other bills likely to gain ultimate passage by the Republican super-majority, the only power that really matters on the Hill these days.

That includes Governor Bill Haslam whose legislation to revamp the state's workers comp system and to establish a limited school voucher program won relatively easy approvals in committees. But there are signs of issues ahead for the voucher bill with a potential rival measure surfacing in the Senate (TENNESSEAN March 14) that would greatly widen the cost, student eligibility, (and likely) both the support and controversy over this proposal.

On another education issue, a controversial bill to give the state complete and final approval authority over charter schools won easy passage in the Senate Government Operations Committee. It's now headed to the Finance Ways & Means panel and possibly soon to the Senate floor. That's good news from the upper chamber for Speaker Harwell, the bill's main House sponsor. She has gotten a lot of heat from Metro officials who oppose the state charter control concept dating back to the Great Hearts controversy last summer.  Now even more controversy appears looming as another out of town charter group has announced the state has already approved up to eight of its charters to open in Nashville in the years ahead.

Back on the Hill, as the head of the Republican House super-majority, it appears very likely Speaker Harwell will get her Authorizer Bill though the lower chamber. She must feel good it's going well in the Senate too at least so far. She can use the good news at a time when she lost her mother in recent days. I offer my prayers and condolences to her and her family at this very difficult time.


It's not just the Charter School Authorizer Bill that has Metro and the State at odds. Since the GOP took over the Hill during the last General Assembly, it's cropped up on several issues ranging from discrimination laws, zoning and now even the powers of Metro versus its satellite cities. Those cities (Goodlettsville, Forest Hills, Oak Hill and Berry Hill) were allowed to remain inside Davidson County after voters combined city and county governments and approved consolidated government 50 years ago.

Those satellite cities are not allowed to add any services they didn't have when Metro started in the 1960s. That recently hasn't set well with leaders in Forest Hills who wanted to establish their own environmental court. Metro took the matter to court and won. In response, Forest Hills has appealed the matter and found sponsors in the legislature ( interestingly, no one from Davidson County) to sponsor legislation that would allow Forest Hills and all the satellite cities to establish any city services they want as allowed under state law: their own schools, their own jails, their own codes department, their own trash pick-up, etc.   It would absolutely gut the concept of Metro consolidated government and "balkanize" the city as Mayor Karl Dean puts it.

Almost all Metro officials agree with the Mayor. But this is a tough issue for him in some ways. He is still getting grief for his support of the state charter authorizer bill, and now even as he is back on the side of many of his normal political allies on this satellite cities fight, some just can't help but gig him about what they see as an inconsistency. The Mayor says he sees no problem. He is for a strong Metro government and for parental choice in selecting their children's schools.

The key to me is that the Metro-Satellite City bill is bad business and needs to be dropped or defeated outright. Metro Government is one of the best things the voters of Nashville and state government ever created. That's right. State government was involved at several points in the Metro effort of the 1950s and 1960s, approving the creation of commissions to draft the Charter and for voters to approve it.

Don't let the Red versus Blue political overtones of the ongoing Metro-State fight cloud better judgment. If Metro needs to be changed, it needs to be done as it has always been accomplished (as John Seigenthaler pointed out in his TENNESSEAN op-ed piece on March 10), by a vote of the people, not some power-play bill in the General Assembly.

The Republican Super-Majority can and likely will do whatever it wants. But if you're more interested in good government and good public policy, lawmakers should also keep in mind, not everything they have the political power to do is the best or wisest thing they should do. Speaker Harwell should keep that in mind too. As Nashville's most powerful politician on Capitol Hill and one of the most powerful figures in all of state government, nothing can pass or fail without her assistance one way or another.  Is this how she and the GOP want to use its super-majority? Playing politics to begin to dismantle the best thing the state has ever done for Nashville? I sure hope not.


Growing up in the South, I have always been a little sensitive about being told I talked "funny" or had a southern accent. But perhaps as another sign of how "hot" or "in" Nashville is these days is a new ranking issued by TRAVEL + LEISURE magazine that claims our city has the 4th most charming accent in America (behind Savannah, GA, New Orleans, LA and San Juan, PR). But this is one time when I read an article about it on-line (NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL, March 11), I wish it had some audio to hear what is defined as a "Nashville accent" and how it compares to the accents in the other cities listed.

So "Howdy, ya'll! I'm just so proud to be (from) here," as Cousin Minnie Pearl would say. Whatever that sounds like


I had a wonderful time off on vacation last week. It's the first time I've travelled since an extended weekend trip to Chicago for some college football back in early September just before I started back to work. I am lot stronger now and I had a lot more endurance this time when we flew down to South Florida for my annual spring training baseball trek (and to see my nearly 91-year old father-in-law). He goes to the Y three times a week to exercise, so we went one day for a workout too.

The trip also did good things for my blood pressure levels, which stayed in the 115-120 range day and night while I was there.  Nothing too bad, but the readings have gone back up a bit since I've returned. So let me know if anyone has any relaxation techniques I can employ. I think my mind automatically anticipates stress just coming back to town and I need a better way to try and deal with that.


This week on INSIDE POLITICS we have an encore presentation of my recent interview with prominent Nashville author and presidential scholar Stephen Mansfield. His latest book is LINCOLN'S BATTLE WITH GOD, an in-depth analysis of the on-going struggles President Abraham Lincoln had with God and his own spiritual life.   Despite the many references to religious symbols and imagery in his famous speeches, Lincoln never belonged to a church and held some publicly stated views as a young man that might surprise you (and might have cost him the presidency if friends hadn't destroyed most of the copies of what he thought at that time).

More books have been written about Lincoln than any other president. The recent movie, LINCOLN is one of the best and most popular films of the last year and still remains at the box office. If you watch this interview, I think you'll better understand why our 16th President remains so fascinating to us nearly 150 years after his death.

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.

In closing I want to thank Bishop David Choby of the Diocese of Nashville for being on INSIDE POLITICS last week. We actually taped the show February 28 (a few days before I left town) and held it for over a week.  I was concerned it might get very outdated because a new Pope could be selected before we aired. But off camera the Bishop said he thought it would March 10-12 before the Papal Conclave convened and it turns out he was just about right on the money for that date.

During the show, the Bishop also gave great insights about the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI and his thoughts about who and what might lie ahead with a new Pope who turns out to be Francis I, the first Pope from the Americas, the first Jesuit in that position and the first non-European Pontiff in modern times.

I have one last thing to share about the Bishop's insights. Again off camera, he expressed, as many Church leaders have, a strong wish to have the new Pope installed before Holy Week and the Easter season. The Catholic Church usually doesn't allow festive occasions such as a papal installation or even a wedding to be celebrated during Lent. But the Bishop pointed out that there is a tradition, at least at the Vatican, to waive Lenten rules on March 19, the annual feast day of St. Joseph. Sure enough it has been announced that is the day that Francis I will be officially installed. The Bishop knows his Church and again we thank him for joining us on INSIDE POILITICS.