Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 22, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 22, 2013

CREATED Mar 22, 2013

By Pat Nolan, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
March 22, 2013



It looks like a fateful week ahead for Governor Bill Haslam.

His school voucher bill comes up again in a Senate committee after being deferred earlier this week. There's been a rival bill also pending in the same committee (now moved to sub-committee according to THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL March 22). It would make the voucher program much bigger in cost and scope and to let a lot more students participate. Who has the votes? We will find out soon. But it is interesting to note that one Senator supporting the rival voucher proposal (Senator Brian Kelsey) says he just may gut the Governor's plan and directly substitute the other in its place, which would be a little embarrassing for the administration if it happens.

Don't forget two years ago, the full Senate passed a broad voucher program on its own, so the odds may be they are ready to do so again even though the Governor says he's against that. What about the House? One of my sources indicates that body may be more likely to go with the Governor and that could set up a conference committee to work things out.

That's also what Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey says he told the Governor directly during a dinner together this week.  According to a NASHVILLE SCENE on-line article (March 21), Ramsey was also quite candid with reporters about what he said to the Governor.  "I'm going to let the committee system work. I do think a stronger bill, a more expensive bill, will come out of the State Senate….Let's let the Senate pass what the Senate's going to pass, and the House pass what the House is going to pass. That's the way the legislative process works. If we can't work it out by amendments, it (goes) to a conference committee and we end up somewhere in between." 

But with the self-imposed deadline by GOP legislative leaders to adjourn by mid-April (Thursday, April 18), time frames out could get cramped going into this last month.  I doubt either side in this fight within the Republican Super Majority wants this to be deferred and carried over to next year, but let's watch and see how things unfold.

During their dinner, Lt. Governor Ramsey reportedly had even more difficult words for Governor Haslam on another topic that is also scheduled to come to a head this coming week (w/o March 25). Governor Haslam has indicated he plans to make up his mind by the end of this month about expanding the state's TennCare (Medicaid) program under the new national Healthcare Act.

But pointing out that there is no federal deadline to act, Lt. Governor Ramsey urged the Governor to put the matter off until at least next year especially if he plans to get lawmakers to approve a TennCare expansion (translated: the Governor doesn't have and very likely can't get the votes for approval for what many lawmakers will see as an endorsement of ObamaCare which they despise). In fact, the Lt. Governor went even further (according to the SCENE article) saying "he's giving (lawmakers) the green light to finally start moving bills forbidding any Medicaid expansion." Similar bills are pending in the House. But even though Governor has stated his opposition, and directly asked sponsors not to push the bills, that doesn't appear the way things are going, setting up another possible confrontation for the Governor with the Republican Super-Majority which he may not be favored to win. 


When you hear local officials say they must take some action "because God has given me a plan to help….save America," you should know it's time to move cautiously. That's why the Davidson County Election Commission made the right decision to back off its plan to investigate all foreign born voters on the rolls in Davidson County to make sure they are citizens.

Even the Commission's own attorneys cautioned such a move raised constitutional questions and besides the state is supposed to be looking into this issue and the U.S. Supreme  Court recently heard arguments in a similar case and will likely issue a ruling on the matter by no later than this summer. So why should Metro get in the middle of this now and likely get sued on its own? I think God will more than understand the caution.  


More and more, it appears Tennessee's senior United States Senator Lamar Alexander will be re-elected in a complete cakewalk next year. I didn't think anyone could have an easier time than his Senate colleague Bob Corker did last year. But it appears Alexander will at least match that with a re-election no-contest of his own for a third term in 2014.

The latest sign of Alexander's dominance was the announcement this past week (March 18) by conservative Franklin businessman Monty Lankford that "after much prayer I have decided not to run and I have pledged my full support to Lamar." Now Lankford, a former unsuccessful 2008 GOP congressional candidate (lost to Lincoln Davis) had only a slight chance to catch lightning in a bottle to beat Alexander. But the Senator has done such a masterful job of leaving no openings for anyone from the right wing of his party to take flight against him, Lankford likely knew he would be wasting his time.

As chairman of the conservative Political Action Committee called Leaders of Tennessee, Lankford likely also knows what a statewide campaign against a well-known incumbent would cost, and how hard it would be to raise anything close to that amount of money with Alexander already having lined up strong support from every major part of the Republican Party in the state.  Heck, he's even added former Governor Don Sundquist to his honorary campaign leadership team even though Sundquist remains quite unpopular in many parts of the GOP.

What about the Democrats? Well, they'll try to talk a good game about finding a credible candidate. But I doubt that will happen.  This is not Kentucky where actress Ashley Judd seems to have party leaders upbeat about what she could bring to a race against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (a close confidant of Alexander) who is also running for re-election next year. Of course that is if residency issues don't derail a Judd campaign (it seems she's been living here in Tennessee).

So the Republican dominance of state politics in the Volunteer State will continue (if not get stronger) next year with Governor Bill Haslam a clear favorite for re-election too next year. The GOP super-majority, in some fashion of another, is also more probable than not to return to the Hill in both houses of the General Assembly.


On the national level, the Republican Party is still trying to figure out what it needs to do to recover from its defeats in the federal elections (President, Senate & House) of 2012.

The Republican National Committee has fired up that debate with a scathing 97-page consultant's report that says voter perception of the national GOP is that the party's views on issues are "scary" and "out of touch" with average citizens. The report also says voters believe the GOP is being run by "stuffy old men."

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is definitely one of the younger leaders in the Republican Party and he won the hearts of many Tea Party zealots a few weeks ago after his old-fashioned filibuster on the Senate floor in protest of the Obama's administration policies (or lack thereof) regarding drone use and American citizens.

Rand is now considered a potential 2016 presidential candidate (he won a recent straw poll vote of national conservative leaders, for whatever that's worth over three years out). But he may have now alienated some of his new supporters with a speech he made (March 19) where he told the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that he endorses a pathway to citizenship as a part of immigration reform (although he claims he doesn't like using that phrase).So here is what he said, quoting from his speech (according to the Associated Press): "If you wish to live and work in America, then we will find a place for you….Immigration reform will not occur until conservative Republicans, like myself, become part of the solution. I am here today to begin that conversation….Let's begin that conversation by acknowledging we aren't going to deport" the millions already here.

But while even conservative Republicans are warming to the issue of immigration reform, working the devil in details could remain very tricky out, particularly how to define a "path to citizenship" or how to decide if the borders are now really secure.  And it's not the only major issue in Washington where Republicans seem quite divided.

Last weekend on the national TV talk shows, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker took a leadership position saying he and other Senate Republicans are open (according to an article in the CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS on March 19) "to further raising tax revenue as a part of a deficit reduction deal, calling a sweeping agreement possible." He added on Fox News Sunday: "I know the President is saying the right things, and we have an opportunity in the next four to five months."

But before you think President Barack Obama's "charm offensive" to wine and dine GOP lawmakers has worked, Republican House Leader John Boehner said firmly "no" adding: "The talk about raising revenue is over." 

And so it seems the Republicans coming together on the key issues that divide them and the nation also seem premature for now.

But Congressional Democrats and Republicans did come together in Washington long enough to pass a continuing resolution to keep the federal government operating through the rest of the fiscal year (or until October 1). In doing so they approved keeping most of the controversial $85 billion in sequester cuts in place, including the ban on tours of the White House and Yellowstone National Park. But while government employee furlough plans continue to move ahead in many agencies, some departments were given more money and flexibility to avoid cutbacks such as eliminating federal meat inspections that threatened to drive up prices and imperil food safety.

So far, the sequester cuts have been much less ominous than the Obama administration predicted, but some of the impacts may be more impactful long term rather than right away.

In the meanwhile, after all it's hard work, Congress, as usual, has gone off on another two week vacation. Still waiting when they come back: What to do, if anything, about the government exceeding its latest debt ceiling limit. Inside the Beltway, the money issues and gridlock never seem too very far away. 


On our show this weekend, we will take an in-depth look on the future of the national Republican Party. Our guests will be political analyst and former Tennessee Republican Party Chair Chip Saltsman and former Metro Deputy Mayor and aide to former President George H.W. Bush, Bill Phillips. Both of these guys are GOP insiders. They know their politics inside and out.

National parties who lose elections always go through a lot of internal navel introspection and reassessment, but this time the GOP's seems more intensive and potentially party-splitting than I can remember in the past. It's a lively and insightful discussion. Watch 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.