Capitol View Commentary: Friday, April 5, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, April 5, 2013

CREATED Apr 5, 2013


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

April 5, 2013



So far, Governor Bill Haslam's third way for health care reform in Tennessee (expanding our Medcaid/TennCare program) is having a bit of a hard way in Washington. According to the CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS (March 31) Federal officials say it's OK for the state to use the $1 billion per year in federal funds to buy private insurance for up to 175,000 folks who don't have health care (for a family of 4 making up to $30,000 annually).

But the Governor must offer the alternative of allowing them to join TennCare directly as well and there seems to be disagreements about the need for extra "wrap around benefits (such as providing transportation to and from doctor's visits) and over requiring co-payments by patients.

So is this the beginning of a continuing negotiation, some back and forth to find common ground? Or will both sides just talk past each other with no resolution likely? It's hard to say. Governor Haslam himself told the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce during a speech this week (Associated Press April 2) that he's not "on a fool's errand' and that " a deal could be struck at any time" according to the AP story. The AP says the Governor later told reporters he has spoken to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as recently as last weekend and said a deal could struck anywhere "from now to next year" (well, that's a pretty flexible timeframe for sure).

 Barring an unlikely quick resolution, it does appear clear Tennessee's answer, for now, is still no to a Medicaid/TennCare expansion, meaning the state will refuse the extra billions in federal funds (which require no matching dollars for up to three years) and will mean the likelihood of tens of thousands still being without health insurance come 2014 (and the full implementation of national health care). Health officials say it could mean as well a number of rural hospitals closing due to the financial stress that will create.   

Meantime, while he may not be on "a fool's errand" (to use his own words) Governor Haslam's health care actions are being made fun of nationally. He is joining his colleagues in the state Legislature as a target for ridicule on the COLBERT REPORT (April 1). The comic also went after the state's twice a year "TennCare lottery" in which people get to call and call and call (usually from multiple phones during a one hour window) to try and get a chance to apply to get into the program (up to 2,500 supposedly do get in during each window).

Many will find it a funny comic routine about a very unfunny subject.




Governor Haslam also tried to bring humor to the state's budding water war with Georgia.  He told the Nashville Chamber audience he has a deal for the Peach State to adjust our border to get access to the Tennessee River for drinking water for Atlanta.

"We'll take the Atlanta Braves and they can have the water," he joked. (He reportedly joked about a similar trade for Sea Island, Georgia in exchange for the water).

I am not sure what the reaction would be for the state having ocean-front property, but moving the Tomahawk Chop to the Volunteer State did not poll well in an online sampling I saw on the CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS (which publishes in an area of the state very close to the border controversy). When I saw the numbers (the afternoon of April 2), taking the Braves in exchange for the water was at 11%, running well behind the 23% who chose getting a high speed rail line to Atlanta instead, or the 45% who said "they can never have our water." Only 10% choose "just let them have the water" while 8% said charge $5 a gallon.

As expected, state lawmakers are weighing in too.  According to Andy Sher of THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES-FREE PRESS (April 4) House members "cheered, whistled and noisily clapped as a Nashville colleague (Democrat Jason Powell) launched a verbal barrage against Georgia's efforts. "As far as I am concerned, Georgia can keep its greedy hands and its thirsty mouth (Atlanta) away from our water," he said.  The story continues. "Replied House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick: I believe the representative can rest easy."   


Congrats to Governor Haslam and Senator Bob Corker for raising concerns about the politically hare-brain scheme by some Tea Party-right-wing members of the General Assembly to deny voters the right to choose their parties' candidates for U.S. Senate beginning in 2016.

The Governor told reporters (Associated Press April 2) he had "major problems" with the bill and would "very strongly" consider a veto if it reached his desk. That was followed by news (WATE-TV, Knoxville, April 2) that Senator Corker made a personal call to House Speaker Beth Harwell raising his concerns about the measure (which could directly impact his next re-election effort 5 years from now).

Speaker Harwell says it's the first time she has ever heard directly from the Senator about pending legislation and it must have made quite an impression. A few days ago, it looked possible the bill might pass. But shortly after the Speaker and Senator talked, and just after the Governor's comments, sponsors in both houses took actions to put the measure off until at least next year. Let's hope it is forever! The voters need to continue to choose nominees for the Senate, not let it be done by lawmakers.




Governor Haslam also played hard ball with Senate lawmakers in recent days, telling them to either approve the new school voucher program as he has recommended it, or he would have the sponsors withdraw his measure before it was gutted in committee and replaced with a much larger program involving more schools and students statewide and who's families make higher incomes. That would mean there would be NO voucher program this year despite strong overall support for it in the General Assembly, at least in concept.

And that's exactly what has happened with the move to withdraw likely showing the Governor did not the votes to pass the bill at least in the Senate committee where it met its demise. Do Senators who support the larger voucher plan have the votes to pass their proposal? No, probably not. After some brave talk about amending another bill on the floor of the Senate to get their voucher plan, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey said no, that's not the way it should be done. He thinks a matter as important as a voucher program this needs to go through the full committee process, and that can't happen now until next year.

The failure to reach an agreement on vouchers is perhaps the biggest surprise and failure this session for the Republican super-majority and Governor Haslam. It also echoes the mixed, muddled recommendations the Governor got from his blue-ribbon task force a few months ago. Lt. Governor Ramsey blames some of his fellow GOP Senators for not being willing to compromise. But short of just accepting the Governor's plan, I am not sure what kind of compromise was possible.   

I have never seen this Governor (or any Governor I've covered back to 1973) threaten to withdraw his bill if he didn't get his way. Some will say that kind of action is standing up for your principals and the legislation proposed. Others will say it's just another sign of how this Governor seems ready to do almost anything to avoid conflict with lawmakers, especially one he seemed likely to lose at least in committee.


In the final days of any legislative session, lots of crazy things happen. And sometimes that means crazy legislation thought dead for the year suddenly shows signs of life.

That's the case with a proposal that would cut welfare benefits for parents if their children do poorly in school. The measure has generated lots of opposition and tons of national bad press but it was still on the Senate floor for final approval the other day before it was delayed by its sponsor (Senator Stacey Campfield). It also passed in a House Committee earlier this week, further raising eyebrows and  concerns this "crazy" bill might pass. So does Senator Campfield have the votes to pass this terrible piece of public policy? Or is this just another "star turn" for him in the media spotlight as the session begins to wrap up for the year? He seems to love it so…




The bill that gives the state, not local school boards (at least in Nashville and other major cities) the final say over approving charter schools has begun its move through the General Assembly.

Given its strong support from Nashville representative and House Speaker Beth Harwell I think its chances for passage in the House are quite good. I am not as sure about the Senate. But in the interim, I guess Metro Schools Director Dr. Jesse Register needs to start vetting outside law firms since his School Board has voted without dissent (8-0) to file suit if the bill becomes law. It's not the first time local school officials have talked about legal action in this controversy and it could further strain its relationship with Mayor Karl Dean who has also been supporting the Authorizer bill.

The School Board says they will need an extra $40 million next year to deal with all the new charters coming on  line (and the Authorizer is not yet approved). They are upset state education officials and the Mayor have not willing to meet with them to find a compromise. But they will get a chance to meet with the Mayor next Friday (April 12) for their annual budget presentation to His Honor. That has the makings of being a very interesting budget hearing indeed!  


As consolidated government for Nashville and Davidson County celebrates its golden anniversary this weekend (Saturday April 6) with a 50th birthday party at the Historic Courthouse from noon to 3:00 p.m., I sure hope Metropolitan government serves us well for another 50 years.

So that's why I am happy Mayor Karl Dean and the leaders of our existing satellite cities have come to some agreement about their future relationships that will Metro more or less intact. That certainly was not the case concerning the legislation the satellite cities were pushing on the Hill which (despite having no sponsors from Davidson County) would have let the satellite governments do anything or provide the all same services of any city in the state. That would have definitely killed Metro.

Now it is reported that bill is dead and instead, Metro and the satellite leaders will rework their sharing of tax funds and allow at least the Forest Hills satellite city to move ahead with setting up its own municipal court which Metro had blocked through a law suit.  There is also talk that the new accord will allow the satellite cities (which also include Oak Hill, Belle Meade, Berry Hill & Goodlettsville) to establish parks, pick up trash, even levy and collect their own business tax. But how is that not duplication with what Metro already does (except trash collection which the city does not provide in its General Services District that includes the satellite cities) ?

That's why I remain concerned this is only the first battle of a still longer political war over who will calls the shots in Nashville/Davidson County with Metro officials on one side and the Republican super majority in the General Assembly on the other with the leaders in the satellite cities. The plain truth I heard from multiple sources is that the satellite cities likely had the votes to move their bill and this agreement represents the best Metro could salvage to get an armistice (it's a 4-year deal) on the issue for now.


I am so pleased to have Pulitzer Prize winning Presidential historian and Nashville resident Jon Meacham as my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. We'll be discussing his current book (for many weeks now on the NEW YORK TIMES Best Seller list), THE ART OF POWER, concerning the life of President Thomas Jefferson. We will also discuss his AMERICAN LION book on the life of President Andrew Jackson (for which won the Pulitzer in 2008).

I hardly know where to start there are so many things to discuss with him about these historical figures and how what they did, and what they wrote and said, has impacted our nation and its politics and still does today.

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.


While Nashville still waits to see if its network TV show of the same name will be renewed by ABC for a second season (and continue production here rather back in California), it appears our city will be the subject of yet another television series.

According to a story by THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL (March 29), the TNT Cable Network has approved eight episodes of "Nashville Confidential, a docudrama that will go behind the scenes in the Country Music Capital of the World"…"centering on some of Nashville's most compelling power couples." (And you thought seeing Vince and Amy or Nicole and Keith and at the Whole Food Store in Green Hills was enough).

The show comes from the same folks who brought you "The Real Housewives" of both Orange County and Beverly Hills and is set to provide (according to a news release from TNT) "an alluring and unprecedented glimpse of one of America's most unique, vibrant and competitive cities." Thanks for the compliment, TNT. But I wonder who these power couples will be? 

With spring weather finally arriving this weekend, Nashville does continue to be a roll. The Tin Pan Alley music festival continues to grow as a major annual event and Fashion Week in Nashville is beginning to find its place too. And what about FORBES Magazine saying Belle Meade is the best place in the country to retire (and that's not counting taxes which could get even better for its wealthy residents if state lawmakers decide to phase out the Hall Income Tax on stock dividends).     

Ah….such is the life of being America's "It City."