Capitol View Commentary: Friday, April 19, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, April 19, 2013

CREATED Apr 19, 2013


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

April 19, 2013



What a crazy, very sad, yet somehow inspiring week it's been in America.

I haven't felt this strange mix of emotions since the days following September 11, 2001.

From the events in Boston the past several days, we've learned that our war with terrorism (be it foreign or domestic) is far from over. And our response seems to be evolving too, even if that means a complete lock down of the 6th largest city in the country.

Even if it also means the largest, most intensive police manhunt (including shootouts and bombs being thrown). These are things that most of us could only have imagined happening in a movie. And all this was being done in an effort to apprehend and bring to justice one of those allegedly involved in these crimes.

As I write these words it remains unclear what motivated these senseless attacks at the Boston Marathon, but you can't help but marvel at the investigative skills of law enforcement that seemed to have cracked this case in just a matter of a few days. In particular, there's the use, in of modern digital technology that is both reassuring in how it has helped capture potential criminals so quickly, but in other contexts, it's also slightly disturbing in how it also raises the specter of "Big Brother" in terms our own personal privacy and liberties. It's like learning that those CSI TV shows are much closer to real life than you might think. Again, it's a strange mixture of emotions I'm feeling.

Of course, as seems to happen every time we've had a national terror event since 9-1-1, the mysterious letters with a suspicious power arrive in the mail, this time from a Mississippi man sent via Memphis to the President, a U.S. Senator and others. Family members are quoted as saying the man involved was "off his meds." That's probably true, but he was certainly right on cue.

We've been reminded this past week that our free and open society means our public events and celebrations leave us vulnerable to attack. We've also witnessed again the tremendous heroism and bravery of our emergency first responders, law enforcement officials and even average citizens, who run towards the smoke and mayhem of tragedy (and sometimes even gunfire) to provide assistance, while so many others run to the hospital (even after just running 26-plus miles on their own) to provide blood or other assistance to those who need it.

I agree with President Barack Obama that "Boston will run again" and that terrorists have picked on the wrong city. The outpouring of support both inside and outside the Boston area (and indeed all around the country) is heartening. And while it's under very different circumstances, all this does remind me in some ways of how Nashville rallied itself and was ultimately supported nationally after our disastrous floods in May, 2010. The positive nature and endurance of the human spirit is amazing to watch in action!

While I am not a runner, I believe the terrorists are messing with the wrong group of folks when they target running events and runners, especially those who train for marathons or half-marathons. These are very focused, dedicated people who train for months in advance: in the dark of early mornings; in the heat; in the cold; the rain, even the snow and ice to be ready. They will not be deterred or intimidated.

That's also why this Boston attack hits close home for me personally. Both my daughters have become dedicated runners. Both will be doing the half marathon next weekend in the Music City Marathon (Kelly for the second year, Katie for her first). I know how hard they've worked to be ready and I know what's happened in Boston will not change that.

I doubt it will change the crowds that come to cheer the runners on either. That includes their families and friends of course but it also includes lots of folks who may not know anyone in the race who show up to provide verbal support; wave positive signs to encourage the runners; wear special t-shirts; hand out water; healthy snacks; provide musical performances; whatever it takes to create a positive atmosphere. I don't think many, if any of them, will be discouraged next weekend or in the future.

The greatest outpouring of support for runners usually comes as they approach their goal at the finish line (where the bombings occurred). Of course, that's where I've been for my kids and will be again April 27 along with my wife (it's also our 39th wedding anniversary). My daughters don't have Kenyan running skills so they will be back in the pack when they finish not unlike race times when the explosions occurred. But being there is now more important than ever, and I hope Nashville will turn out to show its support as these runners from all over the nation and the world converge on our city in the next few days.

I had never attended a marathon before last year. While watching in the front yard of a friend's home I couldn't help to be moved at the force of tens of thousands running by for seeming hours on end. It was like a mighty river. It reminded me of reading accounts from the Civil War as people watched armies pass by on the way to and from battle. It's a force I had really never seen before, but now I am seeing its power again even before this next Marathon, showing again that while America remains vulnerable, we are resolute and determined that our freedoms and liberties will prevail over terror, now and in the future.


One week after the U.S. Senate decided to begin debate on bills to curb gun violence, and in the wake of an apparent bi-partisan agreement on new background check requirements on gun purchases, the full Senate has voted 54-46 against any new background checks (60 votes were needed to ensure passage).

Both of Tennessee's Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, had voted to allow the debate and both voted no on the background measure saying they thought it violated Second Amendment gun rights for citizens.

The Senate's decision comes despite up to 90% public approval ratings in national polls for additional background checks. The vote also foreshadowed that other additional gun law restrictions (to ban assault weapons and high capacity ammunition clips) would also fail in the Senate, and they did. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid could try and resurrect the expanded background check proposal (he voted no on the measure to maintain that ability). But it's not clear that will be worth trying politically.

And so the effort to change federal gun laws in the wake of the Newtown shootings of school children last December appears at an end for the moment. President Barack Obama calls the Senate vote "a shameful day" in Washington and a victory for the gun lobby (National Rifle Association). The Senate debate and vote does mark the most success advocates for curbing gun violence have made in Washington in recent years. But it is clear, for any significant change to occur the victory must be won at the ballot box before it can happen on the floors of Congress.


About the same time the Boston terror attack was unfolding Monday afternoon, Tennessee politics was put into a scramble when word came that a small army of FBI and IRS agents had raided and sealed off the Knoxville headquarters of the Pilot Flying J company, operator the largest travel center network in North America and owned by the family of Governor Bill Haslam.

With multiple search warrants and subpoenas being served, the rumor mill went into overdrive. Frankly, with all this transpiring at the same time as the Boston tragedy, my information input gears felt stripped for the day as it was too much incoming information with way too little confirmation of what was true and accurate ( a problem that is somewhat continuing even today in the Boston story, unfortunately).

For a couple of days following the Pilot raid, the political uproar seemed to ease a bit, especially as Pilot officials, including CEO Jimmy Haslam, the governor's brother, issued statements and talked with reporters that seemed to allay fears of how serious this probe might be. But then came a 120-page affidavit filed in federal court by the FBI that indicated the probe had been underway for some weeks and that company officials, including CEO Haslam had been engaging in potential illegal activities regarding rebates to some trucking companies "for many years."

The Governor has not been involved in the day to day operations of his family business for several years (since was elected mayor of Knoxville and then becoming Governor in 2010). There have been no indications that he is in any way a target in the federal investigation.

But the Pilot Flying J Company has been key to the financial success and political power of the House of Haslam. Anything that places a cloud over that also places a cloud of the Governor in some way, and the sooner it goes away for him the better, especially with 2014 and his re-election campaign looming. The Governor has also resisted making any financial disclosures about his Pilot income and holdings. This probe could likely bring new political pressures for him to rethink that position.

Make no mistake, a federal criminal probe is a very serious matter and if this is like many investigations who knows how long it will be before this case is resolved one way or another? In that regard, from a media and crisis management point of view I commend the Governor and his brother, for stepping up and talking to the media even if what they can or should say is limited (especially in the Governor's case). Both took some risk opening up, but responding is almost always better than saying nothing and I think doing so did a lot to defuse more rumors and speculation on this matter at least for a few days.

I am afraid though the federal affidavit is so extensive (including secretly taped conversations) and so potentially damaging to the company (it reportedly does not cover all the materials seized in the raid) that the outlook for this to just go away looks in doubt. So maybe you can also understand the Governor's most recent statement through a spokesperson and as quoted in THE TENNESSEAN (April 19): "He (the Governor) has faith in Pilot to do the right thing and he has absolute faith in his brother's integrity. This investigation is in the early stages, and the governor would encourage people to withhold judgment until all the facts are known."

Indeed, stay tuned.

LATE BREAKING: In a statement to reporters late Friday afternoon (according to the Associated Press) "Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam says he hasn't done anything wrong and isn't stepping aside" from his job with the company or his ownership of the NFL's Cleveland Browns.


There's an old saying in politics that goes: "money talks and…" (Well, I can't repeat the rest in a family publication).

But if money does talk, what it says about the Tennessee 4th District Congressional race (still some 16 months away from the August, 2014 primary) is not good news for incumbent Dr. Scott DesJarlais.

The first financial disclosures from that race involving three of the likely Republican candidates show DesJarlais (raising $ 104,532 in the last quarter) behind his opponents by 4 to 1 (Senator Jim Tracy says he raised $436,485) and 2 to 1 margins (State Representative Joe Carr claims he's brought in $205,000 in contributions).

These figures clearly indicate the incumbent has not been able to shake the collapse of his fund raising ability that began last fall during his 2012 re-election campaign and which followed public confirmation of the multiple sex scandal issues (abortion and extra martial affairs) that have dogged him since he made his first race for office in 2010.

The money numbers also indicate a front runner status for Senator Tracy for the first time, at least based on something more than just how many endorsements he's picked up from his colleagues on Capitol Hill and those from prominent business and political leaders in Rutherford County, which is home to the largest Republican vote in the congressional district.

Money alone can't win political races, but it usually helps. There is a whole lot of time to go before this matter gets to the voters, so predictions are way premature, but money says Congressman DesJarlais faces an uphill fight to keep his job next year.


We planned to have State Representative Jo Carr as my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. We were going to talk about his fundraising disclosures and how close he is now to becoming an official candidate for Congress .

But the final hours of this year's session of the General Assembly lingered on beyond the time we could tape the show. So we will re-schedule later.

In the meantime we will air an encore presentation of our conversation with local author Woody McMillan. He talks about his book regarding the key role Middle Tennessee played in winning the Second World War through this area playing host to many troop trainings and maneuvers right before and during the conflict. It's a fascinating story and one that might fade from memory if not for Woody's excellent manuscript. 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.


It's been kind of been "warm up week" for the party ahead as Nashville and Mayor Karl Dean took time to celebrate a couple of new additions to community in anticipation of even larger events next month to mark the opening of the new Music City Center (Convention Center), the city's newest, largest and most expensive community infrastructure investment ever (and about the most massive structure I have ever seen every time I drive by it).

The two warm up events this past week included (April 18)the ribbon cutting for Ryman Lofts, Metro's "first affordable housing development for residents involved in Nashville's growing arts community" (according to a media advisory from the Mayor's office). I am not sure if you have to audition to be able to move into the 60-unit facility located in the trendy Rolling Mill Hill community along the Cumberland River downtown, but the opening celebration reportedly included a performance by several of the new tenants who wrote a special song for the occasion as well as a "songwriters in the round" session (all of which is so very Nashville).

The second celebration this past week (April 17) was the opening of the Korean Veterans Boulevard Extension which more or less makes up the front door entrance to the Music City Center coming from the river and up from the south. The opening of the KVB Extension ends years of controversy and government in-fighting over whether to build the road (beginning under its original name of the Franklin Street Connector) all the way to 8th Avenue and even beyond into the Gulch (it stops at 8th). The fight began before anyone ever started the Music City Center effort although any new convention center was long envisioned to be in roughly that location.

Both of these new developments are so trendy and fit so well into Nashville's hot national brand. For the KVB Extension it is being touted (again in a mayoral media advisory) as being "a Complete Street in that it includes bike lanes and 24 new bike racks, sidewalks, transit accommodations, landscaping, rain gardens, recycling receptacles and LED sidewalk lighting." It also connects to a new dual –lane roundabout connecting 8th Avenue, Franklin Road and Lafayette Street.

The KVB also connects on the other end to East Nashville which was again cited in this week in the national media. This time it's USA TODAY (April 16) as being among "the 10 best neighborhoods tourists have not yet discovered." In particular the article says: "East Nashville is a breath of fresh alternative air to the crowds of downtown and upscale shopping district of Green Hills. East Nashville is where urban pioneers are headed now, and its abundance of quirky shops and excellent restaurants, along with a few nightlife venues, make it well worth investigating."

My how far we've come! It was just 15 years ago to the day the USA TODAY article was published (April 16, 1998) that much of urban pioneering (and lots of other efforts) had been wiped out in East Nashville as a devastating tornado destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses in that area and in other parts of Nashville including downtown.

Indeed, we have a lot to celebrate.


As a part of this tumultuous week, the Tennessee General Assembly was also set to come to an end for this year. In its final days, gun rights and school issues were again in the forefront. Both houses approved and sent legislation to Governor Haslam to allow some teachers to be trained and go armed in their classrooms although who they are would be kept secret (creating yet more controversy over the matter).

In the area of schools, legislation to allow for-profit charter schools to operate in Tennessee and for the state to have final approval over charter school creation in some counties (including Nashville) moved closer to passage, but a final decision for this year remained in doubt as far as I could tell at this writing (3:00 p.m. central time).

As always in the final hours, sudden new controversies flared over legislation gaining late approval. Such is the so called "ag-gag" bill that restricts the filming or taping of animal abuse cases. It had been pushed as a "reform" measure, but opponents see it as just the opposite. In fact, (according to an on-line TENNESSEAN article 4/19) country music superstar Carrie Underwood is demanding the Governor veto the measure or he "can expect me on his front door" in protest.

The final days of session often expose tensions between the two houses. Sure enough, in the final minutes one of the key pieces of legislation being pushed by Lt. Governor and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey (to redistrict state courts), failed by a wide margin on the House floor as according to Post Politics.com amid "complaints of high-handed senate leaders."

And so with all that said, and especially given the overall craziness of this entire week on so many levels, I am going to defer until next week any further analysis of these matters and of the entire legislative session for this year.

Man, it has been some week!


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.