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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 10, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 10, 2013

CREATED May 10, 2013

CAPITOL VIEW

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

May 10, 2013

FRACTURES IN THE SUPER MAJORITY; DUCK; AG GAG AND THE INTERNET TAX; MOVING UP THE BUSINESS POLLS; NASHVILLE ‘S OTHER BIG SOAP OPERA; MAYOR KARL DEAN ON INSIDE POLITICS; MORE PROGRESS

FRACTURES IN THE SUPER MAJORITY

Upon further review, it does appear the rift between the Republican super majorities in both houses of the Tennessee General Assembly may be more serious and long lasting than originally thought. It came to the forefront when both bodies got mad at each other and, first, held hostage, then killed the pet legislation of each speaker on the final day of session.

Now according to THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL and confirmed by both speakers' offices, the joint fund raising efforts of both houses (which had $123,720 in the bank as of last report at the end of 2012) has been ended. The House blamed the Senate for killing it but said it is OK with that anyway, and that it looks forward to working together with their Senate colleagues in the future (oh, yeah?)There are also continuing questions about whether Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell are even talking directly to one another or if they have spoken at all since the session ended the middle of last month.

So will they make up by the time the next session begins in January? Probably, they have too many things they want to do on Capitol Hill and, like it or not, they need each other to do be able to accomplish that. So does Governor Bill Haslam who clearly wants to keep a good working relationship with both speakers (and sure can't afford to get caught in the middle between them in any fight).

There are other signs of faults inside the monolith of the Republican super majority, at least in the House. That's where Representative Judd Matheny who unsuccessfully raised the idea of challenging Speaker Harwell for leadership last year (and wound up losing his re-election to House leadership instead) is now talking about establishing a new sub-committee to review federal laws and executive orders to see if they are overbroad and violate state sovereignty. Some of the issues he wants to tackle include gun control and the Common Core educational standards which Tennessee and many other states have adopted, but which conservatives now dislike.

The House and Senate leadership have rather downplayed and discounted these "nullification" type efforts so it will interesting to see exactly what Matheny tries to do and what leadership does as well. But already Matheny seems to want to challenge some in the Republican super majority next year in the GOP primary elections. According to an article by TNREPORT.com (May 6), Matheny told a group recently: "We have 25 to 28 of our 70 members who are like us….We have another 20 or so—25—that can go either way based on the merits of the arguments or how convincing we can be. And then we have another 20 or 22 that need to go."

DUCK

One time long time state lawmaker who has already decided to go (retire) at the end of his term next year is Nashville Democratic Senator Douglas Henry.

His departure is a great loss to the people and the government of the state of Tennessee to whom he has served with distinction in the upper chamber since 1971 as well as a 2-year House term he was elected to way back in 1955. The loss of his institutional memory (45 years total) and knowledge of government operations will be immense in a legislature that increasingly doesn't know or care about such things these days.

He will likely be best remembered for his work to establish and protect the Radnor Lake State Park and Natural Area here in Nashville, one of the most revered green spaces in all of Davidson County or all of Tennessee for that matter. He's also been a strong fiscal hawk, helping to establish the state's Rainy Day Fund and jealously guarding Tennessee's credit rating and pension program. The almost 87-year old lawmaker says he is stepping down from public service to spend more time with his wife of nearly 64 years, Miss Lolly.

His departure has been rumored (wrongly) for years. And so, he's going out on his own terms even after narrowly defeating a party primary challenge in 2010 in which he had to win without his numerous cross-party Republican supporters who wanted to vote in their own primary for Governor (Bill Haslam) that August.

Henry supporters say he could have won re-election again in 2014 and I suspect that's right even if the district is even slightly more Democratic than in the past. Duck Henry was often a bit too conservative (almost like a Whig I thought) for some Democrats. But he always kept enough support that there was never a Republican in his district who could beat him (besides he grew up and went to school with most of them anyway).

It is highly likely Henry's 2010 challenger Jeff Yarbro will seek election again and could well be opposed by Metro Councilman Jason Holeman. Given the progressive lean of both those gentlemen I suspect there's an opening for a more conservative, pro-business candidate in that race either in the primary or on the GOP side. It already shapes up as one of the most intriguing local races for 2014.

I am hearing from some sources, Senator Henry wants to make it clear., He IS still in office and plans to remain as engaged and active as always as he's always been when the Legislature returns to Nashville in January for what will be Senator Henry's final year in office.

AG GAG AND THE INTERNET TAX

Governor Bill Haslam says (according to WPLN May 7) he will decide no later than the legal deadline (which is reported now to be Wednesday, May 15) about whether he will veto, sign or allow to become law the so-called Ag-Gag bill regarding the reporting of animal abuse within 48 hours of any knowledge. The Governor is first asking for a ruling on the bill's constitutionality from the Tennessee Attorney General.

The Governor told reporters: " …..at the end of the day it should be about, "Is the bill constitutional? Does it encourage the healthy treatment of animals? And is it good public policy that's well-written for the state?"

Meantime responding to a separate request by Nashville Democratic Representative Mike Stewart, the state AG office is already saying it thinks the Ag-Gag bill is "constitutional suspect" and violates the First Amendment regarding free speech for both citizens and the media (TENNESSEAN on-line article, May 9). The AG says the bill may also violate the Fifth Amendment regarding self-incrimination. Stewart says he can't see how the Governor would now sign a bill like that. But so far (as of esrly Friday afternoon), no action by the Governor, or a response (that we know of) from the AG's office about the Governor's request for an opinion

My fear has been he makes his decision Friday afternoon….right after I file this column. That would be my luck. But latest media reports (TENNESSEE JOURNAL 5/10) is that an announcement could come as early as Monday (May 13).

Meantime whether he seeks it or not, the Governor is reportedly still getting a lot of input as well on Ag-Gag from the public, celebrities and lots of other groups. WPLN says the governor's office has received more than 15,000 e-mails and almost 5,000 calls, with more than 90% wanting Haslam to exercise his veto. The national ACLU has also submitted a petition with more than 33,000 signatures against it, but only 350 are from Tennesseans. The National Humane Association is also lobbying against the bill and is airing TV spots on the subject. But that has led to some response ads on TV highly critical of the Humane Association and its operations. Proponents of the bill say the bill is legal and animal abuse needs to be reported immediately just as doctors and other medical personnel are required to report child abuse as soon as they suspect it.

Meanwhile as the Governor is weighing various kinds of advice on the Ag-Gag matter, he is giving some of his own to the Tennessee House congressional delegation. He wants them to vote in favor of the Marketplace Fairness Act which recently passed the Senate with both Tennessee Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker in favor.

In talking with reporters at a local Nashville bookstore event (including Tom Humphrey of THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL May 8) the Governor said: "I do think it's critical for our state. We're a sales tax driven state. We have folks—this bookstore—that are providing a product and collecting sales tax and other folks who are providing the same product and not collecting sales tax. And it's not a new tax; it's a tax owed right now but the people aren't paying."

But the Governor may have a tough sale on that with the seven GOP members of the Tennessee delegation. Marsha Blackburn made it clear in my interview with her on INSIDE POLITICS last week she is firmly opposed to the legislation and believes it is a new tax, while the rest our GOP delegation seems at best undecided or leaning no. If it helps the Governor, both Tennessee House Democrats (Steve Cohen and Jim Cooper) say they are for the bill. And the CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS reports (May 9) that Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey is also urging the Tennessee congressional delegation to vote for the bill.

So what's at stake? Some estimates are that Tennessee could receive hundreds of millions of dollars in sales taxes if the Marketplace bill passes and state lawmakers then exercise the right for Tennessee to collect those funds. Big bucks!

MOVING UP THE BUSINESS POLLS

A few days ago the Governor signed into law the signature legislation he was pushing this past term of the Legislature. It's a complete revamping of the state's workers compensation system, taking those cases out of the court system and putting them in the hands of a new state division.

This is one of several laws passed by the Governor and Republican lawmakers in recent years (tort reform, repeal of the gift and estate taxes, reduction of the Hall income tax and other new laws), all seeking to make Tennessee more business friendly and attract new jobs and/or job makers to our state.

Looking at some recent business polls, it appears to be having some impact. Tennessee is now 4th in the nation for job creation and business recruitment according to SITE SELECTION Magazine (and reported by the NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL, May 6). The survey is based on "new and expanded facilities, the capital investment on new facilities, jobs created and tax climate, among other criteria."

We're also now rated 4th best state in the nation for business overall according to ChiefExecutive.net. It gives Tennessee four stars out of five for Taxations & Regulations as well as with Living Environment. It gives us three and a half stars for workforce quality.

It says Tennessee has "been on a fast track somewhat longer than other states" and adds "Tennessee has a very friendly governor and administration toward business. No income tax is great too. The "reform" of worker's compensation "makes it (Tennessee) shine ever brighter."

Finally, Bankrate.com says Tennessee is the best place in the nation to spend your retirement (NBJ, May 6). That's based on the cost of living, tax burden, activities and availability of health care.

All these things sure do sound wonderful and if they are soon matched in higher state rankings for education, poverty and unemployment no doubt we will be a true model for the nation.

NASHVILLE'S OTHER BIG SOAP OPERA

If you think Nashville's biggest soap opera is the one on network TV, you haven't been to the last two meetings of the Davidson County Election Commission.

When last we updated you, the Board (with all new members but one) agonized for four hours with no decision about how to respond to a damming state audit that sharply criticized how election officials ran the 2012 elections in Nashville.

Coming back together (Thursday, May 9), the board argued for another hour before voting 4-1 to fire Elections Administrator Albert Tieche and appoint his Deputy Joan Nixon in his place as Interim Elections chief. Ms. Nixon is a long time employee and I seem to remember she has done this interim job before. Frankly, it appears the Commission may have acted before the state did with media speculation that Tieche was going to be decertified by state officials this coming week in the wake of the audit.

But that's not all. One new Republican Election Commission member, former state legislator and Metro Councilman Jim Gotto abruptly quit his post (after just a month on the job) saying he had "lost my respect and my trust" in his colleagues (especially the Commission chair, Ron Buchanan) because they were moving too quickly to remove Tieche (TENNESSEAN on line article May 9).

As for Tieche himself, he had already retained an attorney so this matter may not be over, just moved to courts soon.

It will be once again up to our Davidson County state lawmakers to clean up this mess. More specifically, House Speaker Beth Harwell will decide who takes Gotto's place and she will also likely make her wishes known (and they will be followed) when it's time for the Election Commission to hire a new Elections Administrator. I agree with media speculation that this squabble on the Election Commission is a sign of a bigger spat between Republican moderates (establishment) and the Tea Party wing of the party.

So it looks like the Madame Speaker has more problems to worry about these days than just her recent fight with Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and the State Senate.

Fortunately, she may have a little bit of time. There are no scheduled elections in Nashville this year. But next year (2014) there are three with every judge and constitutional officer (except Property Assessor) on the ballot in May and the state and federal legislative races along with the Governor's chair and a U.S. Senate seat (and all those state constitutional issues) up in August and November. So someone better straighten things out for sure.

Voting is the public's business and it needs to be done correctly and with as little partisanship as possible. Given the recent track record of the Commission and the Elections Chief job being something of a revolving door in recent years, all I can say is good luck.

MAYOR KARL DEAN ON INSIDE POLITICS

With the new Music City Center about to officially open next weekend (May 19-20), we thought it would be a great time to invite Nashville Mayor Karl Dean to join us again on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. We'll talk extensively about what this project will mean to Nashville's future and what's next for the nation's current "It City" and boom town (Bus Rapid Transit says the Mayor)).

Nashville's got a lot going for us these days. Is there still more ahead?

Here are a couple of other reflections on our conversation. The Mayor admits he's like a proud papa getting ready to show off the new Music City Center, and while some have questioned whether the city will reach its goal of having one million new hotel room nights booked before the doors open, the Mayor just smiles and says wait until May 20 and listen to his State of Metro address that day.

As I mentioned last week, the Mayor is also ready to announce a new riverfront revitalization project for the West bank of the Cumberland River. He gave no details just stated he's always wanted to see the old Thermal site become green space area combined with some of kind of public gathering facility such as an amphitheater. Let's see what gets announced. I believe the new Capital Plan will be out May 15.

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.

MORE PROGRESS

Sound the trumpets!

I went to the Y for a workout two different days this past week, for the very first time!

My trainer Matthew has given me a written workout routine to try and do on my own which I tried on Tuesday afternoon. I say tried because I still don't know all the machines very well so I really only got about half the exercises done.

Then I went back to the Y the very next morning at 7 on Wednesday, which may have been too short a turnaround. I did almost all the exercises with Matthew and now hopefully I better understand the settings on the machines so I do things correctly this coming week when I also intend to go to the Y to work out twice again (but maybe a few more days apart this time).

Two work outs on back to back days really did tire me out. I almost fell asleep at the Vanderbilt baseball game (our 42nd victory of the season) Wednesday night so you know I was wigged out. A short night and long day at work followed Thursday but I am hanging in there OK.

I also had another massage last weekend. JoAnne, the lady who handling my sessions says my muscles are not nearly as stiff as they used to be and she thinks the range of motion in my left shoulder has improved at least 30%. She also gave me some more ideas about exercises to try to further improve things.

So I remain encouraged. But I also know there is still much work to do, such as making sure I do get to the Y twice a week. I know my daughter Kelly among others in my family will watching me closely to make sure that happens.