Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 17, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 17, 2013

CREATED May 17, 2013


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

May 17, 2013



For only the second time in his two-plus years as Governor, Bill Haslam has vetoed a bill passed by the Tennessee General Assembly. The Ag-Gag proposal required any evidence of animal abuse be reported within 48 hours.  Not doing so would be a criminal offense.

The proposed law brought a strong outpouring of opposition both across Tennessee and around the nation. The Governor says he listened to that, as well as to those in Tennessee's Number 1 industry, Agriculture. "I understand their concerns about large scale attacks on their livelihoods. I also appreciate that the type of recordings this bill targets (alleged abuse of animals) may be obtained at times under false pretenses, which I think is wrong, "said the Governor in a statement.   

But apparently not so wrong that he would sign the bill or allow it go into law without his signature. Continuing in his veto message, the Governor found three reasons to wield his veto pen. "First, the Attorney General says the law is constitutionally suspect.  Second, it appears to repeal parts of Tennessee's Shield Law (to protect reporters' sources) without saying so. If that is the case, it should say so. Third, there are concerns from some district attorneys that the act makes it more difficult to prosecute animal cruelty cases, which would be an unintended consequence.:"

You might get an argument from Ag-Gag opponents that it was "an intended consequence" of the bill to stop animal abuse prosecutions.  In fact they says it's the main reason for the proposal. Regardless, the question after the veto is, will supporters of the bill seek to override the Governor's rejection which in Tennessee takes only a simple constitutional majority in both houses (50 in the House, 17 in the Senate)? 

Barring a special session of the General Assembly later this year (which is unlikely), it would be January, 2014 when lawmakers are set to reconvene in Nashville before an override could be attempted at the earliest. The general wisdom has been that since the bill passed in the House with just the bare majority needed (50 votes), it is likely the Governor's veto would be sustained.

So the bill sponsors have issued a statement saying they plan to redraw the measure and submit a new bill next year. It will be based on correcting the deficiencies in the measure as outlined by the Attorney General's and the Governor's objections.

 If I read it correctly, the Governor's veto message indicates, he might approve a similar bill in the future if the flaws he sees are corrected. In fact, in closing his veto message, the Governor says: "I respectfully encourage the General Assembly to reconsider this issue."

 I am not completely sure how to make this measure constitutionally sound (the Attorney General raised both First Amendment free press and Fifth Amendment self-incrimination issues among other problems). Nor do I know how to keep the proposed new law from making prosecutions of animal abuse cases more difficult. But I also suspect proponents of the bill will have access to good lawyers so I am sure they will come up with something.

Meanwhile, should the Tennessee media be concerned about the future of the Shield Law? The Governor didn't say he supported the Shield Law in vetoing Ag-Gag. He just said that if the General Assembly wants to repeal the law in this regard it ought to say so directly.

Between that, and the likelihood of a new revised bill, I suspect this topic could be a real hot one again come 2014.


I must say I've "gone fishing" up until now, and  have not written much at all concerning the ever growing fight between Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and the efforts by the Federal Corps of Engineers to place significant boating and fishing restrictions below the publicly owned dams on the Cumberland River in Tennessee and Kentucky.

The Senator wants the Corps to reconsider and compromise on the matter. But so far, the bureaucrats won't budge. So the Senator is raising his water level by getting the entire Senate to pass a bill to strip the Corps of its authority in this area and give it to state wildlife agencies such as the TWRA(Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency)  which says it will not enforce what the Corps wants to do.

Furthermore, the Senator says he will do all he can (and he has significant clout in the Congress) to restrict the Corps ability to transfer funds to do any project it wants to do if it doesn't abandon its fishing and boat restriction plans.

Note to Corps: Give it up, Dudes. The Senator has been in politics a long time. He knows how to play the game. He's likely going to be around in Washington at least another 7 years. He will continue to increasingly make your governmental life a living you know what if you don't cut bait now and settle this matter, even the House doesn't follow along and approve his bill. And that's no fish story.   


It appears the political debate in Tennessee over the federal Marketplace Fairness Act (to allow on-line purchases be subject to state sales tax) is reaching a new stage.

THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES-FREE PRESS (May 15) reports that World Wrestling Federation star and anti-tax activist Glenn (Kane) Jacobs is challenging Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (who supports the bill) to a public debate on the matter.  He says Ramsey is wrong when he says the tax plan (which has passed the Senate but not the House) is both fair and not a new tax.

No word from Ramsey if he'll enter this ring and debate Jacobs, even though it appears he lives not far away from Ramsey's upper-East Tennessee district in Jefferson City.

If both sides are willing, maybe Jacobs could add a partner and make it a tag team match with the Lt. Governor choosing as his partner either Senator Alexander or Bob Corker, both of whom voted for the Marketplace Fairness bill in the upper chamber.

BREAKING: The REASON.COM web site now reports (May 16) that Kane might be contemplating a primary challenge against Senator Alexander next year. That could place this whole matter into an entirely different "ring", so to speak.


Still more class-action type lawsuits (up to 6 now) have been filed by trucking companies as a part of the ongoing legal fallout from the federal criminal investigation surrounding Pilot Flying J the privately owned travel company owned by Governor Haslam's family.

The lawsuits concern allegations that the company shortchanged customers on diesel fuel rebates. According to THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL (May 17), company president (and the governor's brother Jimmy Haslam, told a group of trucking industry leaders that only about 5% of his firm's clients seemed to have been shortchanged (or about 250 companies). He didn't say how much MONEY is involved, but pledges to repay them all with interest and (according to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, May 17) urged them not to file more law suits..

But some of the Pilot customers already suing the Knoxville-based company have added a noted investigator to help with their case. The Freeh Group, owned by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, will do forensic and investigative work (according to an on-line story by WATE-TV in Knoxville, May 15).  The Freeh Group has also been involved in another recent high profile case, the Penn State child abuse scandal with former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. Pilot Flying J has hired its own expert, Washington attorney Reid Weingarten to oversee the FBI probe developments for the company.

The ongoing probe still in no way directly involves the Governor but the recent stories by NEWSCHANNEL5 Investigates sure seem to give the Governor something to think about, particularly in the area of no-bid or one bid contracts being awarded during his administration.


I thought I got trapped in a time machine traveling back to the early 1970s.

First this past week came stories that the Internal Revenue Service admits it targeted conservative and Tea Party groups for seemingly politically motivated audits in a presidential election year. Then came revelations that the Justice Department has been gathering two months' worth of phone records for dozens of Associated Press reporters and editors as a part of a probe concerning government leaks.

Can anybody say "Plumbers" or "Dirty Tricks?" How about Watergate?

I can fully understand why President Barack Obama denounces such behavior as "outrageous" and says those involved should be held fully accountable for their actions. But that's the ultimate question. As Tennessee Senator Howard Baker said back in Watergate days about then-President Richard Nixon: "What did the President (and those around know) know and when did he (they) know it?"

Republicans, especially in the House of Representatives have been looking for a scandal to exploit regarding this administration for months. And while they been trying, mostly without much success, to make their main issue a cover up of the Benghazi terror attack, these latest revelations about IRS audits and media phone records seems to have given the GOP the scandal it's been lusting for….and it fell right into their laps.

 House committee hearings investigating this growing scandal are already beginning today (Friday, May 17) and you can be sure there will be more such sessions. What else is out there to be revealed? And will any cover up attempted just make matters so much worse as it did 40 years ago with Watergate?

Already the Acting Director of the IRS and one of his top aides have been forced to resign. Meantime the President is trying to stay ahead of the scandals by now endorsing a national Shield Law to protect reporters and their sources as well as releasing more e-mails and other information about Benghazi and urging Congress to approve money to keep our diplomats safe overseas.

But whatever momentum the President has had in his second term is now in danger of being sidetracked if not completely reversed. The President lately has seems to be "off his game" in a number of ways.  Now the question is, are these latest revelations enough to be game changers to ruin or put a dark cloud over the final three years of his presidency?


Every week I encourage you to watch INSIDE POLITICS.

This week I want to make an extra appeal that you do so because we have a couple of very special programs in store for our viewers.

That's right, two programs, at least for our NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS viewers. Let me explain.

This weekend (Saturday, May 18, 2013) marks the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy's visit to Nashville and the speech he made at Vanderbilt University. On our program, we will be looking back on his trip here (which only lasted a few hours) as well getting the insights of two people who played unique roles that day.

One of my guests is John Seigenthaler who was TENNESEAN editor at the time. No one in Nashville knew JFK (or his brother Robert) better. My other guest is former Nashville congressman Bob Clement. Bob was a sophomore in college (UT-Knoxville) in 1963, but his father was Tennessee Governor Frank Clement. That gave Bob the unique opportunity to meet the President when he came to Bob's home (the Executive Residence) for lunch that day.

This all occurred just 6 months and 4 days before the President was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. So we will looking back on that tragic event as well which was in at least one way was foreshadowed here in Nashville. The motorcade car used by the President that day was the same he used in Dallas that fateful day.

In addition to the memories and insights of my guests, on INSIDE POLITICS we will also be showing excerpts of a news special program Channel 5 (then WLAC-TV) aired that day. It includes the President's full speech (which in discussing the "educated citizen" remains remarkably timely and relevant even a half century later). We will also see film footage of the presidential arrival (Air Force One) at the airport, the presidential motorcade into town (an estimated 200,000 people lined the route that day), plus the president's visit to the Governor's Residence.

It's a true time capsule opportunity to see our city as it was exactly 50 years ago. And it came at a special time for Nashville as this was the first presidential trip to our city in 27 years (in an era when presidential trips were rarer than they are today).

And here's what I mean about a second show. Following each weekend's showing of INSIDE POLITICS on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS we will be airing immediately following the entire WLAC-TV special report (as it was seen that day, May 18, 1963).     

My deepest thanks to Vanderbilt University Library's Special Collections Division for making this show available and allowing its airing. I didn't know this material existed until I began doing research about this topic a few weeks ago. It is a real jewel of a historical find and I hope you will enjoy watching it as much I as I have!

   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.

And don't forget the 1963 WLAC-TV special on JFK's visit will air immediately following each INSIDE POLITICS broadcast this weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS.

So mark down those airtimes and watch us (or TiVo or DVR us) this weekend for sure!


It would not be appropriate for me to interview myself about the Kennedy visit, so I will use this column to share my thoughts and memories.

I went to the President's speech and saw his motorcade that day. I was 11 years old just finishing the fifth grade. It was a landmark day in my political awareness. Until I saw and heard it again the other day while reviewing the WLAC show, I didn't directly recall anything he said that day at Vanderbilt. Frankly, at that age, most of what he said probably went right over my head, especially how he responded so deftly in his remarks (without mentioning any names) to the racist actions of then Governor George Wallace of Alabama, who he shared the podium with later that day at a 30th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Tennessee Valley Authority in Alabama.

That's pretty high drama stuff that I didn't fully understand or appreciate at the time, although I can only imagine what would happen in the news cycle today with CNN, FOX and MSNBC if a similar situation developed between a sitting president and a governor. (Governor Wallace had called President Kennedy "a military dictator" just days before his trip to the South).

For me on May 18, 1963, I was completely focused on being just a few hundred yards away from the President, who like any Irish Catholic kid in those days, was my biggest hero.  My Dad and two brothers were excited too. We lived close to the Vanderbilt Stadium and walked down to see JFK, leaving my mom and three sisters (ages 4, 2 and 1) at home.

But that was not the end of it. Hurrying home we joined my mothers and sisters and walked to the top of our street (Sunset Place and 21st Avenue South) where the president's motorcade went by. We made it just in time, in part because the President stopped his limo to get out and shake hands with my teachers and all the other Sisters of Mercy who had gathered to greet him in front of the old Saint Bernard Convent.

I know how thrilled the Sisters were. Heck, we had gotten out of classes all day back in January, 1961 just so we could watch President Kennedy be sworn into office. My Dad was thrilled too on May 18. He swore until the day he died that as the President's car went by, JFK looked right at him, and my sister JoAnn who he was holding in his arms, smiled and waved.

Maybe that's why I wanted to do something about the presidential visit: to remember my Mom and Dad and a time of innocence in my life and the nation's that surely seems so very long ago as we think back 50 years.


There are a couple of items I discussed with Mayor Karl Dean on INSIDE POLITICS last week that continue to make news.

First, while the Mayor made a major push on the show for his Bus Rapid Transit project to be built from West End to East Nashville, Congressman Jim Cooper, through a spokesperson (and reported by WPLN, Nashville Public Radio and THE CITY PAPER, May 17) put the brakes such ideas, saying he doubts the $75 million in federal funds to help built the rapid bus system will be available in Washington in these days of sequestration and budget cuts.

The Mayor's office says it still hears positive things from federal officials about the project and will continue to push the so-called AMP project. But OUCH! Talk about being thrown under the bus!

I also talked with Mayor last week about all the positive news and brand building that continues for Nashville. That includes the renewal of the network TV show NASHVILLE for a second season. But there are still some questions about who will be the show's new producer and if the series will continue to be shot in Music City?

Of course, that final item comes down to money and NASHVILLE wants more incentives from the state. If not, the TV cameras may roll in Hollywood for NASHVILLE instead. But could Metro government get involved? Finance Director Rich Riebeling opened the door to consider that in comments he made in THE TENNESSEAN recently. No dollar numbers were mentioned or where the funds would come from in Metro's tight budget, but stay tuned.

One long-time Nashville sports franchise still won't be getting any new money from Metro Government, at least not for a new stadium. Despite signing a new three year lease for the Nashville Sounds team to stay in the city, the Mayor has made it clear that, while he is a big baseball fan, a new stadium to replace 35-year old Greer Stadium, is not on his to-do list (unless the Sounds want to pay for it).

The new lease extends the stay of the ball club in town beyond the term of the Mayor and may move the issue beyond the politics of his time in office. But frankly, something could happen sooner if there an agreement about how to finance the stadium and what it's location would be (although that's looks uncertain if not unlikely right now).Frankly, I meant to ask the Mayor for Sounds update when he was on the show last week, but I didn't do it because I already knew the basic situation hadn't changed even if the Sounds lease has been extended now another 3 years.


OK, on another topic, I am feeling pretty good about myself.

I have made it to the Y twice a week for workouts for the second week in a row.

Not only that, but Monday morning when I went in (at 6:30 a.m.), I did all the exercises myself, setting up the weights and the correct equipment positions to do the exercises properly. As for doing them with the correct posture and hand grips, I think I did that right too, although that will subject to review in my future once a week sessions on Wednesdays with my personal trainer, Matthew.

I know all this will sound silly to many of you, but this is passing a milestone for me. Not only have I been anti-exercise all my life prior to the stroke, I have been intimidated more than a little bit by the machines involved and how to use them correctly. So now that I am beginning to figure that out, I'll have at least one less big excuse not to go the Y twice a week, especially to go by myself.

Now I am trying not to fool anybody. My efforts at fitness pale in comparison with what my children and sons-in-law are doing with their running, kettle bells and cross fit exercises. I just know I have to keep doing what I am doing now if I want to stay around to see my grandchildren grow up. Maybe that's why God spared me last June 28.