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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 12, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 12, 2013

CREATED Jul 12, 2013

CAPITOL VIEW

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

July 12, 2013

MORE FISH TALES; THE OTHER 2014 STATEWIDE RACE; DEFENDING HUFFMAN; EXPANDING TENNCARE; DISCLOSURES; INSIDE POLITICS; NOT SNOBBY

MORE FISH TALES

If you read last week's column you got the scoop that Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander is starting an early round of campaign re-election ads. We've since learned the buy is $18,000 to run over the next two weeks on broadcast and cable TV as well as on radio. There are also an on-line ad and a website to visit (www. ourfreedomtofish.com).

I think most, if not all the ad buy is set to air in Middle Tennessee. Why? That's where the growing base of Republican activists is according to one of my GOP sources. That's also the group the Senator needs to keep in his camp. Some of them are not happy with his recent votes including the immigration bill that passed the Senate.

But there's also a more practical reason to focus in Middle Tennessee I am told by an Alexander campaign source. That's where the Corps of Engineers dams are located (along with Kentucky) where the fishing rights controversy (which is the main topic of ad) was spawned. This issue doesn't resonate nearly as well in East or West Tennessee.

So the Senator in his ad once again tells his fish story. He reminds his audience how he took on a big federal agency and stopped it (the Federal Corps of Engineers) from prohibiting fishing below the dams along the Cumberland River. It's that kind of stopping big government's unneeded intrusions into people's lives that ought to resonate with conservative voters (and in this case outdoorsmen).

The ad is topped by comments from Kentucky U.S. Senator and Tea Party favorite Rand Paul. He says: "Nobody can say no to Lamar Alexander."

Those words have set off a Tea Party firestorm with some claiming that makes the Bluegrass State Senator appear to be endorsing Alexander. So is he? Technically, no, but I assume Alexander's campaign informed Senator Paul about how they planned to use his comments before the ad aired. I also assume he raised no objections and I haven't seen any adverse comments from him since the ad went up. And, as we all know, Senator Paul is not shy about speaking his mind (witness his drone-related filibuster on the Senate floor a few months back).

So what's the point of the ad and why use Rand Paul? It's to get GOP conservatives to say "yes" to a third term for Alexander. It's to try and convince them, that on the vast majority of the issues, they are on the same page with Senator Alexander.

With $1.8 million already in the bank for Alexander's re-election (according to the Associated Press July 5) and more on the way, time is running out to find a primary opponent to run against the senior Senator. But even after the Alexander ads began, the rumors continue.

The latest (according to THE TENNESSEAN July 8) revolves around first-term GOP State Senator Mark Green from Clarksville. He reportedly will withdraw his endorsement of Alexander and soon enter the race. He's also not coming to a big event Alexander is having later this month in Smyrna that will feature former GOP Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. But all Senator Green's office will say is that he's not coming because he has "family coming in from out of state that day." The article gives no further information on any endorsement change.

By the way, I checked the Alexander re-election website. It contains a news release put out a few months ago about endorsements from current or former GOP elected officials. The release does not mention Mark Green making an endorsement. In fact, other than Lt. Governor and State Senator Ron Ramsey, no list of state senators endorsing Alexander has yet been announced. So I am not sure what public endorsement Green would have to repudiate?

By the way, Lt. Governor Ramsey (TENNNESSEAN July 11) is counseling Green to bid his time. He told reporters: "Mark is a great legislator. One day, his day will come."

The article also contains Ramsey's reaction about him possibly opposing Senator Alexander next year (Ramsey is something of a Tea Party favorite as well). "I am definitely ruling it out. Why would I want to step down to be a U.S. Senator." I think I know what the Lt. Governor means, but OUCH!

Ramsey also gives this final piece of advice to conservatives regarding a primary opponent for Senator Alexander "I think they'll have a hard time finding anyone." And that's no fish tale.

THE OTHER 2014 STATEWIDE RACE

As we get closer to the 2014 race, I am interested to find how those from outside Tennessee view the races here including Governor Bill Haslam's re-election bid.

Here's a brief synopsis of an article I found on-line by the Southern Political Report (July 8). It says "there's only one small cloud on the horizon for Haslam's 2014 re-election prospects." That's the ongoing federal investigation of Pilot Flying J, the Governor's family business. As for potential opponents it says: "The only Democrat of note who has shown any interest any interest in the race is House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh" (who happens to be my INSIDE POLITICS guest this week). But the article continues with this, quoting an unidentified long-time newsman. "They don't really have a candidate yet. Fitzhugh has been kind of quiet about it recently, though he's still putting out tweets. He would have to give up his seat in the legislature to run, and the governor's race would be a long shot."

And so the analysis concludes: "If the Democrats could recruit a wealthy self-funder who could exploit the Pilot connection, they might make the race more competitive. But that's a lot easier said than done. For now, Haslam looks like a good bet for re-election. Likely Republican"

I don't disagree with that, but the volume of conversation and to some degree controversy continues to build around the Governor. Take a column item I found circulating in an e-mail among Republicans this past week. It's written by Bob Gilbert, a former Associated Press sportswriter and a retired University of Tennessee news director who once wrote a biography of UT's legendary football coach General Bob Neyland. The column item details a recent AP article which reports "potential conflicts of interest between Pilot Flying J and (Governor Haslam)." Those include his "top political (and campaign) advisor, Tom Ingram…orchestrating Pilot's response to the government's investigation. " The AP article also includes a "Pilot board of directors (member) and part-owner Brad Martin…appointed by the Governor (who was once his employee) to be interim president of the University of Memphis." Finally the article mentions another Pilot board member who owns a mining firm that has been seeking to "extract coal from public land" in a wildlife management area near Crossville.

The column concludes with this: "People are asking: What does Gov. Bill Haslam have to hide?"

For the record, the Governor has defended his efforts and says there are no conflicts.

DEFENDING HUFFMAN

The Governor also thinks his controversial Education Commissioner is a keeper. In fact, despite on-line petitions and Facebook pages calling for the removal of Kevin Huffman from his post, the Governor told reporters if he needed to fill the job again he'd hire the same man. He says his commissioner has been one of the main reasons Tennessee has been leading the nation in education reform such as expanding charter schools, limiting collective bargaining for teachers and changing the rules that govern tenure and teacher pay (based more on merit and less on experience and advanced degrees) .

Of course, one person's reform is another person educational failure these days as "the school wars" continue in Tennessee with no end in sight. There are those who say Governor Haslam can be a little vague sometimes on what he thinks on an issue. He's not being vague on this one.

The Governor is also being strong in his defense of Tom Ingram who is and has been advising him on both state government and campaign matters at various times. On state government affairs the Governor says he's paid Ingram out of his own pocket, although with campaign season approaching payment is now to come from re-election funds. But the issue is arising (from NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES): What about apparent campaign related work (based on e-mails obtained by the station) which would seem to pre-date his movement to the campaign? The Governor's office says Ingram is not being paid by anyone for that time.

But in addition to Ingram's involvement with advising Pilot Flying J on the federal investigation, there is also an upcoming state hearing about a late lobbyist registration by his firm and other questions surrounding his lobbying and access to the administration while also a privately paid consultant to the Governor. All this involving Ingram (who has a long and outstanding reputation as a lobbyist and political consultant) and the controversies surrounding the Governor (which also include the handling of some state contracts) are building a buzz and continuing a conversation that I am sure both men wish was not happening and both hope will soon just go away. But the two have become intertwined in so many different ways in recent weeks that may not happen.

EXPANDING TENNCARE

On a policy matter, the Governor also told reporters this week he's discouraged by the latest round of rules issued by Washington regarding the implementation of the National Healthcare Act. But he added somewhat surprisingly (TENNESSEAN article July 10): "It's awfully early to get down," and that he and his office are still reviewing the 606 pages of new regulations to find a way to expand the state's Medicaid program, TennCare, under guidelines the Governor (and the General Assembly) can live with and the feds can approve as well.

But the Governor must be the only top-level elected Republican in Tennessee holding out any hope for Obamacare. In fact in the wake of the federal decision to grant a one-year waiver on the mandate requiring businesses (larger than 50 employees) to provide health insurance to workers or face fines, a renewed effort to junk the healthcare law completely is being pushed by both Tennessee United States Senators and members of the Tennessee GOP delegation in the House.

This is an important matter. Access to healthcare for tens of thousands of poor Tennesseans is at stake as well as the future of many hospitals across the state, especially in rural areas. But I suspect politically the Governor may be all but alone in his party on this matter.

DISCLOSURES

It's time for active political candidates to disclose their fund raising numbers for the last quarter (April 1-June 30).

That means another strong report from GOP State Senator Jim Tracy who running against incumbent 4th District congressman Scott DesJarlais. Tracy says he's collected another $303,000 in the last three months, bringing his total since the first of the year (when he entered the race) to nearly $750,000 with $656,000 in cash still on hand in the bank.

Those are numbers the prestigious ROLL CALL publication in Washington calls: "a strong sum for a challenger."

Indeed, Congressman DesaJarlais' money numbers have been down since the disclosures of issues surrounding a decade-old divorce case came to light near the end of his re-election campaign in 2012. So far the incumbent has not filed his latest quarterly finance numbers (as of Friday afternoon). The deadline is next week (Monday, I think). The other GOP candidate in the 4th District race, State Representative Joe Carr, had also not filed his numbers by the time this was being written Friday afternoon. Carr did not jump into the contest until after Tracy, and he was down 2 to 1 in campaign funds in April, while DesJarlais faced a 4 to 1 deficit to Tracy in cash on hand three months ago.

Money alone doesn't win campaigns, but unless there is a real surprise in the Carr and DesJarlais filings, it would make Tracy is the front runner in this contest.

One other disclosure note (TENNESSEAN on-line article, July 12), Nashville Councilmember At Large Megan Barry reports she has raised about $40,000 from 45 donors in the two months since she announced she was running for Mayor. Given that short period of time, and the fact that the mayoral election isn't until August, 2015, she says she feels pretty good about her money number.

She probably should, especially since she's also out there getting funds while all the 2014 candidates (including all the judges in the Metro Courthouse who are in the ballot) are seeking funds too. But there are questions to ask: How much longer will Barry be alone? The Mayor's seat is vacant in 2015, and given the rising cost of a high-profile countywide race, how much longer can those who can't self-finance such an effort wait it out before they jump in? As for those who probably could self-finance, will they pursue that path (with its potential political ups and downs) and when will they get into what is likely to be a potentially crowded field?

INSIDE POLITICS

As mentioned above, Democratic House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS. We'll give him a chance to amplify, clarify or whatever he wants to say about running for governor in 2014. (Hint: He told me he's also preparing to seek re-election to his House seat). Will we will also discuss all the other major issues (and controversies) surrounding state government, the Haslam administration and the General Assembly these days. Even as Democrats have become fairly irrelevant in state politics these days, I've found Fitzhugh to be straight-shooter so the conversation is quite interesting.

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 posted on NEWSCHANNEL5.com.

NOT SNOBBY

I guess this is what comes from watching all these national surveys ranking our major cities in one way or another.

Nashville's been doing pretty well thank you. But I sure can't agree with the survey put out by TRAVEL & LEISURE magazine which has Nashville as the 13th snobbiest city in the land. According to an on-line article by THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL (July 9), that's reportedly based on criteria such as "high-end shopping and high-brow cultural offerings like classical music and theater along with tech-savviness and artisanal coffeehouses," says the magazine.

Even our nationally acclaimed developing "foodie culture" also reportedly hurts Nashville in the survey.

I guess this truly shows how far we've come as a city. For years I've heard locals complain they had to go to the bigger cities (such as Atlanta) to find high-end shopping, world-class classic music and theater, not to mention a wide variety of world-class restaurants. Now we have those things here, and we're suddenly snobby? Not the way I define that term.

At least, we better than San Francisco which ranked snobbiest of all as well as Charleston (10th) and Savannah (12) among other southern cities who reportedly made the list.

Sniff, sniff. Tut, tut.