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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 2, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 2, 2013

CREATED Aug 2, 2013


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

August 2, 2013



In one of his rare appearances in the Volunteer State (only twice in four and a half years in office), President Barack Obama came to Chattanooga this week (July 30) to make a speech and offer yet another "grand bargain" to Congressional Republicans in an effort to break the continuing partisan gridlock that passes for politics as usual in Washington.

And so far, it's gotten the usual response from the GOP: "No thanks, nothing new." I guess the President should have figured that was what he would hear. None of the Volunteer State's Republican elected officials even bothered to greet the President at the airport or listen to his remarks. I guess it's hard to blame them in a way. Who wants to be a prop in the President's latest political event photo-op story of the day? But using the visit as a pretext for your own politically motivated attacks (you knew the state parties would do that) still seems a little borderline rude and lacking in Southern hospitality.

I guess you also can't expect the President to know his Tennessee geography all that well since he's visited here so infrequently. But I sure bet Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper was surprised to hear the President salute him by name during the speech and then tell the Chattanooga crowd: "You've got one of the finest gentlemen I know in your congressman, Jim Cooper."

Say what? Actually Chattanooga Congressman Republican Chuck Fleischmann sent out one of the most highly critical statements in announcing he wasn't coming to see the President. I hope somebody has a Congressional district map on Air Force One.

Actually speaking of Chattanooga congressmen, leave to Tom Humphreys of THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL (and Dean of the Tennessee Capitol Hill Press Corps) to find the most interesting quotes about the President's speech from former 3rd District Congressman (and 2010 conservative GOP gubernatorial candidate) Zach Wamp. "We need some kind of grand bargain. This excessive polarization is a cancer…We have got to come together as a people." Humphrey added: "He (Wamp) said the president is trying to stimulate jobs and is proposing a fair deal" (cutting corporate taxes and closing loopholes to generate funds to repair infrastructure and generate new middle-class jobs).


For someone he's not "endorsing for re-election", Kentucky Senator Rand Paul sure seems to be spending a lot of positive, quality media time with his Tennessee colleague, Lamar Alexander. You know if it talks like a duck, looks like a duck and walks like duck….just saying.

It probably doesn't really matter. I am sure Senator Alexander will be more than happy if things in 2014 turn out just like Senator Paul said to reporters in his comments on the subject. You know the part about the Tea Party favorite Senator saying, "I hope Senator Alexander doesn't have an opponent. And I hope he gets re-elected next year." Then nobody needs an endorsement I guess.

Meanwhile Tennessee's other Senator, Bob Corker sure likely raised the hackles of Tea Party folks and others within the GOP when he told an interviewer on MSNBC (July 30) that's its "a silly effort" to try and stop the national health care act by refusing to vote for any government spending bills—including the only ones Congress seem capable of approving these days---continuation resolutions to keep the government functioning.

Further said the Junior Senator: "…what people are really saying who are behind that effort is: ‘We don't have the courage to roll up our sleeves and deal with real deficit reduction and spending decisions. We want to take ourselves out of the debate and act like we are being principled to the American people by saying if there is one dime of funding for Obamacare we are not going to vote…I don't look at that as very courageous."



Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper and his Republican colleague Paul Ryan of Wisconsin (2012 GOP VP nominee and potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate) do not often see eye to eye about government. But they do on H.R. 2883, the Defense Flexibility Act. The bill seeks to give the Defense Department some flexibility in how it handles the ongoing sequestration cuts. Right now, the law says the $450 million the DOD faces in reductions over the next decade must be spread evenly among almost all its programs, projects and activities.

That's even more stupid than the sequestration cuts themselves. So this measure gives defense officials more flexibility in how to proceed. It's a good idea. But even with some bi-partisan support, can it pass in a Congress that seems to constantly honor partisanship and gotcha gridlock politics? I am sure this sponsorship with Ryan will go as another black mark on Cooper with some progressive Democrats who think he ought to have a strong primary opponent in 2014 because he doesn't always follow the party line and sometimes works with those on the other side of the aisle.


State Senate Democrats are already so few in numbers (7) they could meet in a public pay phone booth on the Capitol Hill here in Nashville. Actually, I don't think there are any pay phone booths up there anymore.

But believe it or not, there could be still fewer Democrats in the upper chamber after the 2014 election. At least, another incumbent has decided not to seek re-election. West Tennessee Senator Lowe Finney has sent a letter to friends and supporters announcing that "after much prayer and thoughtful consideration I have decided not to seek a third term." (Rumor has it Finney will run for Mayor of Jackson instead)

Finney's exit means the district covering parts or all of Dyer, Crockett, Lake, Lauderdale and Madison Counties will up for the taking by the GOP.

And that may not be all. Six of the seven incumbent Democrats have their seats up for election next year. With Finney out, two are now retiring (Doug Henry of Nashville is leaving as well). There are also reports that Charlotte Burks may not run again either, leaving only three incumbent Democrats left to defend their turf.

That raises the question again this coming election cycle for state Democratic leaders: How low can they go…how far down in their numbers can the bottom be?


The Tennessee General Assembly and the people of this state have suffered a great loss with the passing of Memphis Representative Lois DeBerry.

The longest serving member in the lower chamber, DeBerry came to Capitol Hill way back in 1972. That's about a year before I first started covering the legislature. Her death to cancer greatly diminishes the body's institutional memory which has already been sharply declining in recent years. Her demise also eliminates someone who was a real champion for the poor and elderly, groups that often struggle to be recognized at the tables of power and politics where important decisions are made and resources are allocated.

Lois DeBerry was a pioneer and an historic figure in Tennessee legislative history. She was the first woman to become speaker pro tempore and only the second African American female to serve in the House (Nashville's Dr. Dorothy Brown was the first). While she was clearly a leader in the Democratic Party, she had the respect and friendship of members on both sides of the aisle. Even after the GOP takeover of the House, she was given the title of Honorary Speaker Pro Tempore in recognition of her many great years of service and of the special person she was. RIP


State Ethics officials can't quite make up their minds about what to do with lobbyist Tom Ingram and his firm not registering with the state when they first began work (three years ago) with one of their clients. Three of them want to let it end without a fine, much as been the tradition in Tennessee if lobbyists rectify the situation and register as required.

But it takes four members of the Ethics Commission to make that official, leaving Ingram and his firm hanging in the air until there's another panel meeting, which is not yet scheduled. And so it goes with Ingram also remaining in the media limelight for his role as both personal and campaign advisor to Governor Bill Haslam and as company spokesman for the governor's family-owned Pilot Flying J company. That's a firm still mired in an ongoing federal investigation that this week saw two more company employees plead guilty to criminal charges and also pledge to fully cooperate in the probe.


Local State Fairgrounds supporters are rejoicing in the most recent interpretation of the legal status of that facility which has been dogged by controversy in recent years. Metro Council Staff Director Jon Cooper says as he interprets the Metro Charter change approved voters nearly two years ago, it means it will not only take a two-thirds Council vote (27 votes) to tear down any existing facilities on site (the speedway, the Women Building exhibition halls), it will also take another charter amendment approved by the Council (again with 27 votes) and by voters in a referendum to change the land usage there (such as for a mixed-use residential, office or commercial redevelopment).

You can see why Fairgrounds supporters would be happy (and actually they say they are in a stronger political position than they thought in the matter). Maybe so. But, despite constant false rumors, there appears to be absolutely no effort or even inclination by Mayor Karl Dean to renew his plans to re-do that South Nashville property. Twice burned is long remembered, I guess.

So the Fairgrounds are protected OK. But so what? The facility is also continuing to struggle financially even with Council possibly soon finally approving a merger $200,000 in extra money for this year. Fairgrounds officials had asked for much more, but a recent effort to divert $1 million in "extra" federal flood relief dollars to the Fairgrounds failed by a wide margin in a Council floor vote. The annual State Fair is just a few weeks away, and while it used to be a money maker in the now distant past, there are few indications that is likely to happen this year.


Back a few months ago, Nashville's Roman Catholic Bishop, The Most Reverend David Choby was my guest on INSIDE POLITICS. He appeared at a time when the leadership of the world's 2 billion Catholics was trying to figure who their next Pope would be to replace Pope Benedict who was the first modern Pontiff to resign/retire from office.

Now with the new Pope, Francis, a little over 100 days into his reign, I thought it was a good time to access his impact so far. And by the way, we made that show topic decision before the Pope's unprecedented, wide-ranging in- flight news conference while coming back from his first papal trip to Brazil and his home continent of South America.

My guest is Tony Spence, a native of Nashville who is now Director and Editor in Chief of the international Catholic News Service. I've known Tony for years and have been hoping to get him on the show for some time. He has great knowledge of the Church but also approaches his job as a journalist not a spokesperson.

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. Portions of INSIDE POLITICS interviews are also later posted on NEWSCHANNEL5.com.

And don't forget you can now watch INSIDE POLITICS in real time with live streaming video on NewsChannel5.com. That means if you have a computer and internet access, you can see INSIDE POLITICS anytime its airs on the PLUS. It no longer matters what cable or satellite service you have or where you live. In fact, I enjoyed watching last week's show on Friday evening while I was away in South Florida. Very cool


I had another great "regular" doctor's appointment on Tuesday. My physician is thrilled I am now working out at the Y twice a week. He was on my case to exercise regularly long before my family was and years before my poor lifestyle helped lead to my stroke. He also looked over my blood pressure readings which I monitor twice a day (mornings and evenings) every day at home. He liked what he saw over the last 4 months including taking my BP while in his office at 110/70. Wow! That's better than it was earlier in the morning (115/80). I guess I can't use the excuse of having "white coat syndrome" anymore.

I did learn I've gained 3 more pounds. I'm still 30 pounds lighter than my heaviest weight, but I want to be careful I am never getting back to being that overweight again. The Doctor did remind me that at least some of the extra pounds could be the new muscle I am adding from my twice a week workouts.

I must say I had to laugh at that. I have never been accused of getting heavier because I am adding muscle or because I'm exercising. It's a strange but wonderful new world for me.