Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 16, 2013
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
August 16, 2013
STAYING AFTER LAMAR; MORE SHEEPSKINS; ANOTHER HURDLE CLEARED FOR THE AMP; FIGHTING OVER GUNS AND MONEY; AN ETHICS COMPLAINT; BRUCE STIRS'EM UP; INSIDE POLITICS; MY FAVORITE
STAYING AFTER LAMAR
The conservative/Tea Party wing of the Tennessee Republican Party continues to go after the state's Senior U.S. Senator, Lamar Alexander. Their efforts to unseat him in next year's August primary continued on three fronts this week.
First, after months and months of looking but still not being able to find a viable candidate willing to take on Alexander, 20 Tea Party groups from across the state (representing they say 10,000 voters) sent an open letter to the Senator (and the media) saying (more or less): " Thank you your service. We haven't been able to find anyone to beat you at the polls. But before we do, why don't you just retire."
Uh, guys. I don't think it works that way in politics.
The letter seemed more an exercise in frustration or wishful thinking than raw political power, although the letter was strongly worded in its criticism, saying Alexander needs to leave because "our great nation can no longer afford compromise and bipartisanship, two traits for which you have become famous. America faces serious challenges and needs policymakers who will defend conservative values, not work with those who are actively undermining those values."
The letter also accuses Alexander of falling into the mire of hypocrisy if he runs again because in his own book THE LITTLE PLAID BOOK his rule #297 says: "Serve two terms and get out."
The Senator's office has responded to the letter by saying Alexander is "focused on being the best senator he can be" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, August 14).
But the Tea Party activists are not stopping with just a letter. They are organizing three statewide listening meetings where potential Alexander primary opponents can come speak and answer questions. Then the groups reportedly will come together and choose someone to back against Alexander (TENNESSEAN, August 16).
The newspaper article identifies three potential speakers (the Mayor of Knox County who is also a state lawmaker, a former Williamson County GOP President and another GOP activist who lost overwhelmingly to Senator Bob Corker last year). It is not completely clear in the article just how many of the three or who else may actually show up at these events (only one of which has been announced with a date in Nashville).
The third effort this past week aimed at defeating Senator Alexander was in some ways the most potentially ominous. The ASSOCIATED PRESS (August 14) report that a nation political action committee would like to see "a strong, principled conservative" replace Alexander. The Senate Conservative Fund has ties to former GOP Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina and does not support incumbents )according to its website says AP). It has backed both winning and losing candidates in recent cycles (winners, Rand Paul & Ted Cruz, losers GOP nominees who upset incumbents but then lost the general elections to Democrats).
The national PAC involvement could most the most interesting recent development because if an anti-Alexander candidate can be identified (and that's still a big if), raising lots and lots of money will be critical for the challenger to have any chance, especially with the primary election less than a year away now.
Governor Bill Haslam and Mayor Karl Dean are from opposite political parties and therefore don't always see eye to eye on some issues or candidates. But both are in strong agreement that to move Tennessee and Nashville forward we've got to create more college graduates (and high school graduates too for that matter).
That's why they've come together in support a new program called nashvilleAchieves. Beginning this fall, any public high school senior in a Metro secondary school who wants to pursue a post-secondary degree can receive a community or technical college education (a two-year degree) with no tuition cost.
Metro has already raised $1 million from private sources to launch the program and the city itself has pledged $750,000 over the next two years (the total annual cost of the program will be $1.25 million). This is a real potential game changer for many Metro students. The Metro public schools system has 70% of its students coming from poverty levels in terms of family income. So before this new program, any type of college was out of the question for them. Now says Mayor Dean: "Zip code and family circumstances should not dictate a child's future and nashvilleAchieves helps make sure students aren't held back in life by an inability to pay college tuition."
Students will still be required to apply for all available school and federal financial aid as well as scholarships, and they will be required to perform at least eight hours of community service per semester while they are in the program. Each student will also receive the aid of a volunteer mentor, for which the City says it needs 325 volunteers to sign up to help that first year.
The nashvilleAchieves effort is based on a similar program that began in Knoxville in 2008 and now has a statewide component as well. It was founded by Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd, who is now a higher education consultant to the Governor. All donations to the local project will go directly to pay for the student tuition scholarships while Boyd himself will pick up all the overhead costs of the program. An estimated 1,621 students are expected to apply for the program in the first year, with their mentors asked to help them "assist in eliminating the barriers associated with post-secondary access by helping students with admission and financial aid paperwork (and) motivating students to meet deadlines and encouraging them to reach their potential."
ANOTHER HURDLE CLEARED FOR THE AMP
It seemed kind of odd to me how it was announced.
You would have thought when the city cleared another "major hurdle" by getting federal approval to move to the next stage of its efforts to get Washington to fund the major part ($56 million) of building the Bus Rapid Transit project known as The AMP, Mayor Karl Dean might have led a parade along the project route from Five Points in East Nashville all the way down Broadway and West End out to White Bridge Road.
But instead the recognition of the milestone achievement came with a well-after the fact news story in THE TENNESSEAN (on Monday August 12) accompanied with a mayoral statement that never made my e-mail box for some reason.
No biggie, and it's still far from the final federal OK. But you would have thought this development would have been cause for a bigger media hoop-de-do than what happened. Whatever
FIGHTING OVER GUNS AND MONEY
It's mid-August and it seems like a long time before lawmakers return to Nashville for the next session of the General Assembly in January. But really it won't be very long and already you can see some the issues that will attract their attention when they come back.
Of course, what's near the top of list? Guns…or more specifically what else should lawmakers do to clarify the controversial law they passed last year to allow those with state gun permits to possess them in their cars at work or in parking lots at state colleges and universities. Seems simple enough, right? Well, the problem is, according to the state Attorney General: Tennessee is an at-will employment state, and if an employer has a policy against guns in the workplace or on company property, they can still fire that employee despite what the new law allows.
That has sent gun advocates into orbit demanding the Republican supermajorities in both houses fix the problem. At first, both Governor Haslam and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (who spearheaded getting the bill passed last year) said no, we didn't need a change or any new gun laws next year. Ramsey in particular said the Attorney General is just wrong, that lawmakers made it clear they don't want gun permit holders to be fired for bringing their guns to work and that was the intent of the new law.
But now both the Lt. Governor and the Governor seem to be changing their tune and tone on this topic. The Governor told reporters this week that he and Speaker Ramsey will "have that conversation this fall" about what to do. Ramsey says he is not inclined to sponsor any clarifying law (thinking what's on the books is enough) but, according to a spokesman "someone in the legislature will push to correct the language…and the lieutenant governor will likely vote for it." (NASHVILLE POST, August 13)
And that could start all over again the fight that has split Republicans for the past several sessions caught between their supporters who want to protect and expand gun rights and those who want to protect business and property rights. Oh, fun!
And then there's money. The state has finished its fiscal year (June 30) in even better shape than it thought to the tune of $42 million. And that's above the extra $306 million state officials had already anticipated last December. So what to do with still more state revenues? Well with lawmakers gone, the Governor and his new Finance Commissioner, former aide Larry Martin could decide on their own, possibly putting it the state's savings or "rainy day" fund. While they'll have little or nothing to say about it, Democrats may speak out again (as they did last year) urging the extra dollars be used to lessen tuition increases or to further reduce grocery taxes (although using one time monies to handle recurring budget issues is not always wise).
And of course as lawmakers prepare for next year's session, there's always a pre-filed bill of potential note, if not controversy, from Knoxville GOP State Senator Stacy Campfield. It's the "Merry Christmas" bill that the Senator says will allow "school children and their teachers have a legal right to use what the bill calls "traditional greetings" during "winter celebrations." (KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL August 15).
AN ETHICS COMPLAINT
I've been wondering when and if this might happen. Complaints have been filed before two different state agencies (the Tennessee Ethics Commission and the Election Finance Registry) over the Governor's non-disclosure of payments made to consultant Tom Ingram for political work (NASHVILLE POST, August 15).
The Governor says he made the payments out of his own pocket and, before this July, the work was not about his re-election, and therefore not required to be disclosed. Now it is, and Ingram is getting $5,000 per month and that will be reported as required by state law (no word if that is what he received previously).
A complaint of this nature can reportedly be filed by any Tennessee citizen. You could make a case the person doing that in this case is hardly an "average Joe." He's Chip Forrestor, until recently Tennessee State Democratic Party Chair. Assuming he does have standing (and despite complaints it all political), it will be interesting to see what happens.
The Election Registry is still trying to figure out how to handle another charge against Ingram for not properly registering as a lobbyist for a client. Three members have voted to dismiss the case without a penalty (since Ingram's firm has now registered). But it takes four votes to decide the matter, so they will need to have another meeting, at which this new matter regarding the Governor may be up for consideration.
And so it continues…..
BRUCE STIRS ‘EM UP
When he was THE editor and a driving force in making THE NASHVILLE SCENE a very successful local publication, Bruce Dobie knew how to stir things up in town politically. It's nice to know he still hasn't lost his touch, although I am not sure that was his goal in his recent TENNESSEEAN op-ed piece.
On its surface, the article appeared to be a not surprising overview of the 2015 Nashville's mayor's race. In particular, Dobie seemed to be pointing out that the Nashville business community has not yet found a candidate it really likes including the current list of "potentials." That's important since the "biz pigs" (as Dobie used to call them in THE SCENE) have been quite happy with the past few mayors and would like another one, please, if they can find him. I say find "him" because Dobie made a few less than positive comments about a previous mayoral candidate who was female (Betty Nixon) and a current mayoral candidate (in fact the only one who says she's running) Metro Councilmember-At-Large (Megan Barry).
Bruce's comments sure riled some up folks on my Facebook message list and it may have helped sell some tickets to a recent fund raiser held by the new WTF political action committee whose purpose is to encourage and give money to women candidates to run for office. That's right, WTF stands for (Women for Tennessee's Future) and not what you might think. The group has already given Barry some money and the latest fund raiser was held at her home. A SCENE reporter (August 12) says he couldn't find a place to park for several blocks around when he went by the event (and was one of only a few men present).
The fund raiser only garnered $5,700 according to the article. But at $50 a pop, that's not too bad. Much like Barry's mayoral fundraising so far ($40,000) that hasn't inspired shock and awe at the Courthouse, and its likely Barry still has work to do to build her business community support. Frankly, it appears based on Dobie's article all of the potential mayoral candidates do. But I will pass on a comment from a male business leader I spoke to the other day. He said: "If Megan Barry is the only woman in the race (note: so far all the others looking to run are male), she will make the runoff."
With the Metro elections still about two years away, it's still way too early to get all stirred up. But with most of the 2014 elections looking like walk-overs or no contests (except for the 4th District congressional seat and who replaces Senator Douglas Henry) I guess no one should be surprised that speculation for what will be an open seat mayor's seat (which only happens every eight years) is bound to start early and only intensify from here on at least in terms of cocktail party chatter. Even to the point of rehashing a candidate who declined to run 6 years ago and doesn't show much change in attitude, especially before he get re-elected next year (District Attorney Tory Johnson).
There appears to be no part of the world more rent with tension, terror attacks, war, even civil war than the Middle East. That is particularly true since the "Arab Spring" began several months ago. This week, our guest on INSIDE POLITICS is Lipscomb Professor Mark Scwerdt. We talk about Egypt, Syria, the new Middle East peace talks along with the many other conflicts and issues in that region and how they impact the United States. It's an issue we shouldn't lose sight of even as domestic matters always intrude.
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. Nice!
Next week INSIDE POLITICS will be an encore presentation of my interview with Nashville PR executive Keel Hunt. It concerns his compelling new book, COUP, surrounding the early ouster of Governor Ray Blanton and early installation of Governor Lamar Alexander back in 1979. It's a great read and a great example of the good that can come when politicians on both sides of the aisle come together to do the right thing. It's also just a great story that's never been told in its entirety before. Watch my interview and (if you haven't) buy the book.
Of all the things I am getting to do during my "comeback summer" this year, making my annual trip over to the mountains of North Carolina is the one I am looking forward to the most. Not only did I miss going over last year because of the stroke, the year before (2011) my visit was interrupted because a diverticulitis attack put me in the hospital for three days over there while I received a colonoscopy (yuck) and a got a transfusion of four units of whole blood to recover from being quite anemic.
This time I am looking forward to a nice, quiet, HEALTHY visit, seeing all my favorite haunts and doing all the others things we do in the mountains. It is things we've done almost every year since we first started our treks to the Tarheel State back in 1984. I'm just hoping The Biltmore will still honor the tickets we bought two years ago to tour the Vanderbilt mansion and estate in Asheville.
We always look forward to the cooler, rainier weather we have over there. But maybe not so much this year because we've already been having that kind of weather here in Nashville all summer. I can never remember a June, July and August like this, with so much rain and so few days over 90 degrees (much less over 100 like last year). Then there's the flash flooding, grim reminders of May, 2010, but fortunately much less wide spread than back then. But after looking at the mess and devastation left in the north and east parts of town I am reminded that, no matter how isolated the damage might be, that's little comfort when it is your neighborhood, your street and your home or business that's washed out.
So there will be no CAPITOL VIEW column next week. The next CAPITOL VIEW will be out Friday afternoon, August 30.