Capitol View Commentary: Friday, September 13, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, September 13, 2013

CREATED Sep 13, 2013


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

September 13, 2013



With the crisis in Syria remaining the number one topic of debate in Washington, and indeed around the world, we invite two of our local Congressmen to share their thoughts with us on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. As you might expect, Republican Marsha Blackburn and Democrat Jim Cooper see things a little differently on most topics and you can hear what they have to say when you tune into the show.

Normally foreign affairs issues change somewhat gradually, not the rather sudden and surprising turn of events we've had in recent days with President Obama first asking Congress for approval of military action in Syria, then asking for a postponement while an offer from Russia is explored to gather the controversial and banned chemical weapons Syria has been using on its own people during a bloody civil war and disposing of them. 

To say the least there's plenty to discuss on this issue. Plus we will get the Congressmen's thoughts about the ongoing fight in D.C. about the budget, the debt ceiling and Obamacare.

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.  So watch us!


The "war" in Tennessee these days seems to be about schools.

Some 63 school superintendents (out of 137statewide) have signed a letter asking Governor Bill Haslam to get his Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman to slow down a bit on all the "education reform" he wants to implement. They also want the Commissioner to quit seeing them as obstacles to change and listen to them more about the ideas and thought they have to offer concerning improving education in Tennessee.

Don't expect any change to occur. The Governor has strongly defended his Schools Chief saying he'd hire him again if he needed to fill the job. The Commissioner, in response to the letter, told reporters he'd just met with superintendents at a statewide gathering and he indicated such problems did not seem to be a big deal when he saw that group. But what is interesting about this latest criticism of Commissioner Huffman is that this time it's not coming from just teachers and their union representatives.

The "education war" also rages in Metro Nashville, this time about charter schools. In recent days, State Attorney General Bob Cooper ruled that that Tennessee's decade-old law allowing charter schools is constitutional. He says there are no requirements that the state provide more funds to local school systems such as Nashville when new charters are formed.

Metro school officials say that is a big problem and they have a ruling from their out of town attorney that the state law is illegal. With both sides all lawyered up, it looks like legal action might be in the works. But in the meantime, Nashville Schools Director Dr. Jesse Register outlined to his board how the system would handle a $20 million plus shortfall in next year's budget. He says that even include closing some existing schools.  

Such drastic measures would surely concern Metro Council members, although for now the body deferred a resolution asking the state for a moratorium on new charters. The postponement came after powerful State House Speaker and Nashville Representative Beth Harwell (a strong charter advocate) reportedly made some phone calls to council members trying to stop the resolution.

Councilman Steve Glover, a former school board member and sponsor of the moratorium legislation, says he deferred his bill because all he wanted to do was to create a dialogue between both sides on the issue. Mission accomplished, Councilman. But as far as approaching a solution to this part of the state's "school wars," not so much.


Whenever a holiday or a special day (such as the annual 9/11 remembrance) approaches, almost all elected officials issue a statement to the media about the significance of the occasion. Similar statements also go up on their Facebook page and on Twitter.

Usually the statements are included in some roundup news reports and/or they get likes on Facebook along with supportive comments or they get re-tweeted. What Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey said in his 9/11 comments this year got that and a whole lot more this year with calls for him to apologize or fire the staffer who wrote his comments if he didn't do it himself.

What Ramsey said was that President Obama is supporting Al Queda in the Syrian civil war and that we should remember who attacked us on September 11.  Critics point out that there are several different rebel groups involved in Syria and the administration is taking pains not to give support to Al Queda groups there. Those upset with Ramsey also point out several prominent Republicans including Tennessee Senator and House Speaker John Boehner seem to be backing the President.

But the Lt. Governor is not backing down. He has issued another statement not only reaffirming what he said but providing on links to similar comments made by Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz.

Given the Tea Party base of a lot of Lt. Governor Ramsey's support what he said and how strongly he defended himself is not surprising. But there is a line of thought in terms of the statements being made by politicians on solemn days such as 9/11 that reflect Bambi's friend Thumper in the Walt Disney movie of many years ago. He said: "If you can't something nice, don't say nothing at all."


Here in Tennessee, Will Rogers is still right when he famously said: "I don't belong to an organized political party, I'm a Democrat."

Based on the most recent Jackson Day dinner last weekend, it's clear the state Executive Committee is still spending more time feuding among each other (and with the new State Party Chair Roy Herron), than they are plotting together on how to beat Republicans and win back the state.

Two Executive Committee members have quit and it gets worse, with Party Executive Director Kevin Tweets and two more staffers suddenly departing their jobs this week for undisclosed reasons.

While the Tennessee GOP continues to show strong signs of an internal revolution that seeks to topple their own senior U.S. Senator from office, Democrats show no indications of having a strategy or a candidate to capitalize on their opposition's division.  While in the 2014 governor's race there were more signs last weekend of a "draft Sara Kyle" movement, the candidate herself has seemed to make no decision about whether to run or even set a timeline to do so.

There was a news release sent out this week by the group urging Kyle to "run, Sarah, run." It points out the strong support she got at the Democratic dinner with crowds chanting the group's slogan over and over. It also says Kyle will begin traveling the state listening to Tennesseans, although the only specific event mentioned in the Estes Kefauver Dinner in Hamilton County coming up. The release is also full of quotes from Democratic elected officials praising Kyle and criticizing Governor Haslam. But there's not a word from the potential candidate herself, nothing about her thoughts or vision for Tennessee. Just waiting for that "draft", I guess.

A political draft has a nice ring to it, but unless the honor comes with a large monetary prize (campaign contributions) and statewide support and organization, all a draft threatens to do is leave her "out the cold" against incumbent Republican governor Bill Haslam in November, 2014.

  Already, as expected, another incumbent Democratic State Senator (there are only 7 of them) has decided not to seek another term. Charlotte Burks made Tennessee history in 1998 when she won a write-in campaign to replace her murdered husband, State Senator Tommy Burks. It was Burks' own opponent who killed him, spurring the public outcry to rightly put her in office instead.

Now the district has grown (and has been redrawn) more Republican. So after her years of service, Senator Burks is retiring. The Republican Mayor of Cookeville is seen as the early favorite to replace her.

Senator Burks' is not only State Senate seat Democrats seem destined to lose in 2014. Lowe Finney in West Tennessee is also stepping aside (likely to run for Mayor of Jackson). It could leave Democrats at a disadvantage in the next General Assembly) January, 2015)of at least 28-5, meaning even a pay phone booth (if you could find one these days) would be too large for them to caucus.

It may say a lot about the current state of politics in Tennessee when the appearance of a former Republican lawmaker (Debra Maggart) at the Jackson Dinner fuels speculation about whether she runs again on the GOP side (she's likely not running). Even if she had to be present with the Democrats at the dinner because of her new fund raising job for a client, it would be a true sign of Apocalypse approaching (which she first told reporters in responding to her presence with Democrats) only if she was truly off her rocker enough to run as a Democrat in her conservative district (Sumner County/Hendersonville) just outside Nashville.


There were some interesting endorsements this past week in Nashville politics involving two upcoming races.

First, while the 2014 State Senate race to replace Douglas Henry continues to be an all-male Democratic contest between Jeff Yarbo and Councilman Jason Holliman, Metro's Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors says she is for Yarbro. At least she and her husband Steve, were listed among over 60 members of a host committee for a "meet & greet reception" to be held for Yarbro on September 18.

It's unclear if Neighbor's endorsement will impact the decision of noted local progressive activist Mary Mancini who is mulling getting into the race. Not only would she add a gender option, she also appears decidedly more liberal than the two males in the race, for what that's worth.

But time waits for no man (or woman). Mancini should know that with both her would-be opponents already going all out to gather support and money, she needs to jump in soon if she wants to be a winner next August. So her comments to reporters that she might wait until January to decide, places her in some doubt for going to the post in my mind.

Metro Councilwoman At Large Megan Barry is not in doubt. She's already a declared mayoral candidate for 2015 and she got an interesting (and unexpected) endorsement this past week.

While the mayor's race is run on a non-partisan or no party basis, of all those even talking about running for the city's highest office, Barry is clearly the most identified Democrat in the field (with the possible exception of Bill Freeman).

So when moderate Nashville Republican leader and businessman Tom Lawless (a former GOP Davidson County Chairman) tells THE TENNESSEAN (September 11) he's for Barry, it's sure to raise eyebrows.

Lawless says it's a bad rap when critics say Barry is anti-business. He says Barry "understands how the city works and will be able to talk to (and recruit) all kinds of companies and constituencies." He also points out her perfect score in the Nashville Chamber's recent 2013 Legislative Scorecard.

But the funniest part of Lawless' endorsement has to be based on Barry's genes. Both her parents are longtime Kansas Republicans. "Some of that has to have rubbed off on her," Lawless told the newspaper. But what Tom Lawless may really want to know is this. Is the Midwest-bred Ms. Barry a St. Louis Cardinal Baseball fan like he is (and so I am, by the way).


Here's one other humorous note from the District 21 State Senate race. Both active candidates are sending out lots of blast e-mails to supporters. That's how I learned of Vice Mayor Neighbors' endorsement of Yarbro.

But the rest of that blast e-mail from the Yarbro campaign was mostly gibberish. The other stories were literally in pig Latin, words included for layout purposes and which would normally be replaced by the real copy before the e-mail blast is rocketed out. But that didn't happen in what I got, leaving the campaign messages meaningless. Whoops!  


Happy 1st Anniversary to CAPITOL VIEW

Actually, I first began this column way back in 2002. But I resumed my weekly epistles one year ago this week (September 14, 2012). It was a first step back into my "regular" life as a part of an ongoing recovery from a stroke. It was shortly after that when I started back to work, at first part time here at DVL, while I also came back as host (though for the first appearance I was as a guest) on INSIDE POLITICS.

In reflecting back one year later, I am struck with how much stronger and better I feel now. My lifestyle changes are working! I have been full time at work since late last year at DVL as well as in my Channel 5 duties.

I won't kid you, the first couple of weeks in writing the column were a particular struggle, although not in finding topics to write about (politics never quits happening). It was just typing out my thoughts. I've never been a good or fast typist (and I am still not back to even what I was before my stroke). But I get it done every week, even typing more or less with one finger most of time. 

So I've worked on being more concise in what I write and maybe I don't write on as many topics as I once did (believe it not).  My daughter Kelly already told me I write too much and she's probably right.

Regardless, thanks for being my loyal readers, and for sending me such positive support as I have written about my recovery. You know, it's been interesting to note. I write on all kinds of hot political topics but don't get a lot of reader reaction usually.

But when I give updates on my health (and I try not to bore everyone every week), I almost always get nice notes back from readers. I guess it's the personal touch that motivates folks. Whatever it is, thanks so much, it has meant a lot to me as I continue down the recovery road!

As I pass the one-year anniversary of resuming my normal life, I realize what a critical recovery step it was for me to be re-certified to drive. It took me three tests (I flunked the first two), but being able to get around on my own (safely). Driving opened up the opportunity to be independent again and get back to my work. I probably pushed things too quickly early on, but it has worked out just fine.

By the way, I still have those blue duct tape strips on my front windshield to make sure I am staying in my lane and driving correctly. And I still check those markers from time to time to make sure I'm OK. I could probably do without them. But I'd be terrified at first if I did take them off. Maybe one day.

Recovery is still an in-work process for me and likely always will be. One year later, thanks for being with me on the ride!