Capitol View Commentary: Friday, October 11, 2013
By Pat Nolan, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
October 11, 2013
INSIDE POLITICS; STRIKING POLLS; MISSED OPPORTUNITIES; STRANGE PIZZA; JUST THE FACTS, MAAM; FIXING THE PENSIONS; ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST; JUDGES
Is the "mess" in Washington with the federal government shutdown and THE looming debt (default) crisis about to be resolved? Or are we looking at more standoffs and "kicking the can down the road" with additional gridlock likely still ahead?
Our guests on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend are two local experts who know Washington inside and out. They are political science professors Bruce Oppenheimer of Vanderbilt and Kent Syler of Middle Tennessee State University.
We discuss how we've got into this condition (again) and what the political shakeout is moving forward. I think you'll find our discussion most stimulating and enlightening.
INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network. Those 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. on Sunday. THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2. Portions of INSIDE POLITICS interviews are also later posted on NEWSCHANNEL5.com.
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Again, the situation in D.C. is fluid. We tape this show a bit in advance so events could overtake us and date what we say. But we try to be general enough in our discussion to keep what we say relevant regardless.
It's not a news flash to say that the latest mess in Washington is hurting everyone up there in their poll numbers. But two polls I've seen are particularly striking.
One is from GALLUP (October 9). It shows the Republican Party has a favorable rating nationally of 28%, down 10% from just last month (when the same question was asked). That number says the polling firm is "the lowest favorable rating measured for either party since Gallup began asking this question in 1992." By the way, the Democrats are hurting too, with only a 43% favorable rating, down 4 points in a month.
Now before you go off saying that all the polls by the liberal media are biased, remember GALLUP gave Mitt Romney consistently the best poll numbers last fall during the presidential campaign and still had it a one point race on Election Day versus President Obama. Just saying
But my favorite survey of the week (maybe of any week) comes from Public Policy Polling, a reportedly Democratic-leaning firm based in North Carolina. It asks voters to compare how they view Congress versus some other challenging things we have in our lives. And Congress does not do well at all.
According to a USA TODAY article (October 8) voters prefer hemorrhoids to Congress 53% to 31%; they like jury duty over Congress by over 70% to 18%. They even like toenail fungus more by 3 percentage points over our elected federal leaders. (Hey, I didn't pick these comparisons. I just find them hilarious).
Congress also finishes behind going to the DMV and witches. Who do folks dislike more than Congress? The poll says Miley Cyrus, Lindsay Lohan, Vladimir Putin and Anthony Weiner.
Now some of these responses may just be the public playing along and enjoying a little joke. But overall poll numbers for Congress are cratering. A recent CNN poll gives lawmakers only an 8% approval rating while the Associated Press now has a survey (October 10) saying Congress has only a 5% approval number, the lowest its ever recorded. The latest WALL STREET JOURNAL/ NBC NEWS poll (October 10) is even worse for Republicans with an all-time brand low of only 24% while the Tea Party is even lower at 21%. Democrats are taking a hit but not nearly as bad as the GOP while President Obama is seeing his numbers going up a bit in this and some other polls.
Now some are already complaining the WSJ poll samples too many folks who work for the government.
But other surveys are resulting in similar findings.
Bottom line, get a clue, ladies and gentlemen in Congress and everybody else in Washington, find a permanent way out on both the budget and the credit issue. NOW
For those in the GOP who have hollered loud and long to repeal, defund or delay the new national health law, have they missed their best propaganda opportunity? Before and since October 1st, they've been focusing all their time and attention (and a lot of Koch Brothers money spent by conservatives groups) in forcing the government shutdown and moving towards a debt default crisis, but instead should they have been doing all they can to get the public and the media to pay a lot more attention to the myriad of startup problems Obamacare has experienced since it began those insurance exchanges last week.
Sure getting hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people to go on line to "shop" for healthcare options is a great sign of interest, but that's not true if the system isn't designed to handle anything close to that number. Given all the build-up and controversy about the new health care program what did the Obama administration expect? And after three years of preparation, why weren't they ready?
This is a group that has revolutionized politics and fundraising on line, yet they didn't prepare for this? Why are they like the candy store that didn't stock up for Valentines' Day or the florist who didn't remember Mother's Day is coming?
Fortunately, the GOP comes to the rescue. The same fractured party that has shown little planning on how to escape the shutdown and debt crisis it has helped paint itself (and the country) into, has also missed the chance to prove the train wreck they've been predicting might be happening with Obamacare. Instead they've created potentially an even bigger train wreck that could cripple the nation's, if not the world's, economies by stimulating another recession if the country defaults on its debts.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam seems to have anticipated this problem for his party, saying the shutdown and debt crisis are "inappropriate" and not the way to address the nation's overspending problem. He also told reporters in recent days people in part are blaming Republicans for this mess in Washington (see the poll story above) and the focus on that has prevented his party from capitalizing on the early difficulties of the new health care plan.
Senator Lamar Alexander also seems to sense the issue opportunity as his office, beginning Thursday (October 10), has sent out several news releases criticizing the problems and delays in Obamacare, raising questions and issues with the health care startup and asking for answers from the administration.
But, as if on cue, the GOP in Tennessee seems quite divided in focusing on that. The Associated Press reports (October 8) that 24 of the state's 26 Republican State Senators have signed a letter to President Obama "claiming that the president and his Democratic allies are behind the "maneuver to close down parts of the federal government to protect the new health care law." This creates divided attentions again for the public and the media. And it's not working for the GOP.
Even the Haslam administration itself is creating some cross currents. Upon further review by the courts, two judges (one state, one federal) have both issued separate restraining orders to prohibit the state from enforcing its new rules regarding those who provide help to people seeking to go on line for health care coverage options under the new law. The judges seem to agree that the rules are much too broad and might even violate First Amendment rights.
The Governor defends the rules by saying they were meant to prohibit "fraud" and not be a "roadblock." Maybe not, but if Obamcare is so bad, why do Republicans always seem to be trying so hard to keep the public from being able to learn or exercise their rights under the new law? Are they scared that after all the kinks are worked out, it might work, and people might like it? Then it would be like the Medicare prescription drug program passed by Republicans and then-Tennessee Senator Bill Frist a few years back. Of course right now the Obama administration remains its own worst enemy to getting the system working properly.
By the way, a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (October 8) says the new Affordable Health Act (ACA) could mean a decrease among Tennessee's uninsured of 30% (from 931,000 to 649,000 folks). And according to an on-line article by THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL (October 8), that could occur even though the state has not expanded its Medicaid (Tenncare) program to accept increased federal funding under the ACA.
As for the federal government shutdown, another NBJ on-line article (October 8) says an analysis by the group WalletHub, finds Tennessee ranks 24th (or about in the middle) in terms of the impact of that action on its citizens in all 50 states. The study also finds its red-states (Republican-leaning) are the most likely impacted, with 15 out of the top 25 being in that category.
Knoxville Republican State Senator Stacy Campfield has always been the master of the bizarre and controversial on Capitol Hill here in Nashville. But this week, he may have outdone himself.
First, he sent out an e-mail about a campaign fundraiser he was holding this week at a Nashville pizza place featuring Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. Ramsey's involvement raised some eyebrows. But what really got everyone's attention was that Campfield (or someone on his staff) sent the e-mail out on Campfield's state e-mail account (which is a big non-no).
Obviously someone quickly realized the mistake and sent out another e-mail retracting the first one. But then the story got even stranger when reporters called the pizza place and the owner claimed he doesn't even know who Campfield is and knows nothing about any fund raising event being held there. He also says his restaurant does get involved in politics like that.
So, Senator Campfield, do you want extra cheese or some crow on your pizza? And is that order to go?
JUST THE FACTS, MAAM
Violent crime is down in this country and has been trending that way for several years.
But when your state is listed number 1 in the nation for where violent crime has been most likely to occur over the past year, an overall decline may not be all that comforting. The web site 24/7 WALL STREET has studied the most recent FBI statistics on a state by state basis. This includes rape, robbery, murder and aggravated assault among other crimes.
Add it up and the study found Tennessee to be the "most dangerous state in the country" with an overall violent crime rate of nearly 644 crimes committed per 100,000 people. The state is also number 1 for aggravated assaults and in the Top 10 for both murders and robberies. This type of crime seems concentrated in our big cities with Memphis number 5 overall and Nashville #18.
Now this story has been getting wide news coverage across the nation and probably around the world. But there's not been much political reaction that I've seen. Maybe that's because some say even the FBI discourages state by state comparisons of its statistics. I'm not exactly sure why (crime stats are apparently kept differently state by state), but you'd think our lawmakers would be falling all over themselves to pass more laws to protect us from keeping this number one ranking.
But then I saw in the study, the two reasons it cites for why Tennessee has this high violent crime rate. It says Tennessee has an "acute" poverty rate (17.9%) and our high school and college graduation rates are lower than most in the nation.
I know both of those conditions are true, and I also know what both Governor Haslam and Nashville Mayor Karl Dean are doing to address the graduation challenges. Poverty is an even more insidious problem to attack. But I am convinced, whether this use of the FBI crime stats is appropriate or not, these are the key issues we must deal with to reduce crime, much more so than just arming ourselves to the teeth or passing more laws and building more jail and prison cells.
FIXING THE PENSIONS
Lots of major cities in this country have been struggling to fully fund their employee pension obligations as required by current accounting standards.
Nashville is no exception. Now Mayor Dean and his Finance Director Rich Riebeling are proposing a plan to the Metro Council to address the issue. It would allow the city to borrow $200 million in bonds (with the proceeds generated by the bond sale being invested and) used to grow the city's present pension fund to help handle future demands.
The plan will reportedly cover only about half of the city's unfunded pension liability which the Dean administration says will be enough. But some in the Council are raising concerns. They liken it to paying your home mortgage with a credit card or borrowing money to pay off another loan. They are also concerned Nashville will wind up like cities such as Detroit and Chicago whose pension fund problems have led to greater money woes.
But I am told the Mayor's office rejects those claims and says, unlike other cities, Metro has plenty of funds to handle its present pension needs and that this plan, if things go according to past market history, will generate enough funds to help meet future pension obligations.
But given the uncertainty of what's going on in Washington, and negative repercussions in the markets that could occur, the timing on this may be terrible. I look for lot of questions to be asked by the Council and lots of hand holding to be done by the administration to get this approved. It doesn't make things easier when bond experts give interviews to the morning paper (TENNESSEAN, October 11) opining that doing a deal like this is risky and "screams weakness" or "what's wrong with Nashville" about the city to potential investors.
Despite those ballyhooing a new self-assertiveness in the Council based on efforts to study same-sex benefits for city workers and a total audit of Metro Schools, look for our 40 city leaders to be more reserved in acting on this issue, although I do expect the Mayor to get his plan approved.
However, he and everyone else in Metro should mark the need for increased fiscal restraint going forward (including future mayors and councils) and be very careful in adding future pension benefits or seeking to divert annual payments to pension fund because increasing reserves will appear to be more than needed, but probably aren't.
ANOTHER ONE BITES THE DUST
Another conservative Democratic member of the Tennessee House is calling it quits. Charles Curtiss of Sparta says he will not seek re-election in 2014. Rural Democrats like Curtiss used to be everywhere on the Hill, and they ran the place. Now the Republicans do that and conservatives like Curtiss are almost extinct, at least with a D beside their name. In fact, the GOP almost ousted Curtiss in 2012 and they expect to pick up his seat in 2014, perhaps leading to an even larger super majority than the 70 seats the GOP has now.
But while one lawmaker bows out, another would-be legislator decides to jump in. Progressive activist Mary Mancini has decided she will seek to take over State Senator's Doug Henry's seat here in Nashville from which he is retiring.
Mancini will oppose two other strong Democratic candidates who entered the race months ago. So she likely has some work to do in terms of organization and fund raising. It's also why she had to get in the race now and not wait to decide early next year which she said earlier was her strategy.
The other major question hanging over this race is will the Republicans find and field a candidate? It's a Democrat-leaning district but not of reach for the GOP with the right candidate and if the political stars lining up correctly.
It's comforting the state Attorney General believes the Governor still has the authority to fill judicial vacancies even though Tennessee lawmakers let the law that was on the books covering that process lapse earlier this year. It's bad public policy to do that and hopefully it won't create a big problem.
But I will point out an AG ruling is merely advisory and subject to judicial challenge and review if it comes to that. So we'll see what happens while we wait for lawmakers to come back to Nashville and fix their oversight come January.