Capitol View Commentary: Friday, October 25, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, October 25, 2013

CREATED Oct 25, 2013

CAPITOL VIEW

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

October 25, 2013

THE FIRST PITCH; THE DAM AD; ON THE OFFENSIVE ON OBAMACARE; PRE-K JOINS THE FIGHT; BUD ADAMS; BLACK ON INSIDE POLITICS; FINALLY

THE FIRST PITCH

We wondered in a recent column what the community meeting at the Metro Farmer's Market would entail concerning the proposed new Nashville's Sound ball park in the historic Sulphur Dell area.

Turns out the session drew a standing room only audience of over 200 people (a huge turnover for a gathering held in middle of the work day) and the plans presented (while still incomplete in some important ways) seemed to get an overall positive response.

Clearly trying to be pro-active with heading off any NIMBY responses from nearby neighborhoods such as Hope Gardens and Germantown, representatives of the administration of Mayor Karl Dean showed more detailed drawings of how the ball park development would blend in and enhance the area while handling noise, light pollution, drainage, traffic and parking and other issues. It didn't satisfy everyone completely but it did seem to re-energize some public support for a new ball park concept which has been lying somewhat dormant since an earlier proposal to put a park on the old Thermal Transfer location along the west side of the Cumberland River died a few years ago.

There's still work and negotiations to do between the City and the Sounds, particularly involving financing, and negotiations with the state which owns the land (and wants a new parking garage for state workers out of the deal). There are also the surrounding private developments that will be part of the project.

It's all been a work in process for several months, but now it could be coming to a final conclusion with legislation submitted to the Metro Council for consideration within the next several weeks.

So the community meeting turned out to be a good "first pitch" for the project, something which I find a little amusing after hearing some private grumbling by one Metro official prior to the session because the state was apparently insisting such a community meeting be held. Turns out it was a good strategy because it that has, for now, given the plans some much needed public understanding and a boost in visibility and support.

Stay tuned for the more detailed plans and the financing. That will be the true test for this project becoming a reality.

THE DAM AD

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe Carr has put up his first TV campaign ad. Seeking to boost support and open up the wallets of Tea Party and other conservatives across the state, Carr is attacking incumbent Lamar Alexander. He is charging the Senator with being "behind closed doors trading favors" while "for weeks, conservatives fought the good fight to cut spending and defund Obamacare."

More specifically (although without offering any firm evidence) Carr says "Lamar snuck in three billion dollars for a dam (project)."  "No, darn way," says Carr.

Indeed, the law passed by both houses of Congress and signed by President Barack Obama to reopen the government and raise the country's debt limit, does also include authorizing spending for up to $3 billion for a Corps of Engineering project in Kentucky. That's the state represented by Senate Minority Leader (and Alexander close friend) Mitch McConnell.

It's clear the Minority Leader engineered the overall legislation but I've seen no concrete evidence that Senator Alexander had anything to do with "sneaking" the dam proposal into the bill. Alexander did vote for it, but so did his Tennessee colleague Bob Corker along with several other GOP Senators and Democrats too.   Senator Alexander apparently did also agree to the proposal being in the bill as a part of being the ranking GOP member on a Senate committee. But since the leading Democrats and the White House was OK with it too, it's hard to see that as sneaking the measure through.

There is controversy about whether the dam money (now known as "The Kentucky Kickback") is pork barrel legislation or an effort to keep the government from wasting money on a project already woefully over budget.   The dam already had an authorized $$ limit of $1.9 billion but supporters say without more funds (and both houses of Congress still have to appropriate the money which the full House did this week) otherwise the dollars already expended would be wasted with work stopped and jobs lost.

But opponents claim this is clearly pork legislation that looks like a duck and quacks like a duck too. And given the nature of how the money got into the bill, it's pretty complicated to easily defend although again there is no evidence being offered in the TV ad by the Carr campaign that Senator Alexander had any real role in having "snuck" the dam project into the legislation.

But Joe Carr is probably more interested in using his modest $20,000 Fox TV and Internet buy to stir up the Tea Party and raise money (which he desperately needs),  leaving the finer details of proof to others.  Besides I am not sure all that can be explained in a short TV ad.

ON THE OFFENSIVE ON OBAMACARE

With the end of the government shutdown and credit crunch (at least for now), the continuing issues with the implementation of Obamacare went right to the top of the headlines.  The President has expressed his unhappiness with the situation but so far he's not taking or assigning any blame for why the on line efforts to allow folks to sign up for health care coverage is still not working very well even after three years of preparations.

Those involved in working on the program (particularly the website) are appearing before congressional investors and pointing fingers at each other and the government for the issues. But Democrats seem to be getting concerned and they are breaking ranks for the first time calling for delays in upcoming deadlines and tax penalties for those not buying insurance.

Not surprisingly Republicans (especially those seeking re-election) see an opportunity.  Early in the week, Senator Alexander issued a news release saying he is introducing legislation to require weekly reports be made by the Administration to the Congress and the states about the progress being made in correcting these implementation problems. It's an idea catching some headlines. The Senator did a live interview with FOX News about it Wednesday (October 23).

It seems to me weekly reports are a bit excessive. That might mean those trying to correct the problem (the best and the brightest says the Administration) would be spending more time drafting reports than fixing the issues, if they can be fixed. Of course, if the best and brightest are being called in now, it makes you wonder who's been working on this implementation for the last three years?

Late in the week, Senator Alexander issued a more ominous warning, sending out a news release and a letter signed by other Senators threatening to subpoena the documents they want related to the problems with HealthCare.gov unless they are given over to them by close of business Monday, October 28. 

This is not the first time a major new entitlement program has had difficulties in being implemented. I read an article in recent days about the serious challenges Social Security had in coming up with an enrollment system when it first began in the 1930s. Somehow I seem to recall that worked itself out over time.

I have also seen an article from the Rachel Maddow Show (October 23) citing four recent national polls (Gallup, CBS, CNN and ABC/ Washington Post) that show despite all the many and persistent implementation issues, the new Affordable Health Act has seen a slight uptick in its popularity. Sure, it's still below 50% in all the polls, but who would thought it would go up rather than further decline in public support?

So maybe this is a program still under development in the public's mind. However the President better hope the "fix" for this is a matter of a few more weeks and not much longer. Otherwise the Administration won't get the numbers it needs for insurance signups (especially among young healthy people) and the program will be truly doomed to failure.

Meantime one of the few bright spots in the implementation of the health care law has been in neighboring Kentucky which did set up its own state exchange web site and which expanded its Medicaid program. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has declined to do that while seeking a "third way" to provide health care services. So far talks with federal officials have gone nowhere, but after seeing how the program seems to be working it does raise the question if the "Bluegrass way" is a better way?

PRE-K JOINS THE FIGHT

The budding fight between Metro school leaders and state and city council officials about funding for local students opened up a potential new front in recent days.

So far the feud has been about funding new charter schools which school officials say the system can't afford it without millions more $$. Metro council members have been skeptical and are pushing (along with Mayor Karl Dean for a comprehensive audit of school spending to make sure taxpayers are getting their money's worth.

Now Schools Director Dr. Jesse Register says the School Board needs another $6 million to provide 1,300 more Pre-K seats for at-risk youngsters who qualify but for whom there is not enough funding. That may get a more favorable response among council members, but it maybe not state leaders. Governor Haslam so far is in favor of fully funding Pre-K at its current levels but GOP leaders in the General Assembly are not keen on Pre-K, and that likely includes an additional $64.3 million in federal aid recommended by President Obama but still pending in Congress. If it should pass (which seems unlikely given the budget impasse in Washington), that that could possibly cover Metro's extra need . But it would require a $6.4 million match in funding by the state which is highly unlikely given the reasons I just stated.

And so that puts the Pre-K funding onus back on the Metro Council which has responsibility for appropriating all local school funding. But the Council points out they cannot require how those funds are actually spent. So it's back to the School Board to decide which way to spend its allocated dollars (a tax increase is likely out of the question).

It seems clear the School Board would rather put their extra dollars into pre-k, not new charters. But the state (and several in the Council) will likely strongly object to any cut to charter schools. Hence the impending fight which will make for quite an interesting budget season beginning early next year and continuing through the spring.

BUD ADAMS

He was never a full-time resident of Nashville. But Titans owner Bud Adams, who died at age 90 earlier this week, certainly did as much as any one individual of making Nashville the big-league city it is today.

It was Adams who pulled Nashville into his ongoing feud with officials in Houston over building a new stadium down there back in the mid-1990s. Lots of folks thought it was all for show and leverage. But it turns out they were wrong and Adams did bring the National Football League's Oilers (later the Titans) to town and it ultimately changed Nashville forever, especially in how we as a city perceive ourselves.

Sure, the Nashville Predators hockey team first began the move for Nashville to see itself (at least in terms of professional sports) as something other than Atlanta's poor little brother. But the NHL brand doesn't compare to the NFL and having a franchise in that  league had allowed this city to have the confidence , I think, to dream and achieve the bigger and better things we are experiencing today as the Nashville itself is getting closer and closer to becoming a recognized national brand.

Would it have happened without Bud Adams moving the Titans here? I am not sure. It certainly would have taken longer and happened differently. There's been a lot of discussion about Bud Adams deserving to be in the NFL Hall of Fame and certainly for the role he played and the courage and business savvy he showed in helping to found the old American Football League back in 1960, he probably does deserve a bust in Canton. And despite his sometimes gruff, even rude and controversial behavior after he moved the team here, he was also a very generous giver to many causes in town, and very worthy of membership in Nashville's Hall of Fame too. May he rest in peace.

BLACK ON INSIDE POLITICS

As that special congressional committee begins its work towards finding some kind of solution to the ongoing budget and other fiscal battles in Washington (and do so by December 13), this area will be represented directly on the committee by Republican Diane Black of the 6th District.

Congresswoman Black is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week. We had Democrat Jim Cooper last week so we wanted to heat from the GOP side, especially given Diane Black's prominent role as this controversy continues to unfold. Watch us!  

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.

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.  It's so easy to see us now, you should tune in.

FINALLY

You could see this coming for several months now.

In fact, ever since the U.S. Supreme Court made its historic rulings allowing same sex or gay marriage you knew a legal challenge was coming in Tennessee where the practice is illegal under both state law and by amendment to our constitution.

And so a lawsuit has been filed in federal district court by same sex couples living in Tennessee but who were married in states that recognize their union. They want Tennessee to do the same and recognize their marriages. They claim the state's restrictions violate the guarantees of the U.S. Constitution of equal protection and due process. While it's not directly part of the case, the ultimate purpose of this litigation is one day to make same-sex marriage legal for all in this state.

There are also moves across Tennessee to recognize same sex partner benefits for government employees (several major companies already do so nationally). Same sex benefits are already approved in Collegedale right outside Chattanooga and the idea is being studied by both city governments in Nashville and Knoxville.

Obviously legal cases take a while and often assume a life of their own. Will the General Assembly try and block same sex benefits for local governments as they did gay rights discrimination legislation in Nashville a couple of years back? Stay tuned.

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