Capitol View Commentary: Friday, November 8, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, November 8, 2013

CREATED Nov 8, 2013


By Pat Nolan, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

November 8, 2013



There is a story in today's TENNESEEAN (November 8) about concerns the state has about funding for the expansion and completion of the Mack Hatcher Parkway in Williamson County. Even though he is a former mayor of Franklin, TDOT Commissioner John Schroer says with the impending shortage or cut off of federal transportation dollars due to the ongoing gridlock in Congress about such infrastructure funding, and the fact that the state gas tax just doesn't generate funds like it used to (as miles driven decline), he's just not sure the money is there to make Mack Hatcher a priority. He also mentions the state has a backlog of several hundred million dollars in road projects that need doing all over Tennessee.

Schorer says as Commissioner his priority for dollars is for "safety" not moving traffic or cars around. Hmmm…what does that mean if you substitute into this conversation Nashville's AMP mass transit project and its $35 million price tag as the state's share to build the project? Is it a priority especially given the concerns that have been raised by House Speaker, Nashville Representative Beth Harwell? After all a portion of the AMP does run through her district and she says she is getting negative feedback from her constituents.

Harwell has further amplified her concerns in a new on-line interview (TENNESSEAN November 8) saying  the size of the state's AMP contribution is too large, especially since it will benefit only one county.

Assuming Governor Bill Haslam shares his TDOT Commissioner's priorities (and/or Speaker Harwell's issues), it looks like Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is going to need a lot more help to get his mass transit project funded by the state as well as more from Washington than just the federal millions required to help build the AMP. Good luck fixing Congress too, guys!   


"If you like your health insurance plan, you can keep your plan."

That's what detractors of President Barack Obama's new health care law say the President promised many times in recent years, misrepresenting(they say lying) about the actual impact of Obamacare now that it is being implemented, with perhaps millions of people with individual coverage now finding their care cancelled and no longer available, except at much greater cost or with services they don't want.

The Administration at first tried to say that's not what the President actually said (or at least meant). Now he's just apologized. That's something most people, especially presidents, are loath to do. But if he wants to move on and get at least some in the public to forgive, this has to be the first step. However, it's likely he'll be stuck with that quote much like former Presidents Clinton and Bush got stuck with their verbal gaffes ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman" and "you're doing a heck of a job, Brownie") that haunted their second terms in office.

A Tennessee elected official who seems to never miss or go off his talking points is GOP Senator Lamar Alexander. Continuing to pound away on one of his major re-election themes (against Obamacare) the staff on the Senator's health committee (where he is ranking member) has released an analysis that claims Tennesseans seeking individual coverage under the new health plan will see soaring increases in premiums.

As cited in a NASHVILE BUSINESS JOURNAL article (November 4), the analysis shows a 27 year woman seeking the cheapest health plan will see a rate hike of 87%, while a 27 year old man's cost will go up 149%. A family of four meanwhile will see a premium increase of 113%.

Now some of the horror stories that have surfaced in the national media concerning cancelled policies and/or rates for new policies being sky high haven't proven to be true. And often the new policy costs don't reflect the subsidies available to decrease premium costs. But it remains true the Obama administration is still fighting an uphill battle to implement this health plan successfully.

It seems logical that the backlash to the health care implementation might have had some impact on the narrow victory (a smaller margin than expected) for the Democratic winner in the Virginia gubernatorial race this past week. But the victory does mark the first time since 1977 that the party out of power in the White House did not regain the top post in Virginia. Democratic turnout also remained at presidential election year percentages which also made a difference.

The race results across the country will also likely inflame the debate and power struggle within the GOP, with moderates saying the Republican defeat in Virginia was because their candidate was too conservative, while Tea Party elements will respond by saying if moderates had better supported and funded the cause they might still have regained the Virginia governorship.

This off-off-year balloting also saw the strong re-election of Chris Christie as governor in New Jersey, which may likely launch his 2016 presidential effort as the leading GOP moderate in the race. That also occurred while Tea Party favorite Senator Rand Paul from Kentucky continued to struggle with plagiarism allegations.

There were no elections in Tennessee this November, but activity is already picking up in campaigns where there will a lot of time, attention and money spent next year. We've talked before about how there are three constitutional amendments on the ballot in November, 2014. One would limit abortion rights while another would give both the governor and the legislature the right to select appellate and Supreme Court justices. A third proposed amendment would forever forbid a state income tax.

Fundraising, especially for the abortion related amendment has already begun in earnest. Led by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey don't be surprised at the end of the day to see advertising and dollars spent in that campaign (Planned Parenthood and others against the amendment are gearing up too) actually exceeds what is spent in the two other major statewide races involving Governor Haslam's and Senator Alexander's re-elections. The judicial selection amendment could also spark a lot of dollars to be spent for and against, although as yet that's not clear.

Given Tennessee's passion against any kind of state income tax, it may not be clear why any organized campaign to pass this prohibition is necessary. But here's why and possibly why Governor Haslam is pushing a "Yes, Yes, Yes" campaign on all three amendments. Remember, it is not enough to pass constitutional amendments by just getting more yes than no votes. The amendments also have to receive a majority (50% plus one vote) of the votes cast in the governor's race. There's usually a fall off between the governor's race and these constitution changes, so it makes approval a little more tricky, hence all the early fund raising and support building commencing even with the vote still almost 12 months away.


At first blush this week you might have thought something was changing in Washington, but it's not. Even though all 54 Senate Democrats along with 6 Republicans managed to overcome a filibuster and 64 then voted on Thursday voted to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the upper chamber, don't expect the measure to become law anything soon.

The bill would make it illegal for businesses to discriminate against someone on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, adding to the existing law against discrimination based on race, color, sex, nationality, religion or disability.

But Republican House Speaker John Boehner says such a law is not needed and might encourage frivolous lawsuits. So it's not likely to ever get to the House floor for a vote. Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid said it would pass if brought to an open floor debate.  But that's questionable and out of question politically anyway.

That leaves this legislation, much like the immigration bill the Senate passed with a bi-partisan vote a few months back, DOA in the House.

And so it goes.


Ever since he became governor, Bill Haslam has been pushing his agenda to make Tennessee the best state in the nation to start, keep or move a business. And based on one prominent annual measurement of that, it seems to be working.

SITE SELECTION Magazine's annual list of states with the best business climate places Tennessee 5th in the nation, up from 8th last year. According to an on-line article by THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL (November 4) half of that ranking is "based on a survey of corporate site selectors (in which Nashville came in No. 6) and half the score is based on the state's rank in SITE SELECTION's previous look at states' competitiveness (in which Tennessee came in No. 4)."

We've still got Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and Ohio to beat out to be Number 1 in SITE SELECTION's rankings. But you can be sure Governor Haslam will be pointing out (maybe even bragging a little about) the progress being made when he's out on the re-election campaign trail in 2014.

But then there's also the state' unemployment rate which continues to stubbornly remain at 8.5% (as of August 2013) well above the national average of 7.3%.

You're also going to hear the Governor making a big deal in the coming weeks, and next year on the campaign trail, about the stunning improvements in math and reading test scores for Tennessee's fourth and eighth graders. Our kids went up nearly 22% on the nation's annual report card. It's not only the biggest (and only) increase by a state across the nation, it's the greatest increase ever recorded in this survey which has been done for over a decade.

Now we've still got work to do. We remain in the 30s nationally in educational achievement overall among the states. But we used to be in the mid to low 40s every year so this is quite an improvement. The Governor will clearly use this is as a strong indication the reforms his administration (and those begun under former Governor Phil Bredesen) are working, particularly the Common Core curriculum now under sharp attack by conservatives.

However there is already push back in some education circles that if you look closely not all children (at need) saw the improvements that others did. There is also disagreement that some of the "reforms" made in Tennessee such as changes in tenure policies and the criteria for raises (based more on merit and less on advanced education and years of experience) play much of a proven role in test score improvements.

But this new national survey is clearly a big win for the Governor. And he will use it for all its worth. There is one remaining issue. Even before this new national report card came out, the Governor announced it would be his goal to make Tennessee known as the state with the fastest growing teacher salaries in the nation.

That surely makes sense as, at least for now, our students and teachers are producing the fastest growing academic achievements in the country. But state revenues may not go along with this happy thought. In fact, tax collections are suddenly over $80 million below projections in the last two months. It's concerning enough that the Haslam administration is asking all state agencies to prepare budgets for next year based on 5% cuts.

We will find out exactly what that means as the Governor begins his annual budget hearings this coming week. But the idea of continuing revenue declines combined with 5% cuts in state agencies could certainly make it difficult, if not impossible to grant teachers (or other state workers for that matter) the size of pay raises they seem to be earning in the classroom.


The Tennessee Democratic Party continues to struggle.

Now even legislative leaders are stepping away "due to disagreements with state party chairman Roy Herron" (NASHVILLE POST 11/6).

House Caucus Chair Representative Mike Turner of Nashville says it's "nothing personal' but he wants to take a more "aggressive approach" against Republicans proceeding in "a more technology-oriented progressive manner" while he says Herron prefers a more "conservative traditional approach." So Turner is leaving his leadership post after five years adding if he was younger he would "keep fighting" but "I've only got about two more terms in me."

So will those comments rekindle speculation Turner will be a Nashville mayoral candidate in 2015? Or will Turner be persuaded by pleas from Democratic legislative leaders (Craig Fitzhugh) to reconsider and continue in leadership. (PITH IN THE WIND, NASHVILLE SCENE,  November 8).

Meantime some of the high level party vacancies are being filled by Chairman Herron including long- time political strategist Alan Secrest coming on board as Executive Director. He's worked in the past for prominent Democrats such as former congressmen Bart Gordon and Lincoln Davis as well as former Nashville mayor Bill Purcell and Congressman John Lewis. Also joining the state party are three other political professionals (as described by the NASHVILLE POST 11/5), Mark Epps, Nikki Holland and Heather Meshell.  Best of luck to all of them, the state Democratic Party has a lot of work to do be competitive in next year's elections in Tennessee.


My guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend is well known Nashville TV journalist Jonathan Martin (WSMV). His new job is with Al Jazeera America which has opened a news bureau in Nashville. We talk with Jonathan about what's involved in his duties and about the challenges and opportunities he faces in working for a somewhat controversial worldwide news organization.

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. If you have a computer and internet access you can see the show live whenever it airs on THE PLUS.


It's another big one for Nashville.

Country Music Week (which I recall began as a country music radio disc jockey convention many years ago) has become one of those weeks in our city where it seems there's a red carpet walkway along with TV, print and video cameras (and reporters) almost everywhere every night of the week.

It all culminates with the CMA Awards program (billed The Biggest Night in Country Music) on Thursday evening, an event broadcast and followed by music lovers all over the world. It ends an annual celebration where the focus is not just on the entertainer (as it is with most awards) but on the song and the songwriter as well.

But the work of building and maintaining a world class brand never stops for Nashville. And so I note, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean is announcing the creation of a Nashville Film Television Transmedia Council for the city. According to a NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL article (November 4) and an advisory from the mayor's office, the new Council "will be similar to the Music City Council, an association of business and industry leaders formed by Dean in 2009. " That council "is tasked with raising the city's awareness and developing Nashville as the world's premier music city."

So how will this new council be different?  I am not quite sure. Maybe it will be determining just how many reality TV shows in one city is enough?  

By the way, if you didn't see the hour-long ABC-TV special that aired Sunday afternoon on the history of music in Nashville (FOR THE LOVE OF MUSIC: THE STORY OF NASHVILLE), go on line to ABC.com and watch it. It's wonderful! A tip of the hat goes in particular to my former co-worker, Chuck Creasy, who was one of the creators of the show. Great job, Chuck!

It really made me very proud to grow up in this town and still live in the very special community this city is becoming.


I marked another milestone in my recovery this week.

It was one year ago this month (November 2012) that I concluded my stroke recovery physical therapy sessions at the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Hearing & Speech Center. I then joined the YMCA.

Before that time, I had never set foot in a Y facility. Last November I began a once a week workout session with a personal trainer. For the past six months (beginning in May, 2013)I now go to the Y twice a week, once Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. with the trainer, then the second time early on Saturday mornings, doing the workout by myself.

Yes, it's been a real life style change. I can remember the first couple of sessions. I was so weak and uncoordinated .My balance in particular was awful.  I just didn't know what to do or how to even set up the exercise machines. Nothing

I'm still kind of a geek in starting a new set of exercises such as I began this last week. The new one-legged squats I am doing and the new row exercises I am performing are a lot tougher than what I have done before, but I am hanging in there.

More than anything else I am learning not to quit or give up. I am staying on task, on goal, until I make it. My trainer, Mathew Sias is so good at keeping me focused, and always watching my posture and urging me to keep my chest out, head up, etc. so I am doing the exercises correctly (and especially not leaning left or favoring my left arm or side). I still hear his voice on Saturdays to keep me in line and remember (at least what I am supposed to be doing). Then he can correct my bad habits on Wednesday and start on my new exercises. 

My wife Betty Lee is exercising at the Y too twice a week for the first time, while my daughters are both doing their running, training for future half (Kelly) and full marathons (Katie). Katie is also an avid Cross-Fitter with her husband Mike Rosenhagen and she recently completed a Chattanooga to Nashville RAGNAR team relay where her team finished 17th out of hundreds of  teams. And this is from a family (at least while the kids were growing up) where the parents set no example with regular exercise (other than cutting the grass). At least,  the kids did grammar and high schools sports, including basketball,  gymnastics and cheerleading.

Kelly did cross country too. But we laugh about that now since she really hated doing it back then. But she is now an avid runner who got her big sister into the act a couple of years ago. And there's Palates and Kettle Bells exercise for Kelly with her husband Shane Cortesi.

We are kind of an exercising family now. Who would have thunk it?   

There's one last health-related item to mention this week. As soon as I saw the coverage of the coach of the Houston NFL football team collapsing on the sidelines Sunday night, I thought it was a little odd all the team and the media talked about was that the coach did not have a heart attack.

It would have never dawned on me before my own illness, but I began to suspect that perhaps it was a stroke. Indeed team officials now say it was "a mini stroke" and there are news stories that Coach Gary Kubiak was treated with the special medication used for stroke patients who have had a blood clot of some sort.

I would say Coach Kubiak is a very lucky man. When the coach was stricken, (like me) he was in a wonderful place to receive quick care and fast delivery to a hospital where he could be further stabilized and treated. In fact, the sidelines of a NFL or college football game might be one of the best places for something terrible like this to happen.

 As a non-football player, and while I suffered a "bleed" stroke (ruptured blood vessel)  not a clot, I would maintain the mayor's office worked pretty well for me as a place to be stricken, along with having caring people like mayoral aides Tam Gordon and Janie Conyers to convince me I needed help.  

I will always be grateful they gave me the chance to change my lifestyle and enjoy my family (especially my grandchildren) while going to the Y to exercise twice a week.