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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, November 22, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, November 22, 2013

CREATED Nov 22, 2013

CAPITOL VIEW

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

November 22, 2013

NOW IT’S WHITE PAPERS; THE AMP CHALLENGE; A HIGH HARD ONE; GOVERNOR HASLAM ON INSIDE POLITICS; IT SURE TOOK A WHILE; ANTE UP; THE FIRST WOMAN; A COMING OF AGE; JOHN EGERTON; HOLIDAY

NOW IT’S WHITE PAPERS

The ongoing “education war” raging in Nashville and across the state took a rather academic turn this past week. The Tennessee Charter School Center issued a white paper claiming that less than 15% of Metro public school students have seats in a high quality school. The Charter group says it used the Metro school system’s own data to come to that conclusion. The report is clearly being issued in opposition to the Nashville School Board’s decision to limit any future charter schools to areas where present schools are overcrowded or to serve students who attend schools that have failed state standards the past two years.

The statewide charter school group says access to a quality education shouldn’t be based on zip code or geography. It adds the best way for the city to provide quality education to all its students (adding another 67,000 seats in quality schools) is to utilize more charter schools. “Given their track record for producing rapid and dramatic student growth at a fraction of the cost of a traditional school, charter schools are the best tool to ensure every student can access and attend a high quality school in his or her neighborhood.”

Wait for it. You can be sure Metro Schools will have its own response very soon, and perhaps even its own white paper as the war of words (and the fight over how our education dollars are spent) continues.  

THE AMP CHALLENGE

As the fight over the city’s proposed AMP bus rapid transit project intensifies it’s beginning to resemble a political campaign.  Both sides seem ready to have a big debate. Not that there haven’t already been several presentations by both sides at a number of community meetings and forums, all along the proposed East-West route in particular. There’s just not been a big, well- advertised  head to head verbal confrontation.

Now it looks like both sides want to do it and it could come as soon as the first couple of weeks in December.  I am looking forward to seeing the ground rules that are agreed to.  

Based on some similar “debates” I moderated in the past (such as on the Music City Center) it could be a difficult discussion to keep from a little getting out of hand, both on stage and in the audience. I am sure it will be a free event, open to the public. But given the heat and passion this proposal is evoking all over Nashville, it might be something you could sell tickets to if needed, with the proceeds going to some worthy charity. Just saying

A HIGH HARD ONE

I told you last week that Mayor Karl Dean’s fast track schedule to gain Metro Council approval (by the end of the year) and build the new Sulphur Dell ball park (open by April, 2015) might cause some concern.

It turns out the first debate on the matter in Council this past week (November 19) started out like a pitcher delivering a high, hard one close to the head of the first batter he faces. Things quickly got tense.

At Large Councilman Charlie Tygard, perhaps still a bit miffed that his plan to help fix the city’s employee pension plan problems was rejected by both the administration and the Council, took to the floor and asked that all the ball park legislation be voted on separately for first reading. He added the upcoming holidays are too busy a time for the Council to consider something as important as this, and he wanted a two meeting deferral.

That’s a little unusual. First reading is usually a perfunctory vote, allowing legislation to be sent to committee where a full debate can begin before it comes back to Council for a second vote in two weeks. You know like throwing a strike right down the middle on a first pitch in a baseball game.

The deferral request brought quick opposition from ball park supporters especially from Tygard’s At-Large Council colleague Jerry Maynard, who somewhat played the race card saying it wasn’t fair to defer this project to help (historically black) North Nashville while projects to benefits other areas in town have moved forward in the past without delay.

That brought an angry response from Councilmember Tony Tenpenny, who yelled, “Come on!” to his colleague. Maynard responded in kind and it looked like matters might escalate out of hand. But like most baseball confrontations, it quickly ended with only verbal exchanges and the bills then passed quickly and quietly on first reading.     

By the way, the rush for Council approval is not just to get the ball park open by Opening Day, 2015 (which is also Mayor Dean’s last year in office). One of the private developers involved in the project has had already redesigned their residential proposal so their plans didn’t conflict by being in the middle of the park’s outfield. So I guess the developers want to know as soon as possible if the ball park is a go so they can start building too (or build anyway with their old plans if the ball park proposal fails).    

Stay tuned as the Council’s committee hearings and a second reading debate and vote are set for December 2-3.  The state is looking for public input on the project too (at least on its involvement in terms of land swaps and sales). State Building Commission officials will be meeting Monday morning (November 25) in Room 30 at Legislative Plaza if you want your time at bat on this. 

 

GOVERNOR HASLAM ON INSIDE POLITICS

We are honored to Governor Bill Haslam as our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend.

Our conversation covers a wide variety of topics. I think you’ll find what he has to say intriguing. That includes the upcoming state budget (he still plans a teacher pay raise despite the sharp decline in revenue); the AMP (not inclined to fund it but still open for Mayor Dean to convince him despite strong local opposition); Sulphur Dell (the new ball park deal with Metro could also speed up a new State Library and Archives at the Bicentennial Mall).

We also discuss the ongoing state feud with Metro Schools over charters and the BEP; vouchers (no breakthrough yet with the State Senate ); same-sex partner benefits for state and local government workers (the Governor is not in support); the still controversial state office management contract (he does not see making any conflict of interest rules changes).  And there’s more.

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. So it no longer matters what cable or satellite service you have or where you live. It’s very easy to see us now live! Log on and tune in!

IT SURE TOOK A WHILE

In clearly the better late than never category, Congress, led by Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, has sent legislation to President Barack Obama that will make injections of compounded sterile drugs safer. The new law comes in the wake of a tragic meningitis outbreak that killed 16 Tennesseans (and others across the nation) as well sickened many in this state and elsewhere, all due to bad drug injections. Some are still suffering the after effects.

The new law will allow greater oversight by the Federal Food & Drug Administration especially over drug compounders who practice in large volumes outside traditional pharmacy practices. It will also require better information be available requiring detailed labeling on compounded drugs and a prohibition on false and misleading advertising, according to a release from Senator Alexander’s office.

Why it has taken so long to make what would seem to be common sense type changes to the law probably says a lot about how difficult it is for Congress to agree on just about anything these days as well as the “making sausage” aspects of government. Let’s hope it doesn’t take still more tragedies to do what needs to be in the future to protect public safety.                   

Here’s another bill that, while clearly needed, makes you wonder why it takes an “act of Congress” to get it done.  Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper is co-sponsoring legislation (with more than 50 others in the House) that will “curb federal payments to deceased individuals” according to a news release from Rep. Cooper’s office.

That’s right, according to Cooper’s release, THE WASHIGTON POST says “over the last few years, the government has paid $133 million to Social Security beneficiaries who are deceased and $400 million to federal retirees who had died.”

So the bill seeks to require better government record keeping; requiring the use of death data to prevent improper payments; better coordination for federal agencies to have access to the data needed and to make sure federal agencies are sharing “best practices.”  Maybe the best practice for the federal government is just get these changes implemented ASAP whether it’s mandated by lawmakers or not.

ANTE UP

Senator Alexander’s challenger in the Republican primary next August, State Representative Joe Carr, has not been burning up the woods in his fundraising. But he claims that is changing now, and I received this week an e-mail invitation for a big money fund raising event the Carr campaign held November 20.

It was two events both hosted by Nashville businessman Lee Beaman and his wife Kelley at their home. The Host event carried a $2,600 person/couple ticket price, followed by a reception that sported a $1,000 per person/couple price tag to attend.

The Host Committee for both fundraisers was not all that large in number (44) and showed no current elected officialsI recognized. But it is filled with some well- known GOP conservative/ Tea Party leaders including Ben Cunningham and Albert McCall as well as Nashville businessman Joe Scarlett.

It may be until the next campaign disclosure report early in 2014 before we know how well Carr’s efforts are going. Success is critical during this period for Carr to maintain any credibility as a potential serious challenger to Senator Alexander.

THE FIRST WOMAN

Dr. Janet Yellen may soon become the most powerful woman in America (and perhaps the world) if she is confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be the first female chair of the Federal Reserve. And if she is confirmed, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker may have played a major role.

Corker voted against Yellen in her current job as a top Fed official and he says he still would “prefer to see someone who held a most modest view regarding the limits of monetary policy on our economy.” But after meeting with Yellen and listening to her responses during the Senate’s Banking Committee confirmation hearings, Corker has announced “I do believe she has the qualifications necessary to be Fed chairman and (I) plan to support her nomination.”

At first it appeared, Corker’s support might be critical to help Democrats get the bi-partisan majority they seemed to need (60 votes) to pass this Presidential appointment. But it also came just days before Democrats in the Senate finally invoked “the nuclear option” changing Senate rules so that filibusters concerning presidential appointments (except for the Supreme Court) no longer require 60 votes to end, just a constitutional majority. The Senate rule change is the culmination of years of angst and anguish between the parties and the White House going back through several administrations and through changing control of the Senate between both Republicans and Democrats.

Both Tennessee Senators are unhappy about the rule change. And while it will clearly make it much easier for a President to fill out his Cabinet and make other appointments now and in the future, there could be a “rest of the story” if Democrats lose control of the Senate in 2014 or when the White House changes party control down the road.  The filibuster is not part of the constitution and its use as a political weapon of obstruction has occurred with increasing frequency (invoked by both sides) in recent years.  So with this change it’s pretty easy to see that what goes around is likely to come around one day.

The reaction to the rule change will also likely make bi-partisan cooperation even harder to achieve at least in the short term  (even though there’s not that much of it going on in Washington these days anyway). Such is life inside the Beltway.                 

A COMING OF AGE

There are some events in your life that you remember every moment when it happened, where you were, you were with, every moment that occurred in pretty great detail. And sometimes you remember even if you were not directly involved in the event.

Such is this day for me and for many of my age (almost 62) and older. It was the afternoon of Friday, November 22, 1963, 50 years to the day. It was just as I was coming back from 7th grade recess at Cathedral Grammar School on West End Avenue. The girls in my class (who did their recess at a different place than the boys) were upset. They had heard from a high school girl with a transistor radio that President John F. Kennedy was shot and that he was dead.

We didn’t believe it and there was quite as uproar as Sister Mary Jude, R.S.M. tried to get us to come to order to begin our afternoon classes. To settle the matter, Sister sent some students to the school office next door to find out what was going on. In the meantime, she did what any Sister of Mercy would do in a time of potential crisis. She led us in the rosary while we waited.

I don’t think we completed all 5 decades before our classmates returned to say it was true…the President was dead!

Nobody knew what to do. Some of the girls started crying. The guys were mad. President Kennedy was a Catholic…the first ever elected President…he was our guy. Who would want to shoot him? I do vaguely remember one classmate saying out loud, he was glad because his family was Republican and this might mean Barry Goldwater would be president in 1964. That was a most unpopular comment and I believe he quickly made himself scarce. We all did. I don’t remember anyone telling us to go home because school was dismissed for the day.

We just left. I went with my best friend Pat Kain to catch the city bus home. It was at the bus stop that we heard the false rumor that Vice President (now President) Lyndon Johnson had suffered a heart attack. It was getting a little scary at that point. I had never known anything like it in my almost 12 years on earth.

When I got home it was the beginning of a surreal weekend. The news folks were on and the story just went on and on, hours on end, including the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald, the likely assassin; the new president flying with the body of President Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy (her dress still stained with blood) back to Washington; their sad arrival at the airport, LBJ’s brief speech asking the nation for prayers; the president’s boy lying in state; then the state funeral held on Monday.

Then came after w weekend also full of symphony performances, interviews, panel discussions, and all kinds of other non-network type TV programming being offered on the air;  I learned later there had never been anything quite like it in American broadcasting and the programming was kind of make it up as goes as things went along. It was the beginning of 24/7 wall to wall news coverage for American TV.

The weekend’s events continued to be surreal as well. After going to Mass Sunday morning I was down at Pat Kain’s house listening to his rock and roll 45 record collection (pre-Beatles) when his sister came in to tell us that Oswald had been shot and killed at the Dallas police station…and that it happened live on TV.

 Good we both said…he deserves it. And we kept listening to music. I guess we were kind of numbed out at that point and the idea of going to watch a video replay (I’ve seen it many times in the years since) just didn’t occur to us. It was a few years yet before such technology became easily available and is now is an incessant part of our lives, especially watching sports events.

But while it didn’t occur to me to seek a replay, what did begin to build over that weekend for me and lots of other folks was a feeling that there might be more to the story than what was known or being told. Even the appointment of and a report by a special presidential commission headed by the nation’s Chief Justice didn’t qualm the misgivings. If the Kennedy assassination wasn’t the first “conspiracy theory” in modern American politics (FDR and the Pearl Harbor attack?) it certainly spawned the first cottage industry for such ongoing theories along with books, TV shows, movies even congressional investigations. And it’s still going strong to this day

I must admit I have had my doubts about the “lone gunman” theory from time to time. But as the years have gone by, a broader conspiracy seems less likely to me. Why were there no leaks or people bragging years later about it how they helped to pull it off without getting caught or leaving any tale-tell evidence of their guilt?  As for government involvement or cover up, just look at recent events involving the NSA, even the health care start up. I don’t think government is clever enough to do it or be involved in a conspiracy and manage to keep it a secret all these decades.

But what has happened, evolving from the events of November 22, 1963, is a slow but steady erosion of the public’s faith in government, replaced by a cynicism (we used to call a creditability gap) that has spread to many different issues and hardened like solid stone in the public’s mind to this very day.

For me November 22, 1963 was a coming of age, the first historical event in my lifetime where I remember everything that happened the day it occurred. There have been several others since (MLK’s and RFK’s murders in 1968, the first moon landing in 1969, years later the Challenger disaster, the shooting of President Reagan and, of course, the events of September 11, 2001 among others). But JFK’s murder was the first and in some ways remains the most vivid in my memory banks even with the passage of a half century of time.

JOHN EGERTON

As we once again remember the murder of President John Kennedy, we in Nashville now mourn the loss of one of our own most prominent citizens, historian, journalist and writer John Egerton who died this past week. I first met John through reading and loving his Nashville history books done in conjunction with the city’s bicentennial in 1979. I then got to know John better through our involvement with the Friends of the Metro Archives group.

We also had a great friend in common: the late John Connelly, the longtime official Davidson County historian. I can only imagine the two Johns greeting each other in heaven and, since the holiday season is coming, John Connelly offering him some Spice Round, a much beloved Nashville Christmas delicacy from days gone by.

Rest in peace

HOLIDAY

 Thanksgiving makes it a short week for me next week so I will not be doing a Capitol View column. Look for the next column on Friday, December 6.

I have so much to be thankful for again this year. First, that would include my continued good health (almost the full calendar year of 2013 out of the hospital) and my continued recovery from my June, 2012 stroke. I still feel I am getting better and stronger with it each passing month. Of course, my family and friends continue to encourage and support me which makes a world of difference.

I am enjoying being able to use my vacation time this holiday season to be off from work, not recovering in a hospital bed or at home unable to drive and wondering when I might be ready to get back to work.

Both of my employers (DVL & NewsChannel 5) continue to provide great places to work and I cherish the opportunity to be there and be with my co-workers. There are times I am so busy these days I feel like I am back on my schedule in the days before my illness. But I think I am handling it OK and my stamina is quite good actually, unless I have to stand up for a long period time. I also am watching my diet, my sodium intake especially, and my blood pressure is good. So life is good!

The Happiest Thanksgiving to all of you….may you enjoy it with family, friends, love, good food and gratitude to God!