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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 3, 2014

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 3, 2014

CREATED Jan 3, 2014

CAPITOL VIEW

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

January 3, 2014

AND I THOUGHT IT WAS JUST ME; SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE; AN EARLY CURVEBALL IN THE DIRT; METRO'S EDUCATION WAR RAGES INTO A NEW YEAR; 2014; THE DO NOTHINGS RETURN; INSIDE POLITICS;

AND I THOUGHT IT WAS JUST ME

Leave it to Tom Humphreys of THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL and Dean of the Capitol Hill Press Corps here in Tennessee.

His latest column on line and in the paper (December 29) is right on target, as usual, when he says Tennessee politics in 2013 was "a year of living aimlessly."

 He's right. There was "a remarkable lack of significant accomplishments." That includes Governor Bill Haslam deciding nothing about expanding our Medicaid (Tenncare) program under the new national health care law despite that decision leaving hundreds of thousands still without any coverage and many Tennessee rural hospitals claiming they are close to going broke. The Governor says he's concerned about future costs (even though the feds say they will pay for all of it the first couple of years). So our Medicaid program is not expanded under the new national health law while the Governor keeps trying to find a "Tennessee Way" to get the Obama administration and our state Republican supermajority to agree on what that Tennessee plan just might be. So far, no luck and few prospects on an agreement I'd say.

Even the most shocking political story of the year the raid (April 15) on the Pilot Flying J company (founded and owned by the Governor's family) and the ongoing federal criminal investigation of the firm and its leadership remains unresolved. Yes, several of the class action lawsuits filed in the courts have been settled (while still others remain), and several company officials have pled guilty. But no one has been sentenced and no one knows (or is saying) if the probe has reached an end or a stalemate (or remains ongoing) regarding any further indictments of top company officials or other actions.

For now, the matter has seemed to have had no impact on the Governor politically (and neither has the lack of health care expansion). Haslam has had no direct involvement for several years in his family's company and he has no opponents looming at all for what appears to be a nearly certain re-election come November.  Even former Democratic PSC Commissioner Sara Kyle from Memphis now says she won't run (CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS on-line article, January 2).

This lack of political action (as Humphreys also reports in his column) extends to the Tennessee General Assembly and its Republican super-majority. Efforts to pass a school voucher system failed because of a disagreement about how large the program should be. A late spat between the leadership in both houses also scuttled a plan to allow the state and not local school boards to approve new charter schools in the major urban areas of the state. A similar impasse continues over the best way to deal with our state's serious meth drug problem. And guns will be back on the agenda when lawmakers return later this month (as will the other topics mentioned above). Legislative leaders thought having passed a "guns in parking lots and trunks" measure last year, the firearms issue was over. But the State Attorney General said employers could still fire employees for bringing guns to work (Tennessee is a right to work state) and that has led gun advocates to demand more action.  So reluctantly expect more debate and bills on the topic.

The "wine in grocery stores" bill also failed to pass in 2013 despite strong support from both Speakers for the first time. House Speaker Beth Harwell seems to indicate her "leadership issue" on the bill has been resolved (a committee chair changed his mind and so the bill failed). So maybe the issue will clear both houses this year. If so the matter will likely move to the voting booth in November, as referendum approval will be required in the eligible parts of the state (cities and counties that already have liquor by the drink). And, while public polls show strong support for the concept, there could be new controversies arising depending on what kind of "concessions" are added to the bill (Sunday openings for liquor stores, etc.) to lessen opposition from the still influential liquor lobby on the Hill.

And so the agenda is already filling up for legislators to begin another relatively short session (out by April again in all likelihood). After all it is an election year, and there will also be fights over new (Common Core) and old tea party legislative proposals (ending U.S. Senate primaries). Knoxville Senator Stacy Campfield is also surely bound to have a legislative bombshell or two to file as well, as he does every year.

One thing remains the same in 2014. Tennessee is a deep red Republican state. And the GOP super majority and our other Republican state officials will decide what will (or won't happen) here. That is if they can ever agree on just what should happen….or not.  Sometimes despite their near absolute power….that seems to be an issue.

SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE

When you've been around in the media as long as I have (40-plus years), repetition of stories is a not infrequent fact of life. As so it was when I heard the WPLN Nashville Public Radio story (January 2) about problems with how to properly display the Tennessee state flag.

The story's right. You need something of a trained eye to figure it out how to show it correctly. In short, always remember to put two of the three stars in the middle of the flag (representing the three grand divisions of the state) facing up.  Avoid just one star on top, although lots of folks including state officials do it all too frequently as pointed out in the story.

Even the U.S. Postal Service did it wrong once. As the WPLN story also mentions, it was back in 1976 as the nation celebrated its bicentennial with a series of commemorative stamps for each state. Tennessee's included the state flag, prominently displaced upside down. I remember doing a story about that in my early days as a cub reporter at Channel 5. It even got picked up on CBS' national news feed. I wish I still had a copy of that story. Heck, I wish I'd kept a copy of one of the stamps. Stamps with mistakes like that usually have extra value for collectors. 

I did keep a bunch of the state's bicentennial postage stamp issued in 1996 (DVL worked on that celebration effort). I will probably check on those stamps' value down the road someday and/or leave them to my grandchildren as historical keepsakes.  Wisely, this stamp did not feature the State Flag. Instead it wisely shows a nighttime photo of the State Capitol and the Andrew Jackson statute as its main focus. No way to get that upside down. Still taking even no further chances, while both the U.S. and Tennessee flags can be seen flying above the Capitol in the stamp. They are so small (and there was no wind blowing in the photo) so you can't see for sure if they are flying correctly. There is one big change from those days. A first class stamp was just 32 cents back then.   

AN EARLY CURVEBALL IN THE DIRT

(For those who don't like baseball or baseball analogies, my apologies for this part of the column. I just can't help myself.)

As if the threat of Mother Nature bringing a delay, if not a postponement, of Metro getting its new baseball park constructed and open for play by April, 2015 (a little over a year from now), now the city has given up a few runs early in the contest (about $5 million worth) and will need to make up for the deficit while getting site preparation (and excavation) underway.

The $5 million is how much construction bids came in over budget. City finance officials say they plan to stick with the planned construction number meaning there will have to be cuts or substitutions made in the project (value engineering they call it these days). Since you can't shorten the base paths or leave out the bullpens or something else, it will interesting to see what changes or substitutions will be made (cheaper seat backs, less opulent locker rooms or concession stands?).

Of course this early unexpected challenge has brought out the doubters who had already complained the city rushed the ballpark's OK through Metro Council late last year. We will see if their point is well taken. But a look back at Metro history shows it's not the first time even well discussed (and much more controversial projects) came up short when construction bids were opened.

I remember it happening when the Metro Criminal Justice Center was built back in the early 1980s and when the first convention center was built in the early 1990s. In both cases, cuts were made in the budget and the resulting buildings served the city well for many years. That's no guarantee it will happen again with the ballpark. But it does mean more decisions will have to be made on "the hit and run" if Metro and the Nashville Sounds want the facility ready in about 15 months.

2014

After no elections last year (2013), we have three on tap in 2014 (May, August & November).  And while the Davidson County judges' races in May (Democratic primary) are likely to take center stage soon here in Nashville (with the qualifying deadline approaching) followed by the statewide and local legislative and school board races this summer and fall the most frequently asked question I keep getting from people is: "Who's the next mayor of Nashville going to be?"

The short answer is I don't know. But this month (January) could give us some further insight. Nashville charter school advocate Jeremy Kane will reportedly make an announcement soon I am told. He's been weighing family and other considerations as have several other potential candidates. Only Metro Councilmember At Large Megan Barry is the only candidate to officially jump into the mayoral race. She will be making her second financial disclosure later this month. While her first one (raised $40,000) did not set off shock waves at the Metro Courthouse, if her campaign is as good as her annual holiday party (at least the one I attended back in December), she could make things at least a lot of fun in 2015.

But otherwise, the next Mayor of Nashville may still be someone no one has mentioned just yet. If that's so, then with each passing week that person will also have to be someone (like our recent mayors such as Phil Bredesen and Karl Dean) who can self-finance a good bit of their campaign.

METRO'S EDUCATION WAR RAGES INTO A NEW YEAR

It may be a new year but the education war in Nashville continues with the Metro Council about to wade into the ongoing (and seemingly growing) feud between the Metro School Board and Mayor Karl Dean. The Dean administration has been blocking the school board's efforts to spent $13.1 of its reserve funds to buy new computers, teacher training and assessment assistance to get ready for the new Common Core curriculum and testing.

The Dean administration says using reserves is "fiscally irresponsible" since that money is usually employed for one time purchases only. But THE TENNESSEAN's Joey Garrison reports (January 2) that Bellevue Councilman (and State Legislator) Bo Mitchell is bringing the school's request to the full Council for approval this coming Tuesday night. Mitchell says the school reserves are plenty large enough to keep an appropriate amount remaining and the purchases are critical to the future success of local public school students. So let the fireworks begin!

THE DO NOTHINGS RETURN

Like the Tennessee General Assembly, Congress returns to "work" this month. Given its inability to even get required work done (such as a budget or appropriations bills) I use the word "work" advisedly. This group makes the infamous 1948 Congress (that got President Harry Truman re-elected) look positively activist in its lack of accomplishments.

2014 has President Barack Obama looking to resuscitate his second term. Along with a myriad of foreign policy issues and challenges plus the death of his legislative agenda on new gun laws and immigration reform, he still faces plenty of challenges implementing his new health care law.

Having 2 million people signed up for care (6 million if you count new Medicaid eligibilities) is nothing short of a technological miracle given the problems the healthcare web site has experienced. That kind of participation makes repeal of law much more politically difficult (but more deferrals of deadlines may not be). And there are lots of other issues remaining. That includes questions about the mix of enrollees. Will there be enough young people on board and not the older (likely more sickly) ones. If not, the projected costs for the program will get further out of kilter.

And of course litigation continues, including the required free birth control coverage which religious and other groups have been objecting to on moral grounds. Not even the President's lone Supreme Court appointment (Justice Sotomayor) would legally bail the President out on the matter (acting on New Year's Eve) and a similar case regarding for-profit companies is already pending before the full Court.

Of course Republicans are missing no opportunities. Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander (entering his re-election year) has sent out a news release claiming at least 11 Tennessee school districts are cutting employee hours and having to add more substitute teachers because of "higher insurance costs under Obamacare."

It's a New Year, but the same old, if not more, challenges await us all in Washington. 

INSIDE POLITICS

Over the past nearly 8 years I have hosted the show, we've had a lot of great guests on INSIDE POLITICS.  

One of them is Joshua DuBois, a former campaign aide and White House assistant who has sent President Barack Obama a daily e-mail devotional the last 6 –plus years. He still continues to do so even after leaving the administration.

We had the chance a few weeks ago to interview Mr. DuBois about his very unique relationship with the most powerful man in the world. We also discuss the book he has written. THE PRESIDENT'S DEVOTIONAL. It contains some special essays and a year's worth of selected devotionals which he sent to Mt. Obama.

We are replaying the interview with Mr. DuBois this weekend. I urge you to watch us, especially if you missed the broadcast last year. Outside of family members, this "pastor in chief" has perhaps the most unique relationship anyone has with our commander-in-chief.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network.  Those times include 5:00 a.m. Sunday and 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 it 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!