Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 10, 2014

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 10, 2014

CREATED Jan 10, 2014


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

January 10, 2014



Get ready!

 At High Noon, Tuesday (January 14) members of the 108th Tennessee General Assembly return to Capitol Hill in Nashville to resume their work. Before you lock up the good silverware, hide the liquor and warn the women and children watch INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. House Speaker and Nashville representative Beth Harwell is my guest giving us a preview of what's likely to come.

We'll try to get her thoughts on the many issues pending with lawmakers (time permitting) including this year's tighter than expected budget; all the education reform controversies; wine in grocery stores;  how to deal with state's worsening meth drug problem; the2014 election and the pending constitutional amendments;  and on and on.

We'll also discuss the concerns she's raised about state funding for Nashville's AMP mass transit program. It's a full agenda that ought to provoke a very interesting discussion!

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!


The 70-member GOP Super-Majority in the State House has gotten bigger even before the 2014 elections are held.

Long time White County (Sparta) Democrat Charles Curtiss has resigned. He faced a very tough re-election later this year (as he did in 2012), plus he's taking a new association job that will ultimately include him working with his former colleagues, so he decided to go ahead and step down now.

His replacement (selected by the White County Commission to serve until the election later this year) turns out to be County Commissioner Paul Bailey. He is a Republican and already plans to seek the open State Senate seat in that area (held by the retiring Democrat Charlotte Burks). Despite his new post in the House, Bailey still plans to run for the upper chamber and he must feel pretty good about his chances (at least in the August GOP primary).

Being the Legislature means he can't raise any campaign funds until session is over (mid-April?). So will that embolden someone to take him on for the GOP Senate nomination? The Mayor of Cookeville Matt Swallows says he is. Regardless the GOP will be favored to take over both the Senate and the open House seat in White County which may add to the GOP Super Majorities in both chambers. The count is 26 in the Senate now and could go to at least 28 with Republicans favored to pick up not only seat in White County but also another in the Jackson area.

But House Democrats have expressed at least a little confidence about their prospects in 2014. Speaking to reporters (CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS, January 6) Caucus Chairman Representative Mike Turner of Nashville said "he thinks 22 of the Democrats'  (current) 28 seats are "rock solid" And there's nothing they (Republicans) can do about them." Turner also said: "Six seats are in play…with three or four now held by Democrats….(and the party can) "hold their own and eke out gains given sufficient funding"…Turner (adds) he is also "enthusiastic about the possibly of picking up a seat or two in the Knoxville and Nashville suburbs."


The Republican Caucus in the Tennessee House (at least its leadership) has endorsed State Senator Jim Tracy's bid to become the next 4th District Congressman from Tennessee.  Speaker Harwell, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, Caucus Chair Glen Casada and Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson have all joined Tracy's campaign leadership team in his effort to defeat current Republican incumbent, Scott DesJarlais.

While this move is far from a shock, it is significant I think in several ways. Caucus leaders rarely get involved in primary fights especially for congressional (not legislative) races and, given the usual rivalry between the House and Senate, giving their support to someone running from the upper chamber is not a common occurrence.  More than anything the group endorsement shows that GOP leaders statewide are done with DesJarlais, making his re-election look like even more of a longshot.

Maybe the quarterly financial disclosures (2013 4th quarter) due in the next few days from candidates such as DesJarlsais will breathe new life into his campaign. It seems to have made for some good news for another long shot candidate running for federal office in Tennessee.

State Representative Joe Carr, seeking to defeat incumbent GOP U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, admitted  he raised only $52,000 in the third quarter last year., Now his campaign claims his fund raising has skyrocketed to $250,000 for the period September to December, 2013 with 1,000 new donors from all 95 counties in Tennessee and 43 of the 50 states.

That would seem to indicate the Tea Party is solidifying behind Carr even though, moneywise he is still well behind Senator Alexander who has already raised several millions. According to THE HILL publication (January 8), Carr campaign officials would not disclose the amount of cash they have on hand. It was $286,000 in the last report compared to Alexander's $2.6 million. The Senator has also not yet released his $$ fundraising numbers for the last three months.

But interestingly (at least in the timing) is the announcement by Alexander's campaign that beginning Monday (January 13) a third round of TV ads will begin airing across the state in support of the Senator. The ad feature testimonials and other praise being offered by a number of Tennesseans about the Senator's achievements in Washington and as Governor. The spots reportedly have a $400,000 on-air budget (says the Carr campaign) and they amount to (in some ways) a re-introduction and reminder to voters of Alexander as an "honest… thinking conservative," including, in particular, working hard to oppose Obamacare (a litmus test issue in a GOP primary).

The Carr campaign, perhaps sensing (or hoping for) an opportunity, claims the new TV ad is "an attempt to put the brakes on us." They say Alexander blundered in trying to "run hard against the Tea Party in Tennessee. Now it is obvious that strategy has backfired, he's forced to spend several hundred thousand of dollars to rescue his plummeting poll numbers. But no amount of money or slick TV ads can disguise the fact that Lamar is a career politician with a record of selling out Tennessee conservatives."

But the real key for Carr may be if the conservative right wing national Super PACS (who have indicated an interest in defeating Alexander) think the Murfreesboro state representative has a real shot to win. If so, their intervention with third party spending (including attack ads) could make the Tennessee race a lot more interesting and potentially quite nasty.

But all that remains a BIG IF at this point.


You may have chuckled this week when you saw the story (Huffington Post, January 6) about how a recent Internet sensation (Mark "Coonrippy" Brown of Gallatin) is entering the Tennessee governor's race against incumbent Bill Haslam in an effort to get his pet raccoon back. It seems the animal was seized by authorities. Brown's efforts through internet videos (that went viral); requests for a pet license from the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, all went unanswered. Even Governor Haslam allegedly ignored a petition Brown put together with 60,000 signatures on it.

So "Cornrippy" is running….does he have a chance in the August primary?  NO

But no animal on earth has played a larger role in Tennessee politics than the raccoon and here's the history.

It begins with Davy Crockett, a famous frontiersman and one time Tennessee congressman. He, like Daniel Boone, often wore a coonskin cap. He also became nationally famous in the 1820s & 1830s for the many tall tales and legends that grew up around him (and that he told on his own) about his exploits on the frontier.

That includes a story I found on line where Crockett had a raccoon cornered up in tree until the animal spoke and remarked on how famous Davy was. Flattered, Crockett let the coon go but then heard him laughing at Crockett while he ran away. Crockett ended the story by saying he never let a treed raccoon get away again.

Certainly the raccoon cap did not fade completely from public view or popularity, becoming quite the fad craze in the 1950s when Walt Disney did a series of Davy Crockett TV shows( featuring Fess Parker)  and with some of the footage being shot in the Tennessee House chambers portraying the time when Crockett was in Congress. By the way, Fess Parker also continued to wear raccoon caps when he played Daniel Boone in a network TV series in the 1960s.

The raccoon also played a major role in the 1948 Tennessee U.S. Senate race involving then-congressman Estes Kefauver.  The Boss Ed Crump political machine from Memphis opposed Kefauver in the Democratic primary and tried to portray him as "a fellow traveler" and as someone "working for pinkos and communists" with the stealth of a "raccoon."

Brilliantly turning the issue around, Kefauver made a now-famous speech in Memphis where he put on a coonskin cap and proudly proclaimed "I may be a pet coon, but I am not Boss Crump's pet coon." It worked as Kefauver adopted the coonskin cap and made his trademark as he won the primary and general election in 1948 and in his following campaigns for re-election to the Senate as well as and his unsuccessful runs for President in 1952 and President and Vice-President in 1956.    

So you can see the noble raccoon has quite a pedigree in Tennessee politics.


The community debate over Mayor Karl Dean's proposed East-West AMP mass transit project continues to wax hotter and hotter. A series of four community meetings are set for next week so planners can continue their work to finish final engineering details and answer questions from the public individually or in small groups.

But it appears some of the AMP opponents don't like that format. They'd like rather have a face to face debate or come to a community meeting where they could ask tough questions or make points before a large audience (with media present ). Now based on media reports (THE TENNESSEAN) there does appear to be some internal disagreement among the AMP opponents on how much they should offer suggestions or even participate in the upcoming meetings. And some of them have complained so much that one of the host sites (Montgomery Bell Academy) has opted out of the meetings.  MBA says the school has no position on the AMP and was only trying to be helpful   on an important community issue. Another location has been found as a substitute and the meeting schedule will proceed as planned.

Good, the community needs to try and come together on this matter and see what if any common ground can be found. Everyone agrees Nashville needs to do something about our mass transit needs and handling our continued growth. So what it's going to be and how can we come together when we are struggling on even the format and locations on how to discuss the issue?


Questions continue to be raised about Nashville's new baseball park about to be built in the historic Sulphur Dell area of North Nashville. And they are coming from at least one unusual source.

I first got a tip about this in an e-mail from a reader after last week's column. Then I learned even more when I found an article on line (wordpress.com) written by one of Nashville's biggest baseball fans (and a Sulphur Dell supporter), Skip Nipper.

It begins citing the Major League baseball rules (1.04) that states; "It is desirable that the line from home base through the pitcher's plate (mound) to second base shall run East Northeast."

Why? Primarily it's for safety: to keep the sun out of the batter's eye when awaiting a pitch. Why is that relevant to the new ball park? Well, Nipper's article claims "recent renderings of the new Nashville ballpark do not line up that way." In other words, the sun might get in the batter's eyes during day games.

I've seen those renderings too. The reason for laying out the field that way would seem to be in order to allow fans to see the State Capitol and the Nashville skyline as a backdrop to the game. With most Sounds games being played at night, the position of the sun wouldn't be an issue. But some games now (Greer Stadium) are played  in the afternoon (Sundays early in the season and maybe some early evening starts while it still daylight (or twilight) for at least an hour or so after the first pitch.

Now I am not an architect or field designer. I haven't even gone down to the site to visit and eyeball the venue. I do know the city has been consulting with folks who've helped build other ball parks including the one in Omaha where the College World Series is played every June. I also recall the ball park and the playing field is being lowered significantly below the current street. That could also impact the sun location versus the field layout.

Nipper ends his article (which is labeled Part I by the way) with the question: "Should Rule 1.04 be merely a suggestion?"

I guess that's just one more matter for city officials to deal with while they also cut up to $5 million out of the ball park construction budget to keep the project on track while trying to get everything done and the ball park open by April, 2015.