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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 17, 2014

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 17, 2014

CREATED Jan 20, 2014

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

SOME MORE 2015 TEA LEAVES TO READ; MORE ON THE TORY JOHNSON DECISION; THE SECOND TIME AROUND; I SEE A TV AD COMING; FITZHUGH ON INSIDE POLITICS; CONGRESS; HELD OVER; OUT OF SHAPE

SOME MORE 2015 TEA LEAVES TO READ

While there are three elections coming up in 2014, the race I still get the most questions about is the 2015 Nashville mayor's race. In that regard, there were some more political tea leaves thrown into the mix in recent days as the campaign brew for potential candidates for the open seat continues to slowly percolate.

First, there was the political bombshell that went off a few days ago when long-time (since 1987) Nashville District Attorney Torry Johnson announced he was not seeking another eight -year term and will step down at the end of August. Johnson was heavily wooed by some in the business community to run for mayor six years ago when current mayor Karl Dean was ultimately elected. And while DA Johnson presently says he has "no plans to run for mayor at the present time" in 2015 (he says he hopes to stay active in local criminal justice related type activities) you can be sure he is already getting plenty of phone calls, e-mails and private conversations to think strongly and soon about running for Nashville's top office. (I will offer more on the political shockwaves of Torry Johnson's decision on the May and August Metro D.A.'s race to take his place later in the column).

Another interesting mayoral campaign development (that is sure to stir up the local political cocktail party circuit) is a public survey done and published on the front page this week by GCA Publishing (The GREEN HILLS NEWS among other mastheads). The poll was conducted by Lipscomb University political science professor Mark Schwerdt (who has been my guest on INSIDE POLITICS several times over the years).

What Professor Schwerdt and his students (who did the survey work) found is likely to be both fascinating and controversial. First, it says the poll respondents prefer the next Mayor of Nashville to be "innovative and bi-partisan and (they) largely consider business experience to be more valuable in the mayor's office than political experience."

In that regard, the paper's publisher Gary Cunningham (who wrote the article) states in his lead paragraph: "Nashville businessman Bill Freeman fits the profile of what Nashvillians want….and enjoys surprisingly high name recognition compared to…others who are thought to be potential candidates."

The poll, which measured name recognition only (not who voters would select in a mock race), found Freeman at 29.9% recognition behind only Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors (37.7%) who so far has shown little or no interest in running for mayor. Third on the list is At Large Councilman Jerry Maynard (28.2%). All the other potential candidates, including the only announced candidate, At Large Councilmember Megan Barry are placed in a "second tier" of candidates (Daron Hall, David Fox, Jeremy Kane) getting 22% or less in name recognition. Torry Johnson's name was apparently not included in the survey.

The article could clearly be a boost to Freeman and Maynard who have both talked openly about considering a race. It also will likely get some folks to push Vice Mayor Neighbors (again) to think about running. As for the others, I doubt they will consider a name recognition contest to be any kind of definite test of strength about the race which even the pollster (Professor Schwerdt) says is still "wide open."

There will also be those who will question Bill Freeman's record for (as the article states) "working across party lines both in business and politics. " That includes his time as a top State Democratic Party official (Treasurer) where he crossed swords with both Republicans (as expected) and with some Democrats too (including former Mayor and Governor Phil Bredesen). In fact, I have been told more than once that if Freeman enters the 2015 race, Bredesen will work hard to find his own candidate to back.

One final tidbit to add, here's another name to throw into the mayoral candidate speculation mix. It's prominent attorney and Democratic fund raiser Charles Bone.

MORE ON THE TORRY JOHNSON DECISION

In announcing his retirement as District Attorney, Torry Johnson has endorsed one of his top aides, Rob McGuire, to take his place. Indeed, Johnson gave McGuire a chance to speak to reporters at a news conference held by the outgoing D.A. to explain and answer questions about his decision.

With the qualifying deadline to run approaching pretty soon (February 20), McGuire would seem to have a major leg up on winning the post especially with the incumbent's blessings (nobody has qualified as of this writing). McGuire also has a campaign website up and his social media going on Facebook and elsewhere.

But the District Attorney's position has come open in Davidson County only about once a generation in my lifetime (Tom Shriver, who was Tory Johnson's mentor served for many years too). So while I don't have any names to announce, I suspect there will be others looking to get into the race to oppose McGuire if for no other reason than (unlike Metro Mayor, Vice Mayor and Council races) you don't need a 50% plus one vote majority to win, just a plurality, and in a crowded race that could be a much lower number.

Another controversy brewing in the upcoming May judicial Democratic primary here in Davidson County is a reported effort to qualify minority candidates in as many races as possible. That has more than a few judges furious I am told. There is no question of the rising political electoral power of black voters in Nashville and this could be the next big test. However, these judicial races are usually pretty low voter interest affairs and running for too many seats rather than targeting the most likely ones to win might backfire and make black ballot box power look weaker.

But all these recent developments sure do make what appeared to be a real dud of a primary look a lot more interesting all of a sudden.

THE SECOND TIME AROUND

Here's another election that had gotten a little more interesting in recent days. It's the 3rd District congressional race (Chattanooga area). That's where Republican Weston Wamp is trying again to reclaim his father's (Zach) seat from GOP incumbent Chuck Fleischmann. The Congressman handily defeated the younger Wamp two years ago, although Wamp did carry Hamilton County which is the largest part of the district.

Now some folks think Wamp has a much better chance this time. Long-time columnist Roy Exum (now writing on line for THE CHATTANOOGAN, January 15) says Wamp is "smarter and wiser."  Besides Exum charges, Fleishmann has been part of "the worst Congress in the history of the United States" and has a "lackluster record," with public discord against incumbents now being at "unprecedented" levels.

But Fleischmann supporters seem ready for a challenge (CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS, January 13). One of his advisors Chip Saltsman says: "Wamp never called to concede after the last race…We always expected him to run again because that's what Wamps do. And I know Weston is in a hurry to be something, to be somebody. My guess is what he's going to be known as is the first millennial perennial candidate."

OK, this could get heated.

I SEE A TV AD COMING

Tennessee is the "2013 State of the Year" according to BUSINESS FACILITIES Magazine, a national economic development publication. It's the second time the Volunteer State has gotten the nod (along with Texas) since the award was established in 2007. The other was in 2009 under Governor Bredesen. This honor is also one of several media accolades of this kind we've gotten in recent months.

BUSINESS FACILITIES says it's impressed with Tennessee "aggressive execution of a diversified growth strategy" resulting in five economic developments projects creating 6,900 jobs and $3.2 billion in capital investments, including seven expansions (of existing businesses) and three new recruitments.

"The state has put in place a solid foundation for robust job creation for years to come," says BUSINESS FACILITIES Editor-In-Chief Jack Rogers.

OK, but maybe Tennessee needs those jobs like NOW. The state's latest unemployment rate (November) is a sky-high 8.1%, well above the national average and it's been that way for some time. There is also another recent study by Moody's Analytics that rates Tennessee 44th in the country for job growth in 2014 with many other southern states ranked in the Top 10 based on the state's business policies.

Another "problem" some might see is that the top 5 job creators mentioned by the magazine (HANKOOK TIRE< ARAMARK, NISSAN, CALSONIC, UBS) are all coming to Nashville, its surrounding MSA or to Middle Tennessee. The picture is better in terms of the capital investments, with two in Upper East Tennessee (EASTMAN CHEMICAL & ALCOA) and one in West Tennessee (NIKE) in Shelby County.

But regardless you can almost heard the positive re-election campaign ad this will help write for Governor Bill Haslam. That is, if he needs to run any TV spots, being at this point all but unopposed for a second term. 

FITZHUGH ON INSIDE POLITICS

Tennessee's economic situation is one of many topics we discuss this weekend on INSIDE POLITICS. That's when House Minority Leader Democrat Craig Fitzhugh is my guest. We also get his take on Governor Bill Haslam's newly announced legislation to address our ever-increasing meth drug problem along with all the other topics of legislative interest lawmakers will be grappling with in the weeks to come.  The challenges of the 2014 elections (especially for Democrats) are also an issue on the table during our discussion.

When you are the leader of a minority so small you don't even count to keep a quorum in a legislative body, you have a tough job to do. That's why I appreciate Representative Fitzhugh coming on the show to deal with the inevitable "so what does it matter what Democrats think" questions. He's the "loyal opposition" and while he does not have a lot of votes behind him, he's trying to make what he believes are important counter points about what's going on (or not happening but should) in Tennessee state government and politics.

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

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CONGRESS

Congress has begun its work for 2014.

On the one hand, it appears to be more of the same in Washington. Democrats in the Senate seem to have the votes to pass an extension of benefits (for three months) for the long-term unemployed (and there are millions who already have or will soon lose those checks). But the GOP House wants to make sure there is a way to fund the program extension and so far efforts are at deadlock, as usual.

But there are signs in another area that Congress can find ways to work together to solve issues. Not wanting to repeat the government shut down of last year, both houses this past week quickly agreed on a budget and appropriations for federal agencies for the rest of the fiscal year (until October 1st).

Wow, Congress doing its job and passing a budget and appropriations. What a concept!

HELD OVER

Nashville had four consecutive nights of public meetings this past week held along the route of the proposed AMP bus rapid transit project that would connect East and West Nashville via downtown and West End. The meetings turned out hundreds of citizens on both sides of the controversy with an end result reminding me of those movie ads I used to see in the newspaper when I was a kid. They read HELD OVER BY POPULAR DEMAND.

So many folks came out city planners say they will hold at least one more session to allow folks to ask their questions and to use posted notes and sharpies to writes out their concerns and issues about how the AMP is planned. The large aerial maps at the sessions that will contain those comments seem to get a lot of attention and use during the sessions. And they reportedly sparked a few debates too, although it seems people mostly stayed on their best behavior.

Did it change anyone's mind? That's doubtful and I am also doubtful opposition will lessen when planners return later in the year with revised final plans. Mayor Karl Dean, the major champion of the AMP, may also return with lots of approved federal dollars for the project. And that could be coming as soon as March. Will that change the mind of state officials who seem cool at best to chipping in their share of construction funds? No, and the Metro Council must approve the rest of the local dollars too.

All this seems held over to be decided later. Meanwhile it's clear. This issue has Nashville's full attention perhaps like no civic project since we had to go to the polls back in the 1990s to decide whether to build what is now known as LP Field.

OUT OF SHAPE

You can't watch the news, go online or read the newspaper without finding some story about how good things are in Nashville. That includes being one of the best places to visit in the world (NEW YORK TIMES) and one of the ten most popular cities for millennials to live (FORBES). The list goes on.

But one new survey seems not too good. According to Sharecare, a company co-created by Jeff Arnold and Dr. Oz, and which conducted an on-line "real age test" taken by approximately one million people (THE TENNESSEAN, January 16), Nashville is the second worst city in the nation for fitness (behind only Knoxville, with Memphis 4th on the list). That seems to be based on cities where residents say they exercise LEAST.

Ouch! Until a little over 18 months ago when I had a stroke I would sure be a contributor to that list. I never exercised. Now I go to the Y twice a week and have changed a lot of my eating habits. I'm no world beater. My brother exercises 5 or 6 days a week. So I have a ways to go. But I had to do something or I would be dead.

While I am not completely sure I buy all the results of this "real age test," I do invite everyone to join me at Y. Just not at the same times I go. I hate waiting to get that bike or piece of exercise equipment I need for my super sets! The same for the exercise mats too!