Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 31, 2014

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 31, 2014

CREATED Jan 31, 2014


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

January 31, 2014



Nashville hosted a rare presidential visit this week in the wake of President Barack Obama's fifth State of the Union address. Actually it was his first trip here since he was candidate Obama in the fall of 2008 (the Presidential debate at Belmont University). In fact, about the only thing almost as rare as the President coming to this "blue" city (in the middle of a very red state) was the local public/political appearance of former Vice President and Tennessee Senator Al Gore who came out for the President's remarks at McGavock High School.

The President's job approval numbers have been down nationally (40%s) and according to a recent MTSU poll they are even worse in Tennessee (30%) where he has lost both his presidential races decisively. So why come to Nashville, Tennessee? Well, apparently it had a lot to do with our local public schools.

The President was effusive in his praise of the city's (and McGavock's) Academies program which has linked up local businesses and students interested in training and future employment. It's also played a role in the 20% overall increase in high school graduation rates here over the last decade. Public schools are something Metro leaders often seem to be almost ashamed of. Is this presidential recognition a sign that maybe things are better here than we ourselves in Nashville sometimes recognize?

I also found it fascinating that President Obama in his remarks not only advocated universal Pre-K for all 4 years olds but specifically endorsed the plan being pushed by Metro Schools Director Dr. Jesse Register. That idea has gone nowhere with Republican leaders here in Tennessee and it's also gotten a chilly reception from Nashville Mayor Karl Dean (who is a Democrat). The Mayor's dispute with school officials has been more about the role and cost of charter schools, but the Mayor made it plain how he felt when he said "no blank checks" were coming for schools (or any other city department) in this year's new budget.

Mayor Dean welcomed the President and rode with him in the motorcade. Will he see things any differently about expanded Pre-K in light of what the President said? And what did Mayor Dean and the President Obama discuss during the motorcade ride? Congressman Cooper was riding too. Did the AMP mass transit program (which needs lots of federal dollars) come up? (I'll have more on the AMP later in the column)


On INSIDE POLITICS this weekend we'll talk about what the President said this week both in Washington and here in Music City. Meanwhile, believe it or not, significant activity is already under way in both parties to pick the President's successor in 2016. We'll discuss that as well. Our guests are Democratic consultant and Nashville attorney Larry Woods, Republican strategist and former TN GOP party chairman and Republican commentator Chip Saltsman as well as Vanderbilt professor Dr. Paul Stob.

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!


All my life in Nashville I've heard: "We don't want to be another Atlanta." I guess that's been truer than ever this past week after a two-inch snow fall and ice storm paralyzed the Peachtree City and did some major damage to Atlanta's brand image.

Now let me begin by saying, in some ways what happened could have occurred in Nashville but for the grace of God and Mother Nature. I've experienced myself the gridlock that can result when snow hits during the work and school day and everyone decides to go home at the same time. However ours have not been nearly as large or as long lasting as what occurred down South (we are still much smaller than Atlanta) and we don't have CNN located in our town to amplify the issue on a worldwide basis.

Atlanta's balkanized governmental structure (the Atlanta area has lots of local governments not one Metro system like Nashville) seems to have played a role . The region's (apparently) not well coordinated mass transit system might have also contributed to the mess. For those debating our Nashville AMP project please discuss this among yourselves…nicely.

There were additional complaints about Atlanta because there were no pre-treatments of the roads that might have delayed the ice and snow from sticking. We're a little further north so we've learned (in some cases the hard way) that close coordination between state and local governments plus having snow melting (salt. sand, brine) and removal equipment can help a lot (although how much you need can be problematic when weather like this usually occurs no more than once a decade).

There appear to be political consequences ahead for what has occurred in Atlanta. That's happened here too many years ago when Nashville Mayor Tom Cummings lost his seat because of the old city's slow response to a snowstorm (the Mayor being down in Florida on vacation at the time the storm struck didn't help him either).

I guess more than anything else we in Nashville should just be grateful that it just doesn't snow around here like it used to when I grew up. You remember when everyone had to walk uphill in the snow both ways to and from school and work (and of course to the grocery store to buy bread and milk).


Before the snow flew down South, but not before the very cold temperatures arrived in Nashville, I attended the groundbreaking ceremonies for the new Sulphur Dell baseball park. Man, was it cold with temperatures in the low 20s and a wind chill near zero! But I guess the history of it all (and the love of baseball) meant a lot to hundreds of locals who joined me at the event. I was shocked the crowd was that large. Of course there were lots of political candidates there too looking for votes. From now until November, those folks will be almost any gathering of two or more.

I also realized after I'd thawed out, that I had likely now attended both the coldest Metro event in history and the hottest. The latter was when it was 106 degrees on June 28, 2012 and we were celebrating the 50th that day (although it was not related to the weather). My take home prize for the ball park event was (what else) some peanuts and Cracker Jacks. I also had some slightly frozen ears. While I was wearing long underwear, extra socks and my artic style jacket with a hood and a baseball cap, I forgot and left my toboggan style hat in the car. I have big ears but they finally warmed up. And I have the comfort of knowing the next time I go to the new Sulphur Dell it will be much warmer come April of next year (if the weather cooperates during construction).


Nothing moved faster on Capitol Hill in Nashville this past week than efforts to allow the sale of wine in grocery stores (along with big box and convenience outlets). . But chill out. It doesn't look like that can really start occurring until July, 2016 at the earliest.

That's because while needed legislation just passed on the full Senate floor (23-8) and in two House committees, a conference committee will be necessary to work out the differences between those measures in the next week or two. That's not expected to be a roadblock (although a spat over high gravity beer could be a problem). Even when that is resolved, voter approval is required too in cities and counties that already allow liquor by the drink and/or package stores.

Voter approval does seem likely in several areas given the overall popularity of the idea. That could come as early as the November election of this year. But it will then take even further time (until July, 2016) to allow grocery stores, big box retailers, convenience stores and existing liquor stores to get ready for the change. That includes a change in merchandise of items that liquor stores can sell and a required 20% mark up on the wine to be sold. That's to keep the playing field level for wine sales among the various retailers (although you're already hearing a lot of grumbling about that).

There are also those wondering why no wine can be sold on Sundays under the proposed law (All I can say is it complicated. Tennessee has a long and controversial history over alcohol sales).

So is it any wonder that we're always told wine is better the more it ages?


Who knew all the debate and new gun laws that have embroiled the Tennessee General Assembly the past several years would help bring 300 new jobs to the state? Officials of Beretta USA say the resulting positive atmosphere about Second Amendment rights played a major role in the Italian owned company deciding to invest $145 million in a manufacturing plant in Gallatin. Beretta, established in 1526 says it is the oldest industrial dynasty in the world manufacturing and marketing a complete line of firearms, accessories and apparel. It also supplies the standard firearm to U.S. Armed Forces. Firearms bearing the company's name have been sold for nearly 500 years.

The firm began looking around after it became unhappy with the guns debate and new laws in Maryland when it currently operates. I am told by a reliable source that another major guns company is considering placing its Headquarters facility in Nashville.

All that is quite interesting since the guns debate seems likely to continue this legislative session. In fact, the Senate seems poised to repeal a legal provision that allows local governments to ban guns in local parks. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey on my INSIDE POLITICS show last week dismissed concerns about the bill from Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. But even Governor Haslam has made statements questioning the need for the repeal legislation. If it passes both the House and Senate, would the Governor's veto pen come out? And what about the push by the Tennessee Firearms Association to bring further protections to workers who want to bring their arms to work and keep them in the trunks or glove compartments of their cars and trucks?

It seems not just public policy could be in play, but also jobs?


Governor Haslam makes his annual State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly this coming Monday (February 3). That will give him a chance to further outline the budget challenges Tennessee seems to be facing this year. That's interesting given a WALL STREET JOURNAL article I read last week concerning a number of states scrambling to try and figure out how to spend (or cut taxes) due to an unexpected surplus they're getting in revenues as the economy improves.

Prior to his speech, the Governor did seem to make a move to deal with another continuing challenge the state faces: How to divide its annual K-12 school funding among city and county school systems. Known as the Basic Education Program (BEP) it has long been controversial and the subject of lawsuits. And so it is today with both the large urban school districts and the smaller counties (who won a BEP lawsuit a few years ago) still saying the allocation formula is unfair. There are not so veiled threats of new legal action.

In appointing a task force to study the BEP, the Governor says it has been seven years since the last significant revision of the BEP so now is the time to look at the situation as education has been changing a lot in the state. While the Governor is being criticized because there are no teachers on the hand-picked panel, he may actually see the task force as a better way to figure out the change rather than have to argue with lawmakers (that will come soon enough) or with a judge. Now he can say, if a suit is filed or legislation proposed before the end of year (when the task force report is due): "Well, your Honor, we have a group studying that very issue. Give us a chance and some time to work this out, please."

The Governor also learned this week (as so many other public officials have over the years) that NEWSCHANNEL5's Phil Williams doesn't back off or pull back on his stories. And while the Governor's talking points still seem to insist that the state is saving significant dollars in how it is handling state office space contracts and decisions, the hard figure of at least $100 million in savings over the next 10 years seemed to have faded a bit from the Administration's rhetoric.

In the meantime, the ongoing federal criminal investigation concerning the Governor's family owned business, Pilot Flying J, had a new development. Three more company officials pled guilty and have also agreed to cooperate in the probe. Is this a sign the inquiry is moving onward towards higher ups in Pilot Flying J, including the Governor's brother? (Governor Haslam has had no day to day business relationship with the firm for a few years). Or is this latest move a sign the investigation is wrapping up and may soon result in the now 10 Pilot Flying J officials finally being sentenced in federal court regarding their role in this rebate fraud case?


Like Alice in Wonderland, the AMP debate in Nashville keeps getting more and more intriguing. Saying he supports the need for mass transit in Nashville, Metro Councilman At Large Charlie Tygard sent an e-mail to his colleagues and the Mayor's office this week telling them that first the city needs a dedicated funding source.

So to "engage discussion" (which I ‘m sure he'll get) Tygard has submitted a number of bills that would clearly generate lots of money and lots of opposition. How about a countywide referendum by maxing out and raising the local option sales tax by a ½ cent? How about a $20 increase in the wheel tag? How about maxing out the local property rate to the highest amount allowed under the cap in the Metro Charter?

Tygard doesn't give a dollar amount for how much $$ this would all generate. He says half of any sales tax increase would have to go to schools. But I think he's mistaken about that. As long as at least ½ of the entire local option goes to schools (and 2/3 does now) there would be no requirement for any of the extra sales tax dollars to go to schools. It probably doesn't matter. Except for a referendum in 1980, local voters have rejected all attempts to raise either the sales or property tax in Nashville. The only reason a sales tax hike was approved in 1980 was the threat that if voters did not want to pay more in a sales tax levy, property owners would pay more in property taxes. They decided to take the sales tax hike because everyone would pay that, including renters and visitors, and not just property owners.

I have not seen an official response from the Dean administration about the Tygard bills, but I am sure they will say all this is very premature and they will view these tax proposals much like being given a pet rattlesnake or a hand grenade with the pin out.

There will be more discussion about the AMP rapid mass transit proposal this coming next week when the city holds another public meeting to accommodate the overflow numbers that attended the three earlier sessions that were held. Whoever scheduled this latest session to get public input on the AMP plans would seem to have something of a sense of humor. They've scheduled it at the old Cohn High School just off Charlotte Avenue. That's the route that many AMP opponents say should be used instead of going out West End Avenue.


Here's the latest on fund raising in the Tennessee U.S. Senate race: State Representative Joe Carr $251,173 raised in the 4th campaign to date. For incumbent Senator Lamar Alexander the totals are: $768,353 raised in the 4th quarter; $3.18 million cash on hand, $4.66 million total raised in 2013.

If Carr going to be competitive he's likely going to have to narrow that resources gap either through his own fund raising efforts or outside expenditures (TV ads) from conservative Super PACS.

Meanwhile the only announced candidate for Nashville Mayor (2015), At-Large Councilmember Megan Barry has announced she has raised $64,000 since throwing her hat into the ring in April. In her news release, Barry says her money-raising efforts have been "low-key by design." Her campaign treasurer attorney Leigh Walton calls Barry's progress "impressive" adding, "Megan has proven in her previous countywide wins that she is a serious fundraiser."

But from other local political observers I spoken with, the consensus is a fundraising number closer to $100,000 or more for Barry's effort to be considered "impressive" at this point, especially since there are several other potential mayoral candidates potentially poised to enter the race, a couple of which could do so with the ability to self-finance at least portions of their campaign at dollar totals much higher than what Barry has already raised. quarter, $405,173 cash on hand and $609,154 in total receipts for the


It's been 19 months since my stroke and the recovery continues. I had another very good doctor's appointment this week with what my physician says are very good blood pressure readings to report (I take it twice a day).Unfortunately, I am not ready to cut out or decrease my twice daily blood pressure medications, but it seems I am still making progress.

I'm still watching my diet (especially on sodium) and I haven't missed going to the YMCA twice a week to work out since last May. Now I did put on another pound in the last 3 months but that covers the recent holiday season so I feel like I can keep that under control and I'm still 25 -30 pounds below my heaviest weight before the stroke.

The recent very cold weather does seem to peeling the duct tape strips off my front windshield. I have used them to make sure I am driving correctly (not crowding the center line). I only check it occasionally now, so maybe I am ready to take the next step and remove the tape….or maybe I will just find some more tape.

I am also still struggling a bit with buttons, especially the top one on dress shirts. So I talked with the doctor about going back for some help or tips from an occupational therapist. Speaking of therapy, I still occasionally use a treadmill in my workouts. I am doing well with that which makes me feel so good. My first work on a treadmill was one of the worst moments of my recovery I was so uncoordinated in trying to walk and keep my balance. Now I can do it and want to do more.

Last week my trainer at the Y had me do the Saturday morning workout he gives me to do on my own each week. He wanted to check out what and how I was doing (cheating). Yes, he found several things I could do better (that's what trainers are for), but I was actually at little surprised at how well I am doing the exercises correctly. I think he was too. But that's because when I work out I hear his voice in my head telling me what to check (posture especially) and how to do it right. I can't help it now. But I am looking forward to nicer weather for when I drive over the Y early each day twice a week. These workout clothes are not very warm while you are waiting for the car heater to kick in.

But as much as a part of me wants to not go to the Y, especially when it means getting out of a nice warm bed, I do it now just like I do the super sets and exercises that are called for each week. That's what changed perhaps the most for me. I have the will power, the determination and the stamina to see my exercises through. I didn't have anything like that before the stroke. So it's not just what I've gotten back, it's what I've added, that makes my recovery still so special. Thanks for all the support I continue to receive from my family and friends.