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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 7, 2014

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 7, 2014

CREATED Feb 7, 2014

CAPITOL VIEW

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

February 7, 2014

THE UNION LABEL; A PROMISE FOR THE STATE OF THE STATE; INSIDE THE HILL ON INSIDE POLITICS; MODERATING THE AMP; STILL STARVING

THE UNION LABEL

I grew up in a family of organized labor. My father was a life-long plumber, pipefitter and a proud member of the United Autoworkers Union for the many years he was employed at the Ford Glass Plant here in Nashville.

But union influence, especially in politics, has been waning in this state most of my life. Could that be changing? Next week (February 12-14), workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga will decide if they want the UAW to represent them in a German style workers council, including on such issues as wages and working conditions.  

 Just having such a vote is a coup for the union which has been striking out in organizing the car manufacturing plants (most of them foreign owned) which have sprung up in the South. However the VW plant in Tennessee is reportedly the only VW facility worldwide without worker representation and company officials have seem to have taken a neutral stance in any public statements on this worker vote.

Both Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Bob Corker have been outspoken in urging VW and its workers to reject any kind of union representation. They say it will hurt the state in attracting future economic development especially bringing in more auto suppliers. The Governor renewed his criticism in comments to The Tennessee Press Association (Thursday, February 6) saying this is the state's (and his) business to speak out because Tennessee has "put a whole lot of money in that plant."

Meanwhile Senator Corker (who as Mayor of Chattanooga helped recruit the VW plant to Tennessee) told THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS (February 7) that it "would not be appropriate for me to make additional public comment…during the next week and a half while the decision is in the hands of the employees." Earlier Corker had said VW would be "a laughing stock" if it becomes the first foreign-owned automaker to allow UAW representation here. There is also concern the union vote could impact VW's pending decision about building more facilities in Tennessee or going to Mexico.

Meanwhile, surprisingly to many, Tennessee led the nation in 2013 with the fastest growing union membership. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics claims 31,000 more Tennesseans joined unions last year, a 25% increase and that has reportedly boosted union rolls to their highest levels in more than a decade (CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS,   February 2).

The report has sparked renewed concern from business groups who question what the increase really means since the overall number of union workers in the state remains relatively small even with the 25% increase in 2013. But the development has definitely gotten their attention as well as the attention of our Governor and junior United States Senator who have now both invested a noticeable amount of political capital in the outcome of the VW/UAW vote.

A PROMISE FOR THE STATE OF THE STATE

The annual State of the State address delivered by Tennessee's governor is always a long litany of the successes of his (and maybe one day her) administration (just like the president's State of the Union). This year's speech by Governor Haslam was every bit of that and more (after all it is a re-election year).

Frankly, the Governor has some major things to brag on in terms of economic development and educational accomplishments on test scores. He also had a major "Tennessee Promise" to unveil. Despite a very tight revenue outlook and cuts in the budget (along with 1%-2% raises for state workers and teachers), the Governor wants to leverage Lottery reserves to grant every Tennessee high school graduate free tuition for up to two years to attend a local community college or technology center.

It's the latest part of the Governor's on-going ambitious effort to raise Tennessee's college graduation rate (The Drive to 55). The idea got an initial positive response from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. If you thought it sounded familiar (I did too when I watched the speech), it's very similar (according to the Associated Press) to a plan former Governor Phil Bredesen proposed a few year back (his plan required a C average for students to qualify).

Bredesen's proposal came a cropper in the State Senate because lawmakers and the public always get concerned when Lottery funds or the amount of Lottery scholarships get moved around or changed. Of course Congressman Steve Cohen (the legislative author and protective Mother Hen of the Lottery program) has voiced objections too. But as a Democrat now in Washington he will likely be ignored on the Hill.

Nevertheless, just a few days after his speech the Governor is admitting he is "getting lots of questions" and is willing to "talk" about what he is proposing. He remains optimistic the plan for free tuition will become law.

INSIDE THE HILL ON INSIDE POLITICS

The Tennessee General Assembly has now finished the first month of its second session and like a political locomotive (or a car warming up on a cold morning) lawmakers are beginning to gain momentum on the major issues before them.

We'll talk about that this weekend on INSIDE POLITICS with our guests Andrea Zelinski of THE NASHVILLE POST, Chas Sisk of THE TENNESSEAN and Tom Humphrey of THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTENEL. These folks know the Hill inside and out. So we talk about all the major pending issues: Wine in Grocery Stores; Guns in Parks; Vouchers; the Tennessee Promise; the State budget; TennCare expansion; meth; medical marijuana; the 2014 elections and the pending constitutional amendments. 

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!

MODERATING THE AMP

If you still haven't gotten enough of going to public meetings about the proposed AMP bus rapid transit project (Metro held an additional input session this past week to a large crowd), there's another opportunity to hear more coming up soon.

THE NASHVILLE SCENE is holding a "moderated discussion between members of the (pro) AMP Coalition and the Stop AMP" group. It's from 6:00 to 7:00 p.m. on Wednesday, February 12 at the Entrepreneur Center, 41 Peabody Street (in the Trolley Barns on Rolling Mill Hill).

I would say this has the potential to be a quite lively event. I am reminded that I got to "moderate" a similar discussion on the Music City Center project a few years ago. There were some fairly elaborate rules and procedures for how this was going to work. They were put together by the organizers and agreed to by the participants (Butch Spyridon speaking for the Center and an out of town expert professor from Texas who thought convention centers were money losers).

Well as soon as I introduced both sides and started the discussion, the rules and procedures went out the window, leaving me without much to do while the participants took turns (or not) in bashing each other and their positions on the issue.

So I say best of luck to the moderator. This latest discussion comes as THE TENNESSEAN reports (February 7) the federal budget for mass transit projects like the AMP has been increased in Washington which has Metro officials feeling a bit better about their chances to get the federal dollars needed.

But Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper is not as sure about that telling the paper he is only "cautiously optimistic" because the extra money may be more likely to go to already approved projects rather than starting new ones.

Meanwhile, the idea of a possible modification of the AMP project by reducing the amount of dedicated AMP-only lanes (especially in the middle of the road) continues to pop up in discussion. One of the leading AMP critics (Vanderbilt professor Dr. Malcolm Getz) mentioned it in a TENNESSEAN letter to the editor (February 7).  How much design leeway or interest there is in the Dean administration in making any changes like this remains unclearly and may well be unlikely.

Nevertheless some AMP opponents tell me they nearly went nuclear when they say they were told at one of the recent Metro design input sessions that there could be a need to acquire extra right of way (buying a part of folks' front yards) to make the AMP work along West End. Wow! I can see the political mushroom clouds now if that is formally requested as part of the project. 

STILL STARVING

If money is the life blood of politics, Tennessee 4th District Republican Congressman Scott DesJarlais remains on a starvation diet as he seeks re-election for a third term. According to THE HUFFINGTON POST (February 3), he raised just $17,580 in the final quarter of 2013, while spending nearly twice that amount ($33,156).

So he has just $154,000 left in the bank while his GOP August primary opponent State Senator Jim Tracy has nearly $850,000 in his campaign war chest while raising $150,000 in the final three months of last year.

DesJarlais campaign officials had blamed the candidate's lack of money because he was concentrating on doing his job in Washington, not holding fund raisers. They promised that would change, but obviously it has not.

Even Democrats are trying to get into the race. Lenda Sherrell, a Certified Public Accountant and a resident of Monteagle has announced her candidacy. She seems to have long ties to Middle Tennessee, but the district is very conservative and likely a tough one for a Democrat to win, especially since Ms. Sherrell seems to be more likely to face Tracy in November not the wounded incumbent DesJarlais who does not seem to be recovering from the political wounds he suffered late in 2012 campaign regarding revelations he had sex with one of his patients and urged her to abort a possible pregnancy.   Maybe DesJarlais' recent rating by THE NATIONAL JOURNAL as the 4th Most Conservative House member will help him some.