Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 14, 2014

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 14, 2014

CREATED Feb 14, 2014


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

February 14, 2014



Last week when I wrote about the UAW/VW vote as the lead item in the column I was concerned I was hyping it a bit. But, as now as we await the final totals from Chattanooga (due out over the weekend), I realize what I wrote was nothing close to the heated political rhetoric that has come out these past few days.

First, Republican legislative leaders, joining Governor Bill Haslam in opposing unionization, went one step further by threatening VW officials with cutting off or not extending the financial incentives the German firm gets for being in Tennessee. Democrats expressed "shock" at such threats saying that discrimination between non- union companies getting corporate welfare and union corporations being denied the same would be grounds for a federal lawsuit (per Citizen and Nashville legal activist George Barrett). And so, who says corporations aren't people?

Tennessee U.S. Senator Bob Corker took a different tack (maybe more a carrot than a stick), saying from conversations he's had, if the union is rejected, Tennessee will be the site VW will selects for its new SUV production plant (over Mexico). If not, Corker says the facility will go elsewhere as will other auto supplier plants and other companies. The Senator has now been criticized for injecting himself into the vote debate and earlier said he was going to decline further comment. But claiming his comments were being misrepresented he decided to speak out again.

As far as I can I tell, VW has said nothing in response to the Senator's comments or to the threats from the General Assembly. All their other facilities around the world have "workers councils" such as what is proposed in Chattanooga so VW management does not seem publicly opposed to the idea.

For the UAW, if it wins the vote, it would be its first involving a foreign owned car manufacturing plant in the South and it would change the political dynamics considerably. In fact while it involves only About 1,500 total votes, the outcome promises to be the most interesting and politically potent sets of ballot returns in Tennessee in all of 2014.


Some interesting poll numbers also came out this week. They contain numbers I know are creating a lot of political gossip fodder.

First on Monday (February 10) came an MTSU poll that showed job performance numbers have crashed for all three of Tennessee's state wide elected officials (Governor Bill Haslam and Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker). Both Corker (now at 44%) and Haslam (now at 47%) dropped 14% from last spring. Alexander (now at 43%) dropped 11 points.

Most of the news headlines went to Haslam's plunge blamed mostly on a drop in support from Democrats (down from 52% to 42%) and even more so among Independents (from 61% to 41%). If you believe the numbers, some may find it incredible (others fortunate) that the Governor faces almost no opposition for re-election (except for the raccoon guy and possibly John Jay Hooker) and it is probably too late to organize (and raise money) to fund a viable state wide campaign against him. The Haslam polling also sent shock waves because his job numbers have generally been well above 50% throughout his first term.

Both Senators Alexander and Corker found their greatest slides among Independents (down from 58% to 36% for Alexander and from 63% to 48% for Corker). Being on the ballot this year Alexander was the first to go into damage control with an internal statewide survey (conducted last week by pollster Whit Ayers) being "leaked" to the media within 24 hours of the MTSU poll. It shows Alexander with a favorable/unfavorable rating of 67% to 26% with only 5% having no opinion.

Going further, the Ayers poll also shows Alexander clobbering his GOP primary opponent (State Representative Joe Carr) in every Grand Division of the state and in every Republican political group resulting in an overall 62% to 17% lead in the race with 18% undecided. The pollster says the Senate contest hasn't really changed since Carr got in the race last summer. He says 70% of 600 Republican voters s surveyed say they have still NEVER HEARD OF Joe Carr, which is about the same level as last August.

Carr's campaign responds by saying Alexander is touting "implausibly high poll numbers" which like claims Alexander is a conservative just don't "pass the smell test." Carr claims his "authentically conservative campaign is building momentum and the solid support that will help…achieve victory on Election Day."

But not even the MTSU poll seems to support that. It shows among GOP voters Alexander has 40%, Carr 7%, someone else 4% and the rest would not answer. Among all voters surveyed, even Democrats (who had no candidates polled in the survey) can take more solace than Carr in the MTSU numbers. They show undecided leading at 45%, Alexander 29%, someone else at 14%, and Carr at just 7%.

Senator Corker, not up for re-election until 2018, has given no reaction to the MTSU poll nor has Governor Haslam.


Having worked themselves into a position of complete domination in both houses of the General Assembly, some members of the Republican super majority are now working the group towards increasing their control over state government decisions normally left to the governor. And according to a very insightful article by Tom Humphrey of THE KNOXVILLE NEW SENTINEL, Governor Bill Haslam is beginning to push back (February 10).

The latest manifestation of this push came last week according to the article when the House State Government Sub-committee passed a bill to require the state's chief executive "to get specific approval from the Legislature for any layoff 50 or more state employees in any department or agency." There are also bills pending to "reduce the governor's appointment powers on state panels such as the State Board of Education, the Tennessee Human Rights Commission and the state Textbook Commission."

In a meeting last week with the Editorial Board of THE NEWS SENTINEL, the Governor struck back saying: "In the legislative branch, you get to come in and vote yes or no…but it's our responsibility to take a budget and make it work. If you keep taking tools out of the administration's hands, eventually we're going to get to a situation where you say, "OK, you haven't left us any alternatives (to tax increases)."


As for gubernatorial appointments, the Governor says they are "part of the administrative functions of state government" and the state's chief executive ought to be charge especially on policy making bodies to ensure "a great balance of people on the panel—not just gender, race and demographics" but "a skill set balance" along with "a coherent plan" for the agency's operations. The Governor also sent out another little zinger "suggesting the two speakers (who would split the appointments with the Governor) might not take into consideration the views of legislators" as a whole in making selections.

Double Ouch!

Humphreys also got an interesting bi-partisan take on the issue from Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis. The Democrat reasoned these budding disagreements are "the natural order of things" because of the domination of one party. "When there is no more (partisan) competition within the legislative branch, you start looking at the executive and the judicial branch. What they (Republican lawmakers) are looking for is an expansion of authority…Each of these bills is taking one more arrow out of the governor's quiver."

But GOP lawmakers supporting the changes (such as Senator Mike Bell quoted in the Humphreys article) say the legislative branch is "closest to the people" and lawmakers often hear the criticism of constituents from decisions made by government policy panels even though they have no present role in naming the members of those groups.

This is a very interesting power struggle and definitely something to watch in the next few weeks as the Legislature is in schedule.


Nashville's proposed AMP bus rapid transit project got beat up again on Capitol Hill in Nashville this week. Two top Senate leaders (Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and Senate Transportation Chair/4th District congressional candidate Jim Tracy) both said they would oppose any state money for the plan this year. Actually, I am not sure Nashville Mayor Karl Dean really planned to formally request the monies ($35 million) right now. But after both Senate leaders joined House Speaker Beth Harwell, Governor Bill Haslam and the TDOT Commissioner in questioning the need and availability of the funds, clearly that would be a waste of time, and it's questionable how much things might improve by 2015 even if Washington kicks in the $175 million it would need to contribute.

The AMP also got further put in limbo when Paul Ballard, the Director of the lead city agency (the Metropolitan Transit Authority) pushing the project, unexpectedly announced (February 13) he is leaving town for a similar job in Ft. Worth. So who spearheads the AMP now? I know there has been some internal tension between MTA and Metro Public Works in how they view the development (a street project versus a bus project). Will that flare up again while final design remains underway? Is the AMP running out of political juice?

Things got even worse for Mayor Dean (February 13) when the full Senate ignored his pleas and overwhelmingly passed a bill to strip cities of their right to ban "guns in park." The bill appears likely to pass in the House too, although Speaker Harwell says that while a constitutional right is at stake, cities ought to have some say in what happens in the parks they own and operate. She suggested some kind of ban on guns in "children's parks" although exactly how that would be defined will be interesting to watch.

Lt. Governor Ramsey meantime warned the House to keep gun possession discussions and standards based on fact not "emotions" (NASHVILLE POST February 13) . Hmm….that could be an interesting conference committee if it comes to that. Ramsey also said "surely" Governor Haslam would not veto the bill if it comes to his desk (he has expressed concerns about the legislation). Ramsey predicts both Houses would likely override any such veto action if needed.


For President's Day weekend on INSIDE POLITICS, we are airing an encore presentation of my interview with Presidential Scholar Jon Meacham. It first aired last April (but given our topics it's not dated).

Meacham has written highly acclaimed books on three different Presidents which we discuss: Andrew Jackson (won the Pulitzer Prize), Thomas Jefferson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. He's also presently working on a book focusing on the Presidency of George H.W. Bush.

We are so blessed in Nashville to have such a great writer and resource as Jon Meacham become a resident of our community. And, of course, we are highly honored to have him on the show.

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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This may have been one of the toughest weeks I've had since returning from my stroke back in mid-September of 2012.

For the first time I got sick and missed about a day and a half at work. It wasn't the flu (and yes, I've had a flu shot this year). I got a milder form of what my wife had (I got the aches and pain and cold symptoms, but not her deep persistent cough or raspy voice). I also got a 102-degree fever which I broke with some Tylenol. Lots of rest in my chair at home (with a cat on my lap) and some cold medicine did the trick. Today (Friday) I feel more like myself. Betty Lee is much better too I am happy to say, in time I hope to be my Valentine again this year!

But, after being ahead of things on Monday, I have been behind most of the week getting my work finished. Sorry about that if it shows in the column. There were some topics I wanted to mention but I'll have to save them for a future time. We also lost a potential INSIDE POLITICS guest who got snowed in out of town and couldn't get back to Nashville. But we hope to make that up too next week.

What I feel worst about being ill is I had to cancel the weekly workout with my trainer Matthew at Y on Wednesday. It's the first time since last May I haven't worked out twice a week. But like Joe DiMaggio after hitting in 56 straight games, I guess I'll have to start all over again beginning Saturday. That's just like Joe D did too, hitting in 16 straight games after his historic streak was broken.

Speaking of baseball, one thing I am happy about this past week. Pitchers and catchers reported for spring training in Florida and Arizona. After this horrible winter, we deserve some good weather!