Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 21, 2014

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 21, 2014

CREATED Feb 21, 2014


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

February 21, 2014



There's still some final (minor) "concurring" work for the State Senate to do, but the long-awaited and discussed "wine in grocery stores" bill is just about to go to Governor Bill Haslam's desk for review and his expected signature.

That final process began this week with overwhelming approval (71-15) by the State House of the proposal. There were some last minute efforts to change the bill (start sales in 2015 not 2016; delete a required 20% automatic markup; allow gravity beer sales). But the "deal" between lawmakers and liquor industry leaders held firm, marking for what THE TENNESSEAN (February 20) calls the biggest overhaul of Tennessee's liquor laws since Prohibition days. 

But don't get ready to buy any wine at Publix, convenience stores or at big box retailers just yet.  Most of the provisions in the new law don't take effect until 2016. And even those don't begin unless voters in cities and counties with package stores or liquor by the drink OK the idea through a referendum.

You can get those petitions ready to call for such a vote and that matter is expected to be on several local ballots as early as November. Meanwhile under the new law, liquor stores can soon start selling items other than liquor (mixers, glassware. T-shirts) to make up for some expected loss of business. Not everybody in the liquor store business is happy so I would not be surprised to see some of them looking to get out of the business and more or less sell off their  stores (and the required local liquor license) as a part of the shake out of the industry because of the new law.

By the way, wine sales will still not be allowed on Sundays (Remember, Tennessee is still the Bible Belt).


As more and more states are finding themselves on shakier legal ground defending their statutory and constitutional prohibitions on same sex marriage (especially in light of the recent federal rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court), there are efforts in several states (including here in Tennessee) to provide legal protections for wedding planners, caterers and others who have "religious objections" to same sex marriage to refuse such business without facing a lawsuit.

But many folks see that as legalizing discrimination and they managed to raise so much fuss about it this past week that supporters pulled the measure saying it really wasn't really needed. But they also said they'd be back. Maybe so, but those lawsuits challenging Tennessee's ban on same sex marriage are pending in the courts too. Something's gonna give one day in the not too distant future….just not this election year in Tennessee.


The ballot is all but set for the upcoming May and August county elections (mainly for our judicial and constitutional posts). The qualifying deadline was Thursday (February 20) and candidates still have until next Thursday (February 27) to withdraw.

The marquee race for May will likely be a three way battle to become the next Davidson County (Nashville) District Attorney. It's a seat that comes open very rarely. In fact only two men (Tom Shriver and Tory Johnson) have held the office for nearly the past half-century. Shriver won the job in 1966 and held it until 1987 (when he became a criminal court judge).  He recommended his aide Johnson to take over as D.A. and the Metro Council and then voters (several times) confirmed that choice.

Now Johnson is retiring and wants one of his aides to take his place (Rob McGuire). But that is being challenged by two other attorneys (Glenn Funk) and a former mayoral aide (Diane Lance) who has a background in victim's rights issues.      

Given his incumbent endorsement it appeared McGuire would be the favorite, but Funk has shown some strong fund raising numbers and looks to be positioned to be quite competitive.  How Lance will factor in seems unclear at this point, although a three-way contest could make things even more interesting since a runoff is not required if no candidate gets 50 percent plus one of the total vote in May.

In Williamson County there is a show biz celebrity on the August ballot. Former "Saturday Night Live" comedian Victoria Jackson wants to be on the County Commission and she will face the winner of a three way battle in the GOP May primary. Jackson is running as an Independent. She used to be Republican but now seems more supportive of the Tea Party. Jackson is already stirring things up with some on-line comments that went viral about an ongoing textbook controversy in the county (TENNESSEAN, February 21).   Williamson County is a long-time GOP stronghold so it will be interesting to see how Jackson runs with an Independent label.

Davidson County almost always elects Democrats. That's why former Metro Councilman At Large Adam Dread's decision to run for an open General Sessions judgeship as a Republican will be a race to watch. Dread thought about running as Democrat, but was concerned his party credentials might be challenged. Running with the GOP in August does give Dread a one-on-one shot against the winner of a crowded May Democratic primary. But winning with the GOP label in Nashville in a county race like this still remains very difficult.

Ask Judge Kip Gayden. He's running unopposed for re-election. But the first time he went on the bench back in the early 1970s (appointed by Governor Winfield Dunn) he ran for re-election as a Republican. And he got beat. Later Gayden got another court appointment but has run as a Democrat (successfully) to stay on the bench ever since.

By the way, Judge Gayden almost got an opponent this time.  Longtime candidate and state judicial activist John Jay Hooker has been in something of feud with Gayden about some pending legal action regarding the state judicial appointment process. Hooker wanted the Judge to recuse himself from the matter and threatened to qualify against him if he didn't. Just hours before the noon deadline, Gayden did remove himself from the case and Hooker (who has never been elected to office despite numerous campaigns) is not running. 


Yeah, I know the words above come from a hit rock song performed by the super group CHICAGO back in the early 1970s. But it reminds me of where Tennessee may be going soon in terms of figuring out how to set our clocks (as compared to other states).

It seems there are some in the Republican Super Majority in the General Assembly who want to tinker with and control everything…even the time of day.

The original bill from house member Todd Curry (he of the famous or infamous guns in bars legislation) would have taken Tennessee back to regular time all year round and do away with daylight time (which is due to begin again shortly). But after there were some complaints, the measure was amended the other way around in committee to make daylight time permanent and get rid of standard time. Say what?

Curry believes the need for the timechange (I guess whichever way you do it) is because sometimes in the fall school kids are standing in the dark waiting for buses and there are other issues when it gets dark so early in the afternoon during parts of the year.

But the real problem it seems to me is that during certain times of the year there's just going to be a shortage of daylight period no matter where you set your clock, and not even the Tennessee Republican Super Majority can change that.

Besides passing this bill will likely create more than a little chaos. All the states bordering Tennessee (and there are a lot them) seem to be planning on staying with the national "spring forward, fall back" time adjustments we make every year. Being an hour ahead or behind for a few months every year creates problems for businesses in particular that we just don't need, especially with the state already been divided between the Eastern and Central time zones .

So, as some lawmakers are suggesting, deferring this matter for a year for more study is probably the wisest course of action before nobody can figure out what time it is.


With a second term as Governor of the State of Tennessee all but assured, Bill Haslam's name is showing  up again on a potential short list of 2016 Republican presidential candidates. That's according to the Washington web site POLITICO and an article by well-known University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. He lists a number of GOP governors as potential candidates including Rick Perry of Texas, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Chris Christie of New Jersey and Bobby Jindahl of Louisiana, among others.

Haslam's name might seem a little strange to be on the list. While he's long been rumored to be interested (he says no) and surrounded by folks who see him with a national political future, Haslam's name has dropped completely off any lists (even for Vice President) after a federal criminal fraud investigation into his family owned business, Pilot Flying J, surfaced last April.  That probe has resulted in several guilty pleas, but so far it has not touched the Governor or his family, at least not directly. The pace of the investigation would also seem to have slowed in terms of public developments in recent weeks.

So does Politico know something nobody else does? Or, as THE TENNESSEAN's Chas Sisk says in his on-line article (TENNESSEAN February 19): "it's probably sheer coincidence that Haslam is speaking today (Friday February 21) at the Politico State Solutions Conference in Washington and that he (Haslam) spoke at that same conference in 2013 " right when a similar" presidential piece mentioning Haslam ran as well on the POLITICO web site.



While Governor Haslam, state lawmakers and the State Treasurer continue to crunch the numbers to see if the lottery reserve dollars work to fund Mr. Haslam's "Tennessee Promise" to provide two years of free tuition to any state high school graduate to attend a community college, Nashville's top educator wants the outreach to go further.

According to THE TENNESSEAN (February 19) Dr. Jesse Register, with 14.3% of his 81,000 students being English-language learners, wants "tuition equality" for all undocumented students, meaning they'd get two years free tuition as well. Meanwhile some GOP state lawmakers want to allow undocumented graduates to be able to attend Tennessee colleges and universities at the "in state" tuition level.  Right now they can only go if they pay "the out of state" tuition fee which is quite a bit higher.

Dr. Register says his effort is not aimed at resolving "immigration issues" but to "keep the best and brightest students here in Tennessee." Undocumented students are also not eligible for Hope Scholarships from the lottery and still won't be under the bills pending on the Hill unless the Governor extends his "Tennessee Promise" to undocumented students as requested by Register.

So far, the Governor has not responded to the idea. He said after his "Promise" plan elicited lots of questions and comments when he unveiled it during his recent "state of the State" speech that he was open to talk and negotiate with lawmakers about the matter. And he's sure gotten lots of feedback. Offering free money (tuition) always does.


Republican State Representative and U.S. Senate hopeful Joe Carr has launched his first campaign ad for the August primary. It's a :60 second radio spot that will air the next several weeks on about a dozen radio stations across Tennessee says his campaign (TENNESSEAN on-line article, February 17).

The budget is tiny ($45,000) as compared to the multiple rounds of TV spots incumbent Lamar Alexander has already put up on the air. But given his limited monies this is probably all Carr can do right now in terms of paid over the air media.

While his campaign did not say exactly what stations will air the spot, I would bet it will be heavy on those with news and talk formats. That's where many of the GOP primary voters Carr needs are listening. Meantime the spot itself, more than anything else, seems to be aimed at getting those voters to know Carr's name (something which Alexander's internal polling says they don't).

Indeed the radio ad criticizes Alexander for being a "career politician… losing his way" and abandoning conservative issues by voting to raise the debt limit, supporting Obamacare and amnesty for illegals.

It repeats over and over a similar phrase…."Vote Carr, not Lamar" "vote conservative Carr not Lamar" and on and on. In 60 seconds, Carr's name is mentioned 9 times or almost once every six or seven seconds.  It's a name recognition and linkage (to vote against Lamar) that Carr desperately needs to make to have any chance to win the race (even then he'll need help with TV ads from national Super PACS several of whom have expressed a desire to see Senator Alexander defeated but so far have stayed on the sidelines in this race).

Meanwhile, Carr says it's not related to his Senate race (yeah, right) but he is also sponsoring legislation in the General Assembly to make it harder for voters to cross over in primary elections. It's certainly not impossible for Democrats to try and "save" the moderate Alexander by voting for him in August over Carr. But this kind of "cross over" effort (while often rumored) almost never really occurs in an organized fashion. Besides the Democrats have their own Senate primary in August with at least two candidates (Knoxville attorneys) on the ballot.


When the Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga rejected organizing their plant under the United Autoworkers Union (UAW) last weekend, my first reaction was that Tennessee remains a solid red, right-to-work state that just doesn't like organized labor.

But after watching and reading a lot of the post-vote media coverage (especially from the local media in East Tennessee), I think the rejection (while by a somewhat narrow margin) had more to do with a strong dislike of the UAW itself more than just rejecting any kind of union.

 It appears the modern day UAW carries too much baggage with its dealings with the Big 3 and the general financial mess than surrounds Detroit both as a city and as a part of the auto industry.

But the idea of some kind of union representing the Chattanooga VW employees in a worker's council (much like what happens in other VW facilities around the world) seems to remain alive and well, although exactly that kind of independent representation would or could be structured remains unclear.

What is clear is that the UAW will never have a better chance to organize a southern auto facility than what it had in Chattanooga with VW. And short of completely rebranding and reinventing itself the union may never get as good an opportunity again.

So did the tough rhetoric and threats from state lawmakers along with Senator Bob Corker and Governor Bill Haslam intimidate workers in going along and rejecting the UAW? For some, I'd say yes. But I am not sure at all it was the major difference. It just VW workers don't want to affiliate with a labor group that has the UAW's current reputation.

But it's also clear state lawmakers, the Governor and Senator Corker were very worried the vote might go the other way. Surely you don't say the kind of things they did if the rejection was in the bag all the way.

Oh, and by the way, Senator Corker, we are all waiting now for VW's announcement that the new SUV facility is coming to Tennessee rather than going to Mexico. It's what you told the media would happen if workers rejected the UAW. They have done that. So can that promise (which was and is still pretty far out there) be delivered?

Or did what Senator Corker and other Tennessee GOP leaders say in the final hours of the UAW vote leave a bad taste in VW's mouth?

THE TENNESSEAN has an on-line story (February 19) that says Volkswagen's 'top labor representative' is "threatening to block any future expansion plans in the South citing conservative interference in the UAW vot'. The paper cites Reuters and an interview done by Bernd Osterloh, head of VW's works council, as well as his interview with an unnamed German newspaper.     

Meantime Governor Haslam and state economic development officials have told the Associated Press (February 20) that while they (at least the Governor) expressed their opposition to the UAW coming to Chattanooga and VW, they are perfectly OK in pitching auto-related businesses to come to the new West Tennessee super-site even if that means the UAW might be involved with coming there too. Draw your own conclusions about consistency.


Being Mayor of Nashville is one of those jobs that there's always plenty to talk about if I can get that person on the show.

And so I am pleased to say that Mayor Karl Dean has agreed to join us again this week on INSIDE POLITICS. Actually we were set to have him last week, but he got snowed in out of town and we had to re-schedule.

We have quite a full agenda of topics to cover so you'll want to tune in and watch us. That includes: The latest on the AMP project; Nashville being on the short list for Google's new high speed fiber expansion; the motorcade conversation the Mayor had with President Barack Obama during his recent trip to Nashville; the future of General Hospital and Meharry Medical College; Metro schools and expanded Pre-K, the pending repeal of local control of "guns in park"; recent conflicting reports on how Metro is handling domestic violence cases; and much more.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS.  Those times include 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.

You'll note our long time 5 a.m. Sunday morning showing on the main channel (WTVF-TV NEWSCHANNEL5 ) is no longer listed for INSIDE POLITICS. The Weekend Morning News program is starting earlier and so we are (hopefully) looking for another Sunday morning timeslot on Channel 5.

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