Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 14, 2014
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
March 14, 2014
THAT DIDN'T TAKE LONG; THE AMP'S WILD RIDE CONTINUES; SPRING BREAK; TED WELCH; FIXING THE SENATE; CHOOSING UP SIDES; BART GORDON ON INSIDE POLITICS; NEXT WEEK; A HEALTH UPDATE
THAT DIDN'T TAKE LONG
I told you in last week's column that even though controversial bills might seem to be bottled up or defeated in committee, the chance for a political resurrection is always possible until the General Assembly adjourns for good or sine die.
That sure seemed to be the case regarding efforts to repeal or delay further implementation of the Common Core education standards and its new achievement tests. Such bills and amendments were being defeated in a Senate committee earlier this week. Then suddenly, the full State House rebelled and changed course, voting 82-11 on Thursday (March 13) for a two-year delay on any more implementing of the standards (and the new student testing), giving Governor Bill Haslam and other Common core supporters (including controversial State Education Commissioner Kevin Hoffman) a stunning defeat.
So what happened? How did the Common Core delay get to the House floor and how did it get such a large majority to pass? First, it appears those who pulled off this vote know their civics and parliamentary procedures and they even used a touch of political irony in the legislation they picked to make it happen. Seizing on an unrelated bill placed on the full House's agenda concerning teaching school children about important governmental documents such as the U.S. Constitution, the Common Core delay amendments were offered and passed overwhelmingly (although after emotional debate and considerable confusion). Still, this was a clear sign that many more House Republicans have qualms about the controversial standards than the GOP members in the key committees and sub-committees where the issue was being bottled up .
Even more shocking was the bi-partisan nature of the vote in the House including which lawmaker offered the amendment and how many Democrats voted for the Common Core delay. With 82 yes votes out of 99 total members this was clearly an amended bill with strong support in both parties. In fact, the amendment was offered by Democratic and House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh.
With Common Core opposition seeming to be a conservative Tea Party issue, why would he do that? Well, you might remember a few months back I told you I had heard talk on the Hill of an unlikely
(some would say politically unholy) alliance being put together between conservative Tea Party folks and the Democrats. They both oppose Common Core but for radically different reasons. The Tea Party sees Common Core as a "federal nationalization of schools", an Obamacare for education. Democrats don't like how the new standards are being so quickly implemented and being used to change teacher evaluations and impact teacher pay.
And so seeing common ground, the two groups have come together in the House and dealt Common Core a defeat, one which the Governor and the other supporters of the education standards will have to quickly rally to try and stop in the State Senate which has already approved the original House bill (but without the Common Core amendments).
So now the amended bill goes straight back to the floor of the Senate for a "concur" or "non-concur" vote on the Common Core deferral. If the Senate does concur it then goes to Governor Haslam's desk for his consideration. If it doesn't, the bill would then possibly go to a joint House-Senate conference committee to "negotiate" something out.
The Governor said before session he thought this Common Core issue might be the toughest fight of all of all this year. It turns out he's right. And he may have to decide if the measure comes to his desk whether to use his admittedly weak veto pen to stop this delay. In Tennessee, a gubernatorial veto can be overridden with a simple constitutional majority in each House not a two-thirds vote as it is in most states and in Washington.
Given what the Governor has already said in this controversy, I don't see how he can do anything but veto such a Common Core deferral if it comes to his desk (allowing it to go into law without his signature makes no sense for him either). That's true even if such a veto, as a final line of defense for Common Core, might be hard to sustain in either or both Houses of the General Assembly.
While all this could wind up being the toughest political test for this Governor during his entire first four-year term, he could catch a break and manage to avoid it. First, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey has told Andrea Zelinski of NASHVILLEPOST.COM (March 13) that he prefers dealing with Common Core by the General Assembly passing other bills such preventing it from being used for data mining, reforming the state textbook commission and blocking federal intrusion into curriculum. So will the Speaker of the Senate lead the fight in the upper chamber to not concur with the House bill?
What about this possibility being floated by former Senator David Fowler? He's, now the head of the Tennessee Family Action Council. He's sent an e-mail alert to his members (March 13) pointing out the deferral of the new Common Core testing could cost the state a lot of money. Fowler's e-mail predicts: "The bill will most likely be sent back by the Senate and referred to the House Finance Committee. The House Finance Committee would then have to approve the bill and fund the cost in the budget. Depending on the magnitude of the cost, there may not be sufficient funds to pass the bill and the bill will die in committee." So you can see, the debate and maneuvering on this issue in the next week or so will be fascinating to watch develop and play out.
THE AMP'S WILD RIDE ON THE HILL CONTINUES
Becoming convinced that Tennessee lawmakers are toying with pieces of legislation that are really "weapons of mass (transit) destruction", Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and the Pro-AMP Coalition went on full-war footing this past week. They sent out mass e-mails to rally the troops to come to the Hill to oppose the anti-AMP bills (some paid for by Mayor Dean's campaign funds, others from the Nashville For All of Us group that originally formed to oppose the English Only effort). The Mayor also got his colleagues who head up Tennessee's other largest cities (Memphis, Knoxville & Chattanooga) to join him in a stern letter to lawmakers criticizing the anti-AMP legislation as unfairly imposing on local decision making.
Even Governor Bill Haslam chimed in, saying while he still doesn't know enough about the AMP to say it's a good idea he doesn't believe state lawmakers or legislative committees ought to be in charge of approving such projects.
So what happened? Well, committee and sub-committee approvals in both Houses this week left one bill without the requirement of General Assembly approval (Senate), while the House version kept that idea intact (along with the General assembly approving any money to help fund the project). Both bills still make it illegal for a Metro government (Nashville) to pick up or discharge mass transit passengers in the middle of the street or anywhere other than the curb (which makes the AMP impossible under its present design). Anti-AMP forces say this is a safety issue and they claim some cities have AMP-like mass transit along the curb and other designated AMP only lanes.
Meanwhile to show the Republican super majority can be politically correct and supports the idea of mass transit, a Senate committee passed a resolution requiring the Tennessee Department of Transportation to conduct a study about building a monorail system down the middle of I-24 connecting Nashville and Murfreesboro. Of course, no one's asked permission of the federal government about that and then there's the cost of a monorail which is certain to be much, much higher (and longer) than the AMP which lawmakers claim they can't afford their share (only $35 million) because it has so many other transportation projects being requested statewide. Consistency is obviously not a priority for lawmakers on this.
One final AMP development in recent days….and you knew being in Nashville this had to happen. The Anti-AMP forces have recorded a theme song and a video to bolster their cause. So are Mayor Dean and Chamber Chief Ralph Schulz over on Music Row in a studio somewhere putting their own special Pro- AMP tune and video together? Inquiring minds want to know, although maybe not as much if the Mayor and Ralph are the ones singing.
House Speaker Beth Harwell's bill to give the state the final say on approving new charter schools (and not local school boards) is set for a vote on the full Senate floor Monday night, March 17 according to the NASHVILLE POST (March 14) . The bill already easily passed the House last year but then got held hostage at the end of session because of unrelated bad feelings between the two chambers.
That's all been settled now but Harwell has not seemed to be pushing the bill. Does she have the votes? Why would she allow it to be on the Senate agenda if she doesn't? This development occurs as the war of words between some members of the Metro School Board and charter school supporters has been intensifying in recent days, both in on line social media and in the mainstream. Passage of this bill and subsequent additional conversations about possible litigation over this matter will likely only intensify the bad blood that's brewing as the sap rises and spring break continues for Metro Schools the rest of March.
In building its political dominance in Tennessee over the past 40-plus years, the Republican Party has been blessed with several highly successful fund raising gurus. Names such as late Joe M. Rodgers and David K. (Pat) Wilson come to mind.
But Nashville businessman Ted Welch who passed away last weekend (Saturday March 8) at age 80 was the likely the best of them all. It was said several times in his obituaries that the seven most feared words in Tennessee politics were: "Ted Welch is holding on Line 1."
That's so true. Even if you didn't want to get involved, didn't want to support that candidate, Ted could get you to give (or even raise money) for his candidate and his efforts benefited almost every major statewide GOP elected official for over four decades in Tennessee. That includes among others: Winfield Dunn, Lamar Alexander (for Governor, Senate & President), Fred Thompson, Bob Corker, Bill Frist, Bill Haslam. And that also includes what Ted did on the national scene for President Ronald Reagan, both President Bushes and, most recently Mitt Romney.
Ted Welch once told a reporter that the way most people played golf for a hobby, he raised political funds. But there's a difference. Those who play golf usually need a handicap to be successful. Ted didn't want or need any handicap. He was that good raising campaign funds or, what people call "the mother's milk of politics."
After getting his start as a very successful door to door Bible salesman and later top executive for the Southwestern Company, I first met Ted when he served as Governor Dunn's Finance Commissioner. It was 1974 and I was young cub radio reporter at WPLN. There was a blue ribbon panel report that has just come out and I had Ted at the station for a live, on air interview. I grilled him about the panel's recommendation that Tennessee institute a state income tax.
The Commissioner did all he could to protect his boss (Governor Dunn) and to stay as far away as possible from expressing any kind of support for an income tax. I persisted but Ted hung tough. I did get his attention that day. He good naturedly razzed me for years afterwards about all the "noisy questions" I asked him. We laughed about it.
The TENNESSEAN death notice for Ted Welch briefly mentions his involvement in the development of the first downtown convention center. But what he did deserves more attention than that in my view. In fact on a couple of different occasions without Ted being involved, the first Center might not have happened or might not have been as successful as it was. And of course if the first Metro Convention Center had failed, it's somewhat unlikely the new Music City Center would be here today.
Ted Welch's first involvement was being named the original developer of the downtown Convention Center. Talk about a master salesman, he got the city's Bicentennial Commission to select Joe Rodgers and himself as developers instead of the team and the site Mayor Richard Fulton wanted. And Mayor Fulton had appointed every member of that Bicentennial panel!
Welch wanted to put the Center on the old polar Cold Storage property in the Gulch along 11th just off Charlotte (there is a large new apartment complex there now). But the economy tanked and Welch couldn't get financing. He once came to a Metro Council meeting and joked with reporters he was trying to get a "neutron bomb loan" for the Center. It would he deadpanned "save the project but kill the developer."
Instead, the original downtown Convention Center was constructed at 5th wanted. But more help was still needed from Welch to make it happen. When Metro government and business leaders got nervous about the project's hotel developer, they brought back Welch and Rodgers. The two took financial control of the hotel development and even added several floors of office space to the plans.
Welch also made another big contribution. The city needed help in paying for the shared spaces (ballroom, kitchen) between the center and hotel. Welch's Washington connections through the Reagan administration helped get a federal grant to cover the needed costs. That UDAG grant has continued to generate funds for several other city efforts downtown over the years.
It's one of Ted Welch's many legacies to our city and state. Rest in peace, my friend.
FIXING THE SENATE
In the 40+ years I have observed Senator Lamar Alexander's political career, I've never seen him as angry as he's been in recent months (at least judging by his news releases and other comments) regarding what the Democratic majority in the Senate did to change the filibuster and other debate and amendment rules.
But you may find what the Senator is also doing about it (besides complaining) is quite interesting too, especially for Tennessee's Senior Senator to do it in the middle of a potentially difficult re-election year for him.
According to a WASHINGTON POST article (March 10), Alexander has been building a closer relationship with liberal New York Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer and together they tried something different in the way the Senate this week debated the re-authorization of a child-care development block grant bill. With Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid ceding control of the debate, something very unusual in recent months in the upper chamber occurred. Quoting the POST article: "Both sides (got) equal time to make arguments and offer amendments—a practice that had much all but disappeared in the increasingly partisan Senate."
Of course this was a measure that had broad bi-partisan support and was likely to pass anyway and it did 97 to 1. But it sure seems to offer a ray of hope from the way business in the Senate has been done recently with (as the POST article says) :" Republicans blocking consideration of most legislation and (slowing) the process of confirming dozens of (administration) nominees." After the bill passed, Senator Alexander expressed his pleasure about how the floor process worked, saying in a news release from his office that; "I hope we can achieve more good results like this." But he also told THE POST: "I'm going to keep my expectations low and be pleasantly surprised."
CHOOSING UP SIDES
Senator Alexander got another potential candidate to run against him for re-election this week. Knoxville attorney Gordon Ball officially announced he will take on another fellow Knoxville barrister, Terry Adams for the Democratic nomination this August. Alexander is considered the favorite to defeat either Democrat candidate in November as he is to prevail over his GOP opponent State Representative Joe Carr in the primary.
Another August race heating up is the one to replace longtime Nashville Senator Doug Henry. Democrat Jeff Yarbro, a Nashville attorney (who almost beat Henry in 2010), is once again enjoying labor support. As they did four years ago, the Nashville Building and Construction Trades Council along with its 17 affiliated unions have endorsed Yarbro which the United Food and Commercial Workers of Local 1995 did as well this week.
Labor could be a significant player in this Democratic district (no Republican is even openly talking about running so far with the qualifying deadline less than a month away). But Labor is not completely united behind Yarbro. His primary opponent, community activist Mary Mancini has been endorsed by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 205 which claims to represent thousands of workers in Davidson County (including a number of Metro government employees).
BART GORDON ON INSIDE POLITICS
I guess you could say he's a bit of a political blast from the past. Former Tennessee Democratic Congressman Bart Gordon is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend.
Having retired in 2011 after 26 years in elected office, Gordon works in Washington now as a lobbyist. But he still keeps his legal (and voting) residence in Tennessee and comes home frequently to visit his mother. Gordon also says after his daughter finishes school in a few years, he plans to move back to the Volunteer State full time. So is a political comeback in his mind? He says no (sorry, Democrats).
But Bart Gordon still loves to talk politics. We have a great conversation on the show talking about how Congress has changed since he left (and not for the good) as well as the problems the Democrats continue to have in this state. We talk as well about some the big on-going federal issues including health care, proposed budget cuts, foreign policy, raising the minimum wage and possibly selling TVA. Gordon also remains concerned about an issue he raised while Chair of House Science and Technology Committee. He believes America is falling behind other counties in these critical areas (and it continues to get worse).
For over two decades when he was on the Hill, Gordon held the title of "fastest man in Congress," defeating colleagues years his junior in the annual congressional race. He says he doesn't train or run as much competitively these days, but I got the sense he's still sizes up the field and believes he'd have a good chance to still hold his title if he was still in office.
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.
As a reminder, our long time 5 a.m. Sunday morning showing on the main channel (WTVF-TV NEWSCHANNEL5) is no longer listed as an INSIDE POLITICS broadcast. The Weekend Morning News program is starting an hour earlier, so we are looking (we hope) for another Sunday morning timeslot soon on Channel 5.
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.
The crack of the ball and the bat along with gentle, warm breezes call me away about this time every March, so they'll be no Capitol View column next week. Look for the next CV on Friday, March 28. Who knows what kind of messes the General Assembly will be in by then as lawmakers approach their projected final adjournment date of mid-April?
There will be a new INSIDE POLITICS show for the weekend of March 21-23. We take a look at the role of women in Tennessee history. More particularly, the lack of women being mentioned much in our history books and in the teaching of history in our schools.
MTSU professor emerita Ayne Cantrell is my guest. She is a contributor to a new book entitled TENNESSEE WOMEN OF VISION AND COURAGE. It profiles 22 women (out of 100 nominees) who have made a difference in the Volunteer State since our earliest days. That includes the role of Tennessee's suffragettes who helped make the right to vote for women possible nationally (after decades of struggle), with the Tennessee General Assembly providing the final approval necessary (by one vote) in August, 1920 for the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to go into effect. You may think you already know this story. But listen and watch our conversation, you will learn about a very interesting angle to what happened that I wasn't aware of until I got prepared for this interview.
A HEALTH UPDATE
As I approach 21 months of recovery since my stroke, I thought this might be a good time to give everyone an update on how I am doing. So many things have been happening (especially in the Legislature) I haven't had time to do that here in the column as much as I should and readers do still ask me about it.
I'm good, still working out at the Y twice a week which I plan to continue during this upcoming break. My blood pressure has been excellent morning and night (usually around 109/ 65, when I take my BP after using my sleep apnea machine overnight). And now, it's below or in the 120s /75 or 80 in the evenings, much better and more consistent than some months ago. My doctor says he's pleased which is good enough for me.
Of course I am still taking my BP pills twice a day and all the other medications I have prescribed for life's little ailments (non-stroke related). It makes me into a small drugstore pharmacy. But I am stronger and my endurance is much better. Even my balance and posture(standing up straight, shoulders down and back and not leaning left) are coming along (says my trainer). I do get tired sometimes and my range of my motion using my left arm above my shoulder is still not very good. Overall I‘d say I am 95% most days compared to before the stroke in terms of doing all the many things I need to do for my work and my daily life.
People who see me, but who don't know what has happened are shocked when I mention my stroke. They say they can't tell at all. I can, of course, but I appreciate their kind words of encouragement.
Some things you can't see any more are the two strips of duct tape on my car windshield. One of my
Bill Wilkerson therapists required me to keep using them in order to allow me to drive again. The strips helped me make sure I was not crowding the left or center lane when I was behind the wheel (another one my of my left side weaknesses left over from the stroke).
Actually the tape strips kind of fell off. They apparently didn't like the bitter cold weather we've had and slowly they kind of peeled off on their own. Finally, they looked so bad (half on and half off), I just finished the job and took them off myself.
It did terrorize me a bit at first, but it made me feel better about getting the car washed (it got so filthy this winter) without worrying one of the attendants would remove them. Actually the tape strips are not completely gone. They were on my windshield so long they left an impression and an outline of where they were that I can still clearly see when I drive (at least in the daylight).
So while I drive I am still checking myself out and using those leftover tape impressions to make sure I am not "leaning left" again.
As for my diet, I am still watching my sodium intake. I have given up chocolate again for Lent but my sweet tooth otherwise is still strong. I am also trying not to be so paranoid about what I have when I eat out (even occasionally having a pizza or some other sodium overloaded food). My doctor says it's OK as long as I don't do it too often and it seems to be working. I feel especially good on nights when I had something not on a low sodium diet but my night time BP is at or a little below 120/80.
Thanks again for everyone's continued prayers and support. The Good Lord willing, I will see you all back here on Friday, March 28 when my next Capitol View column is out.