Capitol View Commentary: Friday, April 11, 2014

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, April 11, 2014

CREATED Apr 11, 2014

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
April 11, 2014



When Governor Bill Haslam announced that state revenue collections were so bad he'd had have to go back on promised pay raises for teachers and state workers, the hue and cry of opposition from lawmakers was so loud, most everyone thought they'd be a quite (and possibly extended) fight over approving a new state budget.

Indeed, there was quite a bit of a struggle (much more any other budget considerations in the last few years). But try as they might, both Democrats and Republicans (who held multiple storm caucuses on the issue), no one could re-structure the money or put together the votes to pass an alternative. And so, the Governor's budget passed (almost exactly as he submitted it). That's pretty rare too.

The budget vote did also cause some almost self-inflicted damage on GOP Representative and U.S. Senate candidate Joe Carr's campaign. THE TENNESSEAN (April 11) reports Carr's government relations and media strategist Hillary Pate was sharply critical on Facebook page about those voted for the governor's budget, while praising those who still voted against. The story says: "Carr…initially voted against the budget but then switched his vote shortly before the tally was finalized." 

The story adds it has not been able to get any response from Carr and/or his aide about the matter, but the paper did report this quote from the late Margaret Thatcher which has been posted on the Carr campaign website: "Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous; you get knocked down by traffic from both sides."

Getting back to the Hill, you can see there are still lots of issues in doubt as lawmakers prepare to come back next week to wrap up the 108th General Assembly. In fact, in many ways, what happens next Monday through Wednesday will go a long way towards shaping the legacy of this group of legislators…both for good and bad. Read on.


It seems every legislative session the last few years there has been major new gun rights legislation debated and usually passed. Now, in the waning days of 108th General Assembly, there's a bill approved 25-2 by the Senate to allow any citizen to openly carry guns without a state permit. It was quite a surprise. Not much had been said about the bill until it passed the Senate. It is sponsored by Senator Mae Beavers who's had trouble passing many of her bills this term.  Now does this gun bill have a chance to pass in the House as well?

Gun Rights groups (Tennessee Firearms Association) are already putting pressure on the House committee chair where the open carry bill is pending to hold a hearing or to have the full House bring to the bill directly to the floor for vote. The committee chair is Charles Sargent who has a potentially strong primary challenger. Do we have another Debra Maggart situation possibly ready to brew? Will her primary defeat two years ago by gun rights groups cast a shadow over this situation?

House leadership is rallying to stop the proposal. Deputy Speaker Steve McDaniel expressed his strong opposition telling reporters if the open carry/no permit bill passes it would mean "every gang banger in Memphis would be packing. Can you imagine?"

It may come down to what lawmakers imagine as they consider what to do with this bill (as other firearms measures) next week.

But what does Governor Bill Haslam do if the open carry/no permit bill passes? Back in 2010 when he first ran for the state's highest office, he said during an appearance before a guns rights group (which persistently peppered him with questions) that if they could get the votes in the General Assembly, he would likely sign a bill that got rid of the state gun permit requirement for open carry. Haslam took a lot of heat for that (even from outgoing Governor Phil Bredesen). So could this become a déjà vu all over again for Mr. Haslam too?


The final days in the General Assembly are always a frantic, busy and especially confusing time. To help us put it all into perspective, we've asked two of the top Capitol Hill reporters to join us on INSIDE POLITICS this week. They are Tom Humphreys of THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL and Chas Sisk of THE TENNESSEAN.

We will take a look at many of the remaining major issues under debate including guns, cutting the Hall Income Tax, school vouchers, the Tennessee Promise, changes to to Common Core,  limits on buying cold medicine to fight the meth drug problem; efforts to outlaw the AMP and lawmakers holding a possible veto override session later this year.

See, there is still a lot yet to be decided.

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.

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 controversial vote by workers at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga (in which they narrowly rejected organizing efforts by the United Autoworkers union) just continues to grow in controversy and in generating new news story leads.

That includes reports from an anti-union group (The Center for Worker Freedom) that VW will let the union come into the plant anyway based on the number of cards signed by workers on behalf of the UAW before the balloting (NASHVILLE POST, April 8). So far VW has said nothing in response and the UAW says it will not speak to "idle speculation by anti-union groups" (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, April 8).

 Of course, The Center for Worker Freedom has a comment saying VW recognizing the UAW in this way (signed cards) would be a "betrayal" of the worker's original decision. Governor Haslam has joined in too, telling reporters (NASHVILLE POST, April 8): "We think democracy matters…There was a vote at the plant and the UAW did not win the vote, we think that should mean something."

This latest development comes as the union is appealing the original vote to the National Labor Relations Board seeking a second round of balloting. The UAW claims unfair collusion by state officials and others to pressure workers to vote no. The NLRB has a meeting set to hear the matter April 21 and the UAW has submitted an extensive subpoena list requiring several top state elected officials (Governor Haslam, Senator Bob Corker, House Speaker Beth Harwell, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick),  key state economic development  folks and even national anti-labor leaders (Grover Norquist) to appear and testify.  

Meanwhile the AP says (April 8) that expansion talks concerning the VW facility in Chattanooga have "ground to a halt" while the Governor adds (NASHVILLE POST April 8) that it's premature to say state incentives for the company would go away if the German firm were to recognize the UAW. Those incentives have already been controversial when an earlier $300 million offer (since withdrawn) was linked to the worker's council (labor union) issue being resolved "to the satisfaction of the State of Tennessee."

Stay tuned.


As promised, Mayor Karl Dean has appointed an AMP Citizens Advisory Committee to help build better lines of communications between the public and Metro about this important (but highly controversial) mass transit project.

With advice from State Representatives, State Senators and Metro Council members whose districts sit along the AMP route, the Citizens Panel is 24 members in size and includes both strong supporters and strong opponents of the proposal. The Mayor has also appointed members "who represent constituencies impacted by the project including people with disabilities, the aging population and large employees" says a release from the Mayor's office.  Merchants, property owners, neighborhood representatives, business leaders and other "stakeholders" in improving mass transit" are also included on the committee. The chair will beNashville businessman and former Chamber President Bert Mathews.

The committee's first meeting is April 29 at high noon at the conference center of the Downtown Library. I am sure despite the strong feelings on both sides about this matter, everyone will be sure to be on their best behavior. But it is advised to bring your own popcorn and clean up behind yourself if you plan to attend and watch.


If you are running in the crowded, somewhat confusing Davidson County Democratic primary election on May 6, you are likely looking for some way to stand out from the crowd. Maybe Melissa Blackburn has found it.

She is one of six candidates seeking to be the next judge in General Sessions , Division II. That's the court which hears mental health cases. It's been presided over the last eight years by Judge Dan Einstein, who is retiring. But Blackburn has had a problem in the early going of her campaign.

 It's her last name. It's Blackburn, the same as Republican congressman Marsha Blackburn, who many Nashville Democrats (and voters) don't like at all. In fact, Melissa has told me she had the door slammed in her face and endured other indignities while she's tried to explain after introducing herself that the only thing she has in common with the GOP lawmaker is a last name.

So Melissa has come up with what might be a creative way to try and turn a political handicap into maybe a plus. Rewriting the 1975 country hit "I'm Not Lisa" by Jesse Coltran, she has let the music do the talking. Here's how it goes as now posted on YouTube….


It will be interesting to see if the video goes viral or if her campaign has enough funds to edit the piece and place it on the air as a :60 TV spot.

Interestingly, late Friday afternoon (April 11) a national story broke (REAL CLEAR POLITICS) that Congressman Blackburn (whose first name  is Marsha) is ready to "test the waters" for a 2016 GOP Presidential race. You read that correctly. She is scheduled to be one the speakers at a New Hampshire Republican rally this weekend. Others appearing are almost definite GOP national candidates, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee.

Blackburn's interest in a national run had not been previously known but if she were the nominee it would appear, right now, her Democratic opponent would also be a woman (Hillary Clinton). By the way, if elected, Blackburn would be the first House member to become President since James Garfield.   

Getting back to Nashville's May primary election, here's one endorsement of note this week : District Attorney candidate Rob McGuire has received "overwhelming support from the Metro Council's Minority Caucus" according to his campaign release. All 10 African Americans in the Caucus are endorsing him. The Council's first and only Hispanic member, Fabian Bedne (and also a member of the Minority Caucus) was not included in the campaign release.

The minority community is being heavily courted by all the D.A. candidates and the endorsement release from the McGuire campaign seemed to include a shot at the others, Glenn Funk and Diane Lane. "Rob doesn't need a driver or a GPS system to find his way around North Nashville," said Metro Councilman At Large Jerry Maynard. Ouch!

I will say from reading Facebook I have seen both the McGuire and Funk campaigns posting pictures from campaign appearances in the black community while Lance in recent days has posted an endorsement picture with prominent minister Tex Thomas. I haven't seen any drivers or GPS equipment in the photos.

Funk meantime has begun a second round of TV ads that include brief testimonials from prominent members of the community such as former Senator Joe Haynes and his wife, retired Circuit Judge Barbara Haynes. Others in the ads include Nashville Predators Coach Barry Trotz and Sports Council executive Rick Regen.

Finally, D.A. candidate Lance has begun her direct mail campaign with an oversized postcard arriving in my mailbox this week. The piece trumpets Lance's record as a former assistant district attorney and her "passion for justice" as seen in her involvement in victim's rights issues especially regarding domestic violence. Direct mail outreach is a required stable for almost all the candidates in contested races this May. So look to get a lot of this kind of mail especially as the Early Voting period approaches beginning on April 16 (next week) and running through May 1.


The old saying goes…once burned, twice remembered.

I guess even the State Democratic Party knows that. After coming out of nowhere to win the party's 2012 primary and the nomination to run against incumbent U.S. Senator Bob Corker, this time party leaders aren't waiting for the voting machines to open. They still think Mark Clayton is not a real or a "bona fide" Democrat (see his stance on gay rights among other issues).  So they've asked the state to remove Clayton from the August gubernatorial ballot.

Party leaders cite their rules for candidates to seek the ouster. I am not sure these rules existed two years ago when they tried to "disavow" Clayton but couldn't get him removed. Corker creamed him regardless 65%-35%.  The Democrats are taking this action after having Party Chair Roy Heron investigate the matter. The Party is being careful regarding Clayton for another reason.  Clayton is still contesting the Democrats' 2012 disavowal in court according to Andy Sher of THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS (April 6). And of course, this latest gubernatorial effort by Clayton could spark additional legal action down the road.

There's no doubt running for statewide office in Tennessee is remarkably (some would ridiculously) easy with just the signatures of 25 registered voters required. Maybe that helps explain why both Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Lamar Alexander, while predicted to have political walks in the park to win new terms, have lots of "opposition."

According to THE NASHVILLE SCENE (April 4) Alexander has 10 Independents, 7 Republicans and 2 Democrats who want to take his place. Among the Haslam challengers are Mark "Coonrippy" Brown (who we've discussed before). He still wants his pet raccoon back which the State Wildlife Resources Agency confiscated some months ago . Basil Marceaux, Sr., is running too. He became an Internet sensation with his rather wacky videos when he's run before.

And then there's Nashville attorney John Jay Hooker, who's actually been the Democratic nominee for governor twice in years gone by (1970 and 1996). Hooker is running primarily because he wants to defeat the constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would set up a slightly new judicial selection and retention process for appellate and Supreme Court justices in the state.

 Hooker says that shouldn't be done by gubernatorial or legislative approval. Instead the state constitution should be followed with judges elected and retained directly by the voters. Hooker has tried numerous times to have the current judicial approval and retention system (yes/no vote) declared unconstitutional, but his lawsuits have either been dismissed or denied by those hearing the cases (including at least two, if not three special Supreme Courts made up of retired or out of state jurists to try to avoid conflicts of interests).

It seems unlikely Hooker can defeat the constitutional amendment on his own, but he may have some help, making the constitutional vote on this question (#2) one to watch election night in November (especially since approval means the proposal must get 50% plus one vote of the majority in Haslam's governor's race.

There's one last qualifying deadline story to pass along. It's a fascinating tale about a race that almost was. Nashville Representative and House Speaker Beth Harwell missed having a Tea Party primary opponent by just two minutes.

According to an article by Andrea Zelinski of NASHVILLE POST (April 7), Sharon Ford, president of the Tennessee Republican Assembly (which pride itself on representing "The Republican Wing of the Republican Party") turned in her qualifying papers 120 seconds late and so missed the April 4 deadline (and the right to run).  Would she have been a potent candidate? It's hard to say, but given how easy it is to qualify to run in this state, if you were really serious about making the commitment to take on arguably one of the most powerful officials in Tennessee,  shouldn't you be able to show up to file your documentation to run in plenty of time?


One thing to add about last week's column item regarding the 3rd District congressional campaign (the Chattanooga area). Weston Wamp may be "bugged" about the conversations he‘s been taping as a part of his congressional effort, but he seems to be rolling in the dough.

His finance folks claim Wamp has raised more than $370,000 for the August primary election with most of it coming from individual donations (CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS, April 8). Of course the disclosure of fund sources has set off another verbal argument between Wamp and the campaign of incumbent Congressman Chuck Fleischmann over individual donations versus political action committee money especially from outside the district. And so it goes.


The battleground is shaping up for what could be the next major skirmish in Nashville's "education war." Despite being warned by Nashville Mayor Karl Dean that there will be "no blank checks" in the budget making process this coming year (including education), the Metro School Board has approved a spending plan that seeks $32.5 million in new spending.

It's not likely local revenues will grow that much this coming year and the Mayor and Metro Council did not fully fund the School's request last year either. But School officials say they need the extra money because the system is growing with new students; because it wants to expand the county's Pre-K program; because it wants to give local teachers the 2% raise the state backed off from giving; and finally, because three new charter schools required more funds. The $14.7 million extra for charters is quite a bit less than what education officials said would be required a few weeks ago.

All this is sure to be fodder for potential conflict when School leaders present their budget request to the Mayor later this month. After that in May, the Mayor submits his budget to the Metro Council for final approval. And while the Council sets the final amount for school spending, only the School Board can decide how the money is spent. Add all this into an ongoing outside audit of how school officials spend their monies and you can see this political pot is more than stirred.


So Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has resigned. She's perhaps the ultimate "fall guy" for the horribly handled roll out of the Affordable Care Act (even as final enrollments for health insurance coverage rallied to now over 7 million). As the HHS Secretary leaves, we in Tennessee can only wonder how former Governor Bredesen would have done in the job? He was reportedly her main rival for the post a few years back.

Trust me, Governor Bredesen is not spending anytime wondering. He told me the last time he was on INSIDE POLITICS that life has a way for working out for the best. But Governor Haslam may have some questions about the HHS change.

He's been working directly with Secretary Sebelius trying to find a "Tennessee Way" to expand our TennCare/Medicaid program under the new health law. Progress has been slow at best. State hospital officials (and those who need care but can't get the fully-paid for federal coverage) might add it's been painful as negotiations seem to go nowhere.

Will any of this change with a new HHS Secretary? President Barack Obama is nominating Sylvia Mathews, the current director of the Office of Management & Budget. I know lots of people sure hope things move ahead on a Medicaid expansion so. Some may even be staking their lives hoping it will happen. But at this point I see no indication or reason for hope or change in this situation.