Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 9, 2014

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 9, 2014

CREATED May 9, 2014


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

May 9, 2014





The 2014 May Democratic primary in Nashville/Davidson County will likely go down in history as the day voters elected their first new District Attorney in 27 years (Glenn Funk) and for the election when black political power came of age in Metro.

It’s fair to say that very few voters had ever heard of Funk a few months ago before he decided to fill the office being vacated by the retiring Torry Johnson. In fact early on, Johnson’s endorsed assistant Rob McGuire looked like the favorite. But Funk raised a lot more money, ran a lot of (early) good TV ads and put together an overall excellent campaign that garnered him a solid victory. He placed first in both Early Voting and on Election Day, defeating spirited campaigns by McGuire and former mayoral aide Diane Lance.

With his win in the Early Voting and on Election Day, it appears that Funk also benefited from the other major historic trend coming outr of this May election: the continuing rise of black political power in Nashville. With a record 13 minority candidates seeking office countywide (including 5 incumbents) 8 won their nominations (the 5 incumbents and 3 others). And most, if not all appear poised to win in the August general election too (especially since all but two of the 8 African Americans on the ballot will have no opposition from Republicans in the August general election).

The signs came early: Previous elections had brought good candidates and winning results (more that later). Then this year, the African American community voted in higher than usual numbers in what was an overall low voter turnout contest (less than 30,000 total votes were cast countywide). You could tell something unexpected might happen when the Bordeaux Early Voting Satellite location (the only such site in a minority area) led the city in votes prior to Election Day.

Then the votes were counted Election Night and it was clear, some leaders in the minority community were successful in motivating their supporters to the polls, building on their Early Vote success. Indeed all the new African American winners led in both their Early Vote and the Election Day tallies. That includes two surprising winners, former Human Relations Director and mayoral aide Kelvin Jones ( Circuit Court) and Shelia Calloway (Juvenile Court). Allegra Walker also pulled a surprise in one of the General Sessions races narrowly defeating Vince Wyatt in both the Early and Election Day voting. Two other black General Sessions candidates (Sheryl Guinn & Andrea Lee) did very well and won their Early Voting too, only to come up short on Election Day. Others like Joy Smith Kimbrough (Criminal Court) and former Sheryl Guinn (General Sessions) made very competitive races too.

This rise in black political power first became notable in the last few years, when for the first time in local history, African Americans (Howard Gentry & Brenda Wynn) were appointed (by the Metro Council) then elected by voters to county constitutional offices (Criminal Court Clerk & County Clerk). Rachel Bell and Angie Dalton added to that by being elected to the bench (General Sessions) along with Monte Watkins (Criminal Court). All now appear to be headed towards being elected to full terms.

So what does it all mean? First, the message seemed to get through to African American voters to turn out because these races involving the criminal justice system are important and blacks need greater representation in this part of the government. Second, now that the minority community has figured out how to mobilize its power at the polls maybe it will try it again next year in the Metro city elections (with much larger overall voter turnout expected) involving the Mayor, Vice Mayor, the 5 At-Large and 35 District Council races.

There are now 10 black Metro Councilmembers in that body including 2 At-Large members in the last few terms. There has also been an African American Vice Mayor (Howard Gentry) who almost made the runoff for Mayor 7 years ago. Who might be the candidates this next time in 2015 after the success of minority voters in this May primary?


To follow up on what we just discussed, our guests this weekend on INSIDE POLITICS include the new Nashville D.A.-to-be Glenn Funk along with new Circuit Court Judge (come September) Kelvin Jones and Fisk University Professor Dr. Reavis Mitchell.

My conversations with all of them are quite insightful and may contain a few things to watch in the news in the months and weeks to come.

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.


I told you a few weeks ago not to expect any more public activity by potential 2015 Nashville mayoral candidates until after the May 6 elections. Well, sure enough, just two days after the Democratic primary, someone else is joining Councilmember At Large Megan Barry in the race. Nashville attorney Charles Robert Bone sent out an e-mail (Thursday, May 8)to a group of close friends and supporters (I got it from a source not the candidate). He told them he wanted them “be among the first to know, I am running to become Mayor of Nashville.” Nice touch. But I’ll bet with just a few clicks and keystrokes on the computer, anyone else who might have had even the remotest interest in this matter, knew it too just a few minutes later.

Bone, who is known as a strong Democratic fundraiser with excellent political connections in the community, entitled his e-mail “I Believe in Nashville” and listed (in bold type) several potential issues and concerns when he runs (with the appointment of a treasurer and formal announcement to come in the next few weeks and a campaign kickoff and fund raiser set for June 25)

The issues and concerns Bone lists are:

  • Continuing Nashville’s momentum
  • Building on our diversity
  • Children and education
  • Poverty and homelessness
  • Public safety
  • Maintaining Nashville as “The Healthcare Capital of the World”
  • Continuing to build our music, arts and entertainment industry
  • Ditto for our tourism and hospitality industry
  • Promote entrepreneurship and support small businesses
  • Pursue a regional mass transit strategy

Bone added that based on what he’s heard from “my conversations with hundreds of people”: “Nashville is headed in the right direction, but we have important challenges that must be addressed in a collaborative and responsible way that involve the whole community. Our Next Mayor must be bold if we are to sustain the city’s momentum and meet these challenges.”

You can expect some other similar announcements and issues/concerns lists in the weeks and months to come as the Mayor’s race continues to develop.


I told you last week how 2014 in Tennessee politics could well be remembered as the Year of the Judge. But to really make this matter go viral let NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES Phil Williams write a story about it and the news media and the legal community are all stirred up now.

In particular that includes the effort we discussed last week (being led by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey) to raise millions of dollars to mount campaign to oust the three Democratic Supreme Court Justices on the ballot this August. They are up for yes or no retention votes.

Governor Bill Haslam is not so sure the ouster effort is a good one. He told reporters (NASHVILLE POST, May 7) ..”I am concerned that the issue just would be confused (by voters about what’s) on the November ballot.”’ November is when Haslam is leading an effort to pass a constitutional amendment …to reportedly “keep politics out of how state selects and retains appellate judges.” See the possibility of confusion? What might be even more confusing to some? Ramsey supports the amendment too.

So why oust the Democratic Justices? The Lt. Governor claims the trio is “soft on crime” and “bad for business.” But others say what he really wants is for Republicans to take over the Supreme Court and appoint the next Attorney General (who now is also a Democrat).

Even a former Republican Chief Justice (William “Mickey” Barker) is speaking out against what Ramsey is trying. He says it’s “attack on the entire judicial system” (CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS, May 8) adding it’s a “frightening” attempt to turn the judiciary into another “partisan branch of government.”

Lt. Governor Ramsey defends himself (NASHVILLE POST, May 8) saying the state has always had partisan elections to elect trial judges (such as the primaries held all across the state this past week). He adds: “Either you have your head in the sand or you’re being hypocritical if you say partisanship has never been in judges’ elections.” As for the Governor’s concern that his ouster effort will “muddy the waters” for the November constitutional amendment , Ramsey says the ouster move will “legitimize the retention election process (which is also part of the amendment) "and... in the end, will actually help the amendment pass….”

Strap yourself in. This one promises to be a long, bumpy (and expensive) campaign. The three Democratic Justices are not standing idly by. THE TIMES FREE PRESS says they are “barnstorming the state, meeting with lawyers, businessmen and other groups.” Fundraising efforts are also underway to support their retention effort.


We’ve had this conversation before: about how ridiculous and stupid it is for public officials to compare any action or anything to what Nazi Germany did. But still it continues to happen. Maybe State Senator Stacey Campfield of Knoxville (the latest violator) just can’t resist the temptations or maybe with the General Assembly gone home for the year he just misses the chance to be in the media limelight.

For whatever reason the Senator put this “Thought of the Day” on his Blog site earlier this week (May 5): “Democrats bragging about the number of mandatory signups for Obamacare is like Germans bragging about the number of mandatory signups for ‘train rides’ for Jews in the ‘40s.”

Now Senator Campfield is no stranger to his comments attracting broad (even national) criticism, especially from Democrats and the media, and certainly that happened this time too. But this time it also attracted Republican criticism as State GOP Party Chair Chris Devaney issued a demand that Campfield apologize “to members of the Jewish faith immediately” adding the Senator’s statement is “ignorant and repugnant’’ and adding “no political or policy disagreement should ever be compared to the suffering endured by an entire generation of people. Those comments have no place in our public discourse.”

Well said.

So what did Senator Campfield do? There were some media reports he issued a statement expressing regrets. But, that’s not really so. Here’s what he says he regrets: That “some people may have missed the point” of his blog post which is that Obamacare opens the door to “bureaucrats deciding who should be given lifesaving medications and who should be denied.” He adds that gets lost amid his reference to the Holocaust (TENNESSEAN May 5).

Duh! Come on, Senator. You should know better than to make the original statement you did. It’s you who missed the point. Senator Campfield has both primary and Republican opposition this year. Will the voters have a point to make to him? Or will the Senator manage to get his controversial self re-elected one more time?

LATE BREAKING: Nashville Democratic State Senate candidate Mary Mancini has jumped into this controversy, issuing a news release calling on Lt. Governor Ramsey “to censure Senator Campfield and strip him of all his committee assignments.” She criticizes Ramsey for not already acting against “Stacey Campfield’s assault on common decency.”

This is surely not the first time the Senate Speaker has had Campfield’s comments and actions result in complaints to him. But given the fact that the General Sessions is out of session for the year, and with political battles the Speaker himself is already involved in (and which we outlined earlier in this column), I would not expect him to react positively to a demand made by a primary candidate who is of the other party and who is not presently a member of the Senate.


Not to be “bragging” on Obamacare enrollments, but THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL (May 5) reports that the State (despite not having its own health care exchange or its state officials having much of anything good to say about the program), exceeded expectations for how many Tennesseans might enroll by more than 30,000 According to a report by Avalere Health cited by the paper, 151,400 folks signed up and even if the expected 15% of them do not pay their premiums, we will have 128,600 on the rolls (out of 6.8 million nationwide). Tennessee was reportedly one of 22 states which met or exceeded expectations.


Last week on INSIDE POLITICS, MTSU political science professor Kent Siler speculated the deft use of constituent services by Tennessee Republican Congressman Scott DesJarlais just might offer him the opportunity to somehow get re-elected and turn back a very well-funded primary challenge by State Senator Jim Tracy. Siler says it’s the best use of congressional perks and services (along with social media) he’s ever seen.

But the high profile ROLL CALL publication in Washington is seeing none of that. It ranks DesJarlais among “The 10 Most Vulnerable Members of 2014” (May 6). Says the article: :”It is increasingly difficult to see any path to victory for DesJarlais.” It also says: “The self-described abortion rights opponent is damned by revelations, stemming from his 2001 divorce, that he encouraged his ex-wife and a former mistress to get multiple abortions.” The article also cites fund raising problems: “(DesJarlais) has just $198,000 in cash on hand March 31…Jim Tracy…had $914,000 in the bank at the same time.”

The article concludes with this prediction of what lies ahead: “Most likely DesJarlais won’t have enough to defend himself on the air this summer—and Tracy might not even need to go negative to win the August 7 primary.”


How much public relations and image damage has Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed mass transit AMP project sustained in recent months? Well a recent survey done by the West End Business Association (and reported by THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL May 6) has this to report.

24 out of 38 businesses who answered the questionnaire (87 retail and restaurant businesses along the route were asked to participate) said they favored mass transit, but none (that is zero) said they favor the AMP project “that is currently proposed.”

Looks like the city’s AMP designers and that blue-ribbon citizens panel studying this issue sure have their work cut out for them. That seems to be true even after the Mayor announced the dedicated AMP lanes (down the middle of the street) would be removed around the I-40 interchange downtown and from I- 440 westward towards the end of AMP route near St. Thomas Hospital.


Another of Metro Government’s Founding Fathers has passed. Noted local civil rights and labor attorney Cecil Branstetter was 93. He played a key role on the Metro Charter Commission back in the late 1950s and early ‘60s to draft the original constitution for consolidated government and to get voters to approve it (1962). There’s no doubt Branstetter’s high regard in labor and civil rights circles help bring those groups on board to support Metro.

He also played a key role after Metro was formed to protect the document from being slowly amended away and changed. He took great pride in how well the consolidation effort worked and how much it’s added to our city’s growth and progress. On a personal level, he was a very kind and helpful person, at least to this reporter (when I was new and just starting out).

There aren’t many Metro Founding Fathers left. Time is carrying them away to a well-deserved reward. One of my very few regrets while participating in the recent 50th founding (2013) is that Cecil’s health did not permit him to participate or attend events at which would have rightly received the acclaim and community gratitude he deserves.

Well done, my friend. Nashville will ever be in your debt.


As I finish this column, sad news also comes of the death of long time Tennessee state government icon Harlan Mathews.

Mathews served and advised five Tennessee governors during his time on the Hill beginning in 1950 under Governor Gordon Browning. He was also Finance Commissioner for a decade (1961-1971) under both Governors Buford Ellington and Frank Clement. After a stint as State Treasurer (from 1974 to 1987) Mathews joined his good friend Governor Ned McWherter as Deputy Governor from 1987 until he took the call (through an appointment by McWherter) to serve the people of Tennessee as a United States Senator during 1993 & 1994 (filling out Al Gore’s term when he became Vice President) .

Mathews never sought or was elected to office. And despite his many years in the political arena, he was one of the most well liked officials in state government. Republican U.S. Senator (and former Governor) Lamar Alexander (who was on the other side of the aisle from Mathews) noted that quality when he commented on his passing: “Except for his great friend Ned McWherter, no one had more friend around the state capitol than Harlan Mathews did. He served our state and country with distinction.”

I can only add my Amen to that. I first knew Harlan Mathews as a parent. His son, Stan and I performed in the same musical group in the 1960s (Sing-Out South). Stan was a guitar player. I sang. Stan was much better.

Later I had many opportunities as a reporter and a political analyst to interview and talk with Harlan. He was always helpful and very nice when we were together. We were even Facebook friends in recent years. I looked forward to reading his comments, and postings as well as the “likes” I got from of what I put up (especially during my stroke recovery).

Tennessee has lost a truly great public servant.

May he rest in peace.

I know the old saying is that deaths of prominent people always come in threes. I sure hope that’s not  true. After this week, I am not sure I can take any more passings.