Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 16, 2014
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
May 16, 2014
ANOTHER ELECTION ANOTHER TRAINWRECK; THE TRANSITION THICKENS; NASHVILLE FOR THE THIRD
TIME; I HEARD IT ON THE RADIO; SIGNING AWAY; ON SECOND THOUGHT; IF MONEY TALKS; THE V.A.;
SEIGENTHALER ON INSIDE POLITICS;
ANOTHER ELECTION ANOTHER TRAINWRECK
Elections have been difficult for the Metro Election Commission in recent political cycles. Despite several changes in Commission members, the Election Administrator and the staff, every recent election there’s been some kind of problem.
This time, because of a couple of errors, it appears up to 10,000 voters may have the opportunity to vote twice during May 6 primary process! What allegedly happened is that an outside consultant (ES&S, Election Systems & Software) was supposed to take the names of the 13,000-plus voters who participated in Early Voting, and enter them into electronic files. Those files were then to be updated into computers used Election Day at each precinct to verify these folks had already voted.
But apparently that happened for only about 3,000 of those who cast ballots early. Meanwhile, the Election Commission employee who was supposed to check to see that the consultant firm did that job, did not do his either. That meant the door was open for major voter fraud (remember only about 30,000 to 40,000 total votes were reportedly cast).
So how many folks did double vote? The Election Commission says only about six (all of whom will be referred to the local District Attorney’s Office for further investigation and possible felony charges according to first reports).
Election officials realized the problem and began to deal with the blunder during Election Day, but that was not the end of it. One Democratic-appointed commissioner Tricia Herzfield says she has also questions about other reports of lost voting records and voters being turned away on Election Day.
She is so concerned she said in a letter to the Commission Chair Ron Buchanan, she is not sure she will vote to certify the election results when the full Commission meets next week (Monday).
Herzfield is also concerned that election officials did little or nothing to make these voting blunders public. In fact, when contacted, Election Administrator Wall told THE NASHVILLE SCENE: “There’s no story. We know what happened, we know how it happened. We know the magnitude of it. I don’t know what we would have done differently in that circumstance.”
Well, obviously full disclosure and transparency doesn’t seem to be important here. Don’t the public and voters need to know exactly what happened and not have to find out about it through a whistle-blowing type letter written by a commissioner? And is the Election Commission the only group that needs to investigate this affair? What about the State Election Commission or some third-party group which had no direct role or possible conflict in looking into the situation?
Will any of the candidates (especially those who lost by a few hundred votes) be raising questions or concerns? Will Nashville ever have another election where the voting process works the way it’s supposed to function? For now, the only fallout is the Election Commission employee (so far unidentified) has been fired, while the outside consulting firm has been retained because the rest of the work it has done for the Election Commission and across the state has been deemed satisfactory. By the way, this same firm did catch grief in 2012 when it programmed election computers to give out Republican primary forms to voters first when they came to the polls even if they asked for Democratic ones.
But the story gets still more interesting. THE TENNESSEAN reports (May 14) that just a few months before the May election, Election Administrator Wall was granted a 20% raise (by a unanimous Commission vote) taking him from $85,000 to $102,500 annually. The state salary for Election Administrators is $109,000 provided they are state certified. Wall is not. That’s why the lower beginning salary for him was set by the Commission with the requirement he would take and pass the state test within six months.
But according to the newspaper article, Wall then told the Commission “he had been too busy solving problems and getting ready for the May election to study for the exam.” So, the Commission went ahead and increased Wall’s compensation up to the $102,500 figure effective March 1.
The Commission Chair is also defending Wall, saying in THE TENNESSEAN: “Other than this one issue that Ms. Herzog has gone ballistic over, it was a darn good election. We are pleased with how it turned out. The election went very smoothly.”
Said Ms. Herzog in response:“People don’t usually get fired when elections run smoothly. It’s a shame the Board Chair did not choose to inform the public of the issues with the election. I take integrity and transparency in government very seriously and I responded accordingly.” By the way, the Election Chair also told THE TENNESSEAN he now asking the Metro Legal Department for an opinion about how to handle the six still unidentified persons who voted twice, leaving up in the air for now earlier reports the cases would go to the D.A. office.
It should be a very interesting Commission meeting on Monday.
THE TRANSITION THICKENS
Ever since he became Nashville’s District Attorney-Elect by winning the May 6th has begun the transition to take over the office come September (he’s unopposed in the August general election). He inherits an experienced, highly regarded staff and he told me on INSIDE POLITICS last week he knows and respects that and that he has no plans to “clean house” as the city’s first new D.A. in 27 years, and only the third person to hold the job the in nearly a half century.
But Funk also told THE TENNESSEAN he plans to make the D.A.’s office “more diverse” to reflect the overall community. It’s a desire he said he heard from the voters on the campaign trail.
Then another transition wrinkle appeared as THE TENNESSEAN (May 15) reported that one of Funk’s opponents, former Assistant D.A. Rob McGuire has returned to D.A.’s office and is resuming his work as a prosecutor. Will he stay on under Funk? Well, the newspaper says the two former opponents have met and the new D.A. says they “had a really good conversation and a good exchange of ideas. …It’s my opinion he has done excellent work over the last 12 years. No decisions have been made and we agreed to continue our conversation over the next six to eight weeks to figure out what’s best for the office.” Funk added nothing said in the campaign between the two would disqualify McGuire from remaining.
But I’d bet it’s a thickening of the plot almost nobody saw coming in this office transition.
NASHVILLE FOR THE THIRD TIME
The network TV show “NASHVILLE” has been renewed for its third season. And in a deal announced late this week (Thursday May 15), production of the show will stay here too. That preserves dozens of local jobs (a reported $13 million payroll for non-actors last year alone, with 90% of that spent locally) and it certainly gives the city’s ego a boost as the show (despite at times middling ratings) has been a boon to the increasingly strong Nashville brand image across the country and around the world (the TV show airs across the U.S. and in 50 countries around the globe).
However all this does come at a cost of an incentive package from the government and some private sources of $8 million. Actually that package is significantly less than last year when it topped $13 million. The State of Tennessee cut its share to just $5.5 million this year (tight budget) while Metro will kick in $1 million (subject to Metro Council approval) and Ryman Hospitality Properties (Opryland) and the city’s Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVC) will chip in too ($500,000 each).
The increased $$ involvement by non-government entities seemed to play a role in making the deal work this year, plus, according to THE TENNESSEAN (May 16) the show being about Nashville and shot on location here (rather than Texas or Georgia where show producers considered for next year) is a “motivating factor” for at least 20% of tourists (or 1 in 5) in why they say they visited (and spent money) here.
So our “Red Hot, It City” gets another encore in the national spotlight. Our brand as a city has never been hotter.
I HEARD IT ON THE RADIO
Nashville’s brand image is definitely tied to our music industry and the tremendous number of songwriters who live here. This past week what those folks get paid when their creations are played on the radio , Pandora, I Tunes, etc., became the source of some political debate.
Tennessee U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker came to town and held a session with the media and a number of prominent songwriters at the aforementioned Bluebird Café. There, joined by their influential Republican colleague (based on his seniority and committee assignments) Orrin Hatch of Utah, they unveiled their version of a bill that will peg the compensation for songwriters to “market value” not the 9.1 cents per song now received under the present law. They pointed out this is compensation that has only increased 7 cents per song in over 100 years, and therefore songwriters and publishers need a raise to “fair market,” although looking over the news releases given out and the stories generated in the media, nobody provided any details on exactly how fair market value would be determined or maintained under the new law.
While the Senator’s offices provided lot of positive reaction to their bill and the news conference from officials in the recording, songwriting and publishing industries, broadcasters sure don’t seem to like it much. Whit Adamson, President of the Tennessee Broadcasters Association published an op-ed piece in THE TENNESSEAN (May 14) charging that changing the compensation law “could force local radio operators (and he says Tennessee has a disproportionate share of small radio stations) to either walk away from their federal license or move to a spoken word format with limited music licensing expenses. The big international music publishers could receive more and the songwriters could actually receive less compensation and exposure for their hard work.”
But Adamson did add in his column. He says a former congressman once told him “there are more songwriters (think voters) in his district than there are radio stations.” And it should be noted, the companion bill for this measure in the House already has sponsorships from 14 congressmen including four (or almost half the Tennessee delegation) including Congressmen Blackburn, Cooper, Roe and Cohen.
It’s now been well over a month since Tennessee lawmakers went home for the year, but apparently they left such a pile of approved bills before they split, Governor Bill Haslam is still going through them all.
That includes his signature legislation for this session which provides two years of free tuition to attend a two-year community college to any graduating high school senior in Tennessee. It’s called “The Tennessee Promise.” Of course the Governor has signed it. In fact he likes the measure so much he’s signed it seven different times this past week at ceremonies all across the state.
From looking at the map pinpointing where the Governor went for those signings, it looks like he’s covered every television and media market in the state. Funny how that works in the same year you are running for re-election.
The two years of free tuition is surely attractive and maybe even more so as the state’s colleges and universities are looking at approving more tuition increases for next year. But one official I spoke to in the UT system says right they are not concerned the Tennessee Promise will hurt enrollments, in part he says because of the perceived stronger brand image of the UT system and the state’s other four year universities.
But the critical part for the success of the Tennessee Promise is will it meet its goal to boost the state’s percentage of citizens who hold college degrees? Graduation is what counts, not just attendance or enrollment. If the state can reach the Governor’s goal of 55% of our adults holding college degrees that will be something to celebrate not just seven times but (as the Scripture says) seventy times seven times.
ON SECOND THOUGHT
Another bill still pending the Governor’s consideration would limit the sales of cold and allergy medicines in order to fight the scourge of the illegal methamphetamine drug in Tennessee. The Governor supported the final bill which passed. It was a compromise with looser restrictions than what he originally purposed.
Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis supported the bill and the compromise too. He even sponsored the Senate version of the legislation. But now he’s changed his mind, calling on the Governor to veto the measure and seek approval next year of tougher sale restrictions. The bill awaiting the Governor’s decision would allow the sale (without prescription) of 28.8 grams of pseudoephedrine a year per person (about a five month supply of the medicines). What Kyle supports now would go back to the original limits in his bill which are about half that amount of sales per year, or 14.4 grams.
Senator Kyle says the looser sales restrictions won’t do enough to stop the exploding (sometimes literally) number of meth labs being found all over Tennessee. Privately many law enforcement officials fear Kyle is probably right. But I strongly suspect the Governor will sign the compromise bill as it’s been sent to him and see how it works (or doesn’t) before seeking or supporting new legislation.
IF MONEY TALKS
Is Knoxville State Senator Stacey Campfield in trouble in the August primary for his re-election? Financial disclosures and media reports (KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL & THE TENNESSEAN) indicate he might be.
It’s reported Knox County Commissioner Richard Briggs leads Campfield 7 to 1 in campaign funding with about $158,000 in the till already. More fundraising efforts are in the works for Briggs, including an event here in Nashville. This local fundraiser is perhaps another very clear signal that the GOP’s state and legislative leadership would more than welcome the defeat of the always outspoken and controversial East Tennessee lawmaker. There is a Democrat in the race too for November (Cheri Siler) but the district is Republican, and given past history in efforts to run Campfield out of office, I wouldn’t place any bets just yet.
Another late breaking development, THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL reports (May 16) that Governor Haslam is considering endorsing Briggs. He’s already made some very favorable comments about the candidate says from what he known of him as County Commissioner while Haslam was Mayor of Knoxville “he brings a unique skill set.”
Haslam has already crossed into GOP primary politics this cycle when he attended (Tuesday May 13) the official campaign kickoff event for House Finance Chairman Charles Sargent of Franklin. Haslam says the lawmaker has been helpful to him in passing key legislation including the budget. But pro-gun groups are furious with Sargent for his alleged involvement in “keeping certain pro-gun bills off the governor’s desk (The Open Carry legislation).
THE NEWS SENTINEL article also cites the fact that in 2012 Haslam endorsed two Republican incumbents who lost re-election bids (including Debra Maggart who also got opposition from pro-gun groups). But the governor is not alone in having problems in winning primary fights. My longtime friend, retired journalist Joe White used to say: “Our Governors don’t have coattails (from endorsements), they wear windbreakers.” Maybe that’s why Governor Haslam also told reporters the other day: “In most primary races I’ve tried not be involved. I think it’s a good principle for a sitting governor not to be involved.”
If there is one things President Barack Obama doesn’t need it’s is another scandal in his second administration. He seems stuck in the mid-40s in the polls and his initiatives on Capitol Hill remain dead in the water.
But he’s got another scandal with the Veteran’s Administration even as the Benghazi matter rears its ugly head again with a special House committee getting organized. The V.A. problem seems to be cropping up all over the nation with charges the agency has been cooking the books about how quickly it responds to providing care to veterans. Critics say those on the “secret” V.A. lists are waiting until they die in some cases without getting promised care.
Looking back it appears an early sign there were problems might have first surfaced here in Nashville a few months ago when a V.A. employee was accused of going rogue and ignoring his duties (and veterans). As best I can the V.A. is still investigating the matter and not much has happened except the employee has been suspended (and I think with pay).
Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper is sure not happy about it. When he was on INSIDE POLITICS with a few weeks back he went off about the matter citing a stern letter he had written V.A. officials.
And he’s not alone. Both Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker have a signed a letter asking that any audit of veterans’ health facilities here in Nashville, in Murfreesboro and Chattanooga be done or vetted by an outside third party to make sure the findings are reliable. In a joint release today (May 16) both Senators are asking the V.A. for an update on implementation of recommendations made about patient deaths at a veterans facility in Memphis.
SEIGENTHALER ON INSIDE POLITICS
It’s always a special treat to welcome Nashville’s legendary journalist and community leader, John Seigenthaler to be our guest on INSIDE POLITICS. He joins us this weekend as we discuss a wide variety of political topics and matters in the news. If you looking for wisdom, knowledge, history and insight, John always delivers, and that’s why we seek him out to come on the show as often as we can.
One topic we discuss is the community conversation it appears Nashville is about to have again about the size of the Metro Council. There are a couple of charter changes looming in the city council to decrease that body’s size from 40 to 27 in return for voter approval as well of extending term limits from 2 four-year terms to 3 terms. Supporters say extending the limits will strengthen the Council by improving the body’s woeful institutional memory and governmental experience level. I think that’s true.
But voters have rejected several efforts to change or end term limits, so they may not buy this bargain, especially if it appears to be a ploy to just allow presently term limited members to just stay in office four more years. Frankly, it hard for me to see how, if approved, this size reduction could take effect by the 2015 elections. All the remaining 24 district lines would have to be redrawn and decreased from 35. The city’s planning officials and the Council have a pretty big struggle just to get the county redistricted every ten years to reflect Census results and that’s with the same number of districts.
I don’t believe there is a magic number for the size of a community’s governing body. While 40 is among the largest in the nation, I believe there’s not been a single instance in the last half century where the size of the Council has stopped Nashville from doing what it needs to do. Slow it down? Yes. Create roadblocks? Sure. Mayor Beverly Briley was accurate when he once described the body as sometimes being “40 jealous” ladies of the evening (which is not the exact word he used).
Those unhappy with Council size are likely really unhappy with specific members who don’t see issues their way. Decreasing the Council size doesn’t automatically result in them getting the kind of Council members they desire. In fact, like it or not, the present Council may be more representative of our city overall than some folks would like to believe. There’s no magic button or size that will make the Council or Nashville better.
I won’t speak for John, but if you watch the show, I think you’ll find our thoughts are similar on this topic.
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