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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 30, 2014

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 30, 2014

CREATED May 30, 2014

CAPITOL VIEW

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

May 30, 2014

THE TENNESSEE TALIBAN; THAT DIDN’T TAKE LONG; YARBRO AND MACINI ON INSIDE POLITICS; CORRECTION; RANKED AGAIN; MILESTONES

THE TENNESSEE TALIBAN

The Tennessee General Assembly has been described in many ways over the years, and a few of them have not been complimentary. But comparing our elected leaders to the Taliban might have gone too far. This controversy comes as the debate begins to escalate over Amendment #1 to the Tennessee Constitution (restricting abortion rights) which is set for the November ballot.

The Taliban comparison comes from a group called Tennesseans for Preservation of Personal Privacy. It took out full page (or near full page) ads in the state’s four largest newspapers last weekend. With the headline “Vote No on the Tennessee Taliban Amendment,” the ad urges opposition to the constitutional amendment which strips any right to an abortion out of the document and gives state lawmakers more power to impose restrictions on the procedure.

But what really set off the controversy surrounding the ad was an illustration (that some papers decided not to include) that shows an armed man masked in a turban (but identified as the Tennessee Legislature) placing his foot on the shoulder of a helpless looking woman in a tank top and bare legs identified as “Tennessee Women.”

The advertising effort is generating a negative response from groups on both sides of the abortion issue as well as a Muslim education and advocacy organization. (TENNESSEAN May 28). Said Remziya Suleyman of the American Center for Outreach: “Comparing the Tennessee Legislature to the Taliban is absurd….the image is offensive, unnecessary and violent. If we care about women, why use such scare tactics and demeaning images to get your message across.”

Those supporting the Amendment are, of course outraged by the ad. Said spokeswomen for the Yes On 1 group, Jennifer Hicks: “It is unfortunate the pro-abortion opponents of Amendment 1 have chosen to open their campaign in an offensive manner. Taliban rule relates to rape, murder and the degradation of women…Those placing the ad should apologize to Tennesseans but especially to those refugees in our state who have been victims of such cruel regimes.”

Even those opposing Amendment 1 are critical of the ad. Said Jeff Teague, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of East and Middle Tennessee says; “I think the images are disturbing and offensive, and they don’t have any place in this debate.”

Of course a lawyer for the group that paid for and placed the ad says “no offense was ever intended to the Muslim community.” Michael Kaplan adds :”The cartoon was the expression of the Taliban and the Taliban’s treatment of women, and the fear that there are those in the legislature who would like to control women’s rights.”

But the group’s problems now go well beyond the ad itself, since it also did not follow state law and register the way all groups who raise and/or spend money on ballot issues are required to do. Lawyer Kaplan won’t disclose who is involved or who has given money to the group but he did tell the newspaper in terms of state law: ‘to the extent we are required to comply, we will comply.” The State Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance says the group has five days to register.

THAT DIDN’T TAKE LONG

After setting in motion a statewide political fire storm, Tennessee Department of Education officials got busy. Suddenly those revised TCAP scores, that weren’t going to be ready for up to ten days for final report cards (and for 15% -25% of final grades) for students Grades 3-8, were now available Friday afternoon (May 23), or about an hour or so after I filed last week’s column.

But the damage and confusion remains as school systems now must decide whether to insist on the waivers they requested (and state officials said they’d approve) to forgo the test scores. At least one school system (Williamson County) took a different tack. It ordered its teachers to do the work to add in the scores and appropriated the tens of thousands of dollars it costs to do that. Now they will likely ask the state to reimburse the system. Metro Nashville is one of 104 school systems who asked for (and got) the waiver. It’s says it is sticking with that saying that since TCAP is not aligned with the new Common Core standards it really doesn’t make sense to include the test scores in making up final grades.

About the only excuse given for the snafu (by Governor Bill Haslam and others) that it’s better to get it right in the end than issue test scores that would have to be changed. But rather than just being “cautious,” how about getting the scores right in the first place and on schedule as they don’t in previous years?

Some state lawmakers are being even more critical with Republican Representative Rick Womick calling for the resignation of State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, saying what happened speaks to an issue of “incompetence.” (TENNESSEAN, May 27). Womick, a Tea Party favorite, added: “It’s the one thing he’s supposed to do and he can’t even do that. I think he needs to resign and I think we need to find somebody else.” Meanwhile, State Senator Mae Beavers asked for an Attorney General’s opinion about whether the waivers being granted are something the State Education Department can really do (KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL, May 28).

Of course the Democrats are jumping in too. Three House members (Bo Mitchell and Mike Stewart of Nashville along with Gloria Johnson of Knoxville) have made an extensive freedom of information requess asking for all the documents and electronic data related to the matter trying to determine what state officials knew and when they knew it. Late Thursday, the issue grew even longer legs politically (TENNESSEAN, May 29) as two other Republican lawmakers, Representative Bill Spivey of Lewisburg and Senator Janice Bowling of Tullahoma requested a formal investigation of the matter by the State Comptroller’s office.

Happy summer vacation, everyone! Even though some parents and students are likely unhappy and scratching their heads about whether little Johnny and Susie still need to go to summer school. This is best in the nation education reform?

YARBRO AND MANCINI ON INSIDE POLITICS

It’s likely the Number #1 legislative race this summer in Nashville: the Democratic primary contest to select a candidate to replace retiring State Senator Douglas Henry. This week we welcome both Nashville attorney Jeff Yarbro and progressive activist Mary Mancini on INSIDE POLITICS. They’ll discuss the issues and explain why they believe District 21 voters should select them to fill the shoes of the longest serving lawmaker in our state’s history.

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.

CORRECTION

Last week I said the Republicans did not have a candidate running in the State Senate District 21 race. That’s not true. There are 3 Republicans seeking the GOP nomination to take the place of retiring Democratic Senator Doug Henry.

They are Mwafaq Aljabbarry, Diane Cuellar and Quincy McKnight. The prestigious TENNESSEE JOURNAL lists the race as Probable Democratic. But the political newsletter could have listed the contest as Safe Democratic so I guess it thinks somebody in the field has a bit of a chance to win in the fall.

A quick Google check found McKnight, an African American businessman, has a functioning campaign web site. I also found information that as well that he held a campaign kick off on May 22 at the Global Mall at the Crossings in Antioch.

McKnight and Aljabbarry had their Republican credentials questioned when they first filed for office but were approved to stay in the race by state party officials. All I could find about Aljabbarry on line is that he lives in Antioch and studied Planning and Urban Studies at the University of Nebraska-Omaha. I also understand he is of Kurdish descent.

Diane Cuellar is a Latino activist, serving as a Board member and Treasurer of a group called Latinos for Tennessee. She is a Financial Planner.

WATCHDOG

While the mushrooming Veterans Affairs scandal continues to engulf President Barack Obama and his administration in Washington (including VA Secretary Eric Skinseki stepping down under fire), there are also efforts underway in Congress to provide further oversight regarding the operations of another federal agency that’s been in the news a lot lately (and not in a good way). I’m referring to the NSA, the National Security Agency.

The U.S. House has approved an authorization bill to fund 16 different components of our intelligence community and our national security programs. Along with that, the Republican-dominated House has added in a provision authored by Nashville Democratic congressman Jim Cooper establishing a new powerful, independent Inspector General’s post to keep the NSA accountable to Congress and to the public.

Cooper says the new position should be filled with: “Someone with razor sharp teeth to maintain the balance between privacy and security….The NSA needs s watchdog not a lapdog.” Let hope this same “dog” will hunt when the bill comes up in the Senate.

RANKED AGAIN

Much like THE NEW YORK TIMES, somebody at TRAVEL & LEISURE Magazine must really like Nashville. Within a week of naming Music City as the Number #1 place in the country for barbeque (much to the chagrin of Memphis), now the national publication ranks us #8 among “America’s Best Cities for Hipsters.”

That’s up 11 places from last year with the write up on our city saying we are at the “intersection of show biz and honkey tonks.” It also raves about hip East Nashville along with its “Stache and Dash” jogging tour and other running efforts. “ A running tour is a natural in in Music City whose locals are ranked highly for being super-fit and having lots of civic pride.”

Well, I’d sure agree about the civic pride, but an annual survey by the American College of Sports Medicine ranks Nashville well down the list (46 out of 50) on its 2014 American Fitness Index. According to USA TODAY, (May 28) the survey “offers a snapshot of the state of health in the community and an evaluation of the infrastructure, community assets and policies that encourage healthy and fit lifestyles.”

OK, we are still ahead of Memphis (which came in 50th) in this survey and maybe there’s hope to do even better next year. I got a media advisory in my e-mail box that Mayor Karl Dean is having a ribbon cutting ceremony (Thursday, May 29) for the recently constructed Fitness and Tennis Center at the Centennial Sportsplex in Centennial Park. It opens to the public Monday (June 2)

The new fitness center is “five times larger than the current fitness room it replaces…and includes an indoor running track, dance room and top-of line equipment.” The American Fitness index takes into account parkland acreage, along with spending and facilities for parks and recreation, so we should get some credit for this new stuff next year. But it also measures farmers markets per capita, percent of commuters using public transit and the average per cent of commuters biking and walking. There’s also a new “Walk Score” added to this year’s survey, which measures how easy it is to walk to amenities and services.

As I’ve said, we’ve probably got some work to do in those areas. The survey also measures chronic health problems (diabetes, asthma) and health behaviors (cigarette smoking and fruit consumption), so you can add that to the homework list too. And if we’ve going stay ahead of Memphis in that Best Barbeque ranking, we’ve may have some other things to figure out about how we can stay as a hipster city but still be living high on the hog.

MILESTONES

The Memorial Day holiday weekend was awash with significant events for me. There was a (Pre-K) graduation for a granddaughter; a wedding for a young woman who grew up across the street from us in our neighborhood; a baby shower for another young woman of long time dear friends; and now this coming weekend, I will be attending my 45th high school reunion.

Everywhere I go I am reminded of the passage of years. And now I am being asked with disturbing regularity if I am “still working” or am I “retired”? Really? I am only 62. I think I have a few more good years left before I head for the ranch for the final time.

But I do have a different outlook as I get together with my Father Ryan classmates. Five years ago when we gathered as a class (2009), I had no idea how close I’d come to not being here for our 45th Reunion. Now, I better understand how fleeting and precious life is, and how I need to be present and enjoy the moment, because the future is never promised.

As I watched my granddaughter skip down the aisle and up the stairs in her cap and gown to get her diploma, it made me realize how much I want to be there to see her do it again for both high school and college in the years to come.

That’s when I also was reminded I need to continue the lifestyles changes I started almost two years ago (June 28, 2012) after my stroke. So watch the sodium in the diet, exercise at the Y at least twice a week, take my medications, wear my sleep apnea machine every night, and I’ll hopefully be here a good bit longer, including five years from now when I become a Golden Grad at Ryan marking a full half-century since I got my high school degree (1969). The ‘60s don’t seem that long ago to me….and hey, I still remember it pretty well too!