Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 13, 2014
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
June 12, 2014
SOMEBODY TOOK A DUMB PILL; YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK; COMES THE SUMMER; WHEN THEY DIFFER; INSIDE POLITICS; FIRST KICKOFF; SOME NASHVILLE STATE LEGISLATIVE RACES; LOOKING FOR OUR NEXT BIG CLOSEUP; THE OTHER PART OF THE STORY: HEATING UP STILL MORE
SOMEBODY TOOK A DUMB PILL
It’s been a very difficult year for Mayor Karl Dean and his AMP mass transit project. It almost got killed by the Republican Super Majority in the State Legislature (they settled for an ongoing veto power). Now, this past week, instead passing through Metro Council on a routine administrative vote, the AMP was put in danger again of almost going down for the count, which would have also threatened its important current and future federal funding .
The matter before the Council was the city’s Capital Improvements Budget, a 5-year planning document Metro must approve every year. It doesn’t appropriate or spend any money, but if a city project isn’t included in the plan, Metro can’t spend any money in that area.
Almost inexplicably, somebody on the Dean Team, (The Metro Transit Authority is stepping up to shoulder the blame) forgot to include the AMP in its list of requested projects. Apparently somebody thought since the project was in last year’s Capital Improvements Budget, it just carried over. No it doesn’t.
So with a (Metro Charter imposed) June 15 deadline for approval of the Capital Budget, the administration was forced to ask the Council to amend the budget to include the AMP. That’s right, an unanticipated up or down vote on one of the most controversial proposals Nashville has debated in recent years. You can just imagine how thrilled most Council members were to have that dumped in their laps.
Nevertheless, and to the Dean administration’s credit, they got 25 votes for approval. They should thank their lucky stars. Actually things could have been worse (believe it or not). If someone hadn’t found the AMP omission prior to final approval of the Capital planning document, it would have required a two-thirds or 27 vote majority to add it in during this upcoming fiscal year.
It should be pointed out that one reason the Mayor likely got that many votes was that the amendment approved by the Council did not specifically say the word AMP, instead it references mass transit and bus rapid transit projects. That’s broad enough to cover the AMP but not so specific it still gives council members some political cover if they need it with anti-AMP constituents. And remember none of this appropriates any money for the AMP. It just places the project in a planning document.
It’s not likely the Mayor will be coming back to the Council to appropriate more AMP dollars anytime real soon. The strategy appears to be to have the blue ribbon citizens’ panel now studying the AMP come up with a consensus proposal that can somehow be sold to both state and local lawmakers so the project can proceed.
Good luck with that, but at least for now, the Dean Team has dodged another bullet that would have likely killed the AMP for good.
YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK
When state lawmakers gave themselves a veto power over Nashville’s AMP mass transit project last term, they also passed legislation requiring a study be done about the cost of building a monorail down I-24 connecting Nashville and Murfreesboro.
Lawmakers didn’t seem to know (or maybe care) that such an idea had already been researched and rejected by state transportation officials as being too costly especially for the ridership it would (not) generate (WPLN NASHVILLE PUBLIC RADIO, June 9).
So in order to meet a February 1, 2015 deadline to report back to the General Assembly, TDOT is spending $25,000 in taxpayer money to hire a consultant to give them another idea of the cost of this proposal. Sponsor State Senator Bill Ketron told WPLN “he’s serious about building a monorail down the median of I-24. He’s even discussed it with a Canadian train manufacturer. “
I am not sure why that conversation makes the project any more viable, but be sure to keep this seemingly duplicative expenditure at top of your mind the next time you hear our state leaders bragging on themselves about how frugal they are in spending state dollars.
COMES THE SUMMER
As we approach the middle part of June ,and shortly thereafter the advent of summer, so also follows the next round of TV campaign ads.
State Senator and 4th District Republican congressional candidate Jim Tracy looks to be first out of the box (CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS, June 10). He has started an ad that touts himself as a “conservative with integrity”…a veiled but clear shot at his opponent, incumbent GOP congressman Scott DesJarlais, who has been struggling with issues arising out a nasty divorce case that occurred well before he ever ran for office. To quote the Tracy ad directly: “Too many congressmen are short on integrity and that’s how our nation got into this mess. To stop the Obama agenda, we as representatives have got to clean up our own house first and start fresh.”
Tracy ads began running this week in the Chattanooga TV market and his campaign says they will be airing district wide soon (although I have not yet seen them in Nashville). Clearly Nashville is a key market in the race especially since Rutherford County and Murfreesboro (right next door to Nashville and Davidson County) holds the largest concentration of voters in the 4th District.
Based on the campaign contributions disclosed so far, it’s not clear at all that DesJarlais will be able to respond in kind to Tracy with his own TV spots. But he did punch back in the Chattanooga newspaper article challenging Tracy as conservative. “There is nothing conservative about voting for Common Core, advocating for Barack Obama’s stimulus package and supporting higher gas taxes.”
Meanwhile I am told Senator Lamar Alexander and Governor Bill Haslam will be rolling out their re-election TV ads around the first of July. Haslam’s media buy reportedly extends all the way to the November election.
Alexander’s state wide TV buy is (according to one source) $875,000! That’s perhaps an eyebrow raising sum given the Senator’s allegedly comfortable lead in the polls over his primary opponents. But perhaps the lesson Senator Alexander and all incumbents learned from this past week’s party primaries (especially the stunning defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia) is to be ever vigilant and never take any opponent for granted. An Alexander aide says he’s run the numbers and during his entire term in the Senate, Lamar has spent close to half his nights in office back in his state, doing his job. I think it’s fair to say he’s also run a pro-active, aggressive campaign for re-election too.
In fact a better comparison on Alexander might be the statewide U.S. Senate GOP primary race in South Carolina where incumbent Lindsey Graham swamped a field of multiple opponents last Tuesday. Alexander has a large number of opponents too, including multi-millionaire and former congressional candidate George Flinn who has been very, very quiet and apparently not spending money, so far.
(See more on this past week’s primary elections as well as Republican politics in Tennessee and across the country in my INSIDE POLITICS write up later in this column).
LATE BREAKING: I have also learned Joe Carr, considered Senator Alexander’s major rival, has made a small TV buy to run (at least on one station here in Nashville) beginning the week of June 23. Maybe he’s doing that to trying and rev up his supporters and capitalize on any burst of support he might get from the conservative political reaction to the Cantor upset. Or is this an already planned last gasp, a go for broke effort to get his campaign moving?
WHEN THEY DIFFER
Being Republicans you’d probably expect our Tennessee U.S. Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, to have fairly similar voting records. And while I haven’t conducted an in depth analysis, I’d say that’s correct.
I do know when they do disagree, it can be quite interesting even newsworthy.
For example, there’s the recent VA legislation passed by both Houses in near record time. That in itself is surprising especially considering veterans proposals have been stuck in the mud and rancor of partisanship on the Hill for some time. But then came the current national scandal about the delay of care being given our vets. It led to first, the House, then the Senate passing through legislation with bi-partisan majorities.
Senator Alexander sent out several news releases in support particularly pointing out the Senate bill that passed was drawn in part from two pieces of legislation he co-sponsored. Alexander says the final Senate bill which seeks, among other things, to cut wait time for care and open up the use of private doctors in some cases is “the first step in giving veterans the same choices for their health care that our country has given them for higher education since the G.I. Bill was enacted in 1944.”
But Senator Corker sees things differently. He voted no on the VA legislation and sent out a statement saying the bill was “thrown together without any discussion by this body (the Senate) and increases the deficit by at least $35 billion.” Corker did add he hopes the House when it now reconsiders the matter, will change it so its costs don’t “burden future generations” and so he can support it and our veterans if and when a compromise measure is offered back to the Senate.
Tennessee’s two Senators also disagreed this past week on legislation to allow former students to refinance their student loans at lower rates. Senator Alexander voted no and sent out a news release calling the proposal: “a political stunt by Democrats” who were wasting the Senate’s time instead of considering more important bills like the VA legislation. Alexander seemed to call the bill “a stunt” because Democrats likely knew they didn’t have the 60 bills needed to get it on the floor for debate and were only moving it to create a campaign issue.
Indeed the Democrats didn’t have the votes. Supporters fell 4 votes short of 60 although that did include Senate Corker who was one of only 3 GOP members to cross over.
The junior Senator later explained his vote (CLARKSVILLE LEAF CHRONICLE, June 11) saying that while he probably would have voted against the bill in the final analysis, he thought “we should at least allow debate (which requires 60 votes) on ways to address the rising price of education and help students weigh the cost of undertaking debt with the value of the investment they are making in their future.”
Senator Alexander’s no vote also drew flax from Gordon Ball, one of his possible Democratic opponents for re-election. Ball says: “Lamar’s gotten plain out of touch. (he’s been) in Washington too long….siding with Wall Street bankers over the 485,000 Tennesseans with student loan debt.”
Mark Twain once said: “Rumors of my death have been exaggerated.”
In terms of 2014 national politics, especially after the shocking primary upset this week of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia, can the same be said of the Tea Party movement? We’ll talk about that and other related political campaign news this week on INSIDE POLITICS.
My guests include Dr. Bruce Oppenheimer political science professor at Vanderbilt University, Republican activist and consultant Bill Phillips and conservative commentator Steve Gill.
We’ll also look at the U.S. Senate primary runoff race in Mississippi where long-time incumbent Thad Cochran is fighting for his political life against a Tea Party stalwart. What is the meaning and overall impact of this ongoing GOP Mainstream versus Tea Party battle? And what Tennessee implications does this have for our U.S. Senate and other races this summer and fall?
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.
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He is not the first to announce he’s running for Nashville Mayor. But (as he mentioned he would in a “private” e-mail to supporters a few weeks ago), attorney Charles Robert Bone will likely be the first candidate to actually kick off his mayoral campaign. He’s having a major fund raiser at the Acme Building on historic Broadway on Wednesday, June 25. It’s not cheap: $1500 to be a Host, $500 to be a Co-Host and $100 per person to attend.
I am assuming that the Host and Co-host list will be used in follow-up e-mails and snail-mail invites sent out to further promote the event. It will be fascinating to see who is (or who is not ) on that list of top supporters for Bone, just as it will be for all the candidates while Nashville begins to choose up sides over who replaces Karl Dean.
Meanwhile the rumor mill churns on who else may or may not get in the race. Will our mayoral race be as exciting as the one on the NASHVILLE TV show during its first season? Stay tuned.
By the way last week I mentioned Nashville businessman and Democratic fundraiser Bill Freeman had gotten a little quiet in his steady effort to write local op-ed pieces. Those articles seemed to indicate he wanted to run to mayor. Now that speculation will start again after his TENNESSEAN piece (June 12) that said city workers, especially police, fire and EMTs deserve a larger pay raise than the half of a per cent boost now pending in Mayor Dean’s budget and which the Metro Council is likely to approve next Tuesday (June 17).
Metro Councilwoman At Large Megan Barry, the only other candidate who officially says she is running, has sent a blast e-mail out seeking financial support. It comes as the next campaign finance reporting deadline looms the end of the month on June 30. She says the totals she’ll report “will be “an indicator of the support and energy behind this campaign.” She’s right, one way or another.
SOME NASHVILLE LEGISLATIVE RACES
There are some interesting developments in a couple of our local August state legislative races.
Nashville Democratic State Senate Candidate Mary Mancini this week challenged her opponent Jeff Yarbro to hold six debates between now and their August primary. Since Mancini is considered the underdog, such a challenge is expected, even routine. After all, as Mancini pointed out in her challenge letter to Yarbro, four years ago he challenged retiring Senator Doug Henry to debate.
Henry declined, but Yarbro apparently is no doing so. According to the NASHVILLE POST (June 13), Yarbro has sent out a tweet saying while he hadn’t yet read Mancini’s letter, “I’m in.” Really? Six debates? That’s offering an awful lot of bites at the apple to a rival considered behind in the race. Let’s see how this further develops.
In another local state house race to fill the seat of retiring Representative Mike Turner, the endorsement campaign tactic is well underway. It can be a good strategy if you’ve never run before, have limited name recognition and need help to raise money. And that just about covers this field.
Democrat Jennifer Buck Wallace has gotten a big name supporter on board. He’s State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh who has decided to get into this primary battle. Meanwhile one of Wallace’s opponents, Bill Beck has his own list of big name supporters including former Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell, Sherriff Daron Hall and several other countywide elected officials and Metro Council members.
The other candidate in this primary contest is Stephen Fotopulos.
LOOKING FOR OUR NEXT BIG CLOSE UP
So what will be the event that will give Nashville its next big close up on the world and national stage? Up until a few days ago it looked like it might be the 2016 National Democratic Convention. Music City was one of 15 other finalists in contention. But upon further review (particularly at what business was already booked at the Music City Centre that summer) and the fact that party leaders wanted exclusive access to the building for two months prior to the event (which might cause the beloved and lucrative CMA Festival and other conventions to be cancelled or moved to other dates), Nashville leaders wisely said “thanks, but no thanks” and politely bowed out of the convention competition citing “a significant volume of booked business.”
Hey guys, the convention business being what it is these days (kind of flat), and the city paying the bills for the Center with a rush of tourist interest and visits to Nashville, why endanger what you’ve got, especially cancelling booked room nights?
Also, while nobody said it, hosting a national party convention requires a lot of money ($$ millions) from the host city and I didn’t see anybody in the Mayor’s office or Metro Council ready to whip out the city’s wallet. Why should they, especially since almost all of them will likely be out of office due to term limits by the time the convention hit town.
So if we don’t host Hillary’s coronation, what will be the “It City’s” next big splash? Well, it would be the second time around for us, but I would say Nashville is all but a lock to host another NCAA Women’s Final Four basketball tournament here sometime between 2016 and 2019 (I think that’s the window).
And from past media reports, it also appears Nashville will host the National Hockey League’s All Star Game one year in the not too distant future (we already hosted the NHL Draft a few years ago). ESPN says Nashville is also in the running to host the more prestigious National Football League Draft in 2015.
I would say the NFL event coming here is a bit more of a long shot. The Draft is apparently leaving New York City for one year only because of a scheduling issue and lots of other major cities are also in the mix. Still, Nashville shows well in these kinds of competitions and we are a “hot” location. If you haven’t read it, look at that glowing WALL STREET JOURNAL article from last weekend (Saturday, June 7) that makes a long four-day weekend here sound like a very busy (maybe logistically impossible but) wonderful trip to paradise.
Of course, there’s always the biggest event….hosting the Super Bowl. Based on a leaked NFL document which came out last weekend, THE TENNESSEAN (June 10) says we don’t quite stack up with their guidelines (LP Field is just barely large enough, not enough parking, etc.) But actually I thought the city showed pretty well considering landing a Super Bowl has never been a priority for us.
I think to be successful in landing something like a Super Bowl it DOES need to be a priority for our city. Of course, then there’s the kicker in the TENNESSEAN story, It’s the fact that while the NFL has been moving the game around to a lot of different locations (including outdoor sites in cold weather cities) it is almost always coming to play in stadiums much newer than Nashville’s. That’s right. LP Field is 15 going on 16 years old. So our real test if we want to be a Super Bowl city may likely require a civic commitment that includes building a new (maybe domed) stadium.
Given the knock down drag out fight, plus the referendum we had to pass to build what we have now, that won’t be an easy sell at all. But frankly the life span of any big league professional sports venue these days is probably not too far off the horizon for Nashville anyway. That, means replacing LP Field may not be that many years away regardless, although the recent renovations there have been quite good ones.
THE OTHER PART OF THE STORY
There have been a couple of items in the local news this week that I saw a need to offer a comment.
First there is the announcement by Metro School officials that all students in our local public schools will be eligible to receive a free breakfast and lunch every day classes are held, beginning next school year.
In the past lots of kids have been eligible to do that, but there was lots of paperwork to complete and there’s been a stigma for kids feeling they are singling themselves out as “poor” if they get the free food.
Now everyone can eat without making any statement of their family’s income, and that’s a wonderful thing. Kids that come to school with empty stomachs can’t learn and don’t learn. Now they have a better chance.
But don’t forget in all this, there is still a lot of poverty in our community and in our schools. It’s an issue we need to continue to address and this federal program to pay for free breakfast and lunch for all public school students is a wonderful step forward.
Another step forward is Mayor Dean’s decision to have Nashville join in a partnership with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. We will only the third city in the nation (along with Los Angeles and Chicago, offering a “Pathway for New Americans.”
Several of our public libraries and community centers will provides resources to support permanent legal immigrants and refugees in this area “by offering free citizenship and English as Second Language classes, along with tools and resources to help aspiring citizens prepare for the naturalization interview and test.”
In a week when immigration reform was once again declared “dead” in Washington, it might be understandable that an event or development like this may get delayed or postponed until the time was better or “right.” This partnership will probably also be misunderstood or misrepresented by some as making Nashville a mecca for illegal immigration. But from what I know Nashville is an open and welcoming city, as we proved a few years back in rejecting the “English Only” referendum effort. I am glad to see Mayor Dean continuing to build and deepen that legacy.
HEATING UP STILL MORE
The hotly contested retention/ouster election for three State Supreme Court justices on the August ballot continues to heat up in intensity and rhetoric.
For the first time ever, the Tennessee Bar Association has polled its membership statewide to get its input about the three Democratic appointed members of the Tennessee High Court. All three of them received endorsement of 90% or more (either highly recommend or recommend) to stay on the bench for another eight-year term. “Lawyers are uniquely qualified to provide an informed opinion as to whether a justice should be retained,” said TBA President Cindy Wyrick of Sevierville (KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL, June 13). “For that reason it is important that they share this knowledge with voters.”
But a relatively new non-profit group formed last year (Tennesseans for Judicial Accountability) is joining the battle along with Republican Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey in raising questions and urging voters to consider ousting the judges. The group sent out a news release blasting the TBA survey calling it “a push poll…designed to get the desired result in its favor. “ The release also charges: “the respondents are all lawyers, i.e. not a remotely representative group of Tennessee….. “Lawyers are the very definition of special interests.”
It then compares the survey to the old Soviet Union newspaper PRAVDA “asking party members their approval rating of the Politburo.”….and asking…” Do you really think you’ll get a fair view of the warden from the official guard poll of prisoners?”
That’s pulling up and pushing a lot of red meat conservative hot button issues (even if some of them might seem a bit dated).
It also looks as if somebody may be taking the “Shakespeare strategy” in this battle. If you don’t understand or know what I am inferring, see HENRY VI, Part II, Act IV, Scene II, Line 73.