Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 20, 2014

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 20, 2014

CREATED Jun 20, 2014

CAPITOL VIEW

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

June 20, 2014

BLOWN CALL; ANOTHER RESIGNATION DEMAND; TWO OVERLOOKED RACES; THEY’RE BACK; AIR WARS; IT’S MAYBE NOT WHAT YOU THINK; INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE AUGUST SUPREME COURT ELECTION

BLOWN CALL

As a former NFL referee and a current multi-term Metro General Sessions Judge, Casey Moreland has made a lot of calls over the years. But never has he really blown one the way he did on June 8.

That’s when a local attorney friend and major campaign contributor (they’d even vacationed together) called the Judge about releasing a client from jail (a prominent local contractor involved in the proposed Music Row Virgin Hotel project). David Chase had been arrested on domestic assault charges and placed in jail under a required 12-hour “cooling off” period because he was considered to remain a threat to his victim (an ex-girlfriend).

Seemingly based primarily on information and arguments given to him by his lawyer friend (Bryan Lewis) which was primarily that Chase and his victim were not in a current relationship, Judge Moreland ordered Chase to be immediately released, whereupon he re-assaulted his victim (who thought she was safe). Arrested a second time, incredibly, Chase was released again without a cooling off period, this time by Night Court Commissioner Thomas Nelson who has given no public explanation for his actions.

Judge Moreland has apologized for his decision, saying it was based on bad information. Duh! Maybe reading the arresting officer’s report, reviewing the past record of the perpetrator, or holding a court hearing first so all parties could be heard, might have helped.

Judge Moreland also hurt himself with some critics by adding this to his apology in THE TENNESSEAN. “Other than the victim, nobody feels any worse than I do about what happened.” He probably also raised eyebrows when he told the newspaper (June 19) that he did not “play favorites” in his decision regarding Chase due to his friendship with attorney Lewis. Critics would say the record indicates otherwise.

The Judge’s role and his response certainly struck a chord with Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson. He sent a blistering seven page letter to Presiding Judge Bill Higgins calling the events a “fiasco” and urging all the local judges to come up with a response that gives the public “an assurance that such misconduct will not occur in the future.”

Judge Higgins says policy changes are being considered with more details to be released by the end of the week. Well, it’s now the end of the week as I write this (early Friday afternoon), and nothing has been announced. It seems Metro officials like to talk a lot about protecting domestic violence victims (we sure heard a lot about it during the recent May primary election) but actions are often slow to follow, at best. One of two recent Metro reports on the city’s domestic violence prevention efforts said as much.

It’s time Metro and its judges started being part of the solution and not part of the problem or at least appearing to be aiders and abettors of domestic violence. In his extended letters and comments about this matter (some dating even back to a 2005 incident) Chief Anderson thinks Judge Moreland has a “cavalier manner” about this issue. He told of a phone conversation he had with Judge recently where the jurist told him this is “just good ole boys doing what good ole boys do.”

Judge Moreland denies saying that and accuses the Chief of being a “bully” who’s holding a grudge against him over another unrelated (and undisclosed) matter from nine years ago. Indeed, the Chief’s comments are politically strong enough to remove wallpaper and they could raise questions about the short term relationship between local police and the local judiciary. Nobody (I suspect particularly judges) likes to get called out like that in public.

All this back and forth controversy has even made the victim in this case uncomfortable. Through a spokesman, she expressed concern (NEWSCHANNEL5, June 18) about all the publicity in the case and adds she feels like “she’s being used as a pawn to further someone else’s political agenda or some sort of fight.”

But further extending the controversy now into the 2015 Nashville Mayor’s race, mayoral candidate and Metro Councilmember At Large Megan Barry has issued a statement (June 18) saying she is “disturbed” by what she’s heard and read about the matter, especially from Chief Anderson, adding: “Judge Moreland has the right to articulate his own version of events and defend his actions, but unless he can do so far more persuasively than what we have heard to this point, he should resign.”

The Judge responded by saying Barry’s comments have no credibility because she is a candidate for Mayor. Barry responded back saying it’s not about politics, it’s about the Judge’s one-sided, insider relationship in this matter.

Barry’s call for resignation is getting some support. THE NASHVILLE SCENE (June 19) reports at least 12 other Council members have signed a letter urging Moreland to step down. TENNESSEAN Columnist and Community Conversations Editor Frank Daniels has joined the chorus for resignation too (June 20) along with the Davidson County Republican Party.

Both Republican and Democratic state lawmakers are speaking out as well. That includes House Speaker Beth Harwell and Republican Representative William Lamberth of Cottontown. Both along with Nashville Democrats Gary Odom and Sherry Jones say they will offer and support new legislation next session to make the cooling off period mandatory with no judicial discretion.

My sources indicate it is unlikely Moreland will step down. But at this point there’s no telling when this controversy might subside or where it may go next.

Given the way things normally go for me in writing this weekly epistle, I would not be surprised to see and hear that the judges (who were meeting together at the Courthouse today) announce their plans for change shortly after this column is filed. That‘s OK as long as positive things are done to address this matter.

BREAKING 1:40 p.m. Friday afternoon, THE TENNESSEAN reports that the General Sessions judges have voted unanimously to adopt new procedures to handle requests for early release by domestic violence suspects. Such requests must now be heard says the article by “one of the three General Sessions judges delegated to take domestic violence cases. All parties including the District Attorney, the suspect and the victim must get a chance to be heard before any conditions of the hold can change.”

Those designated judges are Gale Robinson, Gloria Dumas and Angie Blacksheer Dalton. The paper reports Judge Moreland and one other jurist (Diane Turner) were not present at the meeting although both had proxies there to vote in favor of the new plan. As to why Judge Moreland was absent, said Judge Robinson: “He’s not going to be able to make it. His blood pressure is up.”

ANOTHER RESIGNATION DEMAND

Speaking of resignations, some state Republican lawmakers are still pushing back on how the State Department of Education mishandled the release of the latest round of test scores for Tennessee students a few weeks ago. Fifteen GOP House members have sent a letter to Governor Bill Haslam demanding Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s “immediate resignation.”

That’s not going to happen. In fact, the Governor’s office branded the letter a “political stunt” and expressed disappointment these elected officials weren’t more constructive in their outreach on this matter.

Frankly none of those who signed the bill are a surprise. All of them are part of the conservative, Tea Party leaning wing of the House GOP Caucus. But if you add them to the 28 Democrats in the lower chamber (almost none of whom are Huffman fans) along with the 60 state superintendents who signed a letter last year that the Commissioner should go, you can see a real looming political problem for the Governor.

And think again if you believe the Tea Party and Democrats can’t work or vote together on an issue. Remember how the Common Core curriculum was almost permanently wrecked in the House last term (before future implementation was deferred a year as a compromise). Both groups are already working together on this issue and against Commissioner Huffman.

Now these numbers in the House may change a bit next year based on the November elections. But more likely than not the Caucus may get even more conservative, and if there are new defections to the anti-Huffman side from among mainstream GOP members, the question may become if Kevin Huffman will stay on board and for long in a second Haslam administration beginning in January, 2015?

TWO OVERLOOKED RACES

Because of what’s been going on elsewhere on the August primary ballot, there are a couple of races that may be getting overlooked.

One is the Democratic battle to oppose Republican U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander in November. It’s gotten overshadowed by the GOP primary contest where the incumbent is having to fend a number of challengers including would-be Tea Party favorite and Murfreesboro State Representative Joe Carr.

The Democratic race has been a little sleepy (and underfunded) until a few days ago. Now Knoxville attorney Gordon Ball has announced (Knoxville News Sentinel, June 16) he’s spending $400,000 (most of it his own money) on TV ads in the next month.

If he follows through, that could well give Ball a major statewide name recognition boost over his major opponent, who is also a Knoxville lawyer (and Nashville native), Terry Adams. Adams would not give details but he told the newspaper he will be “matching toe-to-toe whatever Gordon does” although Adams added he won’t be self-financing whatever his campaign does.

Still, if both candidates match each other in ad campaigns or whatever, it could build voter interest in the August Democratic primary and give the winner a better chance in the fall. Senator Alexander likely remains a heavy favorite against either Democrat as well as against a third primary candidate, Larry Crim who seems to be focusing a lot his outreach efforts on Facebook. Gary Davis is also a Democratic candidate on the Senate primary ballot.

The other overlooked race is the 19th District Tennessee Senate contest here in Nashville. That’s where longtime Democratic incumbent Thelma Harper is facing primary opposition from a young former State Democratic Party spokesperson, Brandon Puttbrese. The race has kind of been in the background with the battle to replace retiring Senator Douglas Henry going on over in the adjourning Senate District 21.

Puttbrese told The Nashville Scene (June 19) that Senator Harper has not been outspoken enough against the Republican Supermajority on the Hill and her constituents should demand better. He also raises questions about campaign contributions Harper has received from some corporate interests. Harper says “screaming and hollering doesn’t get you anywhere” adding she sees her job as “carry(ing) the water for all of Nashville.

This is a minority district but Puttbrese believes the demographics are changing enough that he has a chance to win. But he does appear to be behind in campaign funding. And to that end, things may be getting even more one-sided with an announcement from the Harper campaign (June 19) that Mayor Karl Dean hosted a luncheon fundraiser for the Senator at the Sunset Grill restaurant last Monday (June 16). The release also contains a strong verbal endorsement of Harper from the Mayor.

Another prominent local official, House Speaker Beth Harwell is also getting involved in helping a candidate on the August ballot here in Nashville. The Madame Speaker is the lead host listed on an invitation to a $250 per person (or couple) fundraiser being held at a private home in Oak Hill on July 1. It benefits former Metro Councilman At Large Adam Dread who is the GOP nominee running for the open Division IX Metro General Sessions judgeship against attorney and Democratic nominee Lynda Jones. Republicans usually struggle in countywide races in Davidson County so Dread likely can use whatever help he can get.

And in that regard today (June 20), Dread also picked up the endorsement of the Nashville Fire Fighters Association Local 140.

THEY’RE BACK

Two Tennessee statewide elected officials learned this week that old news stories may appear over and done with, but they can also come back to life, if just briefly.

For example, there are the plans of the Tennessee State Museum to take an exhibit on the political life of Senator Lamar Alexander across Tennessee this election year. When NEWSCHANNEL5 raised questions about that a few months ago, including revealing some of e-mails and other conversations between Alexander campaign staff and Museum officials, it was decided to postpone the tour until at least until after the election. Both groups denied any connection between the tour and the re-election and the matter sort of ended at that point.

That is until one of Alexander’s Independent opponents (Danny Page of Greenbrier) filed a complaint about the matter with the Federal Election Commission. It charges the Alexander campaign “colluded” with the Museum to aid Alexander’s campaign through the exhibit. Of course, Alexander’s folks are again denying any such effort also pointing out this is a “complaint about a traveling exhibit that never traveled.”

The FEC confirms it has received the complaint but has offered no other comment. I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting to see if this develops into anything.

For Governor Bill Haslam, his news story come back to life this week surrounds what some in the media and among open government advocates say is a lack of openness and transparency about his schedule. In the past, this has come up about the Governor’s meetings with private companies and other individuals which are not being listed on Mr. Haslam’s publicly announced schedule.

Now it is arising again over the Governor’s recent seven day trip (he’s back today Friday June 20) to the Far East (Japan & South Korea). At first almost nothing was being disclosed, including not just who the Governor was meeting with but who else from the state was involved, what was being discussed and what are the trip’s costs.

After some more push back stories in the media there has been a disclosure on who’s with the Governor (security folks and five employees from Economic and Community Development) as well as at least an idea of what some of meetings concern (establishment of airline connections to Tennessee). But nothing has still been disclosed about who the Governor is seeing or the cost of trip (at least until it’s over).

The Administration is not backing off the idea that “we don’t talk about private meetings,” adding doing so might hurt the Governor’s ability to meet with individuals and companies to get the state’s business done. But in recent weeks there have also been stories about the state’s ongoing negotiations with Volkswagen. The stories focused on the large $$ incentive package and requirements the state wanted in return regarding union activities if VW expands its operations here (which is still uncertain).

Given the large amount of taxpayer money that could be involved, these requests for secrecy or lack of disclosure are getting harder to sell to the media and the public. I agree with Steve Cavendish’s comment on The Nashville Scene PITH IN THE WIND blog site (June 18): “When you got Tea Party (Ben Cunningham) and Common Cause (Dick Williams) agreeing on the same thing, the administration should probably take it as a signal that once again they are being too opaque.” This story seems destined to rise again sometime in the not too distant future.

AIR WARS

As Senator Alexander begins to move into the home stretch for his primary campaign, he’s taking to the airwaves. I told you a couple of weeks ago about his statewide TV buy. Now he’s going on the radio with four different commercials featuring endorsements from country music star Kix Brooks as well as from several current and former mayors (and from a former congressman, Bill Jenkins from upper East Tennessee).

I don’t know the size of the buy, but the spots seem to cover leaders from all three grand divisions of the state. The media effort also reflects how the large fund raising advantage the senior Senator has enjoyed helps him to get out his message in a way his opponents can’t come close to matching.

In another spotlight State Senate race over in Knoxville, the TENNESSEAN reports (June 20) that incumbent Stacy Campfield’s opponent has released his first TV ad. It’s takes a pretty direct jab at the colorful Republican lawmaker without mentioning his name.

The newspaper says Richard Briggs, looking into the camera, says: “A state senator’s job is to represent his community, not grandstand for himself. I will not let you down.”

Briggs reportedly has a major money advantage in this race, so Campfield may not be able to respond in kind. But he’s been successful in the past with low budget election efforts. He’s also always found a way to take advantage of the bad publicity he’s often generated across Tennessee and across the country. That includes a satire play focusing on the Senator being performed this month by a Nashville theatre group.

IT’S MAYBE NOT WHAT YOU THINK

When is a tax increase bill not really tax increase legislation? In the ever weird world of Washington politics, this appears to be the case regarding a bi-partisan measure being sponsored by Tennessee Senator Bob Corker. It would raise the federal gas tax 12 cents over the next two years (6 cents per year) and then allow it to increase along with inflation.

It’s pretty clear money is needed to keep up our national road infrastructure fixed. There has not been an increase in the federal gas tax for over two decades and the current federal trust fund to finances such project is going broke, its buying power overwhelmed by inflation.

But isn’t this a tax increase being proposed in an election year? And haven’t most Republicans taken Grover Nordquist ‘s pledge against any new taxes?

Well, yes that’s true. But this bill also reinstates and makes permanent a lot of tax breaks currently in place or from the recent past (including the tax deduction for Tennesseans paying state sales tax). Add it all up and it seems to mean (at least Senator Corker is arguing) Republicans voting for this won’t be breaking their no tax increase pledge.

OK, maybe so. But there are so many disagreements and political counter currents within and between both Houses of Congress and the White House, I’ll finally believe this will pass when I see the votes on the C-SPAN TV screen.

INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE AUGUST SUPREME COURT ELECTION

It is quickly becoming the most heated matter on Tennessee’s August election ballot. I am referring to the retention/ouster election regarding three Supreme Court justices, Cornelia Clark, Sharon Lee and Gary Wade.

This weekend on INSIDE POLITICS, we will focus on this political battle. We’ll talk with a representative, Susan Kaestner, one of the groups (THE TENNESSEE FORUM) raising questions they say voters should ask themselves before deciding how to vote. Others such as Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, are more direct. They believe the trio should be removed from office and denied new eight-year terms. That means voters should vote NO in August.

We’ll also talk with Nashville attorney Lew Connor (Keep Tennessee Courts Fair) who is among those leading the effort to get voters to cast YES ballots to retain the justices and keep them on the bench.

Lots of outside groups are watching this race. If (or more likely when) they get involved, you could see matters explode with lots of TV ads, direct mail pieces, etc. further turning up the volume on this contest.

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.

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