Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 4, 2014
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
July 4, 2014
IT HAPPENS EVERY SUMMER; REVVING UP; MAYBE A NOT SO SURE THING; THE FINAL NUMBERS; INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS BACK AT A NASHVILLE TRAGEDY; PROBLEMS IN PARADISE; A HOME FOR NASHVILLE HISTORY
IT HAPPENS EVERY SUMMER
The end of June is the end of the term for the U.S. Supreme Court. And every year the final decisions handed down by the Justices usually set off some kind of controversy. You can remember the 5-4 decision upholding Obamacare at the end of June, 2012.
I always will remember that decision in particular because it came down on the day (June 28) I had a stroke (although my illness happened for completely unrelated reasons, I assure you). This year, while there were, as always, a number of important cases decided in the final days by the Court, there’s no question the Hobby Lobby case has created the most political hub-bub.
The ruling (5-4) to allow family and closely held businesses to be exempt from providing birth control and other reproductive services under the Affordable Care Act has deeply stirred the bases of both political parties. And of course, the candidates have been quick to pick up the cue and try to capitalize to build support.
Here are a couple of examples that came to my e-mail box.
Senator Lamar Alexander, fighting a number of conservative challengers in his August GOP primary next month, issued a statement praising the decision, adding: “I am glad the Supreme Court has preserved our Constitution’s protections of religious liberty from another overreach by the Obama administration.” Alexander also pointed out he was one of 88 members of Congress who filed an amicus brief in the case calling Obamacare: “A thumb in the eye to our Constitution’s protection of religious freedom.”
Democratic State Senate candidate Jeff Yarbro of course saw it differently. In a fund raising e-mail sent out on the day of the decision (the timing was perfect since June 30 was also the cutoff date for next fundraising report), Yarbro said: “The Supreme Court (has) once again expanded the rights of for-profit corporations at the expense of real, live human beings....We have to stand up to the extremism that singles out women’s health for special and inferior treatment.”
While the court decision was federal, Yarbro points out: “We face similar fights in Tennessee. There is an unprecedented assault against the independence of the judiciary (on the August ballot), and a proposed amendment (to the state constitution in November that) would roll back constitutional protections for women (in terms of a right to an abortion).”
Not to be outdone, Republican Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey took the Hobby Lobby decision as an opportunity to build support for the ouster of 3 Democratically-appointed State Supreme Court justices on the August ballot (as referenced by Yarbro). Saying the Hobby Lobby Court decision is “an outstanding ruling,” Ramsey added on his Facebook page: “Our Tennessee Supreme Court justices need to have the same kind of conservative judicial philosophy informing their decisions. Vote REPLACE to bring common sense conservatism to the Tennessee Supreme Court.”
By the way, for what it’s worth, the Tennessee Supreme Court played no role in Hobby Lobby case. But, hey, if it revs up the base to vote, go for it, right?
The fight for a U.S. Senate seat in Tennessee is revving up in both parties.
Senator Alexander is poised to begin his next major round of statewide TV ads on Sunday, July 6. The spot entitled “Lamar Was Right” tries to portray his long time, staunch opposition to Obamacare including personally challenging the President at a White House Health Care Summit a few years ago before the new law was passed.
The senior Senator remains more than well-funded heading into the final month of the primary race. His campaign says he raised more than $900,000 in the last quarter and has $3.4 million cash on hand in the bank.
Meanwhile Alexander’s most active primary opponent, State Representative Joe Carr, has been up with a much smaller TV buy for about a week.
The Carr ad zeroes in on Alexander’s vote last year in the Senate in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. Given the recent surge of illegal immigrants especially children trying to cross our southern borders, it would seem to be an issue that might work for Carr.
But a watchdog group, FactCheck.org says, wait a minute. The Carr ad claims: “President Obama created this crisis only after Lamar Alexander voted for amnesty. He is responsible.” Not so says FactCheck.org which points out any citizenship under the bill (which never passed the House) would require meeting a number of requirements which would likely take up to 13 years for someone to complete. Besides argues the watchdog group: “There is no causal relationship between a Senate immigration bill that never became law and a current surge of Central Americans crossing the Southwest border.”
The criticism did not seem to bother the Carr campaign which told Nooga.com (June30): “If Senator Alexander wants to make the case that his support of amnesty isn’t responsible and hasn’t contributed to the current border crisis, then he can make that case to Tennesseans. “
Again if it fires up the base, make the charge and let the other guy try to explain it.
Representative Carr did issue a challenge this week to Senator Alexander to hold a series of debates on the issues. Really, where’s that’s been all these months since Carr got in the race? It’s always the clearest indication of who’s ahead and who’s behind. Media reports (COMMERCIAL APPEAL, June 30) say Alexander shows “little interest in participating in any debates with his Republican opponents...in advance of the August primary,” explaining its best in his mind for Senate hopefuls to “just be available to the people.”
On the Democratic side of the Senate race, Knoxville attorney Gordon Ball (as we discussed in a previous column) has now begun a whopping $400,000 statewide TV ad campaign to introduce himself to voters.
Ball claims his career and his campaign will be to “fight for the working poor and middle class families.” In his first spot called “Backbone”, Ball criticizes State Democratic Party leaders (who are said to be backing his primary opponent Terry Adams, another Knoxville attorney).
The ad asks: “What ever happened to the Democratic Party? ...Some say the Democratic Party has lost its backbone. Starting on August 6, we’re getting it back.”
Adams’ campaign has pledged it will match Ball “toe to toe in whatever (he) does.” But so far that match has not materialized as best I can tell. Ball opened a Nashville headquarters this week on Charlotte Avenue (which Adams has already done).. Ball’s spokesman told me: “We have placed the first two weeks in our primary buy. We will continue to stay on the air until Election Day August 7 and more television will follow. The average voter will see the (Ball) ad 5-7 times over the next two weeks.”
MAYBE A NOT SO SURE THING
One primary race that has looked like a sure thing for months is that GOP State Senator Jim Tracy was going to defeat incumbent Scott DesJarlais for the 4th Republican leadership endorsements and he’s raised such a boat load of money that surely he would swamp DesJarlais who has struggled to raise funds or generate support after he was beset by a raft of embarrassing personal issues arising out of a 2001 divorce case in which he admitted having affairs with his medical patients and encouraging his ex-wife and others to have abortions.
But now comes release of a poll (June 27) by an outside political PAC (Citizens for Ethics in Government) which claims DesJarlais has a two to one lead over Tracy (44.72% to 20.42% with 29.62% undecided). Poll organizers in a news release passed out by the DesJarlais campaign, claim the congressman’s: “name recognition and conservative voting record have him a strong position for re-election.”
Now polls by outside groups are always considered a bit suspect. The sample size in this one looks pretty sizable in questioning 1,337 registered voters, but the other poll details and demographics along with cross tabs were not included in the group’s news release so you can’t really tell all that much beyond its raw numbers. Nor should you ever judge a race on just one poll, especially since the leader of this outside group (Andy Miller) has taken sides before in a Tennessee GOP congressional primary (according to the KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL, June 27) running ads attacking U.S. Representative Diane Black in 2012.
So will Tracy counter-attack and release his own internal polling numbers to reassure his supporters?So far, he’s making no public response I am aware of. But I will say over the last few weeks I have heard complaints from some conservative GOP insiders (Steve Gill for one) that Tracy has wasted way too much money on consultants and has not run a strong grassroots campaign. Indeed, the TENNESSEAN’s Chas Sisk (June 27) points out “there is a strong core of DesJarlais supporters who will rally to his cause, no matter what.” Sisk also says the incumbent has worked hard “over the past two years to build (his) base, quietly getting involved in agriculture and veterans issues that are important to voters in the 4th Congressional District.” I will also note that when he was a guest on my show several weeks, MTSU political science professor Kent Siler said to watch the DesJarlais race and not count him out. Siler noted the very good job the Congressman was doing in reaching out to voters through social media and in his congressional mailings.
DesJarlais has also made Common Core san issue, criticizing Tracy for supporting it in the General Assembly. Tracy denied ever voting for a bill with the words Common Core in it, and he’s right. But clearly that controversial curriculum (before it ever became controversial) was mentioned frequently when Tennessee sought and got the federal Race To The Top of which the legislation Tracy voted for was a part.
We’ll try to find out more about the race. We have both candidates set to be my guests on INSIDE POLITICS in the coming weeks, DesJarlais (the weekend of July 11-13) and Tracy (July 18-20). This ought to be interesting!
THE FINAL NUMBERS
A couple of weeks ago the state was driven into a political frenzy when the Department of Education temporarily delayed the release of the final TCAP test score numbers for Tennessee students. Conspiracy theories flew, lawmakers demanded investigations and a ruling from the Attorney General about the legality of the delay (and waiving the scores being used as a part of students’ final grades). There are also still pending open records requests to try and learn what was really going on.
So it seemed a bit anti-climatic when the state wide scores were actually released this past week (June 30), especially when they showed a rather mixed bag of results. According to THE TENNESSEAN (July 1): “test (scores) showed a strong bounce in most high school subjects, but a slight drop in junior-level English and a flattening at the middle school level after years of growth in those grades.”
Both Governor Haslam and controversial (it’s his new first name) Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman expressed “feeling broadly pretty good” about the results. Huffman added: “We’re seeing over time , this has rolled up to pretty good gains, which we think at some point in the next couple of years will start being reflected in ACT scores as well.”
Maybe so, but I doubt the controversy is over especially as the state continues to move ahead (after a year’s delay) in implementing the Common Core curriculum and possibly re-bidding the state’s student testing program.
INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS BACK AT A NASHVILLE TRAGEDY
Ninety six years ago this coming week, on July 9, 1918, Nashville was the site of the deadliest train wreck in U.S. history. Yet for most of the years since this tragic event occurred nearly a century ago, it was little noted or remembered in this city or throughout the country.
Now for the first time an effort has been made to write a definitive history of what happened that hot July morning when over 100 persons were killed and 171 injured after two passenger trains collided head on near what was known as Dutchman’s Bend or Curve in West Nashville near modern day White Bridge Road.
Betsy Thorpe is the book’s author and she’s my guest this weekend on INSIDE POLITICS. If you have any interest in Nashville history you’ll want to watch our interview and read (buy) this book!
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PROBLEMS IN PARADISE
Sometimes these days Nashville reminds me of the mid-1980s. Times were good then too. 1985 was the first time the city went over $1 billion being issued in new building permits. The joke was the building crane was our city mascot because there were so many of them on the horizon.
But then there was a big fire on Market Street. Second Avenue and its renovated historic warehouses were just re-emerging as a business address (and later) a tourist and nightlife hot spot. But when a major fire took out one of the warehouse complexes at 2nd to realize we had no legal protections in place to control what might be put on that property in replacement or even how protect of the historic nature of the rest of that area.
Now fast forward to today and the now very quickly emerging efforts to “protect” Music Row. Now Music Row has long had the reputation as being a part of town where tourists wanted to go but when they got there, they didn’t know they’d made it.
Despite efforts to beautify it, streetscape it (multiple times), build wide boulevards that really turned into one-way streets, Music Row has defied a singular look. The architecture does not have any kind of historic motif and instead has become an interesting mixture of old homes and newer office buildings. It gives the area, in a way, a quaintness and charm, but even with the Roundabout and Musica along with all the tourist shops on Demombreun the Row is still far from defined.
You see Music Row is not famous because of the built environment there. It’s famous because of what so many people (who are now legendary) did there to build an industry and a Nashville Sound that has made this community world-famous.
So if you want to “save it” what does that mean, especially when you mix in property rights issues, zoning etc.? Sure, you want to preserve Music Row, but we’re not saving places “where George Washington slept” instead we are trying to preserve studios and other special locations where Chet Atkins, Patsy Cline and many other modern stars (some not in country music) made history by what they created there.
That won’t always be easy to define and you can be sure the devil will be as much in the details as finding and keeping good woman can be in a country song. But we did it eventually on Second Avenue and if we work together, we can find a solution on Music Row.
Along the same lines, it looks like we need to think carefully about tweaking our land use rules downtown. Sure we want to preserve and nourish the music and entertainment mecca that’s been created down there. But it’s an urban, downtown/ increasingly 24/7 area, we also need drug stores and groceries and cleaners. How to find a balance on that (again along with property rights) will of course present challenges. But Nashville, we can work it out, if we come together and work together, although you can be sure politics will get involved too. We have this same challenge in our neighborhoods as witnessed by another nasty fight going on in Sylvan Park over conservation zoning. We have these kinds of protections (including historic overlays) in other neighborhoods, so they can work. But every part of town is also different and we’ll need to avoid a cookie cutter process to avoid getting burnt.
Here’s another issue on my mind when I look at some of the business news headlines this week.
For the second time in recent months, plans for a major new hotel in downtown Nashville have folded because of failure for developers to put together financing plans. While Nashville remains in a tourism boom, officials of the new Music City Center tell THE TENNESSEAN (July 1) “they have missed out on convention bookings because they cannot secure enough high quality rooms” near the Center They say they need “up to 1,000 additional rooms to meet the demand.”
Uh oh, with all this city has at stake in the financing of the Center, it’s a good thing we’ve so far have a larger than expected surplus in hotel motel taxes and the other dedicated revenues needed to pay the bills on the new facility. Now it looks like our attraction as the “IT City” for tourists along with the interest generated by the “NASHVILLE” TV show will have to carry us forward a bit longer.
Speaking of booms, our annual 4th nation as “must see” by the American Pyrotechnics Association, the leading trade association of the fireworks industry (says the NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL, July 1). Only New York City ranks ahead and of July Fireworks display downtown is being ranked second in the we are ahead of shows in Las Vegas, Boston and San Diego.
Wow! And I remember when people laughed and made fun of Mayor Richard Fulton when he built Riverfront Park in the mid-1980s in large part to host the annual 4th of July Fireworks celebration. Nobody would ever come downtown especially at night they said. Well, they were flat wrong.
This year the event will attract an estimated 150,000 people with the fireworks show reportedly running 27 minutes long, making it the longest fireworks display in Nashville history and the largest display in the South says local tourism officials. (However I see promos on Atlanta Braves baseball games saying its 4th fireworks display in the best and largest in the South).
Regardless of how or where you celebrate our Independence Day, Happy 4th
A HOME FOR NASHVILLE’S HISTORY
This holiday weekend is also a great time to celebrate Nashville’s history with the opening of the new facilities for the Metro Archives in the Downtown Public Library, still by far the finest public building I’ve ever enjoyed in Nashville.
Believe it not until the mid-1980s Nashville didn’t have an official Archives. Records were everywhere, in the attic and the basement of the Courthouse, in the courts, in boxes and poorly organized files in city agencies throughout the county. Nobody knew who had what, or where.
At the insistence of two dedicated individuals, Mary Virginia Lyle and County Historian John Connelly, Mayor Fulton decided to create a Metro Archives as a part of the Library system. I remember in January, 1986 coming back from a sunny, warm Florida vacation to a very cold, windy day in Nashville where I attended (as a member of the Mayor’s staff) the announcement of the Archives creation. It opened in an old surplus Metro School (Mt Zeon) on Elm Hill Pike. It was a place for all the records to go. But it was a dump frankly, not built or remodeled to be an archival facility.
And that’s how it went for the years. The Archives was more or less a red-headed step child in the Library system. There was something of a rivalry with the Nashville Room. But slowly things improved especially once Donna Nicely became Chief Librarian.
Mayor Bill Purcell was a big help too, allowing the Archives to open in the old Green Hills Library (the Archives kept the Mt. Zeon facility because it is still needed for storage). In Green Hills, the Archives was more accessible, exhibits could be mounted, speeches delivered, meetings held.. Through Mary Virginia Lyle and John Connelly a strong Friends of the Archives group was formed (John insisted I be the president of the group for a few years but he ran it).
The Archives has always had a great staff and dedicated volunteers (all under the leadership of Ken Fieth). Local historians and researchers also always seemed to have great things to say about the help and assistance they get when they go there to work.
But the Archives for many years still did not a real place of its own, a facility designed to be an archives. When the Library moved into its magnificent new structure downtown, the Archives wasn’t included. It looked like it might never happen.
But that ultimately that changed under Mayor Karl Dean (thank you, Mayor) as space on the third floor of the Library has now been renovated specifically for the Archives.
I can’t wait to visit for the first time. It will be like seeing someone almost 30 years old getting their own new suit or dress to wear for the first time, instead of always getting hand-me-downs. And with the State Library & Archives just a few blocks away nearby, the combined research opportunities especially for genealogists and historians will be so much improved just by close proximity.
I can imagine Mary Virginia and John looking down from heaven and smiling, as their baby, their pride and joy, the Metro Archives finally has a place of its own. After all these years, Nashville really does love and want to preserve its records and its history.