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Capitol View Commentary: Thursday, July 17, 2014

Capitol View Commentary: Thursday, July 17, 2014

CREATED Jul 17, 2014

CAPITOL VIEW

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

July 17, 2014

A VERY GOOD WEEK FOR GOVERNOR HASLAM; INSIDE POLITICS CONTINUES TO FOCUS ON THE 4TH DISTRICT CONGRESSIONAL RACE; AS THE MONEY FLOWS; ANOTHER HOUSE PRIMARY RACE TO WATCH; THE TRIBUTES CONTINUE.

A VERY GOOD WEEK FOR GOVERNOR HASLAM

With his re-nomination and re-election to a second term merely a formality now, Governor Bill Haslam had some additional pieces of good fortune come his way this week.

First, Volkswagen has ended the suspense by announcing it will invest $600 million and almost double its workforce in Chattanooga (2,500 workers now) bringing in a new SUV line for production there (and not going to Mexico). VW officials also hinted there could be more good news for Tennessee to follow down the road. That probably includes a new Visitors Center the German company will help fund in Chattanooga focusing on VW’s history and involvement in the area (as reported by THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS).

This economic development win is another big coup for the whole Volunteer State as Tennessee continues to emerge (along with the southern United States) as a major automotive manufacturing center. But with that also comes continuing efforts to unionize workers. Such a push by the United Autoworkers failed narrowly earlier this year at the VW plant, after a heated, politically charged campaign. And it’s not over.

The UAW is setting up its own local in Chattanooga, and without objections by VW, it is seeking workers to voluntarily sign up. VW has “worker’s councils” in its other plants and therefore does seem to be opposed to what the UAW is trying to do.

Still it angers some conservative groups such as the Beacon Center here in Tennessee and that could create some controversy. The state says it plans to grant VW up to $217 million in incentives for the expansion. That’s less than the $300 million discussed by the state earlier. But the Beacon Center says “not one penny” of taxpayer’s dollars should go to VW if it allows anything resembling a union to be organized there. It’s not clear what amount of the incentive package is subject to approval by the General Assembly. But a controversial vote on something like this could place a bit of political cloud on what is otherwise a very sunny, rosy outlook for Tennessee after this latest economic coup. By the way, the Governor told NEWSCHANNEL5 (July 16) that the incentive package is being granted regardless of whether the VW plant is unionized or has a worker’s council. That seems to be a bit of change from the administration’s earlier stance on incentives.

Governor Haslam also got some good news this week concerning the ongoing federal fraud probe of his family owned business Pilot Flying J. Under an agreement announced Monday (July 14) Pilot will pay a fine of $92 million in return for the government dropping any prosecution of the company. No such agreement was made concerning the government seeking charges against individuals within the company including the Governor’s brother, Jimmy Haslam, who also owns the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.

But now that doesn’t appear likely although Pilot Flying is taking a further financial hit of $85 million approved by a federal judge to settle numerous lawsuits brought by a number of trucking firms who thought they’d been overcharged for fuel. There are also several high ranking Pilot employees who pled guilty to federal charges and promised to fully cooperate in the investigation. They still await sentencing on their charges. When that happens, it will likely be the final clue about whether this matter is concluded by the Justice Department.

Governor Haslam has not had an active role for several years in the operations of Pilot. Still the settlement this week likely goes a long way towards removing something of a cloud over his future political opportunities especially on a national level.

The Governor also got a bit of a boost this week (or at least the opportunity to avoid further controversy) over the proposed demolition of the historic Cordell Hull State Office Building in Nashville. Preservationists mobilized statewide when the Haslam administration said the structure was outmoded and beyond repair or renovation. As the matter grew in controversy, an announcement was made that an additional consultant’s study would be funded.

This week those experts said it would now be more cost effective to spend $95 million to renovate Cordell Hull (rather than demolish it), especially if the structure is looked at separately from the nearby Central Services Building which is still recommended for the wrecking ball.

The political moral to this story: Raise the devil when you don’t like a pending government decision. Sometimes it can be changed.

There is one Tennessee Government issue that is still not close to being resolved. It is healthcare under the new Affordable Care Act. TennCare officials responded this week to federal complaints it wasn’t doing enough to provide sufficient care. They outlined some steps they could take to correct issues, but mostly threw the issue back on Washington blaming the much maligned federal Obamacare web site.

The Governor meantime tried to stay on the high road meeting with the new HHS Secretary to try and make progress on a “Tennessee Plan” to expand TennCare and provide healthcare coverage to hundreds of thousands of additional Tennesseans (paid for on the fed’s tab for the first few years). But if any progress came out of the meeting, I haven’t seen or heard any stories about it.

Finally, the Governor did get a bad mark in the National Rifle Association rankings of Tennessee primary candidates. According to a story on THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL’s web site (July 17), he’s been downgraded to a mark of C according to the NRA’s Political Victory Fund. For some candidates, such a development might hurt fundraising or help a primary opponent. But the Governor really doesn’t have anything close to a serious challenger in either the August or November elections, which is how we started this story about what a good week Governor Haslam has enjoyed.

INSIDE POLITICS CONTINUES TO FOCUS ON THE 4TH DISTRICT CONGRESSIONAL RACE

This week on INSIDE POLITICS we continue to focus on the 4th District GOP congressional primary set for a vote August 7. Last week we hosted incumbent Congressman Dr. Scott DesJarlais on the show. This weekend we welcome his opponent State Senator Jim Tracy.

I think you’ll find the conversation quite newsworthy. As a headline: Tracy says if elected he would support Articles of Impeachment against President Barack Obama because he thinks he overstepped his powers and undermined the Constitution through the use of Executive Orders and other actions. (That’s a stronger position than Congressman DesJarlais took last week when asked similar questions).

As Congressman DesJarlais began his own TV ads this week (as he indicated he would on the show last weekend) Senator Tracy said he is preparing additional spots, at least one of which will directly question the incumbent’s effectiveness given the personal issues that have been raised regarding the Congressman’s involvement with abortion and sexual relations with a patients that surfaced in a 2001 divorce case.

Tracy is already attacking DesJarlais directly on the issue for the first time on his Facebook page, his campaign web site and a direct mail piece now being sent to voters. Tracy says the direct attacks are not a response to a poll done by a PAC group supporting DesJarlais. The poll claims the incumbent is up 2 to 1. Tracy says he is up comfortably ahead in the race and the PAC poll is just wrong.

DesJarlais returns fire in his 30 second TV spot saying Tracy is a supporter of Common Core and a gas tax increase (both of which Tracy denies). DesJarlais also uses his TV time (it’s a $70,000 buy, about half the money he says he has left on hand) to tout his conservative record. Approaching the final weeks of the race, Tracy remains ahead in fundraising by at least 3 to 1. He’s raised $147,674 in the last quarter, spent $356,121 and has $705,113 on hand. DesJarlais raised $45,484 during the quarter, spent $59,335, and had $150,000 left in the bank (prior to the TV buy).

Don’t forget, just like last week’s INSIDE POLITICS, the show can also be sent this week on the main channel (WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5) at a special time of 6:30 P.M. Friday night (July 18).

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.

AS THE MONEY FLOWS

Campaign finance disclosures, late endorsements and a get out the vote push were among the big efforts that made some news this week in our Tennessee U.S. Senate race.

As Early Voting begins (today, July 18), Republican Senate candidate, Murfreesboro State Representative Joe Carr keeps trying to pump up the Tea Party to help him get over the top versus incumbent Lamar Alexander, but with mixed results at best.

First, Carr’s latest money disclosures have been revised DOWN by his campaign (according to THE NASHVILLE SCENCE, July 15). The Carr Team now says it raised $777,922 last quarter, down from $856,720, with cash on hand declining as well from $466,823 to $431,598.

Even worse, the media headlines coming out of Carr’s latest money report were dominated by information released in response to questions from the Federal Election Commission. It seems the Carr campaign made a $200,000 loan to a company owned by a maxed-out donor, with the income being questioned by the FEC (as a possible illegal corporate contribution?) actually being the nearly $10,000 the Carr campaign received in interest with the loan being paid back in full.

Is that illegal? Is it some way to avoid the max donation limits by an individual donor? Carr says it’s not and so far the FEC has not responded it is wrong. What is being reported by campaifn finance experts is that such a move is both “rare” and “unusual.” I would agree about that. I’ve never seen something like this or thought of a political campaign being like a bank or a financial institution loaning money.

Prospects got a little brighter for Carr with the announcement that conservative radio host Laura Ingraham has endorsed him and she is coming to Nashville next week (July 22) to campaign for Carr at a rally at the Millennium Maxwell House Hotel. In a news release put out by the Real Conservatives National Committee and posted by the KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL (July 16), Ingraham said: “Electing Joe Carr will be a major victory in this new movement to restore America.” She also quipped: “Lamar has been running for office since the year Nixon resigned the presidency. Call me crazy, but I think that’s quite enough.”

There was also a new Tea Party related poll released (conducted by Triton Polling and featured in an on-line story on the conservative Breitbart website, July 15). It claims Carr has surged to within seven points of Alexander (43% to 36%) That’s up sixteen points it says from a similar poll done in May. The survey also shows multi-millionaire Memphis businessman George Flinn is getting 6.7% of the vote. Flinn continues to increase his activity, reporting he has written a personal check to his campaign of $1.8 million.

The late movement in the Tennessee Senate race by conservative Tea Party elements did have one embarrassing goof-up. According to THE NASHVILLE SCENE (July 15), The Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, a group which has “spent heavily in a few races this cycle, including more than $800,000 in Chris McDaniel’s losing effort (in Mississippi) against Senator Thad Cochran” has also endorsed Carr. But THE SCENE story adds when the endorsement went up on line it was for Joe Carr for the U.S. House of Representatives, not U.S. Senator. Ouch!

Maybe somebody just has some old campaign materials since Carr first ran for the 4th District congressional seat this cycle before dropping out to oppose Alexander. Still, the kind of big money a national conservative PAC can spend late is exactly what Carr needs to have any chance to pull off a primary upset. That is, if they can figure exactly what race he’s running in. NOTE: I am told a Super PAC group called Citizens 4 Ethics in Government did run a TV ad showing (anti-Senator Alexander) this past week at least on Channel 5 here in Nashville.

Meantime, Senator Alexander this week released an early voting/ get out the vote video and web site (VoteinTN.com). Clearly, his message is he’s not worried about any late surge by Carr or tightening polls. What he seems to be trying to do is increase GOP primary turnout (and maybe even get some Democrats or Independents who prefer him to Carr and are OK to be Republicans for a day to support him).

Now there’s no direct appeal to Democrats in the video or web site (that would backfire) but clearly some of them could be available with the Democratic Senate primary race remaining mostly rather lackluster and the Democratic gubernatorial primary being all but non-existent. Crossover efforts don’t ever seem to work but based on his video and web site effort, Senator Alexander clearly believes the larger the GOP primary turnout is, the better it is for him.

One obstacle for Senator Alexander in attracting any Democrats could come from a challenge made this week (July 16) by Democratic Senate challenger Gordon Ball. He wants the Senator to take a firm stand (yes or no) on the Constitutional amendment before Tennessee voters (Amendment #1) in November which would remove any right to an abortion and give the State Legislature the opportunity to place restrictions on the procedure. That is such a red-blue hot button issue it could inhibit any crossover vote possibilities as Alexander has been known as being strongly pro-life.

Moving ahead to the 2015 Nashville mayoral race (as the money flows) we now have $$ disclosures from both announced candidates. Attorney Charles Robert Bone remains the leader in money raised (over $500,000) after just a month on the campaign trail. His current opponent is Councilmember At Large Megan Barry who’s been in the race for about a year. She now says she has $322,000 in the bank after raising $317,000 over the past six months. Like Bone, she has loaned $200,000 of her own funds to the effort.

Now loaned money spends just as well as contributions from individual donors. However it appears Bone not only has a roughly $200,000 lead in overall funds raised but also a three to one margin in donations from individuals over Barry. Concerning the August race only (leaving aside a likely runoff election in September) it is estimated that to be a competitive mayoral candidate it may take up to $2.5 million. Money alone never wins a race, but Barry likely needs more contributors because, by her own admission, she is not independently wealthy to do a lot more self-financing of a race.

Other mayoral candidates (such as David Fox and Jeremy Kane) are expected to make it official soon by appointing treasurers. Others could join them (Daron Hall Bill Freeman, Mike Turner?). Whoever is a candidate would then release their campaign financing after the next deadline which is the end of the year.

ANOTHER HOUSE PRIMARY RACE TO WATCH

After 28 years on the Hill, Nashville Democratic State Representative Gary Odom may be facing his toughest challenge ever to stay in office. August Democratic primary opponent John Ray Clemmons has generated enough funding to produce and run a TV ad. I have so far not seen any other Nashville legislative candidate doing that, although it appears Bill Beck in House District 51 may be going up with ads too very soon.

Clemmons’ spot says “after 28 years in office…Gary Odom has lost his way. Funneling money to Republican legislators who hurt our schools…. Backed by Tea Party allies…. helping wealthy friends at our expense.”

Clemmons is more specific in an e-mail he’s sent out saying Odom “provides support to a Republican administration and legislature that has meddled in local Nashville issues, punished our school board for making local decisions (charter schools) and interfered with local attempts to plan mass transit for Nashville’s future (The AMP).”

Clemmons also charges that Odom through the PAC, related to his full-time job (which he’s held as Executive Director for over three decades with the Tennessee Optometric Association) has helped funnel contributions totaling “more than $24,500 to right wing, Tea Party Republicans” over the past several elections. Those allegedly receiving the funds include (among others): Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, Senators Stacy Campfield and Mae Beavers, along with House Finance Chair Charles Sargent and Representative Tony Shipley.

With the endorsement of the AMP NO group and one of its main activists, Rick Williams (now on Odom’s campaign staff), the Nashville lawmaker has one of the best campaign yard sign efforts I’ve ever seen. Williams is known for that expertise, which he already proved earlier with his anti-AMP push.

But as they say in campaigns, yard signs are not the same as votes. So this District 55 House race definitely is one to watch as we begin Early Voting Friday (July 18). I would also add that there are echoes of what Clemmons is saying in the other contested Nashville Democratic legislative primary races this cycle. The charge is incumbents have been too cozy and have not pushed back enough against the Republican Super Majority, even though Democrats hold so few seats in both chambers they aren’t necessary even to keep a quorum.

THE TRIBUTES CONTINUE

Nashville’s legendary journalist, civic leader, First Amendment and civil rights advocate John Seigenthaler passed away a week ago (Friday, July 11), and yet the tributes continue to pour in from all over the country and in the national media. That also includes speeches on the floor in both the U.S. House and Senate by our Senators (Lamar Alexander & Bob Corker) and Nashville’s congressman Jim Cooper.

Mr. Seigenthaler certainly had a remarkable funeral service on Monday (July 14). The traditional Catholic Funeral Mass was spirited with movement hymns (such as We Shall Overcome and Turn, Turn, Turn). It also included a touching eulogy by Charles Strobel, the founder of Nashville’s Room in the Inn program and a Seigenthaler kinsman by marriage. But the true high points of the service came in the reflections given after communion by John Seigenthaler’s son, John Michael, and Seig’s remarkable 17-year old grandson, Jack.

Both gave speeches that were truly memorable in their courage (I couldn’t have spoken at either of parent’s funerals) as well as their insights, humor and pathos. I think both speeches are posted separately on THE TENNESSEAN’s web site. They are well worth a watch and a listen.

The service made me proud to be a part of providing live coverage of the funeral on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. John was a longtime family friend and my life-long hero, so his passing was personal to me. I held it together pretty well during the ceremonies. I only had to give some brief opening and closing comments on the air. It was a good thing because when Jack Seigenthaler started discussing his loving, wonderful relationship with his “Grand,” well as a grandparent myself, I pretty well lost it.

What an impressive young man from a wonderful family. We already miss you, John. After being with us 86 years (almost 87), you’ve left us all quite a void to fill, Pal.