NASHVILLE, Tenn. - CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company
February 26, 2017
ALL DRESSED UP BUT NO PLACE TO GO…YET; WHERE TO BURY A PRESIDENT; THE REST OF THE STORY; IT HAS HAPPENED BEFORE; A JUDICIAL POWER PLAY; ONE MONTH IN OFFICE FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP ON INSIDE POLITICS
ALL DRESSED UP BUT NO PLACE TO GO…YET
Reading the news stories earlier this week you could also feel the anticipation among both reporters and lawmakers.
Governor Bill Haslam’s transportation plan/ gas tax increase (along with some tax cuts too) was set to be considered, for the first time, in a House subcommittee. Reported Cari Wade Gervin of THE NASHVILLE POST:
“Haslam's plan was just filed as an amendment to a caption bill yesterday (Monday), but House Majority Leader Glen Casada (R-Thompson's Station) said on Tuesday he was "confident" either Haslam's or Rep. David Hawk's alternative transportation plan (which does not include a tax increase) would pass out of the House Transportation Subcommittee today.
"I know the chairman wants to vote something out [Wednesday]," Casada told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Tuesday. "I hope they can. Go sell popcorn, it'll be fun!"
Well, that’s not what happened.
Things got off the mark early on when the Hawk plan to use a portion of the state sales tax for roads got taken up first by the committee. It was supposed to be the Governor’s plan going first.
Said sub-committee chair Terri Lynn Weaver; "So we’re gonna go a little out of order here. We want to keep you guys at the tip of your seat," Weaver said.
But then Weaver and the entire sub-committee got thrown for a loop when long-time Democratic state representative John Mark Windle offered an amendment from the floor to amend the Hawk plan to exempt baby food from sales tax. Out of order, said Chairman Weaver. Amendments must filed in a timely manner, not from the floor.
But Windle then threw another curve ball, making a motion for the sub-committee to adjourn. Such a motion is not debatable. So a vote was held and the sub-committee did indeed adjourn until next week.
So much for the popcorn.
Both the House leadership and the Governor tried to put a good spin on the development:
Again reports THE NASHVILLE POST:
“Weaver said Windle's move was a surprise.
"You’re in committee, anything can happen. I mean, you can’t gauge it," Weaver said afterwards.
Hawk admitted he was shocked by the sudden adjournment.
"I’m not disappointed at all. I’ve got an idea, there’s a half a dozen different other people that have an idea as well, and I think this is what making policy is all about — having discussions and having conversations. I wish we could have had a greater conversation in there, which is why I’m surprised and disappointed that we adjourned. The more discussion we have in the public, in front of the media, the better off we’ll be," Hawk said.
Rep. Barry Doss (R-Lawrenceburg) is the chair of the full House Transportation Committee and is also carrying the governor's bill. He said he thought of the adjournment vote as a response to the Hawk bill.
"And I think there's a lot of people uncomfortable with that bill," Doss said. "We come back next week and I think more people are comfortable with the governor's plan."
Haslam also seemed confident his plan will eventually advance.
"I think [adjourning] shows they’re still trying to decide what the right approach is. We’ve said all along this was going to be a long path and it would involve a lot of discussion and the bill could take different forms at different times. But we’re not discouraged by that at all. We’ve seen this as a process all along," Haslam said afterwards.
Casada said he was surprised at what happened today but he remains convinced one plan will pass out next week.
"It was the committee system at work. And, I love this saying, 'We all love the taste of sausage, but you don’t want to see it being made.' ... They didn’t advance the ball today, but they will next week," Casada said "I really really think ... members need to get comfortable with an option and then go back home and explain it to their voters — that’s who they answer to. So they’ll get comfortable this week, and something will come out next week."
However, Weaver refused to say whether anything will advance soon or not.
"I don’t have a crystal ball. I didn’t foresee this," Weaver said.”
But whether you’re making sausage or a reading a crystal ball, it appears the sub-committee may be somewhat divided, much like an MTSU poll (released this week) shows the public is on this matter.
The survey shows 38% support for the Governor’s plan, 28% in opposition, while 33% say they don’t know. One other finding in the poll (and a good reason for the Governor to keep holding public information sessions across the state); among those who say they know a lot about the plan, the more they support it. Says a news release from MTSU pollsters:
“Support appeared significantly higher among the 52 percent of state voters who had read or heard “a lot” or “some” information about the proposal than among the 46 percent who had read or heard “only a little” or “nothing at all” about it.
Among those who had read or heard “a lot” or “some” about the proposal:
51 percent expressed support.
31 percent said they opposed it.
18 percent said they didn’t know how they felt about it.
By contrast, among those who had read or heard “only a little” or “nothing at all about the proposal:
24 percent expressed support.
24 percent said they opposed it.
52 percent said they didn’t know how the felt about it”
But there’s a word of caution in the poll too: How the survey numbers seem to compare to the Governor’s INSURE TENNESSEE plan that failed in the General Assembly two years ago:
“Asking about the governor’s “Insure Tennessee” health care proposal two years ago, the MTSU Poll found that support measured 34 percent statewide but rose to 49 percent among the third of Tennesseans who had heard about the plan. By contrast, support measured only 26 percent among the two-thirds who had little or no information about the plan. Ultimately, the plan failed to gain traction in the Legislature.”
Speaking of healthcare, late this week it was disclosed via CNN and Tom Humphrey that the Governor’s expertise on health care is now being tapped nationally to help congressional Republicans work out an alternative to Obamacare. Here are more details: http://humphreyonthehill.tnjournal.net/haslam-helping-search-for-gop-obamacare-repeal-deal/’
Meanwhile back in Tennessee Governor Haslam is not just depending on his community forums across the state to boost his gas tax plan. This week he also announced that he will amend his bill to allow local governments more voter referendum options to fund mass transit improvements in their counties. Mr. Haslam’s original IMPROVE Act only allowed for local referendums on the sales tax. Now it will also include voter options to consider local property tax increases, along with a business tax, motor vehicle tax, local rental car tax, tourist accommodation tax, a residential development tax and a local tourist development zone business tax.
The referendum options would be available to cities and counties statewide, and even before the expansion was unveiled, the Governor’s plan got more support from local city and county mayors this week. It also appears this expansion of referendum mass transit funding options is a play to get Democratic votes (especially in Nashville’s House delegation) along with support from Republican lawmakers in the bedroom counties around Nashville where growing traffic congestion issues seem to be of growing importance beyond party affiliation.
So get your popcorn ready once again and come back next week, and we’ll see what kind of three-ring circus we have in the House sub-committee then.
WHERE TO BURY A PRESIDENT
I am not sure how many visitors to the State Capitol know that President James K. Polk and his wife are buried on the grounds. Whether they stay there seems likely to be the subject of debate this legislative session.
A group called the Polk Tomb Relocation Committee wants to move the President and his wife to Columbia, Tennessee to be re-interred at the President’s boyhood home there. This move also appears to be related to efforts to give the Columbia home National Park status, something which is being supported by our Tennessee congressional delegation.
Originally the Tomb Relocation committee thought they would need to go through a maze of state agencies to get approval including (says THE NASHVILLE PATCH and Tom Humphrey): “the Tennessee Historical Commission, the State Building Commission and the State Capitol Commission for moving the bodies. But it’s since been discovered there’s a state law, enacted in 1981, that says the bodies of the former president and first lady cannot be moved from the state Capitol grounds unless a resolution approving relocation is approved jointly by the House and Senate.”
And so, such legislation is about to be filed for consideration in both houses. So will there be controversy? I don’t know. But already one of the reasons being touted to move President Polk and his wife (Sarah Childress Polk) is being challenged. Again says the NASHVILLE PATCH : "Why are we doing this? We are doing this to fulfill the will of James K. Polk," Brain McKelvy, chairman of the PTRC, said. "He wanted to be buried at home.”
But some claim that is not what President Polk’s will actually says: “Nashville Scene writer Betsy Phillips tweeted that what Polk's will actually says is this: "Sarah Polk, and myself, have mutually agreed with each other, that at our respective deaths, it is desired by us, that our bodies may be interred on the said premises, which I have denominated the Polk Place." Phillips suspects the Tennessee Historical Society will have plenty to say as to why Polk's body should remain where it is.”
So maybe there will be controversy over this joint resolution. As you may know, this is far from the first time President and Mrs. Polk have been moved since dying. THE NASHVILLE PATCH article by J.R. Lind outlines the long process:
“The President and Mrs. Polk are buried on the grounds of the Tennessee State Capitol and have been since 1893. It is Mrs. Polk's second burial place and the President's third…On June 15, 1849, a little more than three months after leaving office, President James K. Polk, exhausted and likely choleric, turned to his beloved wife and spoke his last: "I love you, Sarah. For all eternity, I love you."
And then he was buried in a mass grave for cholera victims in Nashville City Cemetery. Less than a year later, the good people of Nashville perhaps realizing such a place of eternal rest wouldn't do for a former president, he was exhumed and buried in a tomb on the grounds of Polk Place at what is now Seventh Avenue and Union Street in Nashville. Mrs. Polk survived her husband 42 years — wearing mourning every day — and was buried beside him in the front yard. Then there was a fight about the
will, Polk Place was sold to a developer, who tore it down to build some apartments and the Polks were carted up the street to Capitol Hill where they've been ever since.”
Actually if the Polk will had not been broken in court by some of his heirs, and Polk Place torn down, it might have become the Executive Residence for our governors as the will gave the property to the state. Now, yet again, the subject of debate in the weeks to come may be what Tennessee’s elected leaders decide do about where to put to rest (finally?) one of its three U.S. Presidents.
THE REST OF THE STORY
To follow up on a couple of column items from last week.
The history mystery about whether a Nashville park, opened in the 1930s, was really named for noted 19th Century abolitionist Fredrick Douglass (but misspelled perhaps deliberately in those segregationist/ Jim Crow times) seems to be resolved.
Parks officials now seem convinced the park was meant to be named for Douglass (even though only a few knew he ever went by the shorter first name of Fred and spelled his last name with just one S). The Metro Council joined the move to correct the park’s name this week by passing a resolution of support. Mayor Megan Barry also issued a statement strongly in favor. It appears the Metro Board of Parks and Recreation will soon approve a “correction” to the park’s name. That wording is important. The Parks Board’s policy does not allow for city parks to be renamed. It does allow for a correction of a park’s name and so it shall be.
One other convincing clue that the intent of naming the park was for Fredrick Douglass is the fact that the park was created while progressive (and controversial) Nashville Mayor Hillary Howse was in office. Howse also supported the establishment of Hadley Park which was the first such recreational space for African Americans in Nashville. Thanks to local historian David Ewing for bringing that to light.
One other rest of the story from Capitol Hill: the new process to handle sexual harassment complaints apparently did function as designed. When rookie Representative Mark Lovell abruptly resigned last week after reports surfaced he had inappropriately touched a woman, it was unclear if any investigation of the complaint had been conducted. It seems that was done and House Ethics sub-committee reports that Lovell did violate the Legislature’s policy on the matter citing “a staff investigation which included interviews with all parties.” The findings were placed in the ex-lawmaker’s personnel file. But that appears to be the end of the matter since Lovell has resigned his seat and legislative officials do not think they have the power to pursue the issue any further. It also appears many more lawmakers have now completed the mandatory sexual harassment training required. They’ve watched the video.
IT HAS HAPPENED BEFORE
Nashville remains a city somewhat on edge while a TBI-led investigation continues into the recent white Metro police officer’s fatal shooting of a black motorist after a traffic stop.
The most dramatic of the several community demonstrations surrounding the controversy occurred Tuesday night when protestors filled the second floor of the Davidson County Courthouse and temporarily shut down a Metro Council meeting.
After some discussions, the Council did give the demonstrators 20 minutes of time later in the evening to air their thoughts (including having a citizen’s panel to review all police-related shootings in the future). Vice Mayor David Briley said he is also thinking about having a public input session built into the agendas of future Council meetings to deal with topics not covered by the usual public hearings city leaders are required to hold.
Tuesday night was certainly a tense situation and a rare occurrence in Nashville history. But it wasn’t unprecedented in terms of shutting down a Metro Council session. I know. I was there.
It was early May, 1980. The city’s firefighters went on strike, the first and only such work disruption by city employees in Nashville’s history.
It was the scariest week I ever spent as a reporter with lots of “mysterious fires” occurring each night all around the city and picket lines put up around every fire hall.
Mayor Richard Fulton called a special Metro Council meeting on Saturday morning. I think it was to begin the process of getting the Governor (Alexander) to call out the National Guard. A large number of firefighters showed up before the Council meeting began. They made so much noise and commotion in the Council chambers, waving signs and chanting, that the special session could not be gaveled into order.
So everybody left in some confusion, and it was a few days later before the Guard was mobilized. The funny part of that is when the Guard was called out, several of the firefighters on strike were members of the Guard units that were mobilized.
Of course, tensions were heightened further when the picket lines were crossed by the Guard, and there was even more strain when the city allowed the strikers to return to their halls to help move negotiations along. To make sure any amnesty offered to returning firefighters included everyone, all three shifts of firefighters showed up that day, all at the same time, along with the National Guard, so it was a very crowded and extremely tense situation in all the halls. Fortunately, after some federal mediation, the strike was settled after about a week.
Let’s hope this TBI probe is concluded in a timely manner with a resolution that defuses tensions in the community.
A JUDICIAL POWER PLAY
Tennessee Republicans on Capitol Hill are trying to pull a judicial power play. If it happens, it might be a big step towards making Nashville/ Davidson County a lot less Blue in its county elected officials. It’s actually an effort that the GOP has been trying to figure out how to accomplish for many years.
If you go down to the Metro Courthouse, you won’t find any Republican judges or constitutional officers (court clerks, trustee, etc.) there. Davidson County Democrats take great pride in their long-term dominance. In fact in the last 40-plus years (since Governor Winfield Dunn’s days in the early 1970s), whenever Republican governors have selected GOP-leaning lawyers to fill Nashville court vacancies, those ladies and gentlemen have been defeated at the next election by Democrats. However if they ran as Democrats (not as Republicans), they’ve been returned to the bench. Ask Judge Hamilton Gayden or Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle about this matter. They experienced it on a personal level.
So how to get someone from the GOP elected to the Nashville trial bench? How about make the elections non-partisan, so candidates run without party label? That’s exactly what Nashville State Senator Steve Dickerson is proposing along with Representative William, Lamberth (R-Cottontown). By the way, there is a current Chancery Judge, Bill Young. He was recently appointed to the bench by Republican Governor Bill Haslam and he is awaiting election in 2018 to stay on the job. It is believed this judgeship is playing a major role in creating this non-partisan local judicial election bill in the General Assembly.
The non-partisan judicial election bill applies only to Nashville and Memphis. That’s curious since Memphis already uses this process. In fact, Memphis officials requested it and implemented it some time ago. No one from Nashville’s government has asked for such a change, although House Speaker Beth Harwell, who represents an affluent West Nashville/Green Hills district says she supports the measure.
This week major opposition to the bill arose as both the Tennessee and Nashville Bar Associations came out against the measure. The NBA news release raise issues of both consistency and constitutionality with the bill, including a provision which requires incumbents be listed first on the ballot. Quoting from the Nashville Bar’s news release:
“The NBA believes the concept of electing judges on non-partisan ballots has merit, but if adopted, it should be only on a statewide basis, or as an option of local legislative bodies, as is presently the case in Shelby County. Likewise, the legislature when considering the adoption of non-partisan judicial elections should give careful consideration to election by majority vote, rather than by plurality, as Nashville currently does with its mayoral and council elections.
Whatever the merit may be of non-partisan elections, the NBA is concerned that selective rule changes for election of judges raises state and Federal constitutional questions. The provision giving special advantage to incumbents would appear to invite challenges on the grounds of equal protection and the equivalent state constitutional provision prohibiting legislation that prohibits the suspension of the general law without a rational basis.
We urge the withdrawal of the legislation and encourage a future, careful consideration of the concept of non- partisan judicial elections on a statewide basis.”
This could set up one of the more interesting fights of the legislative session. According to Cari Wade Gervin of THE NASHVILLE POST, the bill passed in a House sub-committee this week after sponsors deleted the incumbent listed first on the ballot provision. They claimed they thought that was already state law. Uh, no.
There was a failed attempt in sub-committee to require a two-thirds approval vote by the local governing body to make the election change valid. The amendment may be offered again later. The bill has been postponed two weeks before it is scheduled to be taken up in a Senate committee.
ONE MONTH IN OFFICE FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP ON INSIDE POLITICS
This past week (February 20) the nation marked the one month anniversary of President Donald Trump in office.
By any measure, or based on anyone’s political views, I’d say it’s been quite a busy, controversial 30 days, with even more of the same likely still ahead.
To assess what’s happened and what it means, our guests on INSIDE POLITICS this week are former Republican State Representative Debra Maggart, now with the CivicPoint government relations firm, and Nashville Democratic lawyer and political consultant Larry Woods.
It’s lively discussion!
INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include 7:00 p.m. Friday; 5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday; along with 1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday.
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One option for those who can’t see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com. Just use your TiVo or DVR if those live times don't work for your schedule.
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