Capitol View Commentary: Friday, April 28, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company

April 28, 2017

MAYOR MEGAN BARRY OUTLINES HER LIGHT RAIL PLANS ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE GOVERNOR’S RACE GROWS AGAIN; KEEP THEM GUESSING; MORE PROBLEMS FOR JUDGE MORELAND; LATE IN THE SESSION; HURRAY FOR THE TENNESSEE STATE LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES; THE DEFINITION OF WORDS

MAYOR MEGAN BARRY OUTLINES HER LIGHT RAIL PLANS ON INSIDE POLITICS

We are always pleased to have Nashville Mayor Megan Barry as our guest on INSIDE POLITICS.

That’s especially true this week.

She joins us just a couple of days after delivering her second State of Metro address where she outlined a record $2.2 billion budget for Metro next year and she made official her plans to embark on what is likely to be her legacy project as mayor……building a regional light rail system as a part of an overall $6 billion plan to address the area’s growing transit challenges.

She knows this will be a long and perhaps politically difficult effort that will require, among many other things, voter approval of a funding plan for the light rail project. That could happen as early as next year. On that same ballot (November?) the Mayor’s efforts may be directly challenged by anti-tax crusader Ben Cunningham. He wants to mount a petition drive to place a Metro charter amendment on the ballot to cap Metro’s debt level as well as require the city to spend more to cover its pension obligations to city employees. These are moves that would retard if not stop the transit effort in its tracks. Cunningham was the key force behind the cap on Metro’s property tax rate which voters approved a few years ago, so this is not his first political rodeo.

This city has experienced several public votes that have shaped our history….the 1962 vote to create Metro government; the 1967 ballot to allow liquor by the drink in Davidson County; the referendum that rejected an “English Only” policy for Nashville as well as voter approval to build the current Nissan Stadium insuring the NFL Titans would remain here.

We could well be facing another one of those critical community decisions….and the discussion and the debate over the light rail proposal begins with our interview with Mayor Barry this week on INSIDE POLITICS, We will also talk about several other critical issues for Nashville surrounding her budget and the challenges facing Metro on the relationship of our police and the community.

We are also pleased to tell you our interview with Mayor Barry will air on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5 on Friday evening at 6:30. It will also air on our regular schedule on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS.

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.

THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

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.

THE GOVERNOR’S RACE GROWS AGAIN

Yet another Republican candidate has entered the field to be our state’s next governor.

Franklin businessman Bill Lee who has run a very successful family business that specializes in various home services now wants to enter public service. He explained the transition to reporters this way (via THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS).

“(Lee) told reporters he's spent "most of my life waking up in the morning thinking about how I can make life better for my employees."

Lee said "one day, I had a sense, 'What if it were my job to wake up in the morning and make life better for six-and-a-half million people in Tennessee?' That was compelling to me and drove me to explore this option for me – given my passions and experiences – that's why I'm running for governor."

He acknowledged having no prior government experience, but told reporters "I'm not worried about that." he said he thinks his "life/leadership" skills will serve him well as he focuses on jobs, public safety and education.”

Lee has now embarked in a campaign RV that will take him to visit all 95 counties in Tennessee in the next 95 days.

While several other potential GOP candidates are poised to enter the race (House Speaker Beth Harwell, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, Congressman Diane Black and maybe even Senator Bob Corker) the only other Republican candidate presently in the race is former Economic Development Commissioner Randy Boyd. He’s already started a statewide digital ad outreach touting being a non-politician. He also raised $1.5 million in a fundraiser recently.

I have not seen anyone’s opposition research, but I wonder if Boyd’s and Lee’s somewhat similar backgrounds as ultra-successful businessmen with limited or little government and political experience will confuse voters as to which one is which, further complicating the number one goal each of these candidates needs to achieve quickly in the next few weeks. That is a much larger, positive and distinctive name recognition with voters.

One potential GOP primary campaign issue is a non-starter so far. Governor Bill Haslam has already signed his signature IMPROVE Act legislation into law. He did so within 2 days after final legislative approval was given this past Monday. By law, governors have close to a couple of weeks to act. To prime the pump for the road improvements to be funded under the IMPROVE Act, Mr. Haslam’s supplemental budget he sent to the General Assembly also makes a one-time $55 million appropriation of the state’s surplus revenue to get more road projects started.

Using the surplus is what IMPROVE Act opponents wanted to do rather than raise the gas tax. Now they are looking for a conservative Republican candidate who will make the focus of his (or her) gubernatorial

campaign the repeal of the 6 cent gas tax hike which will be phased in over the next three years beginning this summer.

So far I have not heard any current or potential gubernatorial candidate speaking out on the issue. In fact, Lee told reporters, as far as he is concerned the gas tax fight is “water under the bridge.”

That remains to be seen. But already a national GOP group (the Republican Governors Association) is attacking the lone Democratic candidate in the governor’s race, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. They are criticizing him over his stance on property taxes.

The Governors group say Dean “got caught misleading voters about taxes.” The group cites these recent comments Dean made to a journalist group.

But the GOP governors point out Dean did raise property taxes during his second term as mayor. The Dean campaign quickly responded by accusing the Republicans of selective editing of his comments. The Dean team made their pushback immediately after the YouTube clip. They point Mayor Dean increased taxes just once in eight years and he held the line on any tax hike for his entire first 4-year term, one of only two Nashville mayors to do that (Mayor Richard Fulton did the same in his first term from 1975-1979.

The tax issue may well be argued into the fall campaign if Dean wins the Democratic nomination. But the most intriguing aspect to this very early Republican attack on the former mayor (and the Dean campaign quickly pointed it out) is that the attack seems to be a clear sign Republicans perceive Dean as the likely Democratic candidate in November 2018, and he is enough of a threat to win the general election (even in deep red state like Tennessee) that national party leaders decided they needed to launch an early attack on the Democrat.

Meanwhile the first Republican to enter the governor’s race, State Senator Mark Green is striking back at its critics who oppose his nomination by President Donald Trump to be Secretary of the Army. Green has suspended his gubernatorial effort because of the nomination. He is being strongly attacked by Muslim and LGBTQ activist groups for allegedly making hateful remarks in the past. Green, if confirmed, would replace the first openly gay Army Secretary.

Green is defending himself. Recently on Facebook he wrote:

“..the liberal left has cut and spliced my words about terrorism and ISIS blatantly falsifying what I’ve said. “

“The only people I have ever called evil are murderous terrorists trying to kill Americans,” he writes. “The only people I have ever suggested be crushed are the terrorist enemies of our nation.”

THE TENNESSEAN also reports that TV reality star Kaitlyn Jenner is also condemning the Green nomination. Jenner formerly was Olympic champion Bruce Jenner and claims to be Republican in his politics.

The Green nomination also seems to be getting different responses from Washington Democrats versus Green’s five Democratic colleagues in the State Senate. Tom Humphrey outlines the differences in his TENNESSEE JOURNAL blog.

KEEP THEM GUESSING

As President Trump reaches the First 100-day mark of his term (it’s Saturday), he had a very busy if not necessarily productive week.

He tried to gin up another vote on a new GOP health care plan. While it appears House conservatives are now ready to get on board, it is unclear if enough moderates are still in support because of changes in the revised Obamacare repeal proposal that would weaken or eliminate continued coverage for pre-existing conditions.

With Congress facing a Friday (today) deadline to approve a new budget to keep the federal government operating, it appears a very short term budget extension (maybe just a week) will be approved with no anti-Obamacare funding deletions, no funds for the Mexican border wall, no Planned Parenthood cuts.

That extra time will give Congress an opportunity to work something out longer term (such as all the way through September). But it really does is to give our lawmakers the chance to do one of the things they does best. That is, kick the can down the road and put off a decision about these controversial matters. But, perhaps concerned that the revised GOP health care might have the votes to pass the House, Democrats are putting in a kicker. They say if the Republicans pass their new health care plan they’ll shut down the government on their own if they get the chance.

This week the President also unveiled his tax cut and tax reform plan. The one-page outline with bullet points that was presented would definitely cut taxes especially if you’re wealthy. But even some Republicans are concerned it will really jack up the nation’s budget deficit so don’t look for any quick action by Congress and maybe not even a fully-fleshed out bill for Congress to mark up (and lobbyists to look for loopholes) until summer. By the way, the Trump tax plan ends the deduction of local taxes such as the sales tax which Tennessee lawmakers worked hard to keep a few years ago.

For a while this week, it looked the President was going to pull the nation out of the North American Free Trade Alliance. That was one of his strongest campaign promises. But like several of the issues he vowed to take immediate and decisive action, now Mr. Trump says he just wants to negotiate some changes in the trade treaty and not pull out (at least for now).

Meanwhile, it does appear the first nation the Trump administration is crossing swords with on trade is Canada escalating an ongoing dispute over lumber and dairy products. Based on what he said on the campaign trail last year, you would have thought Mr. Trump’s first trade fight would have been with China (along with alleged currency manipulation. But then came the nuclear crisis with North Korea.

The President brought all 100 Senators to the White House for a closed door briefing on the crisis. All Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, would say afterward is that the presentation by the Trump national security team was “OK.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says he wants direct negotiations to begin to keep the Korean peninsula “nuclear free.” But then the President said in an interview there is a real chance the U.S. could get into military conflict with North Korea. Talk about two different messages.

And of course, there was another major development in one of the ongoing Russian probes. The two leaders of the House investigation (the top committee Republican and the top Democrat) released information that indicated former Trump National Security Advisor Michael Flynn took payments from two foreign governments (Russia and Turkey) which they say is against the law.

Flynn’s representative deny he hid the payments or broke the law. Flynn says he is willing to testify before the Congressional committee but he wants immunity. I can’t see how this week’s developments help that happening for Flynn.

President Trump Thursday ignored media questions about the matter (he fired Flynn earlier this year for misleading the White House and Vice President Pence about his contacts with Russia). Later Shawn Spicer, the President’s press secretary says the White House doesn’t know if Flynn broke the law while a Trump official blamed the Obama administration for not doing a good job vetting Flynn when he held an earlier high-level White House job.

As he approaches the 100-Day milestone, the President’s job approval numbers are the worst ever in modern times for a new president. But be careful how you read that. Trump supporters (about 40% in the polls) are still strongly in his corner while others (including an increasing number of independents) are not on his side at all.

It all means Trump supporters after 100 days in office (as of this Saturday), say they would like him continue to lead the country for at least the next four, if not eight years, or longer. Meanwhile the Trump opponents feel like the First 100 Days has felt more like 100 years and they can’t wait for a change.

One continuing theme of this Trump White House is that he seems to want to keep folks guessing, friend and foe alike. It certainly adds to the daily “Reality TV” drama in Washington especially when you add in the warring staff factions at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But there are times that lie ahead (as happens for every President) that what a President and his team says are consistent and everyone can count on it. But for this President’s first 100 Days that’s not where things are.

MORE PROBLEMS FOR JUDGE MORELAND

It’s getting worse for disgraced Nashville General Sessions Judge Casey Moreland.

This week he was indicted by a federal grand jury on five felony charges regarding obstruction of justice and witness tampering. Last month he was arrested and brought into federal court in shackles on three of the charges. THE NASHVILLE POST reports:

“Moreland is accused of witness tampering, obstruction of an official proceeding, destroying or falsifying records, obstruction of a criminal investigation and conspiracy to retaliate against a witness. The first three charges carry a maximum sentence of 20 years while the last two carry 10-year maximums. Each count has a maximum fine of $250,000.

Another area where former judge Moreland could take a hit financially, is his still approved state pension: Reports THE TENNESSEAN:

“ Moreland will pocket an estimated $4,588 pension each month beginning in May, according to Tara Stewart of Metro Human Resources. She said he is also eligible for medical coverage and a $10,000 life insurance policy.

But Moreland could lose his benefits. State law says a public official forfeits retirement benefits if convicted of "a felony arising out of that person's employment or official capacity, constituting malfeasance in office." Nashville's employee benefit board decides if Moreland can continue to get the benefits, with or without a conviction, according to Metro Law Director Jon Cooper.”

Meanwhile through his attorney Judge Moreland says he is innocent. Again from THE TENNESSEAN:

In response to the indictment, Moreland's attorney Peter Strianse said the former judge plans to plead not guilty.

"The indictment returned… against Judge Moreland is simply an accusation and is not evidence of anything," Strianse said.

"He will plead not guilty and, like all citizens, is presumed innocent."

Meanwhile the Metro Council is preparing to select an interim judge to fill Moreland’s seat until the elections next year.

As it has done in the past, the Nashville Bar Association has conducted an on-line poll of its members about the qualifications of those applying for the Council appointment. 538 NBA members responded and here’s how their survey turned out:

POLL RESULTS

Q1 – In the selection for the position of General Sessions Court Judge in Davidson County, Tennessee:

The poll results are not binding in any way on the Council in making its choice. But clearly Ana Lucia Escobar has by far the best numbers in the bar survey, including both the highest “strongly recommend” numbers and the lowest “do not recommend” numbers. If Escobar, a former Metro Clerk who was

employed by a previous Council, is selected, she would be the first Hispanic General Sessions Judge in Davidson County history. The Council is set to vote on May 16.

LATE IN THE SESSION

I don’t know what it is about the propensity of the Tennessee General Assembly to refight the Civil War almost every year.

Once again this session the fight revolves controversial Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest. A recently passed resolution (that went through on the consent calendar in the House) has lead the sponsoring lawmaker to apologize while the House Black Caucus is charging subterfuge.

Tom Humphrey has the story details here.

HURRAY FOR THE TENNESSEE STATE LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES

I mentioned earlier that this week Governor Haslam sent to the General Assembly his updated, supplemental budget for next year.

It includes $40 million in funding for a new State Library and Archives building to be constructed on the Bicentennial Mall near where the new State Museum is under construction. The $40 million is a little less than half of the projected $98 million it will take to complete the project.

I had Tennessee Secretary of State Trey Hargett on INSIDE POLITICS a few weeks ago to state his case for why a new facility is needed. Based on the FB comments and e-mails I’ve received he stirred up support for his cause. Being a big fan of history and archives I am happy to have helped in that outreach process and thrilled seems to be forthcoming!

THE DEFINITION OF WORDS

This week the State Senate approved 23-6 and sent to Governor Haslam a bill that instructs Tennessee courts to use the “natural and ordinary meaning” of words when interpreting statutes. The controversy that sparked this legislation is over a Knoxville court case that dealt with whether the word “husband” in state law can apply to a woman married to the biological mother of a child.

LGBT rights groups are calling for a veto by the Governor, saying the legislation is attempt around the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage and might led to some groups and states boycotting Tennessee. But according to a spokesman for Mr. Haslam, he is “deferring to the will of the legislature” on this issue.

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