By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company
August 4, 2017
THE SADDEST WEEK; THE 2018 ELECTION STARTS TO TAKE ITS FINAL FORM: SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES ON INSIDE POLITICS: SENATOR ALEXANDER SEEKS A TEMPORARY BI-PARTSAN FIX ON HEALTH CARE
THE SADDEST WEEK
In the 65 years I’ve lived in Nashville and the 40-plus years I have covered government and politics in
this community, I don’t remember a sadder week in our town.
The drug overdose death of Mayor Megan Barry’s and her husband Bruce Barry’s only child, 22-year old
Max Barry, has shaken many of us to our cores, especially knowing the couple is now living every
parent’s and grandparent’s nightmare. There are no words to express or to even offer much comfort for
the pain they are feeling.
So all we could do this week is express our love and support for the Barrys. By the thousands,
Nashvillians did just that, joining family, close friends, community and political leaders, even complete
strangers, in attending the young Barry’s visitation and memorial service, offering Nashville’s first couple
their prayers, their support, and in many cases, a heartfelt hug.
As our city’s Comforter-In-Chief, it is the role of Mayor Barry to sometimes reach out to those in grief
when terrible things have happened. She represents the whole city’s love and support during trying,
tragic circumstances. Now it was time for the whole community to reciprocate, and Nashvillians
There is no precedent in our local mayoral history for this kind of family loss, although Mayor Richard
Fulton, when he served the community in Congress, lost a teen age son in a boating accident near
Christmas in 1969.
This latest tragedy offers an urgent reminder to this city of how insidious and pervasive the drug/opioid
problem is, not just in Nashville and Tennessee, but across the nation. It is not a “them problem”, it’s
us… it can be our fathers, mothers, parents, children, our brothers or sisters, our friends, anyone we
know regardless of income, zip code, gender, race or lifestyle. A national study released this week shows
almost 30% of the U.S. population says they have or are using opioids.
That’s a number that has some calling for a national state of emergency to be declared. When drugs are
now killing more of us than car crashes or cancer, it is time for public policy action to deal with all facets
of this curse and do so now.
Despite the unbelievably difficult circumstances they had to deal with, the Barrys have shown great
poise and grace this week. That’s the thought I had when I saw them at the visitation. The Mayor even
took the opportunity to ask me how I was recovering from my recent illness. I was kind of stunned. Our
conversation was supposed to be about comforting her, not about me.
But that is the essence of the Bruce and Megan Barry I know. They are two of the nicest and most
helpful folks I’ve met in all my years covering politics or being part of the media. Megan Barry has even
sent me hand written thank you notes after being a guest on INSIDE POLITICS. So I was not surprised at
all to see the video of her thanking the media for its coverage after the memorial service or shaking
hands and hugging the police officers who provided security and traffic assistance at the event, most of
whom I am sure she didn’t know.
May God continue to provide the Barrys the strength and grace they will need in the weeks and months
ahead. May they take comfort in the continuing love and support of this city as they grieve.
And with the angels leading him into paradise, may Max rest in eternal peace.
THE 2018 ELECTION STARTS TO TAKE ITS FINAL FORM
Just a little less than a year from now (August 2, 2018), Tennesseans will begin the process of selecting a
new governor to succeed Bill Haslam as well as a United State Senator, our House congressional
delegation and the members of the 111th Tennessee General Assembly.
After this weekend, the major candidate field for governor in both parties would appear to be set. A
potential front runner on the Republican side, Congressman Diane Black has finally entered the race (as
of last Wednesday, August 2). She announced after months of speculation. Here’s a link to her newly
activated campaign web site including an opening statement video:
Some polls show Black with the highest name recognition among all candidates. Even though she’s
never run statewide before, her name ID is likely high because she has run a lot of TV spots in her
previous state and congressional campaigns with some of the ads also being seen in other parts of the
state outside her district.
There will be a record three major female candidates in the 5-person GOP field (House Speaker Beth
Harwell and State Senator Mae Beavers are the others). It used to be being the only woman in a race
was a good way differentiate yourself from your opponents (although it doesn’t mean you’ll win). This
time, there are more women than men in the contest and all three of them are touting their successful
experience in elected office.
All the Republican candidates are running hard to court the arch conservative Tea Party, Trump rightwing
of the GOP and whoever does the best job of doing that will likely prevail. While you can hear in
her video that Black is promoting her post as House Budget Chair, it may not be the big boost she was
hoping it would be.
That’s because even though the House passed an Obamacare repeal and replace plan, the Senate didn’t,
(infuriating many Republicans and likely further depressing Congress’ very low popularity numbers). So
how much will being Budget Chair help Black? Maybe it will if her federal budget with its sharp cuts in
spending passes, but that’s still a big if.
Frankly, the rest of the GOP/President Trump legislative agenda (budget cuts, tax reform,
infrastructure) looks very far behind schedule on the Hill (and don’t forget having to raise the debt
spending limit sometime next month). So the while agenda maybe dead at least for this year, especially
since the President and more and more GOP Senator appear to be at odds. Under GOP Caucus rules,
Black will need to step down from her chairmanship eventually, but given the need to try and get
something done in Congress, it appears she may stay on for a while yet.
In the other party primary (Democratic), a second candidate, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh from
West Tennessee is reportedly ready to enter the governor’s race this Sunday with a major
announcement story in THE TENNESSEAN and other the Gannett papers published in Tennessee’s major
cities statewide (Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga). Fitzhugh’s entry has been rumored for some
months to oppose former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. There have been questions why Fitzhugh waited
to jump in since he and other members of the legislature in the governor’s race (Harwell and Beavers)
are banned from fundraising while the General Assembly in in session which will begin in January and
could extend into the spring. Obviously, the fund raising ban is not a big enough issue to keep Fitzhugh
from running but let’s see what money disadvantage it might create for him or if Fitzhugh will be able to
pile up the funds before the next required disclosure report in January.
One last gubernatorial note this week: GOP candidate Randy Boyd got still more endorsements from
county mayors this week…21 more in fact. That brings his total to 45 out of 95 county mayors statewide
backing him. That’s not far from half.
Now many years ago, endorsements were a big thing running for a statewide office, especially if you
were largely unknown and/or running your first race for office such as Boyd is.
But for the last 15-20 years, endorsements have become increasingly old fashioned, out of style and not
something statewide campaigns sought to enlist except from certain high profile folks or elected
officials. Obviously the Boyd campaign is putting some significant effort into lining up these
endorsements. Does the Boyd Team know something the other candidates don’t? I guess we will find
out soon enough.
There was one other notable 2018 election development this week regarding our Tennessee
congressional delegation. The dean of our 9-member House delegation, 2nd District Knoxville
Congressman John Duncan, Jr says he won’t seek another term. His exit means come 2019 there will not
be someone named Duncan in that House seat for the first time in nearly half a century. John Duncan,
Sr. served before in that same congressional office before his son.
It appeared a John Duncan, III might be next in line to run but he ran into financial difficulties in another
Knoxville elected office, and then more recently, there have been reports of campaign payments by his
father to the younger Duncan and other family members which some thought might become
troublesome in a re-election effort.
And so the era of a Congressman Duncan representing the Second District is headed towards being
history. You can also be sure candidates are already announcing to run saying they want to go to
Washington in January, 2019 to take Mr. Duncan’s place.
The other statewide race next year, the U.S. Senate seat held by Bob Corker continues to remain
somewhat in flux. The Senator told reporters on Thursday (when he was in Nashville for the GOP
Statesmen Dinner fundraiser), that he still not sure when he announce whether he seek a third term.
That has renewed talk that a conservative such as Andy Ogles of the Tennesseans for Prosperity might
mount a challenge although it would a real underdog effort. There’s also continued rumors Corker might
go into the Trump Cabinet if a vacancy occurs (Secretary of State?). Still it is odd that less a year out
from the primary the incumbent has not announced his plans.
SCOTTIE NELL HUGHES ON INSIDE POLITICS
Republican political analyst Scottie Nell Hughes is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week. With the
Republican Congress and the Trump White House in continuing turmoil, we will get her take on where
things stand for the rest of 2017 and what lies ahead in Tennessee and the nation in the mid-term
elections for 2018.
That includes the impact of the ongoing and deepening Russia investigations in Washington including a
new grand jury being empaneled in the probe along with still more high level staff changes at the White
and more leaks.
This this time it’s actual transcripts of presidential phone conversations with world leaders that show a
widening credibility gap for Mr. Trump from what he said was discussed and what appears was actually
said. The transcripts also raise concerns about future leaks of more serious presidential conversations.
Meanwhile new economic numbers released today (Friday) look good for Mr. Trump. 200,000 more jobs
created July (one million more since took office,) unemployment at a 17-year low and the stock market
at a record high. But wage growth still lags and the polls don’t show voters are giving Trump that much
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SENATOR ALEXANDER SEEKS A TEMPORARY BIPARTISAN FIX ON HEALTHCARE
There remains much finger pointing and recriminations in Washington about how to proceed with
healthcare policy in the wake of the failure of the U.S. Senate to come up with a plan to repeal or
replace the Affordable Care Act.
Even before the Senate crashed and burned, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander stepped up to say he
wanted to use his leadership position as Chairman of the Senate Health Committee to piece together a
temporary fix to keep Obamacare temporarily alive as a health care insurance option in 2018, through
the national and states insurance exchanges.
Those exchanges remain in even greater uncertainty since the congressional failure to act leaves many
states having just one insurance company offering health plans. There are even some states with no one
offering health insurance coverage and all the health care insurers offering plans are doing so with
increasingly higher rates, deductibles and co-pays.
Senator Alexander is seeking bi-partisan support in his effort. That is likely to create even more
unhappiness among some conservatives who are already ticked off that no Obamacare repeal (and
replace plans has passed and none seems likely to this year.
Senator Alexander could also be locking horns with President Trump himself over the matter, as THE
CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS reports via Tom Humphrey’s web site:
“Senator Lamar Alexander urged President Donald Trump on Tuesday to drop plans to eliminate
government insurance subsidies that help millions afford health coverage in order to give Congress time
to “stabilize and strengthen the individual health insurance market,” reports the Times Free Press.
Alexander, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, announced plans he and the panel’s senior
Democrat, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, will hold bipartisan hearings beginning Sept. 4.
The goal is coming up with a short-term solution so that “Americans will be able to buy insurance at
affordable prices in 2018,” Tennessee’s senior senator said in comments to his committee.
“There are a number of issues with the American health care system, but if your house is on fire, you
want to put out the fire, and the fire in this case is the individual health insurance market,” Alexander
added. “Both Republicans and Democrats agree on this.”
“A New York Times report ties the Alexander-Murray move in the Senate to an effort by some House
Republicans “to promote incremental health legislation that would also fund the cost-sharing subsidies."
Says THE NY TIMES:
“The moves were a remarkable response to the president’s repeated threats to send health care
insurance markets into a tailspin. The offered tangible indications of cooperation between the parties
after Republican efforts to scrap the Affordable Care Act collapsed in the Senate last week, all but
ending the seven-year Republican quest to overturn President Barack Obama’s signature domestic
achievement. Lawmakers from both parties concede that the health law needs improvement, as
consumers face sharp premium increases and a shrinking number of insurance options in many states.”
With the Senate now in recess for the rest of August (the House is already gone) this could be quite a
battle when Congress returns to Washington after Labor Day. The fight might blow up even sooner if the
President ignores Senator Alexander’s pleas and impounds the government funds that subsidize health
premiums for millions of Americans to afford coverage. That could be an action (or a tweet) that would
also further destabilize the insurance exchanges and, given the size of the health care industry in the
nation’s economy, roil overall financial markets.