Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 21, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company

July 21, 2017

THERE WOULDN’T BE A TEXAS IF NOT FOR TENNESSEE; THE GOP FIELD CONTINUES TO FILL OUT; JOBS, JOBS, JOBS AND THE TENNESSEE PROMISE; INTRODUCING THE VICE PRESIDENT; INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION HALFWAY THROUGH HIS FIRST YEAR; DÉJÀ VU THE CONVENTION CENTER; JAKE BUTCHER

THERE WOULDN’T BE A TEXAS IF NOT FOR TENNESSEE

Because of the role Tennesseans played in Texas gaining its independence in the 19th century (Davy Crockett, Sam Houston), there’s long been an interesting connection between the two states.

Now they both have state legislatures intent on making sure local governments are put in their place. That is, laws passed by cities and counties that state leaders don’t like, are pre-exempted (repealed) by state legislation.

Of course this has happened several times recently in Tennessee, but since everything is bigger In Texas, the Governor there recently convened a special session and almost all the bills on the agenda seek to pre-exempt what local officials can do. Read more on that by clicking here.

Meanwhile based on a new law passed by the Republican Super Majority here in Tennessee, my suggestion to you….if you have tickets to a concert at Bridgestone Arena….GO EARLY.

In order to continue to keep the Arena gun-free, additional screening measures are now required. That includes everyone individually passing through a metal detector. Now maybe the recent Bonnie Raitt/ James Taylor concert was a shakedown effort and screenings will get quicker. After all, the new law just took effect July 1.

But on this night, the backup was so bad my wife and I missed the first 15 minutes or so of the concert and we arrived 30 minutes before it was supposed to begin. And we were far from the last folks going through security. So they missed even more of the concert.

I will say the metal detector screening at Bridgestone is a little different than say the airport. You had to place aside your cell phones and any guns or weapons. But you could keep your shoes on, your belt, your keys, your wallet, even your pocket change.

I assume these same regulations will be in place for the Predators games? But what about other Metro owned facilities? The Ascend Amphitheatre? Nissan Stadium where nearly 70,000 will have to be screened rather than just the 17,000 or so at Bridgestone? I know this applies to Municipal Auditorium which THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL reports had to spend $96,000 for new metal detectors.

So my advice is again…….GO EARLY if you are attending an event at Bridgestone Arena.

In some ways, you can’t blame Metro for following the new law rather than fighting it in court. The measure also imposes some pretty stiff new penalties. According to THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL (July 14):

“Basically, the new law makes it easier for gun owners and organizations representing them to sue city and county governments when “adversely affected” by a local ordinance. It grants such persons and organizations legal “standing” — removing a threshold procedural hurdle for plaintiffs that often leads to quick dismissal of a lawsuit — and declares that the usual limits on damages for governmental entities don’t apply in such cases. Further, if the plaintiff gun owner or association wins the lawsuit, the city or county faces paying triple the attorney fees of the winner, an apparently unprecedented provision for Tennessee law.”

“There are some specific exceptions, including mental health facilities, schools and property used for school activities, law enforcement buildings, and some others. The idea, said the sponsors, is that local governments should either provide protection (the additional screening) or let citizens with guns protect themselves.”

One other question I haven involving local concert venues. The Tennessee Performing Arts Center is a state run facility. Will it be enforcing these new screening rules or just allow those with a gun permit to bring their firearm to the show?

THE GOP FIELD CONTINUES TO FILL OUT

House Speaker Beth Harwell has finally and officially announced she will be running for Governor next year in the GOP August primary. While she has been out on the trail going to various events and seeking support for months, the final hurdle seemed to be waiting for the most recent funding raising deadline to pass which it did on July 1.

Now she has the entire next money gathering period (until December 31) to salt away the contributions. She should have plenty of it regardless, even though after the Legislature goes back into session in January, she (and any other lawmakers seeking another office or re-election) will be prohibited from accepting any campaign funds until the General Assembly adjourns for the year sometime next spring.

In terms of fund raising, it looks like the 2018 governor’s race could the costliest in Tennessee history, maybe upwards of $35 or $40 million or more. And it seems possible, given the low name recognition numbers of all these candidates, we could see TV ads running before the end of this year. Most of the candidates are likely to be well funded. Many have released their fund raising figures ranging from well over $2 million raised so far (Randy Boyd $2.32 million)) to around $1.5 (million Bill Lee) and $1.17 million (Democrat Karl Dean).

One other Republican candidate whose money numbers don’t look nearly as strong is State Senator Mae Beavers. While it appears the Senator has a potential base of significant support among Tea Partiers and Donald Trump voters, she will need lots more than just the $36,771 she disclosed as raising so far. After all, this is a statewide contest not a state senate re-election campaign.

As for Harwell, she says she will campaign for governor on her nearly 30 year record of achievement as a lawmaker. That will make her somewhat different from her GOP primary opponents as almost all of them are positioning themselves (one way or another) as “outsiders” who will bring their experience from inside and/or outside government to make all things better in Tennessee. So Harwell’s positioning

makes for an interesting contrast. We’ll see which one Republican primary voters go for in making their choice.

Another candidate looking to make himself different from his opponents is Franklin business Bill Lee who says he will ride a tractor across the state to highlight his focus as governor on rural issues.

He told THE TENNESSEAN: “A tractor might not be the fastest way to get around but I will take as much time as I need to bring attention to our rural communities,” he said.

Lee said as he and his wife, Maria, toured the state in their RV since launching his campaign in April, he thinks Tennessee is a “generation away” from losing a way of life in rural areas.

“I think one of Tennessee’s greatest strength lies in our rural communities and our small towns,” he said.

Lee’s plan calls for an investment in vocational, technical and agricultural education, adding work requirements for recipients of the state’s social programs and reforming the state’s licensing laws.”

Some might see Lee’s move to campaign on a tractor as a political gimmick. But there is a history of success in some similar efforts: future Governor Lamar Alexander walked the state in 1978 and Fred Thompson won a U.S. senate seat while driving a pickup truck during his general election campaign in 1994.

I’ve said earlier in this column that Lee and fellow GOP rival Randy Boyd have similar business backgrounds and might leave voters puzzling over which one is which. We will see if “going rural” and driving a tractor will provide that unique selling point to put Lee over the top in the primary next August.

Meanwhile, Boyd is not getting left behind. He announced on Thursday (July 20) he will run across the state, from Bristol to Memphis, beginning on August 2, 2017 at the Virginia/ Tennessee state line.

From a campaign news release:

“One of the things I have enjoyed most about campaigning is how inspiring it is to hear directly from the people of Tennessee about their hopes and dreams, priorities and concerns.

“I’m not a career politician, but as a business owner, I have always tried to listen carefully to my customers. Crossing the state this way will allow me to do a lot of listening while visiting as many counties and communities as possible on and along the 537.3 mile route.”

“Waking up early each morning and logging in his usual 6 to 10 miles on his daily run, Boyd will follow a linear path across the state, and will then spend the rest of each day at listening and learning events, and at various campaign stops in neighboring counties along the route. Friends and supporters will be invited to #RunWithRandy on various legs of the run, and there will be periodic “fun runs” with kids and families to enjoy along the way.

Boyd, who has completed 34 full marathons and 49 half-marathons, said his goals for the run were to meet as many people as possible, to have some fun while learning, and to promote a healthier Tennessee.”

So it is tractors versus runners on the 2018 campaign trail. Good luck, candidates. Be safe. Senator Lamar Alexander got hit along the road during his statewide walk for governor in 1978. Fortunately he was not badly injured.

Getting back to Speaker Harwell her choice to run for governor is bound to set off quite a power struggle in the lower chamber when the 111th Tennessee General Assembly convenes in January, 2019. Some candidates are already emerging says a story on Tom Humphrey’s blog.

An even earlier battle for power could come in the Senate where Majority Leader Mark Norris has been nominated by President Donald Trump to a position on the federal bench in West Tennessee.

Depending on when Norris is confirmed and resigns his seat and leadership post, the battle could be in early 2018 when the 110th General Assembly returns to Nashville or (if the Norris nomination takes time for confirmation) the contest to replace him in leadership could get bounced to January, 2019.

Unless a GOP gubernatorial candidate emerges out of West Tennessee where Senator Norris appeared to be the only one running from that grand division of the state, the Republican gubernatorial field could be filled out once Congressman Diane Black announces she’s in.

Such an announcement had been expected with Black hoping her leadership position in the House (Budget Committee Chair) would give her a boost once the GOP-led Congress started repealing Obamacare, reforming taxes, passing a new budget, funding infrastructure.

But of course none of that hasn’t happened yet, and with the current demise of health care legislation on the Hill, the other priorities might not happened this year either.

I understand Congressman Black had planned to announce officially in August. But with the congressional recess period now delayed at least two weeks (and President Trump wants it cancelled completely), the Tennessee representative may need to be re-thinking her announcement strategy and its timing to something other than one depending on her role as a leader of Republican success in Washington.

I would add that if the budget she presented as committee chairman this week somehow passes the full House that would be an accomplishment to tout as a gubernatorial candidate, even though Senate passage would also be required for her spending plan to become law.

JOBS, JOBS, JOBS AND THE TENNESSEE PROMISE

We’ve talked about this before….

Heading towards his last year in office, Governor Bill Haslam keeps adding more achievements to his legacy.

This week it was announced that Tennessee is enjoying the lowest unemployment rate (3.6%) since the state began recording and announcing such figures which I think was back in the early 1970s. The previous all-time low of 3.7% came in March, 2000. It is also the first time the state’s jobless number has been below 4% since February, 2001.

Said a news release from the Governor’s office:

“What’s truly exciting about today’s news is that this is a statewide story,” Haslam said. “Today more than ever, businesses have a choice of where to grow or expand, and because of the policies this administration has put in place working with the General Assembly, we’re seeing the job growth that comes when businesses choose Tennessee.”

On the same day (Thursday, July 20) it was also announced out of Mr. Haslam’s office “the state has set a new record and for the third year in a row has led the nation in the number of students filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Nearly three quarters of all Tennessee high school seniors—73.5 percent—filed the FAFSA for the 2017-18 academic year, a requirement for Tennessee students to be eligible for both federal and state aid, including Tennessee Promise and the HOPE Lottery Scholarship.”

Tennessee at 73.5% leads the nation by a wide margin in the FAFSA filings: The District of Columbia comes in second with a 64.8 percent, followed by Delaware (61.6%), New Jersey (61.0%), and Massachusetts (60.4%).

The FAFSA filing rate is important because it is a key indicator of the number of students planning to enroll in postsecondary education as the state pursues the Drive to 55, which aims to have 55 percent of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2025.

“The continued surge in FAFSA filing rates shows the Drive to 55 is changing the college-going culture in Tennessee,” Haslam said. “First-time freshman enrollment in Tennessee has grown 13 percent in the past two years and more students than ever are going to college. As a state, we have invested in making college accessible and open to everyone and students are hearing the message.”

These are two areas where the men and women seeking to succeed Governor Haslam now have the chance to promise they can do even better if they are elected. Since Randy Boyd had a role to play in creating both the Tennessee Promise and the Drive to 55, I am sure he’ll be mentioning it.

As for everyone good luck. And good luck to all the parents and students filling out the FAFSA forms. When my family did it for our children a few years ago, it was far from easy, and not a very applicant friendly government form to fill out. But at least for last three years, Tennessee is first in the nation for filling it out.

INTRODUCING THE VICE PRESIDENT

Getting Vice President Mike Pence to come to Nashville to be the keynote speaker for the annual Statesmen’s Dinner is a real coup for the Tennessee Republican Party.

But behind the scenes, the real story may be the scramble among top state Republican officials to introduce him. Will it be the titular head of the party, Governor Bill Haslam, who became good friends with the Vice President when Pence was governor of Indiana? Or what about our Senior Senator, and the dean of statewide Republican elected officials, Lamar Alexander? Or what about Senator Bob Corker who probably has enjoyed the friendliest relationship with the Trump administration despite a few negative comments along the way too.

Stay tuned.

Former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden is coming to town as well (in November) to sell his soon to be released book. We will see who introduces him. I am sure there will be several state Democratic leaders who will want that honor.

INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION HALFWAY THROUGH HIS FIRST YEAR

President Donald Trump observed his half-year anniversary in the White House this week. And, once again, it’s been quite a tumultuous time these last few days…as it has been it seems the entire six months he has been in the White House.

To give us her perspective on how Team Trump is doing in its first half year in office is Linda Peek Schacht from Lipscomb University. Linda went through the first six months of the administration of President Jimmy Carter back in 1977 and she spent several years on the Hill as a top congressional aide.

So she’s been through the drill.

We are happy to have Linda back on the show to bring her expertise in this area.

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.

DÉJÀ VU THE CONVENTION CENTER

As I have read recent news article that the old Nashville Convention Center is being demolished for a major new multi- million dollar mixed use development, I couldn’t help from having flashbacks from my days as the Metro government reporter at Channel 5.

In the early 1980s (about 35 years ago) Mayor Richard Fulton convinced the Metro Council to build the convention center along Broadway and Commerce Streets between 5th and 7th Avenues. Critics called it “Fulton’s Folly.” The chorus of criticism continued when, after getting a good price to clear the property and do some site preparation (dig a big, deep hole ala our modern-day Lake Palmer at West End & Broad), work then stopped because nobody wanted to proceed to build the center without an approved deal to also construct and operate an adjoining headquarters hotel (what is today the Renaissance Hotel).

But that took quite a bit of time. It seemed almost every week I was doing a standup in front of the hole as a part of my ongoing convention center coverage. I am sure the archives at Channel 5 has a lot of stories with me standing in front of that fenced-off construction site. And so it will happen again. Demolition and site preparation has begun on that location, hopefully followed much more quickly with construction of the new mixed use development which will also include the much anticipated African American Music Museum.

I guess it’s only fitting the Renaissance Hotel remains. While it came a bit late to the party, without it, the downtown center would never have worked. Besides these days we need all the hotel rooms we can find. And it appears, from other recent news stories that we are among the national leaders with new hotel projects underway. It all proves that Mayor Fulton’s original vision for a downtown convention center, and what it would mean for Nashville’s growth and development, was far from folly.

NOTE: I did work for Mayor Fulton (1985-87) while the downtown center was being built and after it opened.

JAKE BUTCHER

Jake Butcher passed away this week at the age of 81.

If you lived in Tennessee in the 1970s and 80s, you surely knew Jake, a banking tycoon, a two time candidate for governor and the man who helped bring a World’s Fair to Knoxville in 1982. But not long afterwards, he also saw his family financial empire crumble amid federal investigations. He spent several years in prison for bank fraud.

I covered Jake Butcher in both 1974 and in 1978 when he ran for Governor. He and Chattanooga businessman Franklin Haney spent so much money in the Democratic primary they got nicknamed “The Gold Dust Twins.” They didn’t win (Ray Blanton did) but it no doubt positioned Butcher well for the future when he finished second in the 1974 primary in a 13-candidate field.

In 1974, I interviewed Mr. Butcher twice for WPLN. I have no particular memories of those interviews. As I said, it was a thirteen man field, and just knowing all their names was something of a challenge. Being a rookie reporter is likely the reason why I don’t remember much about our interviews, not the candidate.

In 1978, Butcher won the Democratic nomination. My cameraman and I joined him in Memphis and covered him campaigning there. Then we flew with him all the way across the state (in his jet) for a rally in Tri Cities. That’s when I learned first- hand what a long and narrow state Tennessee is (even flying in a jet).

It was late in the fall campaign and the weight of the scandals dogging the then Blanton administration cast a pall over the Butcher campaign which I could sense just being with him on the campaign trail. He lost the race to Lamar Alexander, went back to banking, brought the World’s Fair to fruition, even helped get Knoxville Mayor Randy Tyree selected as the Democratic nominee for governor in 1982. But then it all fell apart and he went to prison amid a major banking scandal.

But what struck me as I learned about his passing this week was the headline on a local news site. It read: “Well Known Tennessee Politician Jake Butcher Dies.”

Well that’s true for me. But I work in an office populated by younger folks (under 40, many under 35 or younger). As I went around the office relating the news of Butcher’s passing, only those of a certain age reacted (over 45 or 50 I’d say). Most had no idea who he was.

I guess it shows no matter how high you climb in the worlds of politics and business or how far you fall, if and when it all comes apart, fame or even infamy are related it seems to the passage of time and the generations.

I saw reactions from political leaders from across the state to the Butcher death. Even those who opposed him for office such Senator Lamar Alexander had nice things to say. Of course you always speak well of those who’ve passed away, but it struck me that the Senator didn’t have to make a comment at all, so what he said I thought reflected well on him and on Mr. Butcher. Other stories I read and folks I talked to who knew Mr. Butcher much better than I did,, remarked on what a nice, outgoing, friendly person he was (and his family) even in the tough times.

Rest in peace, Jake Butcher.

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