Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 10, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - CAPITOL VIEW

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

March 10, 2017

DUCK; INSIDE POLITICS SALUTES SENATOR HENRY; THE SAGA CONTINUES; THE FIELD CONTINUES TO FILL; A FOCUS MORE ON POLICY; THE NEXT TWO WEEKS

DUCK

Tennessee lost a legend this week.

Former Nashville Senator Douglas Henry was 90 when he passed away. The end came less than three years after he retired from the Hill following 44 years of service. No one has served longer in the General Assembly. He also passed less than three months after the death of the love of his life, his wife, Miss Lolly.

In some ways lawmakers felt as if they’d lost a still active member of their body. Until the last few weeks, Senator Henry had continued to be present at committee meetings and in the Senate gallery during floor sessions. He was named a special advisor by his longtime friend, new Senate Speaker and Lt. Governor Randy McNally. He was often sought out for advice by other members of the General Assembly. That’s how much he was loved and respected by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle and how much he loved and respected the state of Tennessee and its political processes.

Almost all the eulogies offered in Douglas Henry’s honor describe him quite accurately as the epitome of a southern gentleman, as a man dedicated to public service and to the conservative values that make Tennessee the envy of states across the country for its fiscal prudence. In his final years in office the Senator dedicated himself to Tennessee regaining its AAA bond rating. He can rest in peace knowing that AAA status has been achieved once again. And anyone who ever seeks to tamper with it in the years to come can fully expect Duck to come back and haunt him.

If you want to get away from Capitol Hill and government finance to find out more about the legacy of Senator Henry…take a walk around one of Nashville’s most beloved places…the Radnor Lake Natural Area and State Park. The Nashville lawmaker in 1974 sponsored the necessary legislation for the state to take over the property and keep it from being developed as condos or other housing. What a loss that would have been…and what a blessing that Doug Henry took the leadership position he did to save what is now one of the city’s most cherished green spaces so current and future generations can enjoy it.

Senator Henry has also protected the health and safety of Tennessee’s infants and young children over the past forty years sponsoring and passing one of the first laws in the nation that required car seats to transport our youngest citizens.

State officials and the Senator’s former colleagues took several steps this week to honor Doug Henry. In addition to special tributes and a moment of silence on the Senate floor, there was a recitation the Pledge of Allegiance to the Tennessee State Flag, something which Senator Henry encouraged the upper chamber to do frequently.

In honor of the Senator, Governor Bill Haslam ordered state flags lowered to half- staff all this week. Finally, Senator Henry was given the rare honor to lie in state at the Capitol to allow friends, family and

just regular citizens to pay their final respects. The last time something like this occurred at the Capitol was back in the 1920s or 1930s following the deaths in office of two Tennessee governors.

Two stories I want to tell that speak to the extraordinary man Douglas Henry was. The first happened in the late 1970s, even though its subject matter has remarkable relevance even today. This story came from longtime NEWSCHANNEL5 anchor and newsman Chris Clark. It came while the legislature was having one of its first debates about legalizing marijuana.

Senator Henry was the guest on Chris Clark’s weekly public affairs show (the INSIDE POLITICS of that day). Chris asked the Senator what his thoughts were about changing the state’s marijuana laws. Senator Henry began his response by saying he’d never smoked marijuana, so he didn’t know what that might be like. The Senator added he was bound by his oath of office to uphold and follow the laws and Constitution of the state.

So what Senator Henry did was take Miss Lolly with him across the state border to Kentucky where, checking into a local motel, he sampled some weed (which I assume he also procured in the Bluegrass State) to see what it was all about. He didn’t become a supporter of lessening the marijuana laws, but how he decided to test and make up his mind about that shows how very seriously he took his oath and duties as a public official.

My second story regarding Senator Henry shows both what a student of Tennessee history he was and how dedicated he was to the memory of his ancestors.

Andrew Johnson was one of three Tennesseans to serve as President of the United States. He also served in every public office possible on the local, state and federal level, having been alderman and mayor of Greenville as well as state representative, state senator and congressman from that area. Johnson was Governor of Tennessee as well as United States Senator from this state, along with serving as Vice President under Abraham Lincoln and succeeding him in office after he was assassinated.

But Johnson was often a very divisive and controversial figure, especially for the time he spent as military governor of Tennessee during the Civil War. If captured or paroled Confederates would not take the oath of allegiance to the United States, Johnson would put them in jail and throw away the key until they did take the oath.

So he was despised by many in Nashville and across the state at that time. That’s probably why until the mid-1990s there was no monument or anything on Capitol Hill that honored Johnson’s extraordinary career. The Tennessee Bi-Centennial Commission sought to fix that and a statue was erected. Senator Henry was an avid student of Tennessee history and he attended every event the Bicentennial Commission held. But he did not attend the statue dedication for Andrew Johnson. He told the event officials: “I am sorry. I can’t be there. He was mean to my people.”

Nobody was a bigger supporter of Tennessee’s history or heritage than Senator Henry. Sometimes his actions surrounding historical figures such as General Nathan Bedford Forrest got him embroiled in controversy. But he remained true to his beliefs and his love of history and of Tennessee.

In his statement marking Senator Henry’s passing, Governor Bill Haslam talked about one of happiest things he’s ever gotten to do as governor, was a couple of years back when he got to tell Senator Henry that funding was included in his budget to build the new State Museum.

That building is presently under construction on the Bicentennial Mall. It will open in the fall of 2018, and like the current museum, it bears Douglas Henry’s name. It’s one of many ways his legacy will live on in service to the citizens of Tennessee for decades to come. Rest in peace, Senator.

INSIDE POLITICS SALUTES SENATOR HENRY

This week on INSIDE POLITICS we salute the life and accomplishments of Senator Douglas Henry.

Our guests are two people who were among his closest friends. One is House Speaker Beth Harwell. She served in the General Assembly with the Senator for many years and their districts overlapped in the Green Hills/ West Nashville area. Our other guest is Nick Bailey, Senator Henry’s longtime friend, confidant and campaign manager.

We’ll get their thoughts and reflections concerning their dear friend and Tennessee legend. I am sure they’ll have some wonderful, insightful stories to share.

Tune in for this very special edition of our show.

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 SAGA CONTINUES

Governor Bill Haslam’s transportation bill to raise the gas tax (and cut other taxes such as the grocery and some manufacturing-related taxes) continues to stay alive on Capitol Hill.

But its journey towards approval (if that is what happens) has certainly been a strange one so far.

The measure has passed out of two sub-committees, one in each house. But in both cases the language in the bill that gained approval doesn’t even mention the words tax increase. In fact, language was added in the House sub-committee that comes from a rival proposal and would take existing portions of the state sales tax to fund a roads program. On the Senate side, the bill that passed in a newly-created sub-committee only contains a list of actual projects that would be funded.

Of course, because this effort is being done under a broad “caption” bill, the guts of the Governor’s plan can be added in later, perhaps when a more favorable committee takes it up for consideration. This “just win and advance” sub-committee strategy, leaving the exact details to be worked out another day, is bothering some lawmakers who have now deferred action for a week on the bill in the full House Transportation Committee.

One sign they should be concerned: a Senate panel has unanimously approved the Department of Transportation’s budget for the next fiscal year which reflects the extra funding anticipated by the Governor’s gas tax increase.

So what if they raised the gas tax but nobody ever really voted for it? it appears each house of the Legislature wants the other to go first to cast the first vote actually in favor of a tax hike. How long will this chicken dance continue? Stay tuned.

Actually there were several somewhat strange developments on the Hill this week. Proponents of the revived “bathroom bill” to require transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms based on the sex listed on their birth certificates not their own preference, was indefinitely deferred by the sponsors. It was thought given the actions of the Trump administration, to void the guidance given by the former Obama White House to favor sexual identity over what a birth certificate says about gender, the way would be clear to move the bill in Tennessee, especially with the U.S. Supreme Court now declining to hear a Virginia case on the controversy. But bathroom bill sponsors say there are too many conflicting signals out there, so they deferring the measure for now.

I wonder if those different signals also include Lt. Governor Randy McNally’s statements that with the Trump decision there is no need for legislation in Tennessee. Or what about the fiscal note tacked on the bill this week by budget officials saying (no doubt based on similar legislation passed in North Carolina) that passage of a bathroom bill could cost the state up to $1 billion in lost taxes and other revenues from the loss of cancelled meetings, sports contests, etc.

But is the Tennessee bathroom bill being flushed for the full year? Don’t be too sure about that. I suspect the final decision will come later in the spring when the legislative sub-committees and full committees begin to shut down for the session.

It was also thought a few weeks back that Tennessee might help lead the country in calling for a first-of-its-kind Article V constitutional convention. The gathering would be held to consider requiring a balanced budget amendment be placed in the U.S. Constitution, although critics are concerned it could open the entire document for a rewrite.

It takes 34 states to call such a convention and right now the effort is just 5 states short. But after the House State Government Committee killed the joint resolution this week (sending it to a summer study committee) it does not appear Tennessee lawmakers will vote for it this session. In fact, a move to have Tennessee host a planning meeting this summer here in Nashville to get ready for the full Article V convention also appears in doubt.

The privatization efforts of the Haslam administration also stayed in the news this week. The Attorney General issued a ruling that the effort to privatize Fall Creek Falls State Park is “perfectly legal” even though the push is on hold while some unidentified issues surrounding the state’s RFP (request for proposals) in the matter is being worked out. Meanwhile, with protestors out in force on the Hill, State Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin defended the outsourcing before a skeptical State Senate committee. Cari Wade Gervin of the NASHVILLE SCENE reports:

"We have a responsibility, we have resources to provide services to the most vulnerable of our citizens, and we have a clear responsibility to our taxpayers to spend their money wisely," Martin said during what he noted was his 16th presentation to the Legislature on the benefits of outsourcing.”

“But committee chair Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) seemed skeptical of Martin's claims that outsourcing is good for the state.

"It seems like we're socializing the risk and privatizing the profit," Dickerson commented.

Sen. Janice Bowling (R-Tullahoma) also questioned how much of the estimated savings offset the costs of the contracts going to out-of-state companies, asking Martin and Customer Focused Government Director Terry Cowles if they had run the numbers relating to that. The two men did not answer.

"If the savings aren't coming on the labor side, why are we outsourcing the labor?" questioned Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville).

Finally, there was, of course, scandal on the Hill, both a new one and a new development in an old one.

The old one involves former State Representative Jeremy Durham who was ousted from his post last year after an investigation by the Attorney General’s office found he had sexually harassed 22 women who worked on the Hill.

Now the results (and potential consequences) from another investigation into Durham’s use of campaign funds came to life this week. A show cause letter from the state Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance details 690 violations of the law by Durham. The report includes the names of prominent donors and business owners who gave the lawmaker money that was never reported to the state. Add it all up, with possible maximum fines (at $10,000 per violation), it totals nearly $7 million that could be assessed against Durham.

Now I doubt any fine assessed will be that large, but don’t forget Durham may be facing an even more serious situation. That’s a federal criminal investigation reportedly still being conducted by the U.S. Attorney here in Nashville.

As for the new scandal that broke on the Hill, it is reported by THE NASHVILLE SCENE that Lewis County State Senator Dr. Joey Hensley is being required to give a deposition in a divorce case that appears to be quite salacious. The allegations include the Senator being involved in an affair with a nurse, who is not only a party in the divorce case but also the Senator’s second cousin. There are also allegations of opioid drug prescriptions being involved.

Never a dull moment on the Hill.

THE FIELD CONTINUES TO FILL

Another week, another candidate for governor announces.

Randy Boyd, a Knoxville businessman and former State Economic and Development Commissioner has filed his papers to run in the Republican primary in August 2018. He joins State Senator Mark Green in the race with a host of other GOP elected officials and others still eyeing a run. Meanwhile two Democrats are in their primary field: former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh.

Boyd is independently wealthy and is known as a philanthropist. He is close to Governor Bill Haslam and is credited (says his campaign news release) with being the architect of several of the Governor’s signature programs. That includes the Tennessee Promise and tnAchieves efforts along with the Drive to 55 and the Tennessee Reconnect programs, all aimed to boost Tennessee’s college graduation rates.

In announcing his intentions earlier than most potential rivals, it is clear Boyd knows he needs to build his name recognition statewide. This week he already been campaigning across the state in Bradley, Rutherford, Williamson, Greene and Loudon Counties. Next week he will be in Knoxville, Nashville, Union City, Memphis, Jackson, Fruitvale, Blountville and Chattanooga.

Boyd also seems to be striking a bit of a populist chord that echoes his existing experience in state government.

“There is not a better time to live and work in Tennessee, but not everyone is sharing in that success. So my campaign will be about expanding opportunities for every Tennessee family and community,” Boyd said. “The opportunity for a better education - the opportunity for better jobs – and a better opportunity for everyone, regardless of where you live, whether you’re from rural Tennessee, the inner city, or somewhere in between. That’s how I’ve tried to serve in the past, and that is my vision for an even greater, more successful Tennessee.”

“I’m not a professional politician. My background is growing a small business. But I gained enough experience in Nashville to know how to get things done there,” Boyd said.

Boyd has also assembled a strong campaign staff to bolster his efforts including his campaign CEO Chip Saltsman who is a veteran of many Tennessee campaigns and was former GOP State Party Chair.

A FOCUS MORE ON POLICY

For the first time I can remember under the Trump presidency, the focus in Washington this week has been more on policy issue debates and less on would-be scandals like Russia or the President’s potential conflicts of interest. Not that those other matters aren’t still in the news cycle, they are. And they and might return with a vengeance if there’s another late night or early morning tweet storm by the President making still more unsubstantiated charges like the ones he’s leveled against his predecessor President Obama for wiretapping Trump Tower, for being behind all the government leaks in recent weeks and for releasing too many terrorist related prisoners (actually President Bush released more).

One thing we did learn this week is why the House Republican leadership kept hidden the details of their “repeal and replace” health care bill. Since they finally brought the plan out in the open on Tuesday, it has been strongly attacked by congressmen and senators on both sides of the aisle as well as by several major health care industry groups who don’t like it.

So will the GOP leadership and President Trump have the votes to pass their health care bill? House Speaker Paul Ryan says he will have the votes in the House and the Senate while President Trump says he plans to put on “a full court press” to get the measure passed iby Congress within the next few weeks.

Already, and even without waiting for the customary cost estimate of the bill from the Congressional Budget Office, the GOP health care plan is making its way through at least two House committees passing on party line votes and after marathon markup sessions. The bill could be on the House floor as early as next week. The Senate could be a tougher challenge. With only a 52-48 majority, the Republicans and the President can’t afford to lose any more than 2 GOP members in the upper chamber, since it is highly unlikely any Democrats will defect to vote aye.

That brings us back to Nashville where the President is due to visit our fair city next Wednesday to hold a rally at the Municipal Auditorium. Health care seems to be the most likely topic for his travel here. The President has held a series of such rallies in red states (such as Tennessee) since he won election last November.

The President also held rallies like these quite frequently during the campaign and it is a format he is quite comfortable with doing. Maybe too comfortable some would say, as in the past, he has sometimes wandered off his prepared remarks and his teleprompter and adlibbed himself into trouble. But it seems pretty clear to me, the President’s Nashville trip is a critical part of his full court press to pass this health care plan.

After all, this is his first major policy effort with the Congress, so its success or failure looms large for any future success he might achieve in Washington in terms of taxes, trade, infrastructure or the budget, among other issues.

So why come to Nashville? Well it is a health care mecca. But more importantly, its media market touches several congressional districts. Now he won’t get Nashville Democratic congressman Jim Cooper on his side. But with a large crowd and a strong performance here, he might get better reviews about the health care plan from area Congressmen Marsha Blackburn and Diane Black, both of whom were not completely glowing in their initial comments about plan.

The same kind of less than full endorsements have come from Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker so the President’s visit might help with them too. Also will the Senators, the Congressmen and Governor Bill Haslam either join Mr. Trump on Air Force One or greet him when he lands in Nashville on Wednesday afternoon?

Actually the hardest Tennessee congressman for President Trump get to vote for the health care proposal will be Scott DesJarlais. He is from the conservative Tea Party wing of the party and that group is among a number of conservatives who say the new “Trumpcare” or “Ryancare” is too much like the present Obamacare program which they want repealed period (and maybe not replaced at all, at least not right away).

Congressman DesJarlais did issue a very positive statement about the President’s visit. He was among the first members of Congress to support Trump’s candidacy. Interestingly, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, a strong supporter of the President’s Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, issued a welcoming statement too about the President’s visit.

The statement read in part: “Nashville is a warm and welcoming city for all, and that certainly includes President Trump and his supporters who will be attending this event,” said Nashville Mayor Megan Barry. “I hope that during President Trump’s visit to Nashville, he has an opportunity to experience our diverse culture and welcoming values that make our city and our economy so successful. If we have the chance to meet, I would love to follow up on our previous phone conversation about Nashville’s desire to be included in the President’s plan for improving infrastructure across the nation.”

So will the Mayor attend any portion of Mr. Trump’s trip here? I have my doubts but it does appear President Trump will visit the Hermitage, President Andrew Jackson’s home while he is here. He will be in town on the 250th anniversary of President Jackson’s birth and it is well known that the current President is a great admirer of Old Hickory. He seems to like comparisons between himself and the

Tennessean, even keeping a portrait of Mr. Jackson in the Oval Office behind his desk. Will it present a more neutral site if Mayor Barry wants to have that infrastructure conversation? I’d still say that’s doubtful but who knows.

One other question, why did Team Trump select the Municipal Auditorium for the rally? Why not the Arena? I’d say size might have something to do with it. The 8,000 to 10,000 seating capacity for Municipal is a space they have a good chance to fill, especially with about a week to attract a crowd even from areas outside Nashville or even across the state. However there are media reports that protestors will try to register for tickets and then either not show up or come in numbers to the rally to stage their own counter protest.

As for holding the rally at the Arena, that’s about double the size in terms of seating capacity, and therefore may be harder to fill. The 55 year old Auditorium facility has been kept up pretty well by Metro in recent years. It even hosted a Sting concert in recent weeks. The Auditorium is known for concerts and basketball tournaments. So a “full court press” there (especially during the month of March Madness) seems to fit.

Municipal has never hosted a president, making Mr. Trump’s visit perhaps the number one event in the venue’s history, although some may still believe the 1970s concert performed there by the King (of Rock & Roll), Elvis Presley, will always be its number one moment.

A presidential visit is like the ultimate political circus come to town. There will be wall to wall media coverage from across the country and the world and there will be lots of excitement generated by Trump supporters. The Trump protestors will also be motivated to show up and display their continuing resistance to the President’s leadership.

Meanwhile, then there’s the rest of us just hoping we don’t get stuck in the horrendous traffic jams a presidential visit like this always generates.

One final Trump note for the week, the administration has announced a newly reconfigured travel ban after its first one went down in flames in the courts. The new executive order still bans travel from six largely Muslim countries (Iraq has been removed) while those with green cards and current visas will not be impacted.

But there are again at least six states (New York, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon and Hawaii) again challenging the legality and constitutionality of the travel ban in court as well the temporary suspension of the country’s refugee resettlement program.

So will this new plan be déjà vu all over again? Or will the second effort from Team Trump to protect the safety of the country and its citizens from foreign terrorists pass legal muster this time? The new travel and refugee resettlement ban is set to take effect next week (on March 16 the day after he is in Nashville). So we should get some pretty quick answers from the courts. But will the new travel ban be a subject for debate when the President is here the day before? And what else does this “Ides of March” journey to Music City portend for Nashville and for the President?

THE NEXT TWO WEEKS

My work and travel schedules over the next two weeks mean I won’t be able to write this column. Look for the next Capitol View on Friday, March 24.

We will have new INSIDE POLITICS shows to air with Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett as my guest on the weekend of March 17-19 and Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper joining us for the show the weekend of March 24-26.

I hope you’ll watch!

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