Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 27 - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 27


By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

March 27, 2009


Its two months late because of all the uncertainty surrounding the economy and the federal stimulus package, but Tennessee does finally have a state budget proposal for lawmakers in the General Assembly to review and approve.

Governor Bredesen calls the spending plan "the greatest test of our stewardship." In fact, while state law only allows the Legislature to approve spending plans one year at a time, the Governor presented a four year budget proposal. That's because, while the $5 billion in federal stimulus money Tennessee is receiving over the next two years will certainly help Tennessee "dodge a bullet" in terms of immediate layoffs, employee furloughs and service cuts, 24 months from now the federal funds will be gone and the state could be back in even deeper financial trouble unless it plans ahead and spends its money wisely.

You can put it another way. Except for K-12 education, Governor Bredesen is looking to cut the rest of state government 12% in the next few years, and in large part that's because state tax revenues are not expected to return to even their current levels for at least that long a period of time. So cuts have to be made, and the Governor thinks it better to spread those out over a longer period of time of up to four years. 

This week on INSIDE POLITICS we take an in-depth look at the state budget with Finance and Administration Commissioner Dave Goetz. He helped put together this budget, so he knows very well the challenges we still face going forward, including the almost weekly changes still being sent down from Washington on how the stimulus funds can be used.  It's all so complicated the Bredesen administration has set up a special office to monitor the stimulus funds to make sure they are spent correctly. 

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network.

Fridays (March 27).........7:00 PM......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50

Saturdays (March 28).....5:00 AM.....NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Saturdays (March 28)......5:30 PM......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Sundays (March 29).........5:00 AM......NEWSCHANNEL5 WTVF-TV 

Sundays (March 29).........5:00 AM......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Sundays (March 29)..........12:30 PM....NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS


I remain fascinated to watch the Republican leadership across the state choose up sides for the 2010 governor's race.

In the last week or so, it's been a game of "name your key consultants."

It began when Senator Lamar Alexander announced that his Chief of Staff (and the most successful GOP political guru in Tennessee in the last 30 years) Tom Ingram was leaving to go back into the private sector. Buried in the release was information that one of Ingram's new gigs would be acting as a gubernatorial campaign consultant to Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam.

Wow! That's a real coup. It clearly strengthens the growing perception that Haslam is the front-runner in the GOP race. It is also a real sign of which candidate the moderate wing of the Tennessee Republican Party (the so-called Howard Baker wing) is backing in the race.

More than anyone else, Tom Ingram is the man responsible for putting Lamar Alexander in the Governor's office and in the U.S. Senate (think walk across the state and red plaid shirts). He did the same to elect Fred Thompson to the Senate (think pickup truck) and he rescued Bob Corker's campaign from disaster in the fall of 2006 and helped him beat Harold Ford, Jr. for another of Tennessee's seats in the Senate. Now, that's a great track record! However Ingram's strong support of Phil Bredesen when he was elected Governor in 1994 still leaves more than a bad taste in the mouths of some Republican activists, and that could be a problem down the road if the party needs uniting after the primary. 

No doubt the Ingram announcement set off political shock waves across the state. In reaction, and to reassure their own supporters and would-be contributors, some of the other major GOP gubernatorial candidates began issuing their own news releases naming their top consultants.

Congressman Zach Wamp was first, using a team approach. Was that to counteract Ingram's personal political star power? The Wamp team is impressive. It includes former GOP State Party Chair and Fred Thompson aide Bob Davis as campaign chair; former TVA Chairman, ECD Commissioner and Knoxville business leader Bill Baxter as state finance chair and John Crisp, a former aide to Governor Alexander, as campaign strategist and communications consultant. 

The Davis appointment brought an interesting response from another GOP candidate, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. According to a story on the NASHVILLE SCENE's blog (March 26) by Jeff Woods: "Ramsey snorted at this news. He said he talked with Davis about a job, but didn't want to make Davis his number one guy." The article goes on to quote Ramsey as saying: "We had a discussion about this, and I understand he wanted the Number One position in any campaign. He wouldn't have had that in my race, because we are working in another direction that we'll be announcing soon."

In the meantime, Ramsey's gubernatorial campaign exploratory committee has put up a web site ( There's nothing all that unusual about it, except you have to hunt a bit on the site to find much information about Ramsey running for governor. This could also be one, if not the only would-be political candidate's web site in the entire country, that doesn't (and can't by state law) raise money. Since Ramsey serves in the General Assembly, he is prohibited from raising any money for any campaign until the Legislature adjourns or May 15, whichever comes first. Think that might be another incentive for the Lt. Governor to get a state budget passed pretty quickly and adjourn for the year? J   

In the wake of the Ingram announcement, the other Republican in the gubernatorial field, Memphis prosecutor Bill Gibbons has also sent out information on his key campaign staff. According to an Associated Press story (March 26) Gibbon's campaign manager will be Josh Thomas, a former field representative for Senator Alexander. His West Tennessee finance chair is Methodist Healthcare Corp. head Gary Shorb, while his Shelby County finance head is AutoZone, Inc. executive Bill Rhodes. I think it's fair to say none of these folks have a lot of statewide political profile and the concentration of West Tennessee leaders seem to continue a strong pattern in the Gibbons campaign so far (he is the only candidate from that part of the state, while all the rest are from East Tennessee).          

 One last interesting note about Congressman Wamp: THE TENNESSEAN a few days ago featured a story about Wamp's use of the social networking craze Twitter to stay in touch with constituents and supporters. The paper had an illustration of one of Wamp's twits that read:

"The Democrats' budget spends too much, borrows too much and taxes too much. More debt in this budget than last 43 Presidents combined."

Nice talking points, in fact, they are verbatim, the talking points from Senator Alexander which were put together and circulated to other Senate Republicans to use as a part of Alexander's duties as his party's Senate Conference Chair. Now, Tom Ingram worked on Senator Alexander's Senate staff, not his Conference Chair staff. But if you think Senator Alexander does his Conference work without ever consulting Ingram, I would say, think again. So I wonder how often in the future Congressman Wamp will be using Tom Ingram's talking points? J

I guess you can check that out while observing the Congressman's whirlwind campaign trip through Middle Tennessee set for this weekend. In fact, you are going to be seeing a lot of him and all the other GOP gubernatorial candidates as this section of the state (which doesn't have a GOP candidate) is shaping up to be the real "battleground" for the August 2010 primary.


Trying to sell his budget to Congress and the public, President Obama is everywhere in the media: late night talk shows, Sunday morning talk shows, prime time news conferences, virtual town hall meetings on the Internet. You name it, he's doing it.

So far, it seems to be working with the public as his job performance polling numbers remain high and some polls even show the public has a slightly more positive outlook on the economy and the country's future.  

It reminds me of that story in the Bible where the Jews were fighting one of their enemies in trying to retake the Holy Land after their Egyptian Captivity. As long as Moses stayed high on the mountain with his hands raised to the sky in prayer, they had the better of the battle. But whenever he grew tired and lowered his hands or disappeared from view, they begin to lose. It seems as long as President Obama stays active and out front, he is succeeding, but whenever he grows a bit quiet or is out of the news, then his opponents, particularly the Republicans, seem to gain some ground in their arguments against his proposals.

After some work (and some compromises) on Capitol Hill, it appears the President has solidified his Democratic support for his budget, which means House approval looks pretty likely. In the Senate, that could be another matter and it may depend on what kind of parliamentary procedure is used. Mr. Obama appears to have lost the moderate Republican support he had to pass the stimulus package. That means if the regular Senate rules are used, he probably won't have the 60 votes he needs to shut off debate and pass his budget.

However, there is another procedure called ‘budget reconciliation" that can be used by Senate Democratic leaders. That process does not require 60 votes just a simple constitutional majority of 51 for approval. That is a number of votes the Democrats may be able to muster, although some in the party have expressed concerns about doing it this way.

Meantime, Congress seems to be having second thoughts (thankfully) about that unconstitutional effort to place a special tax on those AIG executives and others who have gotten bonuses out of the federal government bailout monies given to their companies. While everyone has been outraged, that's not the way to go. As the administration and Congress continue to look for ways to deal with those ‘toxic assets" in our financial system, and to make meaningful and long overdue reforms to our system of government oversight for things such as hedge funds and derivatives, everyone needs to keep a level head about how to proceed, as well as remembering to keep in place a delicate balance between oversight and too much government intervention and control.


I need to clarify a couple of things I talked about in last week's column.

First, Metro Public Works informs me the city is NOT providing curbside recycling pickup in the General Services District in Bellevue. Director Billy Lynch says he and his department are merely promoting the services being provided by a private contractor. Why? Well, the private contractor is letting Metro count what he collects toward the city's overall solid waste recycling numbers that have to be reported to the state. It will make Metro look a lot better.

Fair enough, but from the way I read all the news story and press releases on this subject, it sure looked like Metro was running this new curbside program. And if a private contractor can provide this service at $10 a month, which normally is available only to citizens in the higher-tax-paying Urban Services District, and make a profit, could Metro annex these areas (over time) and do the same?

My other clarification concerns the Predators. I have been assured by the Mayor's office that while there was a big goof by the lawyers in how the team's lease agreement with the city was drafted and then approved by the Metro Council, the Predators have always paid exactly what they owed in ticket fees to the city. The city is not short any money at all. Good, now let's hope the Predators continue their hard work and reward their fans with another NHL Playoff berth.

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