Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 22 - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 22

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

May 22, 2009

INSIDE POLITICS; HOLDAY TRAVEL & V.P. CHENEY; ON THE HILL & GUBERNATORIAL POLITICS   

I know that the Memorial Day Holiday weekend is usually a time for being with family and friends and firing up the grill in the backyard. But I hope you take a minute in the next few days to do two things. First, remember those who fought and died so we could enjoy our freedom in this country. Then, my second holiday weekend request is that you take another 30 minutes to watch my INSIDE POLITICS show.

My guest is Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and we talk about a lot of the hot-button issues that heating up the Metro Courthouse these days. That includes the new convention center and the Mayor's proposed operating budget, which layoffs employees and potentially cut backs some services, including at Metro General Hospital. We also talk about the future of Metro schools, and the possibility that when classes start back later in August, it will be under new management, namely, the Mayor himself.

It's a good show, and I will tell you up front, I think we make a little news this week. With legislation  soon to reach the Governor's desk that would allow those with gun permits to carry them in state and local parks, the Mayor says he is ready to join with Metro Council leaders to seek to opt out of the new law, if and when it goes into effect.

The bill passed by the General Assembly has such an opt-out clause, and the Metro Council at its last meeting (May 19) approved a memorializing resolution going on record against the entire "guns in parks" bill.

Now memorializing resolutions are not binding. So it will be interesting to see what happens if and when the Mayor and the Council move forward on the actual opt-out legislation, and what the NRA and other pro-guns groups try to do about it, if anything.

This effort to allow "gun in parks, bars and (fill in the blank)" is an issue that seems to be on the front burner politically all across the board now, from the Congress to the statehouse and now perhaps soon even in the Metro Council.

It's creating some odd situations. In Congress, the "guns in parks" provision is an amendment attached to the new "Credit Card Users Bills of Rights." If you see the connection for having those things in the same bill, let me know. I sure can't figure it out.  But it doesn't seem to be bothering Congressional leaders enough to try and remove it.

Then there's this strange situation developing on the state level. When the new "guns in parks" legislation goes into effect (and it will, the Governor won't likely sign the bill, but a veto can't be sustained and that only leaves letting it go into effect without his signature), there will still be signs in the state parks saying "no weapons allowed."

Why not take the signs down? Well, that costs money and lawmakers have imposed a rule on themselves that any legislation that requires new spending (generating a fiscal note. they call it) must wait until after the budget passes (meaning, given the very, very tight budget this year, nothing that's not in the budget will be approved).

So that means, you will likely soon see folks going armed in our state parks, while they go pass signs that clearly say "no weapons allowed."

Only in America

You can watch INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network.

Fridays (May 22).............7:00 PM...........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50

Saturdays (May 23)........5:00 AM............NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Saturdays (May 23).........5:30 PM..........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Sundays (May 24)............5:00 AM..........WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5

Sundays (May 24)..........5:00 AM............NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Sundays (May 24)............12:30 PM.........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

TRAVELING

Memorial Day Weekend is a time a lot of us travel, taking trips for recreation, pleasure, or to visit family and friends.

As another sign that the economy may be beginning to improve a bit, AAA and other travel groups are predicting an upswing in traffic during this holiday. After all, the airlines and many hotels are also offering great deals to get you out of your home for a couple of days.

But who really needs these predictions. All you have to do is go by any local gas station and see what has happened to the cost of gasoline to know that at least the Big Oil companies expect more people to be on the road. So as has happened in several years in the past, when Memorial Day approaches, the cost of gasoline skyrockets.

In fact, in Nashville prices have risen more than 35 cents a gallon (up to $2.35 a gallon) in the just the past 2-3 weeks. Now the oil companies will blame it on refinery capacity or the different blends of gas they have to produce for the summer months, or who knows what. But here's an interesting fact. When I was in the New York City area last week, the price of gasoline was significantly LOWER there than it is here in Nashville.

Can you think of anything else that is cheaper in NYC than it is here? I sure can't.

Keep all this in mind as our leaders in Congress continue to debate our future national energy policy and how we should address global warming. Despite all the efforts of all parties in these debates, there are no easy or cheap answers. Getting off our oil addiction and really making a dent in global warming (if that can be done) will be one of the most difficult and expensive challenges we have ever faced in this country.  The questions are what's the best way to go (carbon-tax or cap-and-trade)? And, secondly, what the cost of doing nothing, as Congress has done so many times before?

The importance of this issue and reforming health care makes me wonder if the Obama administration is having any second thoughts about all the time and energy is having to continue to expend in all this torture, Guantanamo, national security debate which President himself started a few weeks ago?

Things have quickly gotten out of hand, as Republicans, especially former Vice President Dick Cheney, have found ways to exploit the issue, and with some success. Ask House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. And why in the world the President would ask Congress for tens of millions of dollars to shut down the Guantanamo Prison without a concrete plan for what to do with the prisoners there is beyond me. Is this a major sign that the administration is trying to do too much, too quickly and sometimes the necessary details and preparation are falling by the wayside?

In my opinion, the only bigger blunder by the new Administration so far has been that Air Force One low-level photo shoot and fly over of New York City. As someone in my office said, "Don't they know that's why they invented Photo Shop?"    

As for Vice President Cheney, it has been the tradition for many years that immediately after leaving office former Presidents and Vice-Presidents keep a low profile and don't make public comments about their successors. But Mr. Cheney is clearly tired of being kept under wraps and in an "undisclosed location" where he spent much of the last part of the Bush Administration. That's when many in the GOP, especially the John McCain campaign, judged him to be a major liability.

There may still be some truth to that. But so far, former Vice-President Cheney has clearly been the most effective national GOP leader in speaking out successfully against the Democrats.

  

ON THE HILL

Memorial Day Weekend was once the time state lawmakers thought they would be headed home for the year.

But with the state budget continuing to sink in a sea of red ink and falling tax revenues, it may now be mid-June, at the earliest, before they are ready to adjourn. We'll get a better idea next Friday (May 29) when the Governor is expected to offer his latest budget revisions.

Those revisions are not likely to be very pretty, and may include (once again) layoffs and more service cuts. While there's not much lawmakers can do (a tax hike is out), there may still be some fighting over how and how much of the federal stimulus money to use to balance the budget.

Meantime, one lawmaker who can't wait until it's time to go home is Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. He plans to officially start his campaign for the 2010 governor's race with a kickoff rally at Puckett's Grocery in Franklin, TN at midnight, June 1.

Midnight? What is this? College basketball? No, it is the state's campaign finance laws at work. State law has prohibited Speaker Ramsey from raising any money while the Legislature is in session. But that prohibition ends June 1 (whether the General Assembly has gone home or not) so the Lt. Governor is wasting not a second longer beginning his campaign and his fund raising, as soon as the clock strikes midnight on the first of June.

But Mr. Ramsey's campaign remains very cautious. In the e-mail invitations being sent across the state there is disclaimer language inserted trying to make sure the invitation itself won't get the Lt. Governor in fundraising trouble. It says: "Nothing contained in this invitation is, or should be construed as, either a solicitation or an acceptance of a contribution by Lt. Governor Ramsey, the Ramsey for Governor Campaign, or its agents. Further, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, the Ramsey for Governor Campaign, and its agents DO NOT authorize and expenditures or contributions whatsoever, prior to 12:01 AM, June 1, 2009, by any person, club, organization, political campaign or any other entity."

Whew! I understand the reasons for all that mumbo jumbo. But it seems kind of silly. I mean, what if all the folks coming read this stuff and then forget their check books. J

Mr. Ramsey has been trying to change the no-funding-raising-during-session law for gubernatorial candidates. It looks like it has a pretty good amount of support. Frankly, I think it's critical the Lt. Governor get the bill passed before he has to go through another no-fund raising period next year from January until the General Assembly is over. Doing that would be disastrous for the Lt. Governor's gubernatorial efforts, especially running against a financially well-heeled candidate like Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam.

While he's at it, Mr. Ramsey also seems to want to further tilt the fund raising field in his favor by supporting efforts to eliminate the dollar contribution limits for individuals in state campaigns. Those have been in place ever since post-Watergate times. But they clearly give multi-millionaire candidates an advantage because there are no limits on their contributions to their campaigns.

But so far,  going back to the days when a few rich donors could almost bankroll an entire campaign does not seem to be getting a lot of support on the Hill (even though it appears some supporters of GOP Gubernatorial candidate and Congressman Zach Wamp are behind the effort as well).

All this is critical not only because of what it does to impact the candidates' campaign coffers, but because it is clear that Mayor Haslam's opponents are laying the groundwork to label him as an "elitist" candidate. That began a few days ago when Memphis District Attorney Bill Gibbons, another GOP candidate, tried to use that label in referring to Mr. Haslam's statements about the need to reform public education in Tennessee.

Clearly, Mayor Haslam is emerging as the candidate to beat in the race. He's probably the candidate most aligned with the moderate "Howard Baker-Lamar Alexander" wing of the party, meaning the other candidates are left to fight among themselves to become the candidate of choice among the more conservative wing of the Tennessee GOP.

And here there is another interesting development coming out of Lt. Governor Ramsey's kickoff event. It will feature conservative talk show host Steve Gill as the master of ceremonies. Gill, who is based in Nashville, but whose show and weekly opinion column, are heard and read across the state, is a real catch for the Ramsey campaign as they continue to try and one-up their competitors particularly in the Wamp camp.

On the Democratic side, the field suddenly seems a little crowded, especially the further West you go in the state. At least three candidates with similar support bases in West Tennessee are poised to get into the race: Mike McWherter, the son of the former popular governor, Ned Ray McWherter; State Senator Roy Herron, who once succeeded Governor McWherter by taking over his state house seat when he was elected governor; and Senate Majority Leader Jim Kyle from Memphis.

While candidates from West Tennessee have historically been very successful in getting elected governor over the past several decades, three from that area in the same primary is probably at least one, maybe two too many. If all of them get in the race, it would clearly enhance the opportunities for candidates in other parts of the state like former House Majority Leader Kim McMillan of Clarksville and Nashville multi-millionaire businessman Ward Cammack. It could also encourage even more candidates to get in, leading to a muddled Democratic primary field similar to 1974 when 13 Democrats went to the post, with the winner (Governor Ray Blanton) carrying the day with less than 30% of the total vote.

You better believe state party leaders would like to avoid that scenario if possible. So you can be sure efforts to broker the race, and keep the field relatively small, are likely already underway.        

All this gubernatorial election intrigue comes at a time when the future of how the state will continue to oversee the ethics of its elected officials remains uncertain. The State Ethics Commission, formed in the wake of the last bribery scandal on Capitol Hill, has never been very effective, and now has fired its executive director. With the Commission due to sunset (go out of business) July 1, does that mean the Commission will be merged with the already-existing Election Registry that has been overseeing campaign finance in the state for several years now? Or will lawmakers just let the Ethics Commission go away completely? All that will be decided (along with how we will continue to select and elect our State Supreme Court and Appeals Court judges) in the next few weeks.

It will all play out as lawmakers try to keep their focus while temperatures rise, nerves fray and the state's worst budget nightmare in many, many years continues to unfold.       

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