By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations
June 5, 2009
INSIDE POLITICS; GUN BATTLES GO LOCAL; CAR WARS; METRO LONGEVITY TO SURVIVE?; METRO TEACHER PAY LAGS; THE SUPREMES
With so much of the major political news in Tennessee focusing right now on the General Assembly, I thought it was a good time to invite three of the best legislative reporters in the state to join me for INSIDE POLITICS this week.
Tom Humphreys of THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL is the Dean of the Capitol Hill Press Corps, Joe White with Nashville Public Radio has covered the Hill for many years, and Ken Whitehouse of NashvillePost.com breaks stories every week that have other reporters playing catch-up.
These guys know what's going on. So I think their insights are critical to understanding where we are and where we are headed with the state's budget challenges, the ongoing gun wars on Capitol Hill, the revised judicial selection process now pending final approval and campaign funding raising issues being debated in the Legislature.
INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network.
Fridays (June 5)..........7:00 PM...........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50
Saturdays (June 6).....5:00 AM............NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Saturdays (June 6)......5:30 PM............NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Sundays (June 6).........5:00 AM............WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5
Sundays (June 6)..........5:00 AM............NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Sundays (June 6).........12:30 PM............NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
The consensus of our guests is that it will likely take at least another two weeks before lawmakers pass a budget, wrap up their business and go home for the year. They think some members will try and change a few things in the Governor's latest spending plan (proposed bonds to repair state bridges may be removed by GOP lawmakers, says Tom Humphrey). But frankly, all agree, it will be very difficult to do much of anything about making major changes in the budget or avoiding significant layoffs or service cuts, because the state's fiscal condition continues to worsen.
They also think the judicial selection bill will be approved once lawmakers decide how much more leeway (if any) they want to give the Governor in making his choices. Everyone thought this was a bill headed to conference committee, but our panel says legislator leaders want to work something out without doing that, because in a conference committee, it is possible the entire bill could be rewritten,
resulting in a final product coming out for consideration (on one-time up-or-down vote) that doesn't have enough votes to pass.
As for campaign finance issues, the group thinks it is likely the bill to allow lawmakers who are gubernatorial candidates to raise money during the legislative session, will pass before the session ends. That is critical for Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, who is now out raising funds, but would be in bad shape to compete in his GOP primary race, if he had to shut things down again next January when lawmakers return to Nashville.
The bill would also help several Democratic lawmakers in the Senate who seem to want to run for Governor, such as Jim Kyle and Roy Herron. That too helps the bill's chances to pass, although not with a current rider on the measure eliminating all campaign contributions limits. The bill also allows a cost of living adjustment on contributions, which with the adjustment dating back to the mid-1990s, could be a pretty good boost for campaign coffers.
It's a good show with lots of great insights and behind the scenes information. Watch us!
And don't forget, if you live outside the Nashville area or don't have Comcast Cable, you can watch excerpts of this and past INSIDE POLITICS shows here at NewsChannel5.com. You can also sign up here on the website to receive this column every week by RSS feed.
GUN BATTLES GO LOCAL
What began as a veto fight between Governor Bredesen and state lawmakers (the Governor lost) over allowing those with state gun permits to carry them into restaurants that serve alcohol (as long as they aren't drinking), is now going local.
The next showdown appears to be looming in cities like Nashville which want to use their authority to regulate beer sales (given to them, ironically, by the General Assembly) to block the guns in bar act. After all, most restaurants or bars serve both alcohol and beer.
But is that legal? Nashville officials like Councilman Charlie Tygard say they think it is. State Senator Doug Jackson says it's not, and besides there are strong hints lawmakers may try next session to take away local authority over beer if this effort to block the guns in bars law continues.
Can you say court case? And how ironic, again, that lawmakers also this session gave our judges the right to pack heat in their courtrooms if they have a permit. But they didn't give that right to themselves to go armed on the floor while the Legislature is in session.
If all this makes any sense to you, please explain it to me sometime.
One last note about the override of the Governor's veto: It passed with 21 votes in the Senate, more than enough under the state's 1870 constitution. But if our constitution was like every other state or country I've ever heard of, veto overrides would require a two-thirds majority. 21 votes is one vote short of that. So the override would have failed.
As I pointed out in last week's column, in a way you can thank our Governor during Reconstruction times, "Parson" Brownlow, for the guns in bars bill's ultimate approval. Those who framed our constitution almost 140 years ago disliked Governor Brownlow so much they drafted their new constitution to make sure it was always the General Assembly who would have the final say if push came to shove on vetoed legislation. And so it has, at least pending the fight brewing with local governments.
In the meantime, concerning these gun bills (including the one still pending before the Governor allowing guns in parks), I have not seen such broad-reaching passion on both sides of an issue since the income tax debate a few years back. People who never talk to me about politics now want to let me know how very unhappy they are about the new law or about the Governor's veto effort. This issue has really struck a nerve in our state and exposed some very different, almost polarizing points of views, especially on an urban-rural basis.
There was a report out a few days ago that Tennessee is leading the nation in depression.
If that's true, the news out of Spring Hill about the old Saturn/ General Motors auto assembly plant could only put more folks in a funk.
As GM finally went into bankruptcy, it put the Spring Hill plant on standby, putting into limbo tens of thousands of jobs for both auto workers and suppliers. It wasn't completely unexpected, but not knowing the future is still a kind of bad news. And while our elected leaders continue to say they are positive the Plant will reopen because such a large investment is at stake and the Spring Hill Plant is a state-of-the-art facility, I would remind you that is exactly what they said before GM put everyone on hold down here.
The auto manufacturing plant in Spring Hill has been something of a red-headed step child ever since it opened as the original Saturn production facility back in the 1980s. Will it soon again be the site for making a new small car for General Motors? Maybe. But GM is still headquartered in Michigan and that state had many more plant closings in the G.M. bankruptcy than Tennessee. So, despite what all the politicians say down here, their counterparts in Michigan are likely saying the same thing to their constituents up there. It is CYA time, and then hold on to see what happens next.
Both of Tennessee's U.S. Senators are staking out some territory in these ongoing car wars. Senator Lamar Alexander wants all the stock the federal government now has from owning 60% of GM divided up and given to taxpayers. He says the stock is not worth much now (it is so low it has been kicked off the New York Stock Exchange), but maybe it will be one day and could help finance someone's college education. I don't know if it's legal but it's a very interesting idea. At least it's no worse than what some suggested we should have done in the first place last year when the government bailed out GM and Chrysler. That is, take all the money we pumped into the companies to keep them alive, and let taxpayers buy cars with it instead. Again, I don't know if that would have been legal, but I believe we might have come out ahead on the deal, at least so far.
As for Chrysler, as it begins to come out of bankruptcy, and while GM goes in, there are questions arising about how they are shedding thousands of car dealerships they now say they don't need. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, who has been to war before with the carmakers and the United Auto Workers, now has introduced legislation to make sure rejected dealerships are fully reimbursed for their inventories of vehicles and parts and that they have a minimum of 180 days to wind down their operations.
Corker says he is seeking fairness and for the auto companies to do what they promised they would do to treat their soon-to-be former dealers right. He says: "We understand bankruptcy is inherently painful and our efforts aren't to interfere. We filed this...to apply pressure on the automakers to keep their word."
These are all good points to make. But Senator Corker, let's be honest, you are interfering. You admit you are putting on the pressure. It may be well-intentioned interference, but it is interference none the less in a matter than would usually be left to the bankruptcy courts to decide.
LONGEVITY GETS A NEW LIFE?
With all the commotion in Metro government about the May Town development and the new Convention Center, it is easy to forget that the Metro Council is dealing with a very austere city budget for next year that lays off employees, cuts services and cut back benefits for some Metro employees.
Among those benefits is longevity pay. But now comes word in the media (as I told you in my last column might happen) that council members are looking to find money to try and continue the longevity pay in some form this year. It won't be easy and no one is saying where the millions of dollars it will take to do it might come from.
It won't take long to find that answer. The Council is set to give final approval to the budget on June 16, which is the earliest date I can ever remember, almost a half a month earlier than what the law requires (June 30).
In the meantime, Nashville's new convention center project continues to breeze through the Metro Council on every critical vote. Most recently, that involved approval by more than two-thirds of the representatives to allow the city to buy the land it needs for the new Center, even while financing plans to build the facility are still being finalized.
If you think these votes in Council are a sign that there is no controversy or passion about this project, think again. I got more than an earful when I moderated a panel discussion on the matter a few days ago at Vanderbilt. Calling it a discussion is something of a stretch as both the panel participants and members of the audience wanted to argue their positions very strongly (and interrupt and drown out the other side) during the session.
But in the end, I don't think passion or votes in the Council or politics will carry the day on this matter. As the city moves ahead, particularly with the convention hotel part of the project, it may all come down to when, and some say possibly if, the national credit markets are ready and willing to move ahead with the plan.
LAGGING NASHVILLE TEACHER PAY?
Kudos to NASHVILLE CITY PAPER report Amy Griffith Graydon for her excellent story digging out the fact that Metro Teacher salaries, long the leader in Middle Tennessee public education, are now beginning to lag behind some of their counterparts.
Mayor Karl Dean often talks about the critical need to attract and keep good teachers. And he has worked hard to bring new programs to town to help facilitate that. But few things help attract and keep people on the job more than salary and benefits.
And with tight budgets on both the State and Metro levels the last two years, pay raises and benefits adjustments have been almost nil.
So with Metro beginning to slip behind its local competition for hiring teachers, what will the Mayor do? And can he do anything with also raising property taxes?
I see Washington is playing its favorite parlor game.
It's called GOTCHA and it's played for keeps every time a President announces a new appointment to the Supreme Court.
Forget all the critically important legislation lawmakers are working on concerning climate change, energy and national health care. It's all about the High Court.
This has been a national pastime in Washington ever since Robert Bork was nominated and defeated for a Supreme Court post a couple of decades ago.
It used to be the matter of selecting and confirming High Court Justices had more solemnity and substance, as lawmakers and pundits waited until the confirmation process and Senate hearings got underway before judging the merits or demerits of a candidate. Now to be sure, even then we've had knock-down battles such as those that occurred early in the first Nixon administration when two consecutive nominees were rejected by the Senate (Haynesworth and Carswell). But now it's all about who can get their message out first and loudest about which candidate is the best or worst ever proposed to sit on the Court.
I agree with Senator Alexander (and more of his Republican and Democratic colleagues in and out of Congress ought to keep this in mind) when he said on the day Judge Sonia Sotomayor was nominated by President Barack Obama:
"It is the Senate's responsibility to give the president's Supreme Court nominee both respectful and rigorous scrutiny. The nominee should neither be pre-confirmed nor pre-judged."