By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
June 26, 2009
INSIDE POLITICS GOES INTERNATIONAL; TOUGH TIMES; 2010 RACES HEAT UP; COKER ON THE CLOCK; SANFORD; MAYTOWN
This week on INSIDE POLITICS we are doing something a little different.
We are moving our focus away from local, state and national politics and instead we are talking with some experts about what's going on in two of the world's hot spots...Iran and North Korea.
Dr. David Lawrence, a professor of History at David Lipscomb University (Iran expert) and Dr. Jim Auer of Vanderbilt University (North Korean expert) are very well informed about what is going on in these two countries that are often dominating world headlines these days.
Tune in for an insightful half-hour program that perhaps can help you better understand not only what is going on in those nations, but why that is so important.
INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network.
Fridays (June 26)...........7:00 PM.......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50
Saturdays (June 27).......5:00 AM.......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Saturdays (June 27)........5:30 PM.......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Sundays (June 28)...........5:00 AM.......WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5
Sundays (June 28)............5:00 AM.......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Sundays (June 28)............12:30 PM.....NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Don't forget if you outside the Nashville area or you don't have Comcast, you can find excerpts from previous INSIDE POLITICS shows here on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website. You can also sign up here to have this column delivered to you every week by RSS feed.
Along with very austere state budget cutting one billion dollars, Governor Phil Bredesen has signed into law a 20-week extension of unemployment compensation for workers down on their luck here in Tennessee.
From a recent analysis released by the State Labor and Workforce Development Department, outlining in detail, Tennessee's unemployment situation for last month (May), the money is coming at a very welcome time and will likely be a god send for many folks and their families in these very difficult economic times.
Here's how bad it is. With a statewide unemployment rate of nearly 11% (10.7%), joblessness rose in 88 of Tennessee's 95 counties last month. This is first time unemployment has been this high since 1984 and we are well above the national average which is 9.4%. Even in counties where unemployment is lowest (Lincoln and Williamson) it is still coming in at alarming high figures (6.5% in Lincoln and 6.9% in Williamson).
But those numbers pale when compared to the real hard hit areas like Perry County where unemployment in May was at 24.6%.
And the short-term news didn't get any better in recent days when, to the surprise of almost no one, General Motors announced it would build its new small car not at its' Spring Hill plant here in Tennessee, but closer to its headquarters in its home state of Michigan. Home cooking, maybe some red/blue state politics and Tennessee's unwillingness and inability to pony up as much as $200 million to entice (some would say bribe or bail-out) GM to come back to Tennessee seemed to clearly make a difference. Forget whether the GM Plant in this state was the best equipped facility to build the new car line. GM seems to be all about money these days (that is, getting government money wherever they can find it).
The announcement leaves the GM Spring Hill facility in continuing limbo about its future. Governor Bredesen says he has been reassured that GM still sees the Spring Hill plant as an important part of its manufacturing future, and all the rest of our elected officials issued similar statements expressing disappointment at what has happened but continued hope for the future.
But is that hope real, especially for anything to happen short-term? Will GM find a car line to build there, will it be left in mothballs or will it be sold? All this is bound to put continuing upward pressure on the state's unemployment rate not only among car workers but also for those in jobs linked to car suppliers.
But there was a bright glimmer of hope for new automotive jobs in recent days as Nissan announced it has received a massive loan $1.6 billion loan from the federal Department of Energy to retool its Smyrna manufacturing plant, so it can build advanced electric vehicles and batteries. That means 1,300 new jobs in the state.
Desperate for some good news to brag about, our elected officials were all very quick to issue news releases and statements praising the development, especially since the new jobs being created are "green" ones. But one thing none of the releases and statements from our leaders mentions is that these jobs are still a few years off after Nissan has a chance to retool the plant and get ready to manufacture the new electric cars and batteries. That's great, but we really need jobs now. Even 20 weeks of extra unemployment benefits only goes so far.
With the General Assembly finally gone home for the year, political interest, especially on the Internet and blogs, is not surprisingly turning back to the 2010 political races. That's particularly true when it comes to raising money. Many of the candidates for Governor are filling up my e-mail with their latest Emma-powered pleas to pony up some funds before the first big political fund raising deadline of June 30 which looms just ahead.
Those fund raising and expenditure reports, which should be out in a week or so, will give us our first clear picture who getting it done and who still has some work to do as we enter the latter half of 2009. Meantime some bloggers were getting on Democratic gubernatorial candidate's Ward Cammack's case.
The rich Nashville businessman, who has strong family and past personal ties to the Republican Party, was first being counted out of the race because of a staff defection (he denies it will hurt him), then he was being criticized for refusing to drop his membership in Nashville's exclusive (so would say too exclusive) Belle Meade Country Club. Cammack again says it's not an issue any voters are asking him about, so he plans to stay. We will see how that plays in a Democratic primary next year.
To the west, in the 9th Congressional District there's a primary fight brewing that could perhaps somewhat overshadow the Governor's race, at least during the August election. Current Congressman Steve Cohen is one of the few white elected officials who represent a black majority district. He will likely face his most difficult re-election effort next year with soon-to-be former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton leaving his post to take on Cohen, who is a progressive former State Senator.
On the one hand, you have to wonder why Herenton would leave his high profile post as Mayor, where he could continue to build his stature and garner publicity. But on the other hand, resigning the post is clearly a signal to everyone of how serious he is about the congressional race, and it helps him avoid any future sticky questions about doing the job he was elected to do as Mayor, while running for another position. But what about those continuing reports he is under federal investigation? Will that go away or only intensify after he steps down and starts running for federal office?
Could this congressional race in Memphis have some impact on the gubernatorial contest? First it could take some swing voters away from D.A. Bill Gibbons who is looking for a strong vote in the Memphis congressional district to help him win the GOP primary. Meantime, there is no Memphis-area candidate in the Democratic field, unless Democratic Senator and Minority Leader Jim Kyle jumps in the race (he says he will decide in the next few weeks). Could a bigger than usual Memphis primary vote help propel Kyle to the nomination? That's doesn't seem all that likely. But the Democratic field remains without a clear front runner, so who knows.
CORKER ON THE CLOCK
If you are going to Washington to see Tennessee U.S. Senator Bob Corker, be sure and show up for your appointment on time.
Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor apparently didn't the other day. She was still hobbling on crutches from a recent accident and got there about 10 minutes behind schedule. Too late, said the junior Senator. He had already moved on to his next appointment. Boy, talking about your tight scheduling.
The incident has gotten Senator Corker some understandable criticism. Not surprisingly, another appointment was quickly scheduled and the two finally got together. Afterwards, Mr. Corker's statement about the nominee (soon up for confirmation hearings) was much more positive and polite than some of his fellow Republican Senators. He said: "Judge Sotomayor is a testament to the power of a strong work ethic and a focus on education and a role model to many Americans as a result. I enjoyed meeting with her...and found her to be very intelligent and eloquent in expressing her thoughts. I did raise some concerns in the meeting and let her know I'm reserving judgment on her nomination until the conclusion of a fair and thorough hearings process."
Certainly a statement like that gives the Senator plenty of wiggle room and political cover as he makes up his mind. But is Corker also being coy because he has national ambitions for 2012?
In the wake of the self-destruction, due to sexual scandal, of another potential 2012 GOP presidential candidate, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford, Corker's name came up in a list of possible GOP presidential candidates in the on-line FIRST READ column on MSNBC written by Domenico Montanaro.
Placing Senator Corker at the top of a group called "Other 2012 Possibilities", the article says: "The freshman senator made his name during the auto bailout hearings. He has stayed generally quiet and out of the spotlight since. But he is clearly ambitious and has made sure to get his office's press releases in national reporters' e-mail inboxes."
A few more thoughts about the scandal surrounding South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (at least, he is still Governor as these words are being written).
I think it's pretty clear he ought to step down, and not just because he's had an affair. He ought to leave because he went AWOL on the duties of his office. He lied or at least misled his staff and other state officials about where he was. And he was apparently completely out of touch with many of them leaving them to their own devices in case some emergency arose.
That's not the way it's supposed to work. Voters elected him, not his staff to do his job. Sure, governors are entitled to their own time and space, and I don't believe it is practical or wise public policy to have every move or meeting a governor is involved with publicly reported. But to vanish without a trace, to be completely out of contact for days on end, even if all you are doing is really "hiking the Appalachian Trial" is not what a state's chief executive should do.
And what about those e-mails? Assuming they are legitimate, this is yet another sign of very bad judgment. We've talked about e-mail use before and obviously the Governor just doesn't get it.
And some people really saw this guy as Presidential or Vice Presidential material?
As I told you, the vote of the Metro Planning Commission would be the most critical factor as to whether the proposed massive May Town Center development in rural Bells Bend would gain city approval.
The disapproval by the Commission, after months of study and many hours of public debate, all but signals doom for what it is now "Maybe Not Town."
Sure, the full Metro Council could still approve the plan, and that body will hold a major public hearing on the matter early next month on July 7. But to overrule the Planning Commission, the Council would need to muster 27 yes votes, or a two-thirds majority. That's never easy to put together, and given the fact that 9 Council members spoke out against the proposal at the last Planning Commission meeting, the math doesn't look good for May Town supporters.
But what does the rejection of May Town say about Nashville and its future? We seem to know what we don't want to be, but we do have any vision for how we will continue to grow our city and provide it with an adequate and fair tax base to provide the city services we need?
It's clear many residents of Bell Bends and their supporters want to preserve the rustic, agricultural setting of that area, much like it has been since the founding of Nashville 230 years ago. That's their choice and more power to them. But with the cost of city services continuing to rise, should residents in the more urbanized parts of Davidson County, continue to subsidize that kind of lifestyle by paying higher property taxes?
It's pretty clear that, despite our Urban and General Services property tax rates, we all receive about the same level of police and fire protection, regardless of where we live. Other than trash pickup and street lights, there are no incentives or extras derived from living in the more urban parts of our city.
So, with our property taxes, we help subsidize, in a way, the lifestyle the folks in Bell Bends want to enjoy. I am OK with that to a point. But I think it's time to make sure everyone receives the services they pay for, and not receive a subsidy from other taxpayers.
All this is not said in support of May Town. I've had no client or other involvement in the fight. Frankly, I have always felt that May Town was just too massive a project for this community to get its arms around and support.
But whether it's May Town or some other development, the question always remain: "What does Nashville want to be as it grows up?" And you can't just answer that question by saying what we don't want to happen.