Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 31 - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 31

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CAPITOL VIEW

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

July 31, 2009

STANLEY AFFAIR ON INSIDE POLITICS; A SUPREME SPLIT IN DELEGATION; MORE HEALTH CARE BLUES AND THE DIPLOMACY OF BEER; MORE POLICE, MORE TAXES?; CHANCELLOR HEARD

As I said in last week's column, it was going to take a couple of days for the fallout over the sex and extortion scandal surrounding GOP State Senator Paul Stanley of Covington to play itself out. That has now occurred and Stanley has resigned his post, citing the usual reason of "wanting to spend more time with my family."

For days, lawmakers of both parties stayed very quiet publicly. Most, if they said anything, were like the GOP gubernatorial candidates who said what Stanley did (have an affair with his 22-year old intern) was very bad, but it was up to the Senator and his constituents to decide if he should quit over the matter.

Someone did finally speak up, with Shelby County GOP Chair Lang Wiseman being the first to say the Senator should leave. Within 24 hours, he was gone.

But actually there's more to it than that. It seems there were a lot of behind the scenes efforts by the Senate's Republican leadership to get Stanley to quit. In fact, there is now something of a fight between Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and his second in command, Senator Mark Norris about who called Stanley and how many times they told him to quit. Of course, if any of them had had the political courage to speak out about this publicly in the advance, we probably wouldn't be having this disagreement, now would we?  

At any rate, the leadership of the state GOP seems to have decided (unlike what has happened in other states where scandals like this have occurred involving Republican Governors or Senators) that Senator Stanley, a major, outspoken leader on family value issues, is now too much political baggage and he has to go.

This week on INSIDE POLITICS our guests are three reporters who led the way in covering this story. They are Tom Humphreys of THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL, Ken Whitehouse of NASHVILLEPOST.com and of course, Phil Williams of the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK.

These fellows have covered every moment of this story, and they also offer their insights and thoughts on not only what has occurred but impact it will have on Tennessee politics and the way the General Assembly will function in the future.

This is a transition weekend for INSIDE POLTICS.

Our Friday evening show at 7:00 p.m. can be seen on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50.

But on Saturday morning our 5:00 a.m. show will be in a new spot on the cable dial as NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS moves to channel 250 on the Comcast system. That's also where you can catch our show at 5:30 p.m. Saturday evening and on Sunday at 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

You can also see INSIDE POLITICS at our regular time Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5.

Also don't forget that if you have a new digital TV that receives its signal over the air (not hooked up to cable or satellite service), effective August 1 you can see NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS and INSIDE POLITICS on Channel 5's 5.2 digital broadcast.

A SUPREME TENNESSEE SPLIT

How the Republicans in the U.S. Senate vote on the confirmation of U.S. Appeals Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court doesn't matter all that much in some ways. She has more than enough votes from Democratic Senators to win approval.

But it is quite interesting to watch what the Republicans do as another signal of how the GOP continues to struggle to re-define itself in the wake of recent election losses.

Our Tennessee Senate delegation is a great example.

Senator Lamar Alexander is number 3 in his party's leadership in the Senate. But he is voting in favor of Judge Sotomayor, making him, it appears, the highest ranking Republican in the entire nation to support her. Politically, that's a very tough position for Alexander to take. Conservatives in his party have had doubts about his "conservative credentials" for years.  Already Mr. Alexander is being criticized by bloggers and GOP activists (one of whom is calling him "a traitor"). He is also being criticized by at least one GOP gubernatorial candidate, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey.  And you can expect even more criticism in the coming days, although I will be fascinated to see what the frontrunner in GOP gubernatorial race, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam has to say. His top campaign advisor is Tom Ingram, Alexander's long time political guru.

So why is Senator Alexander doing this? He released a statement saying: "Even though Judge Sotomayor's political and judicial philosophy may be different than mine, especially regarding Second Amendment rights, I will vote to confirm her because she is well qualified by experience, temperament, character and intellect to serve...it is my hope that my vote not only will confirm a well-qualified nominee but will help return the Senate to the practice, only recently lost, of inquiring diligently into qualifications of a nominee, and then accepting that elections have consequences, one of which is to confer upon the President the constitutional right to nominate justices." 

The Senator is right. That is the way Supreme Court nominees were judged by the Senate in years gone by. But that hasn't been the case going back to Robert Bork days in the 1980s, and it's not likely go revert to that policy ever again, at least not when the next nominee might be someone who would tip the balance of power on the High Court which Judge Sotomayor does not.

I also think Senator Alexander is being influenced by his own days as Governor of Tennessee when he appointed dozens of judges, including women and African Americans. While it would not likely impact politics here in Tennessee, it may be that Mr. Alexander senses his party may be making a mistake to vote in large numbers to oppose the first Hispanic woman to serve on the court, especially given the growing number of Hispanic voters in this country.

But Tennessee's other U.S. Senator sees it entirely differently. He says: "After much deliberation and careful review, I have determined that Judge Sotomayor's record and many of her past statements reflect a view of the Supreme Court that is different from my own. I view the Supreme Court as a body charged with impartially deciding what the law means as it is applied to a specific case. I believe Judge Sotomayor views the Supreme Court as more of a policy-making body where laws are shaped on the personal views of the justices."

Senator Corker's position will clearly delight the conservative part of his party, some of whom had real doubts about him when he was elected 3 years ago.

But meantime, according to NASHVILLEPOST.com( July 29) both Corker and Alexander have gotten caught in some crossfire between a couple of their GOP colleagues in the Senate. Retiring U.S. Senator George Voinovich told THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH (July 28) that among the biggest problems facing the party: "... We got too many Jim DeMints (R-SC) and Tom Coburn (R-OK). It's the Southerners. They get on TV and go "err, err." People hear them and say: "These people, they're Southerners. The party's being taken over by Southerners. What the hell they got to do with Ohio?"   

In response DeMint, who has been criticized for saying Republican could "break" President Barack Obama by blocking health care reform, held up both Senators Corker and Alexander as good Southern Republicans: " I mean these guys are great team players up here. So I think maybe that is misdirected.."

What does Voinovich say in response and what he said about Southern Republicans in the Senate: "That comment was made off the record, so I have no more to say about it."

But clearly he said more than enough to show, that just like our own Tennessee Senators' division over  how to vote on a Supreme Court nominee, the GOP remains deeply divided over its future.

THE HEALTH CARE BLUES

It's been another week of the health care reform blues for the Obama Administration.

The blues, not only because the President is struggling to find consensus on any legislation he can get to the floor of either house for a vote when Congress returns in September, but the blues also because the President is particularly struggling to find a way to get some of the conservative House members of his own Democratic Party (The Blue Dog Coalition, featuring several Tennessee Congressmen) to come to a health care reform agreement that will also please the more liberal Democratic members of the lower chamber. Meanwhile, what will pass the Senate is whole different story.

With the Congress headed for its summer vacation (the House is about to leave, the Senate will join them soon after voting on the Sotomayor nomination) it will be interesting to see how well the President can do in holding together the support he has for health care reform. His poll numbers continue to slip as well, as the President is having to spend time dealing with other important, but non-health care related matters.

For example, after the Administration finally found a part of its "stimulus package" that really seems to work, the "Cash For Clunkers" program, it was found it was working maybe too well or at least too quickly. So many folks seem to want to trade in their old gas-guzzlers for a new, more fuel efficient car, in exchange for $3500 to $4500 to pay for the new vehicle, that the $1 billion set aside for the program may already be spoken for in just the first week of the program, which was supposed to run until later in the year.

At first, the Administration responded by announcing it was shutting down the program leaving lots of folks in limbo. Then it was decided the government would cover all those who had already been qualified for the program and that it would seek still more money to keep the cash flowing to get the clunkers off the road, and keep car sales soaring after months in the tank.

They better find that money. They never failed to find the money to bail out the banks or Wall Street or the insurance companies or even several of the major car companies. So it wouldn't be good politics to bail out now and not find funding for one of the few efforts done by Washington that seems to be having a potentially positive impact for many average citizens as well as on the economy and maybe even on the environment. (And, no, I am not looking at buying a new car under this program).

Another matter taking up the President's time instead of health care reform has now become the ‘politics of beer" as the President tries to clean up the mess he made when he defended a black friend who got arrested by white policeman in a mix-up over whether he was breaking into his own home. The President said the police "acted stupidly", and that's when the story went into overdrive in the national media.

Realizing he had made a mistake, the President quickly backed off his statement (although he didn't actually apologize). He then invited all parties (his friend, the Harvard professor and the white police officer) to the White House to try smooth things over....with an after-work beer.

The national media stayed all over it. If you think they overdid that poll in 2000 presidential election over which candidate (Bush or Gore) you'd most like to have a beer with, this went way beyond that in many ways. I understand one cable network even put up a clock counting down the seconds until the parties met and the suds were poured.

Given all the continuing (and completely unfounded) controversy over President Obama's birth certificate, I am surprised some reporter didn't ask what the "born on" date was for the beer (the President had a Bud Light) that was being served, just to make sure it was legal and American-made. J

Maybe after all the "beer summit" hoopla, this controversy will finally fizzle out with lessons learned for both the President and the country. But already the choice of beverage at the event has widened the controversy a bit, with letters to the editor predictably decrying the use of "alcohol" to try and resolve problems in the White House.  With some things, it never ends.

 MORE POLICE, MORE TAXES

Just like Mayor Karl Dean, everyone in Nashville ought to be pleased that our city has been selected to receive $8.67 million in federal grant money to hire 50 new police officers to protect our community. That does speak highly of what a good job we are doing here to combat crime. We should also be pleased that Nashville is receiving the maximum amount of assistance being granted to any city (even though Metro really wanted help to hire another 150 cops).

But what we shouldn't forget is that after a 3-year period, the grant money will run out and local taxpayers will have to pay the full cost of this added police protection. The federal government does giveth. But one day, it also usually taketh away as well.

So don't be surprised if sometime in the future, keeping these officers on the street isn't part of some budget proposal, maybe even a property tax hike, so that Metro has the funds to keep these positions funded and filled.

Even with the federal government, there's no free lunch...at least in this case for more than 3 years.

CHANCELLOR HEARD 

 It's been a tough year for me. Several of the important role models, mentors, friends and authority figures of my youth have passed on in the last 12 months or so. My uncle, Father Bill Nolan, my good friends Eddie Jones and Nelson Andrews are among them, as are my high school principal, Monsignor James Hitchcock and now, Vanderbilt Chancellor Alexander Heard.

I can remember as a child how the arrival of Mr. Heard on the Vanderbilt campus, breathed new life into my old neighbor (the campus was mere blocks from my home). One of the first national figures he brought to campus was President John F. Kennedy in May, 1963. I will always remember seeing the two of them together on the podium when the President spoke at Dudley Field, just mere months before he was killed.

I was also inspired at Chancellor Heard's willingness to allow students to have the freedom of thought to discuss controversial issues or even invite controversial figures to speak on campus (Dr. Martin Luther King, Stokley Carmichael, George Wallace, William Kunstler).

I particularly remember the Kunstler speech as a part of the IMPACT symposium at Vanderbilt in the spring of 1970. I was a freshman at Peabody covering the news for the campus radio station WRVU. Tennessee Governor Buford Ellington was denouncing Chancellor Heard almost daily because he would not ban the controversial Chicago 7 attorney from coming to the school.

But Mr. Heard was resolute about defending the right of academic freedom to consider all points of views. He did so in the same calm, but resolute way he responded when NASHVILLE BANNER publisher, James Stahlman (a Vanderbilt graduate and Board of Trust member) criticized him for allowing Black Power activist Stokley Carmichael to speak at Vanderbilt in the spring of 1967. Stahlman even blamed Heard when there were some racial disturbances while Carmichael was in the city.

But despite these controversies, Vanderbilt grew and prospered in the Heard years, adding several new schools (including merging with Peabody) and doubling in enrollment. I was proud to receive my diploma from him on graduation day in 1973, although frankly he kind of intimidated me. While the joke among many students was that the Chancellor was never at Vanderbilt because of his duties as Chairman of the Ford Foundation, I had the chance to interview him a couple of time each year at  campus media news conferences Mr. Heard held in his Kirkland Hall office.

Now the Chancellor may have believed in the free exchange of ideas, but when it came to news conferences he wanted all the questions, in writing, and in advance. That was because he said he wanted to be prepared to fully answer what we wanted to know. OK. I'd never let a politician do that when I was a reporter. But hey, I wanted to graduate, so who was I to question those ground rules. J

I think I was also a little intimidated by Chancellor Heard because I was a political science major and he had such a world-class reputation in that field of study because of his work with the legendary V.O. Key. I guess I was worried he'd give me a pop quiz. J

The time I was likely most nervous being around Chancellor Heard is when he came by WRVU when we celebrated our first anniversary as an educational FM station. WRVU was located in one of the towers of Neely Auditorium in those days, and it was more like a dorm room or frat house in how we kept (or didn't keep) it up. That Sunday afternoon I hoped we had everything cleaned, and anything inappropriate on the walls or in the studios taken down. I guess we did, or if we didn't, he never said anything about it. 

Years later, a group of us in the Class of 1973 invited the Chancellor and his wife, Jean to join us for dinner. They did, and we had a lovely evening together.  And as I recall he knew us all by name, or at least he did a great job of acting like he did.

That's the kind of great gentleman Chancellor Alexander Heard was.  He retired over a quarter century ago, and was in poor health in recent years, so there may be many who have come to the university and to Nashville who do not realize or appreciate what he did to place Vanderbilt on the road to being the world-class university it is today.  But for those of us who knew him or attended and graduated from Vanderbilt during his years (1963-1982), he will be missed.   

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