By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations
August 14, 2009
RECESS FUN & GAMES; WAMP'S VISION; INSIDE POLITICS; NOTHING HERE
Congress may be on its summer recess....but it sure hasn't been child's play for many of them back home in their districts, including here in Tennessee.
Hordes of angry constituents are descending on their elected leaders' town hall meetings (Congress likes to call its breaks district work sessions) to verbally work over their elected representatives and work out their anger over what they don't like about pending health care reform legislation. This has been particularly true for those attending town halls held by Democratic members of the House and Senate.
Are some of the protesters rude and overly obnoxious? From what I've seen in media reports, I would say yes. Are some of them angry because of misrepresentations, even misinformation they been given by opponents trying to defeat health care change? Again, I say yes.
Are all of them being duped to attend these sessions? No, I doubt that. I have had some experience on other issues trying to get people to go to these town hall meetings and ask questions either in support or opposition to legislation. It's not easy to do, especially to get more than a handful of folks to show up. So clearly, other things besides astroturf "grass roots" political efforts are at work here. Maybe all the success of the Republican "tea-baggers" groups in organizing their rallies a few months ago is still at work? Whatever it is, it is working and, according to a story in the WALL STREET JOURNAL (8/14), those organizing opposition to the cap and trade energy bill pending in the Senate are looking at trying to duplicate these efforts.
Getting back to health care, in some ways, members of Congress have been their own worst enemy on this issue. With the Obama Administration leaving it to leaders on the Hill to work out legislation there are lots of different proposals floating around, making it easy for the public to be confused or even misled about what is happening. Congressional leaders and the President have been slow to rebut the misrepresentations being made. So these charges that seniors would be forced to submit to euthanasia ordered by death panels or that illegal aliens would receive free care, and on, and on, have taken on a life of their own, especially in this era of internet communications.
Then there's perhaps the biggest mistake. Congress started talking about cutting Medicare to pay to extend health coverage to all. Medicare is probably the most popular government program of all time, especially, of course, among seniors. It's so good lots of seniors may not always realize it's a government-run operation. And of course, ironically, a government -option in health care reform is something many of them oppose.
Then there's the overall issue of increasing government control and greatly increased government spending for all the bailouts that have been approved in the wake of the recent deep economic recession. Enough is enough these folks, and with the failure of the President and Congress to effectively communicate what they are doing in Washington, that opposition message has taken hold.
So much so, it has thrown several Congressmen, including some here in Tennessee into the position of seemingly hiding from their constituents. Now I don't really think that's what they mean or want to do. They're much smarter than that. But when the hysteria reached the point that it looked like protestors were going to noisily make their points by disrupting a back-to-school welcome speech Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper was to give here in Nashville, he cancelled that appearance. Since the Congressman has not made a habit of holding town hall meetings since he was elected in this district (although he did hold them in a more rural area he once represented), it left him scrambling to try and defend his record of being accessible to individuals and groups in town (frankly, as far as I am aware, he has never been under criticism about accessibility in the past).
Nevertheless, being put on the defensive about this at first seemed to give Cooper's opponents (including the chief organizer of the back-to-school protest, Tom Kovach, the 2006 GOP nominee for Congress in this district) still more ammunition and the opportunity to get publicity. Kovach announced the protest would go on today (Friday) at the site of the Congressman's speech even though he wouldn't there. That raised the likelihood that the protest was more about publicity than public policy. And in the end, reports THE TENNESSEAN (8/14) only Kovach himself showed up, outnumbered by both the media and a few joggers passing by.
The political situation has gotten as bit touchier for Congressman Bart Gordon. He first announced he would hold a phone-in town hall meeting. But that limited access didn't seem to please folks, including the major newspaper in the Congressman's hometown (Murfreesboro) which editorialized against it. So now Congressman Gordon will hold a couple of town hall sessions before the end of the month. With opponents sensing political weakness and an opportunity (looking to next year's elections), it will be quite interesting to see what happens at those meetings.
Meanwhile, Democratic Congressman Lincoln Davis has now announced a series of seven regional town hall meetings to be held throughout his sprawling conservative house district over the next two weeks. The Congressman says he has held hundreds of such sessions in the past and he is happy "to carry on that tradition." Republican Congressman Marsha Blackburn is holding town halls as well, including attracting over a 1,000 people to one in Franklin held today (Friday).
My prescription to all sides in this health care debate taking place at these town hall meetings is to take a chill pill and simmer down. Yes, you have a right to strongly express your opinions, to ask questions of elected officials and, of course, to disagree with them. But don't be disrespectful. If you don't like them or what they are doing, that's fine. But, at least respect the office they were democratically elected to serve as representatives of the people.
As for those on the other side who accuse those coming to the town hall meetings to protest of being "brownshirts" like those in Nazi Germany in the 1930s, that's out of line too. Most comparisons to Hitler and the Nazis are.
Finally, there is no place for folks in this debate like the man who showed up at one of President Obama's town hall meetings with a sign that read "Death To Obama" and a postscript that read: "And Death to Michelle and her two stupid kids." The police and Secret Service rightly took that person into custody for further questioning.
So it's time to cool the incendiary rhetoric on all sides and see if everyone can't find some common ground to come together as Americans, not Democrats and Republicans, to find a way to work out this health care problem together. Enough
There's one Congressman not worried about holding town hall meetings. He's Republican Zach Wamp and he's running for Governor in 2010. So is he spending most of this congressional recess traveling the state, campaigning.
Actually, he calls it his "new 20/20 Vision Tour." But based on some of the rhetoric he uses in his news releases, I am not sure how clearly he really sees the state's current financial situation which State Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz recently described as being the worst in Tennessee history. How else can you describe revenue collections that are not just below projections, but below the amounts collected the year before? And it's been this way for 12 consecutive months, with the revenue declines getting steeper with each passing month.
But here's what Congressman Wamp's news release says about what he finding as he goes across the state "to listen, learn and lead to develop a clear vision (20/20) about what Tennessee can be between now and the year 2020. "
"Wamp said most Tennesseans think the state needs a bold new game plan on economic development and new job creation; on improving education, with a particular focus on boosting early reading skills; on finding new ways to help Tennesseans become healthier to reduce rising health care costs on both the state and on private businesses; and on cutting the growth of government to help Tennessee taxes low."
All these proposals seem to be wonderful objectives, but they seem a bit short on specifics, especially on how they will be accomplished and funded. Surely doing these things will take money, which the state just doesn't seem to have right now. About all the Congressman offers is "say no to a state income tax," a phrase which he repeats at least two or three times in the news release.
With all that is going on, we thought this was a good week to have the Tennessee Democratic and Republican Party Chairmen on INSIDE POLITICS.
So Chip Forrester (Democratic Party) and Chris Devaney (Republican Party) are my guests. We discuss all the major issues on the national and state scene, including health care change and the town hall meetings, as well as the local fights over who will control the state's election commissions and what kind of voting machines we will use in 2010.
I also talk with GOP Party Chair Devaney about his continuing discussions with State House Speaker Kent Williams concerning the Speaker being re-admitted to the Republican Party. Last week, Devaney said it would take "an apology" at the very least for the Speaker to rejoin the GOP after collaborating with 49 Democrats last January to derail Republican efforts to elect Jason Mumpower to the top post in the House. Speaker Williams said he had no interest or need to apologize.
But they have continued to talk and now they have met face-to-face. Devaney tells me he was misquoted by the media, and that an apology was just a suggestion, not a requirement. As for what it would take to get the Speaker back in fold, Devaney claims he doesn't know. The new GOP chairman seems kind of uncomfortable being caught in the middle of this situation, especially since a lot of conservative GOP leaders on the state's Executive Committee may never be convinced to re-admit Williams.
But some say if the Speaker readjusted committees in the House (to make them all chaired by Republicans) or that all committee had GOP majorities, that would be their price for bringing the Speaker back into good graces.
It looks like a little bit of a long shot, but as long as they keep talking, stay tuned.
You can see INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network:
Fridays (August 14)......... 7:00 PM.....NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 250
Saturdays (August 15).....5:00 AM.....NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Saturdays (August 15).....5:30 PM......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Sundays (August 16).........5:00 AM......WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5
Sundays (August 16).........5:00 AM......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Sundays (August 16).........12:30 PM....NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
There's not much question one of the top political stories in Nashville the last two weeks has been the controversy surrounding the city's proposed new convention center and its public relations contract.
But you won't see anything in this column about it. Why?
Over the years when I have a conflict about an issue, I've either avoided the topic or stated my conflict, especially if I have a client involved.
In this particular case, I have three different conflicts.
First, obviously, I work for Channel 5, which has been breaking many of the news stories in this matter (without any involvement from me, by the way).
Second, MDHA, the city agency involved in overseeing the PR contract and the convention center, has been a client of mine for over 20 years (although not on this convention center project).
Third, I work for DVL Public Relations & Advertising, a competitor of the firm that holds the now controversial PR contract. In fact, we tried very hard to get the business when the contract was being awarded.
So while I have my thoughts and opinions about all this (as I usually do), I am not saying anything publicly because there is no way anyone would consider anything I said to be credible.
By the way, three conflicts on one issue is a record for me.