Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 21 - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 21



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

August 21, 2009


They've already gone tonsil to tonsil and sign to sign along West End Avenue in front of Centennial Park during afternoon rush hour traffic. Now "the discussion" over national health care reform moves to high noon this Saturday (August 22) with both supporters and opponents of health care change reportedly squaring off in front of Congressman Jim Cooper's office on Church Street next door to the downtown library.

No word on whether the Congressman or anyone who works in his office will be present during this "made for TV" event. But the Congressman has reportedly agreed to a one-hour "radio town hall" meeting the next day (Monday, August 24) from 7 to 8 AM on WTN Radio (99.7 FM). That will begin a series of town hall sessions for local Congressmen, with Bart Gordon holding his first later in the week and Lincoln Davis continuing his series of sessions throughout his far-flung district that meanders all across Middle and East Tennessee between the Kentucky, Alabama and Georgia state lines.

Congressman Cooper continues to draw fire from both opponents and supporters of national health care change. Local Republicans are mad he won't hold a forum with them about health care. While the liberal blog, THE DAILY KOS (8/19) criticizes the Nashville Democrat for his recent comments that a health care bill with a "public option" can't pass the Senate and therefore the administration of President Barack Obama needs to re-think trying to "go it alone," and instead seek legislation that allows for non-profit health care co-ops to be established.

THE DAILY KOS describes Congressman Cooper as the "now famous healthcare reform killer," reflecting on Cooper's previous involvement when the Clinton administration tried to pass health care legislation in early 1990s: "He did everything he could to undermine the Clinton plan and played a key role in destroying its chances by shattering the Democratic legislative strategy and peeling off Blue Dogs and business....He wanted to be the dealmaker of health care. He wanted it so bad he killed the damn thing."

As for the current situation, THE DAILY KOS concludes: "Lesson of the day? Jim Cooper has never been on the side of reform. Anything he says on the topic isn't about helping the party, helping the president, or ultimately helping the American people. It's about Jim Cooper."

We will get a better idea just how strong that sentiment is among Cooper's more progressive constituents by the size of the pro-health care reform crowd that shows up on Sunday. And you can be sure there will be a number of "teabaggers" and other conservatives in attendance who don't support the Congressman either. Whether that's enough to create a problem for him for re-election next year remains unlikely for the moment, especially without a credible, well-funded opponent arising either in the primary, or (a less likely scenario) from the ranks of the GOP in this most Democratic congressional district.

Meantime, according to an article in THE TENNESSEAN (8/20) national Republican leaders think they see political weakness in Congressmen Gordon and Davis and are out recruiting possible candidates to run against them next year. Clearly both Democrats are representing districts that have been trending Republican in their recent state legislative and presidential elections, but most observers (including this one) still believe the best chance for the Republicans to take over those seats is to wait until the lines are redrawn after the 2010 census (assuming the GOP keeps control of the General Assembly).

For the 2010 election, both Gordon and Davis remain favorites for re-election for now. Gordon has not had a serious challenge since ultra-Republican Williamson County was moved out the district some years ago, while Davis's district is so sprawling, it would be a daunting task even for a fairly well-known and well-financed opponent to unseat an incumbent.

It's true that this health care reform debate, as reflected in the angry town hall meetings being held all over the country, are a warning to Washington incumbents that the natives are restless. And you can make a case that some Congressmen, including Gordon, have not responded particularly well. But the ultimate conclusion of the health care debate is still to be determined and we don't vote until November of NEXT year, so it's still too early to be jumping to conclusions based on the current situation.

Tennessee also continues to play a role in the national health care debate based on a recent article in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (8/17) by Avery Johnson. He profiles, what else, TennCare, the state's effort beginning back in the gubernatorial administration of   Ned McWhether, to provide universal health care.

Johnson seemed to find very few folks who had much good to say about the program, particularly some of our Republican congressmen. But I found it odd that his article had no comments from current Governor Phil Bredesen, who has been more than vocal in leading the nation's governors in opposing health care reform if it means another unfunded mandate from the federal government by expanding Medicaid and telling the states to fund most of it (TennCare is our Medicaid program mostly on steroids over the years).

I am not sure exactly what role model TennCare will play in the national health care debate. But between this program and the key role likely still to be played by our Blue Dog congressmen (Tanner, Cooper, Gordon, Davis) in shaping what kind of health care bill can pass, you can see there is always a Tennessee connection.

One final thought about how President Obama is handling the on-going health care debate and the quest to find votes in Congress. I‘ve said it before: the President goofed when he asked Congress to draft health reform legislation, rather than coming with a single administration proposal and then negotiating. Like all legislative bodies, Congress can be all over the lot when it is left to its own devices to draft legislation. The days of Sam Rayburn and Lyndon Johnson are long gone on the Hill, and no one can pull together the majorities needed like they used to do.  All these various health reform bills have also helped give life to all the various internet rumors, half-truths and even falsehoods about what national health care reform would be.

Now the President seemed to have compounded his political difficulties, at least for the moment. Recent statements by some of his top advisors and even from the President himself, indicating that "the public option" is not a core part of his health care vision, and therefore could be changed or even abandoned, has set off a firestorm of protest from some of the President's strongest supporters.

On its face, abandoning a "public option" seems strange for the Obama administration. Given the President's previous politics, if this is not a core value for health care reform, what is? And does the President really believe that by conceding a "public option" he can pick up enough votes from conservative Democrats (like the Blue Dogs) and from some moderate Republicans to create a bi-partisan consensus? Or will his concession, just embolden the general opposition to try and kill all the health care legislation? And then, there's this possibility: the President dangled the idea of no "public option" to galvanize his supporters to get them out in the field contesting the "teabaggers" and other who completely oppose government health care reform?

Whatever he's trying to do, he needs to do it better if he wants to succeed. While his overall job approval poll numbers remain just over 50%, that is not the case when the question is asked about support for his health care efforts. And this health care issue has become so huge, that if he fails here, it can't help but have a very negative impact on the rest of his legislative agenda, including the energy and climate change legislation still pending in the Senate.

So there's a lot hanging in the balance for what is usually the dog days of August. 


If you are going to discuss this red-hot health care reform issue with an elected official in our area, the best person to do that with is clearly Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper. Not only is he a nationally-recognized expert among Congressional leaders on this topic, he's also caught right in the middle of the all the very difficult politics involved with this complex issue, both in Washington and here in Nashville, which is a health-care mecca.

So we are lucky to have him as our guest for the entire show this weekend on INSIDE POLITICS.

We talk about all the issues we've discussed above, including his defense for not holding regular town hall meetings and what he thinks need to happen to bring about a bi-partisan health care reform bill (and even if that's possible).

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK.

Friday, August 21.........7:00 PM.......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 250

Saturday, August 22.....5:00 AM......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Saturday, August 22......5:30 PM.......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Sunday, August 23..........5:00 AM......WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5

Sunday, August 23..........5:00 AM.......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Sunday, August 23..........12:30 PM......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Don't forget that NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS is also now available over-the-air on Channel 5.2 if you have an over-the-air digital television. The Plus is also now available for other cable or satellite systems to pick it up, so if you can't see us now, call your cable and satellite provider and tell him to add us to their systems.

Of course, excerpts of previous INSIDE POLITICS shows are also still kept on-line here at if you want to watch them but live outside the Nashville area.

Congressman Cooper says he believes this health care debate is really just starting. So that means we will likely have him and others on to continue discuss this topic for some time to come.


The Metro Council was one of the few places in this country in recent days where folks came together to meet, but did not wind up debating health care reform.

However, for while at its last meeting the Council was close to the center of the ongoing "culture war" fights that are raging all across our country.

The two major issues were related to "guns and gays." More specifically, should Metro opt-out of a new state law that allows gun-permit holders to bring their firearms into city parks? And should Metro make it illegal to discriminate against its employees based on sexual persuasion or gender identity?

In both cases, and by fairly narrow majorities, the Council approved the proposed legislation in question, both to ban guns in parks and to end sexually-based discrimination. But that was only after a lot of heated debate and some interesting parliamentary situations.

On the guns bill, it appeared all but certain a few weeks ago that the measure would pass and perhaps pass easily. But then conservative forces and gun-rights groups went to work, and the vote got a lot closer. So much so, that it took a rare tie-breaking vote by Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors to keep the Council from postponing the matter to its next meeting.

That's a lot of high-political drama for a bill that city legal officials said really wasn't necessary, because Metro already had an existing law on the books from the 1960s that banned guns in parks and which has been grandfathered in under the new state law. Given the narrow margin for final approval of the gun bill, it makes you wonder what will happen if there is an unfortunate incident in one of our parks and some lawmakers want to reconsider this issue, yet one more time.

As for the discrimination bill, its passage on second reading was a strong sign that rumors of its seeming demise (like similar legislation in the last Council) were somewhat exaggerated. There is still a third and final reading vote to get through, but it appears this matter is soon to be headed to Mayor Karl Dean's desk for his promised signature of approval.

The final issue that stymied the Council at its last meeting concerned approving a new Convention Center Authority to oversee the construction and operation of the new Music City Center downtown (if and when the Council approves the final financing details for the project).

The resolution appeared to easily pass before a parliamentary maneuver by East Nashville and downtown Councilman Mike Jameson held up the matter for reconsideration. Some in the media said Jamison used an obscure council rule to ask for reconsideration. I suppose that's true, but it wasn't that long ago that Councilman Ludye Wallace did the same thing (vote with the majority, then immediately ask for reconsideration) tying the Council up in knots for days before final approval was given to the city's operating budget.

That shouldn't be a problem this time, as invoking another not-often-used council rule, a special meeting has been called for late today (Friday August 21) where approval of the Authority is expected to be quickly re-affirmed, even though some Council members and others continue to voice second thoughts about creating an Authority which will be made up of volunteers with no staff (at least, initially) to take on oversight of the largest construction project in the history of the state (close to $1 billion if you include the proposed convention hotel).   


I guess since everybody's talking about it, so are the candidates for Governor.

At least Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey is talking about the national health care reform fight, and he's taking an on-line poll of supporters asking them whether Congress should be required to have the same health plan the rest of us have?

I think he already knows what kind of answer he is going to get on that one. What I find interesting is how the Ramsey campaign continues to focus on Washington issues. Not too many weeks ago, Ramsey was criticizing his own GOP Senator Lamar Alexander for voting for President's Obama Supreme Court nominee.

The Lt. Governor knows issues like these (health care and judicial selection) are ones that fire up the GOP conservative base and these are the folks he must capture (in a fight primarily with Congressman Zach Wamp) if he has any hope of winning the August 2010  GOP primary.

And so you can expect more survey polls on predictable issues by the Ramsey campaign, as these e-mail messages also give him a chance to vilify the President, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and "the Democrat Party" (as he calls it) and to tell voters how he will "fight" against what they are pushing in Washington, even though Ramsey is running for governor, not congressman or senator.

Meantime, here's some rather candid talk from the campaign manager of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Gibbons.  According to the NASHVILLE SCENE's blog (8/20), Josh Thomas told reporters that he believes by the end of this year his guy will have campaign funding equal to what Zach Wamp and Ron Ramsey have.

That gives Gibbon, the District Attorney of Shelby County, a lot of catch-up work to do. That's because the most current financial disclosures from earlier this summer show Gibbons with just $417,000 while both Wamp and Ramsey had between $1.3 and $1.25 million. Of course, nobody's talking about matching GOP frontrunner, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, who reported raising $3.6 million. And you have wonder how much it will help (or more likely, hurt) Gibbons in collecting campaign donations to be the only GOP candidate raising serious concerns about the "guns in bars" law passed by the General Assembly?

But it is not just money where Gibbon's top campaign aide is making predictions about what would have to happen for his candidate to win. Again, according to the SCENE's blog, Josh Thomas says Gibbons needs to amass 50,000 votes in Shelby County or roughly two-thirds of anticipated turnout there. Those are almost Winfield Dunn-type numbers, the kind of support he garnered in Memphis in 1970 to win the GOP nomination and ultimately the governor's chair. Is Gibbons, the 2010 version of Dunn, 40 years later?

Most observers doubt it, especially with many voters in Shelby County also likely to be tempted to go over to the Democratic primary to vote in the major congressional showdown between incumbent Steve Cohen and former Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton.

By the way, Gibbons is not the only candidate likely pinning a lot of his gubernatorial hopes on "Big Shelby."So is Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, who hopes his local base (plus the increased voter interest in the congressional primary) will give him an edge that will put him over the top in the rest of the state.   

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