Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 28 - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 28



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

August 28, 2009


The Lion of the Senate is silent....forever.

The death of Senator Ted Kennedy from brain cancer has brought forth a most interesting mixture of political and public reaction.

For someone, who prior to the emergence of Hillary Clinton was always the person Republicans loved to hate, and whose name was always been invoked to get the GOP base riled up and ready for political battle, Senator Kennedy is now invoking many very nice eulogies from both sides of the aisle in Washington.

Why? Well, etiquette says you are always supposed to speak well of the dead, but there's a lot more to it than that with Senator Kennedy. First, and this may be surprising to some given Kennedy's sometimes very partisan nature, he had a real gift for being able to bring people together and pass important legislation. Second, I sense, even in many of his political opponents, a genuine affection, even love, for the Senator,  a man who served longer in that body than all but two of its members, former colleagues Robert Byrd and Strom Thurmond. 

History can only speculate what a healthy Ted Kennedy might have been able to do to change the atmosphere of the increasingly toxic-health care debate now underway in this country, a fight soon to move back to the halls of Congress this fall.

Want more than my opinion? USA TODAY's Kathy Kiely, in an article published August 26, cites a survey by THE HILL newspaper earlier this year in which Kennedy's Senate colleagues voted him "the most bipartisan" senator. She also quotes GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky as saying, "I just like the guy. He's fun to be around." Also cited in the article are the comments of Senator John McCain, the GOP Presidential nominee a year ago, who told ABC: "Ted Kennedy comes close to being indispensable as any leader I've ever known in the Senate because he had a unique way of sitting down with the parties at a table and making the right concessions. It's huge that he's absent...because I think health care reform might be in a very different place today."      

So clearly President Barack Obama has lost a key leader and legislative facilitator to try and craft any kind of bi-partisan bill on this issue, or maybe any kind of bill at all that can pass both Houses. In some ways for the President, Kennedy's death may be a greater political loss than the beating national health care reform has received across the country in many of those rowdy town hall meetings that members of Congress have held. A defeat that is now being reflected more and more in the public's sour attitude about national health care change as reflected in the latest opinion polls.

Our Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper has called Senator Kennedy's death, the end of Camelot, and I think there is some truth to that. Like the characters of Camelot, and much like those famous 19th Century Irish political legends, Charles Stuart Parnell and Daniel O'Connell, he was a man who achieved great honors but also was dogged by controversy and scandal. He was a man of great accomplishments but also great disappointments and missed opportunities. 

His behavior and what happened at Chappaquiddick made it impossible for Ted Kennedy to ever be President to continue the legacy of two slain brothers. But even when he ran for the highest office in 1980 (versus an incumbent president of his own party, Jimmy Carter), his effort seemed doomed from the start when, almost inexplicably (especially for a Kennedy), he could not articulate to Roger Mudd, then of CBS, why he wanted the nation's top job.


John Seigenthaler, Publisher Emeritus of THE TENNESSEAN and Founding Editorial Director of USA TODAY, is my guest on INSIDE POLITCS this week.

There is no one locally who is closer to and knows more about Senator Kennedy and the entire Kennedy clan that he does. So we are honored he could join us to add his insights about the Lion of the Senate and to reflect on the critical role that the Senator played in American history as well as the ramifications of his death on current politics.

You can watch INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on the NewsChannel5 Network.

Friday, August 27....................7:00 PM..........NewsChannel5 Plus, Comcast Channel 250

Saturday, August 28................5:00 AM..........NewsChannel5 Plus

Saturday, August 28................5:30 PM...........NewsChannel5Plus

Sunday, August 29....................5:00 AM..........WTVF-TV, NewsChannel5

Sunday, August 29....................5:00 AM...........NewsChannel5Plus

Sunday, August 29.....................12:30 PM..........NewsChannel5 Plus  

Don't forget you can now see INSIDE POLITICS on Channel 5.2, if you have an over-the-air digital TV. And, if you live outside the Nashville area, you can watch excerpts of previous shows here at


As the debate has raged across the country about "the public option" as a part of national health care reform, one of those caught in the crossfire has been Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper.

Cooper, one of the few real health care experts on the Hill, indicates he believes a compromise can been reached that will make some kind of public option feasible financially (he seems to lean towards a health-co-op system). John Seigenthaler, on INSIDE POLITICS says he believes it will be the Blue Dog Democrats like Cooper who will come to the forefront to work out a health care compromise.

But in the meantime, groups like those who operate the liberal blog, The Daily Kos, are giving the political business to Cooper for all its worth for not supporting a full "public option." They've even done a local opinion survey that says 61% of Cooper's constituents and 80% of Democrats here favor a public insurance plan that anyone can purchase.  The poll also claims that 47% of Democrats say a failure by Cooper to support a "public option" makes them less likely to vote for him for re-election.

Can you say primary challenge? The Daily Kos does: "Cooper has two options. He can stop obstructing and get aboard the public option, or he can start gearing up for a tough primary in 2010." (The Daily Kos says the Congressman is being difficult on this matter because of contributions from insurance groups).

Congressman Cooper disputes the poll. He says he does not completely oppose a public option. That his position is similar to New York Senator Charles Schumer who Cooper says is not being attacked by the web site. Cooper also questions some of the results of the poll since it shows only 23% of those surveyed want to replace him now, while 34% of voters were against him when they went to the polls last November.  Cooper also points out the poll shows President Obama with a 66% favorable rating now, after only carrying this district with 56% of the vote last November. Given what's been happening nationally. Why would the President be up in the polls here while down across the nation?

Cooper's points are well taken, but no single poll proves anything. What this does show is that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is becoming increasingly vocal and forceful about its unhappiness with Tennessee's Fifth District Congressman. And unless this matter is somehow worked out pretty soon, a primary challenge looks increasingly likely. That leaves these other questions: Who's the challenger? And how well-funded will that person be for the campaign?


At-Large Councilman Ronnie Steine has been around politics long enough to understand (and probably chuckle a bit) when I offer him both my congratulations and condolences on being named Chairman of the Metro Council's Budget & Finance Committee.

Steine has been there before so he knows exactly what he is getting into between now and next summer. The Budget & Finance Committee is the Council's most important and powerful committee. For Councilman Steine it means dealing with (and signing on as sponsor) a lot of critical legislation for the Dean administration such as the financing for the new convention center and hotel and next year's operating budget and tax levy.

Will there be a property tax hike request next year? I am sure the Mayor would say it is too early to tell. But if it doesn't happen, Metro workers will have to go at least 4 years without a general pay raise and even more city services will have to be trimmed such as what has happened the last two years. Why do I say that? Well, 2011 is a re-election year for the Mayor and Council, so if a tax hike isn't done in the summer of 2010, there is no chance at all of it happening in 2011.

Steine's experience from a previous stint as budget chair will help him make his way through this potential political mine field. That's also true concerning the new convention center and hotel project which seems to be increasingly controversial, although so far the Dean administration has been able to get plenty of votes for any legislation it has brought forth on this matter.

Steine's appointment to be the Chair of Budget & Finance has been positioned by some as the completion of a political comeback for him, after resigning as vice mayor a few years ago following a shop-lifting scandal. I guess there is something to that. But his real comeback was getting re-elected to a Council in an At-Large position in 2007. Steine has paid a price for his mistakes (he resigned as Vice Mayor and dropped a promising bid for Congress).   While what he did was clearly wrong, and almost unexplainable, no one has ever accused him of doing anything bad in his positions of public trust, and I wouldn't be surprised if Vice-Mayor Diane Neighbors took that into consideration, along with his long council experience, in making this committee chair selection.

There's one other Council committee chair appointment I found most interesting: Kristine LaLonde as Chairperson of the Education Committee. Ms. LaLonde has served in the Council well less than a year. To be appointed to head such an important committee, at a time when public education remains one of the top priorities in Nashville, speaks well of her abilities and leadership skills and how quickly they have been recognized by her colleagues and the Vice Mayor. 


Everybody knows what Friday Night Lights means.

It means high school football, which is quite a tradition in these parts. And it attained that lofty status long before anybody did a TV show about it.

I graduated from a Catholic high school here in Nashville (Father Ryan) that has a deep and storied tradition on the gridiron. But tonight (August 28, 2009), after over 80-plus years of competition, my school will finally play its first home football game on campus, under the lights, in a permanent stadium.

How can that be? Well, there are lots of reasons: from lack of property, to a lack of funds along with various aspects of politics, secular and religious, which have played a role over the years. Whatever it's been, it doesn't matter anymore. Our Father Ryan community has stepped up under the leadership of our school's President, Jim McIntyre, to meet the challenge of a small group of large donors led by alumnus Jim Carell. The result is a beautiful $5 million dollar-plus athletic complex named for Mr. Carell which has finally risen on the campus next to I-65.  

So, tonight (August 28), the longest road trip in the history of sports comes to an end as the Father Ryan Irish (which used to be known as the Purple Panthers when I first started following the team as a child) come home to stay. No more getting on buses for every game for the football team. The band, after 30 years of winning awards, finally gets to play some home gigs. Even the cheerleaders finally have a stadium of their own to decorate, especially for that first true homecoming game the school will host later this fall.  

Anyone who knows me knows I love sports, but I am no athlete. I never played a down for the Irish. But a love for Father Ryan football was instilled in me early on, as my father took me to games at old West High School, which served for many years as Ryan's "home field" (along with Vanderbilt Stadium, Greer Stadium, Bellevue Junior High and lots of other facilities, including playing "home" games on our opponents' field).  I can remember about the maddest I ever got at my Dad was one season when he didn't take me to the Ryan-Litton game (which, as always, was to decide the Big 4 NIL championship) because it was too cold. Actually, I think he was just covering for my mom. She was probably the one who thought it was not a night for a child under 9 to be outdoors. 

I thought about my Dad at the dedication of the athletic complex. It was held on August 8, the anniversary of his death 28 years ago in 1981. I am sure my father, and his good friend, long-time Father Ryan Coach Louis Catignani were looking down and cheering to finally see their team have a home. I did get see another of my father's longtime friends at the stadium dedication, Coach Bill Derrick. And I could see in his eyes that look of both wonder and gratitude to have finally lived to see the day.  

When I attended Father Ryan back in the 1960s it was an all-boys school. Shortly afterwards, it went co-ed. So I have had the great honor and privilege to see my two daughters attend and graduate from my alma mater. My oldest Katie was a cheerleader. So this first home game will be a special evening for her, as well as for her husband, Mike Rosenhagen, who was a football letter-winner while he was at Ryan.

It's also a special evening for my youngest daughter, Kelly, who turns 27 today (August 28). She won't be with us at the first game. She lives and works in the New York City area. This is also her last birthday where she is her mother's and my "baby" alone. Next month, she gets married to a terrific young man from Ohio, Shane Cortesi, and our home nest will finally be empty.

So now I look forward to the next generation, taking my 2-year old grandson, Shaun and my 4-month old granddaughter, Libby to their first Father Ryan football games when they get a little older. It will continue a tradition that is now generations old, but also as new and as exciting as this first home game. 

Go Irish! 

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