Capitol View Commentary: Friday, Sept. 18 - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, Sept. 18

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CAPITOL VIEW

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

September 18, 2009

DEADLOCK NO MORE; CONVENTION CENTER; SNAFU; THE POLITICS OF APOLOGY; STATE FAIR; THE HERMITAGE HOTEL; TOMMY; INSIDE POLITICS

Congratulations to Metro Councilmember-At-Large Megan Barry. Despite being a first termer, she managed to successfully maneuver a very controversial piece of legislation through the 40-member body to ban discrimination against potential or current Metro employees because of sexual preference or gender identification.

It's an issue that deadlocked a previous Council. No doubt many of her colleagues counseled her against bringing up the matter again. But Councilmember Barry found a way to get more than enough votes for the measure (24) on final reading. In fact, despite a renewed effort by conservative and religious groups to derail the legislation, she managed to get more green lights on the board for the final vote than she did when it passed on second reading (23).

That's impressive!

What's also impressive (and instructive) is how the LGBT community worked this issue the last few years. After being deeply disappointed when their first bill failed, they didn't withdraw from the process. Instead, they worked harder it, identifying and getting Council candidates to support their proposal when they ran for office in 2007. They backed that up with enough money and votes to be taken seriously and to help some of their candidates get elected.

It all paid off by tilting the Council from a 20-20 deadlock in 2002 (with then Vice-Mayor Howard Gentry casting the deciding no vote) to the 24-vote majority that approved this legislation. Meantime, Mayor Karl Dean made it clear early on he is a supporter of this legislation and he will soon be signing it into law.

THE CONVENTION CENTER

At its last meeting (September 15), the Council was also due to consider another proposal to move forward on the city's new Convention Center. But that didn't happen. As we mentioned in the last column, a number of council members were unhappy that the Dean administration did not submit the nine nominees to head up the new Convention Center Authority separately, rather than all in one group.

Historically, the Council has almost always approved board appointments individually rather than in groups. Combine that with the fact that not all the nominees could be present for questioning at the last Council meeting (another long-time Council tradition) and it was pretty clear the legislation submitted needed to be withdrawn, redone and resubmitted for the next meeting (October 6). That will now happen. But still, you have to wonder why the Administration didn't anticipate these problems ahead of time to avoid this happening?

With all this occurring at the same time some council members are requesting the body have at least six weeks to review and approve the final financial proposal for the project (NASHVILLE CITY PAPER, September 14), which is due to come from the Dean administration later this fall, you begin to perceive there is a growing estrangement about this massive project between the mayor's office and some in the Council.

It may be difficult for the administration to oppose the six weeks request. After all, even after the Mayor has ordered the new center's construction costs reduced from $635 to $600 million, this is still the largest public project in the history of the city of Nashville as well as in the history of the state of Tennessee.

There are other questions that begin to come to mind in the wake of any six weeks period for Council consideration of the final financing package for the new convention center. With this delay, are we beginning to run into any time constraints to make sure this project (as well as the separately financed hotel) are both ready to open in late 2013 when the first conventions are booked there? And what about financing for the hotel? Will it be city-financed and owned or will it have significant private funds invested and be under private ownership the way the current convention hotel is operated? Continued rumblings at the Metro Courthouse say the answers about hotel financing could be a game-changer for some who have supported the new center. And the hotel is critical to the overall project because without it, no one believes a new convention center has any chance to be successful.  

One other Council note: The petitions are in, and for the first time in the nearly 50-year history of Metro Government in Nashville, one of its 40 Council members is facing a re-call election. 5th District representative Pam Murray of East Nashville must try and defend her seat in a special election to be held November 12. It's already been a contentious fight between Ms. Murray and those trying to oust her. That includes attorney Jamie Hollin who has just announced (no surprise) that he will be a candidate on the November 12 ballot. Murray's opponents say she is unresponsive to their concerns and they are particularly unhappy that she has a job out of town (Detroit) that keeps her from her elected duties.

Murray says this is just her past political opponents trying to gang up on her. October 1 is the qualifying deadline to run and it will be interesting to see if others jump in the race (I assume Metro's runoff rules still apply, so there still could yet be a recall runoff election if nobody gets a majority on November 12). Already this sounds like a campaign that will focus more on personalities than on issues. And based on what I am seeing so far, it looks like things could get really ugly particularly if, or more likely when, race becomes an issue.    

SNAFU

The word snafu is a good way to describe Washington these days.

The word has come to mean "Situation Normal, All Fouled Up" (or something like that J)

After seeming to gather some renewed momentum on his health care reform efforts following his speech to Congress and the nation, President Barack Obama is trying to sustain that success, doing more day-trips across the country; rallying with organized labor and on college campuses; going on 60 MINUTES and five Sunday morning TV political talk shows this weekend. He's also appearing next Monday (September 21) on THE DAVID LETTERMAN LATE NIGHT SHOW for the entire hour. Where's he headed next OPRAH? THE VIEW? We'll book him for INSIDE POLITICS anytime he wants to come J!

Meantime, as the President leaves Washington to push his cause, those opposing his efforts came to the Capitol last weekend to try and stop it (after all there are no more Town Hall meetings to attend). The Tea Party folks and other conservative groups at first talked about the millions of folks they turned out for their rally in D.C. But then some questions were raised about that, including about an old photo from another rally held some years ago and unrelated to this issue, that some circulated as being taken of this past weekend's gathering. With the Washington rally over, opponents of the President's plan are also staging a rally here in Nashville (according to THE NASHVILLE SCENE blog) on Friday (September 18) featuring, among others, Joe The Plumber, as a major speaker.

Nevertheless, despite the efforts of both sides in this debate, the impasse in Washington continues. The "Gang of Six" in the Senate, made up of 3 Democratic and 3 Republican Senators, has been meeting for months trying to find some common ground. They've finally released a plan, but, ominously, it appears only the Democrats support it, although the Republican Senators say they are still negotiating and offering amendments. Indeed this Senate plan, thought by many to the last, best chance for any bi-partisan bill to gain approval, may, at best, be able to garner only a few GOP votes.

And some Democrats don't like the new Senate proposal either, especially since it drops a "government option" insurance plan (which can't pass the full Senate) and replaces it with non-profit coops to provide insurance options for those without coverage, an idea that may struggle to pass in the House. And the list of potentially controversial items in these health care bills goes on and on, from cutting Medicare to new fees and taxes on high-end health insurance plan which organized labor doesn't like.

Most Republicans are sitting on the sidelines in opposition, saying we should just start over again and pass small bills covering areas where both parties agree (mandatory coverage even for pre-existing conditions, no caps on coverage and no cancellation of insurance after you get sick). As for the new Senate plan GOP leaders say it is wrong because, according to CNN.com (September 16) "it would impose unreasonable new tax burdens while cutting vital government services." Quoting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky in that same article: "This partisan proposal cuts Medicare by nearly a half-trillion dollars and puts massive new tax burdens on families and small businesses to create another thousand-page, trillion dollar government program. Only in Washington would anyone think that makes sense, especially in this economy."

It's amazing how being out of power can make folks forget about all those thousand page-multi-trillion dollar proposals they helped passed in Congress when they were in control (anybody remember the prescription drug program?). This apparently includes Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander who issued a press release in recent days with similar comments about how terrible the current legislative process is and how "the days of the thousand-page bill" should be over. But there are some Democrats, like Governor Phil Bredesen, who join both Alexander and Tennessee Senator Bob Corker in raising strong concerns that changes in Medicaid under the new Senate Bill may force an even greater burden on state governments which don't have the resources to handle it and are required to have a balanced budget. 

However the Democrats in support of the new Senate plan have their own ideas (Senator Max Baucus of Montana): "The cost of America's broken health care system has stretched families, businesses and the economy far too long. For too many, quality, affordable health care is simply out of reach."

And so apparently, for now, health care reform seems somewhat out of reach, even though the Obama White House sees the new Senate plan as "another boost of momentum for the president's effort to reform the health care system."

Oh, yeah? I see all this as just more Washington snafu (situation normal, all fouled up).

Here's still the most likely legislative scenario for health care change for the rest of the year. Both houses of Congress will pass legislation, but what passes in each body will be different enough to require a conference committee where the real decisions (and political horse trading) will be made before a final bill goes to the President late in the year. 

Meantime, there are other relatively minor, but not unimportant issues where the President and his team need to pay more attention. That would include his "czars," people the President has appointed as special assistants, sometimes without Senate approval, to focus on and have a good bit of power in setting government policy in particular areas such as health care, energy and climate change, among others. But apparently not all of these "czars" are being well vetted by the administration and that is creating trouble (and at least one recent embarrassing resignation). 

While some Democrats have raised this issue, it is Senator Alexander who has gotten into something of a public fight with the White House about it. The Senior Senator admits the use of policy "czars" dates back to FDR days, and all recent Presidents have used them. But he feels this administration is doing too much of it and that it is anti-democratic. The White House says the Senator is being inconsistent, pointing out he never complained when President George W. Bush appointed czars.

To me, if appointing "czars" is somehow a violation of the separation of powers clause of the Constitution, then it should not be allowed at all without Senate confirmation. The idea that having some is OK, but there is some magic line that makes it anti-democratic is a little far-feteched.

 Frankly, the term "czar" itself is hardly a democratic one. Surely there is a better title for the positions like these. And while the confirmation process in the Congress is about as broken as anything in Washington, surely this administration can do a better job of vetting its "czars" or whatever they are called, even though this is something this administration has struggled with at times in making Cabinet appointments.

The President also needs to watch how his own administration can waylay its own proposals. Senator Alexander cites an internal Treasury Department memo which he says the administration has been "hiding" which shows that the administration's cap-and-trade energy legislation, now pending in the Senate, would result in a $1,761 energy tax on families and a 1% reduction in the nation's overall growth.

Now Senator Alexander has never, and likely will never support the cap-and-trade bill. But it sure doesn't help matters for the President having his own administration provide new damaging information to help his opponents fight the proposal.

Finally, there are these ACORN tapes. While the President's past involvement with this organization was quite an issue at times during his run for the White House, it had pretty well died down until these embarrassing videos started to surface.  They show ACORN employees (who have now been fired) assisting individuals (posing as hookers and pimps) to carry out schemes to set up illegal prostitution rings and other questionable endeavors.     

Now there appears to be no direct connection in any of this to the President, and the White House is now cutting off all ties to the group. But you can be sure these videos were produced and released, at least in part, to embarrass Mr. Obama (along with getting the House and the Senate to vote to cut off the group's federal funding which has now occurred). 

It just goes to prove that old adage in politics. It's not your enemies alone who will get you, many times it's your friends.

THE POLITICS OF THE APOLOGY

First it was "You, Lie!" Now it's a fight over how much of an apology is enough.

The now famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) former back-bench Congressman Joe Wilson realized he made a big mistake when he yelled those lying words at President Obama during his recent speech to Congress. So he apologized and the President accepted.

You think that's the end of the story? Oh, no. Democratic congressional leaders felt he also owed his colleagues in the House an apology as well. No way said Representative Wilson, who said one apology (to the President) was enough. Under the rules of the House, Congressman Wilson probably deserves the reprimand he's received in a vote by the full House. But there's more involved than rules enforcement or etiquette here. There's fund raising potential to consider.

As a result of this ongoing controversy, both Wilson and his Democratic House opponent for next year have already raised at least $1.5 million each for their campaign war chests. That's serious money in a congressional race. The political activists in both parties are fired up about this, and the cyber war, especially to raise funds, is going full blast.

Want another sign of how polarized and partisan Washington is these days? Six Republicans voted with the Democrats to reprimand Wilson. That's not many, but it is still six more GOP congressmen than have voted for any of the health care bills pending in Washington.

And to throw a little more gasoline on the fire, there's former President Jimmy Carter, who says he thinks Congressman Wilson's "You,Lie!" comments, along with those who continue to question the President's birth certificate, and those who criticize him giving a national speech to school children, are just folks who are having trouble accepting the fact that the nation now has a black president. Now there are some thoughts that are bound to raise the level of political discourse. Not!

Here are some more insightful words I found a few days ago (September 15) in a column by Gerald Seib, the Executive Washington Editor of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (thanks to column reader, Charlie Crow who sent the column to me). Seib sees both comparisons and differences between today's Tea Party protestors and those who supported Ross Perot for President back in the 1990s, and he offers this warning:

"Some of today's insurgents are angry at bank bailouts, some at the government takeover of auto companies, some at the prospect of a bigger government role in health care-but the unifying characteristic is that they are angry at any kind of central control at all. Republicans who think they can harness Tea Party Patriots and their anger may be in for a rude surprise of their own."

I think he may be right about all that. I am also convinced that government officials who state that "the recession is probably already over" are making a grave mistake, even though by the technical definition of how a recession is defined, they are probably correct. The recession does appear to be over for Wall Street, but it sure isn't over for Main Street. It may be over for the banks, the insurance companies and maybe even some of the car companies the taxpayers bailed out, but it isn't over for businesses that still can't obtain credit (even with a good credit record) and for the millions of people still looking for work in this country with unemployment still near record levels for anytime since the early 1980s.

It is also not over until our national leaders get serious about reforming our national and world financial system so that what happened a year ago cannot happen again. There's been a lot of talk about that, but very little action. It's time.

  

 THE STATE FAIR

The poor Tennessee State Fair: It just can't catch a break.

After beginning its annual 10 day run with increased attendance, here comes the worst rain storms to hit our area that I can ever remember in the month of September, and ones spread out over several days.  Who ever heard of flood watches and warnings in September, usually one of our drier months? But then the weather around here has been weird all year.

Kudos to State Fair's Executive Director, former Metro Councilman-At-Large Buck Dozier, for doing all he can to keep the Fair's attendance afloat by cutting admission prices and moving as many events as possible indoors.  But unlike our friends in Wilson County, whose Fair seems to set attendance records annually, our Nashville version has been struggling for years now.  

In fact, the future of our State Fair seems about as clouded as the weather. It appears pretty certain the Fair, as we know it, is moving to another location, maybe even outside the county, with the current Vine Hill venue to be in some way (as yet still undecided) redeveloped.

The Tennessee State Fair has withstood and overcome many challenges over the years, including some tremendous fires that burned down many of its facilities back in the 1960s. But can it somehow withstand the march of time by finding a new location and re-inventing itself?

THE HERMITAGE HOTEL

Congratulations to the Hermitage Hotel which is celebrating its 100th anniversary as one of showcase hotels in downtown Nashville.

If I remember my history correctly, the Hermitage Hotel has a very strong tie to the rise of female political power in this country. 

I remember being told that not long after it opened the Hotel was the site of the one of the first political rallies in Nashville history that women were allowed to attend. I could be wrong but I believe the rally was held for former President Teddy Roosevelt who ran unsuccessfully to regain the White House in 1912 on what became known as the "Bull Moose ticket."

And, of course, the Hermitage is famous for being the headquarters site for both sides in the climactic battle waged in Tennessee to approve the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution that gave women the right to vote.  

But by the mid-1970s, despite its proximity to the State Capitol, the Hermitage Hotel had seen its better days. You could have made a pretty good bet that the Hermitage's days were numbered and that it would soon join others like the nearby Andrew Jackson Hotel and be demolished for some new project. (The Andrew Jackson was located where TPAC is now).

But then-Mayor Richard Fulton was determined to make the out-of-town ownership of The Hermitage upgrade the facility, and after his pleas to work with them were rebuffed or ignored, the Mayor put the city codes department on the job.

Before long, enough problems were uncovered to condemn the building, with all the guests and full-time residents moved out, and the hotel doors padlocked. At the time I was a reporter at Channel 5, and I remember getting the tip that Metro Codes Director Elmer Young was at the hotel serving the condemnation papers. Fortunately, the hotel is not far from the station, so joined by a photographer, we rushed to the Hermitage and wound up chasing Mr. Young around the building to get an interview. He didn't really want to talk to us.

Fortunately, developers have been interested over the years in improving and restoring the hotel to its former glory, as The Hermitage has undergone several make-over since it was shut down briefly back in 1977 and its Chicago-based ownership finally decided to sell.

It's a 5-Star hotel today.  So we can still enjoy its magnificent main lobby as well the Hermitage Grille down stairs (where bandleader Francis Craig and singer Diana Shore used to entertain). And don't forget (for some of us, anyway) the chance to visit the hotel's one of a kind men's room near the Grille. 

My wife and I were lucky enough a few months ago to win an overnight stay at the Hermitage as well as the chance to dine in the Hermitage Grille. We can't wait.

But while we are there, I will also remember chasing Elmer Young around the building and all the other wonderful history that surrounds one of Nashville's most distinguished hotels.

TOMMY

I already miss my friend Tommy Burnett.

The former Tennessee House Majority Leader, who passed away on Thursday (September 17), was a frequent guest on my INSIDE POLITICS program. I had just been thinking we needed to find a way to get him back on the show with us.  I wish I had, for one last time.

Tommy was one of those people I could sit and talk politics and swap stories with for hours on end.  He was the kind of guest I love to have on the show. He had great insights which he was willing to share, and he was always passionate about politics. While he could be as partisan and outspoken as anyone, he usually did it with a deft touch, so that, much like is said of President Ronald Reagan, he could tell you that you are wrong and you ought to go to the devil, but he'd do it in a way that almost made you look forward to the trip.

Tommy could surprise you. Some of us who work on the INSIDE POLITICS show were reminiscing after his death, and remembered having him on the show last summer just after the Republican presidential ticket was announced. We thought Tommy, as a good Democrat, would fill that role on the show and help keep some balance in the discussion, and he did. But he also couldn't stop talking about how wonderful Sara Palin was and what a great speech she made at the GOP convention and on and on. Maybe it was her populist-style rhetoric that appealed to Tommy at that time, whatever it was (and it might have also been her good looks), Tommy made no secret about how he felt. He rarely did.

As a legislator and a House leader, he was unmatched at his ability to make a deal and to pass or defeat legislation. One of my strongest memories of him while I was a reporter was watching him standing next to his seat whenever a roll call vote was being taken. As the bell rang, Tommy would turn to his colleagues, and give them either the thumbs up or thumbs down sign. Whichever way he pointed, he usually prevailed.

Tommy had the political skills and talent to become Speaker of the House and even to be Governor of the State of Tennessee. But he made some inexplicably poor decisions that landed him in prison twice. Once, while serving time on an income tax charge, he was still so well thought of by his constituents in the Jamestown area, he was re-elected from his jail cell. The second time (as a part of the Rocky Top scandal), he was removed for good from elected public service.

But Tommy never pouted. In later years, he even got his law license and right to vote restored and he was very proud of that. Tom Ingram said it well in Ken Whitehouse's article on NASHVILLE POST.com (September 17): "If he wasn't on top of the world, he was on a comeback." 

Indeed, Tommy returned to public prominence after he became a regular on TEDDY BART'S ROUNDTABLE radio show here in Nashville back in the 1990s. He brought a lot of wit and wisdom to that broadcast, and it's one of the reasons I really miss that program. THE ROUNDTABLE is also where I came to know Tommy better when I was a guest on the show. He was just a peach of a guy.

In his later years, Tommy also had some success as a contract lobbyist working on the Hill. I guess as an additional outlet for no longer being right in the middle of all the give and take of politics, he was always to be found every year making and looking for bargains at the World's Largest Yard Sale or selling fireworks annually right before the Fourth of July. Heck, he even hosted a swap and shop program on the radio for a while. Tommy just liked to do deals.

There was some public confusion in Tommy's final hours and his passing was reported prematurely. While I know that must have painful for his family, I suspect Tommy would have loved it, the chance to make one last, if very brief, comeback.

Every week for the past several years, I have sent this column to Tommy. He gave me his e-mail address and asked me to send it to him. I was deeply honored that someone with Tommy's long and deep knowledge of politics would want to read something I wrote. He told me several times how much he enjoyed reading it. Frankly, I have written too many tribute pieces like this recently. We've lost too many good ones in 2009.

But I sure wish I could send this one to Tommy. Rest in peace, my friend. My prayers and condolences go out to your family.

 INSIDE POLITICS

Nashville is getting older. No, I am not talking just about our city. I am talking about our population, as the Baby Boomer generation is ready to become senior citizens.

It's a national issue but it has particular importance locally. In order for Nashville to be ready to respond to the challenges brought on by an aging population, Mayor Karl Dean appointed a task force led by Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors and AARP's Advocacy Director for Tennessee, Patrick Willard (who also used to work as a top aide for Mayor Bill Purcell.

After a year-long study, the Livable Community Task Force has released its final report and the change in population numbers it outlines are striking. For example, in the year 2000 the number of Nashvillians ages 21-34 outnumbered those over 65 years old by more than a 2 to 1 margin according to Census figures. By 2018, the two age groups are projected to be nearly equal in number.  

 That means a big impact on housing, health care, safety, transportation and the overall work force. Therefore, it also is likely to have a big political impact.

Those are the issues we discuss this week on INSIDE POLITICS as Vice Mayor Neighbors and Mr. Willard are my guests. It's likely a consciousness-raising interview for many, who may not have stopped to think about what is coming and what kind of changes and new political and community challenges it could present.

You can watch INSIDE POLITICS several times every weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK.

That includes the following times on both NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 250 and on the 5.2 digital channel now offered over the air by Channel 5.

Fridays (September 18)...........7:00 PM

Saturdays (September 19).......5:00 AM

Saturdays (September 19)......5:30 PM

Sundays (September 20).........5:00 AM

Sundays (September 20)........12:30 PM

You can also see the show on WTVF-TV (the main Channel 5 digital channel) on Sundays at 5:00 AM and excerpts from previous INSIDE POLITICS shows are available here at www.newschannel5.com

One important note: Wedding bells are ringing for my family next weekend (Saturday, September 26), as my youngest daughter Kelly is getting married, so the next CAPITOL VIEW column will be posted on Friday, October 2.

However we ARE likely doing a new INSIDE POLITICS show for next weekend (September 25-27). Mayor Karl Dean has been in office two years now (that's half his 4-year term). He will be joining us to discuss what's been done so far while he's been in charge, and what challenges and opportunities remain ahead for his administration.   

Join us! 

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