Capitol View Commentary: Friday, Oct. 30 - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, Oct. 30



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

October 30, 2009


A funny thing happened to the "public option" as a part of national health care reform.

This past summer, during the Congressional recess, the concept of a "public option" became a political cuss word as federal elected officials all over the nation got verbally barbequed by voters at town hall meetings for even thinking about supporting such an idea.

Now, if you believe the latest polls, the public seems to have mellowed a bit. In fact, the latest (WALL STREET JOURNAL-NBC) poll shows a slight plurality (48%-42%) favoring the concept. That's a ten-point swing from August when it was 47% opposed to 43% in favor. What happened? According to another pollster, Keating Holland of CNN (October 28), his poll shows a shift among political independents, who now support a public option 61% to 38% after being split about it back in August. But ominously, senior citizens, who vote heavily especially in off-election years like 2010, still strongly oppose a "public option" and they have not moved, at least according to the CNN poll. 

So now that the public, in general, seems more open to a public option, what happens? It's the politicians...including Democrats...who seem to be having new qualms.

This is particularly vexing for the Democratic leaders in Congress, especially in the Senate, where they will need 60 votes (a super majority) to cut off debate and have a final vote. While the Democrats, in theory, have 60 members in their caucus, it is pretty clear they don't have 60 votes, including the vote of Connecticut Senator and former Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, who is now saying he will vote with the GOP to filibuster and block final approval of any health care bill, unless the "public option" is removed.

Lieberman has been on thin ice with his Democratic colleagues for a while, particularly after his out-spoken support of his good friend, Republican Presidential candidate, Senator John McCain last fall. Will this latest break force the Democrats to kick him out of their party and the Senate caucus, as well as strip him of his committee chairmanships? Or is Senator Lieberman just saying out loud what several other of his fellow Democrats are mumbling to themselves....that they too are still uncomfortable with the "public option," leaving the Democrats in a very deep hole to get anything major on national health care change passed this year?  

There are now no Republicans who are even remotely considering supporting the House and Senate health care bills (even Senator Olympia Snowe has backed off with a mandatory public option back in play). So what do the Democrats do? They seem to be scrambling a bit to secure the votes in the House, and exactly what kind of "public option," (robust, opt-out, state coops, something else, or nothing at all) could make all the difference in bringing into the fold Tennessee Democratic Blue Dog Congressmen like Jim Cooper, Bart Gordon, John Tanner and Lincoln Davis.

 Further complicating the matter is the attempt by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to now call the "public option" a "consumer option." Please.  The Speaker has unveiled her combined bill that the House will soon begin to debate. It's 2,000 pages long, giving Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, the chance to recycle his earlier political punch line, sending out a news release that says: "The Era of the 1,000 Page Bill Is Over; The Era of the 2,000 Page Bill Has Arrived." Cute   

  To get anything done, it may well be that the House will vote through a bill with some kind of "public option", followed by the Senate voting out a bill without one, and then a lot of intrigue and political horse-trading will begin to try and work out a compromise in a conference committee, made up of members of both houses. That could also help get around some of the 60-vote requirements in the Senate, the body which now seems to be the biggest obstacle to passing a health care bill.

That, and what Will Rogers used to say: "I don't belong to an organized political party. I'm a Democrat." J 


The highly-respected CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY publication is having a few second thoughts about Tennessee's House races next year.

CQ POLITICS (October 28) has now moved the re-election chances of two long-time Democratic Congressmen, Bart Gordon and John Tanner, from Safe Democratic to Likely Democratic.

What does that mean?  Here's the way John McArdle of CQ-ROLL CALL explains it: "The Likely rating means the incumbents still are heavily favored to win re-election, but the Republicans at least have some chance of making one or both races competitive."

Why? Well the CQ article by McArdle points out the changing voting demographics of the districts (voting for Democrats for Congress, but for Republicans for Senate and President), and then, in Congressman Tanner's case, an opponent who has raised a surprising amount of money early on. Stephen Fincher, a farmer and gospel music singer, reported collecting a whopping $303,000 (all from individuals) in the last reporting period (ending September 30).

 While the incumbent Tanner has plenty of campaign funds left over from previous races, that kind of fund raising by an opponent (even if most of it came from party zealots as Democratic State Party Chair Chip Forrester alleged on my INSIDE POLITICS shows last week) is still a whole lot of money and it has to get your attention, especially when Tanner only collected $62,000 in the same period.

Gordon already has an opponent too, Lou Ann Zelenik. She is being highly touted by national GOP leaders, even though she lost a state house primary race last year, and her Congressional fund raising abilities have still not been tested because she has just entered the field and has not yet been required to file a campaign finance report.  

Both Congressional challengers believe they may get a break from the major issues dominating Washington, as both the health care and energy bills now pending in Congress, could help create more controversy, and therefore more support for them. But Gordon and Tanner are seasoned, highly skilled politicians and campaigners. The challengers still face more than an uphill fight. 


The decisions made concerning war and peace are always the most important ones facing our country.

That's why we have invited back Vanderbilt professor Klint Alexander to be our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend to discuss this nation's ongoing debate about how to proceed with our 8-year long war in Afghanistan.

It's a wide-ranging discussion as we try to cover all the issues and topics involved.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on NEWSCHSANNEL5 PLUS. And I am happy to say effective this weekend we are also now back on the main channel (WTVF-TV, NewsChannel5) on Sunday mornings at 5:00 AM.

Here's when and where you can see INSIDE POLITICS (all shows on THE PLUS unless otherwise noted):

Fridays (October 30)...........7:00 PM

Saturdays (October 31).......5:00 AM 

 Saturdays (October 31).......5:30 PM

Sundays (November 1).........5:00 AM (WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5)

Sundays (November 1)........5:00 AM

Sundays (November 1).........12:30 PM

NewsChannel5 Plus can be seen on Comcast and Charter Cable Channel 250, as well as on NewsChannel5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2. And you can see excerpts of previous INSIDE POLITICS shows here on the NewsChannel5 website.


The recent WALL STREET JOURNAL/NBC poll I mentioned earlier in talking about public options and national health care has some other fascinating numbers to contemplate.

There is a political anger brewing in this country that is stronger than any witch's brew this Halloween.....and it spares no one in Washington. The poll shows public dissatisfaction to be at its highest in at least 12 years. Here are some examples: Only 23% say they "trust government always or most of the time"; 57% blame both Democrats and Republicans for the partisanship in Washington, while nearly half (46%) say they would support a new independent third political party to compete with the two major parties.    

While President Barack Obama remains at an overall approval rating of 51%, it seems the public likes him more personally than professionally. His lower marks include being decisive (48%), being knowledgeable and experienced enough (47%), being a good commander-in-chief (46%), handling a crisis (45%), uniting the country (38%), changing business as usual in Washington (38%) and achieving his goals (37%).

But before Republicans start counting their gains in next year's mid-term congressional elections, the poll shows the party at an all-time low with just 25% of respondents having a positive view of the GOP while Democrats get a 42% favorable rating. And as for the edge in a question about which party voters would prefer control the next Congress, it comes out 46% for the Democrats, 38% for Republicans. By the way, that's a margin which was just three-points last month).   

So, looking at this poll, it's clearly a pretty scary time for both parties, with the public, right now, more likely to give out tricks (throw the bums out) than bestowing any treats on our federal elected officials.

And while the latest Gross National Product figures (which show the best growth in the past couple of years last quarter) and the stock market may indicate the economy is getting better and the country is now out of a recession, the unemployment figures would indicate otherwise to many people, and that's not helping their mood towards Washington either.


Already sick of the rainy, dreary, winter-type weather we are experiencing this fall?

Are you ready for the heat and vitality of the 2010 summer primary for Governor of Tennessee?

Well, looking through the state's media the other day, I found a little glimpse of what likely lies ahead.

In THE MEMPHIS FLYER, GOP gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Congressman Zach Wamp told reporter Jackson Baker (October 26) that after watching one of his chief rivals, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam: "His money is going to give him name recognition, but there's not much to connect the money to....If that's all they have after 10 months of campaigning, that's an empty suit."

Congressman Wamp, from East Tennessee says he plans to spend at least two days every month visiting and campaigning in the Memphis/Shelby County area, but as for Haslam's recent door-to-door campaigning in the Bartlett area of West Tennessee, the article described Wamp as "scornful", adding this from the Congressman: "That's a Tom Ingram stunt. It's trying to make a rich guy look like a regular person."

"An empty suit", "a stunt", "a rich guy trying to look like a regular person."See what we have to look forward to next summer? And Wamp wasn't just taking shots at Haslam. According to the MEMPHIS FLYER article:"Wamp also indulged in some speculation about future tense dropouts from the Republican gubernatorial field by Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey or District Attorney General Bill Gibbons of Memphis."

Finally, according to the article, Wamp "cited his recent endorsement by the conservative Red State group (which he quoted as saying, "the last thing we need is any more squishy moderates in the State of Tennessee)."

"Squishy moderates?" Is that the Democrats or other Republicans like Senators Lamar Alexander or Bob Corker?

So you can see at least Congressman Wamp is already warming up on the campaign trail for next summer.         

Getting back to Mayor Haslam, according to a story in THE JACKSON SUN (October 28), he spent a day recently touring the West Tennessee Megasite in Haywood County. That's the 3,500 acre-property the state recently purchased for $40 million, and which Governor Phil Bredesen has been touting to Chinese officials for future business development during the Governor's recent trade mission overseas.

The problem is the state has so far not appropriated any money for infrastructure, so the Megasite is megapoor, without any water, electric, gas or wastewater services. In fact, according to THE JACKSON SUN article, "the only infrastructure currently available around the megasite is single-phase electricity used to supply power to homes in the area."

That's not good, especially since any major company or developer coming in would expect the state to install and pay for such infrastructure services.

So what would a Governor Haslam do about it? Here's what he was quoted as telling the paper: "We ended up over $1 billion in the red last year. We do not have a state income tax, and I am not for one. You can't raise the (state) sales tax because we have the largest in the nation now, so we are going to have to make some hard decisions."

And those decisions are, Mayor Haslam? Have you no ideas to suggest? From this article, it would appear all the Mayor has to offer right now is a definite maybe on what to do. However, I will give Mayor Haslam credit for at least acknowledging the state has some big money issues. That's further ahead of the game than some of his opponents appear to be.


It will be a few months yet before the General Assembly gets down to business in approving a new state budget. But already some of the battle lines are being drawn.

One area for a fight between Governor Phil Bredesen and some Republicans (including Lt. Governor and GOP gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey) will once again be the state's Pre-K program.

It's been a favorite of the Governor even since he started the effort for at-risk youngsters earlier in his administration. He and many others believe Pre-K can make all the difference in the world for a child starting out his or her educational careers.

But some on the Republican side of the aisle are not so sure and they have resisted Governor Bredesen's efforts to expand the Pre-K program statewide for all children. Right now, the state's terrible budget situation pretty much makes that impossible. In fact, things are so bad financially, that additional state budget cuts are all but assured.

So will Republicans push that the existing Pre-K program be among the new cuts? Based on a new report out of the State Comptroller's Office, now controlled by the Republicans, I would say yes. The report says while Pre-K has some immediate positive impact for children, it fades by 2nd grade. Proponents dispute that and say the report put out by Controller Justin Wilson is just a rehash of old incorrect studies.

Incorrect or not, you can likely book this as a budget battle on the way (again) for 2010.   


The budget saga at Metro's Parks & Recreation department continues...

Now, to balance its books (out of balance $700,000 as of the end of June and maybe another $500,000 by next July) will require seven employees to lose their jobs (along with a museum specialist at Ft. Negley), as well as reduced operating hours at neighborhood community centers and nature centers.

But in making that recommendation, Parks Director Roy Wilson may not settle the matter. He is in hot water with the Mayor's office, the Finance Department, the Metro Council and his own Parks Board because he neglected to tell them, in advance, that his department was in any financial difficulty. This at a time when Metro has been squeezing and cutting its budget across the board to make ends meet. To further complicate matters, Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling said he knew nothing of the proposed Parks budget cuts until they were presented to the full Parks Board at a recent meeting. That's not a smart move by Parks Director Wilson. It's more like rubbing salt into an open wound, especially since Riebeling also can't seem to get any answers from Parks officials about what moves they are taking internally to make sure budget overruns like this don't reoccur in the future.

 So regardless of what he plans to do about it or why the shortfall  occurred (unexpected repairs, keeping golf courses open during the winter, staffing new nature centers), Roy Wilson's real problem comes down simply to that famous line in the movie, COOL HAND LUKE:  "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

And not doing that in advance could put Wilson in a very delicate position for remaining with Metro going forward. 


Just when you thought you'd seen and heard more than enough about where gun permits holders can or can't take their firearms in Tennessee, there's a new Attorney General's ruling that could stir the pot some more.

Attorney General Bob Cooper, in response to a request from Republican representative Tony Shipley of Kingsport, has issued an opinion which holds that landlords can ban their tenants from bringing firearms into their property even if the tenants have handgun carry permits. The AG says the ban can be included either in the lease agreement or through signs posted on the property.

Rulings by the Attorney General are advisory and do not carry the force of law. They can be changed or overridden by the courts or the General Assembly. But, for now, does this mean that in our state, property ownership rights will trump the right to bear arms?  Is a man's home his castle, but you can only have a gun if you own the property, renters no need to apply? Is there another controversial bill coming to the floors of the State House and Senate to try and "fix" this matter?  I guess we will find out come January. 

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