By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
December 11, 2009
HASLAM'S WALLET; TANNER FOR GOVERNOR?; CONVENTION CENTER "P0LITICS"; INSIDE POLITICS
In many ways, the 2010 Tennessee governor's race in the Republican Party has always been about Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam's wallet.
Just how big is it? How much of his personal and family fortune will he be willing to use to build his name recognition and support, and thereby separate himself from the rest of the field and win the nomination?
For the other candidates, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, Congressman Zach Wamp and Memphis District Attorney Bill Gibbons, the chance that they could be "carpet-bombed" across the state on TV by Haslam (as Ramsey once put it) has always seemed a very real possibility, especially as we approach the beginning of the 2010 election year. After all, it worked very well in a similar race a few years ago when now-U.S. Senator Bob Corker pre-empted his primary field with a media blitz that his opponents could never match and from which they never recovered.
But is it possible that the Mayor's wallet could become a liability, especially since he is refusing media requests to disclose all his sources of funding and his recent income tax returns? Specifically the Mayor won't talk about the money he makes from his family's Pilot Oil business. Haslam says it's a private family matter and disclosure would not be fair to others involved in the business. There also talk of it being a proprietary matter (not sure I understand that one).
Sensing an opportunity to define their opponent (Big Oil) before he can define himself, Haslam's challengers have tried to pounce on the issue, especially Congressman Wamp, sending out a news release with a headline asking, "What's Haslam Hiding?"
Quoting from the Wamp news release:"Mayor Haslam is not only wrong, but also politically naïve and misguided if he think Republican primary voters will reward the Mayor and hand the Democrats such a big political issue in a general election. It's really pretty simple. If Mayor Haslam is only willing to release just a small fraction of his financial information, then he should go back to his family business and not even try and run for Governor."
Good points, but as for the Mayor now deciding not to run for Governor, who's being naïve now, Congressman? That's not happening, although the Wamp campaign is very astute I think in framing the issue, at least in part, as a potential mistake Republicans want to avoid, lest they nominate a candidate who is at risk on a major campaign disclosure issue that is likely to continue right through to the general election next November.
Republicans are hungry to take back the Governor's chair after eight long years. With majorities in both houses of the General Assembly, they see the opportunity to truly make Tennessee a strong Republican state in the next few years. Right now, no one gives any of the Democrats running for Governor much of a chance to win the general election. But what if, the financial disclosure issue takes root against Haslam? Could his wallet, and his continued unwillingness to disclose what's in it the way other candidates have done voluntarily in recent Tennessee gubernatorial races, become his Achilles heel? You can be sure that for now the Democrats will mostly keep their powder dry, and see where things lie come next year.
As for Haslam's GOP opponents, I look for them to continue to raise the issue everywhere they can in the days and weeks to come. But can that make much difference? News releases and media availabilities on matters like this only go so far. Will the four major Tennessee newspapers (THE TENNESSEAN, THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL, THE MEMHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL and THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES-PRESS), whose Tennessee Newspaper Network first broke this story, continue to pursue it? Will they write editorials? So far, THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL has done so, saying Haslam's failure to disclose "does not speak well for his credibility" and adding, "…candidates for high public office are expected to give up a significant degree of privacy. The more powerful the office, the greater the transparency should be. The voting public should know who, exactly, it is trusting with the state's most powerful post…..it's not too late for the mayor of Knoxville to change his mind.".
Will the other papers and others in the media and the blogosphere follow suit? So far they haven't, and if they don't, I doubt this matter is going to grow political or media legs and walk (stay around), at least right now.
But that's still a risk for Mayor Haslam, because the issue can and probably will come back later and the longer he refuses (stonewalling it will be called) to disclose, the worst the matter is likely to become. In some ways it is hard to figure exactly why the Mayor won't disclose at least a summary of income information. Other rich candidates have done it in recent years, including current Governor Phil Bredesen. Is it the source of the money (the oil retail business) or it is the amount of the income?
By the way, disclosing has its downside as well. I am already hearing some carping about Congressman Wamp, coming from of all places, the Chattanooga area where folks have looked at the disclosure of his income and his charitable donations, done a little math, and found it to be well less than what in many churches is called "tithing (10%). As one source put it to me: "That's seems a little strange for a candidate who is always talking about the importance of his religious faith."
TANNER FOR GOVERNOR?
There are some leading Democrats in this state who frankly aren't happy with their party's remaining field of gubernatorial candidates. To put it bluntly, they don't think there is a winner in the crowd, nobody running who can keep the Governor's chair in Democratic hands.
So some of them are looking wistfully at retiring U.S. Congressman John Tanner, who they believe could be a candidate that could put it all together….a strong, Blue Dog conservative who could re-invigorate the party's rural West Tennessee base while holding together enough Democratic votes in the rest of the state (including the urban centers) to give the Democrats a good chance to win.
So is Tanner interested, after just saying he wants to retire from political office and Washington to spend more time with family? I don't know, although I am told when approached about the idea of running for Governor, Tanner has not made any statements invoking General William Sherman.
But there's a much bigger issue.
Before Tanner would ever publicly, or maybe even privately, consider getting in the Governor's race, he would surely want some signal from his kinsman, former Governor Ned McWherter, that he is not opposed to the idea. Is that in any way possible, given that the former Governor's son, Mike, a Jackson businessman is now considered the Democratic front runner?
Besides, John Tanner has had lots of opportunities over the years to run for Governor and other statewide offices, but he has always declined. It has long been rumored he was in line for Governor McWherter to appoint him to Vice President Al Gore's Senate seat when it was vacant back in late 1992. But again, he reportedly wasn't interested. Why would he be interested in a statewide office now?
I've learned over the years to remember that almost nothing is impossible in politics, and strange things can happen even when you least expect them. But to me this all kind of seems like something concocted by some folks who got into a bit too much Christmas eggnog a bit too soon at some early holiday parties.
It may also say a lot about how negatively many Democrats view the chances of their current field of gubernatorial candidates and how desperately some are searching for other alternatives.
THE CONVENTION CENTER
As we continue down the process (public forums, council work sessions, a public hearing) towards what promises to be a final vote on Nashville's new downtown convention center on January 19, like ALICE & WONDERLAND, things keep getting ‘curiouser and curiouser".
Item: Headline from coverage of WLAC Radio/Union Station forum on convention center: "Convention Center debate gets political."
What? Like this has just happened and the last two years plus of community controversy has all been about public policy? Yeah, right. Accusing Council member Emily Evans of being against the Convention Center because she plans to use her opposition as a way to run for Mayor, seems a bit strange to me. Whether you agree with her statements about the Center or not, she is an elected public official. And to me, she appears to be doing her job, which is to review, consider the plans and ultimately to cast one of 40 votes about whether to move forward or not with the largest public project in the history of our city and state. If that's part of some plot to run for Mayor, I hope all 40 council members can be so accused.
Meantime, the fight over land use surrounding the new convention center is also intensifying. A few months back, the Dean administration was beside itself it was so pleased that a team including the Phelps Portman Development group, Marriott Hotels and Tower Investments had been selected as the team to help build the new convention center hotel. They were particularly pleased that the hotel would be a Marriott Marquis, one of the most exclusive hotel brands in the world.
But, primarily due to bad economic conditions that make a privately funded hotel impossible right now, the Mayor has decided,(despite the past conventional wisdom of many years), that Nashville can move ahead on a new center without an adjoining convention hotel. It looks like he may get the chance to find out how well that will really work, because Tower has announced its own deal with Barry Real Estate Companies to build something else ( a high-end mixed use office tower development) on what was the "preferred site" for the hotel.
Now there are other hotel sites in that area, so this loss may be more symbolic than significant. Besides, Metro doesn't have the money to build a publicly financed hotel right now even if it wanted to do so. But when the city is ready, will Phelps Portman, Marriott and its Marquis brand still want to be involved or will this hesitation to move ahead on the hotel, cost us this flag? Right now, I am told all the other teams members are still on board (although there is no written agreement with Metro and no property to build on).
And so, is this new development by Tower and Barry (which just finished the beautiful new Pinnacle at Symphony Place office tower downtown) really more about the ongoing condemnation feud with the city over land Tower owns that is in the footprint of the new convention center itself? Tower is hotly contesting the matter in court, which usually in condemnation cases is fairly fruitless. But does Tower see this as a bargaining chip to get Metro to up its purchase price? Or is it just another poke in the eye as these two entities fight it out south of Broadway?
With President Barack Obama having finally made his decision, after months of study and review, we take a look ahead at the future of the war in Afghanistan this week on INSIDE POLITICS.
Is the President's plan a good one? Can it begin to work in just 18 months so a troop withdrawal can begin? Is the plan just a smaller surge effort like the one that worked in Iraq, and can it work in Afghanistan?
These and many other questions will be on the table when we welcome Dr. Sean Foley of the history department at Middle Tennessee State University and political science professor Dr. Nathan Griffith of Belmont University as our guests on INSIDE POLITICS this week.
You can see INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast and Charter Cable Channels 250, and NEWSCHANNEL5's over the air digital channel 5.2.
Here are our weekend broadcast times:
Fridays (December 11)……7:00 PM
Saturdays (December 12…5:00 AM
Saturdays (December 12)…5:30 PM
Sundays (December 13)……5:00 AM
Sundays (December 13)…….12:30 PM
You can also see excerpts from previous INSIDE POLITICS shows here at NewsChannel5.com
By the way, NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS is now available to some 632,046 viewers all across Tennessee and southern Kentucky, including now the cable system in Bowling Green, KY. The Plus can be seen in almost every county in Middle Tennessee as well as to the west as far as Obion, Gibson, Madison and McNairy counties and to the east in Marion, Grundy, White and Putnam counties.