Capitol View Commentary: Feb. 5, 2010 - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Feb. 5, 2010



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

February 5, 2010


A few hours before he made his eighth and final State of the State address Governor Phil Bredesen was asked by a reporter if his speech would be all "gloom and doom." No, answered the Governor, pointing out that Tennessee is in many ways better off than lots of other states across the country in dealing with its budget shortfall.

He's right about that. But if you are one of the 1,000 state workers about to get laid off or your position abolished, it pretty much is "gloom and doom." Even some of those who got their jobs saved (about 350) through the use of the state's "rainy day" fund must be wondering how long a reprieve they've been given since those are one-time dollars being used to keep them employed, just like the federal stimulus funds that papered over so many planned job cuts last year.

And if you are a TennCare patient the impact of the Governor's proposed budget cuts could be life-threatening, with new reductions that significantly shorten the maximum yearly care for both in-patient and out-patient care. Even citizens so far untouched by the budget axe would be impacted, with new taxes requested on cable TV boxes and bills (in part to meet likely court rulings to bring these fees in line with the state's tax on satellite TV) as weall as a sizable increase in the fee to renew your driver's license.

 Now the license fee hasn't gone up in 20 years, and they are extending the time before you have to renew (from 5 years to 8 years), so the higher fee would not impact everyone for some years. The extension might even shorten those long, slow-moving lines at the license renewal stations, even if it means the picture on your driver's license will soon look even less like you than it does right now. J

But already some legislators are balking. According to a story (February 3) by Andy Sher of THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES-FREE PRESS, Republican Leader Jason Mumpower says: "I just think it's the wrong thing at the wrong time and I believe my caucus will feel (that way) as well." Added Mumpower's fellow GOP leader in the Senate, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey: "I don't that ends up passing the General Assembly." OK, that's sound ominous and so it looks like a fight is brewing or more cuts may have to be made elsewhere in the budget (higher education? The highway patrol?).  

There are also the other consequences to the state's budget cuts especially further down Deadrick Street in Nashville. The TennCare reductions will cut millions from the budget at hospitals across the state, including the Med in Memphis (over $20 million) and Nashville's General Hospital ($10.5 million). General has already been on financial thin ice for some time now. The administration of Mayor Karl Dean, a few months back, hired an outside consulting group to look at new models for delivering health care to the poor in this community. I haven't heard any recommendations come back, but I suspect we will soon as the city tries to figure out how to handle this very difficult problem.

And this won't just impact General Hospital. It will also impact Meharry Medical College, which uses the hospital as its major outlet to train residents. Anything that shuts down all or portions of General brings a racial component to the potential controversy. And what's ironic about all this is that is that it was Mayor Phil Bredesen who brought about the agreement that allowed Meharry to place its residents at General and which moved the hospital into what had been Hubbard Hospital in North Nashville, with Metro signing a long-term lease to relocate General there. By the way, I am told this is a multi-million dollar yearly lease Metro must continue to pay even if a hospital no longer operates in the building.

Another potential complication for Metro arising out of the Governor's budget is the proposal to give state workers, who haven't had a pay raise in three years, a 3% bonus. Metro employees have also done without since 2007, so Metro will feel the heat to also provide a bonus, even though the city's reserve funds are not nearly as large as the state's.  

Of course, some might question the whole idea of giving state (or Metro) employees more money, even a one-time bonus, at the same time you are laying off others. It's not that they don't deserve it, they do, but it seems counter-intuitive. However, that's the very unusual situation we find ourselves in as we begin 2010. Meantime, you can bet lawmakers in both the General Assembly and the Metro Council will be debating the impacts of the Governor's spending plan. Particularly on the Hill, you can see folks already drawing up sides about how much of the state's rainy day fund to use and on what things to spend it. That fight, along with what to do about the Governor's tax proposals are likely to be the dominant themes of the entire session.


State Finance and Administration Commissioner Dave Goetz is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. Nobody understands state government and how it is funded better than he does. So we will talk in detail about the governor's budget and what changes and flexibilities the Bredesen administration has in dealing with lawmakers as they decide what to do about a spending plan for this very difficult coming fiscal year.

I can tell you Commissioner Goetz is most upset about how Republican lawmakers have already rejected the Governor's proposed fee and tax changes. He says they seem to do so, out of hand, without even having any discussions with the administration which disappoints him to say the least.

You can see INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast and Charter Cable Channels 250 as well as NEWSCHANNEL5's digital over-the-air channel 5.2.

Fridays (February 5)……….7:00 PM

Saturdays (February 6)…..5:00 AM

Saturdays (February 6)……5:30 PM

Sundays (February 7)……….5:00 AM

Sundays (February 7)………..12:30 PM

In addition for the next four weeks beginning Sunday, February 7, INSIDE POLITICS will air on the main channel, WTVF-TV NewsChannel5.

Don't forget, if live outside the Nashville area, you can watch excerpts of previous INSIDE POLITICS show here at


After looking over the most recent campaign finance reports filed by all the gubernatorial candidates, I can find few surprises. But the reports do raise a major question along with one overarching concern for the Democrats.

Let's talk about the concern first. As measured by funds raised, it appears pretty clear this field of Democratic candidates is just not generating nearly as much support and excitement as the Republicans are. How else do you explain that while the 4 GOP candidates combined have raised over $12 million, the three Democrats have pulled in less than $3 million total. That is a 4 to 1 margin. Sure, those Republican numbers may be a bit distorted by the nearly $6 million raised by Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam. But both Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey ($2.75 million) and Congressman Zach Wamp ($2.57 million with a $61,000 loan) have individually raised more money than all the Democrats combined. That includes businessman Mike McWherter ($1.1 million), State Senator Jim Kyle ($750,000, including a $300,000 loan) and former House leader Kim McMillan ($500,000). This is not a good sign at all for the Democrats' chances of holding on to the governor's chair this fall.

As for questions, I have one big on after looking over the disclosures. Can Lt. Governor Ramsey and Senator Kyle remain competitive while they remain in legislative session and their campaigns by law can't raise any money? Ramsey has a hefty $2.3 million still on hand. That would seem like enough unless Mayor Haslam decides to begin a state-wide TV media blitz (ala Senator Bob Corker). Ramsey might be hard pressed to respond effectively, or at least respond for very long. Congressman Wamp, while he can and is continuing to raise money, might be in a similar situation reporting only $1.8 million on hand (January 15). And remember, while we may not know the sources of all his income, Mayor Haslam has or can raise from contributors lots more money for his campaign if he thinks he needs it. The fourth GOP challenger is Shelby County D.A. Bill Gibbons. He does not appear to be much of a factor money-wise. He continues to lag far behind the others with about $640,000 raised total and $225,000 on hand.

As for Senator Kyle, while he has $588,042 on hand, he likely faces less of a problem with a funds shutdown during the legislative session. I guess it is possible that front runner Mike McWherter could start an expensive early media blitz, he has only $620,000 in the bank to spend as of mid-January. The third Democratic candidate, Kim McMillan has about $107,000 left, which is barely enough to stay active and competitive in a statewide race without a major influx of funds.

I know money is not votes but it is a measure of the enthusiasm and depth of support for candidates in some ways (i.e., if it comes from other people not from their own checkbook or a bank loan). Having said that, given the current fundraising numbers in the governor's race, it seems whoever comes out of the Democratic primary is going to have a tough time competing with the GOP candidates unless fund raising levels rise substantially.


The races for our two open congressional seats here in Middle Tennessee are quite interesting. First, in the contest to win the seat of the retiring Bart Gordon, there is still no major Democrat in the field, an omission now becoming so glaring you really have to wonder if there is any way the seat can stay blue? Very doubtful

But in the meantime the Republicans are on their way to having a major primary fight brewing for August. State Senator Jim Tracy has impressed a lot of political observers by raising $266,849 in the last quarter of 2009. Actually, I'll bet most of that money was pulled in during the last month or so, after Gordon announced he was not seeking another term, making the Tracy haul even more impressive. Tracy reports he has $258,849 still in the bank.

The candidate expected to be Tracy's main opposition, fellow State Senator Diane Black, got off to a slower start financially, raising $50,000 and loaning her campaign just over $100,000, for a combined balance around $150,000. A third Republican candidate, who was in the race even before Gordon got out, Lou Ann Zelenik is showing no signs of getting out (even though there are several GOP leaders in Rutherford County who would like her to do so to help Tracy). She raised over $380,000 last quarter, including self-financing her campaign with a loan of $279,496, leaving her with over $380,000 (more money than any other candidate) heading into the early part of 2010.  

This is going to be on expensive primary race.

Lots of money will also be spent in the mostly rural 8th District to take over John Tanner's seat, who is retiring. And with this contest being targeted nationally by both parties, both candidates are nearly equally in campaign monies at this time, which is perhaps a surprising plus for the GOP. There is a major Democratic candidate in the race, State Senator and former gubernatorial candidate Roy Herron. He has about $655,000 to begin 2010, while his main Republican competitor Stephen Fincher, a local farmer, has almost $630,000 in his war chest. 

Right now The Cook Political Report rates the contest a tossup, while political analyst Stuart Rothenberg includes the looming November political battle as a part of his "Dangerous Dozen" of U.S. House seats most likely to switch parties in November. And GOP operatives are already seizing on a comment made by Rothenberg when he said: "Tennessee could be a giant headache for Democrats, and being a long time Democratic state legislator (Herron) may more of a liability than an asset in 2010."

To push that further, there are already attacks on Herron for allegedly supporting a state income tax a few years ago. He denies, of course, but this is probably just the beginning of a race that will likely stay hot all the way to next fall.

There is one other interesting local primary battle to watch here in Davidson County between long-time Nashville State Senator Douglas Henry and Nashville attorney Jeff Yarbo. Again, the fund raising numbers are interesting to observe. Henry has $320,327 in his account, but that includes a $200,000 bank loan which the Senator is guaranteeing. That means in terms of money raised from donors, Henry collected about $120,000 or just $6,000 more than Yabro did last quarter ($113,997). It would appear in terms of resources, Yarbro will have what he needs to be competitive in the the race with about $105,000 remaining in the bank.  Yarbro also has some temporary advantage because Henry is prohibited from raising campaign funds while the General Assembly remains in session (with a likely adjournment estimated now for sometime in late March or April).      


I know Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper is very pleased that both the U.S. House and the Senate have now passed new "Pay As You Go" legislation to try and rein in runaway government spending and our exploding national debt.

I am not so sure. There are so many exemptions to the "Pay As You Go" rules that you wonder what it really will mean, especially given Congress' past record in this area of fiscal management.

But I guess it's better than nothing, just barely.


The political eyes of the entire country, maybe even of the world are on Nashville this weekend, as the Tea Party movement holds it first national convention here. Clearly the energy of this new political grouping (as loosely organized as it is) has shaken up American politics like nothing else in recent months. The question is where does the movement go from here? Perhaps the Nashville convention will begin to provide some answers to that.   

Fifty years ago this month, another group of citizens (largely local college students) helped begin a political and civil rights movement here that has had a profound impact on this entire country and its recent history. The non-violent lunch counter sit-in demonstrations of the 1960s, which in many ways began here in Nashville, led directly to the passage of much of our landmark civil right legislation later in that decade. Today is hard to believe that we were once divided by race when we ate, used a public facility or even when we used a drinking fountain.

It shows how even a small group of committed and determined people, strengthened by the courage of their convictions and willing to pay the price to bring about needed change and progress in our country can literally move mountains and end years of injustice. While the issues important to the Tea Party movement are vastly different, its members should aspire that a half century from now, they can look back and see that what they are trying to do will make as much of a difference as the sit-in movement did beginning 50 years ago.       


Speaking of local conventions coming to town, Metro is moving quickly ahead on the construction of the new Music City Center. City officials are facing a pretty tight deadline to get the facility ready before the first scheduled conventions are due to begin here in early 2013.

Already construction barricades and road closed signs are going up, construction management staff is being hired, and the city has won its nasty condemnation fight with Tower Investments, one of the major landholders of the new convention center site.

The matter can be appealed, but at this point, as I suspected, we are only arguing about the ultimate price the city will pay for the property. It will soon have the land in hand and can begin site preparation and then construction can begin.  

Praying for good construction weather the next few years might also be a good idea for city leaders. And good tourist-related tax collections as well.

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