By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
January 13, 2012
JANUARY 21; GOVERNOR HASLAM'S PLANS; INSIDE POLITICS; THE FIGHT OVER RECESS; THE HEALTH CARE STRUGGLE FOR THE SUPREMES; METRO ISSUES BREW AS MAYOR'S CHALLENGES ARE OUTLINED IN A POLLING SURVEY
Despite the weeks of speculation that the 2012 GOP presidential race may go on for months, come a week from Saturday (January 21), it may be all but over after just one caucus and two primaries. And that's just like it always been, at least in the past several presidential cycles.
Mitt Romney has won the first two GOP contests, narrowly (8 votes) in the Iowa caucuses, and rather handily in New Hampshire (capturing nearly 40% of the vote in a field of six). As we speculated in last week's column by capturing the Granite State, he has become the first non-incumbent Republican to ever win both of these first two early contests in the presidential race.
Romney is therefore gathering increasing momentum that he is the inevitable nominee, despite the large number of remaining opponents who still want to become THE alternative to the former Massachusetts governor. But that alternative just can't seem to emerge and if he doesn't in the next primary, South Carolina, the race may be all but over. There has been a meeting held (January 13) of national leaders in the social conservative movement to try and focus support to back just one anti-Romney candidate (most likely Rick Santorum). But unless that bears fruit immediately with big money and on the ground support in South Carolina, Florida and beyond, it may already be too little and too late.
The real question for the Romney campaign may come down how well he handles the increasing criticism of his business career in which he made millions of dollars working with Bain Capital. With his opponents (Rick Perry in particular) calling Romney a "vulture" capitalist not a venture capitalist, and Newt Gingrich and his Super Pac spending at least $3.5 million in TV ads in South Carolina to go after Romney on his business prowess and other issues, it will be critical to Romney's ultimate success if he can weather this storm.
Already it is estimated that South Carolina voters have seen more than 5,000 TV ads in recent weeks with many more on the way as Romney's own affiliated Super PAC is responding with its own TV spots defending Romney by attacking Gingrich's ads in particular. That's a clear sign of how concerned Team Romney is about this issue and how critical it is to both his fight for the nomination and the fall campaign ahead.
Romney is also getting support from other prominent Republicans who say it is wrong for GOP candidates to attack each other over capitalism and free enterprise (I guess they think it sounds too much like Democrats). But what may really be bothering party leaders is that it was their hope that the use of Super PACS (created by the United Citizens Supreme Court ruling allowing businesses and wealthy individuals to pump unlimited amounts of money into the political process without the source of the funds being identified) would be a great boon for the party and its candidates going into the fall, not a means for mutual self-destruction in the primaries.
The Democrats believe the Bain Capital issue can play well for them if Romney is the GOP nominee, so how he handles the matter could either inoculate him to some extent or leave him wounded going forward even if he wins in both South Carolina and Florida where he currently appears to be ahead in the polls.
GOVERNOR HASLAM'S PLANS
As Tennessee lawmakers return to Capitol Hill for the second session of the 107th General Assembly, Governor Bill Haslam continues to evolve in his role as the State's chief executive, being both predictable and unpredictable.
In terms of presidential politics, the Governor finally made the obvious a stated fact…he is supporting Mitt Romney for president. This comes after months of the Governor playing coy on the issue, even though both his father and brother have been out front supporting the candidate for months and even though Haslam has supported Romney in the past.
But in a rather unpredictable move, the Governor outlined his legislative package for the coming term and he has suddenly become a "tax cutter.' The most surprising change he wants (I am not aware he's been out front on this issue before) is announcing a plan to reduce the state's sales tax on groceries from 5.5% to 5.0% over the next few years.
Critics say it's not a lot of money saved for Tennesseans, but this state is one of the few in the nation that provides no break on buying necessities like food, so any move in that direction (especially given how critical the sales tax is to funding state government) represents a major policy shift. It may also steal an issue away from the Democrats, several of whom have been arguing for a reduction of sales tax on necessities for years.
There are also those who say it is a PR blunder for the Governor to announce support for a small sales tax reduction at the same time he is pushing to eliminate the state's inheritance taxes over time which impact a relatively handful of people. But that issue has been a GOP agenda item for several years. What may be more significant is that in moving ahead on the inheritance tax it appears the Governor is siding with House Speaker Beth Harwell (the major supporter of eliminating the inheritance tax) over Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (who while also against keeping the inheritance tax also wants the state's Hall Income Tax on dividends repealed). Haslam says the state can't afford that right now, opening up another area of disagreement with Ramsey. And what happens if the Lt. Governor flexes his political muscle and get a phased-in Hall Income repeal passed this term, then dumped on the governor to have to deal with it?
The Governor's overall legislative plan is much more extensive and broad reaching than last year. I also think I see something of a political theme to much of it. Supporting and proposing legislation to change the status quo in state government (civil service and state hiring changes, restructuring state board and commissions) and in education (allowing changes and flexibility in pay scales and class sizes) are clearly an attempt to put the Governor and Republican lawmakers on the side of reform and making government smaller and our public schools more effective and efficient. If Democrats or other oppose, they have to be careful not to look like they just want to keep the status quo, which many voters clearly don't want any more on any level of government.
Nashville Representative Mike Turner is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend. The House Democratic Caucus Chair has already had his hands full this term, working against all odds to get some changes in what is a very- pro-GOP redistricting proposal covering our State House and Senate seats along with and the nine congressional districts. The plan has made its way quickly through both houses in just a matter of days since it was unveiled.
Turner has had some success in getting some changes (even if, as a part of the deal, he agreed to vote for the measure which he and Democratic leaders are still threatening to take to court). The last-minute deal struck by Turner seems to give Democrats the chance to save several seats including the ones held by Nashville Democrats Sherry Jones and Mike Stewart.
We will talk in-depth with Representative Turner about redistricting and its long-term implications, along with the other issues facing the General Assembly this term. Mike's an open and outspoken kind of guy so you can be sure it will be a very interesting conversation.
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THE FIGHT OVER RECESS
Usually the President and Congress have to be in Washington to get into a major fight. But in another example of how partisan and gridlocked Washington is these days, now there is a constitutional battle brewing (which could ultimately go to the U.S. Supreme Court) over exactly what constitutes a congressional recess.
Most congressmen have been out of Washington for well before the Christmas holidays. So that's a recess, right? No, say Republicans who point out members of the Senate have been convening from time to time each week, so Congress is not out. Baloney say the Democrats, adding the sessions are just people making speeches with no agenda or votes being taken. So, they say, Congress, with almost all of its members back home or out on travel junkets, is really on recess.
Why is this important? The Constitution allows the President to make appointments to federal agencies at his discretion when Congress is in recess and do so without their approval. That's what President Barack Obama did recently concerning both the head of the new Consumer Protection Agency and members of the National Labor Relations Board. Republicans are furious since they have blocked these appointments from approval.
And so the legal action in the courts may ensue trying to get judges to determine what the Constitution is silent on: what defines a congressional recess other than another period where our elected officials don't get anything done.
THE HEALTH CARE STRUGGLE FOR THE SUPREMES
One major issue the Supreme Court will be hearing arguments on soon is the constitutionality of the new National Health Care law.
There have been split decisions going both ways in the district and appeals courts and everyone expects the High Court ruling will be very close, maybe even 5-4.
So that's why the major fight behind the scenes has been efforts to get two Justices to recuse themselves. One is Justice Clarence Thomas because of his wife's lobbying activities for conservative causes and Justice Elena Kagan because of her role as Solicitor General in the conception and passage of the new health care law.
The efforts have even reached Chief Justice John Roberts with pressure being put on that the Court itself act to recuse its members.
That's not going to happen and shouldn't happen, says the Chief Justice. "The Supreme Court does not sit in judgment of one of its own members' decision whether to recuse in the course of deciding a case. Indeed, if the Supreme Court reviewed those decisions, it would create an undesirable situation in which the court could affect the outcome by selecting who among its members may participate."
It appears that Tea Party activists and other conservative are very disappointed that Chief Justice Roberts won't act to recuse or rebuke Justice Kagan. Now there are e-mails circulating on the internet to mount a petition drive to get Congress to impeach Kagan if she doesn't recuse herself.
That's not likely to happen either, but it sure underscores how important and controversial this court decision is likely to be.
METRO ISSUES BREW AS MAYOR'S CHALLENGES ARE OUTLINED IN A POLLING SURVEY
So far in the new term of the Metro Council, the major controversy has been over whether citizens in the Urban Services District can keep a certain limited number of chickens on their property to provide fresh eggs. Despite some neighbor concerns about noise, smell and other potential problems, it looks as if this proposal will gain final approval at the next Council meeting on January 17.
There are, however, other more serious political chickens that will be coming to roost at the Courthouse in the months to come. Examples: Is it time for Metro to raise property taxes for the first time in at least 6 years? What about the new baseball park? What kind of money or support should the city provide and where should it be located? What about continuing the city's subsidy to the Nashville Predators? And what about more money for mass transit and funding pensions and benefits for future city employees?
These issues and others appear to be a part of an extensive public opinion poll being funded by Mayor Karl Dean's re-election committee. The CITY PAPER article on this subject by Joey Garrison (January 10) was so extensive in terms of the exact questions and topic areas, it seemed to have everything you'd want to know, except for the results, unfortunately.
Perhaps, we will get some clues in the next few days about what the poll said. That's when Metro kicks off its annual budget process. We will certainly hear continued talk of how Metro needs to be frugal in how it budgets and spends its money. But maybe will also hear more about how eventually there may be a need to look at more revenues to provide quality schools, emergency services, public works and infrastructure.
Already there is a group emerging, The Tea Party of Nashville, that seems poised to lead the opposition to a potential property tax increase. It is headed by long-time activist Ben Cunningham, who successfully led the effort some years ago to amend the Metro Charter to require voter approval of property tax increases above a certain amount. Cunningham remains an effective advocate. But his position regarding the city of Nashville has changed since he has moved and now lives in another country. He will likely have to be careful how he speaks out personally since nobody likes out-of-county folks coming into their community and telling them what they should do or not do about running or funding their local government.
But some local officials are already speaking out on some other current Metro issues. Councilwoman Erica Gilmore is raising questions in a recent NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL article (January 12) calling out Mayor Karl Dean for why he seems to be changing his support for putting the new baseball stadium on the East Bank rather than the old Sulphur Dell location in her district . I suspect her colleague At-Large Councilman Jerry Maynard wonders the same thing. The stadium could well be a big part of the Metro's next budget discussion and the fight that ensues may have more to do with just the money involved. Location, location, location will also likely be at center stage.
Finally, are there problems in paradise with Nashville's new downtown convention center? THE TENNESSEAN reports (January 13) that at least a couple of conventions, set to be held in the new Music City Center, are postponing their events because of concerns the new facility won't be ready on time in 2013. Up until now all the news has been about how much more business the new convention center is bringing to town with Metro well on its way to achieving a goal of pre-booking up to a million room nights before the new center opens.
So are we facing a significant delay on the opening or will this be just a brief blip on the radar moving forward? You can be sure this will start back some talk of ‘I told you so" from critics. I had been warned that early on the Center might not be an overnight success, but it has a very, very bright future long term. The city has a lot invested in this project, which is our largest public endeavor ever. Whether we thought it was a great idea or not while we were debating the development, we all need to hope it does succeed or Nashville will have even greater fiscal challenges lying ahead.