By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
September 14, 2012
It's been about 12 weeks since I last wrote this column.
I had a life-changing experience on Thursday, June 28.
I had a stroke.
After 3 weeks in the hospital and several more in therapy, I have recovered enough, I hope, to begin these weekly epistles again.
I will start with politics but over the next several weeks I will also tell the story of what I have experienced since the end of June and how it has and still is changing my life.
I would love to tell you how much politics has changed since my illness.
But it really hasn't.
Congress has been on vacation most of the time, so they've gotten less done than I have. But unlike me, they are doing it on purpose. They don't want to solve the many problems we face. It is easier to put it off until after the election. Will they solve it then? Not if they can find a way to put it off some more and keep playing politics, passing the buck (deficit) and blaming the other guy (i.e., political party). I doubt the latest threat from Moody's to further downgrade the country's credit rating will make much difference
Back in Tennessee, after some fierce party in-fighting during the August primary that saw GOP House leader Debra Maggart get picked off and defeated for re-election by gun rights and Tea Party advocates, Republicans seem poised to widen and deepen their dominance of the General Assembly. Come January and the new term, they can pass and do anything they want on the Hill and the Democrats can't even walk out and make any difference. It will likely be a "walk-out proof" majority for the GOP.
But despite all that and the brave talk by Republican legislative leaders, if the NRA wants "guns in parking lots" or pretty much "guns anywhere we want them" legislation passed, don't bet against it. Lawmakers can read the results in the primary and not many are likely going to want to take the chance to be marked for "political crucifixion" next time.
And then there is the beaten up and beaten down Tennessee Democratic Party. It is hard to believe, but it is a group in worse shape than it was back when I wrote my last column in late June. Party leaders backed a little-known TV "star" to take on GOP Senator Bob Corker and his millions in campaign funds. An impossible task made still worse because the favored candidate lost the primary to Mark Clayton, a political unknown who state leaders decided (after the vote) was not really a Democrat after all. The hue and cry to disown the duly-elected nominee made Clayton famous, if only very momentarily. He has no chance to beat Corker either, even if he is listed alphabetically ahead of the incumbent (the lame excuse Democratic leaders first gave for Clayton's primary victory).
There is evidence leaders in the Democratic Party should have known Mark Clayton was not somebody they would want as their standard bearer but did nothing about it beforehand despite state law that would have allowed them to make such a challenge. Now some are suggesting new party rules to determine in the future who are true and bonafide Democratic candidates. Without quoting Will Rogers and his famous saying about Democrats, all I can say is good luck with that.
Meantime the Davidson County Election Commission continues to struggle over how to run local elections properly. To err is human. The Commission proved again using new computers can really foul matters up as they programmed them to automatically give out the GOP ballot unless voters specifically asked for a Democratic one. They even gave them to local Democratic elected officials and all you know what broke loose.
At first the GOP-controlled Commission downplayed the problem, but after just a preliminary investigation found 100% of ballots were cast in the Republican primary in at least one minority voting box in this heavily Democratic county, you have to know more a more thorough investigation is needed and probably a lot more training for poll workers. Even the Commission's bosses at the state (also Republican controlled) think so according to a report by Nashville Public Radio. I can't say I am surprised. I got a wrong ballot in the Metro elections a year ago and that wasn't even a primary, just gave me the wrong Council district, which I had to correct . So be careful when you go to polls. After you show them your ID, make sure they do their job right and give you the right ballot or you could be wasting your vote.
Now I see some on the Election Commission still wanted to use these new computer voter pads. Fortunately, the full Commission said no. Good call. Let's build some faith back into the voting process first before we there again. Besides, I seriously doubt the Metro Council is approving any more voter pads anytime soon. Meantime more effective training for poll workers is likely key..
On another local topic, the ongoing fight between the Metro School Board, the state Department of Education and the proposed Great Hearts Charter School remains a puzzler to the end. The latest head scratching for me began after the Board, with four new members, for the third time rejected Great Hearts' proposal to create what opponents say will be a most or less free private (white) school on the taxpayers' dime in West Nashville. Great Hearts says that is not true, that they meet all of Metro's standards for charters including diversity outreach. But now Great Hearts is abandoning its efforts to put a school here saying with such a hostile school board, their charter could never work.
That's probably true, but it is a bit shocking since the state has very much been on Great Hearts' side, mandating that Metro reconsider and approve the school or face consequences for being in defiance of state law, including a loss of state education funds So what will the state do now? Stay tuned.
Great Hearts says it might reconsider in the future and come to Nashville if the state changes its laws and allows a more unbiased approval process (no local school board approval?) for charter schools to be created. Given the leadership and makeup of the Haslam administration and the Legislature, that change in the law to let the state handle charter school creation all by itself could happen (although the continuing controversy over the governance of Memphis and Shelby County schools could complicate that). Even if a new law is passed, any new state-approved charter school would to have some decent working relationship with local school officials and the School Board and having the state alone approve charters might make that difficult.
Maybe this is part of what Mayor Karl Dean means when he says the real losers in all of ongoing mess this are "the children" of Nashville, especially when it seems all the adults can do is fight among themselves.
Finally in our political comments, there is the presidential race, which remains very, very close and not much changed the last couple of months. President Barack Obama did get a better bounce out of his national convention than Republican Mitt Romney, taking a small lead in national polls. But bounces tend to dissipate quickly, and it will all likely come down in the Electoral College to 8 to 10 battleground states, almost all of which remain razor close and up for grabs. In that regard, the latest poll by NBC, Marist College and THE WALL STREET JOURNAL show the President building small, but clear leads in states like Virginia, Florida and Ohio. Romney must win these states or his campaign is likely doomed. The poll does show Romney getting better numbers with voters on handling the economy, but very few voters still remain undecided or say they are open to change their minds.
Now the national media says the key will be the debates, but just like the earlier key moments such as the conventions, the vice presidential choice, the Supreme Court health care decision, etc., I doubt any one of these alone will be a catalyst. Unless one candidate really messes up, debates usually only reinforce support, they don't swing races. So lock in for the long ride home these last few weeks as we head to Election Day.
As for this latest overseas tragedy (and possible 9-11 related terrorist attack?) involving the senseless deaths of four American Foreign Service officials, including an ambassador, it may or may not remain a major factor in the race. Both candidates need to remember America has been served well historically when partisan politics ends at our shorelines and borders, and that we use our powers most effectively not for political gain or by the election calendar.
Bottom line, both candidates can still win it come November, both can still lose it.
So it is likely to remain a long, strange journey as it has been from the beginning.
When I awoke on the morning of June 28, it never came close to crossing my mind that I might come close to dying that day. Instead I was, like a lot of people, anticipating the historic Supreme Court health care decision to be announced that morning. In fact, I had my column already written, a day early, all but finished except for my comments on the High Court ruling. I never wrote those final words to finish the column. I also had my INSIDE POLITICS show taping set for Friday (June 29) to analyze the decision and how it might impact the November election. We never taped the show. I was in the hospital.
As a part of my day on June 28, I was also looking forward to the 50th anniversary celebration at the Courthouse of voter approval for Nashville's Metropolitan Government. I had been part of the committee planning the event. Part of my duties was to interview three of our former Mayors present at the celebration (Mayors Richard Fulton, Bill Boner and Phil Bredesen). It was to be taped for future use by the city's cable access channel, Channel 3.
I completed all of those interviews inside Mayor Karl Dean's office after the public program. Those ceremonies were conducted outside on the Courthouse Plaza on a day when temperatures reached 106 degrees. Actually, when I was outside briefly during the program, I didn't think it felt that hot.
I don't know if the heat or high blood pressure or what exactly led to what happened next, but after greeting several friends, I went inside and began the mayoral interviews (first Mayor Fulton, then Mayors Boner and Bredesen).
I don't know when it started (I‘d like to go back and watch the interview tape), but by the time I was interviewing Mayor (later Governor) Bredesen, I began to notice I was slurring my words. I never do that. But since I didn't feel bad, I didn't think much about it and continued the interview. I WAS HAVING A STROKE (and I had no idea).
Then my left leg began to cramp, like it was going to collapse. It's another stroke symptom and it did get my attention, but again I dismissed it because I had not had lunch or anything to drink. I finished the last interview with Mayor Bredesen and was about to leave, go to my car and drive back to my office and get some lunch.
Fortunately, while I was clueless, my DVL colleague Anna Hardaway and of two of Mayor Deans' top aides (also both former aides to Mayor/Governor Bredesen) Janie Conyers and Tam Gordon, were not. They saved my life.
First, Janie, noticing my stroke symptoms, stopped me and gave me some bottled water. I promptly dribbled it down the left side of my face (another sign of a stroke). Tam then made me sit down in a dark, empty office where we further discussed how I was feeling. I still wanted to leave and get back to work. But they insisted they call my wife, then 9-1-1 and seek medical assistance for me. Maybe they saw what my daughters later told me they observed at the hospital that day, that the left side of my face was sagging, still another stroke sign.
If you ever suffer a stroke (and I sure hope you don't) I do hope you are lucky enough to have friends like I did who saved my life. Some might say it was also very fortunate that was the 9-1-1 call for me was made from the Mayor's office. And I did get a very quick response, I must say. But I work with the 9-1-1 Board as a client, I know how fast and expertly the folks at the Emergency Communications Center respond to calls for emergency help from anyone.
I got a real-life, first- hand experience of that, as even before the firefighters and EMTS got there (both responded), the 9-1-1 calltaker asked me several questions over the phone, even asked me to repeat some things to see what kind of shape I was in. It was the beginning of a process I repeated several more times in the next few days as doctors and nurses asked me lot of questions over and over. Some were to be expected. What is my name? What city am I in? What is today's date? What day of the week is it?
I got all the answers right, an early good sign that my stroke did not impact my speech much, although I had speech therapy sessions, both in and out patient, for several weeks to see if there were impacts on memory, comprehension, etc and so on. I quickly learned that my stroke was caused by a ruptured blood vessel on the right side of my brain. Therefore the impacts are on my left side (a lot more about that later in another column).
I was rushed to Saint Thomas, where I received quick and excellent care for the next week. I needed it as my blood pressure peaked at 240 on the top side before I arrived. It reminded me again I sure was glad I didn't try to drive away from the Mayor's office. I remained conscious throughout the process, even talked and joked in the ER and ICU with family and friends while discussing the health care ruling (see, I am a hopeless political junkie).
I don't remember everything from the next several days, I slept a lot as a part of beginning my recovery and letting my brain heal. I do remember answering a lot of those same questions again. That includes one I found a bit surprising and a little funny.
The question was: "Who is the President of the United States?"
Sure glad I remembered or might never be writing this column or be a political analyst again.
NEXT WEEK : The Recovery begins thanks to those gave me back my life.