Capitol View Commentary: May 30 - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: May 30

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CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations

May 30, 2008

2008 continues to be one of the strangest presidential election years on record.

Just a few months ago, who would have thought we would be seeing and reading these recent items in the news?

Item: Rupert Murdoch, the founder of the FOX News Network and the new owner of the WALL STREET JOURNAL predicts a landslide victory in the November election for Senator Barack Obama, and stops just short of endorsing the likely Democratic nominee.

What is this all about? A Reuters story on the matter (5/29) by Eric Auchard says, "Murdoch is associated with conservative political views but has a reputation for a pragmatic streak in major national races where he has shown a willingness to switch sides when he detects major political changes afoot."

So is that it? Or is this one last warning bell to the GOP conservative base to come together, regardless of what they think of the party and its likely nominee this fall (Senator John McCain)? Or is Murdoch really hoping this means increased ratings for his media outlets like FOX News, much like it had during the Clinton years, when those out of power (GOP) were looking for outlets where they could rally together?

Item: Former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan has a new book out (who doesn't in Washington these days?) in which he says his former boss, President George W. Bush "veered terribly off course" and was "not open and forthright on Iraq" with the American people. He also says the President used "propaganda" to sell the war.

Now this is not unusual, at least for what is being said. Lots of folks have made similar charges, but no one this close to the inner circle in the Bush White House has ever done so. As a press secretary in a previous life (for Mayor Richard Fulton) I always have great interest when I watch former media aides do tell-all books. Of course, McClellan is being criticized (and rightly so) for disloyalty, but I also found the response of some in the White House even more interesting. They say: "We are puzzled and disappointed. This is a Scott McClellan we never knew. This is a different side of Scott."

These are the kind of comments someone makes when a friend or neighbor is arrested on morals charge or something. And notice how the response appears to be a new form of the "non-denial denial" that first came into vogue in the Watergate period. It completely avoids making any comment on whether the substance of what McClellan says is true (although, to be fair, others in the Administration have done so).  

Still, who would have predicted earlier this year or even a few weeks ago that either of these stories would come to pass?

TENNESSEE

While we don't appear to be a battleground state for this fall's elections, Tennessee and prominent Tennesseans are still very much out front in both major political parties.

Former Tennessee U.S. Senators Fred Thompson and Bill Frist are scheduled to help Senator McCain with his Town Hall meeting here in Nashville at the Ryman Auditorium on Monday, June 2. And the Senator looks to be trying to raise some serious money while he is in town too.

For $1,000 per person you can attend the main reception at Mike Curb's home in Franklin, for $10,000 per couple a Victory Dinner also being held there and for $25,000 per couple, you can be a part of a Roundtable that includes dinner for 2. Now if those dollar numbers look too much like the amount it took to fill up your car with gas last week, be assured is this the normal way of life in political campaigns these days for candidates in both parties.

The one item being offered to supporters at the Nashville fundraiser that I find a bit amusing (given all the commotion in the media about trying to get a picture of President Bush and Senator McCain together when they were fundraising the other day) is that for $4,600 per couple you can get your picture taken with the candidate. I'll bet John McCain raised a lot more than that having the President at his fundraisers out West with almost no pictures taken, thank you. By the way, if you want a photo, you can also make your payment by credit card. So I guess, depending on your politics, you could call it "priceless" or say that "membership has its privileges."

Meantime on the Democratic side, Nashville resident and former Vice President Al Gore is stepping up his involvement in election-year politics by hosting a big national fund raiser for the Democratic Party and sending out a major fundraising letter for the Democratic National Senatorial Committee. In the letter, Gore makes a strong pitch to elect Democratic Senate candidates this fall: "The simple truth is we must not only win the White House, we must defeat those GOP Senators who have done as much damage (to our nation) as George Bush or Dick Cheney....Sadly, we've learned that 51 seats is not enough because 49 Republicans can stymie the will of the American people through filibuster and maneuvering."

OK, but isn't Tennessee's Lamar Alexander one of those 49 GOP Senators? And isn't he up for re-election this fall? So why has the Democratic National Senatorial Committee not committed or pledged any funds so far to help the Democratic nominee (either Bob Tuke or Mike Padgett) against Alexander? With Gore involved now, will that change? Will or has Gore asked that be changed? Or is this Tennessee race still too hard for the Democrats to crack? 

One other note on the Tennessee Senate race: Bob Tuke seems to never miss an opportunity to tout his military background (he's a former Marine). Now his campaign is bragging about stealing a march on his primary opponent, Mike Padgett. Specifically, they are talking about a on-line poll taken by a Knoxville media blog site where Tuke appears to have amassed, what a news release from his campaign calls, a "commanding lead" (63% to 23% as of Wednesday, May 28) over Padgett, Tuke's Knoxville-based primary opponent, who has spent 20 years as County Clerk there. 

Said Tuke campaign manager Ben Chao:"The results show that Tuke has far more organization than many political observers assume (Ok, I'll buy that) and that Knox County is very much "in play" for Tuke in the August primary."

I am not sure so about that last claim. 

Since you can vote in an on-line poll from anywhere in the state, the country, or the world for that matter, and the Tuke campaign put out a blast e-mail encouraging all its supporters everywhere to go on-line and vote, I am not sure the Tuke numbers show much of anything about his real strength in Knox County.  I agree, as the Tuke news release says, that the poll could be seen as "the first organizing test of the primary season", but I am not sure how much Padgett even tried to compete. So, other than some small bragging rights and something to talk about with reporters, supporters and potential funders, I am not sure polls like this mean much of anything.  The Tuke campaign theme is "Take the Hill". In the case of this on-line poll consider it, at best, taking a mole hill. J

 One final Tennessean making presidential election news these days is former Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Harold Ford, Jr. who wrote an op-ed column in the latest edition of NEWSWEEK magazine giving soon-to-be Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama some advice. Ford, who is Chair of the national Democratic  Leadership Council, says if the Senator wants to do better with white, working class and rural voters, he ought to make more of an effort to go out and meet them.        

 Ford asks: ‘Do many rural or working class people have questions about Obama? Sure. But these are less about race than about culture. Obama has not lived their lives."

I think Ford is spot on with his suggestion. He also recognizes that like himself, Senator Obama, does very well wherever he spends his time and campaigns intensively...in other words people get to know him a little better and get a feel for him as a person, as someone who may not be like them, but understands their lives and their points of views on issues.

But I would suggest two things for candidate Obama as he visits around: work on your bowling and watch what kind of lettuce you order in your salads J.

 OBAMA

Speaking of Senator Obama, by sometime the week beginning Monday, June 2 he thinks he will secure enough delegates (elected and super-delegates) to clinch his nomination at the national Democratic Party's convention this August in Denver. The primary and caucus season finally ends that week and we could also know how the party plans to deal with the disputed delegations from Michigan and Florida.

But how the party deals with that could move the goal line for Obama's victory (nomination) a little further down field, and, if the agreed-to compromise on Florida and Michigan is challenged by the Hillary Clinton campaign (which is very possible) then we could have a floor fight brewing that will keep matters in an uproar all the way to convention floor in late August.

That would give the TV networks the best summer reality show they've ever had and Democratic leaders a case of really bad heartburn as the party continues to split apart at a time it needs to show the nation unity and resolve. One sign that a compromise on Michigan and Florida won't work? How about the protest rally being organized by the Clinton campaign outside the big Democratic meeting in Washington this weekend, demanding that all the votes and the delegates from Michigan and Florida be counted and seated, a position almost no one else outside the Clinton camp, supports.  

Will party leaders (like Vice President Gore) finally step in (even behind the scenes) and tell Senator Clinton not to push the political envelope any further by challenging an accepted Michigan-Florida compromise? Will the Democrats ever realize they are making the process of selecting their nominee so balanced and politically correct that it is overshadowing and minimizing the purpose of the whole process....to select a candidate that can win behind a united party in the fall?

Will Democrats ever outgrow Will Rodgers' definition of the party over 70 years ago ("I'm not a member of an organized political party, I'm a Democrat.")

Stay tuned.

PLEASE KEEP YOUR SEAT BELTS FASTENED AND SECURE AT ALL TIMES....

Will the recent bickering between Obama and McCain over who, when and how they should visit Iraq, lead to dueling tours by the candidates in the months to come? And won't that look kind of strange and a little silly?

I know it helped Dwight Eisenhower when he won the presidency in 1952 to say: "I will go to Korea" (but he was a successful World War II general, people thought he knew about military matters).  And I know it helped Richard Nixon in 1968 to say he had a secret plan to end the Vietnam War (but he really didn't).  

What will Obama and McCain find in Iraq? Probably they will find whatever the generals show them. Lately, that seems to be a slightly more secure and peaceful country with the Iraqi government playing a bigger role in making and keeping it that way. That's what I am also hearing from a weekly reader of this column, Bob Krumm, who is currently stationed in Iraq serving as an operations analyst.

But if that's the case aren't both candidates going to need to adjust their rhetoric a bit? If we are making progress that is being hinted at, doesn't that make a quicker military withdrawal as suggested by Obama more plausible while making McCain's recent proposal for a 5 year plan to get out seem a bit too long?

Certainly going overseas can probably only help Obama in the area of bolstering his foreign policy profile. McCain, meanwhile, has already made plenty of trips. But I think voters are more likely to judge these candidates by the policies they propose (and later deliver on) as President, not by how many frequent flyer miles they run up jetting around the world.

INSIDE POLITICS

A big, new controversy seems to be brewing in Metro over the future of the Tennessee State Fairgrounds located at the end of Wedgewood Avenue in South Nashville.

Metro government each fall conducts "The State Fair" at that location (even though the state apparently has little or nothing to do with it, other than donating the land to the city many years ago and providing a very few thousand dollars annually toward the effort). Some say the Metro Charter requires the Fair be held each year. Others are not so sure about that. Regardless, in recent years, the Fair has not been doing well financially and the Speedway racetrack, also located on the property, has also been suffering, and its lease will soon end.

So some consultants have been hired to look at alternatives. So far, they've come back with what some folks think is merely the obvious. Either stay and fix up and improve what you have at the Fairgrounds or sell (the very valuable) property where the Fair currently operates and move it somewhere else. As for the Speedway, that's less clear. It could be expanded at the current location if the Fair moves or it could go away completely, despite a long, rich heritage of racing there. Following the Fair to a new location seems unlikely.

Already this discussion has touched off a firestorm of disagreement throughout the Nashville community, and nobody's even made a solid recommendation one way or another yet.

New Fair Executive Director and former Metro Councilman At Large Buck Dozier is my guest this week on INSIDE POLITICS as we discuss the various alternatives for the Fairgrounds. It's an interesting conversation. Dozier says they are several sizable and easily accessible plots of land that have already been offered as new sites for the Fair (he won't disclose anymore about that). He admits a lot of work still has to be done to decide how to proceed, but he expects a final recommendation on what to do from the consultants by this fall and final consideration by the Mayor and the Metro Council by the end of the year.

My other guest this week on INSIDE POLITICS is the Chairman of the Metro's Council Budget & Finance Committee, Erik Cole. His group has been grappling for over two months now with a city budget which is so financially strapped it cuts services (MTA, parks, hospitals and public works, among others) and lays off employees (although only about 50 or 60, not close to the 200 originally forecast).

We talk with Councilman Cole about any changes the Council is considering in the Mayor's proposed budget and the city's future financial outlook. The Councilman says he thinks the top priority among his fellow members is to find money to restore some of the cuts in transit service. I heard Mayor Dean tell the local Public Relations Society the other day that that is the one cut he truly wishes he didn't have to make, especially with gas prices soaring and MTA ridership expanding. So I would say some extra money (maybe up to a million dollars restored out of two million cut) for MTA is possible. But where it will come from? Nobody is saying just yet.

As for the future, the finances for the city look grim says the Councilman, that includes, at this point, prospects for a Metro employee pay raise next year (they are already going without one this coming fiscal year).

You can see INSIDE POLITICS every weekend on both NewChannel5 Plus, Comcast Channel 50 and on NewsChannel5, WTVF-TV.

On Fridays (May 30) we air at 7:00 PM on the Plus, then on Saturdays (May 31) we are on at 5:00 AM and 5:30 PM. Sundays (June 1) we are broadcast at 5:00 AM again, this time on both the Plus and the main channel (WTVF-TV) and we are back on Channel 50 later that day at 12:30 PM.

Watch us!

And don't forget you can see excerpts of previous INSIDE POLITICS shows here on NewsChannel5.com.

GET WELL SOON.... 

Best wishes to my good friend (and a frequent reader of this column), Deputy Mayor Greg Hinote, who recently had a nasty fall off his bicycle, breaking his hip.

For any Mayor, it is never a good time to be without your top aide, but to have this happen when, among other things, Karl Dean is trying to pass his first budget through the Metro Council this month, must be particularly frustrating, even if that budget doesn't raise taxes.

I can relate to this situation in a way. When I first when to work in Mayor Fulton's office in 1985, he was trying to pass a budget (with a tax increase) through the Metro Council. It had failed the year before and prospects still looked tough when I came into the office in early May. Then Finance Director (now Metro Trustee) Charlie Cardwell fell ill and had to go into the hospital for major abdominal surgery. That put him out of commission and out of the Courthouse for several weeks, including the week of the final Council vote. Fortunately, Charlie could still meet with us at the hospital and talk with us (and council members) by phone. With everyone pulling together, we got the budget and tax increase approved.

Greg Hinote is reportedly soon to be out of the hospital and recuperating at home. He says he will be on crutches for several months, but hopes to be able to get around enough to make back to the office soon. Don't rush it, Greg. I know how you feel. When I broke my foot and dislocated my shoulder almost 9 years ago, I fretted to get back on the job here at DVL. But when I came back, less than two weeks after the accident, I could only make it each day for about 3-4 hours before I was completely wasted. Now, you are younger and in better shape than I am (or was), so maybe it will be OK for you. But don't push. Take your time and concentrate on your full recovery.   

Also remember with e-mails, blackberrys and cell phones, you can now be and stay in better touch with the office, and likely get more work done from your bed or easy chair at home than hobbling around the Courthouse. I sure wish we had had that kind of technology back in the ‘80s when Charlie Cardwell was laid up. Besides, Greg, you need your rest to be ready for what still lies ahead.

And judging from the tenor and content of some of the Planning Commission's budget hearing the other night, what appears to be at issue is the continuation of the Mayor Dean's honeymoon with some members of the new Metro Council and with some of members of the neighborhood movement. They seem upset and ready to pick a fight over some of the administration's recent board appointments and the administration's relationships with some local developers.    

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Kudos to Tennessee Congressman Lincoln Davis for his recent e-mail news release reminding me that Congress still has some unfinished business to attend to concerning keeping Tennessee's sales tax as a deductible item on your federal income tax.

After years of inequity, sales tax has been deductible the last few years. But the law authorizing that expired last year and unless Congress acts before the end of this year, you won't be able to claim that deduction on your 2008 return.

As a part of the Renewable Energy and Jobs Creation Act (who knows why they stuck it in that bill), sales tax deductions have been approved again by the U.S. House by a vote of 263 to 160.  But the Senate still must act and who knows how that will go or if any other provisions in this Energy and Jobs bill could pop up as a point of dispute and gum up the works to get final approval of the full bill. That what's happened before and doomed previous efforts to extend the sales tax deductibility extension to failure.

And just the tax equity of it (property taxes have been deductible for years), the news release from Congressman Davis' office points out that according to figures from the House Ways and Means Committee, in 2006 alone, 574,393 Tennessee families claimed general sales tax deductions on $1.2 billion in state and local taxes.

That sure ain't no small change.

   

    

   

   

   

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