By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations
June 27, 2008
It's become an almost annual rite of summer.
After hearing cases from the first Monday in October until well into the spring, the U.S. Supreme Court winds up its term each year by issuing numerous decisions just when summer arrives. And they are usually decisions rendered in the most controversial of cases.
That's what happened again this year.
In fact, the Supremes may have outdone themselves this term with their opinions touching off new debates in several hot-button issue areas such as: the right to bear arms; capital punishment and child rape; campaign finance reform and millionaire candidates; habeus corpus rights for enemy combatants; the limits of punitive damages in environmental cases among other decisions.
This week on INSIDE POLITICS we will focus on the recent Supreme Court term and its decisions. As our guests, we could not have two better experts to join us than Vanderbilt constitutional law professor Jim Blumstein and Nashville attorney and constitutional expert David Raybin.
Join us as these two explain how these decisions will impact our lives and our politics in the months and years to come.
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As we discussed in last week's column, even though it is still early summer, the presidential campaigns are going ahead full bore just like it was already time for the fall campaign.
That means both sides are constantly forced to come up with new things to talk about (or how to talk about and recycle old issues). And, of course, they need new events or photo opportunities to capture media coverage and public attention. But haste can make waste in these matters and sometime things don't seem to work out as expected.
Hence, we can call this time of year the silly season.
Here are a few examples:
CNN runs a story (June 26) about Senator John McCain's computer skills after he told an interviewer he needs his wife to help him with how to do things on line (so do I, by the way). Then a McCain aide said during a recent forum that ""Senator McCain is aware of the Internet." What? That rather underwhelming vote of confidence has set off lots of on-line criticism and ridicule. It even led the CNN reporter to a man on the street segment asking everyone, including young children, how important it was to have a computer literate president in office (including quotes from the current President George W. Bush showing his struggles in this area.
Then there's the latest GOP effort to paint Democrat Barack Obama as "different from the rest of us." This time the term being used is "arrogant." And who is using this word? Would you believe it's former Bush political advisor (sometimes called Bush's Brain), Karl Rove? What's that old saying about people who live (or used to) in glass houses and throwing stones? I can't think of a more implausible Republican to go after Obama with the charge of being "arrogant."
Then there's Obama himself. His campaign recently did an event, featuring the candidate surrounded by several top advisors. All are seated at a table with a podium in the middle. The podium seems to have attached to its front some kind of seal, which bore a vague resemblance to the Presidential Seal (I seem to remember seeing an American eagle with the arrows and olive branches in each talon). But get this: the seal also had Obama's campaign slogan ("Yes We Can") written across the top IN LATIN. You know, kind of like E PLURIBUS UNUM. Now I wouldn't say that's arrogant, but it might be considered a little presumptuous. Obama campaign officials were quick to back off the seal as some of kind official part of the campaign. My guess it has wound up in the trash heap of presidential campaign symbols that just didn't work. There it joins such previous efforts as having the candidate photographed wind-surfing or riding in a tank.
Finally as a part of silly season, both Senator McCain and Senator Obama have talked at various times in recent weeks about offering cash prizes as a way to find solutions to our current energy problems. A reader of this column (my Channel 5 producer, Cherilyn Crowe) passed along something a co-worker remembered, an episode of the old Dukes of Hazzard TV show that sounded kind of familiar.
The episode is entitled "HIGH OCTANE". It originally aired February 23, 1979, which (as I remember it) was when we were facing another energy/gasoline crunch. A synopsis of the show goes something like this:
"Uncle Jesse fires up the old still for a good cause: to make moonshine that can make a combustion engine run to win a contest of (producing) a workable fossil-fuel that could save the country's pollution problems (got to work global warming in there somewhere) and get the Dukes $10,000 in cash (as the winning prize). But a revenue agent is on to the sneaky Dukes, and so is Boss Hogg, who wants to take Jesse's moonshine to the contest like it was his."
You can learn more by going to: http://epguides.com/DukesofHazzard/guide.shmtl
I know the ‘70s is the current "in" generation for the retro crowd. So do these candidates or their advisors watch "Nick at Night" to get their ideas? J
THEY KEEP TRYING AND TRYING
Another week in Washington and yet another bill trying to do something to lower high prices at the gas pump. Both Tennessee Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker support the new GOP-backed bill which, as Senator Alexander puts it, seeks to lower gas prices by simply "finding more and using less." In short, that means opening more areas (especially offshore) for oil exploration and pushing for electric cars, which Alexander claims within five years can have thousands of Tennesseans driving vehicles that get up to 100 miles per gallon.
That statement is bound to bring criticism from Senator Alexander's two Democratic opponents for re-election. Knox County Clerk Mike Padgett, who just finished visiting all 95 counties in the state (I wonder what kind of carbon footprint that made) says" "We need to end tax relief for the wealthiest Americans and for Big Oil. Let's take that money and make sure folks can afford basic needs: fuel for our cars, health care for our families and a better education for our kids. This kind of thinking isn't what Tennessean-or the rest of America, for that matter-has gotten from President Bush or Senator Alexander or Senator McCain."
Nashville lawyer Bob Tuke adds: "Senator Alexander has voted to protect big oil and energy companies over and over, and their executives and their PACS have rewarded him with more than $130,000 for his campaign coffers this cycle alone. Investing in clean and renewable energy sources such as wind power, solar power and advanced biofuels can help replace our nation's dependency on foreign oil and fossil fuels while creating a new energy future."
The problem is none of these things our politicians and candidates are talking about can happen for years, if ever, and making energy just another political football to be kicked around for partisan purposes will get even less accomplished. Senator Alexander in one of his news releases, points out the case of Christy Long of Maynardville, who he says is one of 600 Tennesseans who have written him lately about how high gas prices are hurting everyone. "She is having trouble paying for her insulin," says Senator Alexander. "She says ‘gas for work or insulin to live. That is the decision I have to make several times daily.'
I suspect she is not alone, but the increasingly partisan mood in Washington on this issue (after all, it is an election year) probably means will have to keep making difficult financial decisions for years to come, before we finally find some way to address an issue that has been decades in the making. It won't be solved by any single piece of legislation or even a series of bills passed by Congress (including going after oil speculators). If you want more proof of how partisan this issue is becoming watch the latest Tennessee GOP video that tries to us Obama's mantra of "Yes, We Can" against him on the gas issue.
I know lawmakers want to pass something before they come home for the summer to address the gas issue, but right now, I am not seeing much consensus for anything that will have immediate impact.
LATE BREAKING...As this column is being completed (June 27), there are some small signs for hope on energy issues and the Congress. Tennessee Senator Bob Corker has joined a bi-partisan group of nine other Senators in signing a letter to the upper chamber's leadership in both parties. They claim they plan to work together "to address the nation's energy crisis and they asking the leadership after the 4th of July holiday break "to convene an energy summit in order to hear from unbiased experts to assist them in moving forward in crafting legislation."
It sure sounds like a good first step. Now let's see what, if anything, develops.
SO WHO'S REALLY AHEAD?
It's still very early, but already it is getting a bit confusing if you are following all the election polls out there.
For the last several weeks, most of the polls agreed that Senator Obama held a lead of 4% to 6% nationwide over Senator MCain. But then in recent days, two polls by reputable groups (Newsweek magazine and the LOS ANGELES TIMES/ Bloomberg News) have found Obama jumping out to leads of 15% to 17%.
Wow! Is that right? And does it matter? Remember previous candidates such as John Kerry and Michael Dukaksis, who saw sizable summer time leads in the polls evaporate by the time we went to the polls in November. And now the Gallup Daily tracking poll issued June 25, shows Obama and McCain tied at 45% and McCain showing a little bit of an upsurge, although whether that's due to the nature of a tracking poll and therefore the larger margin for error in the survey, that's hard to say for sure.
One thing you can say for sure. It is probably still too early to put much credence in any national polling, because, despite this cycle's increased interest, lots of voters have still not focused on the race to come and won't till after Labor Day, at the earliest. That's also true of state-by-state polling to try and measure electoral vote strength.
One final note on the current presidential race: While Obama continues to take a bit of beating in the media and on the campaign trail over his change of mind about accepting taxpayer dollars to run his fall campaign, he seems to be already using his huge advantage in dollars available over McCain here in Tennessee.
I have talked to several folks (who are not normally Democratic donors) who have received direct mail letters from the Obama team looking for support. I have also seen teams of young people canvassing Nashville suburban neighborhoods looking for support and dollars for Obama. And these teams are going into parts of town where you don't usually find such efforts.
Doing this in Democratic Nashville makes sense, given the past tendency of this county to vote blue. I wonder if this grassroots effort is also underway in rural parts of the state and how it is working there? Does the latest Rasmussen survey show some signs that Obama is gaining some traction in the Volunteer State? The telephone poll (June 26) shows McCain still leading 51% to 36% in Tennessee but that margin has been cut in half compared to what it was the last time Rasmussen checked it in April.
So while the state remains likely Republican according to the polling firm, there were a couple of other results from its most recent state poll to note. While Obama has risen in survey here, his favorable/unfavorable numbers are still 42% favorable/55% unfavorable. 77% of the Tennesseans surveyed they would be willing to vote for a black for President but just 57% think they same is true of their family, friends and co-workers. While Governor Bredesen has favorable numbers of 56% in the poll, only one in four voters would be more willing to vote Democratic if he was on the ticket with Obama. On the other hand, two-thirds of Tennesseans surveyed say it is least somewhat important that Obama include a Southerner on his ticket, 30% say it is very important.
If the Democratic race for Governor in 2010 can be compared to "10 Little Indians," the party already seems to be running short of potential top-level candidates.
The latest to fall by the wayside is former Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell, who decided to go back to Boston and Harvard University to become the new director of its prestigious Kennedy School of Government. Purcell went up North to teach a class on government at the school immediately after leaving office last fall. He must have like it a lot (and Harvard officials must have been very impressed with him) because Purcell is now leaving a Dean's position at Tennessee State University just a few months after assuming those duties.
Clearly with former Mayor Purcell at Harvard, you can remove his name from the list of potential candidates for Governor. The question is will he ever return to the state and city where he had so much political success as a state representative, House Majority Leader and a two-term mayor?
This now leaves Democrats only a handful of potential gubernatorial candidates reportedly looking at the race. Former Congressman and Senate candidate Harold Ford, Jr. is one, although his eyes always seem more on Washington, especially during this presidential election year and especially if the Democrats retake the White House.
The others looking at the race are current Congressman Lincoln Davis, who has struggled in recent weeks communicating his support of the party's nominee, Barack Obama, and who, so far, does not seem to excite many party leaders as their standard-bearer to replace Phil Bredesen in two year. The only other candidate actively pursuing a possible race is former State House Majority Leader Kim McMillan. She could be a very intriguing choice for Democrats trying to elect the first woman to be Tennessee's governor. But while in the General Assembly, she once voted for a state income tax, which could create a major issue for her with some parts of the electorate.
So what does Democratic Party Chair Gray Sasser do? The party can't afford to fool around (as happened in this year's U.S. Senate race) and not have a strong candidate or candidates in the race early enough to hold this important post. So does he look toward current Congressmen John Tanner or Bart Gordon? Both have been Washington for several years and have been encouraged to run statewide in the past, but declined. Now with the Democrats back in power, they may be even more reluctant to leave their current posts and seniority.
But who else do the Democrats have to turn to and, with former Senator Bill Frist's millions already freezing out the rest of the potential GOP field, how much longer do Democrats have to figure things out, even if the election is over two years away?
There is one other potential Democratic candidate for Governor: Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper. But he's probably not all the eager to jump in, given what happened the last (and only) time he ran statewide in 1994, when he was crushed by the Republican Revolution and Fred Thompson in the race to fill Al Gore's Senate seat. Besides Cooper really likes his position in Congress and has never shown much interest (that I know of) in state government, even though his father, Prentice Cooper is a former governor from many years ago.
And then there's this rather bizarre situation that's developed between Cooper and the leadership of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. During a recent congressional hearing, Cooper was accused of breeching NRECA's security by logging onto the group's internal Web site. NRECA officials say they have asked the FBI to investigate. In response, Congressman Cooper has denied any wrongdoing saying he had "the full permission of a top co-op insider" to access the web site. Cooper says he was "attacked by a desperate Washington lobbyist who found it easier to make false charges against me than to defend the scandals in his industry."
As for the FBI, it acknowledges being contacted by the NRCA, but, as is FBI policy in all matters like, it never comments about whether it is or is not conducting an investigation.
Some may find it odd that Cooper would get involved in this fight since he has no electric co-ops in his district. But this is a matter that Cooper says he has been interested in since 2004 when he brought suit against electric co-ops in Tennessee saying they are keeping too much money in equity rather than returning it to their members. The lawsuit failed because of contract language TVA has with these co-ops although Cooper says he is still working to get that changed. In the meantime he is also heading up this Congressional inquiry about the practices of electric co-ops.
It's hard to say just where this controversy is going. Cooper has a squeaky clean record of public service and I think deserves the benefit of the doubt, especially until more definitive proof is presented that he has done something wrong.. Meantime, key House members are lining up strongly behind Cooper. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry Waxman issued a statement comparing the actions of the NRCA to the tactics he says he once experienced from Big Tobacco: "In my view, attempting to intimidate the Committee when we are investigating serious issues is a mistake. We won't be intimidated and we will continue to try and protect the interests of co-op customers by looking into any credible allegations of misconduct by the coop boards."
In attempting to lash back at Congressman Cooper, it may be the NRCA has stirred a hornet's nest in the rest of Congress instead.