Capitol View Commentary: July 11, 2008 - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: July 11, 2008

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CAPITOL VIEW

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

July 11, 2008

In all the controversy over the newly approved Metro Schools rezoning plan, I am surprised the local media has ignored one important aspect that is likely to loom large in the months ahead. The plan promises to provide Metro's inner city schools with $6 million of extra monies to make sure all students have access to a quality education. While the rezoning plan will save Metro some money by allowing it run more efficiently (Metro has lots of schools that have excess capacity and the new plan will require less cross-town busing), finding the extra money promised to inner city students will be difficult to do without (using those dreaded words)....a property tax increase.

Why? Well, remember the current "fully-funded" school budget is balanced through the use of $10 million in reserve funds, one-time monies that must be replaced in next year's budget. Sure, there will be some growth in overall revenues for schools, but I doubt it will be enough to make up for the one-time reserve funds being gone and pay for all the status-quo needs of the school system (teacher raises, fuel and energy costs, etc.). So you can look at the extra $6 million as the ground-floor of a property tax increase school officials will have to ask Mayor Dean and the Metro Council to fund next spring in order to keep their promises in implementing the new school zoning in the fall of 2009.

That is, if the new school board elected in August allows the plan to go forward and if the NAACP decides not to go to federal court to block it (or fails in that attempt).      

We've spoken before about the intense community polarization and controversy a school rezoning plan can engender. The most recent proposal approved 5-4 by the outgoing Metro School Board (just weeks before the seats of over half its members are up for re-election) is another case in point.

Past unhappiness with school zoning plans (including the ones imposed by the federal courts) have led directly to major changes in Metro government including the Metro Charter amendment in the 1980s making the school board an elected not appointed body. It has also led to a continuing (and now deepening) lack of trust in the community that its public schools, no matter where they are located in Nashville, can provide students with a quality education. It has fed years of white flight from the system and now members of the black community are questioning whether inner city schools will be able to provide a quality education under this new zoning plan.

That lack of trust is the bottom line behind the local NAACP looking at going back to federal court charging that the new school zoning plan will "re-segregate" Metro schools. Will supporters of the new plan (including the Chamber of Commerce) be ready to go to the Mayor and the Council (and the voters) to get this extra money approved? Given all of Metro's other needs in the general government, taking this matter to a public vote is a very distinct possibility, and given the negative results of past referendums on school funding (all of which have failed miserably) what happens then? Are our Metro Schools not only going to be run by the State of Tennessee, but also again by the federal courts? And what will the continuing uncertainty about all these things do to possibly further divide and undermine community support and trust in our local education officials, including the new Director of Schools, who is still to be identified and hired? And what a challenge that person has facing him or her when he or she comes on board sometime this fall. I wonder if "The Ghost of Pedro Past" (former Schools Director Dr. Pedro Garcia), has any other old memos to leak to his successor, similar to ones that were released last week and used in vain to try and stop or delay the rezoning effort?   

INSIDE POLITICS

My guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week is Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mike Padgett. The former Knox County Clerk is the first of the major primary candidates we plan to have in for a conversation before the August election (even though he is unopposed in the GOP primary, we've asked incumbent Senator Lamar Alexander to join us as well; as of Friday afternoon, we are working with his office to schedule an appearance before August 7).

Padgett seems to be running a feisty, but clearly underfunded campaign to win the primary and defeat Alexander this fall.  Just how underfunded Padgett is we will learn by July 15 when he must finally do what all the other candidates have already done, release his fund raising numbers for this quarter. They are expected to be well below his chief rival, Nashville attorney Bob Tuke (who has raised $400,000 total) and upstart Nashville businessman Kenneth Eaton (who has given himself over $250,000 for the campaign).

Padgett doesn't seem to believe money is all that important for his campaign. He's already been in all 95 counties in the state and is spending all his time on the campaign trail taking on Alexander who he says is "out of touch" with average Tennesseans and a "rubber stamp" for the Bush administration. The "ABC" administration he calls it, consisting of "Alexander, Bush and Cheney." But can Padgett make such charges stick against a Tennessee political legend like Alexander, especially given Padgett's lack of name recognition and money?

Well, you have to give him credit for trying, particularly attacking Alexander in an area that would appear to be one of his strong suits, education. Padgett asks how can it be that after Lamar Alexander spent 8 years as Governor (inventing the Master Teacher and other education program), how after being the federal Secretary of Education under President George H.W. Bush and how after being President of the University of Tennessee and six years in the U.S. Senate, public education in this state is still so poorly ranked (48th out of the 50 states Padgett claims)?

Now, of course, no one person can ever be blamed for the shortcomings of something as massive as an entire state's education system. But Padgett's point does make you think.

You can see INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network.

Friday, July 11 at 7:00 PM on NewsChannel5 Plus, Comcast Channel 50

Saturday, July 12 at 5:00 AM on NewsChannel5 Plus

Saturday, July 12 at 5:30 PM on NewsChannel5 Plus

Sunday, July 13 at 5:00 AM on NewsChannel5, WTVF-TV

Sunday July 13 at 5:00 AM on NewsChannel5 Plus

Sunday July 13 at 12:30 PM on NewsChannel5 Plus

Join us! It's an interesting interview.

TV

Another reflection on the current Senate race: Early voting starts in the few days, and so far, I have not seen any TV ads for any of the candidates. I have seen a couple of Tuke yard signs and Padgett gave me one of his campaign flyers, but otherwise all my campaign information is coming through the earned media and the internet. That's probably not nearly enough to beat Lamar Alexander and his $2 million-plus campaign war chest this fall. But what about winning the primary?

Tuke appears to be the candidate most likely to run some statewide media like TV or radio or direct mail in the final days of this August election. Padgett's people say they haven't decided, but unless their July 15 campaign disclosure shows a huge influx of money, it doesn't look like his campaign will do anything like that. Eaton has the money to do something in the final weeks, but based on his last race (for Mayor of Nashville in 2007), there are questions about whether he will spend his funds as quickly and easily as he has given them to his campaign.

This is a difficult race to assess. With all the candidates having little-or-no statewide name recognition and low campaign budgets, the ability to run late media could be the difference in winning the nomination. If none of them do so or can't afford to do so, it makes predicting what will happen in August a real crap-shoot, I think.

 A SLOW ELECTION

It seems the November presidential election continues to overshadow all other politics. And that is making it tough to compete for those on the August ballot.

How tough?

Reporter Matt Wilson of THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS has an article (July 6) claiming that Hamilton County Election officials forgot to include the Democratic U.S. Senate race on their official and sample ballots and had to go back to the printer to correct the oversight. I am also told by the Padgett campaign that the same thing happened to the Congressional race in Chattanooga involving incumbent Zach Wamp.

So how bad is it when even election officials forget that your race is on the ballot? And I wonder how Chattanooga election officials do with their lap top computers and social security information? J

 THE DEBATE

As you might expect there's already a lot of work underway in preparation for the Presidential debate to be held at Belmont University here in Nashville in October. This will probably be the greatest presidential election event in Nashville history, with only Andrew Jackson's election night at the Hermitage in 1828, when he finally captured the White House, coming close.

The preparations for the live, televised town-hall debate involve, of course, a lot of logistical issues, especially security and how to handle the hordes of media that will be covering the event.

So what's one of the big sources of discussion and controversy so far in these private planning meetings about the debate?

Well, it seems there is a tradition at these events to provide hospitality to the media, including a beer truck to quench their thirsts after a long day covering the candidates and their spin doctors. But Belmont, a school not long ago owned and supported by the Southern Baptists, has been quick and adamant in telling debate officials they want nothing to do with any beer truck on their campus, and I can't imagine the surrounding neighborhoods wanting something like that in their backyards either (they are already in a tizzy about all the noise and traffic, etc from the event).  

So if you'd like to host the national and international media for a beer bust surrounding this presidential debate, it looks like your opportunity has arrived. 99 bottles of beer on the wall, 99 bottles of beer....Tastes great, less filling

MORE GAFFES

Another week on the presidential campaign trail and more gaffes are being reported by the media. We seem to be approaching record-setting territory for these kinds of misspeaks and we haven't it made it to the national conventions.

First, we had Jesse Jackson, who in some after-interview remarks (not realizing he said his TV microphone was still on), castigated Barack Obama for "talking down" to black fathers for not assuming their appropriate duties within their families and then Jackson threatened to amputate a piece of the Senator's privates. When he realized what had happened, Jackson quickly apologized, (which Senator Obama accepted), although in his statement Jackson seemed sorrier that he got caught saying what he did, rather than sorry for what he actually said. It is astonishing that someone with Jackson's savvy and long-time experience in dealing with the media would make such a rookie mistake. However, it may wind up helping Obama in a strange way, as some white voters may see Obama as a different kind of black leader from Reverend Jackson and therefore more attractive as a candidate.

The John McCain campaign also has its problems with misstatements. The Senator's leading economic advisor was quoted as saying this country is turning into "a nation of whiners" and that we are talking ourselves in a "mental recession" implying things are really not so bad. To paraphrase late-night comedian Jay Leno when he joked with his audience: So when those people who've lost their jobs and their homes to foreclosure or they go to the gas pumps and find $4 gas they can't afford, that's all in their imaginations?

Not surprisingly, the McCain campaign quickly disassociated itself from its economic advisor's comments, although the advisor later tried to explain that he meant the national media are the real whiners and the people talking us into a recession. Whatever, the damage is done. John McCain has previously admitted the economy is not his strong suit. This latest goof, by his closest economic aide, sure doesn't help him.

Obama, meantime, is having some supporter backlash for his vote to approve the latest federal surveillance bill, after earlier saying he opposed it. Moving to the right has been a more frequent complaint about the Senator since he more or less secured the nomination. Obama seems to be banking that his supporters don't really have anywhere else to go on this or other issues, and they want to win the White House back so bad, they won't abandon him for McCain or sit on their hands. McCain knows all about this as well, as he tries to  make nice with the Republican base on issues like the Bush tax cuts, immigration, off shore oil drilling etc. while trying to keep up his outreach and image as a maverick to independents and swing voters.

Obama has been criticized for his lack of foreign policy experience and he is taking another hit (some of them coming in the foreign media) for how he has handled an inquiry about speaking at the Brandenburg Gate when he comes to Germany later this month. The location is where President Reagan famously asked the Soviets to "tear down this wall" back during the Cold War. Berlin is also where President John Kennedy famously said, in German, "I am a Berliner" during another hot moment in the Cold War. So far, Obama is trying to figure out how to get out of any hot water this trip seems to be bringing. He better hope he does better with GOP Senator Chuck Hagel in tow, when he goes to Iraq (for the first time in a long time) in a few weeks.

A couple of other fascinating campaign tidbits:

An AP story (July 10) says an AP-Yahoo poll finds the word that most quickly come mind when people think of John MCain is "old", for Barack Obama, it is "change." Other words at the top of the polling list include "POW" for McCain and "inspiring" for Obama, although so does "lack of experience" for the Illinois Senator.

Here's another poll that again underlines a lack of enthusiasm, even among his own party, for John McCain. A story on HOTLINE (July 10) cites a Pew Research Center for People and the Press survey that says "John McCain's supporters believe Barack Obama is the candidate with new ideas (58%-24%). They also believe (according to the poll) "Obama is more likable (45%-34%)." All this, while a new CNN "poll of polls" (July 11) says Obama has increased his national lead over McCain to 8%.

But there is good news on the fund raising front for the Republicans, NEWSWEEK says McCain's joint fund raising efforts with the national party may make him much more competitive with Obama this fall and, in fact, Obama may already be trying to counter that by scheduling more private fundraisers. And that could be another sign, says the article, that the Internet fund raising magic of the Obama campaign may be showing signs of slowing down.

Finally, Obama allowed ACCESS HOLLYWOOD time with his family and interviews with his daughters. Now, he has some second thoughts about it, according to a report by AFP (July 9). Specifically, says the AFP report, "Malia revealed that her Dad once embarrassed her by formally shaking the hand of one of her friends the first time he met her and Sasha said Obama prefers mint-flavored gum to bubble gum."

I'd say to the candidate, chill out. If that's the worse things your kids can say about you, you're doing alright, so far. As a father of two grown daughters, let me add, be glad they aren't doing these interviews as teenagers, when the mere existence of their parents is an embarrassment and no matter what kind of gum you like or how you shake hands you are hopefully out of date.   


NewsChannel 5 thanks Pat Nolan for providing this column every week. Mr. Nolan's commentary reflects his own opinions, not those of the NewsChannel 5 Network.  Comments about Capitol View should be sent to Pat Nolan directly via email at pat.nolan@dvl.com .   

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