By Pat Nolan, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
August 15, 2008
This is the day that over 1,500 employees go home for the last time from their positions with the state of Tennessee.
They have accepted buyouts to leave their jobs, so the state can try to balance its budget this coming year (saving $64 million). Now the number of employees leaving is not as many as the state said it needed (2,300), so the possibility of layoffs now hangs in the air, beginning as early as January (when the new General Assembly comes to Nashville). And with the economy continuing to worsen (unemployment in the state is now 6.9%, the highest in 21 years), there may be the need for still further cuts in Tennessee government. Of course, it was likely the weakening economy that led many state workers who were offered the buyouts to turn them down. Now what happens, if they are targeted for layoffs?
I suspect there are at least two state workers still on the job that Governor Bredesen wishes were going out the door. One is a State Trooper who previously got in trouble for trying to fix a ticket for the then- Deputy Governor a few years back. Now the Trooper is under investigation again, this time for allegedly doing unwarranted criminal background checks on individuals. The news has been featured prominently in the Nashville media, and it has raised new questions about whether the reforms and new leadership the Governor implemented for the Highway Patrol, are really working. The Governor says they are, but this ghost of scandals past certainly makes it difficult for him.
Then there's another of his former top aides who has come back to state government after leaving the Governor's office following charges of sexual harassment. The Governor says he advised the department hiring him not to do so, but the Tennessee Regulatory Authority makes its own personnel decisions and the Governor can't change them.
Life at the top is never simple or easy, even approaching your final two years in office.
My INSIDE POLITICS show has some very interesting guests this week.
Political insiders Larry Woods (Democrat) and Chip Saltsman (Republican) give us their thoughts about the status of the race for president, from the ads wars involving who is biggest or worst "celebrity" who is not equipped to run the country, to who these candidates (Senators Barack Obama and John McCain) will pick for their running mates.
Both agree that right now, this race is much more about Obama than it is McCain. That it's Obama's race to lose in many ways. That's why how the Illinois Senator handles his selection of a VP running mate and how the Democratic convention comes down in the next two weeks will critical to his chances. If he can succeed in finding a way to get voters more comfortable with his candidacy, he will be very tough to beat come November. If not, McCain has a real shot.
As for the vice presidential choices, it appears both sides face some difficulties in finding the perfect person to join them at the top of the ticket. There is no one on either side that appears to be just right. Delaware Senator Joe Biden is said to be at the top of Obama's list according to many media reports. But does it make sense to have two Senators on the ticket? Can voters be convinced that "change you can believe in" has been hiding out in the U.S. Senate the last couple of years, while the Congress overall has its worst job performance scores in recent history? Will the Governor of Virginia or a Senator from Indiana be able to deliver much (including their own states) to the Democratic column?
And what about Senator Hillary Clinton, who Obama narrowly defeated in a bitter primary fight to gain the nomination? Now, apparently to appease some of her supporters, her name will be placed in nomination and a roll call vote held. Obama should still win, but what if the momentum from all that changes the dynamics of the convention? Could it almost force Obama to accept the former First Lady as his running mate?
As for Senator McCain, he will likely wait to see what Obama does before selecting his number two. But already there are hints that he is looking strongly at candidates (Mitt Romney and Tom Ridge) who are not popular with the GOP base. Will he take that chance or choose someone less well known like Governor Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota (that's what Chip Saltsman thinks will happen, especially because of their close friendship developed on the campaign trail)?
So join us for INSIDE POLITICS, where you can also learn more about the digital revolution coming this February when regular TV changes to digital TV. Debbie Tate of Federal Communications Commission (and a Nashville resident) joins me with all the information you need about how to be ready when your current over-the air TV set won't work come mid-February (unless you buy a converter box with the help of a federal rebate). We also talk with Commissioner Tate about several of the other issues she faces on the FCC, including allowing cell phone use on airplanes (a topic she says she hears a lot about from both sides of the debate).
You can watch INSIDE POLITICS every weekend on the NewsChannel5 Network:
Friday, August 15 7:00 PM NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50
Saturday, August 16 5:00 AM NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Saturday, August 16 5:30 PM NEWSCHNANNEL5 PLUS
Sunday, August 17 5:00 AM WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5
Sunday, August 17 5:00 AM NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Sunday, August 17 12:30 PM NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Is it any wonder that prior to the recent invasion of the Georgian Republic by the Russians that our presidential campaign had degenerated into a battle of "celebrities?"
We treat them like celebrities to the point of actually being interested in almost everything the candidates like to do in their personal lives.
How else do you explain a recent Associated Press story (August 12) outlining the Top-10 lists of favorite songs of Senators McCain and Obama? Should we really care? Are we electing one of these guys to be "Disc Jockey-In-Chief" rather than "Commander-In-Chief?" Is this any better than deciding who to vote for based on who you would be most comfortable going out with to have a beer?
Given this kind of pop-culture mentality, is it any wonder one candidate would attack another for being an empty-suited celebrity? Is it any wonder such an ad would resonate with voters and force the other side to respond in kind?
Maybe now that the events in the news look more like the Cold War again, we can all focus more on policy and less on fluff.
SO WHO'S RESPONSIBLE?
If you want to understand some of the confusion about the roles and responsibilities surrounding Metro Public Schools, here's something to consider.
A special task force has released a six-month study that says the city must do a better job of including special education students in regular classrooms, better train its staff to deal with special education youngsters and, finally, do a better job of communicating with the parents of special education students.
So who appointed this group and received their recommendations? Mayor Karl Dean. Who will have the job to implement the recommendations? That would not be Mayor Dean. It would be the Metro School Board, although Mayor Dean and the Metro Council would have a lot to say about funding these changes, some of which could be rather significant.
So why did the Mayor appoint this group and not the School Board? Probably because the previous Schools Director Dr. Pedro Garcia did not have a good relationship or track record with the parents of special education students, and they (and the state of Tennessee) have been complaining loudly about how badly Metro has been doing this education job.
So just what role will the state play in all this? Because of failures of Metro meeting No Child Left Behind standards, the state has more or less taken over Metro schools, including replacing two of Metro's top special education officials and,, according to Jaime Sarrio of THE TENNESSEAN (August 13), state officials have described Metro's special education practices as "horrifying."
If everyone works well together now on all this, I suspect many of the task force's recommendations will eventually be implemented. But what if that doesn't happen? Will there be a lot of finger pointing and buck-passing? Metro schools seem to have so many cooks in the kitchen right now (the School Board, the Mayor, the State, the Governor and the Metro Council) it is getting harder and harder to know, for sure, who is in charge of what and responsible for what.
I haven't seen anybody's campaign polling showing what is the number one issue on voters' minds. I don't have to. It's energy, more specifically the high cost of gasoline (despite the recent small drop in price at the pumps).
How does that translate to the Tennessee U.S. Senate race? Democrat Bob Tuke sees an opportunity. He has sent out an e-mail fund raising appeal, asking supporters to "help Bob fill up" (send him money) so he can take on incumbent Republican Senator Lamar Alexander who (Tuke says) is protecting "Washington oil lobbyists" and while receiving over $360,000 from Big Oil executives and Big Oil political action committees for his campaign.
Alexander responds on this topic by going in a completely different direction. He told a Rutherford County civic group that, within five years, 10% of all Tennesseans will avoid the gas pump blues by driving cars and light trucks powered by electricity. He says TVA (despite upcoming significant rate hikes) can provide the power and do so economically.
So whose message will win? Unless Tuke gets lots of money from lot of folks responding to his e-mail appeals, Alexander, with his large campaign war chest and the powers of incumbency (which give him much better name recognition, among other things), it is likely Alexander will prevail, although I expect the Tuke campaign to work hard to narrow the gap in the weeks to come.
I haven't written anything in this column about the May Town Center proposal, which has generated lots of controversy in Nashville in recent weeks.
I don't have a client involved, but I do have somewhat mixed emotions about the plan. I have locked horns in the past (a new Metro landfill) with some folks in Bells Bend, and I know how effective they can be in fighting for their cause. What I am saying has nothing to do with that.
We as a city have decided that almost all future property tax increases must be approved by referendum. That being so, the citizens of Nashville better start working very hard right now to avoid future tax votes and increases by enlarging our tax base. That means there needs to be a plan to develop the largely rural Bell Bends area so that the citizens there pay their fair share of the increasing cost of services in our community. So should the rest of the General Services District in Nashville. We can't afford to two property tax levels anymore (and it can't really be justified in terms of the services being received by citizens countywide).
All that makes the May Town Center proposal look very good. But the project as currently outlined is wildly optimistic about what is likely possible or desirable in Bells Bend. For one thing, while donating $100 million to pay for infrastructure is a very generous thing for the developers to do, it won't touch all the infrastructure needs of that area if it is to be developed the way the May Town plan envisions. The $100 million might cover the new bridge that will be needed, but what about the water and sewer lines, the roads, the sidewalks, the schools, the police and fire protection necessary?
And if this is to be "a second downtown" for Nashville, can it survive and thrive with only one major way in and out (the new bridge)? I think it was a good idea for the Metro Planning Commission (and it appears the developers) to defer this matter indefinitely. Clearly the developers don't have the support or the votes they need. But I also think it is important for the entire community to have a more in-depth discussion about what we want this city to be in 10 years, 20 years and how we plan to pay for it fairly for all our taxpayers.
So now we know (Michael Cass, THE TENNESSEAN, August 15).
The English First Metro Charter amendment effort may be fronted by a local Metro Councilman (Eric Crafton), but it is being financed by an out-of-town national English First group (to the tune so far of about $20,000).
Now there's nothing wrong with that, but you would think after reporters first began to raise questions about funding a few months back, that Councilman Crafton and others would have started looking for money from local folks. After all, those who believe Nashville should tie the city up in lawsuits and destroy our national image of being a welcoming and open community ought to be willing to put their money where their signatures are (the petitions to call for the charter vote).
If this proposal passes, we will all soon see lots of our tax money being spent to litigate this issue and we will see sales tax dollars going elsewhere as tourists, conventioneers and convention planners may decide that Nashville is not the kind of the city where they want to spend their dollars. Those looking to locate new businesses or make major investments in Nashville may have second thoughts too. What if this had been in place when Japan was deciding to locate its new consulate offices here? What would Nissan have thought about this in deciding to locate its North American HQs nearby?
So what kind of campaign will Councilman Crafton wage to get his proposal approved by the voters? Will he fund it with more money from his national English First supporters? Or will he keep things stirred up with more ill-conceived Council legislation on this topic?
And what about Mayor Dean and the Metro council members who voted to oppose this proposal and urged the public to do likewise? Is that to be a gesture or a down payment on a public campaign? And what about the Chamber of Commerce and its political action groups: Is this issue as important to get involved in as a school board race?
And what about all those voters coming to the polls in November, especially the ones who only show up to vote for President every four years? This vote is likely to be the hottest one of the local ballot this fall and its' outcome could well be in those voters' hands. Will they vote their hopes for our city or their fears?