Capitol View Commentary: Sept. 12, 2008 - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Sept. 12, 2008

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CAPITOL VIEW

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

September 12, 2008

THE HOME STRETCH FOR THE PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN; WHAT'S SECOND FOR ENGLISH FIRST; MAYOR DEAN'S AGGRESSIVE PLANS AND THE STATE'S TOUGH TIMES

Who says our national political party conventions are dull and boring, completely out of date and obsolete?

Oh sure, there were still way too many funny hats and too much hot air from some speakers this year.

But, for a change, the 2008 conventions were important to the process and profoundly historic.

And that's not just because the parties nominated the first African-American or the oldest person to ever take the oath of office if he won.

No, it was something else.

Can you ever remember in our lifetimes, or ever in American history, both conventions being dominated by women?

For that matter, can you ever remember a defeated candidate, male or female, all but stealing the spotlight away from the candidate who beat her (and Barack Obama seemed to be OK about Hillary Clinton doing that, especially since it seemed to help solidify her support for him along with Clinton's husband, former President Bill Clinton, and many of her supporters).

Then the following week came the real shocker: Governor Sarah Palin at the GOP convention. The VP choice literally stole the thunder away from her presidential running mate Senator John McCain...and McCain seemed to glory in it! And why not, what happened at the convention with Palin's nomination and her acceptance speech has galvanized the GOP base and shot their ticket up to the top of the polls, while generating crowds on the campaign trail that were unthinkable, especially for John McCain, just a few weeks ago.

It continues to be amazing to watch the rise of Sarah Palin. She is someone 99% of all Americans had no clue about two weeks ago (with the only exceptions being the residents of her home state of Alaska and the most dedicated (I-have-no-life)  political junkies). But not only has she stirred her party's base in a way no one else has this year (or maybe unlike anyone since Ronald Reagan), she has also fired up the Democrats. Her speech at the convention was so fiery the Obama camp claimed it raised $10 million, mostly over the Internet, in less than 24 hours after she spoke.

So it's clear the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions galvanized the voters, each party attracting a record  40 million eyeballs to watch and listen on TV when their main candidates spoke (except for Senator Joe Biden's appearance). Let me apologize for saying in my last column that the GOP might have some issues attracting an audience with their big nights coming after while the pro and college football seasons kicked off. And I also got confused about Peyton Manning and his Colts playing opposite of John McCain's speech. I need to learn how to read a schedule better.  J

 Getting back to presidential race, the Palin factor has clearly changed the dynamics of the contest, but it is still far from clear that it will allow the GOP to keep control of the White House another four years. With Palin on board, John McCain has shifted his major campaign theme. It's no longer "experience", rather it's that he and Palin are "the true change" and "the true reformers and mavericks" the nation needs to clean up Washington.

OK. But on that point, it was, to say the least, rather bizarre to listen to John McCain make his acceptance speech at the convention. While here is a man who can rightly claim he has opposed his party and worked in a bi-partisan manner at times on several issues to bring reform, there he was lambasting Washington (which Republicans have controlled the last eight years in the White House and six of the last eight years in Congress). Many of things McCain criticized were issues and matters the GOP (and many of these same delegates in 2000 and 2004) supported and stood beside President George Bush the last eight years. But these delegates were eating up what McCain said and applauding wildly.

How can that be? For that matter how can that be coming out of the mouth of a nominee who told reporters just a few months ago that he always supported President Bush 90% of the time?

But so far, all this "we are the mavericks, we are the change" seems to be selling in the polls with both McCain and especially Palin seeming to be a bit bullet-proof  politically right. And it's clearly driving some Democrats crazy

But there remain some political storm clouds on the horzon for the McCain and Palin ticket.  There's the continuing investigation into her "Troopergate" issue back in Alaska and her continuing insistence that she was really opposed to the "Bridge to Nowhere", when it's clear she was once strongly for it. There's also her comments (echoed by other GOP convention speakers) belittling Barack Obama's work as a community organizer. I've heard from several in Nashville's neighborhood and non-profit community about how upset they are about that (although they probably weren't McCain backers anyway). The community organizer comments seem to be what sent Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen when he pointed out that Jesus was a community organizer, while Pontus Pilate was a Governor. Oh boy, as if things aren't hot enough in today's campaign rhetoric, religious comparisons can only further complicate any attempt at serious political discourse. The Tennessee GOP didn't help with its response which was found offensive by Cohen, who is of the Jewish faith.    

 With Palin's profile so high, she needs to be particularly careful (as she has been so far) about anything she says or does.  Clearly, the McCain campaign has been working hard to make sure Palin is ready for the days ahead when she goes solo on the campaign trail. Up until now, she's been kept close at hand with a lot of joint campaigning with the presidential candidate. But that can't last forever. Palin's first one-on-one interview (with ABC's Charles Gibson), which is being broadcast in full as this column is being written, has provided her first important test.

While I have only read the media accounts so far of the ABC interview, she appears to have survived this first major media encounter without any major missteps (or it would be a much bigger story than it's being played in the media). Of course, the campaigns disagree about what kind of job she did. One pundit panel I saw did their rankings by a baseball analogy, the Republican saying Palin hit a solid double, while the Democrat would only concede an infield bunt single. (What would we do without sports, especially baseball, analogies). J

But Palin still has a difficult road ahead, especially handling the media on a day to day basis on the campaign trail, where a slip of the tongue during an impromptu interview or a bad ad-lib in a stump speech could become a major problem in just a few hours. These days in politics with YouTube and Google, that can happen to any politician. But as the "new shiny toy" and the latest rock-star of the campaign (like Obama has been), Sarah Palin will continue to have endure a level of media coverage and public interest that will remain very, very high, like it or not, fair or not.    

CHANGE

 In trying to steal the "change" issue away from Obama, McCain continues to take a very big gamble and is walking away from what had been his mantra and strong suit: that his was the campaign of experience, ready to do the job on day one.

Oh sure, McCain still says that, but with Governor Palin's resume being at least as thin and weak as McCain claims Obama's is, especially on foreign affairs (being the Governor of state closest to Alaska and the head of its National Guard is not much of a resume for foreign affairs), McCain's claims of his ticket having an advantage in experience seems a bit undercut now, especially since he appeared to have little problem putting someone a heartbeat away from the Presidency, whose governmental experience, while in the executive branch, is certainly no longer in years than Obama. And remember McCain, while in excellent health and seemingly with excellent genes, will still be the oldest person to ever take the oath of office. 

But the Democrats (including Obama and Biden) need to be careful about how they go after Palin (or they could blow it like the national media did in its early reporting on Palin, especially her daughter's unwed pregnancy). The rules are different when it comes to a female candidate. You can't say certain things or be as harsh as you might be with a male candidate. Obama found out about that when he used the long-accepted political saying that "you can't put lipstick on a pig."

That comment stirred a brief firestorm because Palin herself has talked about lipstick, saying it's the difference between a someone like herself (a hockey mom) and a pit bull. Foul said the Republicans, Obama has insulted their VP candidate. That's probably nonsense, since Obama seemed to be talking about McCain's education policies when he made his remark. But the GOP response likely kept their base fired up, and should also serve as a warning to Obama and Biden that they are probably better off to concentrate their fire on the top of the ticket not the bottom (although from the reaction of the crowds at some of the GOP rallies recently, it can be hard to figure out sometimes just who is the head of the ticket, McCain or Palin).

Nevertheless, the Democrats should remember that Palin also had the nickname as a high school as "Sarah Barracuda" for her aggressive style of playing basketball as a point guard. So don't say anything about her policies being "fishy" or something. J

Also keep this in mind. The Chinese calendar says last year, 2007, was the Year of the Pig. But with all the hoopla over pigs and lipstick, you'd think it was still going on listening to some of the campaign rhetoric and ads. And don't forget all that pork barrel legislation. The candidates now say it is bad, even though they used to try and get some of that dough for their states in the past.

Yes, it is the silly season, as always, in our politics. Maybe the candidates ought to think about extending the "war of political words" truce both campaigns enforced during the September 11th anniversary.

And as for some of the stuff going around on the Internet about all the candidates (the songs, the jokes, the doctored photos especially concerning Palin), it is more than a little disgusting from whomever is doing it.

THE STATUS OF THE RACE  

 So where are we in the race for the White House? Clearly the race is very close, but I would not completely trust the polls right now.

Both the national polls (which really don't matter, just ask Al Gore), and the state-by-state surveys (which really count in determining how the electoral votes are playing out), are still full of all the bounces both campaigns got from their conventions. 

Those usually fade in about a week or two and then you can see a little better where we stand, which means we should get a pretty good idea about the time the debates start, unless something else wacky occurs in this most unusual and historic election year. (Could it be Hurricane Ike, a new foreign policy crisis, or some other "October surprise"?)

 By the way, the presidential debate at Belmont University on October 7 is shaping up to be the most significant and historic national political event ever held in Nashville, even if it is one very few local residents will see live and in person.            

One last word on the polls, you can save yourself some time and just watching the survey results in the 10-12 "battleground" states that are still up for grabs. It's unlikely anybody's convention bounce or rock-star status is going to change states like California or New York for the Democrats or Texas and the South for the Republicans. So new polls on Tennessee may be interesting to look at, but they will likely be no real factor in deciding the presidential race again this year. 

A couple of other questions that are on people's minds as the race enters its final weeks (early voting in Tennessee begins in less than 5 weeks): If Obama had chosen Hillary Clinton as his VP running mate would Sarah Palin still be a political unknown? Who would McCain had chosen instead? Is there anyone who could have come close to what Palin has done for his candidacy? And if Obama loses the race, will the urban legend become that he did so because he would not team up with Clinton? Have the Democrats lost their election mojo and, if so, how do they get it back?

Lots to ponder as the race dwindles down to a few short weeks.

INSIDE POLITICS

What else would we talk about this week on INSIDE POLITICS? Of course, it's the fallout from the recent political conventions and the state of the current presidential race.

My guests are Ken Whitehouse of NASHVILLEPOST.com, the only local journalist who attended both conventions. He will be joined by Republican strategist Sue Rankin and her Democratic counterpart (and former State House Majority Leader) Tommy Burnett.

You can see INSIDE POLITICS every weekend on the NewsChannel5 Network including:

Friday, September 12        7:00 PM    NewsChannel5 Plus, Comcast Channel 50

Saturday, September 13   5:00 AM NewsChannel5 Plus

Saturday, September 13   5:30 PM NewsChannel5 Plus

Sunday, September 14       5:00 AM, WTVF-TV, NewsChannel5

Sunday, September 14       5:00 AM, NewsChannel5 Plus

Sunday, September 14        12:30 PM, NewsChannel5 Plus

Join us, or use that TiVo for our early morning shows. Also remember, if you don't have Comcast or you live outside the Nashville market, you can watch excerpts from previous INSIDE POLITICS shows here on NewsChannel5.com

ENGLISH FIRST: NOW WHAT?

It's back to the stamp dispenser and the post office for Metro Councilman Eric Crafton as he continues his efforts to put his "English First" Metro Charter amendment on the ballot (now with a special election costing taxpayers $350,000).

Crafton failed in his effort to get English First on the November ballot, with the local Chancery Court, along with both the Appeals Court and the State Supreme Court, upholding the right of the Metro Election Commission to keep the matter from a public vote, since not enough time has passed since the last petition-based Metro charter change effort.

No one could be happier about that outcome than I am, but I must say I was still a bit surprised. I thought the city's legal argument was a bit thin (but then I guess that's why I wouldn't make a good lawyer or a judge.) J

Still you have to wonder: What's the second act for English First? What happens now (Crafton is trying to amend the measure to allow for exceptions if city leaders want to make them, but that won't make any difference for a lot of opponents).  

So is this matter going to finally get to the voters? Or is it possibly headed back in court?

Maybe and here's why.

While Councilman Crafton says he plans to conduct another petition drive to hold a special election early next year (January 22), just how many signatures will that take? It was relatively easy to get what he needed last time in his petition drive (2,500 signatures of registered voters). In fact, he got well over 10,000.

But it could take 10 times that many if the 2009 special election on English First is governed by the general elections results coming from the presidential vote in the county in November. So what if Crafton files early, before the November election? Would the number of signatures he needs still be just 2,500? Or since the election itself would be held in 2009, would the general election vote count from November prevail?

I asked Metro Elections Director Ray Barrett those questions, and he said he would need to seek a legal ruling. So might we be headed back to court again on this matter? There is quite a difference between needing just 2,500 signatures and 25,000 (that's if we vote 250,000 folks and Ray Barrett thinks we could do that in November). The magic number needed could again be the difference, along with any legal rulings by the courts, to deciding whether this matter gets on the ballot for a special election early next year. If not, the next scheduled election in the county would not be until 2010, so the 10% standard based on the general election results from this November (the presidential vote) would govern and charter change efforts until that time.

THE MAYOR'S SECOND YEAR AGENDA

Mayor Karl Dean has been in office almost one full year.

Almost everyone I talk to says he's doing a good job.

Like any new mayor, he's had a lot of work to do, including cleaning up several controversies left over from the end of the previous administration, such as the new Predators lease.

He's also passed his first budget and did it without a tax increase (although his administration has had to cut back significantly on its expenditures, including a recent call for another 3% cutback, which for some unknown reason has still has gotten zero coverage in the media).

At the same time in recent weeks, the Mayor has been unveiling an increasingly aggressive agenda for his second year. You have to wonder if a property tax increase might be in the offing next spring? And will it have to be large enough to require a public vote under the most recent amendment to the Metro Charter (the one that actually kept the English First measure because of its timing)?

The mayor wants to implement plans for a sweeping re-development of the riverfront downtown, for a dedicated funding source to support more mass transit, to move our schools away from state control under the No Child Left Behind Act, and to raise water-sewer rates for the first time in over a decade.

While the water/sewer increase wouldn't be part of any property tax hike, it's still more money coming out of folks' pockets (and during hard times). And what about that long-overdue storm water fee to help solve the city's chronic flash flooding problems? Is that still a part of the Mayor's plans too?

Can the Mayor do all this politically? Does he want to or even plan to do it all? I don't know (although I plan to ask him when he joins us for INSIDE POLITICS in a couple of weeks). But he sure is raising lot of expectations with all these plans. The capitol plans are particularly intriguing. How does the city have any capital dollars to spend when it has frozen or cancelled (as I understand it) several projects already approved by the previous Metro Council and the Purcell administration?

And finally what about a pay raise for Metro employees? Will they go a second year without one and, given the large cost of any significant pay hike, how can that be a part of any property tax request without the need for the voters to also approve the hike?

The mayor's education plans are also quite intriguing. Will they turn out to be the same or similar to the ones that might be coming from the Metro School Board and its new chairman David Fox? Fox says it's time for the School Board to re-assume a strong leadership role. What about the role and attitude of the State Department of Education? Will it see eye-to-eye with the Mayor and the Board on what to do? And when and where will the city ever find a new Schools Director to take over and run the system with so many potential cooks (the School Board, the Mayor, the state) trying to operate in the system's kitchen (our public schools)? 

HERE WE GO AGAIN?

State revenue figures are in for the first month of the new fiscal year.

And while one month does not make a trend, things don't look too good.

Tax collections are down $771 million below what the state estimated it would bring in. And remember, those estimates were already extremely conservative.

So is the state facing the same kind of fiscal problems as it was earlier this year that led to program cutbacks, a buyout plan for over a thousand state workers, and (still in the wings) some possible layoffs come this January?

Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz is hopeful the rest of the year will be better revenue-wise and things will balance out. But he's not taking any chances. He is also asking departments to prepare budgets for the next fiscal year that are 3% below current spending levels.

But at least the Commissioner and Governor Bredesen can take some solace in the fact that they were right when they warned state lawmakers not to dip into the state's rainy day reserve funds earlier this year, just because those monies might be needed this coming year if the economy does not improve.

So will the rainy day funds be needed? Will the economy rebound? Or will there have to be even more cutbacks and layoffs implemented when after the new General Assembly comes to Nashville in January, 2009?

IT'S SETTLED

Speaking of money, under a recent court decision, local taxpayers will be shelling out nearly $1 million in damages. That's because several months back the Metro Council got into a nasty fight with the federal government over some zoning legislation the Council passed which blocked the development of a Teen Challenge youth facility in Goodlettsville for drug and alcohol rehabilitation.

Historically, the Council always practices councilmanic courtesy on matters like this (i.e., whatever the district councilman wants, is what the Council approves). That is what happened here, except the Justice Department intervened. And in the battle of the irresistible force (the federal government) versus the immoveable object (councilmanic courtesy), this time the object crumbled and taxpayers get to pay out a million bucks to clean up the mess.

The district councilman involved (Rip Ryman) has indicated to THE TENNESSEAN (9/12) he thought he did the right thing because that's what the vast majority of his constituents wanted (to block the youth facility). I just hope Rip still thinks its worth a million bucks and that his colleagues will think about that as well the next time (and there will be a next time) something like this comes before them.   


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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