Capitol View Commentary: Sept. 19, 2008 - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Sept. 19, 2008

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CAPITOL VIEW

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

September 19, 2009

THE PRESIDENTIAL POLLS LOSE THEIR BOUNCE AS THE ECONOMY CONTINUES TO SLIDE: THE POLITICS OF DISARRAY CONTINUE IN WASHINGTON; INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE KURITA-BARNES REMATCH WHILE HONORING THE FREEDOM RIDERS; AND METRO'S NEW PUBLIC DEFENDER CONTINUES A LONG TRADITION AND ALSO PUTS ANOTHER CRACK IN THE GLASS CEILING

I told you to be careful putting too much stock in the national presidential polls.

With the bumps from both party conventions beginning to wear off, the latest CBS/NEW YORK TIMES poll (September 17) shows Obama coming back into the lead overall by 5 points after being down by 3 just a week or so ago (or about where he was before the conventions) . The same thing occurred among white women. The CBS/NYT poll showed the huge increase of support for McCain-Palin following the GOP convention has almost vanished, and Obama is back in front by a narrow margin with that group.

But remember any poll, at best, is just a moment-in-time snapshot of the electorate and things probably still need to settle out a bit more because you can really identify any trends. And you need to look a variety of polls to get any real feel for what is happening. And then there are the debates which begin late next week (Friday, September 26). Those could have a major impact to shake up the polls, as obviously, could all the ongoing news about the economic meltdown on Wall Street. The CBS/NYT poll shows lots of volatility in the electorate, with at least a quarter of the voters saying they could still change their minds.

So what happens in the next couple of weeks will, of course, be critical. From I can tell the Bush administration seems to have pretty much adopted a policy of "government by bailout" in recent weeks (except for Lehman Brothers). They say they have to do this because of the damaging impact the failure of these Wall Street investment firms, banks and insurance companies would have on the overall economy in this country and around the world. Now they seem ready to take it so far as to set up a new government agency that can carve out the "bad debt" cancer (mostly bad mortgage securities) that is bedeviling so many financial institutions these days. The Securities and Exchange Commission is also temporarily banning "short selling" of stocks to try and stabilize the situation. 

While the details (and the enormous costs) are still being worked on, it appears to be a effort to try and solve the issue industry-wide, not just trying to do so failing company by failing company (which so far doesn't seemed to have worked all that well).   

But, if you compare all these recent actions of the federal government to the story about the Little Dutch Boy, you have to start wondering just how many more fingers the administration has left to stick into the increasing number of holes in our economic dyke? Right now, Wall Street and the financial markets don't seem convinced that these moves taken so far will solve the crisis. It seems more a case of "what's next or who is next?" Maybe the new legislation being sent to Congress will resolve that. But Congress, while seems receptive to the idea and is pledging quick and bi-partisan action (for a change), lawmakers will get precious little time to do due diligence or much review on the proposal, especially if it still plans to wrap up business and adjourn for the year by next week or the end of this month. 

But here's the real question....sooner or later, just who is going to pay for all these billion of dollars being spent to bail out companies and what now seems to be the entire financial industry? I think I know the answer---the taxpayers, who are already looking at a national debt that's at all-time record high and climbing. So we are going to add still more to the deficit? And what about the people and the financial practices that allowed all this to occur? What's to be done in that area? Not surprisingly, details or solutions about all that are in short supply, as our leaders try to play economic firemen and put out this almost out-of-control economic holocaust, before they turn their attention to dealing with the causes and culprits of this mess.

Remember when all the conversation about our economy was about whether we are already in or headed towards a recession? With current events and news reports looking and sounding more like 1929 than 2008, is the question becoming instead, how do we or can we avoid the "D" word, an economic depression?

Getting back to the presidential campaigns, maybe another reason that convention bumps are fading is the fact that the campaigns have been forced into playing secondary or supporting roles in the news cycles of the last week or so. It began with Mother Nature (the devastation and human misery inflicted by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike) followed by all the latest terrible economic news. Campaigns are forced to react to the top of the news, not be the lead story, as they usually are.

Frankly, that can be a good thing. While of course they are still arguing and attacking one another, it was at least momentarily refreshing to hear the disagreements be about policy issues, not lipstick, pigs, hockey moms and pit bulls.

So with the economy now likely becoming the top issue with voters (and for now at least, at the top of those charts with a bullet), which candidate seems to be taking advantage? You'd think it might be the Democrats. Usually the party in charge of the White House (the GOP) takes the biggest share of the blame when things go south. But so far, you aren't seeing it in the polls. Take the latest state-by-state surveys released by CNN (September 17), it shows Barack Obama and John McCain in a virtual tie in at least 5 battleground states, including a couple where a bad economy is already hurting folks the most (Florida and Ohio). Remember those are the two states that have decided the last two presidential elections, and they, along with about 10-12 other battleground states, may well decide it again.

So is McCain hanging in because he has sold the public that he and Sarah Palin, despite being the Republican party nominees, are really the best chance for change in Washington, even though just a few weeks ago, McCain was telling reporters he's voted with President Bush about 90% of the time? Or is it continuing doubts about Obama being ready or experienced enough? Or is it his race?

Again, it may take some time yet to let the most recent economic developments sort themselves out and see how the candidates, their campaigns and the voters respond. If that's true, John McCain has had some real stumbles recently. For example, in his first campaign rally after Wall Street began its meltdown, McCain repeated a seemingly bone-head comment he's made before, that the "economy is basically fundamentally sound."

When the Democrats quickly pounced, the GOP candidate changed his tune (in fact, at his next campaign rally just a few hours later) saying "the economy is in peril or at risk." But the damage for McCain was already done, leaving the Obama camp with another opportunity for an attack ad (just like it did when McCain said it before and Obama used it as an example of how his Republican opponent is out of touch).

Then there's McCain advisor and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, who in two different interviews recently said she thought neither Senator McCain or Governor Palin were capable of running a major company. Say what? If she thinks that, what is running the U.S. government, chopped liver? While Fiorina quickly added that she didn't think Senators Obama or Biden could do the job either, again the damage was done. The GOP talking point that McCain and Palin have the experience and the executive leadership we need for change in Washington was pretty well destroyed. I wouldn't look for Ms. Fiorina to be doing any more surrogate work for Team McCain.

There's also the problem for McCain that he has a long history of being strongly for deregulation (decreased government involvement and oversight of private business and the financial sector). Now he's talking like a populist and friend of the working man, who plans to battle greed and corruption on Wall Street. However, he is not giving out too many details, other than appointing some kind of 9/11-type commission to study the situation and firing the SEC Chairman.  McCain also seems to be having some problems selling this new campaign push, especially to the normally-very Republican WALL STREET JOURNAL, whose editorial board (according to CNN) labels McCain's economic comments "un-presidential." Ouch!  

Frankly, just how credible can McCain be about how to fix the economy given his past record? How credible can either candidate be? While Obama has likely gotten the best of the retorts and TV sound bites in attacking McCain on this issue (the McCain good ole boys/campaign staff meeting line and turning the McCain SEC firing comment into a pitch to fire all the Bush officials in D.C. were both classics), the Democratic candidate has not offered a clear plan either so far (although supposedly he will be announcing some things as early as today, focusing not only on helping Wall Street but also Main Street).

One other major issue for both candidates: They have accepted lots of campaign contributions from Wall Street, which raises questions about just how hard they will work as president to end the so-called abuses and corruption there?  And then Obama has his own image issue. It comes from being out on the campaign trail talking about his support to help the plight of the working man and the middle class, then going off to Hollywood the very same night to party and raise millions of dollars with the beautiful and very rich people of Tinsel Town.

MEANWHILE BACK IN WASHINGTON...

The politics of disarray (saying one thing, doing another) doesn't look any better in Washington where gridlock and posturing continue to be the order of the day in Congress. Democrats know they have lost the battle on allowing more off-shore drilling. The "drill, baby, drill" cries that began at the GOP convention and continue at the McCain-Palin rallies are reflected in a lot of public opinion polls, especially with fuel prices spiking again (and gas even running out in some places such as here in Tennessee) in the wake of Hurricane Ike.

But the Democrats' effort to allow a limited expansion of off-shore drilling, while passing the House, faces a very uncertain fate in the Senate (where Republicans can likely block it). And even if it can pass in the upper chamber, a presidential veto is all but assured. There is equal doubt about passing any comprehensive energy plan in Congress for a lot of the same reasons (and despite the efforts of Tennessee Senator Bob Corker and the Gang of 10 or whatever number it is now). Maybe some renewed tax credits for alternatives fuels might get through, but otherwise the only other energy related matter that could get Congressional approval is what some are calling Congress' own bailout of the depressed auto industry to help it gear up to make more fuel-efficient cars.   

Another reason the Republicans have the upper hand on the oil drilling issue is because the presidential ban on off shore exploration is set to expire the end of this month, unless the Congress acts to revive it. That's not likely to happen, although Republicans are likely to face a tough dilemma if the Democrats decide to tie any off-shore drilling legislation to the ongoing appropriations bill to run the government, which also must be passed by the end of this month or the federal government faces a possible shutdown. Some measures to provide additional aid to the increasing number of the unemployed and some economic stimulus measures could also be in the mix. And there's this late-breaking economic bailout package to add to a seeming witch's brew of a political stew being cooked up inside the Beltway.

See what I mean about the politics of disarray, and a lot of it is over an issue (off shore drilling) everyone agrees won't really have any impact on oil supplies or gas prices for several years. But it's a great campaign issue, man, so let the posturing continue! 

INSIDE POLITICS

On this week's INSIDE POLITICS show we take a look at the State Senate rematch between incumbent Senator Rosalind Kurita and her Democratic challenger Clarksville lawyer Tim Barnes. Kurita won a narrow 19-vote primary victory in August, but Barnes' lawyer, Nashville attorney George Barrett, managed to raise enough questions about the outcome that the Democratic State Executive Committee threw out the results, forcing Kurita to qualify as last-minute, write-in candidate after the Democratic leadership in the three county district (Montgomery, Cheatham and Houston) picked Barnes to be their nominee.

All this has set off a political firestorm all across the state, with potentially significant ramifications for the future political makeup and leadership of the State Senate since Kurita's vote was critical to Republican Ron Ramsey becoming Lt. Governor two years ago.

Clint Brewer, Executive Editor of THE NASHVILLE CITY PAPER and Tom Humphrey of THE KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL join me to discuss these fascinating political developments that unexpectedly have made this Senate race perhaps the most closely watched in Tennessee. Everyone thought it would over and decided in August, now it could be the straw that stirs the political drink in Tennessee. And it has both parties scrambling to find the funds and other resources necessary to handle a political race neither side thought they'd have to fight this fall, while still working on the other critical State Senate races across Tennessee which could determine the future political power distribution and leadership of the upper chamber.

We also take time this week on INSIDE POLITICS to talk with and honor two former Tennessee State University students (then called Tennessee A&I) whose participation in the Nashville sit-in and Freedom Rider movement of the early 1960s did so much to advance the cause of civil rights in this country almost a half-century ago.

Now after waiting much too long, our guests, Leo Lillard and Ernest Patton, along with a total of 14 other former students (many of who were expelled from school for what they did back then) are being given the recognition and honor which they so richly deserve. For Patton, that includes a special honorary degree from TSU, the institution from which he was once expelled because of his civil rights activities.

Join us as we talk with Lillard and Patton and they share their memories and thoughts about why they did what they did, jeopardizing both their educational futures and even their lives to do what they knew was the right thing to do (many filled out their last will and testament before boarding the Freedom Rider buses and traveling into the segregated Deep South).

If you want to revisit those historic times and hear from some of the folks deeply involved in all that was accomplished, this is a show you really ought to see. I especially urge young people to tune in, and learn something about the important history that has shaped and improved the way they can live their lives today, even if they find it completely incredible that people were once discriminated against and treated the way the students sitting in downtown lunch counters and boarding interstate buses were almost 50 years ago.

You can see INSIDE POLITICS every weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL 5 network.

That includes:

7:00 PM, Friday, September 19        NEWSCHANNEL 5 Plus, Comcast Channel 50

5:00 AM, Saturday, September 20    NEWSCHANNEL 5 Plus

5:30 PM, Saturday, September 20    NEWSCHANNEL 5 Plus

5:00 AM Sunday, September 21       NEWSCHANNEL 5, WTVF-TV

5:00 AM Sunday, September 21      NEWSCHANNEL 5 (that's right we are simulcast on both stations)

12:30 PM Sunday, September 21     NEWSCHANNEL 5 Plus

Don't forget if you don't have Comcast or live outside the Nashville TV area, you can watch excerpts of previous INSIDE POLITICS show here on the NEWSCHANNEL 5 website.

MORE ON THE KURITA-BARNES RACE

It's very hard to successfully run for office as a write-in candidate. And it will be very tough for Senator Kurita, although few write-in candidates have the name recognition and support she has enjoyed in the past.

But she may not have the campaign money advantage she had when she began this campaign, and that could be critical if she is going to educate the voters about all the extra steps you'll have to go through to vote for her as a write-in (and those procedures could be different from county to county).

What she does have going for her is a potentially very emotional issue ("they stolen the election and disenfranchised the voters," Kurita claims). But will it be enough to motivate voters to take the extra steps required to write in her name in the Senate race? The last successful write-in candidate was current Senator Charlotte Burks, who, a few years ago, won her seat after her husband, Senator Tommy Burks, was murdered by his opponent. Even then, with the most emotional issue I can imagine, I am told by those who helped organize her race that it was very tough to pull out a victory.  

There is no doubt that State Democratic Party had every legal right to void the primary election Kurita won. But it also is pretty clear to me they are, so far, losing the public perception battle over how to justify such an action.

The Barnes' campaign has presented evidence that indicates several voters were given wrong information about how they could vote for him. But it wasn't quite enough to make up a 19-vote deficit, so the rest of the Barnes' campaign argument was that there was an organized effort by Republicans to cross party lines and vote for Kurita.

Now while state law on this topic is pretty vague when you read it, the long accepted practice and tradition in Tennessee politics is that there is nothing wrong or illegal about cross-over voting. So saying it made the primary outcome "incurably uncertain", raises the scepter of party officials needing to post a sign at each polling place in the future to tell voters just how much Republican or crossover influence will be "allowed" before the voters are disenfranchised and their result of election thrown out.

Interestingly, this issue was also raised in East Tennessee after the August primary elections, with some unsuccessful Republican candidates (in a Senate district near Knoxville and the U.S. Congressional primary in Upper East Tennessee) complaining about Democrats crossing over and messing up the election results.

Of course, there is a cure for this, and one which would remove the need to throw out any voting results: do like several other states, and pass a party registration law. But don't count on that happening: politicians only seem to get upset about cross-over voting when it doesn't go the way they want it to go. Otherwise they usually like the idea of attracting support from those in the other party.

Meantime, it hasn't been a great couple of weeks for current Lt. Governor Ramsey. He has not only had to be concerned about the possible loss of Kurita's support for his Senate Speaker re-election, there's another race where he could have problems. Ramsey hoped former Republican (now Independent) Senator Mike Williams, would be defeated. But his GOP challenger is now battling charges of having an inappropriate relationship with a high-level Young Republican in the district. There are a couple of other State Senate races that Ramsey hopes the GOP wins, and thereby can re-establish control of that body, but I don't think these were ones he thought would be creating the kind of heartburn they are, in quest to keep the Republicans in charge.

And that raises the question of how involved State Republicans will be in the Kurita-Barnes election?  The state GOP leadership says it did not try and organize crossover voting in the primary, because if it had the margin of victory for Kurita would have been much larger it claims. Well, now here's the chance to prove it, as Kurita says she is looking for money and support from everyone: Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Democrats too are gearing up, with some of those party leaders who voted against voiding the primary election, now endorsing Barnes. Even Governor Bredesen, who despite being the titular head of his party, took a hands-off position on what the party leaders should do about the Kurita-Barnes primary, now says he will host a major fundraiser on September 29 for Barnes (along with the state's Democratically-appointed constitutional officers).

But this battle may not just be fought on the campaign trail. There's a possible federal lawsuit Kurita says she is considering about the primary. For now, Kurita seems to holding off on filing anything. Maybe waging a costly and time-consuming two-front war (the election and a court battle) at the same time is just a bit much. But how long she can wait to file any court action? And who might help her pay for it (the GOP or related- groups or individuals)? And as my guests on INSIDE POLITICS, Clint Brewer and Tom Humphrey, point out, the state constitution says that the Senate is the ultimate power to judge of who its members are. So what if Barnes wins, but a majority GOP Senate votes not to seat him? Or what if a federal court orders Kurita be seated or still another re-do election? 

Stay tuned this race is getting more interesting by the day.       

 THE NEW PUBLIC DEFENDER

Nashville's new Public Defender is Dawn Deaner. She was elected by the Metro Council to serve out the remaining term of Ross Alderman, who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in August.

Deaner will serve almost two years or at least until after the August Metro elections in 2010. By being selected, she already continues one long standing tradition in that office. Since the time now-retired Judge Walter Kurtz was elected Public Defender backed in the early 1980s, someone who has worked in that office has succeeded whoever was there before them. That includes now Mayor Karl Dean and the late Ross Alderman, among others.

If she runs for "re-election" and wins next August, Deaner also has the chance to begin a new tradition. She would be the first women ever elected by the voters to that post, putting yet another crack in our local political glass ceiling. As it is, Deaner is already the first woman ever selected by the Council to be Public Defender, taking over from colleague and Deputy Public Defender, Laura Dykes, who has been the Acting Director since Alderman's death and who also sought the Council's appointment. Deaner's election over Dykes has also raised some eyebrows, since Dykes was the senior staff member. But I am told by sources she just worked harder, meeting individually with many council members about her candidacy.   

Clearly, Deaner is off to a strong political start. She won the Council's nod by garnering almost two-thirds of the vote (26 out of 40 members) and doing so on the first ballot against 4 other candidates. That's very impressive, especially getting two Council endorsement speeches from arch-conservative Michael Craddock and the much more liberal Councilmember Keith Durban. Other than mom-and-apple pie-issues, I am not sure these Council representatives agree on much of anything politically, so it's impressive for the new Public Defender that they both support her.

SOME FINAL POLITICAL TIDBITS....

We've said it before and will say it again.

  • 1. No matter how prominent the politician (Republican Vice-Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin) or how far away he or she might be (Alaska or elsewhere on the campaign trail)...there's always a Tennessee connection...or in this case, an alleged computer hacker. Investigators seem to be looking strongly at the son of a Memphis Democratic State House member as the person behind breaking into Palin's private Yahoo e-mail account.

That account was already much in the news because Governor Palin has reportedly used it for state business in the past (to perhaps avoid public record requests?). But who knew it would ever be linked back to Tennessee and to a political family here? Politics is always stranger than fiction.

As I have said before, Palin's problems in Alaska (especially the "Troopergate" issue surrounding the firing of her ex-brother-in law), continue to bear watching. I don't  believe there will be anything definitive found or proven by this ongoing investigation especially before the election, but anytime a campaign has to decline over and over again to provide information or testify, it becomes a major distraction and it can create an overall public impression that is not very positive or that there is something to hide (even if there's not). 

  • 2. A prominent Tennessee Democrat (former Senator, Vice President and Presidential candidate Al Gore) is finally helping Bob Tuke raise some serious money for his U.S. Senate race against incumbent Republican Lamar Alexander. But is it already too late? Probably. Tuke gets high marks for trying and running a very issues-oriented campaign, but his efforts seem to have made little impact so far (Senator Alexander reportedly took some time off to go fishing rather than campaign during the last Congressional recess). The main reason Tuke likely hasn't broken through with voters so far is because he doesn't have the kind of money needed (millions of dollars) to run a campaign supported with TV and radio ads and direct mail. The big-ticket fundraiser by Gore is bound to help at least fund some last minute media push before early voting. But with another prominent Democrat, Governor Bredesen already conceding the race to Alexander last spring before Tuke could even get in, it's still the very longest of putts that Tuke takes the Hill and comes home a winner.
  • 3. It's not the price of gasoline that really concerns people, it's the availability. People will gripe and grumble when the cost at the pump rises, but what really gets them distressed, and into a mood to do panic buying, is when they are worried that gas supplies are running out at any price. Such has been the situation here in Tennessee over the last week or so since Hurricane Ike first threatened the Texas coast (where most of our gasoline originates). It's just another misery in a week full of worrying economic developments. And I am sure not looking forward to seeing my next 401K quarterly report!
  • 4. Here's an item to file away for possible future reference. There are reports the State of Florida is investigating allegations that the Pilot Oil Company, based in Knoxville, was guilty of price gouging in how it sold gasoline at its retail gas stations in the Sunshine State in the wake of recent hurricanes. Not missing any opportunities, Tennessee Democratic Party leaders quickly called on any candidates (Republicans) who had received funds from the Haslam family, which founded and runs Pilot Oil, to return that money. It's a usual "gotcha" tactic in politics these days, and state Republican leaders were quick to resurrect at least one past Democratic contributor who pled guilty to legal problems with his business, and urge that those funds be given back. Don't expect anything to really happen. But what makes this latest incident something to watch, is that the Mayor of Knoxville is Jimmy Haslam, former Chairman of Pilot Oil. The Mayor has given strong indications he is looking to run for Governor in 2010. If he does, and these allegations of price gouging have any substance, watch for this to be a possible big issue in that race. Although given the past history of allegations of price gouging I doubt this will go very far).

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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