Capitol View Commentary: Jan. 23, 2009 - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Jan. 23, 2009


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

January 23, 2009


As a native of Nashville, I can't remember a time when been I've prouder of my hometown.

That's because our community has decisively rejected the English Only Metro Charter amendment as well as an equally ill-advised proposal to turn our city in another California with "government by referendum" allowing constant charter votes over hot-button issues better left to the courts or our legislative leaders.

At a time when it would have been easy to give in and lash out at all the frustrations we have with our economy, the mess in Washington, our ongoing overseas wars, our broken immigration system, the political games on Tennessee's Capitol Hill, we didn't drink the Kool-Aid.

With the eyes of the world upon us, and just days after we celebrated the MLK holiday, and then took pride in the swearing-in of our first black President, we re-affirmed that Nashville is welcoming, diverse community, not a xenophobic, Know-Nothing town.  The voters did not buy the political snake oil being peddled by some that if Nashville just voted for an "English Only" policy for its local government (and the other charter amendment) it would somehow help solve our problems.

A few years back, supporters of Nashville's modernized and expanded public library system (including the beautiful new Downtown Library) handed out stickers that said: "A world-class city has a world-class library."

Nashville is well on its way to becoming that world-class city, but to get there and stay there, we also need an informed and thoughtful electorate. I am proud to say that's how a landslide majority of those voting on January 22 acted in rejecting to these proposed charter changes.

By the way, it's not the first time some in the community have tried to turn the city's constitution into their own personal political football. Some will remember former Metro Councilmember and later County Clerk Bill McPherson, who found a way to place a number of strange and unnecessary amendments on the ballot back in the early 1980s. As happened on January 22, 2009, the community and the voters back then had the wisdom to reject them all, and our Metro Charter continues to serve our community well, some 46 years-plus after it was adopted.  


So how did they do it?

How did those who organized the campaign to defeat the two charter amendments make it happen?

It was the result of a number of diverse (and, sometimes in the past, opposing) groups from all across Nashville (business and labor, developers and neighborhood groups, local colleges and universities, black and white) coming together under the umbrella name of Nashville For All Of Us. Two leaders of that major opposition group, Jim Hester and Mike Kopp, are my guests this week on INSIDE POLITICS.

During our interview, they share the inside details of how the campaign was organized and financed and how it managed to do such an effective job in communicating to voters how wrong these amendments would be for Nashville. And they had to do it all very quickly, including starting to pull everything together during the distractions of a national presidential campaign and then the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

They did so well, I believe they surprised even themselves. No one expected the total turnout of nearly 75,000 voters, and if anyone did, no one thought a turnout that large would be helpful to the opponent's cause. But helpful it was, with the opponents winning both the early vote and the balloting on Election Day, all of it adding up to very healthy final margins to defeat the amendments (winning by almost 10,000 votes on English Only, and over 18,000 on Amendment Two).

In a quick review of the precinct breakdowns, it was clear that geography played a major role. The opponents won by piling up big no votes in the south and southwest parts of town (where all Nashville elections have been won or lost in the last few years). The Yes vote seemed strongest in the north and northwest parts of the county as well as in Old Hickory, Hermitage, parts of Goodlettsville and the areas in the south and southwest parts of the county where there is the latest concentration of non-English speaking people.

In fact, the results appear to resemble in some ways how the returns favored Mayor Karl Dean when he was elected to office in the fall of 2007. Mayor Dean was probably the most active and high-profile political official involved in the effort to defeat these charter changes. Their downfall likely strengthens the Mayor's countywide political stature, and that can only help him as he continues to pursue a very ambitious agenda for his second year in office.

Another very interesting set of election numbers come from the returns in Councilman Eric Crafton's district in Bellevue. Crafton was the leading spokesman in favor of English Only and the other amendment. But that did not do much to convince his own constituents, who voted against both proposals by percentages that were very close to the landslide margins they failed countywide.

One last interesting note, some of the groups that worked together as a part of Nashville For All Of Us, apparently plan to continue to meet together and collaborate on projects. Hester, who is about to go back to Mayor Dean's office, after a taking an unpaid, personal leave of absence to run this campaign, expressed some interest on my show in enlisting their help in Mayor Dean's efforts to revitalize Nashville's public education system. Now there's another area we need to work on to become a world class city, and, who knows, with such a diverse group of organizations and individuals all working together, anything may be possible.



My other guests on INSIDE POLITICS this week are former Metro Deputy Mayor Bill Phillips and Vanderbilt professor Dr. David Lewis. Both men are experts in the area of presidential transitions. Phillips was in charge of the transition between President-elect George Herbert Walker Bush and President Ronald Reagan, while Dr. Lewis has written extensively this topic.

I think you will find our discussion fascinating as they describe how early these transitions begin (well before the election), why it must be that way, and why successful transitions are so important, especially for what faces our new President, Barack Obama.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network.

Fridays (January 23).....7:00 PM.....NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50

Saturdays (January 24).....5:00 AM & 5:30 PM......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Sundays (January 25).......5:00 AM......NEWSCHANNEL5, WTVF-TV

Sundays (January 25)........5:00 AM & 12:30 PM.....NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Remember, if you don't receive Comcast or live outside the Nashville area, you can see excerpts from previous shows here on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website.


It's official.

Barack Obama is the 44th President of the United States (even if it did take Chief Justice John Roberts two attempts to get the oath of office right).

The other bit of lingering pop culture memory from the swearing in ceremony is soul diva Aretha Franklin's hat (do you think she got it from Nashville State Senator Thelma Harper)?  J

Many people thought President Obama's Inaugural address might contain some memorable quote that might live on in history like JFK's "Ask not..." line or FDR's "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."

On the first writing of history that doesn't seem to have happened, although I wonder if the famous line from Lincoln's second inaugural ("Binding up the nation's wounds") was on the front page of the papers the next day?

Regardless the new President always give a great speech and this one I thought did a tremendous job of detailing the daunting tasks we face as a country while expressing the strong conviction that we, as a nation and a people, are up to the task. Given the weather, and the fact that many of the record 1.8 million people who came to see this event had been standing out in the cold for up to 6 hours, it was mercifully brief. I have said before whoever thought up the idea of swearing in presidents and governor outdoors in January, maybe did think that all the through. Yes, I know about FDR and Hoover, and moving up his second swearing in from March to January, but it's still too cold to be outdoors.

Nevertheless, the great outpouring of support and emotion manifested by those who came to Washington for the event will be another enduring historic memory of that day. I will always remember the Nashville connection in the new President's speech. When he mentioned that he stood there taking the oath of office as President in the same city that 40 years earlier his own father could not have been seated or served to eat at a local restaurant, the camera cut away to Congressman John Lewis, one of the great leaders of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Clearly you could see the emotion of the moment on his face.

John Lewis, while a college student here in Nashville in the early 1960s, led the sit-in movement at many of the downtown lunch counters. He not only did not get served, he also got beaten up and even arrested for his efforts. To behold the enormity of positive change that the Obama presidency represents in the life of  this man and the history of this country, is enough to bring a tear to anyone's eye. Ironically, later in the day, I had a few people ask me just who John Lewis was and why was he on TV?

Truly, while we have come a long way, but with the challenges facing this country, and now this President, we still have a long way to go. 


As far the Tennessee State House of Representatives, absence does not appear to make the heart grow least not yet.

It was hoped by many political leaders on both sides of the aisle that some time off, away from Nashville over the next few weeks, would help lawmakers cool off and come to some kind of grips with the surprising and quite controversial election of new House Speaker Kent Williams.

But then came the disclosure (by the House GOP leadership, after being asked about it by a blogger and others in the media) of two-year old allegations of sexual harassment against Williams by a female lawmaker. The revelations seemed to rip open once again all the hard feelings that erupted the week before when Williams defected from the GOP (after promising otherwise Republicans contend) and joined with all 49 Democrats in the House to elect him the first Republican Speaker in 40 years.

Some Republican lawmakers are once again demanding he resign both as a Speaker and as a member of the House. And a movement is still underway in the state GOP to kick him out of the party.

I would bet Williams will be kicked out of the party and perhaps out of his own GOP Caucus. Will he then go with the Democrats or, more likely, become an Independent and our first Speaker without a party? As for the harassment charges, if they were not pursued two years when they were first brought forward, it seems somewhat doubtful they will go very far now.

But they do raise some further issues about the new Speaker's veracity. If, as he claims, he never harassed anybody, why did he apologize to the lawmaker involve, as the memo (written by the House Republican leader Jason Mumpower) outlining the charges, says he did. I have not seen Williams address that. Nor have I heard an explanation for why the memo, reportedly written two years ago, has no date on it.

But none of this bodes well for the General Assembly being able to work well together come February when the session resumes. The new Speaker has announced his choices for committees and their leadership, and, as he promised, he has divided the membership and leadership evenly (at least numerically) among the parties. But I suspect Republicans are not happy that the Democrats kept leadership control of at least one very key committee (Finance Ways and Means).

But still the new Republicans appointed committee chairs represent the first of their party to hold such positions in 40 years. It's an accomplishment to be sure, but the GOP feels it earned the right in the 2008 elections to control all the committees and all the leadership positions. Many of their members and party stalwarts may never get over that no matter what Speaker Williams tries to do. And while the Democrats are just delighted to any access to power this term, there remains the question, just who will control this General Assembly, especially in the House, and will anything get done?      

Williams denied harassing anyone and predicted he would be vindicated. 

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