Capitol View Commentary - February 20, 2009 - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary - February 20, 2009



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

February 20, 2009


It's the number one issue in the nation. It's what everyone is talking about these days. You can't avoid it. It's the economy, especially all the activity going on in Washington (plans to stimulate the economy, free up the credit markets, stop the housing and foreclosure mess, bail out the American auto industry).

So this week on INSIDE POLITICS we talk with two members of Tennessee congressional delegation to get their very different opinions about what's going on and what is likely still to come as we deal with our ongoing economic problems.

Senator Bob Coker and Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper are my guests and I think you will find what they have to say quite interesting. One of the few things they agree on is that it will take some time before anyone can tell if the recently approved stimulus package is having any impact. Mr. Corker goes even further. He says while he hopes the economy does improve soon, he is positive if it does, it won't have anything to do with the stimulus plan, which he thinks is a bad move.

Representative Cooper voted against the stimulus the first time around, but then gave his approval to a revised version. While a fiscal hawk, he believe this plan will create new jobs and breathe new life into the economy, despite spending more dollars in terms of money and tax breaks than any measure ever passed in the history of our nation.

I think you'll also find my guests' comments interesting on a couple of non-economic related subjects. I asked Senator Corker about his role in the recent surprise election of Tennessee House Speaker Kent Williams and his thoughts on Williams being kicked out of the Republican Party. I also asked him where he stands in the blossoming GOP 2010 gubernatorial race where he has a number of political friends, including his long-time Chattanooga congressman Zach Wamp running for the nomination.

For Cooper see what he has to say about Governor Phil Bredesen's chances to join the Obama cabinet as well as those for former Memphis Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. (more on that later).

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

Fridays (February 20)............7:00 PM........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50

Saturdays (February 21).......5:00 AM........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Saturdays (February 21).......5:30 PM.........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Sundays (February 22)...........5:00 AM......WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5

Sundays (February 22)............5:00 AM......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Sundays (February 220..........12:30 PM......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

Don't forget if you live outside the Nashville area or you don't have Comcast, you can watch excerpts of previous INSIDE POLITICS shows here at NEWSCHANNEL5.COM.


The ink hasn't even dried from President Barack Obama signing the stimulus package and already we are hearing news reports explaining that the stock market is going down because some on Wall Street are already convinced the plan won't work.

What? It has only been a few days since the spending plan went into effect. I know we all have the attention spans and instant gratification needs of four-year olds these days, but good grief! I don't know if the plan will work, but can we give it some time (even the President says it will be at least a year before we see the economy turning around)? And maybe those who are so negative about the plan should wait to come up with some real evidence not just opinions about the stimulus before we declare it dead and buried?

I know that's not likely to happen during this silly season. Even Senator Corker seemed to get a bit carried away the other day, when he told a Chattanooga civic club that the stimulus plan is going to send the State of Tennessee "more money than it could ever possibly spend."

I wonder if Governor Bredesen and Finance Commissioner Dave Goetz know about this? I thought they said the funds would be very helpful in forestalling some (but not all) of the hundreds of layoffs of state employees that are likely in the next fiscal year, and that the money will also helps thousands of Tennesseans with their health care needs as a worsening economy causes even more people to go on TennCare after they lose their jobs. It also help pay for some needed road repairs and improvements, generating some jobs.  

And then there is State Representative Brian Kelsey, who has called on Governor Bredesen to reject all of the stimulus money because it won't work to help the economy and because of the debt it will create for our children and grandchildren. His point about the debt may be well taken. But guess what, Representative Kelsey? That debt gets created whether we in Tennessee accept the money or not. If we don't take the funds and use it wisely, some other state will get it, and our citizens will get no benefit. That's just dumb.

Democratic leader Gary Odom has it right (although his tongue may also be a bit in his cheek) when he told the Governor that any lawmaker who signs up with Representative Kelsey on this idea ought to be excluded from any of the stimulus money being spent in their districts. I have another idea. If Representative Kelsey is so convinced we ought not take this money, give his home phone number and address to all those state workers about to laid off, and those Tennesseans who fear being cut off again from TennCare, and let them tell him what they think about his political posturing on this topic.

My point is, if you oppose the stimulus, that's fine. There are some legitimate questions to be raised about the public policy being made with this legislation. But back up your position with some reality, not just a bunch of talking points and political grandstanding.

As for the Democrats who see the stimulus as some kind of salvation: we should all be so lucky. If a high level of activity by the President and his administration (what used to be called "vigor" in the days of JFK) can solve this crisis, Mr. Obama should get high marks for what he is doing. He and his administration are a whirlwind of activity, especially compared to his predecessor. But in getting this massive plan approved, he and the Congressional Democrats have also taken over ownership of the economy as an issue.

If what they are proposing and implementing works, the Republicans are likely to be toast again in the 2010 elections.  But it may be a very long time before we know if what the Obama administration and the Congressional Democrats are doing is working, and so, unlike the last 6 to 8 years, if things continue to look bad with rising unemployment, etc., it will be the Democrats, not the Republicans, who stand to take the blame and the wrath of the voters.        


After a flurry of speculation, it's gotten very quiet here in Tennessee about the possibility of Governor Bredesen stepping down to join the Obama administration in Washington as either the Health & Human Services (HHS) or Commerce Secretary. But it is my understanding, he remains under strong consideration.

While the Governor is understandably low profile about the matter (and even a bit pessimistic about his chances), one person who is making no bones publicly about how he feels concerning this situation is Republican Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey. He will tell anyone (including a group of Realtors I heard him address the other day) that he thinks Phil Bredesen will do a great job in Washington and that he hopes he is selected for one of the posts. He does it such an open and humorous way, he had everyone laughing at the Realtor event.

No doubt Ramsey's support for Mr. Bredesen is tied to the fact that he would take over as Governor should Bredesen leave. That makes a lot of Democrats kind of ill to think about losing the Governor's chair. Some Republicans, especially those already in the 2010 gubernatorial race aren't too crazy about the idea either since it would turn their entire contest upside down with Ramsey suddenly running as a would-be incumbent for "re-election" next year.

There is also new speculation that former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. might be under consideration for the Commerce post. That's interesting since Ford has also been rumored as a possible Democratic candidate for governor. Ford has declined much comment, although it appears those close to him are downplaying a possible run, saying Ford is making so money from his current jobs in the financial industry and in the media, he's probably not interested in a race right now.

So is he interested in a Cabinet post? Given the higher national profile of that kind of job, I would say yes, although certainly a Cabinet job is not paying what Ford is making on Wall Street and in the national media.

Finally, the Tennessee connections to be in the Cabinet don't seem to end with Ford or Bredesen or even Jim Cooper, former Tennessee Human Services Commissioner (under Governor McWherter), Nancy-Ann DeParle is being mentioned by THE WASHINGTON POST (and in turn by THE TENNESSEAN). De Parle also served in the Clinton administration as a top official in the Office of Management and Budget as well with the Medcaid and Medicare programs.

But while Tennessee seems to have no end to contenders, especially for the HHS spot, the Governor of Oklahoma is still rumored to be the front runner.  


Did somebody declare it "Education Week" in Nashville?

On the same day recently, there were two new education initiatives unveiled. One is statewide effort headed by former Senator Bill Frist who was joined by Governor Bredesen and Mayor Karl Dean for the announcement. It seeks to follow a successful Kentucky model where there was a statewide effort to involve the public and establish best practices to improve our education system.

Later that same day, Mayor Dean unveiled his own latest effort to improve Metro schools by expanding a current after-school program in the high schools down to the middle school level. It is aimed at encouraging young people to stay in class and not drop out. That was one of Mayor Dean's top priorities when he ran for mayor two years ago, and he is continuing to work on the problem.

Meanwhile, the annual Chamber of Commerce Report Card on Metro Schools has been issued. It seems to give local school officials high marks for effort, but not so good grades on follow-up and accountability.

All these continuing efforts by so many groups to improve public education system are certainly to be applauded. But with so many cooks in the kitchen, I just hope someone is making sure we are all baking with compatible recipes for success.

That doesn't appear to be the case with our Community Education program in Metro which largely serves adults and seniors. There has been shocking news in recent days that the program is broke and even having to lay off some employees because of financial issues. Those issues seem to revolve around the fact that the adult program was asked to take over responsibility for some swimming pool operations inside Metro schools.

The pools are real money losers. Why they were placed in the community education budget is hard to understand? It appears governance issues for community education are not new in this regard. According to an article in the NASHVILLE CITY PAPER (2/20) by Amy Griffith Graydon the Metro Council asked city officials to look into the problem back in 2005, but nothing appears to have happened.

Now a new effort is underway to address the short term money issues of Community Education through the use of a reserve fund that will eliminate the need for any layoffs or service cuts, while there are also efforts underway to address the long term governance issues for community education as well.

This is the second instance recently where a Metro agency has run into difficulties where it appeared, as the old saying goes, "the right hand and the left hand didn't know what the other was doing." The problems of the Metro Industrial Development Board also appear to be on their way to being resolved now that everyone is on the same page.  That's good as that agency is likely to be a very important one as the city moves forward on financing the new Convention Center project.       



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