By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
March 6, 2009
THE GOVERNOR'S RACE IS ALREADY A SHOUTING MATCH; INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT 2010; THE GOP HOUSE CAUCUS; NEVER MIND; FINALLY, TENNESSEE IS IN THE WHITE HOUSE
Well at least two sources have told me, the GOP primary contest has two candidates (Congressman Zach Wamp and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey) already screaming at each other over the telephone.
The conversation, if you can call it that occurred as Ramsey announced he would run for the state's highest office. While the move was not unexpected, Ramsey's decision comes earlier than thought. He had previously said he would announce his plans about running after the current legislative session. His presence in the field also very much changes the dynamics of the contest.
For one thing, there are now three candidates from East Tennessee (Ramsey, Wamp and Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam). This raises the chances that the large base of GOP votes in East Tennessee will be split. It could enhance the prospects of Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons who is from West Tennessee. And it could also encourage even more candidates to get into the race, especially from Middle Tennessee (Congressman Marsha Blackburn and Nashville Representative and former GOP State Party Chair Beth Harwell come to mind)?
As Lt. Governor, Ramsey brings a lot of state government experience to the race, something the other GOP candidates currently in the race don't have. And while the General Assembly as a group continues to receive extremely low job performance ratings (see the recent poll done by students at MTSU), in tight budget times, someone who's been there before could have an advantage in the eyes of the voters.
Ramsey also has a lot of clout being Lt. Governor. And this is a safe race for him, meaning he won't have to give up his Senate seat to run, and therefore could possibly continue to be Lt. Governor (and therefore a power in state politics) even if he doesn't win. That clout and position should help Ramsey in raising money and support especially in the business community and those who work with or depend on the state.
So you can see why Wamp (and perhaps the other GOP candidates) would be less than pleased to see Lt. Governor Ramsey get in the race. Ramsey could not only be a threat as a fundraiser down the road (after the session) but a rival, particularly for Wamp, for support in some parts of the conservative Republican base. Wamp is working hard to develop his grassroots support perhaps as a means to help him undermine and compete with both Ramsey and Haslam statewide, especially to offset any fundraising disadvantages.
But why did Ramsey move up his plans about running? My guess would be he has seen the early success the current GOP candidates are having in raising money and support (especially the Haslam fund raiser coming up here in Nashville later this month). It is known that supporters of Ramsey were calling party activists and funders a few weeks back and urging them to stay uncommitted. I guess that didn't get the kind of response they wanted so the Lt. Governor decided to go ahead and jump in now.
In fact, here's how Lt. Governor Ramsey put it in an interview with reporter Hank Hayes of the KINGSPORT TIMES-NEWS newspaper on March 2. He talked about seeing the list of supporters Haslam is pulling to his scheduled fund raisers in East and Middle Tennessee. "I was thinking, those aren‘t Bill Haslam supporters. I've got to get into this....People were telling me I was losing five to ten people a day with Haslam out there beating the bushes. I don't think Zach is catching on. I don't think Bill Gibbons is catching on, but Haslam is working harder, plus he has the money...I just couldn't wait any longer."
Also in the TIMES-NEWS interview, Ramsey admits he is at some disadvantage. "..Haslam is going to have enough money to carpet bomb me like you've never seen...I'm at a distinct advantage because I can't raise money while we're in session." But Ramsey still likes where he stands. "I have grassroots support...I have my state senators behind me. I have 40 to 50 state reps behind me. I have a really good base to start from...."
As for how the other candidates reacted to his candidacy when he told them, Ramsey said: "I'm sure Bill Gibbons loved it...Zach was half way aggravated. He said "I can't believe you are doing this." It almost aggravated me. I said "Let me make sure I understand this, Zach. I've been toiling in the state legislature for 17 years and took us from three seats down to five seats up (in the Senate) and you're going to be upset?"
I guess that must have been some conversation from there. J
Meantime, there are those in the state GOP who are concerned about where all this may be headed with so many candidates getting in so early, already rubbing each other the wrong way, and all this with the primary vote not set until August of next year, about 18 months away. That's a long time for party leaders to be "carpet bombing" or "aggravated" with each other.
On INSIDE POLITICS this weekend (March 6-8), we will take an in-depth look at the developing race for Governor in 2010.
My guests will be Former Republican State Senator David Fowler, now with the Family Action Council of Tennessee, along with Tommy Burnett, a long time Democratic strategist and former State House Majority Leader.
We will look at the race from the perspectives of both parties, and get some early thoughts on how things are shaping up. 2010 will be a pivotal election. It always is when the incumbent can't seek re-election. But this election has another interesting historical note. For the past 40 years (since 1970), the two parties have each held the Governor's chair for the same amount of time. Neither party has been able to put back-to-back Governors in the Mansion on Curtiswood Lane. Will that trend continue (it would be the Republican's time to win) or will this election mark a new time in Tennessee political history?
You can watch INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK.
Fridays (March 6)..........7:00 PM.......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, COMCAST CHANNEL 50
Saturdays (March 7)......5:00 AM.......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Saturdays (March 7)......5:30 PM.......NEWSCHANNEL 5 PLUS
Sundays (March 8).........5:00 AM.......WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL 5
Sundays (March 8)..........5:00 AM.......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Sundays (March 8)...........12:30 PM.....NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Let me take a moment to tell you that next week's guest on INSIDE POLITICS (March 13-15) will be John Seigenthaler, Chairman Emeritus of THE TENNESSEAN, Founding Editorial Director of USA TODAY and the Founder of the First Amendment Center.
When the future looks uncertain, it's time to turn to those with experience and wisdom, qualities that John has lots of from his many years on the local, state and national scene. We will discuss the current difficult situation in print journalism along with the overall economic challenges we face in Washington and around the world. It's a good show, don't miss it.
Don't forget if live outside the Nashville area or you don't have Comcast, you can see excerpts from previous INSIDE POLITICS shows here on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website.
BACK AT THE CAUCUS
It looks like in the Tennessee GOP it's not just the gubernatorial candidates who are fighting amongst themselves.
Just as things appeared to be settling down on Capitol Hill after the controversial election by Democrats of new House Speaker Kent Williams, a then-Republican lawmaker from Upper East Tennessee, there is new controversy.
Williams has been booted from the State Republican Party but he had still been attending House GOP caucus meetings. Now he has been told by State House Republican leaders that "some members" are not comfortable with him being there and that he should not come anymore.
Williams is not taking that for an answer and says he plans to continue to come until the entire caucus votes to remove him as a member. GOP House leaders say they don't need to vote on it, they can remove Williams by themselves.
You can see this discussion is going downhill pretty fast and it will be interesting to see what impact it has on GOP efforts to try and pass their key legislation, especially since House committees (appointed by Speaker Williams) are now equally divided by party in many cases, and only Speaker Williams can cast the key deciding votes to decide whether these bills pass or fail.
Stay tuned, this could get very interesting if this budding feud continues to develop.
Upon further....and further review, it appears the administration of Governor Phil Bredesen will now accept those millions of dollars in federal stimulus money to help Tennessee continue to assist the rising number of unemployed workers in our state.
The Governor had expressed some problems with the "strings" and new guidelines the federal money would bring. That included increasing monthly benefits and expanding payments to some part-time workers. He was also concerned that the federal money is "one-time" funding that goes away after two years while the state's new commitments to the unemployed would remain.
So, the Governor indicated he might well decline the funding, as a few other governors are doing across the country. But all those other governors are Republicans and that became a kind of ticklish situation for the Democratic administration to deal with from a public relations perspective, especially as it also came while the Governor remained on the short list of those being considered to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services for President Barack Obama (the job went to the Governor of Oklahoma).
Now after completing his final review, the Governor says he is OK with the federal guidelines for the unemployment funds and he will accept them. Either way, unemployment is rising so quickly there will need to be an increase in the state employers' tax that funds the program, another sign of how difficult an economic situation we continue to face in Tennessee.
New tax figures have also just come out showing the state continuing to experience an unprecedented negative growth in its revenues that's been going on for several consecutive months now. That means the state is actually getting less tax dollars now than it got last year. That's scary.
A TENNESSEAN IN THE WHITE HOUSE
Well, it's not Governor Bredesen, nor is it Harold Ford, Jr. or Congressman Jim Cooper.
But Tennessee does finally have one of its own in the Obama White House (at least she lived here for several years, graduated from the University of Tennessee, and served in Governor Ned McWherter's cabinet).
She is Nancy-Ann Min DeParle, who also spent time in some top health care-related positions during the Clinton administration. For President Obama, she will be his "health care czar" and play a major role in his efforts to get health care reform approved by the Congress.
While she is getting glowing reviews from many here in Tennessee who know her and have worked with her (and that would include me) she is, of course, under quite a bit of renewed scrutiny inside the Beltway.
An article on THE WALL STREET JOURNAL's Health Blog raises concerns about her being too close to the health care industry, serving on several corporate boards. The White House says she will be stepping down from those positions and will not participate in any matters that directly impact or significantly impact the firms where she's been involved. Others say her involvement in the industry could be a plus. According to Chris Jennings who also served under President Clinton as his top health-care policy advisor (and quoted in the NEW YORK TIMES): "She can call their bluff more credibly and say, "Come on, guys I've seen the books, I know you can do this...and you'll do quite well."
But it looks like she's got her work cut out for her at least on Capitol Hill with one of her fellow Tennesseans, Republican Congressman Zach Wamp. Appearing on MSNBC while the President and DeParle held their health care summit at the White House, Wamp says Mr. Obama's health care proposals are "a fast march to socialism" and that health care is "a privilege....not a right."
Looks like Ron Ramsey may soon have some more company (Democrats this time) being "a little aggravated" with Congressman Wamp and his comments. J
But you can bet from Wamp's perspective, Republican conservative activists across the state of Tennessee (all of whom will be key voters in the August 2010 governor's race) will eat up these kinds of comments about the President and his health care proposals.
No column next week, I hear the crack of the bat and seek the warm breezes of spring down south. Look for my next CAPITOL VIEW on Friday, March 20. Play ball!