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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 4, 2019

Capitol View
Posted at 1:54 PM, Jan 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-07 10:00:11-05


By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company



Now that the crazy political year of 2018 is behind us, let’s take a look back at some of the big mistakes made in predicting developments that would occur over the past twelve months, both nationally and worldwide. It’s an article linked below courtesy of POLITICO. Some of these goofs are real doozies!

I bring up this topic up to admit my own shortcomings. In my last column of 2018, I all but predicted that Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander would be seeking a fourth term in 2020. WRONG. The senior Senator announced not long before Christmas that he appreciated the people of the state supporting him all these years, but he will be stepping down in 2020 “to let someone else have the chance” to serve. He also said he wanted to leave while he was still at the top of his game. And that’s a pretty high standard. Alexander is the only Tennessean to be popularly elected both Governor and Senator and has served in those positions combined more years than anyone else.

So how did I get it wrong? I am still not sure. All the external indications pointed towards re-election. Alexander was announcing his decision two years early and somebody in his camp released very positive polling numbers that made a 2020 campaign look good (although there are some who question those positive numbers for Alexander in a GOP primary).

It may just be that Senator Alexander decided it was time to go, for himself and for his family. While political analysts get all tied up in knots about polling numbers, fund raising, etc., politics still has a very personal side that often still plays a major role in making decisions, not just political strategy.

I wish Senator Alexander all the best, both for the next two years, and when he leaves Washington. He takes with him when he leaves an increasingly rare political commodity. That is a willingness to work across party lines to get things done. Maybe others will step forward to continue ‘reaching across the aisle.” But in today’s Washington that looks unlikely, so Senator Alexander will be sorely missed.

His departure is already setting off a scramble for who will take his place. Outgoing Governor Bill Haslam says he will look again at a Senate contest, much as he did last year when Senator Bob Corker announced his retirement. Right after leaving office January 19, Mr. Haslam has scheduled an overseas trip with his family to further contemplate his future. Incoming GOP Congressman Dr. Mark Green seems the most likely to run for the Alexander Senate seat say sources, even though he has just been sworn into his new job in Washington.

As for me, I learned years ago from my friend, the late John Jay Hooker (who learned it from his father), that the best time to admit you got it wrong, and eat some political crow about an errant prediction, is do so right away, and eat that crow while it’s hot.

So, there it is. If I had done any columns over the holidays, I’d fessed up sooner. The Alexander Senate race story will be a hot one for the next two years. I will try to do better in making any predictions. Political crow does not taste like much like a holiday turkey or a ham.


Senator Bob Corker left the Senate this week with his political future unclear. He’s not saying he’s running against President Trump in 2020, but he’s not ruling it out either. He will have to make up his mind quickly. If he is running, he will need to get started very soon, especially to build the money and support needed to take on an incumbent president.

Corker left the Senate in the midst of another twitter and media fight with President Trump. Some wonder who will take Corker’s place in the upper chamber to challenge Trump about his policies, at least from time to time. This week, incoming Utah Senator Mitt Romney, also the GOP presidential nominee in 2012, served notice he might be taking on that role with this blistering op-ed published in the WASHINGTON POST questioning President Trump’s qualifications and his job performance.


I mentioned in my last column, that it just wouldn’t be the holidays without Congress facing another government shutdown. This time an eleventh- hour deal between both houses of Congress and the President to avert disaster fell apart when Mr. Trump reneged. Therefore, a partial shutdown of the federal government began on December 21.

The sticking point that caused the shutdown is President Trump’s insistence that Congress allocate $5 billion dollars to build a wall across the southern border. The wall is THE major campaign promise of Mr. Trump, while Democrats, bolstered by regaining control of the House and other mid-term election successes, say no way, offering just $1.6 billion more for border security.

Frankly, a number of Republicans in Congress are not really strong for the wall, but so far they are not defecting in significant numbers, so the partial government shutdown continues with no quick end in sight.

The shutdown is already two weeks long and counting. In his latest verbal battle with President Trump, Senator Corker says the shutdown is a “made up fight.” He’s right about that. Both parties are putting politics over what best for the country (a fully functioning federal government). The worst part is how the President and Congress are mistreating hundreds of thousands of federal workers on furlough or told to report to work as usual, but all without pay. It is even worse for federal contract workers. While regular federal employees will likely get their backpay when the shutdown finally ends, those who work under contract may not be that fortunate, losing their back pay for good.

It’s just another example of how our elected officials don’t live like most of us, working hard, paying our bills every month, just getting by paycheck by paycheck. If anybody ought to lose their pay and not get it back , it’s Congress and the President. But Mr. Trump said before the shutdown began he would be ‘proud to own” the shutdown if it got his wall built.

The new Congress that took office this week is perhaps the most diverse ever in terms of age and gender. In the Tennessee delegation that means Marsha Blackburn becoming the first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate representing Tennessee.

Given the hard- fought nature of her victory in November, it is interesting to note that she was sworn into office by new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. It was the political fallout from his confirmation process that played a significant role in Blackburn’s victory.

Blackburn will also now serve as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. That’s the panel that approved Kavanaugh as a critical part of the confirmation process. Being on the Judiciary panel, Blackburn will bring a female presence among the committee’s GOP members. During all the controversy last year over charges of sexual harassment and sexual assault surrounding Justice Kavanaugh, all the Republican committee members were male.
Given her strong, nearly unwavering support of President Trump, Blackburn will have a key vote as well on any future Supreme Court nominations offered by Mr. Trump.

All in all, the new Congress is definitely more diverse. But it is also divided government and for now that means a government shutdown of about 20%.

One of those seeking to reach across the aisle to find some common ground to resolve the shutdown is Senator Alexander. It’s again one of those efforts that will be missed (Senator Corker too) when neither them are in Congress. I am not sure if the op-ed Senator Alexander wrote this week (again in the WASHINGTON POST) is the total solution to the issues causing the shutdown, but I think it has the elements needed to start some potentially productive negotiations by all parties. And as the Senator this kind of working together has worked before (when both sides had some faith and trust in each other).

Senator Alexander amplified his comments on the first day of the new Senate with a floor speech. His role in his last two years in Washington may be to be one of those few remaining Senators want to reach out to members of the other party, and still know how to do it, to get things done.


It’s been the holidays.

Therefore, it’s been slow going for Governor-elect Bill Lee in announcing his new cabinet members. After making several key appointments to his top staff, and filling some cabinet posts late last year, (including perhaps the most important, the Finance & Administration Commissioner), Mr. Lee has lots of work still to do if he wants to fulfill his goal of having all his full cabinet on board by his swearing-day on Saturday, January 19.
Over the holidays only two spots were filled. Gov.-elect Bill Lee has named former Rep. Courtney Rogers (R-Hendersonville) as commissioner of veterans services and Army Maj. Gen. Jeff Holmes as the head of military affairs.
But then the appointment drought ended on Thursday with 6 commissioners named including three more who presently serve in out-going administration of Governor Bill Haslam.

Meanwhile the incoming Governor continues to be under steady attack from the conservative wing of his party, using the on-line media vehicle of THE TENNESSEE STAR and political analyst Steve Gill.

The STAR has earlier run stories complaining that Mr. Lee is filling his Administration with Democrats and RHINOs (Republicans in name only). Now it claims the Governor-elect is walking away from many of the campaign pledges he made just last year.

It remains unclear what impact these criticisms will have in overall state politics. But the chirping is at least unusual during a gubernatorial transition period between two Republican governors, something which has never happened before in Tennessee history.


The 111th Tennessee General Assembly meets for the first- time next week. We’ve been talking to the leadership of the new Legislature in recent INSIDE POLITICS shows. This week that includes Senate Democratic Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro.

We’ll get his thoughts on what lies ahead on the Hill this winter and spring. And we will ask him about continued reports that he might be a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2020 or run for Nashville Mayor later this year.

Tune in!

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First it was the controversial (later rescinded offer) to have Kid Rock serve as Grand Marshal of Nashville’s Christmas Parade.

Now it’s the overhead street sign Kid wants to place outside the new honkytonk steakhouse he wants to open on Lower Broad. Signs like this require Metro Council approval and some members (including the councilmember who represents downtown) did not feel it was appropriate even in Nashville’s entertainment district. The sign looks like this.

Despite the outcry by some in the Council, the resolution to approve the sign was approved by a wide majority Thursday night.

There’s another piece of gossip surrounding Kid Rock circulating around town. Some of his supporters on Broadway, who were also major sponsors of the Christmas Parade said they would seek political revenge on Mayor David Briley who they blame for Kid Rock for being bounced as the Christmas Parade Grand Marshal.

Who are they talking to about running against Mayor Briley? How about none other than former Mayor Karl Dean. Dean recently lost a statewide race for governor but received huge margins of support here in Nashville/ Davidson County.

There is no word about whether former Mayor Dean has any interest in or is even listening to these entreaties for him to run again. Dean and Briley did run against each other for mayor before back in 2007, when Briley was knocked out the August election and Dean defeated former Congressman Bob Clement in the September runoff.

Stay tuned.


The passing this week of Herb Kelleher who made Southwest Airlines (as the NEW YORK TIMES reported) “into one of the nation’s most successful and admired companies,” brought back a flood of memories for me.
I met Mr. Kelleher when he came to see my boss, Mayor Richard Fulton, back in the mid-1980s. That’s when he wanted to bring Southwest to Nashville. Nobody knew quite to think of Mr. Kelleher. His eccentric and somewhat flamboyant personality gave people even more pause that building a national airline based on low fares and great customer service, could work.

Frankly at the time, Nashville was all excited about American Airlines bringing a major hub with hundreds of new flights to the city. Government officials were so elated they accelerated the construction of a new airport terminal and took on the politically risky task of building an additional runway. That proposed runway construction angered neighbors surrounding the Airport, complaining about increased noise from planes taking off and landing.

But things never quite worked out with American. First, it took several of the planned new flights and put them in Raleigh Durham, NC., where it set up basically a competing air hub. Just a few months later, more American flights were pulled from Nashville and put in Miami, FL to pick up business there after Eastern Airlines folded. Finally, American pulled the plug on Nashville’s first direct flight to London, even though the flight flew almost full. American said it just didn’t attract the amount of full-fare business passengers it projected.

During this same period, Southwest was steadily adding flights and market share at the Nashville Airport, becoming what it remains today, the dominant air carrier for this market. Herb Kelleher wasn’t just a great sales and businessman. He delivered on his promises. He therefore holds perhaps a little recognized but very critical place in Nashville’s business development history and our rise to continue to be the “IT City.”