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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 5, 2015

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Posted at 3:00 PM, Jun 05, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-09 02:32:05-04

CAPITOL VIEW

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

June 5, 2015

THE FOXIEST MOVE SO FAR; ANOTHER ENDORSEMENT SOME ATTACKS AND A CURIOUS CANDIDATE FORUM; LINDA ESKIND REBROVICK ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE THIRD TIME; HOLDING VOTERS HOSTAGE; STILL UNCLEAR; FLUNKS AGAIN; WAIT UNTIL 2017

THE FOXIEST MOVE SO FAR

Political observers have been waiting for it for months. What would mayoral candidate David Fox do with the million dollars plus he’s had in his campaign bank account? This week, we got the answer. It’s something his campaign officials say they have planned to do all along.

While several of his opponents went on the air with TV ads as early as March introducing themselves to voters, Fox thinks it’s wiser to wait until now (June) just two months before the August 6 election. So this week he began to air the first thirty second spot of what appears to be a $1 million plus TV ad blitz over the next several weeks.

You can watch Fox’s debut ad here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O31gBYjnJ88&feature=player_embedded

The ad in some ways is not as flashy as the others from rival campaigns; no jingles, no fly over drone shots, no showing quick snippets of other candidates’ ads; no cute family endorsements or walking in the rain or TV sets being taken to the curb as trash. The Fox ad is pretty simple: a candidate voice over of Fox addressing his supporters at a rally (his campaign kickoff event held a few months back).

Backed by dramatic music, the candidate delivers the key message of the Fox campaign: that he is the mayor that can keep Nashville growing while maintaining what is special about our community (“The Nashville Way” he’s calls it), although that phrase is missing from the ad. The warning in the spot is that Nashville faces a “seize the moment” or perhaps lose it (The Nashville Way) forever decision with this mayoral election.

Pretty compelling stuff, but the message is delivered in a way that is pure David Fox. He’s an earnest, smart and successful wealthy businessman (hedge funds). But he is not a great orator. He’s a self-described wonk who won’t get people excited. But then neither was Phil Bredesen, or in some ways, Karl Dean when they ran and got elected mayor. Will it sell this time for Fox?

It’s a big question and perhaps a gamble for the Fox campaign which is betting over a million dollars (of Fox’s money) will succeed. The Fox campaign is also reportedly trademarking “The Nashville Way” phrase (PITH IN THE WIND, June 5)/ To me, that makes its absence in the first Fox TV ad seem even stranger. Maybe it’s yet to come in the next TV spots?

Cosmetically concerning the first ad itself, the quick edits between the candidate and the crowd seem a little too rushed and might be distracting to viewers in hearing the message, especially with all the key phrases flashing across the screen, a device other rival campaigns have used as well.

The message of the ad itself may present some challenges. Nashville has always prided itself (at least in its own self-image) as being a forward-looking community. A mayoral quest to save “The Nashville Way,” if not properly positioned, could be seen as looking backward. And while we have never wanted to be “another Atlanta,” I think Nashville likes its current image as a welcoming, diverse, increasingly nationally prominent community. It will be an interesting balance for the Fox campaign to achieve and maintain.

By the way, Fox’s decision to begin his TV ads mean every mayoral candidate has been on the air except Howard Gentry (although as best I can tell Jeremy Kane has not been running TV ads lately). Gentry appears to have raised the least amount of campaign funds (based on his first and only disclosure) and he was the last to enter the race earlier this year. Gentry has also downplayed the need for TV spots and so far has only done targeted radio in his mass media outreach. He did do TV eight years ago when he ran for mayor and I would guess he will be on the tube soon at least before early voting starts in mid-July.

ANOTHER ENDORSEMENT, SOME ATTACKS & A CURIOUS CANDIDATE FORUM

Elsewhere this past week on the mayoral campaign trail, Bill Freeman got another major city labor endorsement. The Metro teachers’ union, the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (MNEA) is behind the businessman who has constantly told audiences at the city’s numerous mayoral candidate forums that as mayor he will be the schools’ biggest cheerleader and that ongoing criticism the local system is struggling is overblown.

Said MNEA President Stephen Henry: “Bill Freeman will be a champion for our public schools. He knows the challenges we face and appreciates the successes we’ve had.”

Certainly the Freeman campaign is thrilled with the teachers’ support. On the very day the endorsement was announced, he hit the air waves with another new TV spot touting his support for universal Pre-K for Metro students as well as offering “incentives to keep and attract world-class teachers, innovate with community schools and better after school programs.” Freeman then adds he wants these improvements “for all our schools in all our neighborhoods.”

You can watch the latest Freeman ad here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAr_byDZksA

The Freeman campaign also released this longer web video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4tJr--bAFE

One note about the new TV ad. The candidate is obviously reading a teleprompter or cue cards in delivering his comments on camera. Nothing unusual about that. But for some reason he is looking so intently at what he’s supposed to say, he doesn’t seem to be always relating to crowd around him, He is furrowing his eyebrows a bit too in delivering his lines, giving his facial features a bit of a negative look. Or maybe it’s just my imagination.

The MNEA endorsement is Freeman’s third in the past two weeks from a city labor group (Services Workers and Firefighters are for him too). A fourth city labor group, the Fraternal Order of Police is

expected to announce its favorite as early as next week. Sources tell me there is a high likelihood, the officers will endorse Freeman as well.

If that happens it would be a clean sweep for Freeman from Metro’s labor unions (the non-government union groups have not yet made any mayoral picks I’ve seen, but they are likely to endorse as well pretty soon). Getting all four Metro unions in his corner would be stronger support for Freeman than Bob Clement had eight years ago when he lost in the mayoral runoff. The former congressman had backing from the Firefighters, Service Workers and the FOP but lost the MNEA to David Briley (who is now running for vice mayor).

Being so strongly backed by labor could have its downside too, although I suspect any attacks about “what is the cost to taxpayers” for all this union backing, won’t come up until the two-candidate runoff campaign in August and September, assuming Freeman is in it.

There were several verbal attacks launched on Freeman this week by his opponents. One came from the Megan Barry campaign in an e-mail appeal to supporters for funding. Katy Varney wrote: “When it comes to our schools, Megan knows we don’t just need a cheerleader, we need quarterback who can lead us down the field.” The candidate herself delivered a similar message during the latest live TV debate (FOX 17) held at Trevecca University.

At that same event, Freeman also came in for criticism from several of his opponents for planning to give incentives to private developers to help build up to 30,000 new affordable housing units when he is mayor. They think the government needs to play a role too and are not keen about offering help to out of town developers to come to Nashville.

It is interesting to note all the criticisms are being lodged against the same candidate. Does that indicate Bill Freeman is becoming the front-runner in the mayoral race? Well, candidates don’t usually criticize their opponent unless they think that person is moving in the polls or is ahead of them. So draw your own conclusions. Freeman also continued to dominate the paid media, including during the TV debate. His campaign ran multiple spots in the commercial breaks before, after and even during the live event.

The mayoral forum circuit also continued this week. I had the honor to moderate and ask questions of the candidates at the Downtown Rotary Club this past Monday. As it was during the first forum I did last fall for the Business Coalition), all of them did a good job. Listening to their responses, it occurred to me (as I bet it has to other voters) that I wish we could take parts of each candidate and perhaps create the perfect mayoral candidate.

But maybe that might create a Frankenstein candidate instead. Nobody’s perfect, so we’ll just have to assess all seven of them and make a choice for August. And then likely have to make another choice in September between the top two finalists who make the runoff.

One curious note about another upcoming mayoral candidate gathering popped into my e-mail box this week. Latinos for Tennessee and the Tennessee Republican Minority Coalition are holding a “mayoral candidate debate” at the City Club of Nashville downtown on Wednesday evening June 17.

But based on the photographs and the names listed on the e-mail only two candidates will be there (don’t know which ones were invited). The two attending appear to be David Fox and Howard Gentry. The moderator’s name caught my eye as well. It’s Dr. Ming Wang. Fascinating.

LINDA ESKIND REBROVICK ON INSIDE POLITICS

This week on INSIDE POLITICS we begin the first in a series of full-show conversations with each of Nashville’s seven 2015 mayoral candidates. Linda Eskind Rebrovick is our first guest.

My goal is to get all these interviews conducted and aired before early voting begins in mid- July. My plan is to ask questions to all of them about the major issues of the campaign (education, transit, affordable housing, for example) while also talking with them about their backgrounds and experiences, as well as the pertinent issues and developments in the news that are a part of the overall mayoral campaign.

For those who can’t see the show locally or watch with live streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com., all of the mayoral candidate interviews will be posted in full on the NEWSCHANNEL PLUS portion of the station’s website the week after they air on the PLUS (under the INSIDE POLITICS tab).

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include 7:00 p.m. Friday; 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday; and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 (note new channel) and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

Next week on INSIDE POLITICS our mayoral candidate guest will be Howard Gentry.

THE THIRD TIME

We told you last week that a major storm was brewing at the Metro Courthouse over Mayor Karl Dean’s late-term efforts to fund a $100 million floodwall for downtown and move the main jail and police headquarters out of downtown to Antioch and to Jefferson Street in North Nashville respectively.

As we also thought would happen, the gathering political storm over these three projects hit with great impact Tuesday night (June 2) when the Metro Council held its annual public hearing on the city’s Capital Improvements Budget. Hundreds of opponents filled the Council Chambers and the whole second floor of the Courthouse. They took close to three hours urging councilmembers that the projects be stopped, primarily because the Dean administration had not done a good job building public understanding and support for these projects before moving ahead.

If this sounds familiar, well maybe it is. The Dean Team has enjoyed a lot of success over the last eight years. The Mayor will leave office as one of the most highly regarded and popular chief executives in Metro’s 50-plus year history. His leadership during the 2010 Flood and the ensuing community recovery is legendary. But every time the Dean administration has stumbled (the Fairgrounds redevelopment and the AMP mass transit project come to mind) a failure to build community understanding and support has been the Achilles heel of the efforts.

Now with amendments pending next Tuesday night (June 9). both in committee and before the full Council, to delete the projects from the planning document (therefore prohibiting any work by Metro on the proposals), the Mayor looks poised to suffer a final political black eye just before he exits office. Remember it only takes a simple majority, not 21 votes to amend the projects out.

Now the flood wall may still survive. Supporters for that effort did show up at the Council meeting, while those in favor of the police and jail moves seemed largely AWOL for reasons I am not sure anyone understands. That includes Sheriff Daron Hall, thought to be a political powerhouse who would be a strong mayoral candidate in his own right had he decided to run. Now he may share that political black eye with the Mayor if the jail project dies.

Mayoral candidates have sensed the danger coming. They have raised concerns about lack of communication when asked about the proposals (which I did at the Downtown Rotary session this week). After the Council public hearing, candidate Megan Barry, a very strong supporter of Mayor Dean and the only candidate with a vote in the matter (as an At-Large Council member), issued a statement saying she was signing onto the amendment to kill the jail move and she is considering doing the same on the police HQ move.

Barry is standing in favor of the flood wall, but other key council members seem to be defecting. Erica Gilmore, the district council member who would have the new police HQ in her district has changed her mind and says she will vote to kill it for now and let the new Mayor and next Council review it further.

Now some Councilmembers are still speaking out in favor of the new Jefferson Street police HQ. At Large Councilman Jerry Maynard, who is also a top advisor to mayoral candidate Bill Freeman, says the move would further revitalize North Nashville. But so far candidate Freeman has not joined his campaign aide in making such statements of support.

Opponents of the Police HQ move have even filed civil rights complaints with the state and the federal Justice Department as a part of their opposition. That seem a bit far-fetched to me as are complaints about putting a jail in Antioch. There’s already a jail and other correctional facilities in that immediate area and have been for many years without damage to the community.

And there remains this issue. No one disputes the current jail and police HQ (located in the early 1980s-era Metro Criminal Justice Center downtown) are well beyond a useful life and beyond cost-effective renovations. There are even major life-safety issues with continuing to use the jail.

So if Metro stops these relocation projects, what happens in the interim and where do such needed facilities go? It is somewhat hard to believe that a new Mayor and Council are going to want to wade back into this controversy so quickly in their new terms no matter what the site.

As for the Mayor, sometimes haste make waste. Then there’s that famous line from the movie COOL HAND LUKE (which also dealt with correctional and other law enforcement matters): “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

HOLDING VOTERS HOSTAGE

There’s been such a raging controversy about these capital planning projects, not much attention has been paid to the annual Operating Budget also tracking through the Metro Council.

But that’s changed in the last few days because of a money and turf dispute between the Election Commission, the Dean administration and some councilmembers that could greatly impact the ability of Nashville’s voters to cast an early ballot in the upcoming Metro election.

With a 3-2 vote divided along party lines (the members are appointed as Republicans and Democrats), the Election Commission says unless it get more money in next year’s budget (over $800,000) the number of early voting locations will be cut to one (Howard School where the Commission is located) rather than the eleven sites planned across the county.

With early voting now consisting of up to 50% of the overall ballots cast in recent elections such a draconian move sent waves of anger through the Courthouse and charges of voter suppression.

The way the Election Commission explains it, they need the extra money for new full and part time employees. When Mayor Dean and the Finance Department said no to the money to cover the positions, the three Republican members of the Commission say they have no choice but to slash the early voting locations. Earlier this month at their budget hearing with Metro Council, there were even threats of lawsuits by the Commission if the extra money wasn’t approved.

Baloney says the Dean team and some Council leaders. They point out the Election Commission has plenty of money for early voting and is even set to receive about a million dollars overall in additional funds in the pending budget compared to what it has this year. No Metro agency gets everything it requests. But this is not a budget cut as the Commission claims, but rather a preemptive political temper tantrum by the Commission to get its way and get more money.

To me, it’s just an old fashioned budget battle between the politicians and the bureaucrats. The Election Commission should be ashamed to hold voters hostage over the struggle. It reminds me of many years ago when Mayor Fulton used to tell then Metro Health Director Dr. Joseph Bistowish that his budget request needed to be trimmed.

Without fail the good Doctor would claim the reduction would mean the end of the city’s rat control program and babies would no longer be safe in their cribs.

The Election Commission has had more than its share of screw-ups in recent years including several since it has been under Republican control. The members are appointed by the state but really serve at the pleasure of the county’s top Republican, House Speaker Beth Harwell. She is only the only GOP member of our Nashville state legislative delegation.

Hopefully she is watching this matter carefully to be sure this budget fight gets resolved quickly and without voters losing the convenience and availability of multiple early voting sites. Democracy demands it.

STILL UNCLEAR

The ongoing search for a new Metro Schools Director remains in uncertain waters, although it now appears (at least according to a TENNESSEAN article, June 3) there will need to be an interim director appointed by the School Board for an uncertain tenure while the search continues

That became necessary when the Board, facing its own June 22 deadline to hire a new Director before current director Dr. Jesse Register retires, decided to push the process back at least a month into July.

The board hasn’t even released a list of finalists for the job which is coming from the outside consultants retained by Metro to assist with the search. Also murky is the strength of the candidate list likely to emerge as finalists. A consultant told a local news outlet he thought the list might be one of the

“strongest” ever. But then that same consultant told another reporter the finalist list might not contain the “heavy hitters” desired, folks with previous leadership experience in large urban school systems.

Some of that confusion about the list may be a reluctance by some potential candidates to apply until the last second because their application would automatically become a public record, creating possible issues where they currently work.

Meanwhile we do know two of the seemingly strong local candidates for the director’s job (Jay Steele and Alan Coverstone) apparently will not make the short list of (up to 8) finalists. So will they be asked to be interim director? Will their supporters on the Board and in the community ask the consultants to reconsider and add them to the finalist list? THE TENNESSEAN (June 5) reports Nashville Chamber officials are expressing surprise Steele did not make the finalists list.

Finally, can the School Board make its new deadline of having a new Director selected by sometime in late July? It’s a pretty tight schedule they’ve laid out, including finalist interviews, public input sessions, even a field trip to the chosen candidate’s current school district for a look-see. And all this starts right after the 4th of July and continues for the next two weeks following.

Hmm, I have my doubts that schedule will hold.

FLUNKS AGAIN

When it comes to communicating end of the school year test scores, the Tennessee Department of Education flunks again…for the second consecutive year.

The Department is making now statewide apologies for its failure to communicate how it calculated those scores. At issue are so-called “quick scores” which educators in grades 3-8 in the state are legally required to incorporate into a student’s final grade.

In past years a score of 85 meant a student was proficient. But now the State DOE has decided not to do that. So a score of 85 score doesn’t necessarily mean anymore that a student is proficient. Confused? Well so are educators across Tennessee…and upset too…because state officials now admit they didn’t explain or communicate what they were doing very well. Hence what is now a statewide apology tour by our state’s education bureaucrats.

Actually they ought to be getting rather experienced in handling screw ups. Last year the scores weren’t ready on time to be included in final student grades. After first telling local education leaders statewide to never mind, don’t worry about using the scores for final grades (despite state law), suddenly the needed scores surfaced and were sent out.

After this year’s fiasco, it looks like new Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has a bigger job on her hands in turning around public confidence in her agency than anyone dreamed.

WAIT UNTIL 2017

I am not sure how much news there is in it, but Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey made statewide headlines in recent days when he said during an interview (THE NASHVILLE LEDGER, May 29) that as far as he (and I suspect) most of the rest of Republican Super Majority in the Legislature are concerned, there won’t be any kind of INSURE TENNESSEE program or expansion of Medicaid in our state until President Barack Obama leaves office in 2017.

So I guess it is all about presidential politics. Ramsey says he hopes a Republican moves into the White House to replace Obama. That clearly makes him more comfortable with moving ahead to provide healthcare to hundreds of thousands of needy and working poor Tennesseans who won’t get any health care coverage otherwise until then (and even then many months from now).

Said Ramsey in the interview: “I really don’t think we’re going to come up with anything until we get a Republican president that will allow us to have a block grant to where we can not only address people from 100 to 135 per cent of poverty level, but for everyone on Tenncare.”

Give the Lt. Governor credit. He’s been saying for months that he just doesn’t trust the Obama White House to keep its word on INSURE TENNESSEE. He started saying that during the special session back in February when Republican Governor Bill Haslam’s health plan failed for the first time thanks to a vote in a special State Senate committee appointed by Ramsey. It failed again during the regular legislative session in another committee appointed by Ramsey.

Of course it’s also true that Tennesseans will continue to pay their federal taxes to provide health care insurance to people all over the nation whose states trust the White House to keep its word. But according to Ramsey there will be no coverage for hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans until and unless the GOP wins the White House back.

How much has Tennessee lost? Well a study released by the White House this week says we would have seen $1.77 billion more in federal spending and a $190 million reduction in uncompensated care costs for local hospitals if INSURE TENNESSEE had been approved. The program would have also paid for 483,000 physician visits for the folks covered by the plan. And the study says it would have saved 220 lives. Sorry, I can’t put a cost on that last figure.

But still opponents such as Justin Owen of the Beacon Center of Tennessee claim expanding Medicaid would be harmful to taxpayers and would exacerbate doctor shortages and stymie access to care. Owen told USA TODAY (June 4): “We see Medicaid expansion as one of the worst aspects of Obamacare.”

So for good or bad, Tennessee’s Republican legislative leaders have made it clear. Until there is no Obama in the White House there will be no health care for hundreds of thousands of Tennessee citizens.

48th IN SAFETY

When Tennessee and Nashville do well in national rankings, we are happy to report that. When we don’t? Well, we put that in the column too.

A survey conducted by the WalletHub website finds the Volunteer State number #48 in terms of safety in ranking all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. The survey uses 20 different categories to assess its placements. Those include crime rates, traffic accidents, natural disasters and even employer insurance coverage.

In THE TENNESSEAN article about this I found on line (June 2), I didn’t see any category listed where Tennessee did well. We don’t do real bad in our bullying (24th) or fatal occupational injuries per 100,000 employees (29th). We did even worse on our population’s share with no health insurance (34th), as well as number of murders and non-negligent homicides per 100,00 residents (35th) and estimated property loss from natural disasters (39th)

Then we headed to the bottom on unemployment rate (39th), number of traffic fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (41st), sex offenders per 100,00- residents (43rd), and Tennessee’s worst performance, 49th in the number of assaults per 100,000 residents. Mississippi was the worst, once again holding us up from being absolutely last in the nation in this category.

Yikes!

All I can say is, stay safe.