Capitol View Commentary: Friday, April 20, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - CAPITOL VIEW

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

April 20, 2018

THE TRANSIT FIGHT ROLLS ON

Early voting is now almost over for the May 1 Democratic primary and transit referendum set for May 1.

So far, the early vote (for a May election) is pretty good. With 6 days to go, it’s at around 27,000 plus. Of course, the controversial transit vote is pushing the vote total up. Projecting out to Election Day, it looks like the total turnout might reach 90,000 or more. That’s right between the vote on our two most recent referendums, the NFL Stadium in May, 1996 (125,000) and the English-Only Charter amendment vote in January 2009 (75,000).

Despite all the street talk that the transit plan will fail, the pro-transit sources I talk to are optimistic they can win.

Meanwhile the main pro-transit support group, Transit for Nashville has launched another TV attack ad particularly focusing on the “dark money” (undisclosed donors) in the race. Those dark funds make up over 75 percent of the monies given to the major anti-transit group, No Tax 4 Tracks.

THE NASHVILLE SCENE has an article with a clear viewpoint on the matter. 

Transit for Nashville has sent out two new direct mail pieces this week alone. They mark the sixth and seventh such campaign pieces ones I have received in the past 4 weeks or so. One has a senior citizen on the front with quote saying: “I’m 76 and I don’t appreciate being lied to.” On the back of the oversized postcard, the piece says anti-transit folks are “lying, scaring seniors.” It asks: “What will opponents of transit do next?”

The mailer then repeats earlier attacks that transit opponents are using “Trump-style lies” with the dark money against transit coming from “far right-wing donors and out of state special interests” such as “the oil billionaire Koch Brothers.” The piece ends saying delaying the transit plan will cost Nashville billions in the future.

The No Tracks 4 Tracks folks said this in one of their recent daily blast e-mail updates.

“We were told today the pro-transit campaign team is scared and reactive and have poll numbers that show they are in a big, fat hole.

It’s probably why they have gone 100 percent negative against us in their TV and direct mail, especially their mail. Whew boy, their anger is palpable.”

“Going negative can work, if you’ve laid a solid foundation for why people should vote yes. And they didn’t do that. They thought they could get away with no specifics and when we called out the facts of the plan, they went into a tailspin.

So, they went negative. And, it’s blowing back on them. It’s why you don’t see us over reacting and sticking to our message.”

The second new direct mail piece I got from Transit for Nashville this week is almost completely positive. Named the Nashville Transit Voter guide is an oversized 4-sided piece touting how the transit plan will reduce congestion and help taxpayers. The piece says it is “brought to you by” the AARP, the Urban League of Middle Tennessee and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Finally, at the end of the week comes this story in THE TENNESSEAN. It reflects how divided even the Metro Council is on the transit plan in terms of their own votes at the ballot box.

This week saw several noteworthy endorsements in the referendum battle. The anti-transit plan forces continue to pick up neighborhood group support or organizations that cannot support the present transit proposal.

On the pro-transit plan side, former Nashville Democratic Congressman Bob Clement and former Tennessee Republican U.S. Senator and Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist both urged support for the transit plan. In a TENNESSEAN op-ed Frist put his support in the context of a healthier community:

“Passing the Transit Improvement Plan on May 1 will not only keep the economic engine of our city strong, it will keep our city’s arteries healthy and clear for many years to come.”

THE TENNESSEAN itself has endorsed the transit plan, and in a rare move, THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL editorial staff is urging voter approval of the plan as well.

Former NASHVILLE SCENE editor Bruce Dobie has brought back his POWER POLL (as he did in the 2015 mayoral race). This time he is surveying local community movers and shakers about whether they plan to vote for or against the transit plan and which side they think will prevail May 1.

Since my firm is a sponsor of this poll, I will give you the link to read the findings and Bruce’s analysis, but refrain from any comments on my own.

And so, somewhat like a race going into its final sprint, it’s down the stretch we come.

MEANWHILE IN THE SPECIAL MAYOR’S RACE

The first poll is out in the May 24 mayoral election.

It comes from the arch-conservative TENNESSEE STAR.

It would not surprise me that Mayor David Briley is right now a little below the 50 percent majority needed to win outright on May 24. But the two most conservative candidates (Carol Swain and Ralph Bristol) pulling 16% of the vote combined? I strongly doubt that given their likely very low name recognition numbers compared to the two African American elected officials in the race, Metro Council Member at Large Erica Gilmore (5 percent) and State Representative Harold Love, Jr. (3 percent).

Swain did receive a boost this week with car dealer and major No Tax 4 Tracks backer Lee Beaman endorsing her and helping her raise money. Swain says she has already raised $40,000.

In the STAR poll, 32 percent claim they are undecided, meaning Mayor Briley could well win outright anyway if the undecideds break the same way as the rest of the voters seem to be. Yes, the transit issue could be an X factor in the race. But based on this poll, it’s not likely to be big enough to prevent Briley from being a strong favorite to win without a runoff.

One other reason I feel that way is a first of its kind citywide survey released this week from Mayor Briley’s office. The poll was commissioned by his predecessor Mayor Barry and conducted during the month of February (a dark period for her and certainly for Metro Government with all the investigations, questions being asked, and rumors flying).

Yet the survey results find a largely very happy city with respondents satisfied overall with the services it receives from the city and with Nashville itself.

Says Mayor Briley’s press release in part:

“This survey demonstrates a commitment to accountability, but, more importantly, it tells us that Nashvillians believe we are moving in the right direction. While there’s always work to be done, this invaluable feedback from the public will guide the work of this Administration as we continue to create a city that moves us forward,” said Mayor David Briley.”

“A significant majority of residents reported very positive feelings about Nashville as a place to live (80 percent), place to work (77 percent), place to raise children (68 percent) and its quality of life (66 percent). Meanwhile, some 59 percent of Nashvillians report satisfaction with the overall quality of Metro services, with professionalism landing at 52 percent and customer service at 51 percent.”

Of course, there are areas where Metro does not do as well and I suspect they will come up in the Town Hall meetings the Mayor began late this week. What are those areas of concern? According to the Mayor’s news release they are:

“The key issues most cited by residents are: maintenance of city streets, sidewalks and infrastructure, public transportation, public education, social services and police.

Government services receiving the most positive feedback, when compared to peer cities, include parks, libraries, fire and emergency services, police and water. The public also reports majority satisfaction with maintenance of street signs and traffic signals, physical appearance of neighborhoods, and solid waste services.

Areas in which residents see more room for improvement include maintenance of city streets—with more than 50% dissatisfied—public transportation, condition of sidewalks, and public education. Also noteworthy, the survey found nearly one out of four Nashvillians reported using MTA bus service in the last year.

Seventy-two percent reported dissatisfaction with the availability of affordable housing for low- and moderate-income families, while 49 percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied with their own family’s circumstances. Other notable areas needing improvement, according to respondents, include availability of sidewalks and on-street parking.”

Click on this link if you want to read the survey and the news release in full. 

By the way, one of Nashville’s difficult issues got some national coverage recently in THE WASHINGTON POST, as related by THE NASHVILLE SCENE.

In what already has been characterized as a very tight upcoming budget year for Metro, it looks the largest part of that spending plan, Metro Schools, could be one of the toughest to deal with based on education officials’ first budget hearing with Mayor Briley this week.

One other item this week involving Mayor Briley that should be noted as his special mayoral election is now less than five weeks away. On Friday morning the Mayor held a news conference to “announce two initiatives that will provide increased opportunities for minority business success and growth and ensure inclusion and career mobility for minorities across all levels of the Metro workforce.”

Continues the news release from his office: “These announcements will underscore Mayor Briley’s commitment to ensuring that all Nashvillians benefit from the city’s growing prosperity and that Metro leads by example.”

INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT A VERY TURBULENT TIME IN METRO

My guests this week on INSIDE POLITICS are TENNESSEAN reporter Joey Garrison and NASHVILLE SCENE reporter Steven Hale. To say the least, since the end of January, it has been a tumultuous time in Metro Nashville government and politics. First, there was the scandal and resignation involving now former Mayor Megan Barry. Then there was a weeks-long court battle before the State Supreme Court ruled the special election to select someone to serve out Mayor Barry’s term will be May 24. That race has attracted 12 candidates seeking to replace current Mayor David Briley. We are, and will be doing a lot of voting in the weeks to come, including the controversial Metro transit referendum to be decided May 1st If anyone can put all this tumult into perspective, its these two excellent journalists. Watch us!

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:

7:00 p.m. Friday;

5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday;

1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday.

THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

One option for those who can’t see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com. Just use your TiVo or DVR, if those live times don't work for you.

This week’s show and previous INSIDE POLITICS interviews are also posted on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website for your viewing under the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS section. A link to the show is posted as well on the Facebook page of NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Each new show and link are posted the week after the program airs.

THE LATEST GUBERNATORAL ADS

New TV ads are on the air this week from the two leading Republican primary candidates for governor (at least according to the polls). They are Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd and Congressman Diane Black.

Both candidates seem to be trying out tag lines or slogans we may be hearing a lot between now and the August 2 election.

The Boyd ad touts his small business background. Listen for the last line by the announcer closing the spot.

Contrast Boyd’s “I am not a career politician” line with Diane Black’s latest ad. It also has an announcer close at the end: It says: “She fights for what’s right.” It’s a tag line/slogan she has used in some of her earlier ads. By the way, Black told a West Tennessee debate that she is “not a career politician.” 

I have seen some negative on-line reaction (likely from Democrats and Independents) to this latest Black commercial involving illegal immigration, sanctuary cities and The Wall. Remember this ad like the other TV spots she’s done are aimed, not at voters at large, but Republican primary voters, particularly Trump and Tea Party supporters. What Black is talking about are among their favorite issues. So that’s why in every ad so far, she is touting her support of the Trump agenda and his issues. Don’t expect that to change.

SENATE DISCLOSURES

Both major Tennessee U.S. Senate candidates, Republican Congressman Marsha Blackburn and Democratic candidate and former governor Phil Bredesen, released their campaign finances for the first quarter of 2018.

The Chattanooga TIMES FREE PRESS says its advantage Blackburn.

The Bredesen campaign put out its own news release and spin on his numbers.

It reads in part:

Bredesen for Senate has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission reporting the campaign collected more than $3.2 million during the period beginning January 1 and ending March 31.

Total contributions exceeded $1.8 million during the first quarter. Additionally, candidate Phil Bredesen personally loaned or guaranteed loans to the campaign totaling $1.4 million in order to jumpstart TV and digital advertising in early March.

Not including loans, the Bredesen campaign on average raised more than $20,000 per day during the first quarter — on par with daily averages reported by other U.S. Senate campaigns.

“After launching in early December with no fundraising apparatus in place, the campaign is now fully operational at every level,” said April Orange, Finance Director for Bredesen for Senate. “We will continue accelerating fundraising efforts to amass the resources required to win in November.”

To date, Bredesen for Senate has collected a total of more than $3.7 million

If all those numbers leave you a little overwhelmed and maybe confused, remember this is important because this is likely to be to be the most expensive political race in Tennessee history.

While the candidates were releasing their financing, THE NEW YORK TIMES on Wednesday posted its take on the Senate campaign. It’s an interesting read, including some things you have read before in my comments about the race in this column.

It’s not unexpected but Blackburn got a big boost late in the week when President Donald Trump tweeted his support for her and announced that he plans to come to Tennessee to campaign for the GOP candidate. That puts our Senate race on a higher level of attention nationally and further underlines the GOP’s concern about holding the seat and that they will go all out to keep it (and the U.S. Senate)

MORE INTERESTING EXIT LINES AS CORKER PREPARES TO DEPART

Tennessee Senator Bob Corker is not seeking re-election. That’s not new news.

But as he appears to be headed off stage politically, the junior Senator from Tennessee continues to make some very interesting, even puzzling exit comments.

Last week it was his “endorsement” of GOP Senate candidate Congressman Marsha Blackburn. Corker says he supports her and has given her a campaign contribution. But then he said he won’t campaign for her publicly, and especially won’t campaign against his good friend, Democratic Senate candidate and former Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen. He even keeps telling the national media what a great Nashville mayor and governor he was.

In another odd statement, Corker has now expressed regret that he cast a critical vote in favor of President Donald Trump’s and the GOP’s massive tax-cut bill late last year. He added it is likely the worst vote he’s ever cast given the impact the law will have on the country’s exploding deficit and national debt. Well, he was warned about the impact of the tax plan but at the time he said thought it was a good bill.

Now, this week comes a WASHINGTON POST story where a reporter spent some time traveling with the Senator across the state. During that process, a question from the reporter about whether Corker would still vote for President Trump over Hillary Clinton touched off what appears to be a multi-day Hamlet-like soliloquy from Corker as he agonized over the wording of his response.

Read on, as reported by Tom Humphrey on his Humphrey on The Hill blog.

Late in the week (Thursday) things got even stranger in terms of Senator Corker’s comments regarding whether President Trump will run for re-election.

The week ended with GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell telling Corker to cool it with praising Bredesen. According to THE WASHINGTON POST via the NASHVILLE POST:

“McConnell and Corker, who has said he will support Blackburn, had a lengthy discussion on the Senate floor Wednesday about his remarks, according to three people with knowledge of the conversation. McConnell told Corker his comments were unhelpful — both in the Tennessee race and in the larger battle for the Senate majority, the individuals said.”

“McConnell also reminded Corker that Republicans were in the current situation only because Corker had decided to retire. Bredesen, a top Democratic recruit, entered the race after Corker bowed out. The conversation did not end on a confrontational note, the individuals said.”

Corker this week did join with all the Tennessee congressional delegation and other lawmakers from nearby states (Alabama & Georgia) signing a letter to President Trump that he back off his budget recommendation to sell the transmission lines of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Said the letter in part:

“TVA’s continued success and ability to provide low-cost power is vital to the TVA region’s families and businesses. Previous Administrations have proposed selling TVA and its assets and these proposals have all been soundly rejected by Congress,” the members wrote. “When President Obama proposed selling TVA in 2013, all it did was undermine TVA’s credit, raise interest rates on TVA’s debt, and threaten to increase electric bills for 9 million ratepayers… TVA has among the lowest power rates in the country which, along with its reliability, help bring numerous new businesses to the region.”

It is not expected that this latest effort to, in effect, “privatize” some of TVA’s operations has any better chance of congressional approval than past failed attempts. So is this letter part of routine efforts to show congressional opposition or an indication that perhaps there is more support for this idea than in the past?

THE END IS IN SIGHT

Lawmakers took another major step towards ending the 110th Tennessee General Assembly (sine die) this week. The House passed an operating budget for the next fiscal year, and the Senate has approved its spending plan too. They’ll need to work out some differences, but once that’s done it will time to go home, since approving a balanced budget is the only real duty the Legislature must perform each year.

Frankly the budget vote in the House shows why its time for lawmakers to go. All this session, GOP Super Majority Leaders have been looking for a way to punish the City of Memphis for removing two Confederate statues in a local park. They did it by selling the park land to a newly-formed local non-profit which then removed the statuary.

The problem for GOP lawmakers? Try as they might, they couldn’t find anything Memphis officials did that was against the law. To get back at them anyway, the House voted to take away a quarter of million dollars in funds that were earmarked to help Memphis celebrate its bicentennial next year. How petty.

And the small-mindedness is not going unnoticed on a national level.

The cut of the Memphis funds is now part of the final budget sent to Governor Haslam. Will Tennessee ever quit fighting the Civil War?

This week lawmakers and the public learned once again that TN Ready is still not ready, one more time. TN Ready is supposed to be the on-line testing system for students and an evaluation tool for assessing teachers. But over the last several years, it has never seemed to work right. This time it appeared the tests got hacked.

Lawmakers got hacked off with the latest developments. They offered a variety of not very positive suggestions on what to do going forward. That includes the State Education Commissioner resigning (she says no); going back to pencil and paper to give the test (which is expensive and didn’t work well one year either) or reducing the importance of the testing. More from HUMPHREY ON THE HILL… http://humphreyonthehill.tnjournal.net/more-tnready-testing-turmoil-in-classrooms-and-at-the-legislature/#more-7004

Later in the week, lawmakers grilled education officials for two hours. They apologized and said they are embarrassed, investigating the attack and will fix the TN Ready problems going forward (again).

Not waiting for fixes, lawmakers in both houses moved with unusual speed to agree on legislation to make sure that neither students or teachers will be hurt or penalized by whatever TN Ready test results emerge.

In other floor action this week, both the House and Senate approved the Governor’s opioid legislative package. While lawmakers again passed slightly different versions which will have to be reconciled, after extensive negotiations, the likely new law will, among other actions, place limits on opioid prescription to a 10- day supply, up from 5 days in the original bill. A second bill in the Governor’s package, creates incentives for incarcerated offenders to complete intensive substance use treatment programs and adds measures to better track criminal distribution of opioids. The plan also includes $30 million in funding, a start, but not nearly enough to address this terrible epidemic in our state.

The controversial bill to require “able-bodied” Tenncare recipients to work passed in the Senate after a two- week delay. What passed is identical to what was approved in the House, so the measure now goes to Governor Haslam for his expected signature. Opponents say the new law won’t impact that many people and will be much more expensive to implement than the supposed money it will save.

There are still lots of other bills hanging the fire on the Hill …and next week seems likely to be the very last one for sure. What’s known as “Hell Week” awaits.

DRINK UP

Tennessee liquor stores can be legally open for business beginning this Sunday for the first time in history. Governor Haslam has signed the bill passed by the General Assembly to allow that.

The measure takes effect immediately.

Usually new laws take effect at a later date such as July 1, the beginning of the state’s fiscal year. But this one is taking effect more quickly to give liquor retailers a brief advantage since it be a few months yet (January) before grocery and retail stores can start selling wine on Sundays for the first time ever. The expanding sale times also extend to being open on holidays, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

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