Capitol View Commentary: Fri., April 13, 2018

Posted at 5:33 PM, Apr 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-04-13 18:37:42-04

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

April 13, 2018

In the wake of a unanimous State Supreme Court decision on Tuesday, the special election to fill the
remaining year-plus of former Mayor Megan Barry’s term (until August 2019) will be conducted in late
May (Thursday, May 24). That’s less than 6 weeks from now. Mayor Barry resigned after pleading guilty
to felony theft charges revolving around a nearly two-year long extra marital affair she had with her
security chief.

The Court’s ruling overturned the decisions of the Metro Election Commission and the Davidson County
Chancery Court which had earlier held the special election should be conducted in conjunction with the
already scheduled August 2nd general election.

The latest ruling also reopened the qualifying period for candidates until Thursday of this week. 14
candidates had already qualified to run as of last Thursday which was the candidate deadline for the
August ballot. Was Bill Freeman tempted to reconsider and run in May? Apparently not, and nobody
else added themselves to the field either, although architect Roy Dale did withdraw, shrinking the
mayoral candidate pool to 13. The new withdrawal date is Thursday, April 19.

The original lawsuit was brought by mayoral candidate and former Councilman and current local NAACP
president Ludye Wallace. His attorneys argued (and the Supreme Court agreed) that the Metro Charter
requires a special election be held to fill the mayoral term if more than a year is left in the term. That
election must occur no longer than 75 to 80 days after the vacancy occurs. That the attorney maintained
placed the balloting either on the scheduled May 1 election (along with the transit referendum), or later
in May.

Actually, when you think about it, the state High Court all but telegraphed its ruling. If the court had
preferred August 2, it would have never taken the case on appeal and allowed the lower court ruling for
an August vote to stand. It was also clear the May 1 date was physically impossible (early voting for May
1 began Wednesday). So that meant a late May date was the only one for the Court to choose.


The result of the Tennessee Supreme Court decision means a significantly shortened campaign period of
just six weeks. In fact, a vote on May 24 is over two months earlier than an August 2 vote. That also
means a big advantage for current Mayor David Briley. As Vice Mayor, Briley automatically took over as
mayor when Barry resigned. He also immediately announced he would run to fill out the rest of her term
whenever the election was held.

Taking full advantage of his sudden incumbency, the Briley campaign team announced last week it had
already raised $400,000 within just a month’s time. You can sure there are more funds available to be
raised, if needed.

Frankly, with this much shorter period of time to campaign, the money the Mayor already has may look
more like 4 million in the bank rather than just nearly a half-million. There were already questions if
any of the other qualified potential major mayoral candidates (i.e., Erica Gilmore, Harold Love, Jr. and a
couple of others such as former Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain and conservative radio talk show host
Ralph Bristol) would have the support and finances necessary to be competitive. Now those questions
loom even larger.

One potential liability does loom for Mayor Briley. He has assumed Mayor Barry’s role as the Number
One advocate for the city’s transit plan on the May 1 ballot. Approval of that plan by voters is no sure
thing. In fact, it appears all the mayoral candidates other than Briley oppose the plan. If the transit plan
fails, could voter fallout from that decision complicate the mayoral race?

What if one of the Briley’s opponents catches fire with voters? What if that surge and the large overall
field of candidates prohibits Briley from capturing 50% plus one of the vote and forces him into yet
another special mayoral runoff election in June against his top opponent?

I think the likelihood of that is very slim. But remember the 1971 mayoral race when Mayor Briley’s
grandfather Beverly Briley was seeking election to a third term as mayor? The community became upset
about a federal court order requiring cross-town school busing that was due to be implemented in the
months right after the election. A little-known Metro Councilman Casey Jenkins turned the ire of voters
into support.

Taking advantage of a fairly large field of candidates (several of whom were much better known and
financed than Jenkins), Jenkins nevertheless forced the two-term mayor into a hotly contested runoff
race where Briley ultimately prevailed. If a runoff is needed for the May 24 election, it will be held June

There is one other fallout from the State Supreme Court decision. The May 24 special election will cost
taxpayers an estimated $1 million. A runoff (if needed) would cost another million. This would have to
be paid for out of the city’s current budget which already has city finance officials warning that revenues
are stretched very tight.

The convergence now of the May special election for mayor and Metro’s regular budget making process
creates another unprecedented situation. Mayor Briley is required to submit his operating budget for
the next fiscal year (July 1, 2018— June 30, 2019) by May 1. That’s while he is running to be elected
mayor. The Council has until the end of June to approve a budget. That raises the possibility (although
unlikely) that the Council would approve a spending plan that would be inherited by a someone else to
administer if he or she defeats Mayor Briley in May or a runoff election in June.

Mayors running for re-election in Nashville have always faced a potential situation something like this
(although no Metro Mayor has ever been defeated for another term). Even though the new budget
begins in July the incumbent still oversees it for a month or more before the regular mayoral election
occurs in August and a new mayor takes office.

All of this is unlikely for sure. But it’s just another way that this is the most unusual, almost bizarre
election I have ever seen in Metro history. But then, that’s kind of the way our local politics has been
recently. Unusual and bordering on bizarre.

The mayoral candidates on the May 24 ballot won’t be alone in this special election. There is also a
vacancy in the Metro Council (District 1) that election officials hoped to fill in August. Obviously, not
anymore, given the State Supreme Court ruling. That leaves a large field of five candidates in the
Bordeaux and Joelton area in Northwest Nashville scrambling to get everything done for their campaigns
in less than 6 weeks, even though, until Tuesday, they thought they had until August to do that.

It is going to be a scramble for election officials too. The tightest turn that will have to be made is that
Early Voting for the special mayor’s election will begin on May 4 just three days after the May 1 election
is conducted. That will make canvassing all the machines and certifying the vote hard to finish before the
voting for the other May election begins. Finding enough poll workers to man the polls for two
countywide elections in a three-week period will be a challenge too.


Even before the date for the special mayoral election was set this week, there was a major policy
position change by candidate and Metro Councilmember At Large Erica Gilmore. Despite being one of
the first co-sponsors of the resolution in the Council that put the transit plan on the ballot, and even
after proclaiming her support again when she qualified to run for mayor late last month, Gilmore now
says she is opposed to the plan as she explains in this TENNESSEAN article.

Of course, she will be accused by some as being two-faced and opportunistic on the transit issue,
seeking to find a way to be Mayor Briley’s leading opponent. But now another prominent African
American mayoral candidate, State Representative Harold Love, Jr. may be opposing the plan too. After
earlier telling THE TENNESEAN he was still forming his position, Representative Love told THE
TENNESSEE TRIBUNE (in an interview last year now reported by THE NASHVILLE POST) that the plan’s tax hikes, especially the 1 cent sales tax increase, are a big problem:

“Anytime you’re talking about increasing taxes across the board, there’s a tendency to have some
financial impact upon those who are living on the margins or have tight budgets,” Love said last year,
according to the Tennessee Tribune. “So I think there has to be some conversation about how do we
then balance it.”

This potential weakness for the transit proposal in the African American community, and among some
of its elected officials, should no doubt be very worrisome for transit advocates.

Meanwhile, THE NASHVILLE SCENE is giving Gilmore flack about having two different positions about
when the special mayoral election should be held. She denies it.

Mayor Briley is continuing to do what he can to be the transit proposal’s biggest advocate. Here’s a
NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL story about what he is doing, including getting support from nine local
countywide officials who have signed his Declaration of Transit Independence in support of the May 1
transit proposal.

The Mayor has also already cast his vote for transit. In anticipation of the first day of early voting, the
Mayor’s office released this information which itself was a plug for transit.
“Mayor David Briley will take MTA bus #52 from downtown to the Howard Office Building to cast his
vote on the first day of early voting for the Let’s Move Nashville transit plan that is on the ballot on May

“Following his vote, Mayor Briley will take Lyft back to work. A member of the Transit Coalition, Lyft and
similar on-demand transit services are a component of the multi-modal transit plan and will provide first
mile/ last mile connections for commuters using park and ride services.”

But in an interview with THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL, the Mayor revealed perhaps some
frustration about how things are going:

Mayor Briley is also following up on an idea he promised to implement when he took office last month.
He will begin a countywide “listening tour” next week “to engage with residents and talk about the
future of their neighborhoods.” Do you wonder if the transit plan will come up as a topic?
The first session is at Maplewood High School next Thursday: Residents are asked to RSVP for planning
purposes: Thursday, April 19 at 6:30PM

Mayor’s Town Hall – Maplewood High School

Mayor Briley has invited members of the Metro Council, Board of Education, other elected officials, and
department heads and representatives to be a part of each event.
On Friday, Mayor Briley announced the other town hall sessions across the county. Two more are set
before the transit vote on May 1. All of them are scheduled before the May 24 special mayoral election.

Tuesday, April 24 at 6:30 p.m.
Southeast Community Center
5260 Hickory Hollow Parkway
Antioch, TN 37013

Monday, April 30 at 6:30 p.m.
Bellevue Middle School
655 Colice Jeanne Road
Nashville, TN 37221

Thursday, May 10 at 6:30 p.m.
Coleman Park Community Center
384 Thompson Lane
Nashville, TN 37211

Saturday, May 12 at 10:00 a.m.
Whites Creek High School
7277 Old Hickory Boulevard
Whites Creek, TN 37189

Monday, May 14 at 6:30 p.m.
John Overton High School
4820 Franklin Pike
Nashville, TN 37220


Throughout the transit campaign there have been alternative transit plans proposed by various groups.
Of course, none of them are on the ballot but they may create enough doubt and confusion about the
plan that is before voters it could impact the overall May 1st vote.

In that regard yet another alternative was offered on Tuesday (just one day before early voting began).
It was proposed by Metro Councilman Robert Swope, who in 2016 was Donald Trump’s Tennessee
campaign manager. You can read about it in detail in this NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL article. It
seems to be a proposal that is heavy on autonomous vehicles (not light rail). And, believe it or not, it
also proposes double decking the city’s interstate inner loop (where I-40, I-65 and I-24 all come

Count me dubious about this plan for a number of reasons. Its costs at just over $1 billion look absurdly
low. The implementation in 5 years looks also unlikely. Double decking the inner loop? Well both state
and federal transportation officials (who oversee the interstates) tell the media they weren’t consulted
and seem to have their doubts as well. Private investor involvement? That would seem suspect too until
such investors identify themselves and show what is often called “the color of their money.”
Autonomous vehicles may well be the way of the future, but in less than 5 years? Really?
Sometimes I guess you just throw your ideas up on the wall and see if anything sticks.


Several times in recent days, both opponents and supporters of the transit plan have stumbled trying to
get out their message to the public.
First, the No Tax 4 Tracks group put out an ad in THE TENNESSEE TRIBUNE, a weekly African American
newspaper that contained an important but incorrect number.
As reported by WPLN Nashville Public Radio…

Another anti-transit group, Better Transit for Nashville, submitted an op-ed column to THE TENNESSEAN
entitled “5 Reasons to Oppose the Nashville Transit Plan.” The paper posted it on its website, but then
learned the name it was given to byline the article was actually a composite of the work of several folks
in the Better Transit organization. It was also learned the picture the paper was sent of the alleged oped
author was someone who had nothing to do with the piece or the organization and had not
authorized the use of his photo. It led to this article by the newspaper.

These types of issues certainly tend to raise questions about the veracity and transparency of the group
involved along with its arguments. However as of Tuesday PM, the op-ed piece (with an explanation)
was still on the TENNESSEAN website.

The transit proponents have also been criticized for how they talk about Nashville’s growth, in terms of
how many people are moving here. Again, from WPLN, Nashville Public Radio.

The Transit for Nashville group also put up an interesting TV ad over this past weekend. All the other ads
the group has paid for have been informative about the benefits of the proposal and why now is the
time to act. No Tracks 4 Tracks has derisively called those spots “happy talk.”

This latest Transit for Nashville TV ad was not happy talk. It seems to have run just a few days, but it
attacks transit opponents, in particular No Tracks 4 Tracks and one of its major supporters, car dealer
Lee Beaman. It also alleges the anti-transit group has received money from the controversial Koch
Brothers. It’s a charge No Tracks 4 Tracks has denied. Something which its campaign finance disclosure
filed this week seems to back up.

Except for this:
No Tracks 4 Tracks says it has raised almost $950,000 in the last three months. But well over 75% of
those funds have come from one source… a Super PAC known as Nashville Smart, Inc. It is a 501c(4) PAC that does not have to disclose its donors. Is that where any Koch Brothers or other outside funds are
being funneled into the anti-transit plan campaign?

You can be sure the transit supporters are convinced that’s true and they are demanding that No Tax 4
Tracks officials or those who run Nashville Smart disclose what they know. The No Tax folks say they
can’t know or talk about it, by law. Said spokesperson Jeff Eller to THE TENNESSEAN:
"By law, I cannot coordinate. I cannot talk to them," Eller said. "Any c(4) can give us money. It's up to the
c(4) to make the determination. This is a case where I am damned if I do and damned if I don't.”
"If I do anything to try to find out who gave them money, I break the law. If I don't, I'm accused of not
being transparent. I'm not going to break the law."

Asked whether Nashville Smart Inc. has received some Koch Brothers money, Eller could not say.
"I don't know," he said. "I can't know." But you can be sure the transit supporters will continue to demand that No Tax 4 Tracks or Nashville Smart clear up the issue. So far, Nashville Smart isn’t disclosing its donors.

Will this controversy be the subject soon of another TV attack ad from Transit for Nashville group?
Already there is a new direct mail piece out from the pro-transit forces (the fifth mailer I’ve gotten in the
last three weeks). The mailer says “the Right Wing is using Trump style lies to stop Nashville from
making progress.”

Are they trying to rile up the Democratic base in this blue-voting county? Is there still time to do that?
By the way this week, the Super PAC backing Transit for Nashville disclosed raising an additional $1.2
million over the past three months for its efforts, with the bulk of the new dollars coming from some of
the city's biggest corporations. The group has raised more than $2.5 million overall for the campaign.
Meanwhile, if Transit for Nashville has now ended the run of its first attack ad, that is curious since it
likely was not on the air long enough to register with voters. Maybe it just made them feel better since
they have complained the recent No Tracks ad entitled “Facts” was far from the truth.


Two supporters of the transit referendum State Senator Jeff Yarbro and Councilman Freddie O’Connell
are my guests on INSIDE POLITICS this week. We’ll discuss the issues that have dominated the
referendum this week, including the new funding controversy involving “secret” donations from the
Nashville Smart group and Erica Gilmore’s and Harold Love, Jr.’s change of position in now opposing the
transit plan. This campaign and vote seems to be growing more and more contentious with each passing
day, especially with early voting now underway and the May 1 election itself looming not far ahead.
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 overthe-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 Just use your TiVo or DVR, if those live times don't work for

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 leaders of the Tennessee Republican Party are beginning to endorse Congressman Marsha
Blackburn as their candidate for U.S. Senate even before the August primary. The move began a couple
of weeks ago when GOP gubernatorial candidate and Congressman Diane Black endorsed Blackburn and
challenged her three other GOP primary opponents to do the same.

They did not do so, at first. Then late this week I saw a paid Facebook ad from Randy Boyd who endorses
Blackburn, who is likely Black’s top primary rival.

Both Tennessee U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker have endorsed Blackburn, even though
at first, Corker said he usually waits until after the primary. According to this article in THE NATIONAL JOURNAL, Corker’s endorsement may be complicated and limited, meaning he supports and
has contributed to Blackburn, but he doesn’t plan to campaign for her (or against Bredesen). His
comments may surprise you a bit.

Blackburn has picked up the endorsement of another Republican leader, former Governor Don
Sundquist. Historically, that might seem to be a strange announcement. During his second term in office
(1999-2003), Sundquist championed the need for a state income tax. It made him (and he still is)
persona non- grata among many in the Tennessee GOP.

Sundquist and Blackburn, in particular, locked horns back in those days. While in the General Assembly,
she led the fight to successfully defeat the income tax. She did it with the help of several radio talk show
hosts. Together they mobilized a large number of anti-income tax zealots who circled the State Capitol,
protesting by repeatedly honking their car horns.

But if any hard feelings remain from almost two decades ago, they melted away in the news release
from the Blackburn campaign announcing the Sundquist endorsement:
“It is time for Tennesseans to rally behind Marsha Blackburn and send her to the United States Senate,”
said Sundquist. “While Marsha and I have not always agreed on a couple of issues, we have always
agreed on the most critical issues. I trust her, and I know she will work with President Trump to pass his

“Let’s unite and elect a leader who shares our philosophy based on our Tennessee traditions, not a
candidate who follows the traditions of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi. I urge my fellow Tennesseans
to support Marsha in any way they can.”

Those last comments by the former governor come right out of the Blackburn campaign talking points.
The Congressman is of course pleased to have Sundquist now on her side. She says, “(I am) honored to
earn Gov. Sundquist’s endorsement.”

“He is a good man and a faithful public servant, and I am grateful for his input as we work to unify the
Republican party and defeat Democrat Phil Bredesen in November.”

Meantime it appears her Democratic opponent, former Governor Phil Bredesen is making inroads in
gathering support and money in traditional Republican East Tennessee.

In a column in the KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL, former Knoxville mayor Victor Ashe reports:
“ Former governor and U.S. Senate candidate Phil Bredesen raised over $80,000 at a Knoxville fundraiser
Thursday, April 5, at a Club LeConte luncheon with more than 80 people in attendance paying $1,000

Ashe, who is also a former Republican state representative, state senator and the 1984 GOP U.S. Senate
nominee describes the crowd Bredesen attracted as “a who’s who”

“Among those attending were Knoxville attorneys Dudley Taylor, Larry Liebowitz, Tim Priest, Sid
Gilreath, Bruce Fox, Jon Roach, Tom Dillard, former state Rep. Wayne Ritchie, former state Sen. Bill 
Owen, City Council members Marshall Stair and Andrew Roberto, Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch,
Justice Sharon Lee, businessman Tony Spezia, former mayor Randy Tyree, Mary Kay Sullivan, former
Knoxville News Sentinel publisher Bruce Hartmann, former UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, McClung
Museum director Jeff Chapman, architect Doug McCarty and retired banker Bob Page.”

Meanwhile despite a recent poll by MTSU showing Bredesen up by double digits over Blackburn, one
national media outlet (THE HILL) sees the Tennessee Senate race as qualifying for no more than
honorable mention status in its recent article “The Ten Senate seats most likely to flip in 2018.”


The 2018 gubernatorial candidates are required to disclose their campaign finances as of March 31.
The results came out this week, including this very interesting report from GOP candidate and Knoxville
businessman Randy Boyd.

He says he has now raised more than $10 million dollars with $2.6 million coming in during the last three
months alone. Boyd says he has more than 4,000 donors covering all 95 counties. His campaign press
release touts that the Boyd campaign has no loans involved but among the $2.2 million he raised last
quarter, another $2 million is another donation he gave his own campaign. He is not alone. Here’s a
good summary article from THE TENNESSEAN about all the gubernatorial candidates’ disclosures. By the
way, there is no limit on a candidate making donations to his own campaign. This gubernatorial cycle is
clearly well on pace to be the most expensive in state history.

One other disclosure item of interest. Despite being the front runner in every poll I have seen recently,
Diane Black raised the least money from outside donors last quarter among the GOP candidates, except
for House Speaker Beth Harwell who hasn’t been allowed to raise funds while the Legislature is in
session. Black did give herself another $3 million this past quarter. Lee loaned another $2 million to his
campaign kitty. One last disclosure, lumping all the candidates Democrat Karl Dean raised more money
than anyone other than Boyd.


There is another almost stunning number in the Boyd news release: His campaign has reserved $5
million dollars in air time to run ads for its candidate during June and July, the final two months of the
primary campaign. Wow! I don’t remember any campaign air time being that large for just a two- month

You literally may not be able to turn on a TV in Tennessee this summer without seeing a Randy Boyd ad!
I am told some GOP activists in Rutherford County aren’t happy. They didn’t see Randy Boyd at the
party’s recent Reagan Day Dinner in Murfreesboro where over 500 partisan R’s celebrated. Reportedly, 
all the other GOP gubernatorial candidates were present, while GOP U.S. Senate candidate Marsha
Blackburn was the keynote speaker. I am informed one level GOP county official sent out an email to
over 5,000 hardcore Republicans saying Candidate Boyd apparently does not think Rutherford County is
worthy of his appearance. Ouch!

By the way, while he has stayed neutral in the primary, Governor Bill Haslam has reserved $2.2 million
in funds from the GOP’s National Governors Association to help whoever is the Republican gubernatorial
nominee in Tennessee to buy TV ads this fall. Haslam is the current chair of RGA, so maybe the funds are
his share for being the leader of the group.

But those monies are always fought over because there’s never enough to go around. So, is the money
for Tennessee being set aside because there is a fear the Democrats can mount a competitive challenge
in Tennessee this fall?

One of the two Democrats running, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has filed his campaign report. As
you can see from THE TENNESSEAN story linked above, his numbers are not nearly as large as Boyd.
But Dean did report raising more money than any other candidate this past quarter other than Boyd.
The Nashville’s mayor funding is clearly dominant over his only Democratic opponent, state House
Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh. He, like GOP House Speaker Beth Harwell, as not been able to raise any
funds since the General Assembly went into session back in January. That is state law.


Both houses of the General Assembly have approved a bill that will allow liquor stores to be open for
business on Sundays and most holidays. Grocery stores will be able to sell wine on those same days
starting January 1, 2019.

The approval came after extensive debate in the House. The bill also passed with just 17 votes in the
Senate, the bare minimum needed for passage. The measure now goes to Governor Haslam who says he
will sign it into law. The new rules for seven- day- a- week liquor store operations will take effect
immediately. The only holidays when such sales will still not be allowed are Thanksgiving, Christmas and

The Legislature this week also gave final approval to a downsizing and reorganization of the University of
Tennessee Board of Trust. It was a major item in Governor Haslam’s final legislative package. He has
already made all the appointments to the new Board and it will be up lawmakers to confirm his choices
before they go home, which could be as early as next week. However one nominee has already
withdrawn amidst controversy and leaving Governor Haslam another board vacancy to fill and then on
Thursday, the Governor’s group of UT Board appointees (including all the incumbent boards members
he re-appointed) ran into some significant trouble in the State Senate.

The General Assembly also breathed new life into efforts to disinter the bodies of former President
James K. Polk and his wife, Sarah from Capitol Hill and move them to Polk’s boyhood home in Columbia. 
The move is a highly controversial one and the measure seemed to fail earlier in the House falling one
vote of approval (49 votes).

It was resurrected and brought back to the House floor where it passed, this time 51-37. The Senate has
already passed the resolution. But don’t get out the shovels just yet. Under state law, before the move
can take place, the Tennessee Historical Commission, the State Capitol Commission and Chancery Court
must also agree. Stay tuned.

Finally, the Legislature got itself again into controversy over a hot button social issue. After earlier in the
session twice rejecting resolutions that would condemn Neo-Nazis, now a lawmaker has used a racial
slur (more than once) in an immigration-related debate.

Finally, THE TENNESSEAN reports that in a recent closed-door meeting, Governor Haslam again raised
the idea of expanding the state’s Medicaid program under the Affordable Care Act. The paper says while
both the Speaker of the House and the Lt. Governor were open to discussing it, there was not enough
other support to move the idea forward. So one last time expanding health care is dead, and now it’s
gone (with a whimper not a bang) until at least a new General Assembly and Governor take office in
January, 2018.