Capitol View Commentary: Fri., Sept. 14, 2018

Posted at 4:51 PM, Sep 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-14 18:09:41-04


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

September 14, 2018



While I was gone last week, I spent much of my time working on my Bucket List.

I took a trip, thanks to my wonderful wife, to spend two full days at the Major League Baseball of Fame in Cooperstown, NY.

It was wonderful!

The visit included a behind the scenes tour of the HOF’s document archives and historical artifacts. That was perhaps the highlight of many special moments for me as a lifetime baseball fan.

The entire trip was truly great, even some of the non-baseball museums we visited in the area! And yes, my wife is a baseball fan, and she enjoyed the trip too!

Since I’ve returned to Tennessee, I learned our politics and statewide elections are about where they were when I wrote my last Capitol View column Labor Day weekend… except even more so.

Read on.


The second and third statewide polls since the August 2nd primary came out Thursday, September 6 and Wednesday September 12. The first survey (September 6) from NBC/Marist College found, much like an earlier Gravis Marketing poll (August 14) that the U.S. Senate race between Democrat Phil Bredesen and Republican Marsha Blackburn remains a toss- up.

Bredesen is up 2 points over Blackburn (48%-46%) in the NBC/Marist survey. In August, Blackburn was up 4 in the Gravis poll (48%-44%). Margins for error for both polls are in the 4-5% range.  The latest poll this week (September 12) is from FOX News. It shows Blackburn up 3 points but still within the margin for error.

Here is a TENNESSEE JOURNAL story breaking down the FOX poll, which, similar to the NBC/Marist group gets a top rating for its work, says the website 538.

As you read in the TENNESSEE JOURNAL article, the poll results in FOX News survey show the Tennessee Governor’s race developing into an even bigger blowout than the first two post-primary polls reported. The Gravis and NBC/Marist polls showed Republican Bill Lee holding a double-digit lead over Democrat Karl Dean of between 11% to 13%. Now the FOX survey says the margin is 20 points.

The growing size of the Lee margin has CNN now placing the race solidly in the GOP column. It is also building such confidence in the GOP, some national groups are diverting their funds to assist campaigns in other parts of the country.

Here’s a link to the questions, tabs and demographic breakdown of the FOX NEWS poll and NBC/Marist poll for both races. The results also resemble the background Gravis survey numbers.


Pivoting from proposing local option gas taxes to build infrastructure and providing “limitless library” access for Tennessee school students, Karl Dean’s latest TV ad focuses on a debate that has raged (yet gone nowhere) for several years.

That issue is expanding Medicaid services in the state.  Numerous polls show strong public support for the idea. But state lawmakers and Dean’s opponent Bill Lee, strongly oppose it. Here’s the Dean TV ad.

Trailing by between double digits and 20 points, Dean needs to quickly show some plan or sign he can close the gap in the next several weeks. Remember Early Voting begins in about a month. Right now, Dean is not going into full attack mode. In fact, in one of his fundraising e-mails, Dean himself says:

“My opponent isn’t a bad guy. But his plan is dangerous. And on something as important as the health of our people, we can’t afford to take any chances.”

In response to the Dean TV ad, Bill Lee told the USA TODAY NETWORK -TENNESSEE: "Obamacare will not expand in Tennessee under my watch. Health care costs are skyrocketing, and that would make it even worse." Added THE TENNESEAN: “Lee has previously called for the state to work with the federal government to obtain block grants rather than outright expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.”

As for his own campaign, Bill Lee has continued to air his first general election TV ad (that started the last week of August). In the spot, the candidate maintains “politics are not the answer” and that he will put “people first.” Lee is also continuing what is at least his third tour of all 95 Tennessee counties.

To counter criticism of his dearth of government or political experience, the Lee campaign is now talking up the candidate’s “life of executive experience “based on running his own home services business. As Lee mentioned in a recent campaign e-mail update: “I’ve lived a life of executive experience, and I’m looking forward to putting that experience to work to lead our state.”

Late in week the Lee campaign began to air a modified new version of his “Wielder” ad, one of the better spots he ran during the primary.  The ad focuses on Lee’s push to re-emphasize technical skills instead of a college degree for all Tennessee students.

This week Lee also picked up the endorsement of the Tennessee Professional Firefighters Association which has 32 chapters and 4,500 active and retired members. From an association news release:

 “Mr. Lee has expressed to us that he understands the dangers of our profession. He understands the need for a fair system that takes care of first responders when they are injured on the job—not just the physical injuries but the complex and cumulative effect of PTSD and other mental illness that develop in our profession,” said President Eddie Mitchell.”

Barring something unforeseen, it would appear the next big potential watershed moments in the Governor’s race will be the three upcoming debates. Appearing on the same stage on live statewide TV, can both candidates come up with performances that will either turn around or keep the race in their favor?


When I left town last week, the attack ads (especially from outside groups) and responses by candidates had just begun. Now it is continuing with at least one other GOP Super PAC (Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund) beginning a $1.2 million ad buy criticizing Phil Bredesen. The commercial is entitled “Out of Touch.”

You will hear a lot of the same themes in the McConnell TV spot that were used in similar attacks launched two weeks ago against Bredesen in ads paid for by the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity group. The specifics of many of the charges in Koch ad were found “false” by the non-partisan PolitiFacts group. The McConnell ad makes the some of the same charges in terms of taxes, but in less specific terms.

After the first attack ad by the Koch Brothers, the Bredesen campaign put up a response ad on TV. So far in terms of response to the Mitch McConnell PAC attacks, there is a one-page talking points response from the Bredesen camp that offers this conclusion:

“Bottom line: Governor Bredesen has a proven track record of rolling up his sleeves and tackling

tough problems to get things done for Tennessee. He balanced all eight budgets without an

income tax or an increase in the sales tax, closed corporate tax loopholes with overwhelming

bipartisan support, and is ready to help address the ballooning national debt as a member of

the U.S. Senate.”

Indeed, both Senate candidates this week presented their ideas on how to deal with the ever-growing national debt. Bredesen announced on Monday, this would be his next “big idea” which he would announce during a speaking event in Chattanooga on Tuesday morning. But when he unveiled his plan, the Blackburn campaign sent out its own news release concerning the issue, thereby sharing the media coverage.

Bredesen is also pushing his national debt plan with a new TV and digital spot. It is entitled “Brown Bag.”

By the way, not all the Senate attack ads are going after Bredesen. The Democratic-leaning Majority Forward PAC earlier ran an ad praising the former governor for his eight years in office. Now Majority Forward is going after the Republican congressman and the Senate candidate who it calls “Air Blackburn.”

Awaiting at least one more trip to Tennessee from President Donald Trump to campaign for her, Blackburn on September 21 will welcome Vice President Mike Pence back to Tennessee to help her with a big- ticket $$ fundraiser in Chattanooga. It is interesting to note Mr. Trump’s likely campaign itinerary in coming days could include not only Tennessee, but also Texas. Those are states the President carried by more than 20 points in 2016. Yet now GOP Senate candidates in those states seem to think they need the President’s help to open some daylight between themselves and their Democratic opponents.

The national McConnell PAC ad buy (totaling $6.4 million) also focuses on other tight Senate races in North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana and west Virginia. Some of those are contests where Democratic incumbents are trying to win despite their state voting heavily for President Trump in 2016.

In terms of new national analysis of the race, THE HILL now lists the Tennessee Senate contest as among the 10 Seats Most Likely to Flip in the Senate:

In that regard, the Bredesen campaign is using one of its fundraising e-mails to tout that CNN now rates the Tennessee race as “a tossup” after earlier having it leaning Republican. Here is what CNN POLITICS says.

“In Tennessee, former two-term Gov. Phil Bredesen is running a methodical campaign against GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn by focusing on local issues and emphasizing his own moderate brand of politics over that of the national Democratic Party. That strategy seems to be working to his point, with an NBC News/Marist poll released Thursday showing Bredesen and Blackburn running neck and neck -- 48% to 46% -- among likely voters.

Bredesen's standing is buoyed by his popularity -- 61% of likely voters have a favorable view of the Democrat versus 22% who hold a negative view of him. By comparison, 46% of likely voters view Blackburn favorably compared with 36% who do not.

When it comes to the President, 47% approve of his job performance while 43% disapprove. Blackburn, a staunch ally of the President, is making the argument that electing Bredesen could give Democrats control of the Senate -- a persuasive message in a state that went for Trump by 26 points. Bredesen has pledged to work with the President when he proposes policies that benefit Tennessee, declaring at the start of his campaign he was not "running against" Trump.”

And the attacks are not over. The Tennessee Victory 2018 group, whose spokesperson Mark Brown has been sending out news releases several times a week criticizing Blackburn, is now taking it efforts digital, launching the first of what it says will be several spots the group is calling “Marsha TV.” opioid controversy involving Blackburn is also the subject of a another new attack ad from the outside PAC Majority Forward that went up for the first time today (Friday).

As for what lies still further ahead, a campaign fund raising e-mail this week from Phil Bredesen himself says, while he least likes raising funds for his campaign, he has to do so because…

“Starting tomorrow, my opponent will be working with a group of Washington insiders to launch a new series of ads -- and they’re going to spend and say whatever it takes to drag this race into the mud.”

Stay Tuned.

Finally, this week former Republican Governor Winfield Dunn (1971-1975) has endorsed Blackburn. It came through this video.


Republican Marsha Blackburn and Democrat Phil Bredesen have two major debates coming up. Blackburn declined two others, one in Memphis that was due to occur Thursday night. The other debate left out was due to be held in Chattanooga, although Blackburn at first sent a message to event organizers declining participation but then sending out a tweet that opponent “declined to debate her” which does not appear to be true.

The Bredesen campaign sees this debate issue as a potential advantage to their effort. On Thursday, their candidate held an event at Rhodes College, the would- be site of the Memphis event. The Bredesen Team called it the “Memphis Matters Ideas Forum.” Said a Bredesen campaign news release: “Despite Congressman Blackburn’s refusal to debate in Memphis, Governor Bredesen believes that the issues that are important to Memphis and West Tennessee deserve as much attention as those that are important in other areas of the state.”

The Bredesen campaign is also running a digital on-line ad and a radio spot in the Memphis market to drive home that message:

According to the Bredesen campaign, the radio spot, “highlights his record of getting things done for Memphis and recommits to being a strong advocate to tackle “unfinished business,” championing Memphis as a city of “possibility.”

It remains to be seen if the debate dispute between the candidates will have any impact on the tight poll numbers in the Senate contest.


One of the most interesting findings in all the Senate polls is that Marsha Blackburn does not run as well among her fellow Republicans as Bredesen does among Democrats. Add that to Bredesen’s seeming ongoing popularity from his two terms as Governor, it might help explain why he is running such a competitive race in a deep red state.

Late this week, featuring self-proclaimed Tennessee voters, the Blackburn campaign began airing a new TV spot to try to work on that campaign challenge.

According to THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL ON THE HILL blogsite, of course, the Bredesen folks are not buying the Blackburn ad.

“ While Congressman Blackburn is too busy focusing on swamp scare tactics and continuing to follow the losing D.C. Diane playbook by dodging debates, Governor Bredesen is in Memphis (Thursday) to share his ideas with voters in West Tennessee,” spokeswoman Alyssa Hansen said in an email.

“As he has said from Day 1, this campaign is open to voters of all stripes who are tired of hyper-partisan squabbling,” she said.

The Bredesen campaign also issued a “Transparency in TV” challenge to the Marsha Blackburn’s camp after the ad debuted.  The Democrat has released the names of those appearing in his current “Brown Bag” ad. They include (according to THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL:  “Ann Johnson, businesswoman, Williamson County; Heather Powell, public school parent, Nashville; Jack Pratt, farmer, Wilson County; Marianne Schroer, civic leader, Franklin; and Frank Stevenson, faith leader, Nashville.

Adds Bredesen spokesperson Alyssa Hansen: “From our perspective, this is a campaign about authenticity, ideas, and — above all else — honesty. Hopefully, Congresswoman Blackburn’s campaign will be as transparent as Governor Bredesen has told us to be.”

So far all Blackburn campaign has said is that those appearing in the ad are “real, unpaid Tennessee voters.”


MLS Month took up every day of August at the Metro Courthouse. The debate over bringing a new MLS pro soccer team to Nashville even went into the early days of September involving several late nights and long debates before the Metro Council.

When it was over, the administration of Mayor David Briley and supporters of the soccer team prevailed. The politically impressive victory came after several last- minute developments and other twists and turns which raised doubts right up until the final votes.

Even when a super majority by the Council (27 votes) was needed to demolish some older existing buildings at the Fairgrounds to build a stadium for the new Nashville MLS team to play, it passed handily with 31 votes. The same was true for all the other legislation needed including a controversial 10-acre lease of Fairgrounds land for team officials to develop.

There is still a lawsuit pending to stop the MLS plan, claiming the Council violated Metro Charter provisions that voters approved to protect the Fairgrounds and the annual State Fair (now underway). But unless the courts rule otherwise, Metro is moving to site preparation to get the project started including replacing some of the buildings the Council approved for demolition.


This week at the Metro Courthouse, you may have been able to hear a brief sigh of relief.

2018 has been one of major controversies, one after another, beginning with the extra-marital sex scandal involving former Mayor Megan Barry. After she resigned in March, there was the upheaval of several unexpected countywide elections to have voters pick Barry’s successor as well as fill the Vice Mayor’s seat that also had to be decided after existing Vice Mayor David Briley became Acting Mayor and then was elected by voters in May to fill the rest of Mayor Barry’s term (until next summer).

The selection of a new Vice Mayor was also completed last week with At-Large Councilmember Jim Schulman defeating Acting Vice Mayor Sheri Weiner. He will serve until next summer as well. The Vice Mayor’s race too went into overtime with the first election in August finding neither candidate receiving the required 50% plus one-vote majority. The second contest saw perhaps the lowest voter turnout ever in a Metro election with just 30,000 voters casting ballots.

It wasn’t the candidates’ fault. There were lots of other races to bring out voters in August, and that now seems to have been Sheri Weiner’s best chance for victory. She fell about 5 per cent short of winning then. In September, with the local Davidson County Democratic Party solidly behind Schulman, he won handily in this blue-voting county.

The turmoil in Nashville over elections also extended to Mayor Barry’s multi-decade, multi-billion- dollar mass transit plan which voters soundly rejected May 1, despite last minute efforts by then Acting Mayor Briley and the business community to pass it. Mayor Briley also inherited an unexpectedly difficult operating budget to pass later in the spring. The School budget received $40 million less than requested and city workers found the second year of a 3% cost of living raise shelved due to lack of funds.

The Council tried to do something that had never happened in the 55 years -plus of Metro government. That would be pass a property tax increase which the Mayor didn’t request and actively opposed. Mayor Briley prevailed, but by just 2 votes.

Then, with the budget fight settled, Mayor Briley took up another major plan of his predecessor, the MLS franchise and new stadium at the Fairgrounds. The Council had easily given preliminary approval in late 2017.  But the new politics and backwash from all the 2018 political controversies suddenly made that a lot tougher job to accomplish. Again, Mayor Briley helped put together a Community Benefits Plan and increased rent payments by the MLS owners which helped build and keep support for the project.

Now Mayor Briley says he will get back to focusing on his three major priorities: public education, public safety and economic development. He also believes the city’s budget crunch will not be as severe next year as the current budget is. But there are still property sales, cuts or “savings” needed to make the current budget balance. One other question: Will Metro’s overall financial health recover enough to restore previous budget cuts including some amount for an employee raise?

The Mayor is already announcing new staff additions aimed at dealing with some issues that haven’t been able to reach the budget front burner until now.

Mayor Briley is also adding a new element to next year’s budget process, one that was considered as a charter amendment by the Metro Council.

One budget issue already bubbling up is that despite the Council allocating $15 million to equip Metro Police with body cameras now the Police Chief’s and District Attorney’s offices now estimate that will need more than four dozen new employees and $11 million in funding to begin operating the system by 2019.

Remember, 2019 is also an election year for the Mayor, Vice Mayor and all 40 Metro Council seats, so politically things are likely to stay quite lively in Metro.


Divorce cases are never easy.

When the proceedings involve prominent folks in business and politics like Lee Beaman, they get even more difficult.

The Beaman divorce matter was due to go in court this week and the news stories about the case contained some disclosures and allegations  from court documents that are not just raising eyebrows but having an impact in the community and in the Tennessee U.S. Senate race.


My guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week is Charles Smith.

For the past half-century, he has held an unprecedented number of leadership positions in education, journalism, government and politics in Tennessee and even some nationally. Mr. Smith has written a fascinating new book on his experiences entitled JOURNAL OF A FAST TRACK LIFE AND LESSONS LEARNED ALONG THE WAY.

Lots of insights to share and some inside stories to tell. Watch us!

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

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