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Capitol View commentary: Friday, August 2, 2019

Posted: 1:55 PM, Aug 02, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-02 14:55:51-04
Capitol View

CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

WHEN A RUNOFF BECOMES A SURPRISE

Almost everyone thought that incumbent Mayor David Briley and Councilman at large John Cooper would qualify for another round of voting to decide the issue.

But the stunner from the August 1st vote is that Cooper goes into the runoff with a 10-point or a 10,000- vote margin over Briley.

Everyone I spoke with (including sources in the Cooper campaign) thought the incumbent would lead the field getting close to or over 40% of the ballots. Nobody had him coming in at only 25%. I still have not seen or heard any explanation of what happened. Regardless, a sitting mayor has gone from getting 54% of the vote in the special mayoral election last May to only a quarter of the voters supporting him now.

Did Briley miscalculate in letting Cooper outspend him so heavily on TV and direct mail (a 2 to 1 margin), saving his money instead for the runoff? What can Briley do now to win? How can he get to a 50% majority in September?

No Metro Mayor has ever been defeated for re-election. Briley is clearly a different kind of incumbent having served just 17 months. He also came into office amid scandal and continuing turmoil.

What is Briley’s path to victory? Some clues have emerged, but the Mayor did not get off to a good start in his speech to supporters after the vote came in Thursday night. Briley promises to engage in “a full- throated debate” on the issues but he articulated little of that in his remarks. In fact, his tone and tenor in his speech was so downbeat (as was the mood of his subdued supporters at his headquarters) you might have thought he was making a concession speech.

Later in comments to reporters, the Mayor was more articulate. From THE TENNESSEAN: “He (Briley) said he believes Cooper is looking "backwards.""(Cooper) tries to second guess things that have happened in the past, looks to blame people for things that may not be going right," Briley said. "And I just don't think that's good for the city."

He tied the council member's approach to a “national trend" of divisiveness.

“When you try to divide, one part of the community against the other, is really sort of symbolic of the national trend to divide one group against the other. And I think that's not productive," Briley said.”

In a campaign news release, Briley also continued to focus the campaign spending issue he has already tried to use against Cooper.

“My opponent is going to do two things in the runoff: He’s going to write himself a big check, and he’s going to use that money to try to convince Nashvillians that Nashville isn’t great anymore.
That’s not leadership.”

The campaign spending issue has not seemed to hurt Cooper with voters so far. In fact, his 35% margin in the August 1 vote was within the range of what sources told me he would receive, if somewhat on the high end of the vote range I was told to expect for him.

His self-funding may have hurt his chances of getting an endorsement or public support from the election’s third place finisher, former Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain who garnered close to 22% of the vote almost matching her percentage in finishing second to Briley in May 2018.

Swain told NEWSCHANNEL5’s Jason Lamb she can’t support Cooper in the runoff because he is trying to buy the mayor’s seat with his pocketbook. That is a major shift as Swain had earlier said he would not have run for mayor if John Cooper was in the field (Cooper decided to get in the race late after Swain got in). Swain later told me on INSIDE POLITICS she would likely vote for Cooper if she did not make the runoff.

Swain says she will continue to fight for her major issues including holding local officials accountable. But whether she will endorse anyone in the runoff seems unlikely to me now.

Where do her voters go in the September runoff? Many of her supporters are Republicans who are fiscally conservative. That makes them receptive to many of John Cooper’s messages.

But John Cooper’s brother is Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper. And that could raise an issue. If these conservative Republicans (and we are talking about more than just the traditional Belle Meade GOP folks). If they begin to think John Cooper is as liberal as his brother in Washington (in their eyes), getting them to come over and vote for the Councilman at Large may become problematic.

Congressman Cooper loves his brother and supports him for mayor. But so as not to raise GOP and other concerns, Jim Cooper has kept and will keep an arm’s length approach to assisting his brother’s campaign. In an interview that I did with Congressman, and which we aired during NEWSCHANNEL5’s election coverage, the Congressman repeatedly said his brother running was a “coincidence not a conspiracy” and that he deals with federal issues as congressman while John would deal with local matters as mayor. But Jim Cooper admits it is a difficult situation to deal with and one that will continue for him and his brother for another six weeks during the runoff. The Congressman even says he sometimes meets people who confuse him for John and vice versa.

What about the fourth major mayoral candidate State Representative John Ray Clemmons? Will he endorse in the runoff? Clemmons garnered 16% of the vote Thursday night, well above predictions he would struggle to get into double digits in votes.

In his concession speech, Clemmons thanked his supporters, many of which are teachers and almost all the local labor organizations which endorsed him. Would he throw his support to Briley when so many of his supporters remain unhappy with Mayor Briley over how he has handled pay raise issues while in office? It’s hard to envision that.

Councilman Cooper seemed to be making a strong pitch to Clemmons supporters during his “victory” speech before a room full of excited supporters at his election night headquarters.

"I want to earn your vote and trust," Cooper said. "And we want a town where educator pay and police and firefighter pay come first. And infrastructure in your backyard comes first. That is what is progressive and what effective progressivism means."

"A Nashville for everyone. A Nashville that includes everyone and a Nashville where our children can take advantage of the opportunities of this great city, a city that still includes us. And it's about being a great city, a growing city and a city that nourishes all of its neighborhoods."

Cooper may have been the most successful mayoral candidate Thursday night because he has delivered an appealing message to voters. They are not opposed to Nashville’s growth and national profile, but they want to see and experience more of how that helps them in their daily lives.

Cooper also repeatedly told his election night audience: “This city needs to get a lot done.” He said it so much, it sounded like a campaign slogan. Maybe so. But the words may also a warning to his supporters that their work is not done. He needs even more votes in September to become mayor.

The person who will be elected Mayor is the candidate that gets at least a 50% plus one vote majority on September 12. The old saying is correct. A runoff is a new election, a whole new ball game. But for now, the path to victory looks more certain for Cooper than for Briley.

Not only has no Metro mayor even been defeated for re-election, no second- place finisher in any mayoral general election has ever come back to finish first in the runoff. Will Briley be effective in whatever counterattacks he uses to get back in the race? Will he be more aggressive in airing more TV ads? Can the mayor continue to raise the money he needs to compete? Will Cooper continue to self-finance? Or will he use the momentum from his strong general election showing to raise significant money from others and defang Briley’s attack on that issue? Everybody in politics looks and wants to support a winner, how successful will Cooper be in attracting Swain and Clemmons voters to his side? He must enlist a number of them on his side get to a majority in September, no matter how well he did August 1st.

It’s six more weeks of campaigning, and it’s already well underway. Buckle up. it could be a bumpier ride from here on in.

A GEOGRAPHIC LOOK AT THE MAYORAL RESULTS

Here’s a graphic and brief writeup that gives you a geographic breakdown of the August 1st mayoral vote.

One other takeaway from this August 1st vote breakdown that is interesting to ponder as we wait to see how the two runoff candidates do in attracting Swain and Clemmons supporters. if John Ray Clemmons did well in a district, usually Carol Swain didn't, and the same is true for Clemmons in districts where Swain did well.

One other takeaway from this August 1st vote breakdown that is interesting to ponder as we wait to see how the two runoff candidates do in attracting Swain and Clemmons supporters. if John Ray Clemmons did well in a district, usually Carol Swain didn't, and the same is true for Clemmons in districts where Swain did well.

THE NEW METRO COUNCIL BEGINS TO TAKE SHAPE

It was not an election night for the voters “to kick out the rascals” in the 35 Metro Council districts. Seventeen were re-elected No incumbent lost outright and only four are in runoffs with a single incumbent going in after finishing second.

In the race for the five at large Council seats, the only candidate who won outright is incumbent Bob Mendes. The other incumbent seeking re-election is Sharon Hunt. She joins seven other candidates, several of whom are term limited district councilmembers seeking to serve countywide. The others in the at-large runoff field are former state representative, a former state senate candidate, and Zulfat Suara, an accountant, who if elected September 12, the first person of the Muslim to serve in the 40-member body.

TENNESSEE HOUSE SPEAKER GLEN CASADA FINALLY STEPS DOWN

Over two months after he announced he was resigning, including taking a two-week European vacation in the interim, Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada was finally supposed to step down this afternoon (Friday). This column is being sent out before it is official Casada has left his leadership post. So, stay tuned.

Casada’s exit came after a myriad of scandals engulfed him, his office and his staff. That included racist and sexist texts and e-mail, allegations of eavesdropping and spying on lawmakers, and misbehavior by his top staff such as the use of cocaine by his former chief of staff in his Capitol office during work hours. There have also been charges that the Speaker and his staff attempted to frame a civil rights activist by doctoring an e-mail.

Even as Casada departed, questions continue to swirl over what he did in the waning days of the last session of the General Assembly to get the votes needed to pass a controversial school voucher bill. When the roll call was taken, the bill was a vote short. The Speaker did not take the tally but instead began to work on lawmakers to change their votes to yes.

What Glen Casada talked with lawmakers about in that regard has raised eyebrows and reportedly has had federal investigators looking into the matter .
Casada denies he did anything wrong.

Other investigations regarding the former speaker may be getting underway.

There was a special prosecutor appointed to look into the alleged framing of the civil rights activist. The results of that probe and the activities of the special prosecutor are creating a whole new level of controversy on its own.

As for the activities and statements of the controversial special prosecutor he is defending himself but there are multiple efforts to have him removed.

More from NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES

OTHER CURRENT & FORMER LAWMAKERS DEALING WITH ISSUES

As former Speaker Casada leaves his leadership post, he plans to remain in his House seat representing Williamson County. Some Democrats are threatening to oust him but that is not expected to go anywhere.

Another Republican lawmaker, Bill Sanderson of Kenton in West Tennessee is leaving the House all together. He says he is stepping away to spend more time with his growing business and to deal with an illness in his family, although rumors and one social media report cite another reason for the departure.

In the State Senate, there are more indications that Nashville GOP Senator Dr. Steve Dickerson faces serious issues with federal investigators looking into Medicare and Tenncare fraud .
Dickerson is one of the few Republicans who represent Davidson County in the legislature. This week he also got a Democratic opponent for November 2020 general election (Kim Abernathy, a local educational consultant).

Finally, a former State Senator, Bill Ketron, now the Mayor of Rutherford County, continues to face issues and controversies amid an ongoing insurance fraud probe that involves his daughter.
In another matter, Ketron is appealing $60,000 in campaign finance fines levied by the state. Now there are questions of Ketron’s use of his state campaign funds to run for mayor.

The Rutherford County Mayor is also now facing an age discrimination suit.

THE POST-CASADA ERA LOOMS ON THE HILL

In the wake of all these negative news stories about current and former Republican state lawmakers, the GOP House Super Majority met last week (July 24) to select its nominee to be the next House Speaker.

After four rounds of balloting, Caucus Chairman Cameron Sexton of Cookeville emerged as the choice. Sexton ran a somewhat low -key campaign, sending hand- written letters to lawmakers and making personal visits to their districts to seek support. Also in contrast with Glen Casada and at least one of his opponents for Speaker, Sexton did not hand out $1K campaign donation checks . Here’s a breakdown on the Caucus meeting and vote.

Barring something completely unforeseen, Sexton will be easily elected Speaker by the Republican Super Majority (70-plus seats out of 99) in the lower chamber. That will occur when the General Assembly holds a special session on August 23.

The new Speaker in waiting says he won’t be re-hiring any of the Casada staffers who left in recent weeks as the scandals unfolded. Speaker-elect Cameron Sexton does plan to retain former Speaker Casada’s present Chief of Staff Scott Gilmer who also served under previous speaker Beth Harwell.

Sexton seems to be looking at several changes in how he runs the Speaker’s office under his leadership.

The Speaker- apparent is creating some political waves with an announcement he is not on board with Governor Bill Lee’s effort to move up the start of the state’s education savings account or school voucher program by a year.

Might a Sexton speakership open the door next year to a full repeal by the House of the voucher program?

MORE DECISIONS ON WHO IS IN OR OUT IN OF THE TENNESSEE 2020 U.S. SENATE RACE

The race to succeed Tennessee’s Senior Senator Lamar Alexander in Washington continues to take shape.

On the Republican side, another doctor is joining the field while a West Tennessee Congressman is not.

Also running on the GOP side is soon to be former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty and Nashville trauma surgeon Manny Sethi. The lone Democrat in the field so far is Nashville attorney and veteran James Mackler. There are reports that Hagerty’s departure from Japan will be delayed because of the numerous ongoing crises in that part of the world which are mandating he stay on as ambassador.

Also running on the GOP side is soon to be former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty and Nashville trauma surgeon Manny Sethi. The lone Democrat in the field so far is Nashville attorney and veteran James Mackler. There are reports that Hagerty’s departure from Japan will be delayed because of the numerous ongoing crises in that part of the world which are mandating he stay on as ambassador.

WHOOPS!

It turns out the state’s employee pension funds, perhaps trying to achieve the highest investment returns possible, have been placed into a marijuana-related company. State officials claim they were unaware of this until contacted by the media. Future investments like these are over, even though the returns on the state’s money has been pretty high.

It was also announced there will be another delay in how the state evaluates (grades) its public schools.

CONGRESSMAN JIM COOPER ON INSIDE POLITICS

There seems to be no more divided, gridlocked city in this country than Washington, D.C., our nation’s capital. Nashville’s representative to that city in the U.S. House of Representatives is Jim Cooper.

With Congress on recess until after Labor Day, the Congressman is back in town full time. He is very gracious to spend time with us on INSIDE POLITICS as he does a couple of times each year.
We always appreciate his willingness to be on this program to discuss the many issues of the day.

NOTE: Our conversation with the Congressman occurred earlier this week before the Metro elections. Therefore, we did not discuss his brother’s candidacy for mayor. I conducted a second interview with him on that topic which we aired in our election coverage Thursday night. I hope you saw it. I discussed it in some detail earlier in this column.

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.
Finally, I am now posting a link to the show each week on my Facebook page as soon as it is available, usually on Monday or Tuesday

LARRY

Nashville lost one of its legendary reporters with the passing of Larry Brinton, who for many years worked at NEWSCHANNEL5. I was lucky to have him as a colleague during a number of those years.

Larry was an old-school print reporter who made a successful transition to TV. Growing up in Nashville, I frequently read his by-lined stories in THE NASHVILLE BANNER. He was simply the best police beat reporter I have ever known. His Rolodex (his list of contacts, not an expensive watch) was unmatched, and one that, over the years, also extended into sources for his government and political stories.

Larry was never afraid to speak truth to power or to seek to hold the powerful accountable. He knew everyone. His sources were everywhere. His STREET TALK segments, which he originated on Channel 5, became must-see TV for anyone who wanted to know who and/or what was on Larry’ radar screen for coverage.

Much like NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES’ Phil Williams today, Larry was not someone you wanted to hear was holding on line 3 to speak with you or was waiting in the lobby to see you. And he didn’t give up. If he thought it necessary, he would stay and bird dog a story relentlessly. Try as they might, the subjects of Larry’s investigation could not shake Larry off the trail. He decided what the story was and when the story was over.

He was one of a kind, passing away at a time when a free press and the public needs so many more like him. Up in heaven, I am sure Larry is back in touch with his sources that preceded him to paradise. And being ever the cynical reporter, he is checking out “the word on the street” up there to see if everything is as perfect as advertised in the hereafter.

On a personal level, Larry was a friend to me. When I was considering leaving Channel 5 to go to the mayor’s office, he was one of the few who urged caution, saying he thought I would miss the news business. He was right. It’s one reason when I got the chance to come back to Channel 5 to be a political analyst, I took it.

Thanks, Larry.

We miss you. RIP