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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 21, 2015

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Posted at 3:35 PM, Aug 21, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-08 04:40:39-04

CAPITOL VIEW

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

August 21, 2015

ENDORSEMENTS, DEBATES AND NEW TV ADS WHILE THE FOX SUPER PAC RE-EMERGES; INSIDE POLITICS; THE STATE OF THE STATE; BREAKING RECORDS

ENDORSEMENTS, DEBATES AND NEW TV ADS WHILE THE FOX SUPER PAC RE-EMERGES

Nashville’s red hot mayoral runoff race saw its first ballots cast today (Friday, August 21). That came with the advent of Early Voting which continues through Saturday, September 5. The mayor’s contest this week also featured a new TV ads for both candidates (Megan Barry and David Fox); a slew of significant new endorsements for Barry, along with the first candidate forum of the runoff and the first of a trio of TV debates for the contestants.

The next one-on-one meeting of the two candidates is set to air live on NEWSCHANNEL5 Monday night August 24 at 7:00 pm. The debate will be held at Vanderbilt University’s Ingram Hall and it is free and open to the public. However it’s suggested you reserve a seat by going to: www.metronashvillemayoraldebate.eventbrite.com.

The debate is sponsored by Vanderbilt, NEWSCHANNEL5 and the League of Women Voters. The moderator will be NEWSCHANNEL5 anchor Rhori Johnston.

In terms of other campaign related developments, late this week (Friday) saw emergence of a new TV spot paid for by a controversial out of state Super PAC that has been funded by George Fox, hedge fund businessman and brother of candidate David Fox. The Citizens Super PAC spot began airing today (August 21) with the local TV buy (cable and broadcast) estimated to be close to $200,000 between now and early September. And since the runoff election doesn’t occur until September 10, the buy could well be extended and/or a new ad added to the TV rotation before then.

This is clearly one of the most highly anticipated political ads in Nashville election history. That’s especially true given the controversial nature of the PAC’s funding and its activities during the August general election. At that time back in July, candidate Fox, despite claiming he was not aware or involved in its production or distribution (that would be illegal), personally apologized and disavowed one of the group’s direct mail pieces.

I’d love to insert a link to the Super PAC ad here, especially for out of town readers who don’t see Nashville TV. But similar to what happened during the August race, I can’t find such a link.

Sorry.

This Super PAC ad is not the only new commercial promoting David Fox this week. Team Fox continues to spotlight the Fox family, this time featuring the candidate’s spouse, Carrington. She is delivering a now familiar message that the choice for Nashville is clear in selecting its next mayor and it is not Megan Barry. I heard more than a few folks say she may deliver the message better than the candidate although it is rare to see spouses on the attack.

You can watch the ad here.

Within 24 hours of the new Fox ad starting, the Barry campaign countered with a new spot of its own. It features its own familiar themes about Nashville (including Barry working together with Mayor Karl Dean). The political commercial also spotlights the key support the Barry campaign got last week from former Mayor and Governor Phil Bredesen.

Watch the ad here.

Further following up on the Bredesen endorsement, this week (Thursday) the Barry Team got the nod from Charles Robert Bone, one of Barry’s former mayoral opponents. “I believe the choice as to who should now lead Nashville could not be more clear,” says Bone, who finished fifth in the seven candidate race on August 6. “Megan’s business experience and her experience serving on the Metro Council is what Nashville needs now.”

Bone is also chairing a 150 member-plus strong Business Council whose members are also endorsing Barry. Looking over the list, it appears many of Bone’s moderate to conservative Democratic supporters are joining him in uniting behind Barry. It’s the same kind of group that former Mayor and Governor Bredesen brings to her as well, along with potential fund raising prowess. This kind of voting bloc is key to Barry wining the runoff by expanding her progressive base.

But the announcement of these endorsements also included a staff blunder by the Barry Team. At least one media outlet (NASHVILLE POST) received a list of the Barry Business Council supporters that included more than two pages of “endorsees” (67 folks) who were not ready for prime time because their support was apparently “not confirmed.” Those unconfirmed include such notables as Vanderbilt Chancellor Nick Zeppos and Nashville businessman John Ingram. By the way, I also counted the list of “confirmed” Business Council members and that’s where I derived the 150-plus number I used above. For what it’s worth.

Joining Bone and Bredesen this week in endorsing Barry are all nine Democratic members of Nashville’s state legislative delegation. That’s all of Davidson County’s State House and Senate lawmakers other than Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell and GOP Senator Steve Dickerson. I can’t remember state legislative endorsements being a major item in most past mayoral runoff races. But this year’s involvement and its breakdown along party lines may say a lot about the rather partisan overtones we’ve seen in this runoff.

Endorsements of Metro Council members have long been a staple of mayoral elections. On Tuesday (August 18), Barry may have announced a record haul of such support with outgoing Vice Mayor Diane Neighbors and 36 former, current and future councilmembers announcing they are on her side. That includes close to two-thirds of Barry’s colleagues (26 out of 40) in the present outgoing Council where she has served as a Councilmember-At-Large.

Even some of these outgoing members could be potentially helpful to Barry in their districts (Districts 1, 2, 3, 5, 17 and 20). That’s because they have active council runoff elections in those areas where voter turnout could potentially be higher. This could also be particularly important for Barry in helping

increase African American turnout. Five of the nine council district runoff races (1, 2, 3, 5, 17) are being conducted in areas with significant minority populations and where the council seat is being held currently by African Americans or have historically been that way.

But there is at least one prominent African American Council member I did not see on the list of Megan Barry supporters. Its 19th District Council member Erica Gilmore who is in the runoff for one of the five Council At Large seats up for grabs September 10. In fact, Gilmore led the At-Large ticket August 6 getting more votes (36,000) than anybody else that night. Perhaps Erica Gilmore did not want to mix her At-Large campaign effort with any other runoff race even though her mother, State Representative Brenda Gilmore is now a Barry supporter after being Bill Freeman’s campaign finance person in his mayoral race. Or maybe her name will still be added to the list. I am told she has been saying some nice things about Barry at some recent events.

Speaking of Bill Freeman (who finished a very close third in August), there’s been plenty of speculation about whether he might endorse someone for mayor. He told THE TENNESSEAN (August 16), he thought that might be Megan Barry. But after meeting with her, he says he’s changed his mind and will stay neutral for now. Why? Freeman apparently did not say (or tell THE TENNESSEAN) but my sources in the Barry camp tell me Freeman had a list of issues, appointments and potential people to hire for Barry to consider if she wanted his support. I am told Barry said he would get back to him, but then came the TENNESSEAN story.

Remember as well the Barry-Freeman conversation happened about the same time last week as the Bredesen endorsement. Bill Freeman and Phil Bredesen are not friends, so perhaps Freeman was not comfortable following in the wake of Bredesen’s support for Barry. Meanwhile Howard Gentry, the fourth place mayoral finisher and who split a lot of African American support with Freeman on August 6, still says he us undecided about endorsing in the runoff. He didn’t do it eight years ago when he finished third in the 2007 mayoral race and it looks like he won’t this time either.

That would seem to leave the African American vote up for grabs in the runoff especially since neither Fox nor Barry did well in those voting precincts in the general election. Barry is getting support from some prominent African American elected officials who previously supported Freeman (Brenda Gilmore, as mentioned before, and Councilman At Large Jerry Maynard among others). Still because of Freeman’s disappointing third place finish, some are questioning the ability of Barry’s new African American supporters to deliver the vote. I don’t think it’s a question of Barry carrying the historically black voting boxes, it’s more the size of the margins and the overall size of the minority voter turnout that will be critical for Barry.

This is another way of saying endorsements are wonderful, but they are not votes and only votes win elections. You also need good preparation, and in that regard, the Barry camp and the candidate herself somewhat undermined her Council endorsement event by having not done her homework.

The issue arose just hours before her event when the Fox campaign sent out a news release saying Megan Barry was misleading voters about her executive business experience and “padding her resume.” The charges surround Barry listing in her LinkedIn account (and in other on-line postings as well) her position as the CEO of Barry and Associates, a firm that the Fox Team says was not registered with the

Tennessee Secretary of State, had not been disclosed in her required government disclosure records, nor did it seem to be generating any income, or business activity.

Barry explained the matter by saying the business dates back a few years (before her Council work) and it’s something she no longer needs to use it to generate income as an ethics consultant. While Barry claims she did list the company on her tax filings, she admits she forgot to delete it off her on-line bio listings. She also says she has never mentioned or promoted it on the mayoral campaign trail.

Barry called the Fox attack “a desperate attempt to make an issue out of nothing.” But still she had to spend time at her endorsement event answering media questions about it rather than talking about how great it is to get this kind of support.

Actually it’s Barry’s and her team’s own fault in a way. All campaigns do opposition research and they should do the same kind of deep investigations on their own candidate too. That means going through all bios and public (on-line) records to make sure they are correct and up to date. That way you are not giving your opponent (as they did for the Fox campaign) an opportunity to do a “political photo bomb” on their endorsement event. Ooops!

By the way the Barry and Associates listing has been deleted from her Linked In account. Meanwhile, almost inexplicably David Fox did not even attempt to raise the issue during the candidates’ first TV debate the next evening. He also committed the seeming gaffe of responding to a question of what political leader he most admires by responding “Phil Bredesen.” It may have been an honest answer but it allowed his opponent (Barry) to quickly agree and add: “He (Bredesen) endorsed me (for mayor) last week!”

Laughter ensued but the Fox camp should be checking to see what the usage rights are to the debate’s audio and video. The exchange is short enough it might make for a good Barry TV spot. Ouch!

The Fox team sent out its own favorite moment from the debate. In an e-mail to supporters, the message digressed at first by saying their candidate “smoked Barry by all accounts” at the first mayoral runoff forum held Sunday night (August 16). The event was sponsored by the Nashville Organized for Hope and Action (NOAH) group. I am sure the Barry team would disagree about that, and frankly I don’t remember reading or seeing any media mentioning anybody being “smoked”, only that Fox was the more aggressive candidate that night.

The Fox e-mail continues and implies that is why Barry “came out swinging” at the first TV debate accusing Fox in one of her comments of his leaving “the school district in chaos” (when he left the Metro School Board). Fox retorted by reading a quote from the TENNESEEAN’s David Plazas (who was one of the moderators of the debate). The editorial says that Fox “successfully guided MNPS during its biggest crisis—a time when the state threatened to take control of the school because of its performance. The public schools are better off today.” Of course, THE TENNESSEAN has also endorsed Barry for Mayor.

Barry did not respond to Fox’s comments, but I don’t remember if a rebuttal was allowed at that time.

David Fox hasn’t received nearly as many public endorsements as Barry so far. But I was sent an impressive list of local Republicans and others (close to 100) who are on his Hot Committee list for a

major fundraiser being held August 27. Names include former Governor Winfield and Betty Dunn, Ashley and Lew Connor, Jean and Denny Bottorff, Kathleen Starnes, Collen Conway Welch, Ellen and Townes Duncan, Dianne Neal, and anti-AMP activist Rick Williams. Interestingly, I did not see any one named Frist or Ingram on the list for what it’s worth.

Actually the Fox campaign has at least three fund raising events set for next week and its overall list of supporters is quite long. You can read more about it on this link from NASHVILLE POST POLITICS blog site.

I am told the Barry folks are working on their own Host lists for their fundraisers coming up soon. What does all this mean? Well, clearly this hotly contested mayoral runoff race is creating sharp divisions throughout the community, especially in Nashville’s business and professional classes. Said one person I spoke to recently: “Lots of friendships are now ending.”

INSIDE POLITICS

With Nashville’s mayoral runoff election now less than three weeks away and Early Voting starting, the pace of the race continues to quicken. Joining me this week on INSIDE POLITICS to discuss the latest campaign developments and to preview our NEWSCHANNEL5 debate coming up Monday evening are Middle Tennessee State University Political Science Professor Kent Syler and Blake Farmer, a reporter with WPLN, Nashville Public Radio.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include 7:00 p.m. Friday; 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday; and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 (note new channel) and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2. Again for those who can’t see the show locally or are from out of town, you can watch it with live streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com.

THE STATE OF THE STATE

There were some interesting (even perhaps) conflicting signals coming out of the administration of Governor Bill Haslam this week about the fiscal state of our state and what that means for operating the government and next year’s budget.

Despite a tax revenue surplus of now over $600,000, the Governor is asking departments to submit requests for Fiscal Year 2017 reflecting a 3.5% spending cut. Mr. Haslam has made similar requests almost every year he’s been in office (since 2011). For the most part, those kinds of cuts have not occurred when the final spending plan was enacted. So perhaps this is just another budget planning exercise to see what state commissioners believe are their department’s top priorities.

But this year, there was suddenly a different twist. Without any fanfare, the Haslam administration has posted a “Request for Information” proposal. It seeks potential plans from private companies to outsource or privatize the operations and management of such facilities as state parks, prisons even state college and universities along with National Guard armories.

The Governor has already implemented the privatization of the management of all state offices and he claims it has saved the state a good deal of money. He says no decision has been made as yet about this much more sweeping privatization possibility, which would seem to effect virtually every state-owned facility and surely would impact (eliminate) a number of state jobs. Mr. Haslam says he just wants to see what kind of response such a privatizing request might elicit and how much more efficiently the state can do its job. THE MEMPHIS COMMERCIAL APPEAL (August 18) is reporting already “a small group of major national vendors, including Aramark and Delaware North are making site visits at several Tennessee state parks” in both Middle and West Tennessee.

With knowledge now of the Haslam administration’s privatization plans, Democratic state legislative leaders are expressing concerns. They want assurances that the process regarding state privatization contracts be fair, responsible and open. Nashville Representative Mike Stewart claims previous privatization efforts by this Governor regarding state motor pool operations has cost the taxpayers money including state government now paying $300,000 more than market rates from rental car companies.

As for the group that really runs the show on Capitol Hill, the Republican Super Majority in the State House and Senate, I didn’t read or see any reactions so far from their leadership. Stay tuned.

BREAKING RECORDS

One of the reasons state tax revenues are up is tourism which experienced a record breaking year in 2014. State officials say the overall economic impact was $17.7 billion, up 6% from 2013. An increase in international visitors and more visits to Nashville overall seem to be sparking the boom.

In fact, Nashville generated 31.5% of all spending in the state by visitors with more than 13 million visitors coming to Music City in 2014. But Memphis and Sevier County (home to Gatlinburg & Dollywood) played a major role too, each generating more than $1 billion each in economic impact (TENNESSEAN August 18).

The outlook remains rosy for tourism in the year ahead. But there do appear to be occasional rare situations where not every group wanting to come to town will be welcome with open arms.

Such seemed to be the case this week regarding an event to be held here in Nashville this weekend by the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC). It’s an organization labeled as a white supremacist group and which also served as a possible inspiration for Dylan Roof, the man charged with murdering nine black churchgoers in Charleston, SC earlier this year.

Once the word got out that the CCC was coming to Nashville and where the group might be staying, it didn’t take long for the hotel’s management to announce it had cancelled any reservations made there by the CCC organization. “The group will not be at our hotel, nor will they ever be at our hotel.”

Good.