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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 24, 2018

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Posted at 3:53 PM, Aug 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-24 16:53:28-04

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

August 24, 2018

MLS MONTH AT THE METRO COUNCIL MOVES TOWARDS AN UNCERTAIN END; ANOTHER NOVEMBER BALLOT FIGHT; MORE ITEMS ADDED FOR NOVEMBER VOTE; STILL STRAINED; SOME INTERESTING NEW AD WRINKLES; ON THE SENATE CAMPAIGN TRAIL; FIXING TN READY; INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE LATEST TRUMP MUELLER INVESTIGATION DEVELOPMENTS; 

MLS MONTH AT THE METRO COUNCIL MOVES TOWARDS AN UNCERTAIN END

The package of legislation to give final OK to bring an MLS major-league soccer franchise to Nashville (and construct a new stadium at the Fairgrounds to play in), passed several key votes at the Metro Council meeting last Tuesday night.

But final approval on September 4 still looks uncertain. The bills got 24 yes votes on the second of three readings for the legislation. That would also be enough votes to approve a required property rezoning (which is up for a public hearing Monday night) and to approve the general obligation bonds the city must issue.

But 27 votes, or a two-thirds majority, are needed to approve legislation to demolish some older structures at the Fairgrounds (a requirement that voters placed in the Metro Charter, the city’s constitution). 27 votes are also needed under state law to set up a ticket tax on events held at the MLS Stadium. The tax is similar to what Metro already has in place for events at Nissan Stadium, Bridgestone Arena and First Tennessee Park.

So how do MLS supporters hold the 24 votes they have, then find at least three more? Good questions, especially since the Council could be down to just 38 out of 40 members by early September with Antioch Councilmember Karen Johnson resigning to become the new Metro Juvenile Court Clerk, a position she was elected to assume by voters in the August 2nd election. The Council is already short one member due to the selection of a new vice mayor.

There were 8 Council members who abstained from voting on the MLS legislation last Tuesday, so perhaps 4 of those officials could be persuaded to support the final critical legislation?  As we’ve told you the last couple of weeks, getting that support could hinge on developers and Fairgrounds’ neighbors and community organizations coming to terms on a Community Benefits Agreement. That document would cover requiring vendor and hiring practices during stadium construction, along with placing similar requirements om the 10-acre, mixed-use development that is part of the MLS plan. The Community Benefits Plan will likely also require the development of affordable housing in the Fairgrounds area.

If that Community Benefits Agreement isn’t agreed to (and it seems to be still in negotiations), the MLS soccer push may be dead or in quick search for a Plan B.

This kind of situation would have been unthinkable a few months ago, when the Council approved the first package of legislation needed for the MLS development with 30+ yes votes. But then came the Mayor Megan Barry scandal and resignation, followed by Metro’s severe and unexpected budget crunch. That money squeeze has led to increased calls to reassess the city adding any more significant debt to its books (as the MLS deal would require).  

The budget crunch has also led to Metro withdrawing a promised cost of living pay raises to city workers, another reason not to approve the MLS plan say some in the Council. But the Council’s earlier votes on MLS could raise questions as well about the city going back on its word.  That, in turn, could have major implications for Nashville in the future recruiting or retention of  businesses, along with deals with new or existing sports franchises from MLS and MLB to our existing NFL and NHL teams. Nobody likes it when the city changes its mind, or as some would claim “goes back on its word.”

In a related development, the idea of putting the MLS matter on the November ballot for voters to weigh in, appears to de dead. I told you last week that parliamentary procedures (Council rules) might keep two resolutions, that called for a referendum, from coming to a vote. It did.

The Council’s Budget & Finance Committee deferred the resolutions and the full Council agreed. The reason? Council rules say any legislation that spends money (putting the MLS matter on the ballot would cost $50,000) requires the city Finance Director “to certify the availability of funds.” The city’s finance chief has up to 20 days to do that, meaning it would be at least the next Council meeting (September 4) before that ruling could be obtained. The deadline to be the November ballot ends in August.

Supporters of the referendum did not drop their referendum idea without some pushback. Quoting Councilman Steve Glover via THE TENNESSEAN:

"If we're going to play little games, that's fine, but don't think the people aren't watching and don't think the people aren't looking very seriously about us skirting our responsibilities," Glover said.

"If you want to get people furious out there this will literally just pour more gasoline on the fire," he said. "We owe it to the voters to have this conversation."

Said (At-Large Councilmember John) Cooper, "Using a technical excuse not to have a referendum is problematic. Ultimately, we are asking for taxpayer's money, and asking for their opinion (should be) what we're about. It's time we move beyond this secret deal-making process that has gone on with soccer," Cooper said.

There’s never a dull moment during MLS month at the Metro Council. Next month looks the same way. 

ANOTHER NOVEMBER BALLOT FIGHT

This is not only the year for the most countywide elections ever in Nashville (5 counting November), we also keep having law suits about what should be on the ballot.

As I mentioned in last week’s column, the city’s Fraternal Order of Police does not believe the Metro Election Commission acted correctly in placing a Metro Charter amendment before voters November 6. 
The amendment, backed by several African American and community activist groups, would create an 11-member police oversight board that could investigate and make recommendations about law enforcement issues. That includes concerns regarding fatal officer related shootings such as the two that have occurred in Nashville in the past several months. Quoting THE TENNESSEAN:

“Community Oversight Now blasted the FOP lawsuit in a statement Tuesday, saying it "seeks to prevent Davidson County residents from voting on the most significant effort in decades to bring accountability to Metro Nashville government."

"The lawsuit is not just an attack on government accountability, but the sacred right to vote, which many sacrificed for the right to exercise," the group said.

The advocacy group urged Mayor David Briley and the Metro Council to oppose the lawsuit.”

The police union strongly opposes the oversight board. Quoting again from a TENNESSEAN article:

“The suit said the board could upend officers' daily lives by "introducing uncertainty into their duties" and stripping their existing disciplinary system of due process. "Our concern that the current proposed legislation lacks perspective from law enforcement, creates an environment lacking due process, and violates employee rights are the foundations of our position," FOP President James Smallwood said in a statement.”

In its lawsuit, the FOP claims the Election Commission should have used the late May mayoral election this year not the May, 2016 county general election to determine whether the amendment backers had enough voters’ signatures (at least 10% of voters in the last general election) to put the matter on the ballot.

Given the deadlines fast approaching for our November vote, there is going to have to be some quick pleadings filed, court hearings held, decisions rendered, then appeals filed and decided to work all this out in the next few days.

2018 continues to be the strangest political year I have ever seen in Nashville, and its’ still just August.

MORE ITEMS ADDED FOR NOVEMBER VOTE

And, what the heck, while we’re doing all this voting, how about 5 other Metro Charter amendments the Council approved Tuesday night for the November ballot.

In analyzing the Charter proposals:

Voters have rejected several efforts to add a third term to the Council’s present two-term limit. Not being a fan of term limits myself, I like the proposed change to restore some institutional memory and experience to the Council. But with all the general dissatisfaction out there about Metro government in general, this would seem an odd time for voters to give Councilmembers more time to serve.

The Council selecting an acting mayor, if a vacancy occurs and the vice mayor can’t fill the position, seems reasonable. But I wonder if people will be confused and think the Council, not voters will choose the new Mayor for the rest of the term, instead of there being a special election as the Charter requires.

Special elections to fill Council vacancies within eight months, rather than a year, is good way to insure citizens have their elected voice in office. But it could mean still more elections and costs, especially if runoffs are required to fill vacancies. The one Charter amendment rejected Tuesday by the Council was for an “instant runoff” voting system being used in a few other parts of the country. It’s so new I haven’t really formed an opinion about it for Metro. 

The addition of non-gender specific titles to the Charter is appropriate. But might it create a “politically correct” conversation that would interesting to see play out in a town that prides itself on being progressive.

Finally, adding wording to the city’s oaths of office outlined in the Charter to “uphold the Metro Charter” (along with upholding the U.S. and Tennessee Constitutions) makes sense. I would appear to be a long overdue correction of an oversight 56 years ago when voters approved our civic constitution.

STILL STRAINED

Because of the long-standing issues we’ve just discussed, the tense relationship between the city’s law enforcement officers, the minority community and other progressive groups continue to fester and bubble just below the boiling over stage.

The recent officer related fatal shootings continue to draw calls for a leadership change in the Metro Police Department even as the ongoing TBI investigation of the latest incident is still underway.

SOME INTERESTING NEW AD WRINKLES

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean this week unveiled his first TV ad of the general election campaign.

It is entitled “Ideas.” It focuses on an education program he began as mayor of Nashville called “Limitless Library.” It makes any book in the public library system available upon request to any child in any Davidson County public school. Now Dean wants to take the concept statewide if he becomes governor. Plus, he has some other ideas.

What is Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee up to on TV? Right now, his campaign has no ads on the air and hasn’t had broadcast one since the August 2 primary. That’s over three weeks.

The outside PAC of the Republican Governors Association does continue to run a TV spot touting Lee for Governor in an endorsement voiced by Governor Bill Haslam. But otherwise the Lee name is dark in terms of paid broadcast TV and cable outreach.

That may seem odd since all the other statewide candidates are on the air, including the U.S. Senate candidates. Lee is campaigning across the state as usual. You might remember he went off the air for a while during the spring and everything worked out fine in August. 

This week I got a Lee campaign fund-raising e-mail asking for contributions “to build up our resources to reach every Tennessean with our message. “That’s certainly not unusual.  Still not keeping your name and message out there on TV right after your big primary win seems a little unusual for the still relatively unknown outsider in the race. After all reports NASHVILLE POST, Karl Dean has also been seen in recent days taping another TV spot in front of the Music City Center.

Bill Lee is doing some staff changes and additions, although none of them seem related to his paid media outreach.

In early September, candidates enter the “window” when they can receive the most favorable rates from TV stations. Maybe that’s when Lee will go back on the air.

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, the Karl Dean campaign is making some staff changes and additions as well. Some of them reach into Nashville’s Mayor’s office and the local PR community.

In one way, the two gubernatorial candidates are ahead of their Senate counterparts. They’ve agreed to debate on TV statewide, with three sessions set between October 2 and 12 in Memphis, Kingsport and Nashville.

Dean says he wants still more debates, but the Lee campaign indicates in a news release that the Republican has already appeared with Dean at eight previous forums, bringing the total joint appearances to 11 in which they will have been “able to share their respective ideas on the major issues facing our state.” That sounds to me like a “probably not” from Lee to more debates.

ON THE SENATE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

Will the Senate candidates hold any TV debates? Bredesen has agreed to four dates and locations across the state spread through late September and early October. Blackburn says she wants to debate but has not yet committed to any specific dates or locations.

The finalizing of the gubernatorial debates led Bob Corney of the Bredesen campaign to send a letter to his opposition nudging Blackburn to commit.

“We believe Tennessee voters expect and deserve the same kind of robust series of debates that they will see in the governor’s race. As you know, there are clear differences between our candidates. Let’s give voters ample opportunities to evaluate Congressman Blackburn and Governor Bredesen and their positions on the issues.”

As of mid-afternoon Friday (when this column was sent out), I have not seen any response from the Blackburn campaign.

Like the gubernatorial candidates, the Senate hopefuls have been attending forums together, including one here in Nashville today (Friday) on the opioid crisis.  Bredesen used the opportunity to criticize a law Congressman Blackburn sponsored through Congress that he says (via a campaign news release) “has fueled the nation’s opioid crisis by undermining the U.S. Drug Enforcement Authority’s ability to monitor suspicious drug shipments.”  

Bredesen added: “Introducing legislation to repeal that [Congressman Blackburn’s bill] law will be my first act as a U.S. Senator.”

Blackburn admits the law she helped passed has “unintended consequences” which she says she is working to revise. 

Another recent session with Senate candidates found distinguished nationally syndicated columnist George Will in the audience. Here’s his interesting take on Marsha Blackburn, Phil Bredesen and their campaign so far.

The Senate race is not getting much coverage in terms of polling by national survey firms. But the contest continues to receive significant national news coverage. Here is a POLITICO article that came out this week.

Locally, THE SCENE has this in-depth cover story on the Senate contest.

Otherwise on the campaign trail in the Senate race, the “guilt by association” efforts involving surrogates continue from both sides. The millennial-oriented concert, held Monday at Nashville’s Marathon Music Works to support the Bredesen campaign, was criticized by the National Republican Senate Committee (NRSC). The group said the two stars acts who headlined the show, Jason Isbell and Ben Folds represent “The Unhinged Left.” The NRSC blames Bredesen.

“Phony Phil partners with the unhinged left…. Despite Bredesen’s moderate act, he continues to embrace people who have made it a habit of insulting the Tennessee voters who proudly supported President Trump,” said NRSC spokesman Michael McAdams. “Today’s (Monday) fundraiser is the latest example that Phil Bredesen is completely out-of-touch with a majority of Tennesseans.”

The concert drew an estimated 1,500 people. Reports THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL: ON THE HILL blog:

“Isbell mocked the NRSC commentary during his set, noting that while he may have been unhinged in the past, he is now “hinged as hell.”

Isbell added on Twitter: “I’ve been in the paper a few times now, but this one is my favorite. This is one I’ll be proud to show my grandkids.”

THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL also reports the “unhinged” Ben Folds performed at Republican National Convention in 2016 despite being a Bernie Sanders supporter.

From the Democrats, Mark Brown of the Tennessee Victory 2018 group this week again assailed Marsha Blackburn. This time, based on reports from NEWSDAY, Brown cited her continued “illegal coordination” with D.C. Super PACS. That includes a spokesperson, Andrea Bozek, who has apparently worked nearly simultaneously for both the Blackburn campaign and for a group, Winning for Women, that has endorsed her and given her campaign money.  That’s sure a biggie. Stop the presses.

At the same time, THE TENNESSEE STAR reports the Tennessee Republican Party has unveiled a new on-line/digital platform ad “highlighting Bredesen’s ties to extremist liberal Democrats and their immigration policies that are out-of-step with a majority of Tennesseans."

You can see the ad here.

Interestingly, I moderated a conversation with Phil Bredesen before Nashville’s prestigious Downtown Rotary Club on Monday. I specifically asked him about supporting fellow national Democrats in abolishing ICE, the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Here is what Bredesen said in response, as reported by THE TENNESSEAN:

"I think that's a really stupid idea. We obviously need to control our borders," Bredesen said. "It's a matter of national security. We are entitled to control our borders and have an agency that's in power to do that."

“He went on to say that how officials act within the agency is the responsibility of the federal government, but added, "Eliminating the agency is more political theater and grandstanding than it is having a solution to the problem."

This week there is another outside group running an ad that relates to Senate race. It’s sponsored by the One Nation PAC with the spot running on both on TV and on digital platforms. The ad focuses on making the Trump tax cuts permanent. Viewers are urged to call both Marsha Blackburn (the only elected official to speak in the commercial) and Senator Lamar Alexander to tell them to vote that way. Senator Bob Corker also appears in some of the video, but he is not mentioned. Of course, President Trump appears too.

The Bredesen campaign ended the week unveiling a new digital video promoting its grassroots efforts.

That includes opening 18 community offices across the state.

“People are tired of all the hyper partisanship and noise in politics today,” said the candidate in a news release. “We’re asking people to knock on doors and talk to people in church and in the grocery store because person-to-person conversations are going to make the difference in this campaign.”

The Tennessee Republican Party is running a very interesting video I see in my Facebook feed. It spoofs the latest Phil Bredesen TV ad which was taped in front of the home where he grew up in upstate New York. The spoof says its purpose is to give voters the rest of the story. Is this a preview of what lies ahead if (or more likely when) the campaigns turn negative later in the fall?

Speaking of Facebook, the conservative on-line TENNESEE STAR says several of its articles (all critical of Bredesen) were temporarily taken down by Facebook this week. THE STAR folks aren’t happy.

FIXING TN READY

It doesn’t take a political rocket scientist to know that the state’s K-12 education testing program, TN Ready has not worked well ever since it began in the 2015-16 school year.

But how do you fix it now in a just-beginning school year that will see a new governor, likely a new education commissioner and lots of new lawmakers coming on the scene after the November election?

Governor Bill Haslam wants to take a shot at it with what sounds like something out a political campaign, a statewide listening tour. Reports the Tennessee Journal ON THE HILL blog.

You can see from the details about the listening tour, this is still very much a work in progress. In fact, the listening tour is already taking heat before the first meeting is held.

Can this listening tour be successful enough to help put together a revised TN Ready program (with a new private sector operator)? Will it be left to the new Governor to take the results of the listening tour and figure out what to do? Will the new Governor have time to do that, given that he (and his new education commissioner) don’t take office until January 20, which is not many weeks before the statewide testing usually begins?

Is TN Ready poised for another unsuccessful year?

INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE LATEST TRUMP MUELLER INVESTIGATION DEVELOPMENTS 

The Robert Mueller Russia investigation including President Donald Trump and his 2016 campaign has been underway for well over a year. Did it reach a defining moment this week?

That’s when the President’s former personal attorney, Michael Cohen pled guilty to several federal felony charges and accused the President of ordering him to commit campaign finance crimes.

At the same time, the President’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort was convicted by a federal jury on eight separate felony charges regarding tax and bank fraud.

Will these become critical developments? Or is it all still no collusion with Russia, no real connection with President Trump?

We’ve asked Presidential scholar and Middle Tennessee State University Professor Dr. John Vile to join us this week on INSIDE POLITICS to discuss these matters.

Lots of things to sort out and discuss. Tune us in.

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