NewsChannel 5 +Inside PoliticsCapitol View Commentary


Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 28,2015

Posted at 4:16 PM, Aug 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-08 04:32:56-04


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

August 28, 2015


As Nashville’s contentious mayoral runoff race counts down to less than two weeks to Election Day (September 10), there was both a sameness in how the campaigns moved ahead, along with a few new strategy twists from the candidates.

That includes a new TV attack ad from David Fox. And, for the first time, an attack ad from Megan Barry, too. The Fox ad employs slightly revised talking points to go after Barry and it is an interesting parody of a national car company (Lincoln) commercial. The Barry ad was positioned by her campaign to be an answer to “charges being made by the Fox Brothers” in their ads (both by the campaign and the Super PAC funded by the candidate’s brother). But the spot also goes somewhat further than that in criticizing David Fox’s livelihood.

Both ads obviously seek to build support and play off another week of significant endorsements for both candidates. However for the first time, candidates also started directly pushing back against some of those coming out to endorse their opponent or to put the rival endorsement in a different context.

There was also a second TV debate hosted by NEWSCHANNEL5 (August 24) and word that the station will be releasing its own outside, independent poll on the mayor’s race early this coming week.

The first new change in ads this past week came from Megan Barry who on Tuesday (August 25) edited and substituted her existing spot in the TV rotation. The revised ad continues to spotlight Barry’s endorsements by both THE TENNESSEAN and by former Mayor and Governor Phil Bredesen (both are featured towards the end of the spot). The Barry ad begins by pushing back against the Fox TV attacks, saying he’s made his fortune as “a hedge fund manager (and therefore), he “can’t be trusted to help the middle class.”

You can see the “revised” Barry spot here….

By the way I have not had the chance to link this audience to the Fox Super PAC TV ad to which Barry says she is responding and which began airing last week. I know several of you read this column from out of town. So now that I have a link, here it is….

The new Fox attack ad debuted on Thursday (August 27) .It’s different, although it will be quite familiar if you’ve seen the Lincoln car commercials featuring move star Matthew McConaughey. It’s the second time Fox has done a parody of another national commercial in his campaign. The first was a play-off of the ongoing Sports Center promotional ads on ESPN. Both ads also give a cameo role to the Fox campaign mascot, which is, of course, a fox.

You can see the latest Fox ad here

The Fox ad is interesting demographically. The Lincoln car brand has historically attracted an older male buyer. However, clearly these spots featuring movie star McConaughey are going after a younger and more female audience. Is that David Fox’s strategy too?

It’s a different kind of attack ad to be sure. Look at all the dark tones of the video. Now lots of the political attack ads use dark video. But it’s usually when showing the opponent, along with grainy video or photos that make them look like 5 miles of bad roads (see the Super PAC ad video above). Usually the favored candidate in an attack ad is shown in the bright sunshine, smiling.

But in thisFox ad, he’s the one in the shadows. How will that play? I must say the narrative style of the ad better fits this candidate. It’s pithy and low key in its salesmanship which works better for Fox as compared to his wife’s TV ad that it replaces (or supplements). That ad attacks Barry for being too interested in and too far to the left on social issues.

And that perhaps is what I find most fascinating about the new ad. It completes a pivot on the talking points being used by the Fox team to attack Barry. From the August 6th Election Night until this week, the mantra was Barry was “too liberal” “too far left” for Nashville. But beginning during the NEWSCHANNEL5 debate on Monday night, the message became much more direct and focused on her Metro Council voting record on property taxes increases, water sewer rate hikes, piling up debt and not dealing with issues that have been around for years (not just during her mayoral campaign) such as affordable housing and mass transit.

So does the pivot to modify the attack talking points signal the “too left, too liberal” charges against Barry weren’t working? Will this new Fox ad make a difference? Is the new Barry ad a sign that she’s gone negative for the first time because she’s seen something in her polling that Fox is moving up in the race?

The new Fox attacks are interesting. While they go after Barry on her voting record, they are also another veiled attack on current Mayor Karl Dean, whose administration proposed all the tax hikes and debt increases she voted for and who could also be criticized like Barry for not dealing with pressing issues such as transportation and housing costs over the last eight years. But Fox has always been careful not to criticize Dean. Meanwhile Barry has many times portrayed herself as Karl Dean’s running mate and partner the last eight years they’ve been together in Metro government.

I also found it strange that Fox made such a big deal during the NewsChannel5 debate over Barry approving $75 million from Metro’s Rainy Day Fund (Unappropriated Fund Balance) to balance this year’s Metro operating budget. That amount is high by historical standards but using such funds has been routine for years as long as the balance in the fund remains above a certain level (which it does). In fact, to keep that percentage of cushion, the Rainy Day Fund is larger now than in past years (above 5% of total budget I think).

What most puzzled me about Fox’s comments is that he said repeatedly how astonished he was that she would vote for this and that he would never do so. That debate and vote occurred in the Council back in May or June of this year (which was during the mayoral general election campaign). I don’t remember Fox raising this topic either in a candidate forum, on his web site, with me when he was on INSIDE POLITICS, or in the media until now.

Some Barry campaign supporters are trying to make some political hay out of this issue. Former mayoral candidate Charles Robert Bone (who has endorsed Barry) has fired off the e-mail below concerning Fox’s budget charges. This came to my e-mail box from a source close to the Barry campaign…

Dear Friends -

As you may know, I decided to support Megan’s campaign for mayor because I believe that she will work to sustain the City’s momentum in the most fiscally responsible way possible; that she will focus on addressing traffic and improving infrastructure; and that she will embrace and expand upon many of the great things that are already underway in this City.

Furthermore, I must say I was stunned by some of the things that David Fox had to say about the state of our City during Monday night’s debate. To hear David tell it, the last eight years under Mayor Karl Dean have been a fiscal disaster. While you know that’s not true, I wanted to provide you with my perspective and talking points about why what David is saying is not accurate.

David is simply wrong about the budget and fund balance. Addressing the use of the City’s fund balance in this year’s budget, David called it “extraordinary,” said he “could not believe it,” and “would never approve that.” The truth is that the unappropriated fund balance has traditionally been kept at 5% of the budget, and is currently around 7% of the operating budget. Metro has appropriately used its excess fund balance in 14 of the last 16 budgets going back to 2001 (including all four years that David served on the School Board) with an average allocation of $42.6 million. These fund balances exist because of prudent and fiscally responsible management and year-over-year conservative financial projections. For example, despite an allocation of $73 million from last year’s fund balance, the fund balance still increased from $124.8 million to $166.7 million. To claim that this practice is extraordinary is, in fact, an extraordinary position to take.

David is effectively proposing draconian budget cuts. He is now on record presumably with the position that he would not have raised property taxes and would never use the excess fund balance. The result of that would be approximately $175 million less in revenue today (9% of the total budget). More staggering is that if you assume he could not cut education, would not cut public safety and that debt service is essentially a fixed cost, then David would have to find a way to cut almost 32% of our remaining budget. This would decimate the Metro Government. This is not only an untenable position, but perhaps the most fiscally irresponsible position that one could possibly take.

In addition, it is important to understand that the property tax rate today ($4.516) is actually lower than it was eight years ago ($4.690); that the City has the same bond rating today – Moody’s Aa2 /S&P AA – as when Mayor Dean and Megan Barry took office; that our debt service percentage to the total budget is less than it was eight years ago; and that the current administration has reduced more than $75 million from the City’s departments while increasing funds for public education and public safety.

I really like David personally and enjoyed getting to know him better over the last year. However, I refuse to sit idly by while he and others on his behalf unfairly attack Megan (and Mayor Dean’s legacy) and disseminate false information.

Thanks –

Charles Robert
Charles Robert Bone | Attorney
Bone McAllester Norton PLLC
511 Union Street / Suite 1600 / Nashville, TN 37219
tel (615) 238-6394 / fax (615) 687-5597 /

This mayoral runoff campaign has really focused on endorsements…and there were lots for both candidates this week. That includes the second of the five other mayoral hopefuls who ran against Fox and Barry. Jeremy Kane (who finished seventh or last on August 6th) now backs David Fox. Last week (as I’ve mentioned above), it was Charles Robert Bone (who finished fifth) endorsing Megan Barry.

The Kane endorsement might not be completely unexpected. I mentioned in an earlier column that Kane had said at a candidate forum last spring that he might favor Fox if he was not in the race. At that time, I got this somewhat grumpy e-mail from Darden Copeland who was Kane’s campaign manager.


“For what it’s worth, I don’t remember Jeremy ever saying he would vote for David Fox, let alone endorse anyone. I suspect he will stay out of the runoff entirely. It is a stretch to suggest that a May debate answer to the question of “for whom would you vote” would translate into a full-on endorsement.”

But he did. Jeremy Kane says he’s backing Fox because “they have similar visions for the city’s infrastructure, debt and schools” (PITH IN THE WIND, August 28). Kane adds when Fox was on the Metro School Board he voted in favor of creating the LEAD ACADEMY Charter School that Kane founded.

Fox also received an endorsement this week from the Metro Fraternal Order of Police. This is a bit of surprise considering the other city labor unions (Teachers, Service Workers and this week, Firefighters) are backing Barry. All four labor organizations supported Bill Freeman (who finished third) in August. But this time the FOP membership voted 2 to 1 for Fox with the union leadership saying Fox was the “common sense” candidate and choice.

The Firefighters’ endorsement of Barry was publicized by her campaign within hours after the FOP-Fox choice was announced. It was the first of several occasions this week of the campaigns answering each other with new endorsements or pushing back on those who endorsed a rival.

Another example began Sunday when Fox took a brief out-of-county detour (to Williamson County) to receive the endorsement of GOP State Senator Jack Johnson. That occurred as Fox attended Johnson’s annual barbeque event, which also featured Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker.

The next night at the NEWSCHANNEL5 debate, Barry called out Fox about it, reminding the audience that Fox claims he is a “centrist” and an “independent.” Fox responded by saying he had a great day on Sunday along with recounting, in some detail, all the campaign stops he made that day courting the African American vote. But Barry persisted on the out of county endorsement issue, even issuing a news release about it the following day.

As for Fox, he is indeed spending some resources in the minority community. According to a story in THE TENNESSEAN (August 28), the candidate has a radio spot running spotlighting a community activist named Ruby Smith. She says she voted for Howard Gentry August 6. Now she’s for Fox. Why? Well, she says rumors Fox is a Tea Party Republican aren’t true. The ad continues: “He (Fox) voted in the last Democratic primary just like you and me. Fox is no racist. He’s not voting to bring back segregation. He never said black kids can’t learn. His opponents are saying that stuff just to scare folks.

“Who is David Fox? He’s a believer and he shares my faith in God. We need a leader who puts God first. Vote for David Fox. He believes in all of us.”

Meanwhile Megan Barry parlayed an event with the African American community on Tuesday (a morning prayer breakfast) to receive the endorsement of over 100 black ministers and community leaders. Many in the group blessed and prayed over her as well at the end of the session. During her comments at the breakfast, Barry took the occasion to talk about her religious faith something which she had not mentioned much at all on the campaign trail while Fox has mentioned his Jewish faith and tradition several times in the runoff race.

Barry says she was raised Catholic and lives her faith through her legislative priorities in the Council. Barry also decried an ongoing recent whisper and e-mail campaign going on in the community and in cyberspace claiming she is an atheist. That’s not true she asserts, and she called on Fox to disavow such efforts. Fox says he is unaware of such activities and his campaign has not been involved.

The candidates this week also split endorsements from groups involved in supporting the Nashville Fairgrounds. The Save Our Fairgrounds organization went for Fox while the State Fairgrounds Vendors

Association is for Barry. Again the endorsements came out within mere hours of each other. The Save Our Fairgrounds group has been at odds with Barry since she voted in favor of Mayor Dean’s ill-fated plan to redevelop the Fairgrounds property and demolish the Nashville Speedway. Given the restrictions placed on changing the Fairgrounds by voters, Barry now says she supports spending money to enhance the current Fairgrounds facilities and make it more of a family-oriented tourist attraction. That position seems to give her favor with the Fairgrounds vendor group.

The mayoral campaigns this week also had some interesting new developments over legislative endorsements. Fox won the support of newly-retired Nashville Democratic State Senator Douglas Henry. In a news release, Henry said: “I have watched this race closely, and I am convinced that David Fox will be a great mayor for Nashville. David Fox has both the business and government experience we need to move the city forward in a responsible way. I am proud to endorse him and urge all my friends and neighbors to support him.”

Indeed Henry’s long record of public service, his reputation for fiscal integrity, and his ability to attract bi-partisan (Republican) support could also send a signal to moderate and conservative Democrats that it’s OK to support Fox. However in celebrating the Henry endorsement, one Facebook comment by a Fox supporter, anti-AMP activist Rick Williams, said something else. He posted that “David Fox will need to carry the white Christian suburban neighborhoods” in Nashville.

In seeming response to both the Henry endorsement and the support Fox is receiving from out of county Republican state legislative leaders, (which includes not only Senator Jack Johnson but also Williamson County representative Glenn Casada), the Barry campaign recycled (Thursday) a news release from last week which contained endorsements for her from all the current Democratic members of Nashville’s state legislative delegation, including Senator Jeff Yarbro who took over Senator Henry’s seat earlier this year.

The messages was clear that all of Barry’s legislative support is from Davidson County period. As for the most prominent member of Nashville’s delegation, Republican Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, she told THE NASHVILLE POST that because she wants to keep a good working relationship with whoever is Nashville’s next mayor, she plans to remain neutral “at least publicly. GOP State Senator Dr. Steve Dickerson, who also represents Davidson County is also declining comment and remaining neutral, at least publicly.

Today (Friday) marks the end of the first week of Early Voting. So far through Thursday, the totals were higher than Early Voting back in July (up 3,208votes or from 8.317 to 11,525). Those numbers got a big boost Thursday when all the satellite locations all across the county began operations which will continue until Saturday, September 5.

Checking the numbers from the first day of satellite Early Voting, every location is up from July with Green Hills Library again leading the way with 1,225 votes cast (compared to 751 the first day last time). Two other Early Voting locations topped the 1,000 vote mark the first day (Hermitage Library 1,132 and Edmondson Pike Library 1,052). In the July Early Vote only Green Hills topped 1,000 on any single day and Green Hills did it twice (the last two days of that vote period). Belle Meade was a close second in early balloting in July. Now it’s fourth the first day at 937. Bellevue is up substantially (from 598 to 858) and so is Madison (from 518 to 801) and Southeast County Community Center (from 330 to 505).

Bordeaux, another African American voting area is up too (from 683 to 789). Other sites are up in votes but are still rather low overall (Casa Azafran from 100 to 156 & Goodlettsville from 179 to 225).

So are Metro voters now more engaged? Might we vote more in the runoff than we did in the August election (104,000)?

The Early Vote was decisive for both Barry and Fox making the runoff. Will it be decisive again? We won’t know for sure until Election Night, September 10. But I can’t help but think about several prominent Nashville citizens who’ve left us in the last year or so (John Seigenthaler, Gail Kerr, Francis Guess, George Barrett, Tom Seigenthaler and even my former colleague Eddie Jones). They are all up in the heaven enjoying themselves. They already know who’s going to win and be Nashville’s next mayor. God bless them. They’ve already got the scoop and they’re loving it.


While we here in Nashville have been engrossed in following our red hot race for Metro Mayor, the rest of the country seems to be fascinated with the mania that is the Donald Trump for President Campaign. This weekend on INSIDE POLITICS we’ve asked Vanderbilt political science professor John Geer to join us to discuss The Donald and the rest of the very crowded presidential candidate field in both parties for the 2016 race. All of them are seeking to succeed Barack Obama as President.

Join us, it’s a very interesting discussion and we are still well over year away before the final vote is counted in November of next year.

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


I didn’t hear Governor Bill Haslam say it. But this past week with the beginning of school for the first participants in his Tennessee Promise program, it must have been one of the most gratifying times he’s experienced in public office.

If they stick it out, stay school and get a degree, these thousands of young people will see their lives and their families’ lives transformed through utilizing the two years of free tuition at a community college to attend classes. This Tennessee Promise program has made the Governor a national leader on this issue of trying increase the number of college graduates both across the nation (and here in Tennessee). It’s something we badly need to compete in today’s world economy.

And the program can still grow. Senator Lamar Alexander says he’d like to help by revising the federal forms required for all college students to fill out to receive any kind of financial assistance. Having spent several years working through such forms for my own children, I think that’s a great idea. It shouldn’t be

more difficult in terms of paper work to get student aid than filling your yearly IRS tax long form. But it is.

In the area of education, Senator Alexander also waded into the controversy surrounding the Metro School Board selecting a new Schools Director. Alexander told an audience at Nashville’s University School this week, the real problem Metro is having in getting good candidates to apply and to hire a new Director is that the local School Board itself is so dysfunctional. Candidates know it says the Senator and therefore don’t apply. Ouch!

One major issue continuing to divide the Board is adding new charter schools. The Board recently rejecting several applications for such new schools. It appears several of those applicants are appealing to the state setting up a potential confrontation similar to what happened three years regarding the Great Harvest charter schools group that wanted to come to town.

Is the charter school controversy this time also headed for a lawsuit?

Back on the state level, not everything was not peaches and cream for the Haslam administration this week. Amidst increasing skepticism and hostile questions from state lawmakers and the media, the State Corrections Department says it’s going to bring in an outside agency (the American Correctional Association) to conduct an independent review of the department, several of its prisons and its practices and policies. This revolves around increasing concerns about violence and safety in the prisons due to inadequate staffing, scheduling issues and other matters.

For some weeks the Tennessee DOC had continued to insist there are no problems only bad information being circulated by critics. But the decision to bring in an outside group for an independent audit clearly shows the department now knows it needs help. At least something might help the department buy some time to put out the “dumpster fight” that continues to envelope our state prison system.

There was also other significant court decision this week that impacts those in this state awaiting execution under the state’s death penalty laws. THE TENNESSEAN (August 26) says that includes 67 inmates, one of them a woman. A Nashville Chancery Court judge, Claudia Bonnyman ruled Tennessee’s lethal injection protocol and procedures are constitutional. The Judge says the plaintiffs in the lawsuit did not prove what the state is proposing to do amounts to “cruel and unusual punishment” which is prohibited in the U.S. Constitution. There has not been an execution in this state since 2009.

The decision does not mean executions will occur again anytime in the near future. The ruling is bound to be taken to the State Court of Appeals and then to the Tennessee Supreme Court. For that reason the High Court had instructed the Corrections Department not to starting scheduling lethal injection executions until this lawsuit has finally runs its course.

On another highly controversial issue, the disposal of fetal remains, several state GOP lawmakers this week asked Governor Haslam to instruct the State Department of Health to promulgate a series of emergency rules to govern local clinics that do abortions and must dispose of fetal tissue.

A 1989 law bans the sale of fetal tissue in this state. No allegations have been made this is happening in Tennessee. Nevertheless in the wake of national allegations and undercover videos surfacing that such activities might be occurring in other states, Tennessee lawmakers have been holding public hearings

and are also asking Mr. Haslam to order an probe by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation “to see to what extent these clinics are engaged in activities in Tennessee that violate state law.”

Again no direct allegations have been made and clinic operators and Planned Parenthood in Tennessee say no law violation is occurring and that the disposal of fetal tissue is contracted to an outside private company.

When state lawmakers began their hearings Governor Haslam sent a letter of support. I have not seen any response so far from the governor’s office about the request for emergency rules or a TBI probe.