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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 7, 2015

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Posted at 4:28 PM, Aug 07, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-07 16:58:08-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company

August 7, 2015

AND NOW THERE ARE TWO; THE RUNOFF BEGINS ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE NEW COUNCIL TAKES SHAPE; THE CHARTER CHANGES; SORRY I COULDN’T BE IN TWO PLACES AT ONCE; IT CAN HAPPEN HERE AGAIN

AND NOW THERE ARE TWO

Metro voters have selected Megan Barry and David Fox to be the two candidates (out of a field of seven) to face off in a September 10 runoff election to decide who will be Nashville’s next mayor. The results stayed razor close all night Thursday (August 6) although the positioning order of the candidates never changed throughout the evening.

Barry won the Early Vote and lost the Election Day voter tally by a narrow margin of 140 votes. She’s become the political “little engine that could” working hard to prove the doubters wrong that she couldn’t raise enough money and that her political base wasn’t big enough or solid enough to win. She now has one more hill to chug over to achieve victory and the Fox campaign is already expressing its doubts.

Said one Fox campaign fund raising e-mail: “Barry has been elected twice countywide before and never moved beyond her base (plus) she inherits the legacy of her votes on the $1 billion in debt we have added in the last few years for the city and the $2 billion in unfunded pension obligations.

Of course all that happened under the administration Mayor Karl Dean. So far Fox has avoided criticizing the current mayor by name. In fact he tells me this week on INSIDE POLITICS (see more below), what concerns him more about our current debt is not what’s been added by this administration but the debt challenges facing the next mayor, although his campaign is sure criticizing Barry already.

As for Mayor, he is still staying out of the race, issuing a statement (August 7) congratulating the winners and all the mayoral candidates “for their interest in public service and the ideas they shared…I look forward to congratulating the next mayor on September 10.”

So what will those who lost their mayoral bids do now? Their endorsements could be huge as Barry and Fox seek to boost their vote totals from the low 20% range Thursday night into the 50% plus one vote margin needed to win in September 10. Nothing is certain right now, but if any endorsements come I would expect to see them sooner rather than later, especially with Early Voting starting in less than two weeks.

As for where the former candidates might be leaning? Given their strong Democratic Party ties, Bill Freeman (a strong if disappointing 3rd place finisher) and Charles Robert Bone (5th place) would seem best aligned to endorse a fellow Progressive in Barry. Meanwhile, the Fox camp points out in mayoral forum a few months ago, Howard Gentry (4th place) indicated he would support Fox if he was not on the ballot himself. I believe Jeremy Kane (7th place) made similar comments.

That leaves Linda Eskind Rebrovick (6th place) who was also considered a conservative (Republican leaning). You might think she’d be for Fox. But it may depend on whether the two of them have mended

fences over an attack launched against her by an out of state Super PAC funded by Fox’s brother. I hear conflicting reports on whether they have reconciled.

And what about that Super PAC? Will it be active again and funded by George Fox? Of course the candidate isn’t supposed to know or coordinate is activities with the outside group. But he did tell me on INSIDE POLITICS that things going on that he can’ control “make me nervous.” Barry tells me she expects to be attacked and likely (I think) along the lines of what David Fox said in his victory speech that Barry is “over there on the far-left, and then there’s generally all the rest of us” (more to the center or right politically). The Fox campaign e-mail also bashes Barry (as the candidate did Election Night) that she lives to use the mayor’s office for some political statement for national social issues (right to life and same sex marriage were mentioned) instead seeing the mayor’s office as “a place to get the work of the city done.”

In some ways in response, Barry is taking the high road. After all, she led the field and no mayoral candidate who finished first in August has ever failed to win the runoff. However, Barry and her supporters are getting in a few licks too. In her victory Barry repeated expressed her goal to “earn the support” of voters which seems a dig at Fox for how he’s made his fortune (hedge fund manager) and the personal money he’s given his campaign. Barry supporter the Reverend Judy Cummings was even more pointed in her election night introduction of Barry raising the Super PAC issue directly. Interestingly, Fox in my interview indicated he did NOT plan to write a large check to jump start his runoff fund raising. He says he already has commitments to raise at least $1 million in the next week. Barry told me she had commitments for at least $1 million too and that was as of late Thursday night.

This race has all the earmarks of being the most partisan mayoral race ever. With Nashville being a blue county is a deep red state, who might prevail? Well, of course the Fix team likes their chances but analysis I’ve been sent by a Barry supporter shows that at least among the Early Voters the partisanship was 41% of the vote red 59% blue. And that with a voter demographic of 72.46% 50 years old or older and with a gender ratio of 58% women and 42% men. But how will that be the voter makeup come September 10?

In closing, my prediction had the right three candidates in the mix for the runoff. So I feel I was pretty much on target even though the margins dividing the top trio were as close if not closer than eight years ago (2007). So what happened to Freeman? How did he fall from acknowledged front runner to a close but no cigar third place finish? I think it was because as the race went on his public image seemed to become all about the money (how much he was spending and how much of it was his). It seemed to turn some voters off and despite his endorsements and outspending everyone by significant multiples, he couldn’t grow a lead in fact he began to plateau then retrograde some near the end.

It looked to me like he tried to change his TV some late, running some different looking ads with average citizens and others giving endorsements and talking about what a good man he is and what’s he done in the community. But sometimes when the air starts going out of your balloon it may gush out faster than you think, especially since it appears Freeman may have gotten a pretty good share of the minority vote. But that may have been as large as predicted and Howard Gentry still got enough to keep Freeman from rallying to edge Fox in the end. To add to the frustration, Freeman won the day-of vote but was third in the early vote behind Barry and Fox but couldn’t catch up. Add it all up (and I have not taken his vote total of 22,179 and divided it by $4.5 million but it won’t be a pretty sight and it represents the biggest electoral flop in Metro history.

Finally, with the runoff beginning, David Fox’s recent TV ad portraying Nashville turning into Atlanta if we don’t save “The Nashvillle Way”, is not going over well in that southern city. In fact the mayor down there is not happy about what he hears coming out what he calls Atlanta’s “little cousin."

THE RUNOFF BEGINS ON INSIDE POLITICS

On the first full day of their mayoral runoff campaign, both candidates join me on INSIDE POLITICS for a post -election conversation about what happened Thursday night and what lies ahead over the next five weeks before the final Election Day on September 10.

Runoff races are often quite different in tone (and maybe even in terms of what issues emerge) compared to what has transpired so far in this contest. Let’s see what we can discern from how they respond to questions on those topics, including how they will seek out and approach for support the five unsuccessful candidates who didn’t make the finals of this race.

As I mentioned before, the support of those unsuccessful candidates could well be the critical determining factor in who becomes Nashville’s next mayor. How well each campaign can make a quick, effective transition into runoff mode (in terms of raising money and implementing a campaign strategy) will be a key. Nashville has had six previous mayoral runoffs in the last 52 years. And as I mentioned, for what it’s worth, nobody who finished second in August (the general election) has ever been the winner in September (the runoff).

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 from out of town, you can watch it with live streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com.

THE NEW COUNCIL TAKES SHAPE

The new Metro Council is taking shape with 26 of the 35 district seats decided (almost 2/3of the entire 40 member body). There are only 9 runoffs set which is a historically low number. In fact large portions of the county are without a district race to boost September turnout along with the At Large race and, of course, the mayor’s contest.

None of the 5 At Large seats were filled says the Election Commission although a couple came close. Now it’s a ten person field for the runoff with a mix of current or former district council members (Erica Gilmore, Jim Shulman, Robert Duvall, Lonnell Mathews, Karen Bennett and Jason Holleman) and potential newcomers (John Cooper, Bob Mendes, Sharon Hurt and Erin Coleman) vying for the posts.

Of the 14 incumbents who ran for re-election, two were defeated (Peter Westerholm and Tony Tennpenny) while one is in a runoff (Scott Davis) and the rest (9) were unopposed.

With all five of the At-Large open, that means total turnover will be either 31 or 32 (out of 40) depending on what happens for the one remaining incumbent in a runoff. That’s a record amount of

historical knowledge and experience leaving the body, due mostly to term limits. But again that could be tempered by the return to the next Council of any of the six current or former district members in the runoff for the five At-Large seats. Also there is a least one new face coming in who has been in the Council before, Sam Coleman from the Antioch area.

THE CHARTER CHANGES

The voters don’t want to change or loosen term limits and they don’t want to decrease the size of the Metro Council. Two charter amendments on those topics were handily rejected by voters (similar term limit changes have been rejected before).

A third charter amendment requiring all city construction projects to have at least a 40% local work force (and 10% low income residents) did pass thanks to the efforts of several labor groups (in and out of town) along the increasing influential non-profit NOAH group. The proposal is controversial and unworkable say business leaders who are contemplating a lawsuit. State legislative action to void the proposal could also be coming from the Republican Super Majority in the Tennessee when lawmakers return in January.

This proposal promises to have an extended after-life beyond the ballot so stay tuned.

SORRY I COULDN’T BE IN TWO PLACES AT ONCE

Since many of you who read this column are political junkies, I suspect you might have been torn Thursday night between watching NEWSCHANNEL5’s Metro election coverage (who else would you watch) or tuning into the first TV debate for the 2016 Republican presidential candidates. And the airing of the last DAILY SHOW with Jon Stewart might also have created a viewing distraction.

Of course, I’d like to think you watched Rhori and I, but I suspect some of you might have switched over to see what FOX News (and THE DONALD) had wrought in the debate gathering of what appears to be a presidential field large enough (17!) to field a team of candidates for both a Top Ten “ready for prime time” group and a “not ready for prime time” collection making up the B team. That latter group got to appear first before the evening main event. And while I am sure the GOP B team missed not getting the extra exposure from the prime time forum, they may not have missed competing with Donald Trump for air time; indeed competing with him for whatever political oxygen was still left after his always bigger-than-all outdoors presence tried to blot out everything else in the room.

If you did watch these other shows, I hope you taped our election show. Of course, I didn’t get to see any of it, so I am going to refrain from any analysis of what transpired among this gaggle of Republicans wannabes.

Once this Metro election is over, I am sure I will be paying a lot of attention to the presidential contest. My goodness, 17 candidates on the GOP side and 3 or 4 (if VP Biden gets in) for the Democrats. I thought I had more than I could say grace over with 7 mayoral candidates! And the Republicans are already visiting this state like tourists (that is early and often). Will their TV money soon follow in the weeks leading up to the Tennessee Presidential Primary set for March 1, 2016?

Come on down.

IT CAN HAPPEN HERE AGAIN

Metro Police Chief Steve Anderson says: “We may be dealing with the new normal.”

Does that sound as scary to you as it does to me?

He made those comments after yet another violent incident in a public place in Tennessee (this time in a Nashville movie theatre) that sent shock waves of fear and concern throughout our community.

Due to good fortune and the outstanding work of our Metro Police Department, this time no lives (other than the perpetrator) were lost as compared to the shootings in Chattanooga that left 4 military personnel dead a couple of weeks ago after a gun fight at a recruiting facility.

And so now the debate continues. It’s not could it happen here? It already has, twice. The debate now is what can we do about it so it quits happening? The latest incident did not include a gun, although the air pistol being brandished by the attacker sure looked real enough, and he pepper-sprayed several movie-goers and stabbed another with a hatchet.

The two Tennessee incidents both appear to involve people who had a history of suffering from mental illness. Providing help to these folks while still protecting the community, is a long standing untreated problem throughout our nation. Yet it never seems to engender the intense debate and suggested solutions that always create controversy when incidents involving guns or other weapons occur.

And these incidents now seem to be happening almost every week somewhere in this country.

Meanwhile the political debate on guns in Tennessee now continues even when the Legislature is not in session. The latest uproar began when Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery issued an opinion that held the latest “guns in parks” law passed last spring by lawmakers (and signed by Governor Bill Haslam) means gun permit holders can lawfully bring their fire arms into large events held in local public parks such as Memphis in May and even to concerts held in Nashville’s new Ascend Amphitheatre. The AG says this can occur even if the events are run by private companies who have corporate policies banning guns (such as one LIVE NATION, which operates the Nashville Amphitheatre, has for all its facilities).

Some are even conjecturing that taken to its logical, legal conclusion, the AG’s ruling could mean gun permit holders could bring their weapons to concerts or Predator games at the Bridgestone Arena as well as to Nissan Stadium for a Titans game despite policies by the NFL against such activities.

Governor Haslam now says the Legislature should re-look at the guns in parks law to see if these are unforeseen consequences that ought to be changed.

Others such as the writer of this PITH IN THE WIND blog article, say Mr. Haslam has already blown his opportunity.

I have some sympathy for the writer’s position if not her language in the article. But I would also point out that any gubernatorial veto would likely have been easily overridden by the Republican Super-Majority in both houses. Remember these folks couldn’t wait to pass the “guns in parks” bill as a “welcome to town” present for the National Rifle Association when it held its national convention here in Nashville last spring.

They would have made that deadline too except they took the fools-challenge of Democrats to amend the bill to allow guns on the State Capitol grounds as well. That slowed down the NRA Express until the “guns in the capitol” provision was deleted.

And so the debate does on…as do these now almost weekly “new normal” events occurring in public places involving violence, guns and, in many cases, mentally ill people acting as perpetrators.