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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, December 14, 2018

Posted at 2:50 PM, Dec 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-14 15:54:11-05


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


One week into the new year, at high noon on Tuesday, January 8th, 2019, the 111th Tennessee General Assembly convenes for the first time here in Nashville.
Chairing the State Senate will be Lt. Governor Randy McNally from Oak Ridge.

He is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

We will get the Senate Speaker’s thoughts and his priorities for the upcoming session which comes amidst near historic change in terms of new faces and leadership all over Capitol Hill.

Watch us!
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 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.

More cabinet and key staff appointments announced by Governor-elect Bill Lee.

Last week, right after I filed my column, Mr. Lee’s legislative team was unveiled.

“Brent Easley, the executive director of school voucher advocate TennesseeCAN(formerly known as StudentsFirst), has been named Lee’s legislative director.
Liz Alvey, a longtime aide to former Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, will serve as legislative counsel.

Lee campaign manager Chris Devaney was named special assistant to the governor. His broad portfolio will include legislative matters.’

Four new cabinet members were announced. That includes two additional commissioners under Governor Bill Haslam staying on.

Some trends in the appointments continue. In addition to the holdover commissioners (now up to four), the new Safety & Homeland Security Commissioner is Jeff Long, the Sheriff of Williamson County. He’s yet another resident of that county who will hold a significant position in state government and/or the General Assembly. Williamson County, perhaps the wealthiest and most Republican county in the state, is also where the Governor-elect lives. As does U.S. Senator-elect Marsha Blackburn, House Speaker- to-be Glen Casada and new Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson.

This Williamson County commonality seems as much happenstance as anything else. None of these overall appointment trends (close campaign associates and current commissioners) are new or unique to an incoming gubernatorial administration, although I do not recall the frequency of one county being so prominent in leadership in one new administration or in the leadership of a new General Assembly.
The Lee cabinet and staff appointments are beginning to get some flak from the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican Party. An un-bylined article in THE TENNESSEE STAR has a headline that characterizes the Governor-elect’s work so far in assembling his team: “LEE’S RHINO STAMPEDE CONTINUES” (RHINO stands for Republican-in-name-only):

Obviously, conservatives are becoming upset that some of their top names such as former state lawmakers, Joe Carr and Mae Beavers (who supported Lee), have not been selected. There are still more positions to fill. What will happen?

Meanwhile, even as the Governor-elect has pledged to separate himself from his family owned company (The Lee Company) where he is the sole shareholder, Democrats remain concerns about conflicts of interest. Reports THE POST:
“In interviews with the Daily Memphian, Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, Rep. G.A. Hardaway and Rep. John Ray Clemmons all said Lee needs to do more to prevent conflicts with his company, which until recently had multi-million-dollar state HVAC contracts and still has contracts with municipalities, including Metro Nashville and Williamson County Schools.

Lee said he would announce a plan before his inauguration.

As long as the Lee Company has any government contracts, either state or local, Bill Lee can no longer have ownership interest in Lee Company as of the day he takes the oath of office,” Clemmons said. “He has to sell the company or remove himself entirely."


Tennessee has three new Republican Congressmen. A couple of them made news this week as they readied to take office.
Sixth District Congressman-elect John Rose has tapped a former Tennessee Representative, GOP gubernatorial nominee and U.S. Senate candidate to help him get started in Washington.

A second new Tennessee congressman, 4th District Congressman-elect Dr. Mark Green, may be going into the House as a part of the minority party, But of the 30 new GOP congressmen coming to Washington, Green has been elected president of his class.

Even before he is officially sworn into office, Dr. Green waded into the seemingly never-ending controversy over an alleged link between vaccines and autism, a connection that numerous national health experts say is just not true.

The Congressman-elect comments brought words of disappointment and opposition from top state and local health officials. It also brought a rebuff from the top member of the Tennessee’s congressional delegation. Tennessee’s senior U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander posted on social media: “Vaccines save lives.”
Congressman-to-be Green now says his words were “misconstrued” and points out he has vaccinated his children and says he urges others to do the same.


The rumor mill sped up a couple of weeks ago when Senator Lamar Alexander said he would announce by the end of December whether he would seek a fourth term in office in 2020.

Speculate all you want, but there are already strong clues that Alexander is running. First why announce now you are not running? Why be an instant lame duck for two years? If the Senator doesn’t want another six-year term, there is plenty of time to say that in 2019 or even early 2020.

But another, even stronger clue the senior Senator is running came this week with the leak to multiple news organizations of an internal Alexander poll that show him enjoying voter popularity numbers that are quite high.

Why put out poll numbers like this unless you plan to run and hope these strong numbers will give potential opponents something to think about before they enter the race to oppose him?


Tennessee Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini will have opposition as she seeks another two-year term in office.

The vote by the party’s State Executive Committee will be held in January. Long-time party activist Holly McCall (who is presently Chair of the Williamson County Democratic Party) has decided to enter the contest. This TENNESSEAN article indicates there may be at least one other party leader looking to jump in as well.

Indeed late in the week, Christopher Hale, an unsuccessful primary candidate in last August’s 4th District congressional race, announced he will run for the state’s party chairman position. Reports THE NASHVILLE POST: “There are those who say that the Democratic Party in Tennessee can never win again,” Hale said in a video announcing his bid. “I disagree.”


Vanderbilt has issued its latest statewide poll. I find its most interesting numbers to be the popularity of our state officials, sometimes in contrast to what other recent polling research maintains (note below Senator Alexander’s 48% support number in the Vanderbilt poll versus the poll leaked from his folks we discussed earlier in this column which was close to 65%). Also note Senator-elect Marsha Blackburn approval number in the Vandy poll versus her defeated Democratic opponent, former Governor Phil Bredesen.

From Vanderbilt’s news release: “President Trump has a 52 percent approval rating in the state, in line with previous polls. Outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam remains the most popular politician in the state, with a 61 percent approval rating, while Senators Alexander and Corker stand at 48 percent and 45 percent, respectively—also in line with previous polling.

Congress remains highly unpopular, with just 26 percent approval, while the state legislature enjoys a healthy 54 percent approval rating.

By comparison to Governor-elect Bill Lee, Senator-elect Marsha Blackburn will arrive in Washington with much less public support. Only 45 percent of Tennesseans had a favorable view of her, with 50 percent holding an unfavorable view. Geer noted that this is particularly unusual because the candidate she beat, Phil Bredesen, received a favorability rating of 55 percent, with 34 percent unfavorable—suggesting many Tennesseans voted for her despite
holding more favorable views of her opponent.

“Perhaps the Kavanaugh confirmation gave many Republicans and Independents enough reason to vote for Blackburn, despite their reservations,” said (Vanderbilt Professor John) Geer.”

The VU poll is already drawing flack from some quarters, in part because it measures registered voters not likely voters and because of the Vanderbilt survey’s alleged past inaccuracies.


My work life is changing at the end of 2018.

Effective December 31, I am retiring from DVL Seigenthaler after 27-plus years at the agency and over 45 years full-time in the work place in the media, government and public relations.

I’ve worked part-time since I was a teenager and I plan to continue to do that. I have signed a contract to continue my duties at NEWSCHANNEL5 as the station’s Political Analyst. I will continue to host my weekly INSIDE POLITICS show (headed into its 13th year) and this CAPITOL VIEW column (which I have written weekly for 17 years).

I have been blessed these past four and a half decades with great places to work. I thank all my current and past employers for that opportunity. It began with WPLN in 1973 right after I graduated from Vanderbilt. Then came a decade of full-time reporter work at Channel 5 (then Eyewitness News). That was followed by two years as Mayor Richard Fulton’s Executive Assistant and Press Secretary, then four years at Hart & Company Advertising & Public Relations, and then Dye, Van Mol & Lawrence (now DVL Seigenthaler).

Add in my part-time work as the original on-air anchor for WDCN-TV, Channel 8’s live coverage of the Metro Council meetings (1973-1985), and over 30 years as a political analyst for Channel 5 (1987-1992, 1999-present) and briefly for Channel 4 (1994-1999), my life has never been dull. Working at so many different places over 45 years has certainly covered lot of bases.

I also want to thank not just my bosses but the wonderful colleagues I ‘ve worked with everywhere I’ve been. They have guided and nurtured me, and in many cases, they have been my mentors and inspiration. Being blessed to be in a positive work atmosphere has helped me grow and prosper.

I plan to work on a book of my life experiences. I have already mapped out about 40 different chapter topics about growing up in Nashville, working in the media, government and public relations. This will not be “a tell-all” book, and I haven’t waited several years for folks to pass on before I tell these stories. Most of what I will write will be funny, whimsical, even ironic things that have happened me to me over the decades that I want to share.

I have no idea if anyone will want to buy my book. But I want to at least leave a record for my children and grandchildren to know what “Pop” did in his work life.

This is my last CAPITOL VIEW column for 2018. Look for my next column early in the New Year!
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and all the best in the New Year of 2019!!

One last reflection as I close, 2018 was certainly the craziest political year I can remember in Nashville politics. While 2019 is likely to have much fewer elections, the August Metro voting is likely to fascinating to watch unfold in the next several weeks as the field of candidates emerges.

The state political scene in 2018 saw the most expensive election cycle ever. And while Tennessee remains perhaps among the most Republican state in the nation, even with no elections scheduled in 2019, all the change on Capitol Hill in Nashville with a new governor, administration and lots of new faces and leadership in General Assembly, it will make things different next year. Putting together the new political puzzle that is Tennessee may take some time to see how the pieces fit together.

The biggest uncertainty going into the new year will be in Washington. As 2018 ends, the likelihood of a partial government shutdown looms large. It revolves around the impasse between President Donald Trump and Congress over whether to fund his border wall. Of course, a last- minute reprieve is always possible to avert a shutdown. But kicking the can down the road is the most likely alternative, and that won’t really the solve the dispute just delay any resolution (if one is possible) yet one more time.

2019 will likely see more of the same in terms of overall government gridlock, although Democratic control of the House of Representatives will mean new, and numerous, congressional investigations of the President and his administration. All that will add to the growing and increasingly ominous list of court filings, guilty pleas, convictions, jail sentences and cooperation agreements surrounding the Russia investigation of Special Counsel Robert Muller and other related probes.

Will all this portend the beginning of an impeachment process or more indictments (even on the highest levels)? Or will it set the stage for a 2020 presidential election year like one we’ve likely never seen in our lifetimes?