Capitol View Commentary: Friday, December 15, 2017
3:12 PM, Dec 15, 2017
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company
December 15, 2017
TRANSIT MOVES; AN UPSET IN ALABAMA; COULD IT HAPPEN IN TENNESSEE?; AN ENCORE FOR THE HORN HONKERS; PROJECT REGISTER; LINDA PEEK SCHACHT ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE REST OF THE YEAR;
Mayor Megan Barry’s $5.4 billion, multi-year transit plan took a couple of steps forward this week.
First, the results of an outside economic impact study of the proposal were released. A news release from the Mayor’s office said:
“… building the 28 miles of light rail and infrastructure for 25 miles of rapid and enhanced bus service will produce $3.1 billion in local labor income and generate $4 billion gross regional product, stimulating additional growth in the area. Further analysis provided in a report from Wilmot Inc. shows that operations and maintenance will add an additional $548 million in labor income and $746 million in GDP growth during the construction phase of the program. The analysis estimates that some 3,850 jobs a year would be created or maintained throughout the 14-year duration of the construction. Jobs would range from system construction and service to maintenance and operations. Workforce hiring will prioritize local workers, particularly those disadvantaged groups and contractors who face employment barriers.
“We have the lowest unemployment rate of the top 50 metro areas in the country, but still residents struggle to find good-paying jobs that will lift them and their families out of poverty,” said Mayor Barry. “As we implement this plan, we will work closely with workforce advocates to help train and recruit Davidson County workers for the thousands of jobs created by this program, while also ensuring women- and minority-owned businesses are able to compete for the billions of dollars in spending needed to make this program a reality.”
Those words seem to address a reluctance about the project among the Metro Council’s Black Caucus which has been odds with the Mayor’s office over several issues, including the future of the city’s General Hospital.
The study also seems to speak to critics who say the Mayor’s plan uses outmoded technology and won’t address the city’s traffic congestion or future transportation needs. Again, quoting from the Mayor’s office news release:
“The (economic impact) Plan provides the most detailed, corridor-by-corridor analysis yet of the proposed project area, estimating between 35 and 40 million annual transit riders system-wide, the majority on rapid bus or light rail alone. Average weekday ridership per mile of light rail track in Nashville is forecast to be 2,230 people by the year 2040, comparable to or better than some transit-oriented cities like Seattle or Denver. The corridor analysis makes Let’s Move Nashville competitive for potential federal funding.”
“By 2040, 76 percent of Davidson County residents and 89 percent of jobs will be within half a mile of bus, rapid bus or light rail service. Service analysis shows that a light rail trip on Nolensville Pike near Harding Place to downtown can be completed in just 19 minutes, while a trip from downtown to the airport would take just 26 minutes. A rapid bus ride from Dickerson Pike near Doverside Drive to downtown would take 35 minutes, just three minutes longer than a trip from the proposed SoBro transit center to the end of the Bordeaux Rapid Bus Corridor—at Clarksville Pike and Kings Lane.”
Of course, opponents of the Mayor’s plan question these economic impact numbers in the study.
A second major transit development this week included the introduction of legislation, that if approved by the Metro Council, would place the project and the needed taxes up for a public referendum May 1st.
Normally such legislation requires approval of a resolution which requires just one Council vote. But this time, approval will be done by ordinance which takes three readings or votes. To increase transparency and time for consideration, Vice Mayor David Scobey is also planning a committee process for the proposal allowing more time for Council review and questions as well as public input. Here’s the schedule:
• December 19, 2017 – First Reading
• January 9, 2018 – Public Hearing
• January 11, 2018 – Committee consideration with a committee of the whole composed of all Councilmembers
• January 16, 2018 – Second Reading
• February 6, 2018 – Third Reading
The Mayor’s ordinance already has 24 co-sponsors which is three more than needed for approval. But I suspect the Barry administration is working to get an even bigger positive vote out of the 40-member Council to build momentum for the referendum campaign.
The Mayor also revealed the language her office is recommending be placed on the ballot for voters to consider. It is subject to Council approval and can be amended within the parameters set up by the IMPROVE ACT approved by the General Assembly earlier this year.
“Passage of this measure will allow the Metropolitan Government to improve and expand its transit services to include: expanded bus service countywide; new transit lines; new light rail and/or rapid bus service along Nashville’s major corridors, including the Northwest Corridor and a connection through downtown Nashville; new neighborhood transit centers; improvements to the Music City Star train service; safety improvements, including sidewalks and pedestrian connections; and system modernization. The Metropolitan Transit Authority and the Metropolitan Department of Public Works will undertake the projects and implement the program. The transit improvements and expansion will be funded by tax surcharges that will end once all debt issued for the program has been paid and the Metropolitan Council determines upon the adoption of a resolution that the revenues from the surcharges are no longer needed for operation of the program. The surcharges will consist of: (1) a sales tax surcharge of 0.5% for the first five years, increasing to 1% in 2023; (2) a hotel/motel tax surcharge of 0.25% for the first five years, increasing to 0.375% in 2023; (3) a 20% surcharge on the business/excise tax; and (4) a 20% surcharge on the rental car tax. The capital cost of the program is estimated to have a present day value of $5,354,000,000, with recurring operations and maintenance costs having a present day value at the year the improvements are completed of approximately $99,500,000.”
The Mayor’s office also says that under state law: “Prior to final consideration by the Metro Council, an independent CPA firm approved by the State Comptroller will provide an assessment as to the financial assumptions made in the capital and operating costs, as well as funding mechanisms for the plan.”
And so, the process and the debate continue over what is perhaps the most important civic decision facing Nashville and its future since the 1962 vote adopting Metro government.
AN UPSET IN ALABAMA
Two unusual things have happened in Alabama in recent days. An accumulating snow of up to several inches fell across the state, which is particularly rare in December. And voters elected a Democrat to the United States Senate, which hasn’t happened in a quarter century.
Democrat Doug Jones got all the things he needed to have happen to win. The former federal prosecutor turned out a larger than expected number of young people, women, African Americans as well as the urban vote in the larger cities such as Birmingham, Mobile and Huntsville to eke out a 20,000 vote margin over former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (out of more than 1.2 million votes cast).
Of course, Moore’s problems with charges of sexual harassment and even assault involving teen age girls when he was in his thirties, just gave him more political baggage to carry in a career of controversies in Alabama politics. That includes twice being kicked off the state’s high court for not following federal court orders.
But even then, the loss was narrow one (1.5%) or 20,000 votes out of over 1.2 million ballots cast. Moore has refused to concede and has talked about a recount, even though the results are not close enough (less than half of one percent) to trigger an automatic recount by the state. Both President Donald Trump and Steve Bannon (a major Moor supporter) have now urged the Judge to concede.
The upset loss in a deep red Republican state was clearly a blow to President Trump. He carried Alabama in a huge landslide against Hillary Clinton last year. In the final weeks of the Moore campaign, the President strongly endorsed him and did everything to help him but personally campaign in the state, although he did hold a rally in the nearby Florida Panhandle to try to motivate his supporters.
But it wasn’t enough, as it seems overall GOP voter turnout was down compared to other recent statewide races, while others avoided having to vote for a Democrat by casting their ballot for the write-in of their choice.
After the election, the President at first was cordial, even congratulating Jones in his first tweet for winning a hard- fought campaign. But then Mr. Trump, who may sometimes be wrong, but is never in doubt or at fault, tweeted he knew all along that Moore could not win. Really, he thought that all along? So why did he get so deeply involved? Does Steve Bannon still have that kind of influence in the Oval Office?
Maybe the President is beginning to understand losing in Alabama, after all he has endorsed a losing candidate twice in this special Senate race. He endorsed the interim Senator Luther Strange during the summer GOP primary, before deciding Moore was his choice even though the voters didn’t agree.
COULD IT HAPPEN IN TENNESSEE?
With the upset win for Democrats in deep-red Alabama, and the success their candidates had in the Virginia gubernatorial and legislative races last month, this is bound to boost Democrat’s hopes for the 2018 mid-term elections. That includes here in Tennessee with open seats both for governor and the U.S. Senate.
Tennessee hasn’t had a Democrat in the Senate since 1995 and hasn’t had a winning Senate candidate since Al Gore in 1990. The Democrats’ 2018 Senate candidate is former governor Phil Bredesen who is now all but unopposed for the nomination after Nashville attorney and Iraq War veteran James Mackler bowed out of the race this week and endorsed Breseden. Bredesen remains the last Democrat to win a statewide race (2006) so it appears he will be at least competitive although he will likely be an underdog when the general election race begins in earnest next fall.
That is likely true for at least two reasons. One, Tennessee is a deep red state, much more so than when Bredesen ran before, and secondly, neither of the major GOP Senate candidates, Marsha Blackburn or Stephen Fincher, seem likely to bring to the race anything like the kind of issues and controversy that Roy Moore had in Alabama.
In that regard, Phil Bredesen seems to be considering a wise strategy. He says he won’t make his race a referendum on President Trump who has been popular in state despite his less than stellar job approval numbers nationwide. But more on that later in the column. Regardless, stirring up the GOP/Trump base would not be a positive move for Bredesen. In his past races, he has proven he can attract cross over voters. So he is correct to seek to concentrate his campaign messages on what needs to be fixed in Washington to make things better in Tennessee, and that he thinks he is the person to do that job.
Speaking of Washington, with Senator-Elect Jones not likely to take his seat until January, Republicans now have an additional incentive to reach an agreement between both the House and the Senate over the revised tax overhaul bill and pass it as soon as possible. If they can’t do that (and there remain grumbling among some GOP Senators about supporting the conference committee bill), then it gets even tougher next year when the Republican majority in the upper chamber will be down to 51-49.
AN ENCORE FOR THE HORN HONKERS
On-line campaign ads are becoming increasingly important in political campaigns. The latest from Congressman Marsha Blackburn, now running for the U.S. Senate, is a bit of a history lesson. It dates back almost 20 years to her days in the Tennessee General Assembly where she successfully opposed a state income tax.
Without naming them, she blames former Republican Governor Don Sundquist (who proposed the income tax she defeated) and former Democratic Governor, the late Ned McWherter (who created the TennCare program she criticizes). She also mentions the citizen protests against the tax plan including the “horn honkers” who circled the Capitol to literally sound their displeasure.
It may seem odd to go so far back in time to produce an ad for a current campaign. But perhaps Blackburn’s research shows that younger voters (ages 40 or younger) don’t know or remember Blackburn’s actions in the income tax fight. Maybe older voters need to be reminded as well to reinforce her tag line running as a Conservative for the U.S. Senate.
Elsewhere on the gubernatorial campaign trail, Republican Diane Black has received a $4,000 contribution from Vice President Mike Pence’s Super PAC. According to NASHVILLE POST, the donation to the Congressman (who has four other major opponents in the GOP primary) came with a personal letter from the VP.
"President Donald Trump and I are grateful for your steadfast support, your principled, leadership, and your strong stand with our administration," Pence wrote. "We stand with those who stand with us, which is why I have enclosed a contribution to your campaign from my leadership PAC."
I am not sure the Black campaign could have written the note any better. It’s exactly one of the major campaign themes she is pushing based on the work she has done as House Budget Chair to pass a spending plan outline as well as the still pending tax cut/ reform bill.
Black also decided this week to share her “Me Too” story about the sexual harassment she endured while a member of the Tennessee General Assembly. That won’t come as a surprise to anyone who observes Tennessee politics and remembers the Jeremy Durham scandal just a year or so ago. Of course, bringing up the issue, might also indirectly remind voters that one of Black’s opponents is House Speaker Beth Harwell. She led the Tennessee House during the Durham scandal (and who Harwell will maintain took actions that led to Durham’s expulsion from the General Assembly). Here’s a portion of the column Black wrote for the TOWNHALL publication:
“I remember my first year in the Tennessee House of Representatives. It was 1998, and having spent my career as a nurse and an educator, I had a lot to learn about the legislative process. I immediately figured out that the state House had a “good ol’ boy” culture – and learned about the inappropriate actions of some of my male colleagues.
One member always seemed to manage to get on the elevator with me, and proceed to back up until I was against the wall and he was pressed against me. I learned fairly quickly to cross my arms with my elbows out so they dug into his back. Another member rarely called me by name and addressed me only as “Nurse Goodbody.” It was objectifying, disrespectful and highly inappropriate for any work setting.
In 2009, while I was Senate Caucus Chairman of the Tennessee state legislature, I called on one state senator, in my own party, to resign after learning of his affair with an intern. I firmly believe now what I believed then: as elected officials, we are public servants and must be held to the highest of standards.”
Diane Black also saw her name recognition numbers make the biggest increase statewide in a new poll released this week by Vanderbilt University. Interesting, Democrat and former Nashville mayor Karl Dean the second highest numbers among gubernatorial candidates. While it is not a “candidate versus candidate who will you vote for” survey, those recognition numbers could be significant since it is unlikely a voter will cast a ballot for someone they don’t know.
Tom Humphrey has an excellent summary article about the Vanderbilt poll which also outlines higher recognition numbers for Marsha Blackburn over Phil Bredesen and a significant drop in job approval support among Tennessee voters for both President Trump and outgoing Senator Bob Corker. Term-limited Governor Bill Haslam remains the most popular statewide official.
After a year of almost none in 2017, we have three major elections on the ballot in 2018 (May, August & November). But many Tennesseans seem likely to yawn in reaction.
The Volunteer State is 40th in the nation for its number of registered voters and dead last (50th) in voter turnout.
There’s a bi-partisan effort underway to try and turn that around at least here in Nashville and in Middle Tennessee. It’s headed by Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper and Republican State Senator Steve Dickerson.
They first tried doing this in 2015 among local high school seniors and it resulted in an 85% increase in students registering.
Now Project Register seeks to expands that effort to businesses, nonprofits, neighborhoods, universities, and entertainment venues. Some of the businesses and other groups involved are:
Bank of America
Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Urban League of Middle Tennessee
Greater Nashville Realtors
Center for Nonprofit Management
Watkins College of Art, Design & Film
Over 70 organizations have signed up representing more than 125,000 employees.
But they have their work cut out for them. How about these two factoids:
One million Tennesseans are not registered to vote, and 60% are under the age of 45.
More people voted in Nashville’s election in 1971 (110k) than in 2015 (105k), even though the city added 206k new people
There is one hopeful sign. In 2016, the Tennessee legislature unanimously approved online voter registration. The Secretary of State unveiled a new online tool in September 2017 to help folks register using that process. But, as you might expect, many people are not aware of this user-friendly website.
As we approach the end of 2017 and anticipate the beginning of a very busy 2018 election season, Linda Peek Schacht of Lipscomb University is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.
The recent elections in Alabama and Virginia are on our list for discussion. The outlook for the 2018 mid-term elections especially the Tennessee U.S. Senate race will also be a topic. Finally, we will look at the impact and implications politically and throughout our society, of the “Me Too” “Silence Breakers” movement that has brought sexual harassment and assault issues to the very forefront of daily life and conversation.
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; along with 1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday.
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THE REST OF THE YEAR
This is my last Capitol View for 2017. I am taking a few weeks off for the holidays. Look for my next Capitol View on Friday, January 5, 2018.
Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and all the best for the New Year of 2018!
Thank you for your readership. 2017 was not the best year for me, particularly health wise. That limited my number of columns this year more than I liked or expected. I am much better now (if not cured) from my ailments. It’s my New Year’s resolution to do all I can to have a better and healthier 2018!