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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, December 8, 2017

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Posted at 3:29 PM, Dec 08, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-08 16:29:24-05

CAPITOL VIEW

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

December 8, 2017

BREDESEN TO RUN FOR SENATE; A GROWING RIFT; THE PRESSURE CONTINUES; THE ELEVENTH HOUR ONE MORE TIME; DIANE BLACK MAKES POLITICAL HAY OUT OF CONGRESSIONAL TAX APPROVAL; PAT NOLAN INTERVIEWS PAT NOLAN ON INSIDE POLITICS

BREDESEN TO RUN FOR SENATE

It’s official.

Former Tennessee Democratic Governor and Nashville Mayor Phil Bredsen is running for the U. S. Senate in 2018.

He will seek to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Republican Bob Corker.

Initially, Bredesen had dismissed the idea of running, but then reconsidered over the last few weeks.

According to THE NASHVILE POST (December 6) which broke the story, Bredesen began calling key donors mid-week to tell them of his decision to run. Frankly, in recent days sources close to the candidate have seemed to characterize the pending decision as one of when the former Governor would announce his candidacy, not if.

Bredesen, 74, made an official announcement on Thursday morning releasing this video.

Bredesen will face primary opposition from attorney, Iraq war veteran and political newcomer James Mackler. It opens the opportunity for a competitive primary contest, something which Democrats have lacked in recent statewide election cycles. In fact, Bredesen is the last Democrat to win a statewide contest both in 2002 and 2006. A Democrat has not served as Senator from Tennessee since 1995.

While given his past governmental experience and electoral success, as well as his access to resources, Bredesen will be considered a favorite to win the August 2018 primary. But he will still be running in a state that has become much more conservative and Republican since he left the governor’s office in early 2011. Politics and campaigning are also very different now in this 24/7 news cycle/ social media age.

Still his entry into the race, and the potential overall that the 2018 election could be a productive one for Democrats nationwide, the Tennessee Senate race could garner national prominence. There is even talk the Volunteer State race could decide the balance of power in the next Senate when it convenes in January 2019 (that math might change however in the wake of Senate races upcoming in both Alabama and now Minnesota).

Reports THE TENNESSEAN:

“In October, political analyst Charlie Cook of The Cook Political report said Tennessee’s Senate race would become a toss-up if Bredesen runs and that the seat would likely remain Republican if he did not.”

The most likely GOP nominee for Senate appears to be Congressman Marsha Blackburn or former U.S. House member Stephen Fincher.”

The paper continues:

“Republican commentator Bill Kristol, a critic of President Donald Trump, tweeted earlier this year that he believes Democrats would have a “decent shot at a pickup” if Bredesen were to run against Blackburn or Fincher.

In recent weeks, other Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and Gov. Bill Haslam have said Bredesen could pose a serious threat.”

The day Bredesen entered the race, Governor Haslam offered this interesting observation to reporters (courtesy NASHVILLE POST):

“Tennessee is still a Republican state,” Haslam, who himself declined to run for the seat, said. “We’ve seen what’s happening in other races around. Don’t assume just because Tennessee has been a really red Republican state that it will always be. Democrats thought that here 15 years ago.”

Meanwhile, to deny the new candidate a free ride in the media during his announcement, national Republican officials and Marsha Blackburn issued attacks on Bredesen criticizing his ties and financial support for top national Democrats such as former President Barack Obama. Said a Blackburn spokesman:

"Tennessee families want change and that is not what 74-year-old Democrat politician Phil Bredesen will bring to the United States Senate," said spokesperson Andrea Bozek. "Bredesen's views are out-of-touch with Tennessee values, he supported President Obama’s liberal policies, is against second amendment rights and even authored a plan to give illegal immigrants driving certificates. Marsha is the only true conservative in this race who will ensure liberal Bredesen doesn’t block President Trump’s agenda in Washington."

Said the national Republican Senatorial Committee:

“After escaping the burden of Barack Obama’s disastrous presidency, the last thing Tennesseans want is one of Obama’s biggest supporters, Phil Bredesen, representing them in Washington," said NRSC Spokesman Michael McAdams. "Bredesen’s opposition to the 2nd Amendment, weak stance on illegal immigration, and embrace of Barack Obama’s out-of-touch policies puts him at odds with Tennessee values, and will doom his longshot Senate campaign."

Of course, these attacks are also likely a sign that Republicans have some concerns about Bredesen’s candidacy, and they want to define him early in the race. There is also likely some unease about Bredesen’s ability in his previous races to attract support from moderate and business-oriented GOP voters along with independents. Remember, you don’t waste time attacking opponents you don’t think will be at least competitive against you.

A GROWING RIFT

There seems to be growing rift between Mayor Megan Barry and the Black Caucus in the Metro Council. With eleven African American council members in the Caucus that represents over a quarter of that 40-member body.

The rift first came to the surface recently during the debate over MLS Soccer stadium, when a request from developers for a 10 -acre tract of Fairgrounds property for private development caught many Councilmembers off guard.

Then there was the announcement by the Mayor that the city’s safety net hospital (General Hospital) would soon drop in-patient care. Councilmembers again complained they were blindsided.

Now it’s the effort by Metro to join dozens of other cities in filing a class action lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors claiming they have cost taxpayers hundreds of million of dollars to deal with the opioid epidemic that is devastating the country.

Tuesday night, the full Council voted 30-6 to hire an outside law firm to handle Metro’s legal effort in this matter. But the resolution was then temporarily derailed by a parliamentary effort which is causing another vote at the next Council meeting on December 19.

Reports THE TENNESSEAN:

“ (Members of the Black Caucus) contend that the procurement (of the law firm) was not transparent and have raised questions about the selection, including whether Metro reached out to minority-led firms about the request for proposals.

…Members of the caucus, led by Councilwoman Tanaka Vercher, used a procedural maneuver to bring up the contract for another vote on Dec. 19. She said members were concerned about attorney's fees and other financial aspects of the potential contract. This was the second time they moved to delay the hiring; the council voted last month to defer the resolution.

“Beyond the issue of equity," Vercher said, "we still have a variety of questions that need to be answered."

All this brought a rather sharp response from the Mayor on Twitter. Her tweet read in part:

"We can’t afford to let shenanigans keep us from addressing the opioid epidemic that is plaguing all of our communities," she wrote. "The time to act is now."

And this may not be the end of this budding feud.

If Nashville is granted an MLS professional soccer franchise next week (a final presentation to MLS officials occurred in New York on December 6), then there will be a need to demolish some old and

outmoded buildings at the Fairgrounds. Under the Metro Charter that will require a 2/3 or 27 vote majority to approve.

Some members of the Black Caucus have threatened to vote against the demolition. If the proposal falls short of 27 votes, that could create at least a temporary road block for construction of the stadium.

There is also a bill pending in the Council that would create a new police community review board. Sponsors, who are members of the Black Caucus, and Mayor Barry have disagreements about the legislation.

Stay tuned.

THE PRESSURE CONTINUES

The nationwide sexual harassment scandal continues to take its toll in the halls of Congress.

The longest serving member of the House, Democratic Representative John Conyers of Michigan this week announced his immediate retirement from office. It came amid growing pressure from the congressional leadership of both parties and from other colleagues that he resign following credible allegations of unwanted sexual advances from multiple former staff members and other women.

In the wake of the Conyers exit, the pressure also mounted again on Democratic Senator Al Franken of Minnesota. He is charged by multiple women of sexual harassment some predating his time in office. Unlike Conyers, Franken has admitted to inappropriate behavior in several incidents, for which he apologized and offered full cooperation with an ethics probe by the Senate.

But that it appears is not enough, especially among his fellow Democrats as new allegations emerged against Senator Franken. Wednesday morning (December 6) THE HILL reported:

“More than half a dozen female senators are calling for Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) to step aside in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct.

In total, eight Democrats senators – including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) – said Franken should resign, hours after another women accused him of trying to forcibly kiss her in 2006.

"While Senator Franken is entitled to have the Ethics Committee conclude its review, I believe it would be better for our country if he sent a clear message that any kind of mistreatment of women in our society isn’t acceptable by stepping aside to let someone else serve," Gillibrand said in a Facebook statement.

She added that "in the wake of the election of President Trump, in just the last few months, our society is changing, and I encourage women and men to keep speaking up to continue this progress. At this moment, we need to speak hard truths or lose our chance to make lasting change."

Her statement came shortly before she and other lawmakers were scheduled to roll out new legislation aimed at tackling sexual harassment on Capitol Hill.”

By the end of the day Wednesday more than 30 Senators including the Senate Democratic leadership had called for Franken’s resignation. And so, Thursday morning in a speech on the Senate floor, Franken announced he is stepping down “in the coming weeks:” According to THE HILL quoting from the Senator’s speech:

“I know in my heart that nothing I have done as a senator, nothing, has brought dishonor on this institution, and I am confident that the Ethics Committee would agree. Nevertheless, today I am announcing that in the coming weeks I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate,” Franken said from the Senate floor.

Despite his decision to step down, Franken also used the speech to defend himself, saying some of the allegations are “simply not true” and that he remembers others differently.” He also criticized President Donald Trump and Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore for still being in their posts or on the ballot despite serious sexual harassment and assault charges leveled against them (which they both deny).

The sexual harassment and assault issue on the Hill remains a bi-partisan matter.

For the Republicans this week, GOP Arizona Congressman Trent Franks announced his resignation at the end of January (now changed to being effective immediately on Friday, December 8, 2017). His departure follows allegations of sexual harassment. Part of Frank’s resignation statement included this according to CNN:

“Franks acknowledged he made staffers "uncomfortable" and that he discussed fertility issues and surrogacy with two female staffers, but denied having ever "physically intimidated, coerced, or had, or attempted to have, any sexual contact with any member of my congressional staff."

"But in the midst of this current cultural and media climate, I am deeply convinced I would be unable to complete a fair House Ethics investigation before distorted and sensationalized versions of this story would put me, my family, my staff, and my noble colleagues in the House of Representatives through hyperbolized public excoriation," Franks said in his statement. "Rather than allow a sensationalized trial by media damage those things I love most, this morning I notified House leadership that I will be leaving Congress..."

And then there is an even more difficult harassment situation facing the GOP in the Senate.

It involves a potential incoming member of that body from Alabama. The controversy likely to come to a significant turning point next Tuesday (December 12) with a special Senate election being held there. Republican nominee Roy Moore has been charged by multiple women of making unwanted advances or even assaulting them while they were teens and he was in his thirties.

Moore denies the accusations and seemed to have rallied in the polls after a dip in support when the accusations first came to light about a month ago.

At the time, the Trump White House sent mixed messages about continued support for Moore. But this past week, the President has given a full endorsement to the GOP candidate and, in turn, the Republican National Committee has reversed itself and is again providing financial support for the controversial candidate.

There has been an even bigger reversal by Senate GOP leaders. A few weeks ago, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he believed the accusations of the women against Moore, and that the Republican candidate should withdraw from the special election. Now McConnell says it’s up to the people of

Alabama to decide next week what to do. He also seems to have backed off threats that Republicans would refuse to seat Moore in the Senate or even seek to expel him.

The overall political rationale for this change of heart seems to be that the President and Republicans totally abhor the idea of having any Democrat in the Alabama seat (further narrowing their thin majority in the Senate) despite the potential baggage and controversy their party’s candidate could bring to the upper chamber.

Among Democrats, for many years some party loyalists prided themselves as being “yellow dog” Democrats. Here’s the definition of that term I found on line which seemed to have originated the period after the Civil War when the Southern states were known as “the Solid South.”

“Yellow Dog Democrats was a political term applied to voters in the Southern United States who voted solely for candidates who represented the Democratic Party. The term originated in the late 19th century. These voters would allegedly "vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for any Republican".

With some alleging GOP candidate Roy Moore is a child molester, some may wonder if a new, modern day political phrase might emerge to describe some GOP voters based this Alabama election?

To round out the week there was this harassment story that emerged about a former prominent Tennessee congressman Harold Ford, Jr. who almost beat Bob Corker during his first race for Senator in 2006.

And so it goes.

THE ELEVENTH HOUR ONE MORE TIME

For I can’t remember how many times, the nation this week was again facing a partial (but quite significant) shutdown of the federal government unless Congress passed a new spending bill by end of day Friday.

Of course, Congress couldn’t decide what to do. They were fighting over issues such as increased defense spending and immigration (specifically the DACA program). That puts in doubt even efforts to reach an agreement on a short- term spending extension until December 22.

That’s right, Congress got so tied up in knots in terms of gridlock and partisanship, the country’s leaders couldn’t even decide on what to do on spending for as short as a two- week period. Now that’s leadership, right?

Well, it’s pathetic and all those in Washington, including the White House, should be ashamed. But then lawmakers and the President came to their senses and passed the short- term spending bill on Thursday. Continuation spending bills are a bad way to plan and implement public policy. But as long as congressional rules allow riders or other topics to be included in spending measures this will be a problem just like it will be in two weeks when the latest spending authorization expires right before Christmas on December 22.

Here we go again?

Happy Holidays, indeed!

DIANE BLACK MAKES POLITICAL HAY OUT OF CONGRESSIONAL TAX APPROVAL

Tennessee Congressman and GOP gubernatorial candidate Diane Black is already running on-line ads touting her leadership role as House Budget Chair in Congress tentatively passing the massive tax overhaul bill.

Her time in the spotlight continues as Black has been named as one of the House members serving on a conference committee with members of the Senate to work out the differences in the legislation passed by both bodies.

That may not be the easiest thing to do. But Black is making the most of it in a statement from her congressional office:

“While there are still differences that must be worked out in conference, our core mission is the same. As we move into these important conversations, I am confident that we can deliver historic reform that provides much-needed tax relief for hardworking middle-class American families, simplifies our outdated tax code and empowers businesses to create jobs. The American people deserve nothing less.”

According to the JOHNSON CITY FREE PRESS, Black is also touting the tax bill on the campaign trail even as multiple polls show voter apprehension, even opposition to the tax measure. Candidate Black says that is not what she’s hearing.

“At least what I’m hearing from people on both the business side and also on the individual side is that they know the tax code has been so complicated and so difficult to do that they want something that’s simpler,” Black said.

“The fact (is) that we have a plan where 95 percent of the Tennesseans will be able to file their taxes on a single postcard size. In addition to that, businesses are pleased that they will see a reduction in their tax burden, especially small businesses.”

Citing “independent sources,” Black estimated the bill will provide middle-income Tennesseans with about $1,200 in tax relief, while also creating about 18,000 jobs statewide. “

Black got more good news this week as former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has endorsed her for governor. Gonzalez is now Dean of the Law School at Belmont University. He has this to say about endorsing Black:

“As the nation’s former chief law enforcement official, I know that she’s the right leader to address the serious challenges our state faces.”

The Black campaign says Gonzales will lead a group of law enforcement officials supporting her candidacy.

Speaking of supporters, the Black campaign has announced campaign leaders promoting her campaign in all 95 counties. Tom Humphrey has the details here.

PAT NOLAN INTERVIEWS PAT NOLAN ON INSIDE POLITICS

No, that headline is not a typo.

I am not interviewing myself. That would be boring.

My guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week is Pat Nolan.

He is the Director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform, part of the American Conservative Union Foundation.

Criminal justice reform is an issue that is growing in debate and importance across the country including here in Tennessee.

For the record, and if you don’t see a family resemblance, Pat is my cousin.

His grandfather and my great-grandfather were brothers.

Watch us for a great discussion that’s “all in the family.”

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