Capitol View Commentary: Friday, February 2, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company
February 2, 2018

MAYOR BARRY? WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?; AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR AS GOP GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATES DISCLOSE FUNDRAISING NUMBERS; AND NOW THE ADS BEGIN IN EARNEST; ANOTHER SENATE POLL; AND IN THE GOVERNOR’S RACE; THE SEASON OF THE STATE OF; CANNABIS OIL/ MEDICAL MARIJUANA ON INSIDE POLITICS; SENATOR HAYNES; 

MAYOR BARRY? WHAT WAS SHE THINKING?
That’s been the overwhelming response I have received from folks since a political bomb went off at the Metro Courthouse Wednesday afternoon. Mayor Megan Barry admits she had a multi-month extra marital affair with Metro Police Sgt. Rob Forrest, the head of her security detail.

Some people used more graphic language when we talked, but I can’t repeat that here. 

The shock waves from the scandal are still reverberating across the city, and even across the country as the story has spread. Mayor Barry’s plans for Nashville, her legacy (including some proposals that stretch decades into the future) now hang precariously in the balance as does her continuing in office as mayor, and indeed, her entire political career. 

While apologizing and expressing deep remorse, the Mayor says she is not resigning and plans to continue her work. Here’s the e-mail statement she sent to her supporters Wednesday night:

“Today, I have acknowledged publicly that I have engaged in an extramarital affair with the former head of my security detail. 

“I accept full responsibility for the pain I have caused my family and his.  I am so sorry to my husband Bruce, who has stood by me in my darkest moments and remains committed to our marriage, just as I am committed to repairing the damage I have done.  

“I also must apologize to the people of Nashville who elected me to serve as your mayor. I knew my actions could cause damage to my office and the ones I loved, but I did it anyway. I must hold myself to the highest standard of which the voters deserve to expect.  Please know that I’m disappointed in myself but also understand that I’m a human and that I made a mistake.  

“In 2015, I was elected to serve as Mayor of Nashville on a platform that included building more affordable housing, improving public education, and promoting better transportation options. We have made progress on these fronts – but there is more to be done. While I regret any distractions that will be caused by my actions, I remain firmly committed to working hard to serve the people of Nashville now and into the future. 

“God will forgive me, but the people of Nashville don’t have to. In the weeks and months to come, I will work hard to earn your forgiveness and earn back your trust.”

These were the same messages she reiterated when she met with a room full of reporters with cameras, along with staff and even council members that same night. She appeared on stage in the mayor’s media room answering questions for close to an hour. She did so with no notes or props or any one standing in support behind or beside her. 

Here’s a link to her full news conference.

Prior to her meeting with the media, the Mayor sat down with Phil Williams of NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES to give him the first interview she gave on this topic.

In all these situations in recent days, the Mayor has shown great poise, focus and political guts. But questions continue. 

The first revolve around the several trips around the country and the world (Paris & Athens) she and her bodyguard took alone. She says it was for official business and that there was no impropriety or no improper use of taxpayer money. 

Her security chief (who moved up a planned retirement to start immediately and has left city employment) also has expressed remorse. He adds he has done nothing that was less than professional. 

His overtime pay as the Mayor’s bodyguard has greatly increased in the last two years raising eyebrows. The increased use of security for this mayor does seem to stand in contrast with what previous Mayors Karl Dean and Bill Purcell say they received (when asked). This is raising questions too although it appears that change may be a result of orders by Police Chief Steve Anderson who says he would like to further increase the size and scope of the mayor’s security detail going forward. 

All these questions and concerns are in the process of sparking several potential investigations by the city’s ethics officials, the Metro Council, and most ominously by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. The TBI has been asked by Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk, to begin a potential criminal investigation into the matter. That probe is underway with Mayor Barry promising full cooperation with any and all the investigations.

Since being elected in the fall of 2015, the Mayor has been Nashville’s superstar politician. I can’t count how many times people have said to me: “You know I didn’t vote for her, but I really like her and how she is doing her job.” She has become a role model for young women in the community who see in her election the real possibility that they too might be able to hold such a high office someday.

While Nashville Mayor Bill Boner had similar issues with infidelity while he was in office in the late 1980s, including allegedly with a member of his security team, issues of that sort were strongly rumored even before he was elected and continued (Tracy Peel) even after he announced he would not seek a second term.

 With Mayor Barry’s professional background in ethics compliance, most folks did not see her as a likely person to become embroiled in an affair, although everyone is indeed human and can fail.

Now as you read comments on Facebook and elsewhere on line, you see expressed disappointment, anger, feelings of betrayal and calls for the Mayor’s removal or resignation. Now no doubt some of that comes from folks who have never liked or voted for her, but now they see new opportunities to express that opposition. There are also many others posting who are rallying to her side.

In many ways this scandal come not have come at a worse time for Mayor Barry. Personally, she and her husband Bruce lost their only child to a drug overdose last year. Politically, after months of planning and debate, her transit plan is poised to be placed on the ballot next week by the Metro Council with an up or down decision by voters set for May 1.

Will the Council vote for her proposal (which has been as high as 30 out of 40 members approving in earlier readings on the bill) show a dip in the final Council vote? Will that be a portend of sagging voter approval?  Could the election be postponed until later in the year?

Even those opposed to the transit proposal have said the plan likely has a somewhat narrow majority of support by voters (even if it does raise taxes). How much of that support has been based on voters liking and having confidence in the Mayor, who has been the face and the heart and soul of this transit effort?

Does the Mayor continue to be the out front, driving force for the plan even if she may be damaged goods? But how can she not do that? Will other pro-transit community leaders need to step up into the spotlight?

I am not sure transit opponents will use Mayor Barry’s extra marital affair as an issue in the transit campaign. It’s risky and might backfire. Besides they already have a line of argument that questions her veracity and transparency about the transit plan: Is the true cost $5 billion or $9 billion? 

That issue will apparently be argued again Tuesday night. So far, the Council has been on the Mayor’s side of that numbers fight.  Will that continue, or will the ballot language be amended? If it is changed, will state finance officials continue to certify the tax increases on the ballot are sufficient to fund the transit proposal?

Now I don’t see any signs that the Mayor’s support in the Council is eroding in a major way. But there are other tests looming on the horizon. 

What is the future of the city’s General Hospital? Council members, hospital officials and other stakeholders still feel blindsided by Mayor’s abrupt announcement that she wanted to end in-patient service at General and continue it as an out-patient health clinic only.

While the Mayor has put off further discussion of that plan until the end of the year, distrust of Mayor Barry continues with Nashville state representative Harold Love, Jr. filing a bill in the General Assembly to force Nashville to keep General Hospital open for in-patient care.

There’s also the MLS soccer stadium to be built at the Fairgrounds. Some council members are still concerned over a surprise, last- minute change in the lease agreement with team owners. It gave them ten acres of city Fairgrounds property to develop. Again, these are questions about veracity and transparency.

Since there is still legislation the Council must approve on the stadium deal, including one that requires a 27 (or two-thirds) vote for approval. Will the Mayor’s personal scandal impact Council’s trust to approve this project, along with the transit plan and General Hospital (which needs an emergency cash infusion of 13 plus million just to keep its doors open)? 

Unless there are major new developments (another shoe drops) regarding this scandal, I don’t see anything coming to a final resolution until the investigations are done (especially the TBI). But you can see what a political high wire act the Mayor is trying to accomplish to rebuild and keep public support. What happens with the transit vote, and in the Council with her programs are likely to be good ways to measure how things are going.

She may have little or no margin for error left to survive this scandal.   

LATE BREAKING: Doing some quick pro-active damage control, Mayor Barry’s personal sent this letter to Nashville media outlets Friday afternoon:

AND THEN THERE WERE FOUR AS GOP GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATES DISCLOSE FUNDRAISING NUMBERS

This week, those looking to discern a pecking order among the 5 major Republican candidates running for governor got the $$$- raising numbers they’ve been waiting for from each campaign. What did we learn? Well based on the dollars, the field contacted down to 4, as former State Senator Mae Beavers suspended (quit) her campaign. Beavers has struggled raising money from the get-go (not much more than $200,00). She tried to put the best face possible on the situation in a Facebook post where she announced her decision to drop out.

To the volunteers, supporters, and every person who championed my run for Governor, I want to express my deepest gratitude to you. Today, after much deliberation, I am suspending my campaign for the office of Governor of the great state of Tennessee.

After criss-crossing the state and meeting thousands of fellow Tennesseans, it was not a light decision to make because you have embraced our conservative message whole-heartedly; however, it is the right choice to make. Also, I know entering the race has not been in vain as many of my heart-felt issues are now talking points of other candidates.

Again, I can’t express enough of the sincere thankfulness that I have for you and the out-pouring of love and support as a volunteer and supporter you had for this campaign. Jerry and I look forward to my retirement after decades of being an elected official, and we pray that God blesses you and our great state and nation.

Mae Beavers

Just what an uphill climb Beavers faced if she had stayed in the race became clear as the other GOP candidates disclosed their numbers which totaled in some cases into the millions of dollars raised (or loaned to the campaign by the candidates). Andy Sher of THE TIMES FREE PRESS has an excellent summary on where the dollars stand.

So trying to figure out who is the strongest candidate on the Republican side may be hard to discern. 

Harwell leads with cash in the bank at over $5 million. 

That’s a lot and even if a good bit ($3 million) came from a personal loan, that money still spends and can help Harwell build her name recognition and get her message out. Yes, there will be criticism that the large loan indicates she is trying to buy a nomination, she can’t raise enough money to win.

Harwell also had $987,761 in transfers from two other campaign accounts plus $1.19 million from actual contributions. It gives the state House Speaker a total of $5.21 million. With her expenditures being the difference in that figure and her $5 million plus in the bank.

One other reason Harwell may have made such a big loan to her campaign now is to offset the ban on fund raising she now faces as a state lawmaker while the General Assembly is in session.

Diane Black has raised the most money these past few months ($1.74 million) but she loaned her campaign a million bucks too. After spending $987,761, Black finished with $2.73 million in cash on hand.

Randy Boyd is third in the GOP money contest, raising $1.25 million along with loaning his campaign $2 million. That is in addition to an earlier $2 million he gave to his cause. After spending $1.25 million, he  has over $4 million left in the bank, second only to Harwell.

Fourth in the fund- raising report is Bill Lee. He raised over 900,000 and loaned himself about the same amount. He has $3.4 million in the bank after spending over $595,000.

So add it all up and the only things to know for sure is that this already an incredibly expensive race and the four remaining GOP candidates are very, very wealthy. 

On the Democratic side, Karl Dean seems to have a clear front runner’s edge in money.  He finished first, raising $1.25 million and loaning $200,000 to his campaign for a total of $1.45 million. After spending about $630,000, Dean ended with a $1.8 million cash balance.

Dean’s primary opponent, Craig Fitzhugh, clearly has fewer resources. He raised $304,513, loaned his campaign $500,000, spent $134,733 and reported $681,856 in cash on hand. The other major challenge he faces is the same ban on fund raising that Harwell faces while the Legislature is in session (which is likely until April).

 Add it all up and the only things to know for sure is that this already an incredibly expensive race and the all remaining candidates are very, very wealthy. THE TENNESSEAN reports $23.7 million dollars has been raised, $6.4 million spent and $12 million either loaned or donated by the candidates to their campaigns.

And it’s only early February! 

AND NOW THE ADS BEGIN IN EARNES

Political campaigns now begin their digital/video outreach efforts on Day One. Almost all of them post up some kind of on-line YouTube ad or video that announces the candidate’s entry into the race, usually with the candidate making the announcement personally. Then a little later, the on-air and cable TV ad buys begin, although on line, Facebook and news site ads seem to go up and stay up from the start.

There was some early speculation in the (then) five-way GOP gubernatorial primary, the TV ads for this campaign cycle might start as early as late last year. That didn’t happen. 

But it has happened now with Nashville businessman Bill Lee placing the first ad up late last week. As a first-time candidate Lee has an introductory spot. It is one that carries quite a compelling and tragic personal story regarding the candidate.

The Lee campaign has not disclosed the size of its ad buy. However, a quick look at the FCC files of the Nashville stations alone (a market where Lee is already well- known due to the TV spots that have been running for years for the Lee Company, his family-owned home services business), show the Lee campaign local TV buy goes well into February and is easily into the six figures money-wise. You wonder (I will keep monitoring the FCC political ad website) to see if the TV ad purchase is bigger in East and West Tennessee where Lee is not nearly as well known?

Candidate Randy Boyd has also now begun a statewide TV ad campaign of his own. It started Thursday and continues throughout February. The Boyd campaign says the size of this first buy is $300,000, Boyd’s first spot is introductory in nature (at least on where he stands on some issues). It is entitled Values in Action.

In looking at political TV buys across the state it appears the Boyd ad will be running on TV and cable stations carrying the Winter Olympics Games which begins in just a few days.

I suspect we will see others in the GOP gubernatorial primary put their ads out soon.  In fact, Congressman Diane Black is running an ad this weekend right before The Big Game talking about the National Anthem and NFL players taking a knee. Tom Humphrey has the story and the TV ad.

Maybe the Democrats Karl Dean and Craig Fitzhugh will join in too soon along with GOP candidate and Speaker Beth Harwell. The governor’s contest got a little overshadowed in late 2017 when the unexpected open Senate race to succeed Bob Corker materialized.

In that regard, Republican Senate primary front runner and Congressman Marsha Blackburn has a radio spot up. It too picks up on the controversial social justice-related kneel downs by NFL football players during the national anthem.

And of course, the Blackburn ad is on the air during the run up for this weekend’s Big Game.

Surprisingly, the Blackburn ad narrator specifically mentions “Super Bowl Sunday.“ Mentioning the Super Bowl name directly by others is something the NFL has often frowned upon as a copyright or trademark violation.  

My church for years has held a chili-cookoff event during “the Big Game” and has shied away from any use of the words Super Bowl in the bulletin or from the pulpit. Maybe using it in the context of “Super Bowl weekend” is not an issue? Will the NFL push the point by complaining about the Super Bowl being mentioned in the Blackburn ad? Given the kind of year the NFL has had with its TV ratings down, I kind of doubt it. 

ANOTHER SENATE POLL

While I am still waiting to see a “who would you vote for” poll in the GOP primary race for Governor (only name recognition contests so far), this week found the third poll released on the head to head U.S. Senate contest. 

The first two polls were from groups that were supporting candidates. So not surprisingly, one showed a lead for Democrat Phil Bredesen, the other for Republican Marsha Blackburn.
This latest poll is from the TENNESSEE STAR publication. It is hardly a mainstream media, Democrat- leaning group. Some call it the Breitbart of Tennessee. The STAR’s poll shows Blackburn with an 11-point lead over Bredesen. Here’s a link to a news release about the poll with analysis by conservative political pundit and activist Steve Gill.

In addition to likely questions about under- polling African Americans, there is another question in my mind. With Bredesen losing the head to head race versus Blackburn, but winning head to head against the other major GOP Senate candidate, former Congressman Stephen Fincher, is the message to STAR readers (who are pretty likely to vote in the August Republican primary): If you want to hold Bob Corker’s Senate seat you better vote for Marsha? Just asking. 

This week (Tuesday) CNN released its current projections for the November mid-term elections. While it says the Democrats are “in the catbird seat” to retake control of the House of Representatives, it doesn’t project any GOP seats being lost in Tennessee even though 3 or 4 GOP incumbents aren’t running for re-election.

As for the Senate, despite all the earlier hoopla about the race to replace Senator Corker being the key contest to determine control of the upper chamber, CNN now sees it as likely to remain Republican.

AND IN THE GOVERNOR’S RACE

Of course, since THE STAR was in the field with its Senate poll, it did one on the Governor’s race too. But rather than a GOP primary survey, the numbers released focused on a general election head to head match- up between each of the GOP candidates and Democrat (former Nashville mayor) Karl Dean.

I guess THE STAR thinks Dean will be the nominee because the survey didn’t offer any numbers on State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh who is also running in the Democratic gubernatorial primary.

The headline in THE STAR news release says Congressman Diane Black beats Dean by 11 points. In fact, the conservative media outlet’s poll finds all the GOP candidates are beating him: House Speaker Beth Harwell by 10 points, former ECD Commissioner Randy Boyd by 9, businessman Bill Lee by 4 and former State Senator Mae Beavers by two-tenths of a point.

Of course, the STAR gubernatorial poll has the same shortcoming as its Senate poll. It estimates black voter turnout too low and (I think) may have oversampled Republican voters at 46%  of the turnout. Here’s THE STAR release with more analysis by Steve Gill.

I think Gill’s analysis about the regional strengths and weaknesses of the GOP candidates is spot on.

It is interesting to note that three of the GOP candidates (Black, Harwell and Boyd) are within the poll’s margin in beating Karl Dean, while the remaining two (Lee & Beavers) run well behind that against Dean.

Is that a portend of how the GOP primary race will stack up when the campaign fund raising reports come out in a few days?

As for Karl Dean, I think his camp can see in THE STAR poll, a sign that he is potentially pretty competitive against the GOP field (especially if you add in at least 5 points or more to totals to account for the traditional African American turnout and maybe more if GOP voter turnout in November is not as high as 45%.

But when are we ever going to see a “who will vote for” poll in GOP gubernatorial primary?

THE SEASON OF THE STATE OF

Late January always means the “State Of” speeches: That is “The State of the State” for Tennessee and “The State of the Union” in Washington. 

This year the events came on back to back nights (Monday & Tuesday). So, if you like your speeches heavily seasoned with applause and standing ovations, you’ve tuned into the right TV program (or not!). I would add that back to back nights of this TV fare may have resulted in some folks feeling a bit overserved regardless of political affiliation. You know, too much of a good thing, since it’s better to consume all this rich political verbiage and tradition in moderation. 

I suspect lawmakers in both Nashville and D.C. (especially the Republicans) got plenty of exercise clapping their hands and doing their squats (constantly going up and down rising to their feet), to show their support of Governor Bill Haslam and President Donald Trump.
Both leaders made their addresses in widely different political contexts. For the Governor, it was his eighth and last State of the State, while for President Trump it was the first State of the Union.

All “State Of” speeches are extended litanies to praise the achievements of the administrations of whoever is making the address. There was plenty of that to hear both nights, with Governor Haslam extending back over the past seven years to outline the strides the state had made, first to compete and now to lead the nation in education, jobs and government efficiency. I thought he had some impressive statistics to back it up.

President Trump played to his strong suit, touting a still improving economy, a roaring stick market, more jobs, lower unemployment, business and wage growth, and of course the tax cuts approved late last year. The President also said he is ready to extend “an open hand” to both political parties to try and solve the major problems facing Washington such as the budget and immigration.

But if the President had one hand open, his other hand, in terms of his language, was more like a clinched fist. Much of the rhetoric in the speech was a restatement of his often- incendiary themes seen during the presidential campaign and on his Twitter feed. Those surely played well to his political base, but likely did nothing to bring Washington together.  The best example of that came when the President said: “We are all Dreamers”, a phrase Democrats see as mocking those undocumented immigrants, brought to this country at an early age by their parents, now facing deportation unless Congress can pass some kind of renewed DACA-like plan.

The President is offering a 12-year path to citizenship for these immigrants (and catching heat from his base who sees it as “amnesty”). Even though the President insists he is offering a good compromise to tie the path to citizenship  to funding his border wall and making other major changes to the current legal immigration system, it seems to me all that is a “non -starter” in solving this issue, making his open hand seem more empty than helpful.

The President proved again (as he did last year when he addressed a joint session of Congress), that he can stay on script in delivering a major speech and do so effectively. And it wasn’t short either. I particularly thought his recognition of special guests in the House gallery (a device used by Presidents since Ronald Reagan) was particularly well done to humanize his points.

But the lack of specifics in his push for Congress to approve a multi- billion- dollar infrastructure program and address the opioid epidemic makes me doubtful of any action will occur in these policy areas despite overwhelming public and bi-partisan support to act.

It was interesting to note the largely positive polling results the President’s speech got even though CNN claims the numbers were the lowest it has ever seen on an annual State of the Union speech like this. Maybe the speech reaction will lead to higher overall job approval numbers for Mr. Trump. But maybe not, if he starts up another Twitter storm or the Russia Mueller investigation leads to more revelations. 

For Governor Haslam, his job was to encourage state lawmakers to keep moving forward in the key areas of job, education and government efficiency even as a new Governor and General Assembly take office next January.  He certainly believes the budget he is proposing does that job, even though his specific legislative package does not include a major new program such as the IMPROVE ACT of last year.

Some also say the Governor’s proposals on opioids and juvenile justice seemed driven more by legislative studies rather than by his administration. But I think that may not be far. This Governor has certainly learned (INSURE TENNESSEE) the wisdom of laying the groundwork with the Republican Super Majority before trying to push through legislation. I suspect both his opioid and juvenile justice plans have a much better chance to pass because lawmakers have studied the issues, made recommendations and now have a stake in bills proposed. When you’ve only got one year to pass important legislation, you can’t afford delays because lawmakers need to get to speed on an issue.

Now I agree the state funding for our opioid fight ($30 million) seems less than enough to really do the job. But it’s not the almost delusional figure of $250 million coming from Democrats. Delusional, not because more money isn’t needed, but because Republicans are not ready to spend that much in the first year of such an effort. 

CANNABIS OIL/ MEDICAL MARIJUANA ON INSIDE POLITICS

Thirty states across the country allow the use of some form of medical marijuana to treat ill patients. Will Tennessee join that list this year? 

There is legislation submitted to do so, but it’s not called medical marijuana anymore…on purpose.

Instead the bill is called THE MEDICAL CANNABIS ONLY ACT.  

Representative Jeremy Faison from Cosby in East Tennessee is the lead House sponsor of the measure. He is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week. 

Faison will explain his proposal in detail. It is a lot more complicated than you might think. He will also explain the new bill title which seems to be an effort to combat what he says are false claims that the bill encourages the use of a gateway drug (marijuana) that will lead to still greater use of cocaine, heroin, etc.

Watch us! This is a very interesting piece of legislation.

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. 

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 NEWSCHANNEL5.com. 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.

SENATOR HAYNES

There seem to have been a lot of stunning, unexpected news stories recently. 

For me last Friday that included the word that long time, former State Senator Joe Haynes had passed away.

When I saw the news on line I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach. Joe and his wife, retired Circuit Judge Barbara Haynes have been dear friends of mine for nearly 40 years. I see Joe almost every month at a board meeting we attend for a client we have in common.

It was always great to see him and while he looked a little frail and had lost weight the last time we were together, it never crossed my mind I’d never see him again.

What I had a lot of fun doing with Joe (and Barbara) is talking politics. They both offer such great wisdom and insights and they were never wrong in anything they predicted. I will sure miss that opportunity with Joe and I plan to continue such conversations with Barbara in the very near future.

Both Joe and Barbara have done so much for the community both in their public service and giving back. 

Barbara in particular has been kind to me in the five and a half years since my stroke. Every couple of weeks I get a package in the mail from her filled with cartoons, funny stories even recipes to keep me cheered up. I frequently told Joe when I saw him to give Barbara my thanks. I told her today (Thursday) at Joe’s wake.

When I got home from work last Friday not long after learning of Senator Haynes’ death, what was waiting for me in the mail? The latest care package from Judge Haynes. By the way, I am told I am not the only one she sends this kind of special deliveries. That’s the way she is and so was Joe.

RIP, my friend.

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