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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 12, 2018

Posted at 2:48 PM, Jan 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-12 15:48:23-05


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

January 12, 2018



President Donald Trump came to Nashville this week to address some 5,000 members of the National Farm Bureau Federation which held the organization’s annual national convention at Opryland.

It was his second visit here since he took office about a year ago. Farmers were clearly a part of the base of voters who put Mr. Trump in the White House, but he hasn’t spoken or tweeted as much about them as compared to, say, coal miners.

Perhaps making up for that omission, he signed an executive order while he was here to expand broadband access in rural areas, and he told the convention delegates he was fighting to get them a better deal on their exported food products through a revised NAFTA treaty. Farmers like that idea, but they have been concerned with the President’s repeated threats to pull the nation out of the agreement. Farmers think NAFTA has been good for their livelihood through increased trade with Mexico and Canada.

Trump did not repeat those NAFTA threats while he was here. He did talk about combatting the opioid crisis which is greatly impacting rural areas. After the President left Nashville and went back to Washington, he also spoke more positively about finding a comprehensive immigration reform law, along with resolving the DACA/ Dreamers issue that Congress is trying to work out currently with a March deadline from the White House (although a federal court ruling this week may impact that)

Farmers have complained about the decreasing availability of farm labor, especially migrant workers. So immigration is another issue they have been concerned about given the overall policies of the Trump administration, including earlier this week, ending the status of hundreds of thousands from El Salvador who could now face deportation.

The President continued to stir the pot this week on the immigration issue. First, he told Congressional leaders in both parties he would sign whatever legislation they could come to a consensus on regarding DACA , immigration changes and border security. But then just a day or so later, the President summarily rejected such a bi-partisan proposal because he said it didn’t meet his requirements for a border wall, the end of chain immigration and the use of a lottery to select some immigrants.

The President touched off a real political and social media firestorm during this same meeting He used an obscene racial slur in talking with lawmakers. He asked them why they wanted to continue to bring into the United States people from Haiti, El Salvador and African nations that are “s…hole countries?”

The story has regenerated concerns and criticisms that Mr. Trump is a racist, and gives signs of being unstable and not suited for his office.

Meanwhile in Tennessee this week, The President was playing nice. Despite his recent feud with Tennessee’s Bob Corker, Trump invited the retiring Senator to fly down with him on Air Force One from Washington. Governor Bill Haslam, who says he didn’t vote for Trump in 2016, was also there as were almost all of the state’s GOP congressional delegation. That included U.S. Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn and gubernatorial candidate Diane Black.

Those two, got prime positions on the podium next to the President as well as shout outs from him during his Farm Bureau remarks. Given the continued popularity of Mr. Trump in Tennessee especially among Republicans, such kudos from the President are bound to be a campaign boon for both statewide candidates (and you may well see and hear his praise in their campaign ads).

To try and counter that, one of Black’s major rivals, East Tennessee businessman and former ECD commissioner Randy Boyd tried to try and get in on the act, by issuing a press release touting and tying himself to the President and his Tennessee visit with these headlines:

“Randy Boyd Applauds President Trump’s Rural Agenda”

“Gubernatorial Candidate Share(s) President’s Agenda for Rural Broadband Expansion and Combating the Opioid Crisis”

By the way, President Andrew Jackson from Tennessee got praise from President Trump while he was in town. He really seems to like Old Hickory. Mr. Trump keeps his portrait in the Oval Office and the President’s first trip to the state last March came on Jackson’s 250th birthday. The President went to Jackson’s Nashville home, the Hermitage to mark that occasion. His trip to speak to the Farm Bureau this week had a Jackson tie as well. It came on the 203rd anniversary of Jackson’s defeat of British forces outside New Orleans during the War of 1812.


President Trump came to Nashville on Monday, the morning after the Golden Globe Awards show. During that nationally televised event, mega star Oprah Winfrey (who once lived in Nashville and began her TV career here) gave such an impassioned acceptance speech for an honor she received, the social media world was immediately flooded with talk of her running for President in 2020.

News report say she is seriously considering a run and the idea of her candidacy has continued to take hold in the continuing wake of both the Me Too and Time’s Up movements. One national polling firm, Rasmussen (which is considered Republican-leaning), issued results of a survey on Wednesday. It shows Oprah right now beating The Donald 48% to 38% in a head to head race with 14% undecided.

The President did not comment on Oprah’s possible candidacy while he was in Nashville He has since said, he thinks such a contest would be “fun.” Back in 1999, when Trump was considering an earlier run for the White House, he said then he thought so much of Oprah, he wanted her to be his vice- presidential running mate.

Well, how about that! You can be sure that sound bite will be aired over- and -over again if an Oprah versus The Donald race comes to be. Of course, people and Presidents do change their minds. One thing that likely won’t change is this President’s opinion of himself. A self- proclaimed (on Twitter) a “very smart, genius” who is also “very stable”, the President also told his Farm Bureau audience this on Monday…

“Oh, are you happy you voted for me,” he said as the audience laughed. “You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege.”

Since I worked with Oprah while she was at Channel 5 back in the mid -1970s, people have been asking me what I think about her possible candidacy. Everything I have ever read or been told about running for President is that it requires perhaps the greatest determination, focus and commitment anyone can muster in order to even attempt to be successful.

The Oprah I knew and worked with at Channel 5 forty plus years ago showed glimpses of having that kind of the “right stuff.” Working then in an almost-all white and male dominated business, she stood out with her talents, and she wasn’t afraid to learn, work hard and grow. I also remember when she left the station to go to work in another larger TV market she thought her new higher salary was like hitting the motherload. Of course, based on what she earns today I am sure it’s not even a rounding error in her income.

Her move from Channel 5 was not immediately successful, but she marshalled her many skills and the training she had, and within a few short years, she was the nation’s number one TV talk show host, a movie star (Color Purple) and the list of her many successes in a variety of fields has continued from there.

Now I do have some concerns. One is continuing to select our top national leader from the entertainment and media world. I also hope if Oprah is President she can wisely pick the team she’ll need to help accomplish her goals in office. I do think policy and governmental experience is important to be President, but if you look at the election returns in recent years I am not sure many voters think that in deciding what candidate they will cast their ballot.

I have met and interviewed at least a couple presidential candidates over the years, but I have never personally known or worked with a presidential candidate, much less an actual president himself (or one day, herself). It’s been many years since I worked with Oprah. I am not even sure she remembers me. But given the potential of her candidacy in the 2020 election, I will sure be watching this political story with even more interest than usual (and remember, I love politics).


The 110th General Assembly began its second year of work here in Nashville last Tuesday.

Unlike last year, it doesn’t appear a major topic like the IMPROVE ACT will dominant lawmakers’ attention. After all, that bill raised the gas tax for the first time in nearly a quarter century while reducing other taxes. It also set up the framework for cities like Nashville, and surrounding counties, to begin the process to plan and fund major mass transit improvements for their fast- growing communities. Nashville is likely to be voting on such a plan and the taxes to pay for it on May 1.

But even though there may not be a major issue of focus for this year’s legislative term, you know our representatives will find plenty of things to debate and several things to fight over between now and spring. We could see some previous hot-button bills resurface (the bathroom bill and making the Bible the state’s official book come to mind). Even other old controversies will return in a different form as there are efforts to allow liquor and grocery stores to sell liquor and wine on Sunday.

It is also an election year and we are already seeing the winds of perhaps historic change blowing the halls of General Assembly. That includes the new offices and committee rooms lawmakers are now using in the renovated historic Cordell Hull building next to the Capitol.

To take an in-depth look at what to expect from our lawmakers in the weeks to come, our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week is the Speaker of the Senate, Lt. Governor Randy McNally.

In the first days of the new session, there is already a move by Democrats to resurrect Governor Haslam’s INSURE TENNESSEE plan, especially in the wake of the rising numbers of rural hospitals closing in Tennessee. It’s not likely Republicans will buy into bringing back that proposal, and the Governor is not asking for it either. But we will discuss it with Governor McNally anyway…and lots of other issues.

For example, THE TENNSSEAN reports, during a recent, required sexual harassment training session for lawmakers, one female representative blamed some of the problem on women on the Hill wearing provocative clothing, while others in the training seemed to make jokes about the topic. So are our elected leaders taking this training seriously?

Read more at this link.

And tune in INSIDE POLITICS this week!

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This week for Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, it’s been a tale of two very different policy challenges. One, in terms of addressing mass transit, she continues to move her plans forward. On another, the future of the city’s General Hospital, she’s decided to hit the reset button after continued controversy.

The Metro Council held a three-and a half hour public hearing on the Mayor $5 billion plus transit plan last Tuesday night. The conversation was dominated by supporters of the proposal. The turnout is perhaps an indication of the significant organizing strength of the coalition of groups working to pass the plan, not only through the Council, but to also gain voter approval in a May 1 referendum.

Now it is never easy to get the public to vote to raise their taxes, so don’t make too much out of this show of strength at the Council (although a more divided debate by the public at the Council would surely have sent off alarm bells). As it stands, the transit bill in the Council bill has 25 co-sponsors, easily more than the 21 votes needed for final approval. I am sure the Mayor and her transit supporters are working hard to produce an even larger majority for the bill out of the 40-member body, and then use that to build additional positive momentum for the May vote.

The Mayor’s transit supporters have also conducted a community petition drive that has generated over 30,000 signatures. The petition they signed says:

"I'm for transit, and I’m willing to help pay for it. We can’t afford to wait!"

Now signing a petition and going to the polls and voting for it are not the same thing. The petition also does not specifically endorse the details of the mayor’s plan. But it should be noted voter turnout for the city’s last May election in 2014 was just 38,000. That means if those who signed the petition, go the polls and vote for the Mayor’s plan, transit supporters would have a big leg up to prevail.

However, voter turnout could well be larger this year because of the referendum vote, and because there are also several judicial and county constitutional offices on the ballot. Some are without incumbents which may bring out more voters. Others are races where voters are deciding who will fill court vacancies that have been temporarily filled by the Metro Council. Those Council choices have generated some controversy because lawmakers (as has happened in the past) picked their own colleagues for those jobs.

Meanwhile, to counteract community criticism that the transit plan will hinder the city’s ability to provide more affordable housing, accelerate gentrification, and leave out small and minority owned businesses, the Mayor this week accepted a report from a blue -ribbon taskforce she appointed. That group was charged to look at best practices in other parts of the country as well as make recommendations on to deal with the many issues involved.

The two-month study was co-chaired by former Mayor Bill Purcell and County Clerk Brenda Wynn. The final report doesn’t contain any quick fixes or silver bullets, but the task force does seem to think their recommendations can act as a road map to keep these issues on Metro’s radar screen. Said Mayor Purcell in a news release from the Mayor’s office:

“There was broad consensus (in the task force) to the procedural and substantive proposals made. While there was not unanimous agreement on all specific ways in which to achieve our goals, the Taskforce believes that by the time this transit program is fully implemented, the need for affordable housing in our city must be fully met. We know this will not be accomplished by new transit-oriented

development districts or the transit plan alone, but we all agree these recommendations will serve as an essential component.”

But as much momentum and consensus as the Barry administration seems to be building on the transit plan, it is still struggling to do the same regarding the future of the city’s safety net General Hospital.

Catching several key stakeholders of the Hospital off guard late last year, Mayor Barry announced her support for ending in-patient care at the hospital by June 2018 and continuing service only as a health clinic for out patient care.

Some in the community and the Metro Council believe the mayor went too far. This week, two councilmen, from widely different political perspectives (Steve Glover, the most conservative councilmember and At-Large member Erica Gilmore, chair of the council’s Black Caucus), filed legislation to block the mayor’s move without approval first from the Council and the city’s Hospital Authority.

The legislation appears to be completely unnecessary. Metro law already requires approvals from the Council and Hospital Authority for the funding and operations of General. But if the bill seems to have no real legal impact if approved, as a political statement it does show how much additional damage control the Mayor’s office needs to do if it hopes to reach a consensus resolution of this issue.

Another problem in this regard are the closed- door sessions being held by a stakeholder committee, which is seeking to craft a plan to move forward on General. The committee was organized by Meharry Medical College and Mayor Barry indicated she would likely support any consensus that emerges from the group’s deliberations.

But with the discussions being held in private (to better facilitate a frank exchange of ideas and issues say Meharry officials), some are not comfortable. The Chair of the Metro Council’s Budget & Finance Committee, Tanaka Vercher, has resigned from the group in protest. The controversy raises potential transparency issues, and could in turn, further hamper finding a consensus or buy-in to a proposed solution.

To begin to end this still growing controversy over General Hospital, late Thursday afternoon Mayor Barry tried to ”reset” the issue. At the suggestion of Vice Mayor David Briley, she sent a letter to members of the Council and the Hospital Authority. She told them she is backing off her recommendation that in-patient service be ended at General by the end of June. She now says no decision on that would be made be made until the end of 2018 and after further consultation with all the Hospital’s stakeholders. She also apologized:

“My announcement in November 2017 was meant to be positive and a starting point for a broader stakeholder conversation about the future of indigent care in Nashville. Obviously, this has not occurred as intended and I am sorry I did not engage you and other stakeholders before the announcement was made.”

In her letter, the Mayor also indicated Metro Finance officials will recommend to the Council by early February the approval of the tens of millions of tax dollars in additional funds that are needed to keep General operating.

The Mayor also seemed to distance herself from the Meharry study group in her letter, siding with concerns about their meetings being private. She did add she understands the reasons for keeping those

conversations confidential in order to encourage frank discussions. But she added “it is clear we (Metro) will have to chart our own path towards developing the best model for the hospital. Over the next few weeks and months, we will be engaging stakeholders to determine how to do just that in a way that will produce more support and trust in the community.” Mayor Barry says her office will continue to work with Meharry’s special counsel in this matter.

So far, the letter and the “reset” proposal seems to have helped by garnering positive reactions from Councilmembers and Hospital Authority leaders.

This General Hospital issue has been the Mayor’s first major stumble in her two plus years in office.

It’s important to remember that in politics, as is life, it’s not when or if you’re going to get knocked down or stumble, it’s how well and quickly you get back on your feet to begin to recover. The Mayor seems to have begun that process.