Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 19, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - CAPITOL VIEW

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

January 19, 2018

NO TAX 4 TRACKS; ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL; INSIDE POLITICS; GETTING CLOSER TO AMAZON; WHEN KICKING THE CAN DOWN THE ROAD KICKS BACK

NO TAX 4 TRACKS

Up until this week, there did not appear to be any organized public campaign opposing Mayor Megan Barry’s $5 billion plus transit plan. There have been some op-ed pieces placed in the media, and white papers produced by academics from area universities and national think tanks questioning the proposal. There has also been opposition coming from local anti-tax Tea Party folks.

Now there is more organized opposition coming from the No Tax 4 Tracks PAC.

It is led by Nashville businessman (auto dealer) and local time conservative political fund raiser Lee Beaman who is the group’s treasurer. Another familiar business name involved is Joe Scarlett, a top executive retired from the Tractor Supply Company. Both serve on the board of the Beacon Center which already opposes the transit plan. There are also other political and community leaders involved with the PAC. They helped successfully stopped Mayor Karl Dean’s AMP transit project on a few years back.

The highest profile person re-emerging this week to speak out against the transit plan is David Fox, the former mayoral candidate who lost a runoff election to Mayor Barry in 2015. He told THE TENNESSEAN and other media the Barry plan is “a colossal mistake” and “borderline catastrophic”:

“"I think the plan is like a tribute to urban transit plans of decades ago. It's like something out of the 1980s to me. It's like, well, we missed our turn 25 years ago when this was the vogue thing to be doing, and now we're adopting a plan that's I think a backward-looking, extraordinarily expensive change that's not going to materially improve transportation here," Fox said.

"If it were a trivial amount of money I would try to continue to kind of keep my head down and just mind my own business. But this is an amount of money that can get our city into trouble."

Opponents say the cost of the transit effort will really be more than $9 billion. That appears to be accurate if you go beyond capital costs and add in annual operating expenses and subsidies over the 15-year life of constructing the transit system.

The Transit for Nashville group which supports the Mayor’s transit plan is pushing back on the emerging opposition. Reports THE TENNESSEAN:

"The anti-transit group that has come out in opposition wants to do nothing to help Nashville's growing traffic problems," Transit for Nashville spokeswoman Kelly Brockman said. "Instead, they want to stifle it. Nashvillians want something now. They are tired of sitting in traffic wasting time out of their days."

The emergence of the No Tax 4 Tracks PAC raises the possibilities of there being a significant media campaign to counter the expected on-line and main stream advertising efforts coming from Transit for Nashville.

In fact in an e-mail sent out Thursday morning the No Tax 4 Tracks group sent out its own analysis of the status of the referendum race:

“Our pollster, Public Opinion Strategies, had support among likely voters at 53%. That means with no opposition, no counter message, and no paid media, they only have a 3-point cushion. That’s good for us. When we talk about the highest sales tax in the nation and a light rail plan that won’t work, our numbers move to the win side.

We have a good message. We will have paid media--both broadcast and digital. And, we’ll have grassroots support. We know they will probably outspend us…we hear their budget is $2.5-million. But we also know we’re going to be competitive and we know our message has more punch.”

The push to put the Mayor’s transit plan on the May 1st ballot for voter approval did run into a brief delay from Mother Nature this week. The snowstorm that hit the city Tuesday morning, cancelled that evening’s Metro Council meeting until next week. Still, with the Council earlier acting as a committee of the whole, and voting 30-1 in favor of the plan, approval on second and third readings of the ordinance involved is all but assured. That process should be complete by early February.

Meanwhile, deliberately or more by coincidence, Mayor Barry has cleared her desk of other pending controversies outside of transit. The $100 million mixed-use redevelopment of the old Greer Stadium site has collapsed after months of controversy. It began with questions about the way the city approved the development team involved. It escalated with national and international opposition arising because of nearby Ft. Negley, a Civil War historic site built largely by African Americans. When an archaeological study found strong evidence that there are likely bodies buried in the Ft. Negley area, including some of the African Americans who built the fort, the project got to be way too hot to handle politically, so the Cloud Hill developers withdrew their proposal.

With that now out of the way, and the Mayor trying to reset the community conversation about the future of General Hospital and delay any decision until the end of the year, she can more fully focus on transit. After all, the May vote will likely be either her legacy achievement as mayor or become a political setback that could begin to raise doubts about her chances to win a second term in 2019.

THE TENNESSEAN’s Joey Garrison offers this interesting analysis piece on the situation.

ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

Political Super PACs are also active in Tennessee’s two statewide political contests for governor and the U.S. Senate.

A group called TNJobsNow.com has launched a radio ad campaign attacking the apparent front runner in the GOP gubernatorial race. That’s Congressman Diane Black, with the ad calling her “Dishonest Diane Black.” You can read more and hear the spot at this link from THE TENNESSEE STAR.

Tom Humphrey has more background information on the TN for Jobs Now group. The group registered with the state late last year.

“It has not yet filed an initial disclosure statement and need not do so until later this month. The treasurer is listed as Maria Wojciechowski of Herndon, Va.

Maria Wojciechowski is also is also registered with the Federal Election Commission as treasurer of the Future45 Super PAC, which the Center for Responsive Politics says spent more than $24 million on ads attacking Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign. Media reports indicate the Future45 PAC is substantially funded by billionaire TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts and Las Vegas casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson.”

If these charges against Black sound vaguely familiar, you are correct. Again, Tom Humphrey fills in the background:

“In the 2010 Republican primary for the 6th Congressional District seat, won by Black, one of her opponents, Lou Ann Zelenik, ran an ad attacking Black over state contracts with Aegis Sciences, a drug testing company founded by her husband, David. Aegis filed a lawsuit against Zelenick over the claim, contending it was false and defamatory. That lawsuit was dismissed… and Zelenick subsequently filed a counter lawsuit, which apparently is still pending.”

Late breaking news in THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL today (Friday): Congressman Black did not attend a joint candidate forum held this morning on health issues at Lipscomb University. She will also not be present next Tuesday at a candidate forum on education topics set at Belmont University.

The second event has all the candidates on stage at the same time, and it will also be the first one televised statewide (including by NEWSCHANNEL5). It appears Black will be the only candidate absent. THE JOURNAL says Black is citing scheduling conflicts. But the publication alludes to another potential reason for the absence:

“If Black is indeed as far ahead as some believe, she may have the most to lose by giving her rivals theopportunity to take her on in a public forum.”

Or maybe it’s the potential government shutdown and her need to be in Washington?

Meanwhile in the U.S. Senate race, another national political group’s Super PAC, The Club for Growth, has issued a poll in the GOP primary race. It shows that Congressman Marsha Blackburn leads her opponent, former Congressman Stephen Fincher by a wide margin among likely GOP primary voters, 66% to 13% with 21% undecided.

It should be noted The Club for Growth has already endorsed Blackburn. The survey is similar in results with another poll done by an on-line publication. The Club for Growth also released poll results that paired Blackburn against retiring Senator Bob Corker. It was equally lopsided (63%-25%) in Blackburn’s favor even though Corker, of course, is not on the ballot. Says the poll:

“Blackburn also would lead ten-year retiring Senator Bob Corker by 38 points.

In a hypothetical match-up with the retiring Senator, Blackburn has the support of more than three-in-five primary voters.

Corker’s image among Republican primary voters is net-negative.”

The NASHVILLE POST and Stephen Elliot offers more:

“Corker had a 50-percent unfavorable rating among Republican primary voters, according to the poll, with 44 percent of respondents holding a favorable opinion of the retiring senator.

Blackburn, on the other hand, holds a 64-percent favorable rating among likely Republican primary voters, with 12 percent of respondents holding unfavorable opinions of the congresswoman.”

INSIDE POLITICS

This week on INSIDE POLITICS our guests are reporter Chris Conte of NEWSCHANNEL5 and Chas Sisk of WPLN, Nashville Public Radio. We will be discussing the statewide races as well as the 110th Tennessee General Assembly which has just begun its second year of work here in Nashville.

On a cold snowy winter’s week, tune in for what promising to a hot stove discussion of Tennessee politics!

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.

GETTING CLOSER TO AMAZON

Nashville is alive in its quest to land Amazon’s second North American headquarters. After an initial list of 238 cities the company was considering, it was announced Thursday the Music City has made the finalist list of 20.

Mayor Barry was naturally pleased:

“We are excited to have made Amazon’s top 20 list for a second headquarters,” Nashville Mayor Megan Barry tweeted after the list was announced. “Over the coming weeks and months, we look forward to working more closely with Amazon to show them why Music City would be the perfect fit for their company.”

The Amazon investment in construction alone for its second headquarters is estimated by company officials at $5 billion along with tens of thousands of jobs and what Amazon says will be:

“…tens of thousands of additional jobs and tens of billions of dollars in additional investment in the surrounding community."

But Nashville has yet to release its bid to Amazon so exactly what kind of incentives are being offered to the company to come here remains unknown. Meanwhile, a public records request by the NASHVILLE SCENE did uncover this e-mail authored by one top city official:

“I generally am skeptical on the return on investing in chasing these mega-deals, but this is one that’s worth it,” Matt Wiltshire, director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Community Development, wrote in an email obtained by the Scene in a public records request. “It’s going to be tough to get someone comfortable with the idea of hiring [50,000] employees in Nashville, but I think we can make the case.” (By the way, Amazon says the average salary for their jobs will be $100,00!)

THE SCENE article added:

“Of note, and of the cities on the list, only Raleigh has fewer people in its MSA than Nashville.”

But if it will be a challenge to get Amazon comfortable with finding and hiring 50,000 employees here in Nashville, what kind of challenge will be to get the Metro Council to go along? The 40-member body recently passed legislation requiring more detailed information from companies already receiving local government incentives, and those enticements are surely much, much smaller in size than what is likely being offered to Amazon.

Of course, being in the Top 20 is not being selected to be Amazon’s second North American headquarters. But I will say, looking at the list of other finalist cities, we are in high- level company. Therefore, the exposure can only help the city’s future prospects for corporate relocations…if we are willing to pay the likely price involved.

The Amazon HQ decision won’t be made by May when voters decide what to do with Mayor Barry’s transit plan. If it is approved, it will no doubt be used by city as a selling point to Amazon that Nashville is taking major steps to address its traffic issues, something which all the other finalists face too. Voter disapproval of the plan would likely be seen as a mark against Nashville and its Amazon aspirations along with a lack of technical workers here.

By the way, for those keep up with our city’s competition with other similar size communities, Charlotte, North Carolina did not make the Amazon finalist list. The other southern cities that did make the cut are Atlanta, Austin, Raleigh, Dallas, Miami and Northern Virginia.

If you keep track of the betting odds, the NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL says Nashville has the worst chance with some other cities at 20 to 1, while those the bookies say have the best odds are Boston, with 3:1 odds…. followed by Austin and Atlanta, each with 7:2 odds, and by Montgomery County, Md., and Pittsburgh, each with 8:1 odds.

Nashville is also a finalist to host another Women’s Final Four NCAA Basketball Tournament between 2022 and 2025. We are one of eight cities vying for the event including Cleveland, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Minneapolis and San Antonio. All but Houston have hosted a Final Four in the past.

Nashville hosted in 2014 and got rave reviews. But when another bid was submitted a year or so later, the city lost out, primarily because the major downtown hotels would not give the discounts and lower room rates the NCAA wanted and which had been given when the event was held here in 2014. With many new downtown hotel properties and rooms now available or under construction, maybe that additional competition will make that deficiency in Nashville’s Final Four bid go away.

The city does still face challenges I understand. That’s due to commitments already made to other basketball tournaments and the Predators at the Bridgestone Arena which could mean Nashville can only bid to host only one year out of the four up for grabs for the Women’s Final Four.

WHEN KICKING THE CAN DOWN THE ROAD KICKS BACK

For the fourth time since October, Congress is trying to keep the government operating by passing a temporary funding resolution.

Nobody says they like doing it that way. In fact, it’s a terrible way to do budgeting and public policy.

But other than once again kicking the can down the road, Congress seems trapped into being poster children as a definition of insanity. That is doing the same thing over and over again, and somehow being surprised that generates the same resolution of more political gridlock.

With the government running out of money tonight (Saturday at midnight) it’s becoming a finger-pointing/ blame contest between the two parties, particularly trying to resolve the DACA/ Dreamers issue and extending the national children’s health program (CHIPS).

The House has passed a new spending extension bill. It continues the children insurance program for another six years but does nothing on DACA. House GOP leaders say the issue can still be addressed in February or March before the program is due to end by presidential edict.

The Democrats aren’t buying that and if at least 9 of them in them in the Senate don’t come on board there is no chance the GOP spending bill can pass. Still Republicans say if the government turns out the lights it is the “Schumer shutdown” named after the Democrats leader in the Senate. Meanwhile the Democrats counter that any shutdown can be avoided because Republicans control both the Congress and the White House. They add there has never been a shutdown in the past when one party has had that kind of power.

Then there is the role of President Trump. Twice in recent he days he has blown up compromise efforts that seemed to drawing bi-partisan support on both DACA and CHIPS. First he told Congress he would support whatever they came up as a consensus. He blew that up with his infamous “s---thole statement about immigration. Then after his Chief of Staff went up the Hill and indicated the President’s stance on the border wall with Mexico has been evolving, he tweeted nothing was changing undercutting his top aide.

That left Congress wondering just where the President stands, what he will support…and most ominously, can they trust what he says.

Senator Minority Leader Chuck Schumer met with the President this afternoon with reported progress but no deal.

So, stay tuned. It looks to be a bumpy night and an increasingly likely shutdown ahead.

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