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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 13, 2018

Posted: 3:34 PM, Jul 13, 2018
Updated: 2018-07-13 20:34:16Z

CAPITOL VIEW

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

July 13, 2018

THE VOTING HAS BEGUN; THE ADULT IN THE ROOM; IT’S OFFICIAL; THE SUPREME COURT NOMINATION MOVES TO THE FOREFRONT; BREDESEN GETS SUPPORT ON AN ISSUE FROM TOP SENATE REPUBLICAN; CORKER KEEPS PUSHING BACK ON TRUMP TARIFFS; SO WHERE IS BLACKBURN?; INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS BACK 100 YEARS AGO; METRO BUDGET PAINS CONTINUE; MTA REBRANDS INTO WEGO PUBLIC TRANSIT; GETTING THE SPOTLIGHT;

THE VOTING HAS BEGUN

The decision on who will be the next governor of Tennessee is now being made.

Early voting begins today (Friday) for the Republican and Democratic primaries. It will continue through Saturday, July 28. Election Day is Thursday, August 2.

Even as the votes are cast, two of the Republican candidates, Diane Black and Randy Boyd continue to air attack ads against each other. Black accuses Boyd and another opponent, Bill Lee of being “too moderate,” while she is the true conservative in the race. She has also aired an ad questioning Boyd’s support for the Second Amendment and outdoorsmen.

Boyd has struck back with a couple of ads featuring a TV interview with Black conducted early in the 2016 presidential race. In her answers the Congressman seems to question the wisdom and feasibility of then- GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump wanting to build a wall across the southern U.S. border and have Mexico pay for it.

Black questions Boyd’s support for President Trump, and goes after Lee for financially supporting Democratic candidates, including former Governor Phil Bredesen and former Nashville mayors, Karl Dean (now running for governor) and Megan Barry.

Boyd has defended himself by airing a spot from former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee claiming the candidate has indeed been a Trump ally.

Lee defends his political donations as “business decisions” due to the political landscape of Nashville. But interestingly, until the middle of this week, Lee had not responded with a TV spot of his own.

Now he has at least three different spots, some featuring the candidate speaking on camera. Here are links to two of the ads, view them here and here .

Lee is amplifying his comments in talking with reporters on the campaign trail. According to the TNJ: On the Hill news blog (THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL), Lee says:

“I think negative, deceitful attack ads, it’s everything wrong with politics. I’m not going down that road because it’s not what leaders do. People that are willing to say anything or do anything to be elected I don’t believe that that’s the kind of person that Tennesseans want as governor,” Lee said.

Another of Lee’s latest TV ads is not an attack. It’s about rural Tennessee. View it here .

As for Boyd, he released another D.C. Diane ad on Wednesday . Let’s just say it’s filled with “deep in the swamp” imagery. The audio is a little muddied, but the visuals in the ad make the message pretty easy to follow.

Boyd has also been running another, more positive ad focusing on his past campaign themes.

Late this week, Black launched two new attack ads on Boyd. This one accuses him of supporting tax increases in cities such as Knoxville but using business tax loopholes to avoid paying taxes himself. The other delivered on camera by the candidate herself offers a refutation of the Boyd ad featuring the Katie Couric interview and then charges Boyd with making a $250,000 contribution to a pro-immigration rights group.

There are also digital billboards up across Middle Tennessee repeating Black’s charges against Lee of making political contributions to Democrats.

From what I have seen, Black is not running any TV ads right now other than her attacks against Lee and Boyd. She is talking up on Twitter and in the media a new bill she is sponsoring to make illegally crossing the U.S. border a felony, not a misdemeanor.

In addition, according to the TNJ On the Hill , Black is touting what might seem to be a bit of a strange endorsement from former Vanderbilt professor and conservative commentator Carol Swain. She lost the recent special mayoral race in Nashville garnering just 23% of the vote.

Meanwhile even the Democrats are getting a bit testy. Karl Dean’s Democratic primary opponent, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh is now taking exception to Dean touting himself as a “pragmatist” as governor. Here is how THE MEMPHIS FLYER is telling the story .

But one major Democrat in West Tennessee, Memphis Congressman Steve Cohen, is endorsing Dean. THE NASHVILLE POST reports you will be hearing about the Cohen endorsement via radio.

“In a release, the Dean campaign said it would soon launch a radio ad featuring Cohen.

“Karl has a proven track record of putting all the pieces together to attract companies big and small,” Cohen says in the radio ad, as quoted in the release. “He knows our challenges are connected. That’s what we need in our next governor.”

Will the gubernatorial primary winners have united parties behind them? I would still guess they would, but if the attacks and fussing between the candidates continue and/or escalates further, who can say for a certainty?

Meanwhile Governor Bill Haslam, who has stayed out of the primary battle thus far, has penned an “open letter” to those who would seek to replace him. He makes some interesting points in his piece which is appearing in THE TENNESSEAN/ USA TODAY NETWORK--TENNESSEE .

You’ve probably noticed, but the ads are coming at such a “fast and furious” rate I can’t find them all on line. Therefore, I don’t have links to show them to you. I am sure this rash of ads is happening now to get them out while Early Voting is underway. But it also seems to me the attack ads a bit harder to find as few are on the candidate’s web sites or even linked on their Twitter feeds.

Finally, Bill Lee has received the first major newspaper endorsement of the campaign from the conservative editorial page of the CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS publication. The paper is in East Tennessee, so the support is a boost for the Franklin businessman who lives in Middle Tennessee. Here’s a link to the editorial . The editorial says Lee is the paper’s choice among “an embarrassment of riches” in terms of candidates from which Republican voters can choose.

In the Democratic gubernatorial primary, the progressive editorial side of THE TIMES FREE PRESS is endorsing State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh. Just like the Republican endorsement by the paper, it’s an East Tennessee boost for a candidate that lives in another Grand Division of the state (West Tennessee.

Here’s a link to the endorsement .

I am sure there will more endorsements to come soon from newspapers across the state.

THE ADULT IN THE ROOM

House Speaker Beth Harwell of Nashville is the fourth major GOP gubernatorial candidate. She hasn’t been attacked by anyone and has not made her own attacks.

However, this week she announced she is changing her TV ad to take a swipe at her three opponents and their squabbling, portraying them as children. Most of the commercial still repeats her main

campaign messages of what she has done in the Legislature to balance the budget, cut the sales and other state taxes, outlaw sanctuary cities and cut the size of the state government.

But the portrayal of her opponents steals the show. It is the most humorous ad of the campaign by far. You can watch it here .

Will the new ad help Harwell? It’s clear she has not been attacked because her opponents do not see her as a threat. Look and see what happens in the wake of this new ad. If Harwell’s opponents change their minds and start including her in attacks, that means she might be a factor on August 2, although most previous polls have shown her as a distant fourth in the contest.

One strange development to report in terms of the new ad. It was announced on Wednesday but as late as Thursday night, the old Harwell spots are still running.

IT’S OFFICIAL

The latest financial disclosures are in.

This governor’s race is already the most expensive in Tennessee history.

At this link is a summary of where things stand. It’s eye-popping!

In addition to the overall fund raising ($50 million) and spending numbers ($37 million) also look at what the candidates are giving themselves and what they still have left to spend. Remember, we still have about three more weeks to go until the primary election, and then November election before voters select a winner!

You can be sure each candidate will be touting his or her own best $$ numbers. For example, Democratic candidate Karl Dean who outraised his primary opponent and all four GOP gubernatorial candidates this past reporting period. Dean is also somewhat competitive in spending, so far spending more than two of the GOP candidates (Lee & Harwell), although he’s not anywhere close to Boyd and Black.

THE SUPREME COURT NOMINATION MOVES TO THE FOREFRONT

President Trump’s nomination of Appeals Court Justice Brett Cavanaugh to the vacant seat of the retiring Anthony Kennedy appears to be the number one issue for the fall campaign. That’s true even in the U.S. Senate contest here in Tennessee. Senator Bob Corker, who is retiring, has issued a positive statement about Cavanaugh. While Corker made no commitment to vote yes to confirm Cavanaugh, he does appear to be headed that way as does Tennessee’s other U.S. Senator, Lamar Alexander.

It appears this Supreme Court nomination will be voted on by the Senators currently in office. Still those who are running to take Senator Corker’s place, are expressing their thoughts.

Republican Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn, a conservative and major supporter of President Trump can’t wait to see Justice Cavanaugh confirmed.

“Judge Brett Kavanaugh will make a fine Supreme Court Justice, and I thank President Trump for nominating a strong constitutionalist with a proven track record of upholding the rule of law. Tennesseans are frustrated by liberal activist judges and justices who too often legislate from the bench. I know they will be well served by Judge Kavanaugh.”

I suspect Blackburn is hoping the upcoming Senate debate over the Cavanaugh appointment will fire up her base supporters, reminding them how important the Presidency and the Senate are in setting the judicial agenda for years to come (and passing the Trump agenda too).

As Democrat Phil Bredesen, his statement about the Kavanaugh nomination is cautious.

“An important part of a Senator's job is to approve or reject appointments the President makes to the Judiciary. In the Senate, I’ll vote for or against a nominee based solely on whether I believe them to be highly qualified and ethical —not based on partisan politics. Looking ahead: the President’s Supreme Court nominee deserves a fair and timely confirmation hearing. This is an opportunity for the Senate to get back to basics and show it can do its job."

Bredesen has said since he entered the race, he will support President Trump’s policies (and by inference his nominees) based on what he thinks is best for Tennessee. If he does not think it will be good for Tennessee, he will oppose it. The Cavanaugh nomination could be an acid test.

Many national Democratic leaders, including Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer (who encouraged Bredesen to run), say they will be going all out to defeat Kavanaugh. So will lots of folks in Bredesen’s Democratic base. How does Bredesen keep them happy while at the same time not alienating some Independent and swing Republican voters who the former governor likely needs to win this fall? Remember Donald Trump carried this state by a wide majority in 2016 and remains popular here.

It an issue for Bredesen akin to slowly working your way through a political minefield even if he isn’t likely to have to vote on Justice Cavanaugh’s nomination.

Meanwhile, I guess if it’s a good idea for Governor Haslam, why not for Senator Corker? The USA TODAY NETWORK—TENNESSEE has asked the retiring Senator to write his own “open letter” to whoever is elected to take his seat in Washington.

BREDESEN GETS SUPPORT ON AN ISSUE FROM TOP SENATE REPUBLICAN

A few weeks ago, Phil Bredesen raised the issue of the invasive growth in Tennessee (and in other states) of the Asian Carp in our local waters.

Who else is joining him on this topic? None other than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell , who is the top Senate Republican, and who represents the neighboring state of Kentucky.

Tweeted Bredesen in response to this development:

CORKER KEEPS PUSHING BACK ON TRUMP TARIFFS

Twice this week, both houses of Congress have voted overwhelmingly to raise at least symbolic opposition to major policy efforts of the Trump administration. In one resolution, lawmakers expressed strong support for continuing U.S. involvement in NATO. In the other, Congress expressed opposition to the imposition of massive trade tariffs in the name of national security.

Again, both votes are primarily symbolic. But the tariff vote does mark some success for Tennessee Senator Bob Corker who has pushed to no avail for stronger legislation on the issue to restore to Congress its historical authority (ceded by earlier Congresses to Presidents) to approve tariffs.

Corker is not giving up, holding hearings this week before the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee he chairs to further look into the matter.

“From the imposition of tariffs….to threats to withdraw from long-standing trade agreements such as NAFTA, these actions are hurting our business and farm communities all around the country,” said Corker. “They are damaging the international relationships we have spent decades building, casting doubt on the United States and our role as a global leader and a reliable partner…To my knowledge, not a single person is able to articulate where this is headed, nor what the plans are, nor what the strategy is. It seems to be a ‘wake up, ready, fire, aim’ strategy. So, [the administration] need[s] to explain to us where this is going. The disruptions and costs of these tariffs are clear.”

By the way, this is an issue where major Senate Republicans (including both Tennessee Senators Corker and Lamar Alexander) have adopted stances similar to Bresdesen’s and opposed to the Trump administration.

SO WHERE IS BLACKBURN?

Phil Bredesen has been a presence on TV across the state for months. The Democrat is getting cross over support from some Republicans.

What is GOP Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn going to do about it? One of her top advisors, Ward Baker is telling supporters not to worry, she is going to win.

The USA TODAY NETWORK TENNESSEE has a fascinating story about Ward’s recent comments to a local political group (and an audio tape to go with it). Ward Baker says the turning point of the race will be when Blackburn’s begins her TV ads (rumored now to start next Friday, July 20). Baker says Bredesen will experience “death by ten thousand cuts” as more and more comes to light about Bredesen. It will be interesting to see what that means since the former governor and Nashville mayor has been in the political and public eye for more than three decades.

Perhaps to avoid a controversy of her own, ROLL CALL reports Blackburn is returning some outside PAC money from a group under investigation.

To round out the week there are a couple of new polls out. One, with Blackburn way ahead, would appear to be an outlier from the other surveys in this race. Another released Thursday shows a very close race (as most other polls have) with Bredesen holding a slight lead.

Here’s the other poll (Blackburn up double digits) as reported by right-wing THE TENNESSEE STAR. The publication itself points out some polling methodology issues with the survey.

INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS BACK 100 YEARS AGO

This week 100 years ago (July 9), Nashville was the site of what remains the deadliest train crash in U.S. history. Two passenger trains collided head on along a single set of tracks at Dutchman’s Bend near modern day White Bridge Road in West Nashville. Over 100 persons were killed and hundreds more injured.

To look back on what happened and its significance in Nashville and American history, our guests this week on INSIDE POLITICS are:

Local author and historian, Betsy Thorpe (who organized several events to observe the anniversary). She is joined by another local historian and attorney, David Ewing, along with Denise Nolan, the granddaughter of John Nolan, one of those killed that July day a century ago. And yes, Denise is a cousin of mine.

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;

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.

METRO BUDGET PAINS CONTINUE

After much debate, deliberation, and almost a property tax increase, the Metro Council passed an operating budget late last month to guide city spending for this new fiscal year that began July 1.

As required by law, the budget is balanced.

Or is it?

The schools budget approved by the Council projects the sale of property on Woodycrest Drive where the system’s buses are parked and serviced. That is the Council’s brainchild. It removed the original proposal in Mayor David Briley’s spending plan to balance the budget by selling the old Murrell School building and its surrounding land that also includes a park.

The Murrell sale ran into a firestorm of opposition from the surrounding neighborhood and so the Woodycrest sale was substituted and reportedly would bring the city $13 million.

But the School Board seems reluctant to sell the Woodycrest land (they weren’t crazy about selling the Murrell property either). All this is setting up the potential for an impasse and a large hole ($13 million) in the school system’s budget if something isn’t worked out. Stay tuned.

MTA REBRANDS INTO WEGO PUBLIC TRANSIT

This appears to have been in process before Metro voters rejected the massive transit plan on May 1.

Late this week, the Metropolitan Transit Authority began a three-year rebranding process. It now has a new name (WeGo Public Transit), a new logo, some new buses and a new color scheme for its vehicles.

Give the NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL and NEWSCHANNEL 5 the scoops on this story.

GETTING THE SPOTLIGHT

There is a Metro countywide race on the August ballot. It’s to select a new Vice Mayor to fill out the rest of David Briley’s term (until August of 2019). Of course, Briley was elected Mayor in late May to serve out the rest of former Mayor Megan Barry’s term after she resigned in March.

This political contest has not gotten a whole lot of news coverage or visibility. The race features two current members of the Council and one newcomer.

Bellevue District Councilmember Sheri Weiner, as Chair Pro-Tem of the body, has been chairing the Council’s twice- a- month meetings (that’s one of the Vice Mayor’s major duties) since Mayor Briley first took over the city’s top job in March.

Weiner is being challenged by Councilmember At Large Jim Schulman. Here’s how their campaign finances look going into the August 2nd vote.

The Vice Mayor’s race is getting some additional (perhaps unwanted) profile because of revelations and developments surrounding a third candidate in the race, Mathew DelRossi .

The Metro runoff law does apply to this race. If no candidate receives at least 50% plus one vote on August 2, there will need to be another election between the top two vote getters.