NewsChannel5 +Inside PoliticsCapitol View Commentary

Actions

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 17, 2015

CORP-Digital-Default-Image-1280x720-WTVF.png
Posted at 3:19 PM, Jul 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-07 05:51:11-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company

July 17, 2015

IT CAN HAPPEN ANYWHERE: AND THE VOTING BEGINS; MEGAN BARRY ON INSIDE POLITICS; WOMICK ROARS AGAIN; EXTRA MONEY ALWAYS ATTRACTS ATTENTION; THE SCHOOLS DIRECTOR CHOICE IS MADE; STILL BEING THE ADULT IN THE ROOM

IT CAN HAPPEN ANYWHERE

The tragic shootings in Chattanooga this week indicate that “domestic terror events” can happen anywhere, even in Tennessee, even with the alleged gunman working a job close by in Franklin. Before this matter becomes our next political football, let’s take a moment to express of our deepest sympathies to those Marine families and others who have suffered loss and to pray for an end to these senseless acts. Let’s also thank those heroic First Responders in Chattanooga who likely saved many other lives.

It appears our first political debate to come out of this tragedy will be whether to allow military officials to bear arms while working in recruiting stations and on military bases. Already Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais has introduced such a bill in Congress. It seems an important issue for debate. But instead I am afraid it will just before another matter to fill up my Facebook and Twitter feeds with both sides launching verbal tirades in all directions on their behalf and trying vilify the other side.

Enough

AND THE VOTING BEGINS

Nashville voters began to cast the first votes today (Friday July 17) to decide who will be Nashville’s next mayor. The seven-way contest has all the earmarks of a photo finish as Early Voting begins and continues through Saturday, August 1. Voter turnout is predicted to be 130,000 with 40% to 50% of that coming in the early balloting. However, with undecided numbers remaining well into double digits, will total turnout be that high? And with total voter registration being close to or over 300,000 why will turnout be so low compared to vote totals for president which have been well above 200,000 in recent cycles?

It appears almost certain nobody will win outright on Election Day August 6th (getting 50% plus one vote), so that will set up a winner-take-all runoff contest between the top two August candidates to be held on September 10. The winner will become just the seventh mayor in Metropolitan Nashville-Davidson County’s 52 year history of consolidated government.

The final days leading up to the beginning of early balloting were marked by significant endorsements, interesting financial disclosures, new TV ads, outreach efforts to seniors, a big money intervention of a conservative out of state national Super PAC on behalf of one candidate (and maybe another on the way), and, of course, the leaking of more internal campaign polls.

The Charles Robert Bone campaign became the fifth of the seven mayoral candidates to release their “internal” numbers on where the race stands. Unlike the others, the Bone survey was not given directly to the media. Instead (says THE TENNESSEAN July 14), it was sent out by e-mail to supporters. And it came not from the candidate but from Bone’s top advisor Tom Ingram, a Tennessee political legend who has helped elect many statewide Tennessee leaders including Lamar Alexander, Bill Haslam, Bob Corker and Fred Thompson.

I will say again what I’ve said before about each leaked poll. Because of their source, they are suspect on their face and usually are done to boost the candidate whose team released the numbers. In Bone’s case he almost had to release something. All the other polls put out by rival campaigns showed Bone well back in the pack, polling in just single digits. This was surely distressing to the impressive list of prominent supporters that Bone has lined up, especially after all the money he’s raised and spent including on TV ads.

What Tom Ingram told the Bone faithful probably did ease their fears, at least for a few days The Bone poll says the race is now a too close to call, four way contest for the two runoff positions. It has all four candidates within the margin for error (plus or minus 4%) with undecided still leading the way overall at somewhere above 20% (the exact number was not disclosed).

The Bone poll has it as:

Bill Freeman 19%

Megan Barry 15%

Charles Robert Bone 13%

David Fox 12%

The poll is the first to show Bone in double digits and Ingram tried to make the candidate’s supporters feel even better saying “we are one of the only campaigns consistently trending upward.” That’s clearly a jab at both Freeman and Barry who have remained roughly at the same support numbers as earlier polls showed (including their own).

But one of those candidates (Freeman) responded quickly with his own new internal poll (TENNESSEAN, July 15). Not surprisingly (given its source) the survey shows Freeman moving to a “commanding lead” of 24% with Megan Barry second at 15%, followed by a surging David Fox right behind at 13%,. The rest of the Freeman poll shows Howard Gentry at 12%, Charles Robert Bone back in single digits at 8%, Linda Eskind Rebrovick 7% and Jeremy Kane 4%.

The Freeman poll is not just an answer to Bone. It’s also a pushback to David Fox who last week told THE TENNESSEAN’s editorial board that Freeman’s support had “flat lined” and that he might not even make the runoff. Freeman’s poll obviously portrays a different reality, and THE TENNESSEAN article also contains a boost for the veracity of his poll (at least its methodology). The endorsement was given by Vanderbilt political science professor John Geer who said: “This poll confirms what we’ve seen in lots of other internal polls---Bill Freeman is in the lead and likely to be one of the two people in the runoff.”

Geer adds the race for the other runoff spot remains “very wide open” especially with the large number of undecided voters (Greer says it’s up to 25%, the Freeman poll has it at 17%).

However, one thing that seems clear from all these recent internal polls (Freeman’s, Bone’s and Barry’s from last week). David Fox is a candidate who seems to be moving up The Barry poll last week showed Fox moving from 6% to 11%. Now the Bone survey has him at 12% and Freeman 13%, just two points out of the second place runoff position. If this was a horse race you might say “watch Fox coming up on the outside” as the contest moves into the home stretch.

The biggest surprise in the Bone and Freeman polls would be the low numbers for Howard Gentry. After all, he was once considered the instant favorite based on the number of county-wide races he has run and won (5 out of 6) in the past. But Gentry’s fund raising has lagged (only $210,000) and he only finally started his TV campaign this past Monday. So is Gentry fading slowly to the pack? Or will we all be surprised Election Night as we were eight years ago when he missed the mayoral runoff by just a few hundred votes?

One thing I think Tom Ingram got right in his e-mail to Bone supporters. This appears to be “the closest, most competitive mayor’s race Nashville has ever seen.” I told you last week we’ve never a political contest in this county with seven financially viable candidates and the release of the latest campaign finance numbers just reinforces that fact. Here’s an excellent summary by THE TENNESSEAN’s Joey Garrison breaking down not only who raised the most money overall, but also who has done what in terms of self-financing, something which has played a major role in this race for several candidates. http://www.tennessean.com/story/insession/2015/07/13/bone-leads-mayors-race-in-fundraising-from-actual-donors/30104001/

Garrison has done a marvelous job covering the Metro election and this second story of his (especially the candidate grid at the end) gives a good snapshot of how much the candidates have raised and spent so far and what they’ve got left to spend in the bank for this most expensive race in Metro history…. http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2015/07/10/freeman-sets-spending-pace-nashville-mayoral-race/30000773/

The apparent rise of David Fox in the polls also came with the disclosure this week that a conservative, out of state, national Super PAC is funding some ads for him (uncoordinated of course with Fox’s actual campaign as the law requires). It should be noted though that the Super PAC involved just happens to be headquartered in the same city in Texas where some of Fox’s top campaign advisors are also located.

The Citizen Super PAC (as it is known) is funding $100,000 in TV spots for Fox, along with ads on conservative talk radio shows and a direct mail piece. All of them tout Fox’s fiscal conservatism and his “Nashville Way” slogan. The direct mail piece also claims Fox is the only real conservative in an otherwise “liberal” Nashville mayor’s race. Not surprisingly the PAC effort was panned by perhaps the most progressive candidate in the field Megan Barry. Her campaign spokesman told THE TENNESSEAN (July 13): “the injection of secretive outside money isn’t “the Nashville way.” This is politics at its worst—and we need to put a stop to it.” (Note to the Barry campaign: Talk to the U.S. Supreme Court. They made these Super PACS legal). A spokesman for the PAC says the donors to the Fox ad effort will be disclosed the end of this month when the group files its report to federal authorities.

And the plot thickens. Today (Friday July 17) candidate Charles Robert Bone held a Metro Courthouse news conference to denounce the intervention of “partisan, extreme, out of state Super PACS” trying to

hijack “this mayor’s office and this courthouse” and “bring Washington style politics to a place where I don’t believe they belong. Nashville has a 50-year history of practical, fiscally conservative leadership.”

Bone adds another Super PAC, the American Future Fund is also coming to Nashville spending a reported $100,000-plus in the next week on behalf of a mayoral campaign. The American Fund advocates for “conservative, free market ideas” and reportedly receives much of its money from the controversial billionaire Koch Brothers. The American Fund TV buy reportedly begins tomorrow (Saturday, July 18). Bone said he was unsure which mayoral candidate the new ad were being placed on the air to benefit. One of Bone’s rivals, the Jeremy Kane also attended the news conference and labeled Bone’s charges “a Hail Mary” effort. Interestingly, a spokesman for the Fox used the same phrase concerning Bone.

Actually I am not sure touting a candidate as the only fiscal conservative (read Republican) mayoral candidate is a good idea in dark-blue (Democratic) Davison County, unless the mailing list for the ad is closely targeted to certain parts of town or sent only to known Republican voters. The radio spots on talk shows make some sense but TV (again unless it targeted cable ads on Fox News) makes no sense at all.

Actually the PAC’s TV spot (which I’ve seen but haven’t be able to find on line to post) is based on Fox’s information posted on his campaign web site (and it’s in his other campaign materials). It criticizes out of control capital spending by the Dean administration, which the Fox campaign contends is hurting Metro’s credit rating and further driving up costs for taxpayers. I speculated in this column a few weeks back that the material might make a hard-hitting attack ad. And sure enough it is. It’s just being funded by an out of state PAC not by Fox’s campaign. Interesting.

Further touting Fox’s credentials as the conservative “Republican” mayoral candidate came this week with news that he won last weekend’s straw vote held at the Davidson County’s Republican Party Summer Picnic. Fox got 93 first choice votes to 64 for Bill Freeman (a former State Democratic Treasurer) and Linda Eskind Rebrovick received 54 votes.

Local party officials made it clear this vote for Fox was not an endorsement. Said County Party Chair Bob Ries: “I have good friends in the Republican Party who are supporting Fox—same thing for Freeman, same thing for Linda (Eskind Rebrovick), same thing for Jeremy Kane (35 votes). And Gentry (28 votes) has a lot of support too.”

By the way, to round out the mayoral GOP straw poll numbers Bone got 2 votes and Barry 1.

But perhaps the most uncomfortable part of the straw poll results for Fox was the release of the local GOP party members’ choice for President in 2016. It’s Republican multi-billionaire, fire-brand Donald Trump.

Now there’s a political ticket I am pretty sure Fox wants no part of, nor I would guess would any of the other mayoral candidates.

But obviously Fox is quite pleased with the seemingly upward movement reflected in the recent polls. He’s now released his own new TV ad. It echoes some of the arguments advanced in the out of state PAC ad about rising city debt. The spot definitely has “enough about/and for downtown redevelopment” flavor to it.

You can watch it here…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=diS0cEQy1es

Add it all up for Fox: branding yourself as a conservative Republican candidate in Davidson County might make you a runoff contender in a field with six other candidates. But if you make that runoff, it could become self-administered political poison for the September vote, in which the majority of Democrats in Nashville can unite behind your opponent.

Nashville’s mayor’s races for the past half-century plus have been run without party label. But with the emergence now of a second Super PAC into this current race, those days may soon be a thing of the past.

Endorsements keep coming in for the candidates. A key one came Megan Barry’s way this past week. THE TENNESSEAN endorsed her in a long editorial Sunday morning (July 12), although the piece seemed to me to spend more time discussing the paper’s two other finalists for the nod (Charles Robert Bone and David Fox) before it outlined why it chose Barry instead. You can read the editorial here… http://www.tennessean.com/story/opinion/editorials/2015/07/12/nashville-mayoral-endorsement/30017989/

Bill Freeman did not make the Final Three cut for THE TENNESSEAN’s endorsement. That happened despite the candidate’s appeal to its editorial board. Freeman invoked the paper’s late publisher emeritus John Seigenthaler, saying before his death he encouraged the businessman to run. Freeman added the paper’s support was “a critical, critical endorsement… I’m a salesman, I didn’t want to leave without asking for the order. So consider that my ask…. I’m sincere in wanting it.”

As we know Freeman didn’t get it. But (Wednesday, July 15) he did get the endorsement of GCA Publishing a company that produces eight community newspapers all over Nashville. An excerpt from the papers’ editorial in the current editions (and blast e-mailed to Freeman’s supporters by the candidate’s wife) said: “We believe the right choice for Nashville’s future is Bill Freeman—a man whose qualifications, experience, charitable contributions and sincere concern for people have already been tested and proven.”

Freeman also got the endorsement this week of the city’s largest minority weekly newspaper, THE TENNESSEE TRIBUNE.

Newspaper and media endorsements don’t carry the punch with voters they once did. But at least for Barry the TENNESSEAN’s support is clearly a boost for her campaign. It might also help a few of the sizable number of undecided voters to make up their minds. The same may be true for the GCA and TENNESSEE TRBUNE endorsements of Freeman. Even if they make just a point or two difference in the balloting, the race is so close that could be the key votes in finishing first or second, making the runoff, or being third and out of the race election night.

Barry also tried to follow up her newspaper endorsement by quickly announcing another new supporter joining her team. She is one of the city’s most prominent African American female ministers, the Reverend Dr. Judy Cummings of the New Covenant Christian Church. She is also the current president of the Interdenominational Ministers Fellowship.

The African American vote is more hotly contested than ever this year, and while Barry’s not likely to carry the majority of that community, any inroads she can make of any size will help show she is broadening her base outside the Vanderbilt-Belmont- West Nashville area. Barry also solidified her base this week with the endorsement of the Tennessee Equality Project Power PAC which is the political arm of the Tennessee Equality Project, a group promoting the rights of LGBT Tennesseans across the state.

One other endorsement (actually kind of a non-endorsement) to note this week. After Bill Freeman made a clean sweep of the endorsements of all four major Metro employees unions (Firefighters, FOP, MNEA and Service Workers), The Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle Tennessee did not endorse any single mayoral candidate although it did give a favorable recommendation to 5 of the 7 contenders (Barry, Bone, Freeman, Gentry and Kane). Is that 5-way split of Nashville’s non-governmental labor unions a disappointment for Freeman?

As we move into the final weeks, touching key voter blocs is crucial. And there is no more reliable voter group than seniors. So two mayoral campaigns (Charles Robert Bone & Jeremy Kane) paid particular attention to them with TV and on-line videos speaking to their special needs and how as mayor they would address their issues and concerns.

Here’s Bone’s plan and video…. http://www.boneformayor.com/seniors

Here’s Jeremy Kane thirty-second TV ad with four seniors endorsing the youngest candidate in the mayor’s race while saying the other candidates ignore them…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fp_35jt5xSc&feature=player_embedded

New TV ads continue to hit the airwaves. But for Linda Eskind Rebrovick the theme of building “A Smarter Nashville” stays the same. Her latest ad focuses on how she will create smarter schools, a topic she touched on only briefly in previous TV spots…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=cmjsnZTQdHI

And of course it wouldn’t be a mayoral campaign roundup without another Bill Freeman ad. This one is called “The Real Freeman” and it sounds a bit like a summary statement or closing argument for his campaign. It features the candidate throughout, speaking directly into the camera. It is his best performance yet in being more natural in delivering the script and not moving his eyes while reading the cue cards, something which he did sometimes noticeably in his earlier spots…. https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=XyoTOAYb4wU

MEGAN BARRY ON INSIDE POLITICS

Over the last seven weeks we’ve hosted all of Nashville’s mayoral candidates on INSIDE POLITICS. Every one of them has been willing to give us their time for an in-depth one-on-one interview (22 minutes on the air) asking them why they are running for mayor, what they are trying to do in their campaigns, where they stand on the major issues, and what vision they have for Nashville’s future.

This week Megan Barry is our seventh and final mayoral guest. I want thank her and all the others for joining us. I’ve tried to keep the interviews consistent but not so much so they became repetitive and boring. I have tried to let each candidate tell their unique story and what they have to offer Nashville. I’ve also tried to keep our conversations topical and newsy depending on what the major campaign developments have been the week they joined us.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include 7:00 p.m. Friday; 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday; and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 (note new channel) and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2. For those who can’t see the show locally, you can watch it with live streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com

I’ve really enjoyed doing these interviews, even more than I expected, and I’ve learned a good bit about each candidate. I hope these conversations have been helpful for our viewers as well. If you want to review them (perhaps to help make up an undecided mind on who to support), all the mayoral candidate interviews are posted on the INSIDE POLTICS section of NEWSCHANNEL5.com.

We plan to do this again and invite the two runoff winners to join us on INSIDE POLITICS the weekend after the August election. And it’s our hope to have them back one more time after that for another in-depth conversation before we go to the polls for a final decision September 10.

Now that we have interviewed all the candidates, we want to talk one final time with the person who currently holds the job of mayor. So Karl Dean is scheduled to be our INSIDE POLITICS guest next weekend (July 24-26).

WOMICK ROARS AGAIN

In the brief time he’s been on Capitol Hill here in Nashville, Murfreesboro State Representative Rick Womick has developed quite a reputation for being brash and outspoken.

His latest verbal tantrum was pitched on Facebook this week when he took to his little corner of cyberspace to say it’s time to begin impeachment proceedings against Governor Bill Haslam because he quickly “bowed down” to the U.S. Supreme Court to have Tennessee comply with its recent ruling making same-sex marriage the law of the land.

Womick complains the Governor “changed Tennessee state law and our State Constitution without ever consulting with the General Assembly.” Womick added: “I think it’s time to give serious consideration to impeachment hearings against Governor Haslam and these five rogue SCOTUS justices.”

Baloney!

I guess Representative Womick is not aware of the long-standing legal precedent in this nation that federal law and U.S. Supreme Court rulings trump local and state law or other court decisions when they are in conflict. It’s not something Governor Haslam or this Supreme Court made up. In fact both the Governor and Tennessee’s new Republican State Attorney General Herbert Slatery (the state’s top legal official) say they oppose the Court decision but the state had no choice but to comply.

A number of state lawmakers seem upset about this matter and want to “do something” about the Court decision. If two-thirds of them in both houses feel strongly enough, they can call a special session to consider legislation to protect the rights of county clerks, business people, churches and others who feel their religious beliefs and liberties are being infringed by the ruling. Even the Governor himself could call such a special session if he can be persuaded there are some worthwhile proposal(s) for lawmakers to debate and that need to be considered before lawmakers come back to Nashville for their regular session in January.

But Representative Womick’s rash and irresponsible impeachment suggestion sure won’t contribute anything to that effort and his colleagues would be wise to quickly disassociate themselves from Womick and his unfounded impeachment calls. The Governor is wise to refrain from making any response to dignify Womick’s comments. . House Speaker Beth Harwell (who thoroughly thrashed Womick’s efforts to oust her last year) was equally wise . When asked through a spokesman if she planned to join Womick in exploring impeachment the quick answer came back (CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS July 15): “No, she is not.”

Womick’s call for impeachment of the Supreme Court justices is not getting a quick or positive response from Tennessee’s Republican congressional delegation either. Despite claims by Womick that Congressman Scott DesJarlais is “working with him” on the issue, all DesJarlais would say is that he listened to “what Womick had to say” and he has asked his staff to “review it.”

This is not from the first time Representative Womick has gone after the Governor. After last August’s GOP primary Womick accused Mr. Haslam of being “a traitor to the Republican Party” because he and others had funded a PAC that worked against GOP lawmakers and others who opposed the now-defunct Common Core education curriculum.

Governor Haslam had still other headaches to deal with this past week including the latest marketing flat tire to strike state government. After all the controversy over a new state logo, now the Governor’s Highway Safety Office has had to apologize and withdraw a new campaign aimed at communicating “don’t drink and drive messages” to a young male audience. Charges were leveled that the campaign smacked of sexism and was offensive to women. So it’s gone.

Because of what I do for a living, I try to be careful what I say about matters like these. I live in a glass house too. But to give readers more background on what’s involved, here are a link to an article outlining both what is causing the controversy and the reaction to it. http://knoxblogs.com/humphreyhill/2015/07/14/anti-dui-campaign-accused-of-sexism-scrapped-gov-glad/

Clearly the state needs a better internal review process about these matters, so potential communication problems can be identified and either corrected or better explained before things hit the fan. I understand the need to cut through all the noise in the marketplace of ideas today so that hard to reach groups can see and hear the core message (in this case: Don’t drink and drive). But it’s also important to remember taxpayer dollars are involved and that should everyone exercise a bit more caution about just how far “out there” you can be with how you communicate your message.

EXTRA MONEY ALWAYS ATTRACTS ATTENTION

State tax collections for the fiscal year (which ended June 30) are up over $500 million from projections. And since the state runs a month behind on announcing its revenue collections there is still a month to go before the books are closed on FY2015. So there could be even more extra unexpected money in the state’s coffers soon.

Already state politicians have their eye on how to spend those extra funds. House Speaker and Nashville Representative Beth Harwell says up to $400 million ought to be allocated to the State Department of Transportation to catch up on needed road and infrastructures projects and repairs.

TDOT has been in a bind for funds in part because federal highway funding remains bogged down in Congress and also because state gas tax revenues are lagging. The Tennessee gas tax has not been increased for 25 years and because it’s based on gallons sold the revenues generated are not growing as they used to because our cars are more fuel efficient.

That has led Governor Haslam to say he plans go across the state later this year to have a conversation with the public about the options the state has. One of those options could be a gas tax hike (which Mr. Haslam once said would possibly need to happen “sooner rather than later).” But the Governor has stopped short of proposing a gas tax hike this coming year, while some lawmakers (including House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick) have suggest the state might need to rethink its long followed policy of financing roads and infrastructure on a “pay as you go” basis. Instead, some are saying the state should consider issuing bonds or going into debt to cover those costs.

Speaker Harwell’s proposal is another potential alternative, albeit a temporary band aid solution to the problem. Those extra tax revenues the state has coming in are one-time funds. There is no guarantee the rise in revenues will continue. In fact, the state in recent years has had both sharp increases and unexpected declines in its tax collections.

What the Madame Speaker is suggesting is a temporary fix. It would fund paying for some of the currently backlogged road projects while deferring any discussion about a gas tax hike or other funding alternatives until after the 2016 elections. It also gives Washington more time to work out its own transportation funding gridlock which, if resolved, might further take the heat off an immediate need to debate the “T” (taxes) word during the upcoming election cycle. That’s when all 99 House members and half the 33 members in the Senate have their positions on the ballot.

THE SCHOOLS DIRECTOR CHOICE IS MADE

It looks like the Metro School Board won’t have to go very far to find its new Schools Director. After a whirlwind week of “speed dating” with three finalists (including in-depth interviews with Board members and a public session for each candidate to speak with and answer questions from parents, teachers and the public), Williamson County Schools Chief Mike Looney is the “preferred choice” of the Board. Still to come is a Board “field trip” to scout out the present school system Looney operates (sure not far away), along with an intensive background check and contract negotiations with the Williamson Schools Director. Assuming all that goes well, a final board vote to offer Looney the job is set for next Thursday (July 23).

The 8-1 vote to select Looney followed a contentious search. It saw the Metro School Board bitterly divided about hiring a temporary Director with that choice made, then rescinded, and finally awarded to another internal candidate. Then when the list of four finalists was unveiled last week, there were many questions raised about the strength of the field and the previous experience of some of the finalists. A group of 10 major community groups signed a letter to the Board asking them to stop the search and start over again. The teacher’s union demanded the Board’s search firm refund the fee it was being paid. Even leading mayoral candidate Bill Freeman called for the Director’s search to be postponed and the outside consultants dismissed when we discussed the matter last week on INSIDE POLITICS

That didn’t happen. In fact, it seemed once the Board cut the field of four finalists down to three (removing the one candidate whose background was drawing the most criticism) the mood surrounding the search and support for the remaining candidates changed. All of them (Looney, Angela Huff from Cobb County GA and Barry Shepard) got high marks for how they handled their sessions with the Board and the public. It could be Looney won the post because of that, and the fact he runs the number one school system in n the state in terms of reputation and test scores. Looney was also nominated this week to be Superintendent of the Year in Tennessee.

None of the Metro finalists had much experience with the size and type of urban system that Nashville is in terms of English language learners and students from backgrounds of poverty. But much like the last school board director search a few years which resulted in Dr. Jesse Register coming to Nashville, the Board seemed to find Looney as the best choice in a field where no completely perfect candidate had emerged. And despite all the political and public relations wreckage it took to get this point, I suspect the community will rally together too, although school board member Will Pinkston made it clear in an interview with NASHVILLE POST before the Board’s preferred selection was made, that any of the finalists “will have to grow into the job.”

We’ll see how well and how much time Nashville has to “grow” its new Director. Meanwhile for Looney the choice of the Metro School Board came at a bit of an awkward time. His current bosses on the Williamson County Board were set to begin discussions about extending his contract on the very day Metro made its decision. Some of Looney’s current board members have been at odds with him and he could well face issues with his new employers at the Metro School Board who have been for known for being quite dysfunctional as a group themselves. Meanwhile the Williamson County Board seems united enough to put together a counter offer to keep Looney. The new package includes a pay raise, a bonus and more vacation time.

It looks like Mr. Looney has a big decision to make this coming week.

STILL BEING THE ADULT IN THE ROOM

Now that President Barack Obama has finally reached a six-nation agreement with Iran trying to keep that country from acquiring nuclear weapons over the next decade or so, political reaction in Washington has been predictably along party lines.

That’s why Tennessee Senator Bob Corker will continue to have such an important role to play on this issue. In fact, if it wasn’t for Corker, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, it is doubtful Congress would have any role in reviewing, signing off or rejecting the plan.

Now because of the bi-partisan law Corker got passed, Congress will have 60 days for review once all the documents are available (so the clock is not ticking yet). Congress can get another twelve days for review if both Houses pass a joint resolution requesting it. Then if the President vetoes what Congress decides on, it will have ten more days to try and override that. All this must occur before the Iran agreement goes into effect or the harsh sanctions now in place against that country can be eased. To that end Mr. Corker has sent a letter to the President asking him to defer action by the United Nations on the matter until after Congress votes.

Corker admits he approaches the Iran nuclear agreement with skepticism, an attitude he thinks is shared on a bi-partisan basis on both sides of the aisle. But the junior senator from Tennessee has not joined the chorus of opposition to the agreement coming from fellow Republicans in the Senate, from the GOP House of Representatives and the gaggle of candidates (almost 20 now) seeking the Republican nomination to replace Barack Obama next year.

In fact, Corker told the MORNING JOE program on MSNBC (July 15), he plans to hold committee hearings “in a way that every side is heard equally and in a fair way and then we will make our judgement .We will go through this in great detail. We will make sure that when we vote, everyone fully understands what the deal is, but again I start out as a skeptic.”

If Corker is right, there’s a chance Congress might reject the Iran deal, but it’s doubtful they can defeat it completely because the President says he will veto any rejection and I doubt the votes are there to override that. But then a few months back, I didn’t think Corker could get the veto-proof majorities he did for the bill he passed to give Congress this seat at the table to even review the agreement.

Senator Corker puts the matter in perspective when he says: “This is maybe the most important foreign policy issue we will deal with during my time in the Senate. I want to make sure we do it in an appropriate way.” His first Senate Foreign Relations committee hearing on the Iran agreement is set for July 23. It will include testimony from three Cabinet Secretaries, John Kerry, Secretary of State, Ernest Moniz, Energy Secretary and Jack Lew, Secretary of the Treasury.

I think Senator Corker is right about the historic nature of this agreement and he seems to be taking the right approach. It’s nice to know that there are still some adults on duty on Capitol Hill in Washington, especially on this issue.

Congratulations as well to Tennessee’s senior Senator Lamar Alexander. With an overwhelming bi-partisan vote of 81-17, the Senate has passed his bill bringing a major overhaul of federal education policies. Alexander has wanted to give more say-so and leeway back to the states and local government. But Congress has been stalemated for years about what to do after coming to the consensus that “The No Child Left Behind” Law wasn’t working. It’s not clear how much of Senator Alexander’s proposal will gain approval in the House of Representatives. But it’s clear that both our U.S. Senators know how to get things done in the upper chamber and do it while building support on both sides of the aisle. That’s a rare and refreshing thing to see in Washington these days.

Unfortunately, the battle over Civil War symbols in our state (in this case surrounding controversial Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest) continues to grind on…and rather slowly. The State Capitol Commission has appointed a sub-committee to study until October what the state should do

about the bust of General Forrest in the State Capitol. The law appears murky at best about what and how the state can proceed about removing statues and other symbols on Capitol Hill without a new law being passed by the General Assembly. A new law is exactly what some Democratic lawmakers want to pass to end the required annual observance of Nathan Bedford Forrest’s birthday each year. Such an observance just occurred in recent days and some lawmakers feel this should be the last year. But others seem to feel otherwise to observe southern heritage, setting a potential battle on the subject in the Legislature next year.