Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 20, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - CAPITOL VIEW

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

July 20, 2018

WHEN YOU HITCH YOUR WAGON TO A STAR; NEW ADS FOR BREDESEN; INSIDE POLITICS ASSESSES THE TENNESSEE STATEWIDE RACES TWO WEEKS OUT; SENATE POLLS; GUBERNATORIAL POLLS; HARWELL SEES MEDICAL CANNIBIS AS HER KEY TO VICTORY; MLB TO PLAY BALL IN NASHVILLE; SELLING METRO PROPERTY; I GET THIS QUESTION FREQUENTLY;

WHEN YOU HITCH YOUR WAGON TO A STAR

There are few if any Republican candidates running for statewide office in Tennessee who are more fervent supporters of President Donald Trump than U.S. Senate hopeful Congressman Marsha Blackburn.

In several ways that has been helpful to her. The President came to Nashville recently and campaigned for her to stir up the GOP base. He also helped Blackburn when he recently nominated a second conservative justice to the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s another important reminder to Republicans why which party controls the Senate us so important.

But when you hitch your political wagon to a shooting star such a Donald Trump, known to be often unpredictable in his words, deeds and tweets, things can get complicated.

For example, there is this past week when the President’s trip to Europe seemed to shake the very foundations of our 70-year plus Atlantic Alliance (NATO) and give a boost, if not comfort and support, to our long- time adversary Russian President Vladimir Putin, amid continuing evidence of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections.

With elected leaders on both sides of the partisan divide speaking out against the President’s actions and his words at the Helsinki summit with Putin, it led even Blackburn to move a bit away from her always strong support for Mr. Trump. But read her statement carefully, she talks about her opposition to Russia not about President Trump and his actions. A subtle difference maybe, but important.

“Russia is an adversary, and our intelligence agencies concluded that they meddled in the 2016 election,” said Blackburn. “From their annexation of Crimea to their involvement in Syria, Russian aggression has been escalating for several years.” “Our foreign policy must be shaped around these facts, which are incontrovertible. Russia is a bad actor, and we must treat them as such. They have been focused on our demise for decades.”

And this is not the first time in recent weeks, Blackburn has decided she had to distance herself from the President. Read this astute article from THE NEW YORK TIMES written by former NASHVILLE SCENE editor Steve Cavendish.

With Blackburn moving away from the President’s side on the Putin debacle, it gave her Democratic opponent former Governor Phil Bredesen a little room to breathe in responding on this issue. He is quoted this way by THE TENNESSEAN:

“As an American, I have to say I believe our own defense and intelligence agencies much more than the President of Russia," (about the Russians meddling in the 2016 elections) Bredesen said. But again, note in his brief statement Bredesen does not mention the President by name and his comments are not nearly as over the top in reaction as some national Democratic leaders have been.

As for our two current U.S. Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, both took exception to the President’s comments this past week.

Said Alexander: “There is no doubt that Russia interfered in our 2016 presidential election. On July 3, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released a bipartisan report that agreed with the conclusions of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in our 2016 presidential election.”

Senator Alexander also noted that just last week, the Trump administration’s own Justice Department indicted 12 Russian military intelligence agents “for interfering in our 2016 presidential election.”

“This makes it even more important that the bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigation and the Mueller investigation continue until they are complete,” Alexander said. “Congress can then decide what to do about both.”

Perhaps not unexpectedly, the most pointed response to President Trump came from retiring Senator Bob Corker. He expressed his disappointment with the Helsinki Summit this way to CNN:

"He (Putin) knows he gained a lot," said Corker, the retiring senator from Tennessee, who chairs the Foreign Relations Committee. "I would guess he's having caviar right now."

Corker said Putin "gained a tremendous amount" from the day's meeting, having gone into it as an "ostracized" figure on the global stage but leaving as the recipient of relatively positive commentary from the US President.

Corker said he was "disappointed and saddened" that Trump would equate the statements of the intelligence community with the Russian President's and had sharp words for Trump's approach in general.

"I felt like that everyone who's dealt with Putin understands fully that the best way to deal with him is through strength," Corker said. "And I just felt like the President's comments made us look as a nation more like a pushover, and I was disappointed in that."

But Corker also saw what happened in the last week with the President as a chance to revive his efforts to have Congress take back its historic role of approving tariffs rather than ceding that power to the president as previous Congresses have done. Corker indicates it may also lead Congress to consider other actions in response to Mr. Trump, although it is unclear what might happen.

Here’s a BLOOMBERG story.

Corker also told THE TENNESSEAN “the dam is breaking” in the Senate is terms of Senators rallying to him in support on the tariff issue, and he is also taking a hard line with the President and his administration about NATO.

Opposition to tariffs, especially ones proposed by President Trump on imported automobiles and car parts, is something Senator Lamar Alexander is speaking out against as well. Quoting from a TENNESSEAN story:

“These tariffs are dangerous,” the Tennessee Republican said. “These tariffs are going to cost us jobs.”

Alexander and Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., announced in a speech on the Senate floor that they will file legislation as early next week to encourage the Trump administration to reconsider its proposal to apply tariffs as high as 25 percent on vehicles and components imported into the country.

Alexander called the proposed tariffs “dangerous” because “they are taxes on us, pure and simple.”

“They make what we buy and sell more expensive,” he said, which means fewer cars will be sold and that wages in the auto industry will decline.”

Phil Bredesen is again speaking out again on tariffs (as he has in a TV ad) calling for the Trump administration to abandon these car-related levies in advance of a Commerce Department hearing next Monday. He points the significant number of car related plants (Volkswagen, Nisan, even General Motors) and other facilities that will be adversely impacted by the tariffs that could hurt thousands of Tennessee jobs.

“A decade of investment by carmakers in Tennessee’s economy is on the brink of being damaged by Washington’s game of chicken. The time for bureaucratic letters and phone calls to Secretary Ross has passed. Job-creators like Volkswagen should not be put on the stand, begging for their chance to continue investing in Tennessee. It’s time to stand up to the Commerce Department to make it clear that these tariffs are not just a tax on Tennessee -- they are job killers. We’ve made too much progress and we can’t afford to let Washington's political potholes stall job creation.”

I have not seen any comments this week by Congressman Blackburn about the tariff issue, particular the possibility that the tax will be being extended to foreign cars and auto parts. She did a couple of weeks ago join with other Republicans in signing a letter to President Trump asking him to “reconsider broad tariffs to avoid unintended consequences to Tennessee’s economy and workers.”

NEW ADS FOR BREDESEN

While his opponent continues to stay on the paid media sidelines, Phil Bredesen is up with another TV and digital ad. Entitled “Strong” this commercial promotes his record as governor in addressing tough issues.

In sending out information about the spot, the Bredesen campaign also promoted a new study released this week by R Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy research group.

It claims former governors in Congress are less partisan and therefore more likely to get results in Congress

Here are links to the study and for more on the R Institute.

INSIDE POLITICS ASSESSES THE TENNESSEE STATEWIDE RACES TWO WEEKS OUT

With Early Voting now well underway, Tennesseans are in the process of selecting our next governor, a U.S. Senator, nine Congressmen, all 99 members of the State House, and about half of the 33 members of our State Senate.

Election Day itself is Thursday, August 2.

So how are these elections shaping up with about two weeks to go?

We’ve asked two of our best political analysts, Larry Woods and Bill Phillips to give us their thoughts this week on INSIDE POLITICS.

Join us. It is coming down to cases.

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.

SENATE POLLS

We discuss it on INSIDE POLITICS. There were several polls out about the Senate race this week. The numbers are kind of all over the place. Some have Bredesen ahead, others Blackburn. The consensus is the race remains very close. Here’s an article by NASHVILLE POST that reports on the various surveys.

Even the fund-raising report for the last quarter is even.

GUBERNATORIAL POLLS

This is another topic we discuss in some detail on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

The same Emerson College poll out of Boston (that has Phil Bredesen with a slight lead in the U.S. Senate race over Marsha Blackburn) also has some numbers concerning the GOP’s primary race for governor.

They show a contest that is ever- tightening.

Here’s what the Emerson pollsters say:

“The Republican primary winner will likely not win with a majority of the vote, with the poll showing a statistical toss-up between Rep. Diane Black (27%), former State Economic Development Commissioner Randy Boyd (22%), Businessman/rancher Bill Lee (19%), and state House Speaker Beth Harwell (14%). Another 14% are undecided. (margin of error +/-6.4).”

If that’s true in terms of very tight race, and with the winner garnering maybe less than 35% of the primary vote, what problems will that create in the GOP being united in the fall, especially after all four of the GOP candidates have been attacking each other (a circular firing squad in TV ads for weeks? And what happens if outside PAC groups also soon join in, further raising the level of intensity and rancor in the race? And it may already be starting with this billboard campaign launched against Bill Lee.)

Of course, the on-air attacks continue to multiply. There was even a new front opened this week in the ad wars. For the first time, Randy Boyd is attacking Bill Lee for his “record.” This would seem to indicate the apparent surge in the polls by Lee may be taking voters away from more than just Diane Black.

In terms of endorsements this week, Lee continues to show some strength in East Tennessee. After getting an endorsement from the conservative side of the CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS, he now has former 3rd District Congressman Zach Wamp on his side. For the Black campaign, she got an endorsement this week from former Senator and presidential candidate, Rick Santorum. He won the 2012 Tennessee presidential primary. Will he be doing any TV spots in the race the way former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee (who won the 2008 Tennessee presidential primary) is doing for Randy Boyd?

But the candidate attacks continue. The Black campaign is extending the battle against her opponent to the mail. Here’s what THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL ON THE HILL reports.

All this GOP in-fighting is becoming even more significant given some other news from the Emerson poll. While it projects Karl Dean is on the way to a comfortable win in the Democratic primary against Craig Fitzhugh, what it finds in a couple of head-on-head general election races of Dean versus two possible GOP opponents is eyebrow-raising.

“In two potential General election match-ups, Karl Dean is statistically tied with Diane Black 39% to 35% with 27% undecided. The same pattern emerges when Dean is matched up with Randy Boyd: Dean 36%, Boyd 34% - with 30% undecided.”

Here’s a link to more information about both the gubernatorial and senate polls by Emerson.

There is another poll that was quickly shown to me this week that is even more interesting. It found the top three candidates (Black, Boyd, Lee) separated by just 2 points! It shows Beth Harwell a more competitive 4th in the race than she has been, especially with this survey projecting up to 20% of Republican primary voters claiming they are still undecided. That tells me if this survey is accurate (it claims a less than 3% margin of error), that all the GOP candidates’ support is somewhat shaky. That means we may be in for a long night August 2 trying to determine a Republican nominee. If so, then let’s see if the party is united behind him/her.

Now I don’t believe any one poll, or even two, are the gospel. But the trends in these latest surveys (with I am sure more polls soon to come) should be watched closely. We could be on the way to the closest gubernatorial primary I can remember in recent years.

HARWELL SEES MEDICAL CANNABIS AS HER KEY TO VICTORY

GOP gubernatorial candidate Beth Harwell sent out some shock waves of speculation Thursday afternoon when the House Speaker announced he was holding a news conference Friday morning in the Capitol to make a “major announcement.” Was she pulling out? Endorsing someone else? Receiving a significant endorsement?

What she announced is her strong support to pass and sign (as governor) a medical cannabis bill for Tennessee. It’s a policy stance she earlier announced during the legislative session. So why bring it up now? The Harwell campaign seems to believe she is on the move in the polls (although she is still the only GOP gubernatorial candidate not drawing attacks from opponents). Support for the medical cannabis issue polls very well and it seems the Harwell camp thinks it’s the issue that can leap her over her three opponents to win August 2. Along with today’s news conference, she is supporting her push with a major TV ad blitz. The spots began running Friday morning even before her news conference.

The GOP gubernatorial race certainly looks fluid to me, but right now I think this last- minute Harwell push is a long shot.

MLB TO PLAY BALL IN NASHVILLE

It’s flattering to see Nashville mentioned this week, by no less than the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, that we are on the (short) list of cities it would consider when the league expands again in a few years.

Anyone who knows me, knows I am a HUGE MLB fan (Go Cardinals!). I would be beyond thrilled if we had a team. There was a time a couple of decades ago, when I thought baseball would be the sport to bring Nashville its first major league team.

But that was before the Predators and then the Oilers/ Titans came to town. I am not at all convinced, as fast-growing as we are that Nashville can support three major league franchises.

There’s another issue: the city just built a new baseball facility, First Tennessee Park, for our AAA Nashville Sounds. We built the baseball stadium in a way so that it is not expandable to accommodate an MLB franchise. So, Nashville (or the club’s owners) would build yet another ball park for our new major league team. What do we do with First Tennessee?

And with Nashville being a city still struggling to balance its city budget despite our recent rapid growth, where are taxpayers supposed to find the money for yet another new sports facility?

Don’t forget, our current teams, the Predators and Titans have facilities, that while well maintained, are not the absolute state of the art in terms of new stadium amenities. The team’s facilities in both cases are at or over 20 years old. That is quite ancient in modern pro sports (except for baseball parks named Wrigley and Fenway).

Both teams will also have new leases coming up in the years to come. Can we handle what that might mean in terms of renovations or new facilities $$$?

This unsolicited potential MLB opportunity arises as Metro is once again moving forward on building a new MLS soccer stadium at the Fairgrounds. The Briley administration has an ambitious agenda to get all necessary legislation passed and approvals received by early September.

While the MLS team owners are supposed to shoulder many of the costs for the new facility, some council members continue to have questions and want to slow the process down.

Having the MLB possibility coming up in media discussions at the same time, is, to say the least, rather awkward and distracting.

As a big baseball fan, it hurts me to say this. For a variety of reasons, Nashville has already made decisions that strike us out of the opportunity to get a Major League Baseball team here, at least for the immediate future.

SELLING METRO PROPERTY

We discussed last week the continuing challenge the city is facing in balancing its budget and doing so by selling city properties.

Here’s a story about a pending bill in the Metro Council that will at least focus the conversation on a solution long term, even if it doesn’t seem to offer a solution for the pending budget shortfalls the city already faces as it can’t decide what to sell, or if such sales don’t generate all the funds needed.

I GET THIS QUESTION FREQUENTLY

One question I get frequently from friends and folks out in the community is: Will former Mayor Megan Barry be running for office again?

She’s presently on three years’ probation, extending into 2021. That’s after pleading guilty to felony theft charges and resigning last March. After the probation time is over, provided she has not had further legal issues, she can petition the court to dismiss her felony charges and have her record expunged. It is not clear to me whether she can seek office before the probation is over but doing so might make her scandal an even bigger campaign issue. After 2021, I see no legal issue with her running provided the probation is complete and the court dismisses the felony charges.

There was one other related development this week. Based on media reports, Barry has all but emptied the resources left in her campaign account, which would indicate she doesn’t appear to be moving in the direction of being a candidate right now.

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