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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 24, 2015

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Posted at 3:19 PM, Jul 17, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-07 09:13:40-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company
July 24, 2015

LEFT AT THE ALTAR; A METRO ELECTION LIKE NO OTHER; MAYOR KARL DEAN ON INSIDE POLITICS; A DIFFERENT ONE: BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY; FRANCIS GUESS;

LEFT AT THE ALTAR

While the process to get there had been sometimes dysfunctional and controversial, it appeared until today (July 24) that the Metro School Board was about to score a major coup and land one of the top schools directors in Tennessee, Dr. Mike Looney of Williamson County, to become Nashville’s next education leader.

He had applied for the job; went through the long interview process; had been selected as the preferred finalist for the position; easily passed a background check and he had even negotiated a lucrative contract he seemed ready to sign. According to THE TENNESSEAN (July 24) he had even signed a letter of intent to come to Metro.

But then…. Dr. Looney said thanks, but no thanks.

He has decided to remain in his current job where he has signed a new four year contract. That agreement pays him quite a bit more than he presently makes but will still be less than what Metro was offering ($280,000) even if he gets an additional boost in salary to $250,000 as suggested earlier in the week by the Williamson County Mayor.

So why did Dr. Looney back off and stay on in Williamson County? He told reporters he hadn’t slept for three days and was still up at 1:00 A.M. Friday morning trying to make a decision. He added: “I had every intention to accept the (Metro) job if it was given to me. But as you might expect these are very personal, family decisions…When I looked at my e-mails and text messages and reflected on the phone calls I received from students in the district, family members, parents, employees, the business community, the chamber of commerce, the mayor’s office, I just found peace and feel like this is the place for me.”

Dr. Looney’s decision left Metro officials such as School Board Chair Sharon Gentry “surprised and disappointed.” I could also detect perhaps a little anger in her written statement: “Throughout the negotiation process he (Looney) appeared committed to this opportunity. We would not have carried through the process with the contract and final vote if he had not been. Not only did the Board commit a tremendous amount of time and energy into finding (someone) who we thought would be a great fit for our school system but the entire community participated in this process.”

Board members Anna Shepard and Will Pinkston went further telling THE TENNESSEAN (July 24) that they think “it’s clear Looney used the Metro job offer to leverage a better contract.” Said Shepard: “(I) asked him point blank Monday if was using this as a bartering tool with his board and he said no. Obviously, that is not the case.”

Pinkston and Shepard also blame the School Board’s outside consultant for what’s happened. “All their credibility is now in question, and I think frankly we ought to ask for a refund ($50,000 fee), “said Pinkston. The firm was previously criticized for issues that have cropped up in the search. ‘This has just been a comedy of errors from Hazard, Young and Attea, except that’s it’s not very funny,” continues Pinkston.

So what does Metro do now? Well it appears the School Board may begin the search process all over again (with a new outside consultant?) and not look at the other two remaining finalists. With confidence in interim director Chris Henson, Gentry says: “Our upcoming Board retreat in the fall will be an opportunity for us to discuss this and come together on the best course of action to ensure we get a top-quality leader that our students and teacher deserve.”

Waiting until the fall also means the new Nashville mayor might get to play a role in the selection process, a matter which has been a bone of contention.

For now, I would say this shocking development for Metro Schools (Looney’s decision and how it occurred) is like getting an unexpected punch to the stomach. It’s going hurt and may leave a mark. It also certainly won’t help the intense rivalry between Davidson and Williamson Counties which for other reasons (and involving other surrounding counties) has flared up during the current mayor’s race.

A METRO ELECTION LIKE NO OTHER

This 2015 Nashville mayor’s race has been like none other.

It’s already been the most expensive contest ever. And it has attracted the most financially viable candidates (7) this city has ever seen pitted against one another in a single political field.
This race in some ways has also been one of the most unpredictable local contests I’ve ever covered, especially with major candidates making late entries into the contest (Howard Gentry, Bill Freeman).

However, one of the biggest, and surely the strangest campaign bombshell so far, came this week (Tuesday, July 21). That’s when it was disclosed (TENNESSEAN on-article) that one of the out of state Super PACs paying for a $100,000 plus advertising push for candidate David Fox, is actually being funded by the candidate’s brother, George Fox. He admits to being its major donor.
Remember under the law, Super PACS are not supposed to coordinate their efforts with any candidate or campaign. Both Foxes still claim that’s the case.

According to THE TENNESSEAN article, older brother George Fox says he decided to fess up about his involvement (including to his brother) after one of the Citizens Super PAC’s mailers was sent out late last week. That mail piece was so out of line in attacking one of Fox’s opponents Linda Eskind Rebrovick (at least in the mind of David Fox) that the candidate made a public apology to her and her family. David Fox says he is particular sorry because they’ve all been friends for many years and reportedly attend worship services at the same synagogue.

George Fox, a hedge fund operator from Connecticut, also seems to be apologizing, telling the paper in a statement: “I had no intention to demean or offend any of the other candidates, and the PAC began reevaluating the tone of its messaging on Friday (July 17) following David’s comments.”

But how much credibility will either of the Fox brothers now have with voters in this matter? And how much will this disclosure hurt the momentum Fox seemed to be gathering in the race? George Fox says in his statement: “I remain committed to David’s campaign and know that my hometown would be very fortunate to have him as mayor.”

David Fox has certainly run a strong, credible campaign (as have all the candidates). But his efforts could now implode, due to this potentially fatal wound, inflicted, perhaps unknowingly and certainly unintentionally, by a supporter not by an opponent.

The Fox campaign is already working on major damage control. It sent out a Wednesday afternoon e-mail fund raiser (July 22) claiming a new poll given to the Fox team by a reporter (and done by the Bill Freeman campaign?) shows Fox is now up to 15% in the race and statistically tied for second place with Megan Barry for the final runoff position.

Could that be right? Yes, possibly it WAS correct when the poll was taken a few days ago. Remember any poll offered Tuesday (which is when the Fox campaign said it got the information) had to be conducted in the day or days BEFORE the disastrous disclosure of George Fox’s involvement in funding the Citizens Super PAC became public knowledge.

The exact impact of that gaffe probably can’t be fully measured for a couple of days just yet. But it’s not likely to be good news for Fox. To claim that he is still rising in the polls is probably flat wrong and disingenuous. It is damage control that only further undermines Fox campaign’s credibility at time when it’s already coming under serious question.

There is actually some unbelievable irony in this revelation about the Citizens Super PAC and its funding. A few weeks back when people complained the candidates weren’t mixing it up enough, it was said the large field of candidates made it tough to attack an opponent because you might wind up hitting (and hurting) yourself instead. Who could have predicted how strangely true that’s turned out to be?

As for Rebrovick, the fact that attack was made against her was clearly ironic as well. After all, she is the one candidate in the mayor’s race who has said she would never employ negative ads. She even did a TV spot about that.

Rebrovick did respond to the attack mailer. She got her photo taken by the media throwing the mail piece in the trash (an action also somewhat similar to her TV ad on the subject of negative advertising). Candidate Rebrovick also refuted all the accusations in the flyer. She says she did cast an early vote in the last mayor’s race; that she has voted for both Democrats and Republicans in the past because she votes for the person not the party; and finally, that she has promised to “hold down property taxes” not raise them as the flyer implies.

So why did the Super PAC go after Rebrovick directly? Well she is likely the only other candidate in the field outside of Fox with significant ties to the GOP. If the Citizens Super PAC wants to unite the local Republican vote behind Fox what better way to do that than by criticizing the conservative credentials of the candidate most likely competing for your candidate’s vote?
Of course that tactic now appears incredibly stupid and counter-productive not to mention awkward for David Fox. Will the Citizens Super PAC keep running its TV ad and its radio spot for Fox? What about sending out more mailers? Won’t doing that just remind voters about this whole mess rather than convincing them to vote for David Fox?

Even before the funding admission bombshell from George Fox, it already appeared the Rebrovick flyer was causing a local GOP backlash. Several top local Republicans (Paul Ney, Deborah Tate, Colleen Conway Welch and Charlie Tygard among others) signed a letter defending Rebrovick and criticizing the flyer.

All this backlash makes the entry of a second Super PAC into the race (even one with possible Koch Brothers ties) seem almost positive or anti-climactic. Indeed, the American Future Fund’s or AFF TENNESSEE’s TV ad (again backed with a reported $100,000 budget) is a major endorsement for candidate Jeremy Kane. It tells the story of Kane’s personal sacrifice to establish LEAD Academy and the success it’s had as a charter school. And the spot does it without saying much of anything negative about any other candidate.

This PAC ad also likely spends more money on Kane’s behalf that he’s has been able to put on his own, even though Kane ran the first mayoral TV spot way back in March. In fact, the Kane campaign sent out a blast e-mail fund raiser this week urging voters to send Jeremy “a gift for Christmas (in July).” I think that gift has already been given by AFF TENNESSEEE.

But there are still questions about the Super PAC ad. Who are the donors funding it? Will the names of those donors be disclosed? And where did the PAC get all the video of the candidate it uses?

You can see the AFF TENNESSEE ad here.

Kane also got an endorsement this week from Forest Hills Mayor Bill Koch, who wrote on a postcard to friends and voters in his area: “Jeremy Kane is only candidate who understands what makes Forest Hill special and how to preserve it. I’m voting Jeremy Kane. I hope you do too.”
These kinds of personal endorsement letters are often undervalued in their impact for campaigns, especially as compared to robo-calls, even those made by celebrities. I have gotten several such personal notes and e-mails in recent days, including one from retired Judge Barbara Haynes and her husband former State Senator Joe Haynes on behalf of mayoral candidate Charles Robert Bone.

As we move past the two-weeks-and-counting-down mile marker for Metro’s seven-way August 6th mayoral election, we’ve seen how the race continues to show increasing partisan overtones (even though candidates run without party label). In response, it appears some candidates are doubling down to activate their base voters.

For example, Megan Barry doubled down on her TV this week releasing two new ads on the same day. As she has done throughout the race, both spots seek to motivate her progressive (Democratic) base. What she talks about in the spots sound just like it came right out of a Democratic Party primary campaign speech, hitting on the key issues that motivate “blue” voters to turn out and vote (even on some issues where a mayor has only a limited role to play).

Both Barry ads also play up her recent endorsement by THE TENNESSEAN. They do that either directly in the ad copy or in those quick headlines that flash quickly on and off the screen. It’s a technique that has been all the rage in this year’s mayoral TV spots.

You can see both of Barry ads here…..

One of the questions about Barry throughout the campaign has been: Can she extend his voter reach beyond her base? If so, why is she continuing to go in the opposite direction in these ads by trying to maximize her Democratic vote?

Could it be with the “only proven fiscal conservative (Republican) candidate” David Fox moving up in the polls, the Barry camp thinks the best way to protect her potential spot in the September runoff (she’s been second in almost every poll) is by maximizing the turnout of the voter group to whom she has the greatest appeal? Will it be enough? And how much will it matter after this week’s revelations about Fox and Super PAC funding?

Will Barry need to worry as well about where disaffected Fox voters go and how that might boost her other opponents such as Bone, Rebrovick or Kane? Will she need to adjust her campaign and TV media strategy accordingly? The FOX Super PAC story made a big media bang when it broke. But will it stay in the news long enough to have a lasting impact on the race? What will Fox’s opponents try to do to keep the Super PAC issue on voters’ minds?

Rebrovick late Thursday sent out a blast e-mail to supporters saying “out of state special interests have been falsely attacking Linda….We have faith that Nashvillians won’t be persuaded by misinformation and extreme behavior…and will do what Linda and others are doing—throwing away the junk mail…The fact that they singled out Linda is validation of the competitive position she has right now and while we cannot stop them, we can and should counter them by casting our vote for Linda.”

Charles Robert Bone is trying work the Super PAC issue too, sending out an e-mail Friday afternoon that says the candidate “has stood up for Nashville” by “questioning the activities of…a Texas Tea Party effort designed to mislead voters.” The e-mail adds “Charles Robert Bone knows that being mayor of Nashville isn’t just about the extreme left or right, it’s about what works for Nashville.”

Megan Barry is trying to work the Super PAC issue to her advantage. Her blast e-mail fund raiser is headlined “Nashville isn’t for sale” adding “we can’t allow these outside groups to decide Nashville’s future.”

Barry received another significant endorsement this week with the support of Michael Burcham, the former CEO of the Nashville Entrepreneur Center. Burcham’s name was often mentioned some months back as a possible mayoral candidate. He has strong praise for Barrry, saying in an e-mail outlining his support: “Megan isn’t just a talker—she gets things done. That, to an entrepreneur, is the true test of a leader.”

Then he offers this zinger: “As a fiscal conservative, I have been impressed by Megan’s ability to use her campaign resources more efficiently and effectively than other candidates who have spent far more…The next mayor can’t just write a check to solve their problems..:”

Howard Gentry took an entirely different tack on all the controversy regarding Super PACs. He called a news conference Monday (July 20) to say it’s time his opponents “quit fussing” and go back to discussing the issues that Nashville faces, For Gentry, those issues include an increasing amount of violent crime. Gentry says: ‘In the last few days…a 20-year old was killed, a mother holding her infant was shot in the head, a teenager was killed, two women were in a shooting where over 20 shots were fired.“

If elected mayor, Gentry plans to convene a Youth Violence Summit “bringing all the stakeholders together” including non-profits, law enforcement, child psychologists, community organizations, churches, government. “I don’t want to label Nashville as an unsafe place because Nashville is a wonderful place to live, but we cannot ignore any longer that this is a serious problem and it needs to be dealt with by a larger group than just our police department (PITH IN THE WIND, July 20),” adds Gentry.

For Bill Freeman, he spent part of the week addressing potential conflict of interests if he is elected to the city’s highest office. Given the size of Freeman Webb, the candidate’s real estate company, it should be no surprise that conflicts will arise. This TENNESSEAN article (July 19) outlines its size and depth…

If elected mayor, THE TENNESSEAN article says Freeman “would continue to make disclosures regarding his real estate interests and business dealings.’ It says he would also place his investments in a blind trust, although he did not provide details on how that might function. Blind trusts are nothing new in politics or for folks in elected office. The issue is just how blind the trust will be it and how transparent it is to voters and media. I am thinking he may to have to address this matter in more detail if he makes the runoff election, and not wait until he is elected mayor.
Of course as another week passes by, the Freeman team has another new TV ad up. Like his last spot, this one is another “closing statement’ from the candidate for why he’s running and what he plans to do as Mayor….

Charles Robert Bone has new TV ad out as well…and it really is a closing statement. It’s one he delivered during one of the TV debates. I’m not sure why (maybe it was not enough time?), but the “Vote Bone” jingle doesn’t play at the end of this ad, just a guitar strumming the opening cord. Maybe we’ve heard the jingle enough, we can insert the lyrics our on our own.

You can watch the ad here….

Linda Eskind Rebrovick did more this past week than just address the attacks she endured from Super PACs. She got an endorsement from a major local women’s political group, Women in Numbers (WIN). WIN was established “to engage, encourage and endorse women running for office.” Oddly, the WIN newsletter e-mail I received this week did not specifically mention the Rebrovick endorsement just provided an on line link to all the (women) candidates it is supporting in the Metro elections. It did urge its members and supporters to “educate yourself about the candidates, and endorse your own candidates with a financial contribution…and your vote.”
The Rebrovick campaign also spent time this past week trying to turn a potential negative into a positive. Her name is clearly the longest and perhaps the hardest to pronounce in the mayoral field. So according to a TENNESSEAN article (July 21) a couple of campaign volunteers, Eric and Marissa Pio have put together a video to try and turn this into a “name game.” There is no mention in the story of using the video as a TV ad, but it seems to be about the right length.

You can watch it here….

One preview for next week. Bruce Dobie is conducting one last Power Poll for his TheNashvilleBanner website. I call it the Chatter Class poll because it surveys the so-called movers and shakers in town (about 850 folks receive it). The poll is done to see how that group plans to vote for mayor and how they think the race will turn out; from who will finish first and second all the way to seventh and last.

This time the poll also includes a question on who respondents think will win the Vice Mayor’s race between David Briley and Tim Garrett.

The numbers should be out by Wednesday of next week. It’s more an expectations poll than a scientific survey of the local electorate but its great fun to read the results and it’s something new for our local chattering class to “chatter about” as we reach the final full week of the August campaign.

MAYOR KARL DEAN ON INSIDE POLITICS

For the past seven weeks on INSIDE POLITICS we’ve talked to all those candidates who would be Nashville’s next mayor. This week, we welcome back one last time, the person who has served as our city’s leader these last eight years. That would be, of course, Mayor Karl Dean.

We really appreciate the Mayor joining us, now only now, but all the many times he’s come on the show these last eight years, from when he was first a candidate back in 2007, and then the numerous times he’s been willing to answer my questions as well as those he’s gotten coming on all the programs that air on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. He may be leaving office soon, but I’ve still got lots to ask him. Join us!

By the way, we plan a special presentation of the Mayor’s INSIDE POLITICS interview this week. It will air on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5 at 6:30 p.m. Friday night.

Of course, we’ll follow our regular show schedule too. 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

A DIFFERENT ONE

As Tennessee and the rest of the nation continues to come to grips with the horrible shootings of five of our military heroes last week at a recruiting station in Chattanooga, the investigation into the motives of the murderer is developing a bit differently.

While events like these continue to occur with increasing and disturbing frequency, usually within a few days or even hours, it’s pretty clear from news reports why the shooter did it based on Facebook rants, comments from friends or reports from his family.

But so far as I’ve read the ongoing news stories, no consensus has emerged. In fact while the FBI says it has so far found no indication the Muslim shooter had been “radicalized”, reports I’ve seen in mainstream media outlets such as the WALL STREET JOURNAL say ties to radical Islam do exist although how it motivated the shooter remains unclear.

Of course, political reaction has split along partisan lines as expected, although the effort to allow federal military personnel to be armed at recruiting stations, armories and bases has struck at least one bi-partisan note. All nine members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation are supporting a bill to allow military to carry guns at recruiting facilities and on military bases. Meanwhile across the country including here in Tennessee, volunteers have started providing their own armed guards at military recruitment offices.

How to honor the dead (by lowering the flag to half-staff) got a lot more partisan especially in my FB feed. Under a policy that apparently predates the current presidential administration, ordering such a recognition is handled differently for military deaths than say what has happened in other mass shootings. President Barack Obama has now ordered the lowering of flags at federal offices but the on-line criticism of him shows no sign of stopping.

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has also taken some heat. It’s not been about lowering the flag, he ordered that very quickly at state facilities across Tennessee. Mr. Haslam was also prominently present in Chattanooga in the hours and days after the shootings showing he was doing his job providing leadership and being “comforter in chief” as Tennesseans came to grips with what happened.

But when governors in surrounding states and across the nation began immediately arming their National Guard troops in the wake of what happened in Chattanooga, Governor Haslam did not quickly follow suit and he started taking grief from right wing leaders of his party (including former State Representative and U.S. Senate candidate Joe Carr).

Governor Haslam then responded by ordering a study from his Adjutant General and Homeland Security Commissioner to review security policies and procedures at National Guard armories and other military installations in Tennessee. Within just a couple of days, that report came back and the Governor announced new temporary security measures and an accelerated handgun carry permit process be put in place for members of the Tennessee military. But some Tea Party leaning FB posters I see are not satisfied. Frankly, I am not sure anything the Governor could do would satisfy them on this or on several other political matters where they see the Governor as a RHINO (Republican In Name Only).

Meanwhile the Governor’s team continues to evolve as he heads towards the second year of his final term. This latest major change apparently happened several months ago although it has just now come to light (after the latest financial disclosures). Legendary Tennessee political consultant Tom Ingram is longer serving as a paid consultant to Mr.Haslam and reportedly hasn’t done so since January of this year.

Ingram’s and the Governor’s relationship goes back to 2009 and apparently they are still on a friendly basis personally. “We’re still friends and I’d do anything I could to help personally”, explains Ingram. But according to a news report on KNOX BLOGS/HUMPHREY ON THE HILL (July 20), Ingram “declined comment if the move (to end their client relationship) was sparked by the governor refusing to follow Ingram’s advice on some matters including INSURE TENNESSEE. Ingram said it was best to end official consulting to avoid any issues or questions.”

Good luck on that. The Ingram/ Haslam relationship has always brought media and public interest along with its share of political controversy. That may now change a bit, but I doubt it goes away completely.

BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY

Anyone who reads this column knows that from time to time over the last three plus years I’ve included updates on my health as I continue to recover from a stroke. I’ve been doing pretty well so these health epistles have been more and more infrequent.

This latest update is therefore more a correction than anything else. I thought I was doing so well I could change one of my blood pressure medications which included a diuretic. Obviously going to the bathroom frequently can be a little annoying, and given the low blood pressure readings I continued to record each morning and night, I thought I could change this particular BP medication (I take two daily) and make life a bit easier.

Well, no. That isn’t exactly what happened. I knew I’d retain more fluids, so I figured I would feel like I was adding a little weight. Bingo that did happen. But my blood pressure also went up…a little at first…then pushing into the high category (above 160/90) . I contacted my Doctor and after another week or so of monitoring my BP (it continued to edge higher), I’ve gone back to my old medication that includes the diuretic.

I’m OK about it really. My blood pressure has returned to the lower readings I’ve enjoyed the last couple of years (in the 120s/ 75-80 at night, in the low 100s over 60-65 in the mornings after a night on my sleep apnea machine). I like going back to the old medication even although it means more trips to the bathroom (especially at night) and drinking a lot more water to keep myself from getting dehydrated.

So maybe my “better lifestyle” (eating better, working out) has not made me as healthy as I thought or as I’ve bragged about in this column. Maybe like the old advertising slogan (used by Dupont) Iam just benefitting from “better living through chemistry.”

Either way, it keeps me alive and keeps me healthy. So I’ll take it and just deal with the side effects.
Excuse me, I need to head down the hall for a minute….

FRANCIS GUESS

Nashville has lost one of its best with the passing of community leader Francis Guess.

And I have lost a colleague, although our time together at DVL Seigenthaler lasted just a few months.

I first met Francis when he was the first African American Commissioner of the Tennessee Departments of Labor and General Services under Governor Lamar Alexander.

He was always friendly, helpful and very professional. He richly deserved his reputation as a civil rights advocate and humanitarian, including his work of 30 years on the Tennessee Commission on Human Rights and the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (appointed by President Ronald Reagan).

As I got to know Francis better over the years (“The Commissioner” as I called him), we worked on several civic projects together, particularly Leadership Nashville programs. He always spoke his mind and was never afraid to take an opposing position.

He did that because he believed in what he said, although sometimes, when I’d see a little twinkle in his eye, I could also tell he liked to get a rise out of folks when he discussed politics.

He did so much for Tennessee and for Nashville.

He will be missed. Rest in peace, my friend.