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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 31, 2015

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Posted at 2:51 PM, Jul 31, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-07 08:26:53-04

CAPITOL VIEW

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

July 31, 2015

ONE THING THAT MAY NOT BE HISTORIC; THE FINAL DAYS: INSIDE POLITICS; BRIEFS; ELECTION PREDICTIONS

ONE THING THAT MAY NOT BE HISTORIC

I have talked a lot in this column in recent weeks about how historic this Metro election and the Mayor’s race are. But unfortunately, one thing about these contests that won’t make the record books is voter turnout.

The Election Commission predicts a total turnout of 130,000. Actually by Metro standards that would be pretty good. But the Early Voting numbers (through Thursday) indicate we may be lucky to make 100,000. That would be pretty close to what we voted eight years ago the last time the mayor’s seat was vacant in 2007, which was 101,027.

So what’s the problem? Well, in the presidential election in 2012, Davidson County had almost a quarter million folks (245,534) show up at the polls!

But for Mayor we can only muster about 100,000?

Do Metro voters think the job our Mayor and other Metro leaders do and the role they play in our daily lives is that much less important than the President and what’s goes on in Washington? Really?

Actually, this lack of voter turnout is nothing new in a mayor’s race. The largest vote totals ever in a Metro election occurred in 1987 when Bill Boner and Phil Bredesen ran. In both the August and September (runoff) elections that year about 150,000 voted. Otherwise Mayor’s races attract about 100,000 or a little more when the seat is open. When it’s a mayoral re-election year, well, the numbers are really low then (60,000 or so for turnout).

Actually, believe or not, our mayoral vote totals this year may be about the same as they were nearly 50 years ago in 1966. That’s when the original Metro Mayor, Beverly Briley, won re-election over the Mayor of the City of Nashville, Ben West. About 103,000 voted in the general election that year (which was in April) with 103,950 casting ballots in the runoff the following month in May.

But unlike the seeming apathy today, clearly there was a lot of voter interest in 1966. After all, total voter registration then had only 174,000 people on the rolls. Now we have well over 300,000 registered voters in Nashville! But still not many over 100,000 will vote for Mayor?

Pitiful and puzzling.

Maybe it will be a low turnout in the August general election because voters have had trouble discerning the best candidate. They’ve also been told all those running are good folks…people who Nashville should be proud to have as our city’s next leader. So maybe lots of voters are saying: “Fine, I’ll sit it out and let everyone else pick the best two, and then I’ll vote to decide.”

Maybe so, except for one thing. Based on past Metro elections they don’t often come back for the runoff in larger numbers either.

THE FINAL DAYS

As the final full week of the election campaign flashed by, the pace was more than frantic. The week began with candidates scrambling to maximize contributions with the final campaign disclosure deadline on Monday.

The money reports were due to be submitted by Friday (today). At first, I doubted we would learn all that much new. It’s been the most expensive race ever and these new numbers would be just continuing that trend and growing larger with the two-candidate September runoff looming ahead.

All the disclosures were actually submitted by Thursday. All I can say is WOW! Seeing some of the actual money figures are astounding. According to THE TENNESSEAN (July 31), total dollars spent by all the mayoral candidates and Super PACS (so far) is approaching $13 million!

Total amounts given or loaned by candidates to themselves (5 of the 7) is approaching $7.5 million! In just the month of July Bill Freeman spent $2 million. He also raised the most money from donors during that period too.

Here’s one other interesting disclosure number regarding the Super PACs. The out of state (Texas) group supporting David Fox actually received $500,000 from Fox’s brother to finance its efforts. The brothers and the campaigns deny any advance knowledge or coordination with each other. That would be illegal.

The Fox Super PAC story had faded away in recent days likely limiting any damage to the candidate. But now that the disclosures are in, at least one mayoral hopeful Charles Robert Bone is trying to keep the issue going by charging the Super PAC represents “a shadow campaign” for Fox (TENNESSEAN July 31). He points to not just the TV ads and mailers but also the polling and analytics paid for by the group. Candidate Fox says he does not know what Fox means when he says “shadow campaign.”

How this PAC issue develops could be critical to Fox keeping his momentum to make the runoff and edging out either Freeman or Barry, who appears to be his closest challengers.

Megan Barry did release her financial report early (Tuesday) disclosing she has raised $145,000 during July, one of her better totals. But it is still well less that the money that other candidates and out of state Super PASCs have had to spend. Barry’s worked to try and turn her more limited resources into a positive rather than a negative. But what all this money and poll numbers means in actual votes (for her and all the candidates) remains to be seen.

Barry seems most concerned that not enough of her voters will go the polls. While the early vote turnout in Green Hills is near the top, which is a positive sign for her, the high Belle Meade early vote might tend to favor Fox.

Interestingly, Barry was criticized this week by one of her opponents, Jeremy Kane. Kane in a campaign e-mail lumped her in with candidates who are self-funding their efforts. Barry is on that list. She took out a $200,000 loan on her home and donated it to her campaign.

But Barry’s personal donation is significantly smaller than what the other four candidates have ponied up individually. And Kane’s criticism of Barry’s self-funding effort rings a little odd to me. Hasn’t Kane made a big deal throughout his campaign about how he took out a second mortgage on his home to create his very successful LEAD Academy Charter School?

I know running a political race and founding a school are not the same thing. But if taking out a second mortgage on your home shows your leadership and commitment to your goal to start a school, what’s bad or different in doing the same thing to help self-finance some of a mayoral campaign? Just saying.

By the way, Kane is promoting his LEAD Academy success in his latest TV ad which also involves 20 LEAD Academy graduates. So far every graduate of the school (2 classes) have been accepted and are attending four year colleges.

You can see the new Kane spot here.

David Fox’s birthday is Saturday August 1. As has become a tradition in modern campaigns the Fox team has sent out an e-mail suggesting Fox supporters send him a present that day, by either voting early for him (last day) or by making a contribution. The e-mail says Fox needs another $38,500 “to fully fund everything.” I am not sure what that means. You can’t raise funds for the runoff yet and I am not sure you can carry over funds for August. But regardless, it seems campaigns never miss an opportunity to ask for more contributions especially if the donors aren’t maxed out ($1500).

Fox is running one last (?) TV spot for August. It plays off Nashville’s long time phobia that we are becoming (but don’t want to be) another Atlanta. The ad says the way to avoid that is to vote for David Fox to preserve “The Nashville Way” (his campaign theme).

You can see the ad here.

I think the ad is very well done. In fact, I find it unique. It’s the only political spot I’ve seen this cycle where a no photo or video of the candidate ever appears. It is also the only ad I’ve seen that has no narrator. The message is advanced by all the little hand written signs being held up to the camera.

Using those techniques kind of lets the ad sneak up on you. Usually you know immediately this is a political message coming, and many voters have built up mental defenses to tune that out. In my case, the first time I saw the latest Fox ad I was half way through watching it before I realized what it was.

I think the lack of narration (just the music playing) also leads you to watch and read the signs more closely. But will it make voters understand and remember the message better than a regularly produced commercial? Will it help also voters remember which candidate put it on the air? The Fox Team must think so.

Linda Eskind Rebrovick has another new TV ad up as well. It’s kind of a homey, family spot (especially the closing segment). And true to her on-going theme, the Rebrovick ad tries to push the candidate’s business experience and how that will help her build “a smarter Nashville” while holding down taxes (a sub-theme that developed late in her ads).

You can see the spot here.

Endorsements can be big in the final days of a campaign. Rebrovick got backing this week from some local business leaders such as Shirley Zeitlin, John Ingram, David Condra and Beth Chase, while Charles Robert Bone got the nod from former Vice President and Tennessee U.S. Senator Al Gore, Jr. Gore has not been that active in local politics or in endorsing local candidates. But I suspect his support will certainly be helpful. History reports Al Gore did not carry Tennessee in his presidential race in 2000 (and it cost him the White House). But he did carry Nashville and that probably gives him some remaining local political juice in this county.

Endorsements on the Metro Council level can help too (at least in an individual council district). In that regard, South Nashville Councilman Jason Potts (District 30) has endorsed Bone. Potts is one of seven incumbent Council members running unopposed for re-election. Former Vice-Mayor and outgoing Councilman At Large Ronnie Steine is endorsing Bone as well.

Bone also received a rather fascinating endorsement this week from his sister, Baylor Bone Swindell. A blast e-mail send out by the campaign and Ms. Swindell reads in part: “Charles Robert is not an idiot. Matter of fact, he is crazy smart. And that’s hard for me to admit…..He’s tenacious. “The endorsement e-mail continues: “In 1986, when we got Nintendo, he mastered Super Mario Bros. in two days. Two.”

Well, who knows you better than your sibling, especially the qualifications you have that are most important to be mayor? By the way, can Charles Robert still play Super Mario Bros.?

Megan Barry also received two high profile, last-minute endorsements. One is from former Metro Councilmember and mayoral candidate Betty Nixon. The other is from former Councilmember and Nashville Sheriff Gayle Ray. Both have been trailblazers for women in their political careers and are highly esteemed in the progressive voter block Barry is trying to energize and get to the polls.

Of course, we couldn’t end the final full week of the campaign without a couple of new polls. Unfortunately, as it has been from the beginning of this race, none of the surveys were conducted by outside groups or those with no seeming direct interest in the outcome of the contest. That makes the results suspect on their face although the numbers are interesting to review and analyze if for no other reason than trying to figure out what the polls’ messages really are.

All the new polls released in the last week show a tightening contest between same three candidates (just in differing orders). One poll was done by the Laborers PAC, a group which THE TENNESSEAN (July 31) reports has maxed its support to Barry and has supported her in the past. The Laborers survey shows her running first with 20% of the vote (followed well within the margin of error) by David Fox at 19% and Bill Freeman 18%. The Fox campaign also released its own poll showing a somewhat similar dead heat with Freeman at 20% and Fox and Berry both at 18%.

The final new poll this week came from Bruce Dobie. He sent out his third Power Poll of the contest posted on his revived Nashville Banner website. Dobie’s sampling of Nashville’s Chatter Class (as I call it), is, by his own description, “not a scientific survey of the broad electorate. Instead, it polls powerful, influential people in the community who are capable of steering the city’s discussion one way or the

other. Members come from Music Row, non-profits, government, business, higher education, media, and more.”

Perhaps surprisingly (or not) the results of Dobie’s expectation poll is not that far different in stacking the current race than the other recent polls. You can read the results along with Dobie’s analysis here. It’s worth a read.

As we approach the end of the August campaign (finally), forget the polls, forget the fund raising, the focus is all on identifying your vote and getting them to the polls. One good way to start that process is canvassing neighborhoods and knocking on doors. To that end, the Bill Freeman campaign claims it has now knocked on over 200,000 doors in this county. To put that in perspective NASHVILLE POST (July 27) reports that the Census Bureau estimates Nashville (in 2013) had 288,864 housing units and 256, 745 households.

Now while helpful, not all door knocks are productive. People are not home and/or don’t come to the door. Some folks have multiple doors and so you may duplicate efforts unnecessarily. Yes, there are leave behind materials to make the contact with voters. But I doubt they have the yield rate of a personal conversation with a dedicated campaign volunteer or with the actual candidate when they go campaigning.

There’s also making phone calls to contact voters. But an increasing number of people don’t like those kinds of contacts, and they have Caller ID to screen them to avoid answering the phone (if they still have a land line phone). Getting cell phone numbers is even harder to do.

Campaign politics aren’t easy. Often it’s quite hot and steamy going door to door in the summertime. But this kind of grunt work is essential to be a winner on election night. Oh, and try not to get bit by that big, barking dog either.

INSIDE POLITICS

As we round out our coverage on INSIDE POLITICS of Nashville’s 2015 Mayor’s race, we give the media the final word. After spending all summer interviewing each of the seven candidates, and even getting the current Mayor Karl Dean to give us his final thoughts, we’ve asked Joey Garrison of THE TENNESSEAN and J.R. Lind of THE NASHVILLE POST/ NASHVILE SCENE to come on this week and share their campaign knowledge and insights as we prepare for Election Day next Thursday.

These gentlemen have both done an excellent job in keeping their readers informed about this historic contest. I am happy to have them with me as we try to put into some context and perspective what we’ve experienced as a community this past year or so as the campaign has developed.

Of course I’ll try to get them to make some predictions and I’ll bet they’ll ask me to do the very same thing. And why not, total strangers have been asking me for the past two years who the next mayor will be? Honestly, I am still not certain but I definitely have some thoughts on who the two finalists for the September 10th runoff will be.

I hope you’ve enjoyed and learned something about the candidates and about Nashville from our interviews and coverage (both on INSIDE POLITICS and here reading this column). If you still haven’t made up your mind, remember all the interviews are still posted in full on NEWSCHANNEL5.com.

Also don’t forget to join Rhori Johnston and myself on Election Night on NEWSCHANNEL5. We will be live on THE PLUS from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. and on the main channel from 7:30 until 8:00 p.m. Even if you are out of town you can watch us, our coverage will be live streaming on NEWSCHANNEL5.com.

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. Again for those who can’t see the show locally or from out of town, you can watch it with live streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com.

Next week we hope to dive right into our mayoral runoff coverage by having the two remaining candidates join us on INSIDE POLITICS. It will be a final post mortem on the August vote and look ahead at what will likely be a completely new contest to decide who actually will be Nashville’s next mayor.

BRIEFS

Here are my thoughts briefly on a few other state and local stories I’ve been following in this column.

So State Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini wants to have a discussion about whether the annual Jackson Day Dinner held by the party should continue to carry that name in honor of President Andrew Jackson from Tennessee. Yes she says, Jackson was “a man of the people” and a party founder. But there’s also his involvement with slavery and the Trail of Tears.

Some states have dropped Jackson’s name from their fundraisers. But that’s not Tennessee where Jackson’s home, the Hermitage, has been preserved and remains a significant tourist attraction.

I suspect Chairwomen Mancini will get all “the discussion” she wants on this topic. But wouldn’t it be more productive for the party to discuss something more important…such as how it’s going to start winning elections in Tennessee rather than navel gazing about the role of a political figure, who while important in Tennessee and American history, has been dead for 165 years?

Another story in the news is the retirement of State Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade. His departure opens the way for Republicans for the first time in history to hold a majority on the Court. Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey is greatly pleased. He tried to achieve GOP court dominance last year by ousting three Democratically-appointed Justices including Wade.

But the voters said no, although they did approve both houses of the General Assembly confirming new justices. The difficulty is the Republican Super Majority in both houses has so far not been able to agree on how those confirmations should be done. That leaves open the possibility the new justice nominated by Governor Bill Haslam will assume his/her post not by historic votes in the General Assembly, but instead because the clock runs out (60 days) without legislative action. A political whimper not a bang.

For Governor Haslam, he has plenty on his plate. It looks like Corrections may be the next state agency to become a dumpster fire. And if history is any guide, fixing it won’t be easy or cheap. The Governor wants to have a statewide discussion about our roads and he has announced a road trip with 15 stops all

across Tennessee to begin that discussion. The news release announcing the tour is remarkable. It is six paragraphs long and never mentions the words “gas” or “tax” (especially together in the same sentence).

Democrats are criticizing the Governor saying Tennessee’s roads are among the best in the nation. They say the Governor should instead call a special legislative session to provide health care to 280,000 needy Tennesseans. That would happen by implementing Mr. Haslam’s INSURE TENNESSEE plan. That plan has been rejected twice by the GOP Super Majority and the Governor maintains holding another session right now would be counterproductive.

Of course there are other, different calls being heard for a special legislative session. They are coming from Murfreesboro Tea Party State Representative Rick Womick. He says Tennessee needs to “do something” to stop the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalizes same-sex marriage. Womick had previously charged the Governor should be impeached for not following his oath of office and stopping the court decision in Tennessee.

Of course that ridiculous suggestion has fallen fall. But nothing seems to faze or discourage Womick and his bombast on this issue. Now he has sent a letter to all the county clerks in the state urging them to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

That’s a move that, if followed, is sure to bring the state into a lawsuit, which it will likely quickly lose. By the way, what does it mean with Womick urging public officials to engage in civil disobedience and not uphold their own duties and oath of office? Might urging that on his state office letterhead be an impeachable offense for a lawmaker?

Probably not, but it shows how ridiculous this discussion has become.

Meanwhile back in Nashville the controversy over who should be Nashville’s next Schools Director just won’t go away. With the Board still licking its wounds after Williamson County’s Schools Chief Mike Looney jilted Metro despite signing a letter of intent to take the job, there’s now a move afoot in the African American community to force the Board to reconsider one of its other finalists.

That would be Angela Huff who made a very good early impression in her interviews. Rather than restart the search, she should be given a second look say these community leaders. After all, Huff is a native Nashvillian and the city should strongly consider appointing the first woman and African American to lead the system which has a majority minority student population.

The School Board had seemed to be inclined to start the search over again. But if the political heat keeps rising let’s see what happens next in this seemingly never ending saga.

ELECTION PREDICTIONS

As I see it right now, I believe Election Night on Thursday, August 6 will be a very close three-way fight for the two mayoral runoff spots between Freeman, Barry and Fox. Given the surprise he pulled off eight years ago to almost make the runoff, I don’t discount Howard Gentry doing it again somehow if the minority vote is large and breaks his way. Remember he got more votes Election Day in 2007 than anyone else.

I can also make scenarios for surprise showings Thursday from any of the other three candidates in the field (Bone, Rebrovick and Kane). I think all the candidates may be bunched together very closely 1-7. In fact, I’ve had a recurring thought, dream/nightmare. I come to Channel 5 for the election and the returns come in showing all seven candidates receiving 14% of the vote, leaving us to figure out who gets enough of the remaining 3% of the vote to be in the runoff. WOW but YIKES!

It some ways I think it could be that close, especially among the top 3. So tune in Thursday night. It could be quite an evening.