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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 22, 2018

Posted at 1:13 PM, Jun 22, 2018

CAPITOL VIEW

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

June 22, 2018

CLOSE BUT NO TAX INCREASE; SOMETHING VERY UNUSUAL HAPPENED IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK; MCCORMICK’S UNEXPECTED RETIREMENT SCRAMBLES HOUSE SPEAKER RACE; IMITATION AND PLAYING TO THE BASE; CRAIG FITZHUGH ON INSIDE POLITICS; GUBERNATORIAL ENDORSEMENTS; THE TENNESSEE SENATE RACE IS DIVIDING FAMILIES; THE NEW YORK TIMES TAKE ON THE NASHVILLE TRANSIT REFERENDUM; TRYING TO SELL TVA ONE MORE TIME:

CLOSE BUT NO TAX INCREASE

There will not be a property tax increase this year in Nashville/Davidson County.

But the decision turned out to be a very close call.

After hours of sometimes impassioned debate that extended into the early hours of Wednesday morning (June 20), the 40-member Metro Council voted 20-19 against a 50-cent property tax hike that would have fully funded schools and provided the 3% cost of living raise the city had promised its employees.

The close vote left the Council two votes short of the 21- vote majority required to pass any ordinance, including a property tax hike. There had been some confusion about that requirement, even in some media reports.

The Council then ultimately voted 34-4 to approve a new $2.3 billion operating budget for the soon to begin fiscal year (July 1).

It’s a substitute budget from what Mayor David Briley recommended, but the net dollar changes were relatively minor (about $2 million more for schools, which requested over $40 million in new funds). Efforts were defeated to make across the board cuts to generate funds for employees. The Council said no, because doing so might create layoffs in some smaller city agencies.

The Council did put on hold the sale of the Edmondson Park property after a community uproar. Instead it wants to look at selling the school’s property where it parks and maintains its buses to balance the budget, even though balancing a budget by selling properties is not likely a good idea long term.

The budget and tax votes are political victories for Mayor Briley. He opposed the property tax hike, saying it would be better for the city to tighten its belt financially rather than impose a greater tax burden on some citizens who have already been paying more property taxes following a countywide reappraisal last year.

In the 55 year-plus history of Metro government, the Metro Council has never approved a property tax increase without the mayor recommending one. That continues to be case and it will surely remain that way in 2019. In fact, next year’s budget process will see the final decision made just over a month before the next Metro elections will be held. A significant majority of Councilmembers and Mayor Briley will likely be seeking re-election.

It has not been a good year for Metro. The tumultuous budget process over the last few weeks, the failed transit referendum, combined with the scandal that led former Mayor Megan Barry to resign in disgrace, has left a good bit of disillusion and distrust among voters about its city government. That is a mood that is not likely to go away quickly.

How the IT City suddenly seemed to wind up short of funds despite a booming economy, record unemployment and a rising international profile has many shaking their heads. There are a number of elements involved, so the explanation is not simple. It includes reappraisals being set too high, with successful appeals to the state to cut back the appraisals, also being much higher than expected.

Add that to re-setting the property tax rate too low last year (while city leaders bragged about it being the lowest tax rate in Metro history). There’s also the city’s rising capital debt levels that left Metro having to set aside more funds to pay for all the many brick and mortar projects the city has undertaken in recent years.

Nashville’s struggles to come to grips with the ongoing challenges of our growth brought this article THE WALL STREET JOURNAL published this week (June 18).

SOMETHING VERY UNUSUAL HAPPENED IN WASHINGTON THIS WEEK

President Donald Trump and his administration are no strangers to white hot controversies over his policies and actions. But usually, despite any criticism, he just continues to double down and move ahead.

This week was different. Amidst increasing broad-based, bi-partisan criticism of the President’s and the Department of Justice’s new policy of “zero tolerance,” resulting in children being separated from immigrant families detained after illegally crossing the Mexican border, the President blinked and signed an executive order to keep families together. He had earlier blamed “Democrats” and said only Congress could solve the problem.

When even some of the leaders of the President’s loyal base of supporters started speaking out against his position, it was clear something had to change. This article from THE HILL gives a pretty good summary for why the President “caved” on this issue (including that his family wanted him to do so). The article further outlines the questions and uncertainty which still lie ahead on this controversy, including that the new executive order doesn’t end “zero tolerance” nor does it outline a plan to reunite the nearly 2,500 children still separated from their families.

Then on Thursday, the First Lady got directly involved in the issue, taking an action not even her husband has taken and wearing a jacket with a slogan nobody is quite sure what it means.

Of course, this family separation issue has political repercussions in Tennessee. Both our Republican U.S. Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker spoke out against the “zero tolerance” policy and the separation of families. They urged Mr. Trump to act quickly to resolve the matter and for Congress to address the overall immigration issue. Meanwhile, Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper joined by Tennessee’s other Democratic congressman Steve Cohen of Memphis denounced the President’s separation policy and urged he rescind it.

The other seven Tennessee congressmen, all Republicans, largely sided with the President although some expressed concerns about family separations. That includes Congressman and U.S. Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn. According to THE TENNESSEAN: “she placed the blame for the separation policy on “liberals” and “liberal judges” instead of President Donald Trump.”

“As a mother, my heart breaks for the families who are separated at the border, but we are in this position because liberals would not pay to enforce our immigration laws or build appropriate facilities for asylum seekers,” the Republican congresswoman and candidate for U.S. Senate said in a statement released by her congressional office.

The statement continued: "'Liberal judges ruled that meant we couldn't keep kids with their families,' Blackburn said. 'That lapse in judgment put us in the difficult position of choosing between enforcing our laws or keeping families together. We don't have to choose if we fix this problem, secure our borders and keep people from coming across our border illegally and choosing to put their families in danger.'”

Congressman Diane Black, a GOP candidate for Governor had this to say during a campaign debate this week. According to THE NASHVILLE POST, while she doesn’t like family separations, she blames the parents.

“Those parents came here willingly. I can’t imagine being a mother or grandmother and putting my grandchildren or children in that situation," Black said.

On a topic related to children’s issues, THE TENNESSEAN published this article today (Friday) which I suspect will get a larger profile and attract controversy if she is the GOP nominee.

Getting back to the separation of illegal immigrant family along the border.

Among the Democrats, Blackburn’s likely Senate opponent in November, former Governor Phil Bredesen was quick to urge the family separations be ended. But his criticism of the overall never-ending immigration controversy was more broad-based and not just aimed at the President.

A statement from his campaign reads in part:

“Children have been forcibly removed from their parents at the border by the thousands and kept in camps with chain link fences around them. I never thought something like this would happen in our country. It effectively amounts to child abuse.

 

To be honest, it’s had me completely distracted the past few days. This issue completely transcends partisan politics. I can’t imagine, whether you’re liberal or conservative, that you can possibly condone what’s been going on.

Watching what’s going on in Washington is partisanship at its worst. Everybody is spending their time covering their own rear ends by passing blame. There's still tremendous damage to unwind on the ground to reunite children with their parents to start the healing process.”

This was also the week Congress was supposed to act on two Republican-backed bills to address several immigration issues (everything from DACA and “zero tolerance” family separations to more funding for the border wall and new restrictions on current legal immigration programs).

But the House on Thursday voted down the more hard- line immigration bill being pushed by GOP conservatives. A more moderate measure was postponed until next week amid doubts it could get enough votes among the majority-party Republicans to pass. In fact, with a single tweet from President Trump this morning (Friday) saying Republicans should wait to act until after the November election, the more moderate immigration bill is likely dead. No Democrats were supporting either bill.

So, while this was a week the President made what seemed to be a strategic retreat, the overall gridlock in Washington on immigration and many other key issues hasn’t budged at all.

MCCORMICK’S UNEXPECTED RETIREMENT SCRAMBLES HOUSE SPEAKER RACE

Chattanooga Representative Gerald McCormick sent shockwaves through Capitol Hill a few days ago.

His decision to drop his re-election plans to explore a new job opportunity in Nashville, means he is also not seeking to be the next Speaker of the House.

That post will be empty next term because the current Speaker, Beth Harwell is running for governor.

McCormick is a former House Majority Leader. His exit will create a quick, 7- day scramble for potential GOP candidates to seek his House seat. It will also still leave the field to be the next speaker with at least three potential major GOP candidates.

The key will be all the new GOP lawmakers coming in next term, including whoever replaces McCormick.

If fact, the freshman class will be so large, it will likely hold the balance of power period concerning who will be next speaker.

Tom Humphrey has more background and details.

IMITATION AND PLAYING TO THE BASE

The latest Diane Black TV ad is interesting to watch.

Even though it’s getting late in the primary campaign, the commercial goes back to restate the candidate’s growing up in poverty, “the other side of the tracks.” Then it talks about the importance of what her parents gave her, “her faith.”

I was somewhat reminded of the current ad one of Black’s opponents, Bill Lee, is running. He also talks about his faith.

After months of political spots focusing on how conservative and how like President Trump these GOP candidates are, why the move towards the importance of the Almighty and less on fighting illegal immigration and for building the Wall?

Given the continuing controversy over separating children from their parents along the Mexican border when they are detained after illegally entering the country, this might not be the best time to push that issue so much.

Also remember, the Republican voter base is not just strongly for Donald Trump and his issues, it also is strongly evangelical Christian. So a TV commercial about one’s faith makes sense.

The Black ad also seems to portray a bit of a “kinder, gentler’ candidate, not quite so much the hard-nosed, no nonsense grandma sometimes portrayed in her other spots. Just one thing, Congressman. Be careful sitting on an active train track reading a book, even the Good Book. Trains do occasionally come through and sometimes they can be hard to hear or see them coming.

CRAIG FITZHUGH ON INSIDE POLITICS

This week we once again continue our conversations with those who would be our next governor.

Our guest is State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh.

He is running for governor in the Democratic primary on August 2.

This past week, Fitzhugh became the sixth and last of the major gubernatorial candidates to begin airing TV spots. Again, if you are on Facebook, you likely have seen a good bit of the Fitzhugh ad video. They have been part of his Facebook ads on line for several weeks.

We also discuss several issues including this week’s Supreme Court ruling allowing states to tax on-line sales, and an earlier decision to allow states to legalize (and tax?) sports gambling.

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:

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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.

GUBERNATORIAL ENDORSEMENTS

There were some significant endorsements in the governor’s race this week.

The PAC of the National Rifle Association is supporting Congressman Diane Black. The group says she has an ‘A” rating and a “perfect record” on Second Amendment issues.

Quoting from the group’s news release:

“For over two decades Diane Black has been a steadfast supporter of our constitutional right to self-defense. She has never wavered in the fight to expand and protect the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens,” said Chris W. Cox, chairman, NRA-PVF. “Diane Black has a perfect record on Second Amendment issues and we enthusiastically endorse her candidacy.”

 

“Black co-sponsored and voted for the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which was the strongest self-defense legislation ever to pass the U.S House of Representatives. She voted to protect the Second Amendment rights of our nation’s veterans and voted to repeal the Obama administration’s regulation that wrongly denied many Social Security beneficiaries their Second Amendment rights.

“As a concealed carry permit holder, Diane Black doesn’t just vote the right way on the Second Amendment, she actively exercises her constitutional right to self-protection and is passionate about safeguarding the right of all law-abiding Tennesseans to protect themselves and the people they love,” continued Cox.”

Businessman Randy Boyd picked up a big backer for his GOP gubernatorial campaign this week. Conservative commentator, former GOP presidential candidate and Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is on Boyd’s side. In 2008, Huckabee won the Tennessee Presidential primary. This time his endorsement includes a new TV ad put up on the air by the Boyd campaign.

Finally, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Lee received an endorsement this week.

It’s from a former opponent.

Former State Senator Mae Beavers dropped out of the statewide primary race a few months ago, after struggling to raise money and find support in the polls. Of course, the Lee campaign is making as big a deal as they can about her backing. Says a statement from Lee:

“It is an honor to have the support of a Tennessee conservative leader like Mae Beavers. Maria and I got to know Mae and her husband Jerry on the campaign trail, and I know they both have a deep passion and love for Tennessee and our nation. Her leadership in the conservative movement and in the legislature is well known to all, and I am humbled and grateful to have her joining my team.

 

It is exciting because I am the only candidate in the Republican Primary to have the endorsement from a former gubernatorial candidate in this election cycle. The endorsement shows the continued momentum for this campaign and shows conservatives are rallying around our message as we head into early voting next month!”

THE TENNESSEE SENATE RACE IS DIVIDING FAMILIES

I am proud to say former Knoxville Mayor, State Senator and Representative Victor Ashe is a long- time reader of this column.

His own column in THE KNOX NEWS SHOPPER on the KNOX NEWS website is one to read to better understand what is going on politically in the eastern part of the state.

Throughout his career, Victor has been known as outspoken. I suspect there are some in the GOP who wish he hadn’t been so open in a part of his latest column. That’s where he outlines how the Tennessee U.S. Senate race between Republican Congressman Marsha Blackburn and former Democratic Governor Phil Bredesen is dividing families in an area where Republicans have long been dominant.

By the way, the Bredesen campaign was quick to send links out to reporters statewide connecting them to the Victor Ashe column.

THE NEW YORK TIMES TAKE ON THE NASHVILLE TRANSIT REFERENDUM

It’s been a month and a half ago, but the post-mortem on the Nashville transit referendum continues.

THE NEW YORK TIMES has published a lengthy article about how the defeat of the Nashville transit referendum was part of a larger effort by the arch-conservative Koch Brothers to kill transit projects all over the country. The involvement of the Koch Brothers was frequently mentioned during the campaign debate itself (if never fully known or fleshed out).

Here’s the NYT story.

THE TENNESSEAN has written a follow up story of its own that reports on what THE NYT says but maintains the referendum defeat is more complicated.

TRYING TO SELL TVA ONE MORE TIME

For the second time in recent months, the Trump Administration has released a plan that includes selling the transmission lines of the Tennessee Valley Authority. It’s part of an overall reorganization of the federal government. Again, Tennessee’s statewide elected officials and candidates say it is not going to happen.