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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 29, 2018

Posted at 3:21 PM, Jun 29, 2018


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

June 29, 2018



Political observers have been saying for weeks it was coming.

Now it has.

It’s a development that is significantly changing the tenor, demeanor and intensity level of the Republican primary race to be our next governor.

For this first time this gubernatorial election cycle, candidates are attacking each other in their TV ads.

Republican Congressman Diane Black started the attacks, criticizing two of her primary challengers, Randy Boyd and Bill Lee.

The attack came in a new TV spot that began airing Wednesday. The commercial criticizes both Lee and Boyd for not being conservative enough on the issues important to Tennesseans (more particularly those voting in the August 2 GOP primary). The ad positions Black as the real conservative in the race, not a “moderate” like Boyd and Lee. It does not mention the fourth GOP candidate House Speaker Beth Harwell at all.

Here’s the ad.

Boyd quickly responded the next day (Thursday) with an ad voiced by former Arkansas governor and GOP presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee. He just recently endorsed the Knoxville businessman with a TV commercial. This new Huckabee spot is both an explanation and a pushback.


"Professional politicians and special interests falsely attack their opponents so they can try to hang on to power," Huckabee says as the ad opens. "Hello, I'm Mike Huckabee, and Randy Boyd's opponents know what I know — he voted for President Trump, attended his inauguration and supports his agenda to keep America safe and disrupt government as usual. Heck, I ran against President Trump in the primary, but we all moved forward to defeat Hillary Clinton and make America great again. Vote conservative businessman Randy Boyd for governor."

The ad shows pictures of Boyd and his wife with Trump, taken at a fundraiser, and Boyd at the inauguration in 2017.”

At almost the same time, Boyd struck back with his own attack ad on Black touching on a couple of issues raised earlier by an outside PAC. The Boyd ad includes a 2016 interview with Congressman Black which seems to indicate she wasn’t always a big fan of President Trump’s Border Wall. The ad nicknames Black, “D. C. Diane.”

For her part, Black has launched a second round of TV attacks focusing solely on Boyd. This spot questions his support for hunters and outdoorsmen (read the Second Amendment). Here’s a summary of the ad’s copy via NASHVILLE POST:

"Where does Randy Boyd stand on hunting and guns?" asks a menacing-sounding voiceover. "Randy Boyd hired his lobbyist from an anti-hunting organization. Randy Boyd's firm gave big money to the lobbying group that would make hunting illegal. The NRA calls them an anti-hunting extremist organization. But Randy Boyd called them partner. Read about Randy Boyd's anti-hunting partner on the NRA website. And vote for the only candidate for governor endorsed by the NRA: Diane Black."

It is no surprise that Boyd and Black are attacking each other. Both have been thought to be the leading Republican candidates for governor. Lee being targeted in one of Black’s ad is somewhat unexpected. Perhaps his recent surge in TV advertising (and in some county polling reported in THE TENNESSE STAR showing Lee ahead in both Williamson and Maury Counties) is making him appear to be stronger than thought, at least the Black campaign must think so.

As for Harwell, leaving her out of the attack ads would appear to indicate the Black and Boyd campaigns does not see her as a factor in the contest. But the fact that Black has gone on the attack does seem to raise questions about whether the Congressman remains the strong frontrunner that some have projected her to be.

Frontrunners don’t attack other candidates unless those opponents are moving up in the polls and need to be stopped. Or maybe the ad is an attempt by Black to remind voters she is the most conservative candidate in the race to try to stop any slippage in her own poll numbers. For Boyd, he may just be responding in kind or he may feel a need to go after Black to exploit potential weaknesses.

And here is one more late Friday development to stir the pot. A poll of over 1,000 GOP voters reported by the conservative TENNESSEE STAR shows the GOP gubernatorial primary a three-candidate race with Boyd now in the lead.

Until these week, all four major GOP candidates (and the two Democrats) have been very cordial on the campaign trail and in their advertising. The Republicans have also agreed, pretty much across the board on the major issues for Republicans voting in their primary. Any attacks have come almost completely from outside third-party PACs not from the candidates themselves, until now.

The first Black ad gave the first indication that it is no longer enough for the GOP candidates to tout themselves as strong supporters of President Donald Trump (and very similar in his politics and actions). Now it’s time to attack their rivals and tell Republican primary voters directly that their opponents are not true conservatives or what they proport to be on the issues.

As for Boyd, I have not seen a TV ad response to the attack by Black. A spokesman for the Lee campaign, Chris Burger, is telling the media: “It’s not surprising Congresswoman Black is launching this desperate attack, it’s what career politicians do when their campaigns are failing. We’re confident Tennesseans will see through this.”

Black did receive two pro-life endorsements this week to further burnish her conservative credentials. One is from Tennessee Right to Life, the other from and the Family Research Council Action PAC. That latter group praised the Congressman in an endorsement letter signed by FRC Action PAC Executive Vice President, Lt. General (Ret.) Jerry Boykin, in particular for Black’s leadership on Capitol Hill and the strength she has shown fighting for Tennessee families.

“For Rep. Black’s dedication to the values of faith, family, and freedom, as well as her many votes to protect these values, she’s been a repeated recipient of FRC Action’s ‘True Blue’ award,” Boykin said. “She has a reputation as a leader who doesn’t merely give lip service to her values but acts on them. Her record of staunch conservatism and her continual commitment to people above policy will undoubtedly serve the people of Tennessee well.”

By the way, Boyd is reportedly boosting his TV ad buys by an additional $200,000. Black says she is spending more too but says it will be less than the $10.3 million Boyd is putting into broadcast ads overall. Either way, we quickly continue towards 2018 being the most expensive political year in Tennessee history.

Speaking of advertising, the right-leaning TENNESSEE STAR is being criticized by the state Democrats for not selling advertising to the Tennessee Democratic Party. Says an e-mail sent out be Democrats Friday afternoon:

“The Tennessee Star "doesn't appear interested in becoming an equal-opportunity advertiser" after it rebuffed attempts by Tennessee Victory 2018, the coordinated campaign of the Tennessee Democratic Party, to purchase digital ads. The ads are a link to extensive reporting by Think Progress about G. Kline Preston, who served as president of Marsha Blackburn for Congress from 2002-2009, and his close ties to Russian oligarch Alexander Torshin. The article includes details about at least one meeting in Franklin that Preston orchestrated between Blackburn and a Russian official. A follow-up article dives into Preston's ties to other Tennessee GOP figures.

Tennessee Victory 2018 twice tried to purchase digital ad space from The Tennessee Star, per the terms of the blog's publicly available rate card (copy attached). As of this writing, no one from The Star has deigned to reply.”

Stay tuned. In many different ways, it is getting pretty bumpy out there. And that is likely to continue at least all the way to August 2.


The endorsement trail continues to be active as the gubernatorial campaigns see the early voting period beginning just a few weeks away.

The latest endorsement is from noted outdoorsman and TV show host, Bill Dance.

He is for Knoxville businessman Randy Boyd…and if you watch this TV endorsement ad now running across the state, they are both for The Big Orange, too.

This Boyd ad began airing before the Black attack TV spot came on questioning his support for guns and outdoorsmen. It works as a pretty good pushback response on the issue.

This week also brought some controversy for the Boyd campaign. It’s based on this TENNESSEAN article that indicates the paper’s investigation shows several campaign contributions to the former State Economic and Development Commissioner came from individuals whose companies received state grants from the ECD. Boyd denies any wrong doing.


As we noted, the GOP gubernatorial candidates are strongly moving ahead with their TV advertising. Take Bill Lee and Beth Harwell: Almost every night this past week on the 10 PM News, Harwell has been “double trucking” her ads, running them twice in the same commercial break or running two slightly different ads in the same ad period. That helps reinforce the message and the candidate’s name recognition. Is Harwell hoping that if the other three candidates start fighting among themselves, it will make Republican primary voters turn to her? Harwell unlike the other GOP candidates is running on her record as speaker of the Tennessee House. Will that more positive approach become a point of difference for her?

This week Bill Lee ran still more new TV spots, placing them on several consecutive ad breaks right before and during the same 10 PM newscasts. I think one of the new ads is entitled “What I Believe.” It quickly lists the candidate’s positions on several on the most critical hot-button issues for Republican primary voters, including, for his second consecutive ad, his religious faith.

One of Lee’s other new TV spots has the seeming obligatory campaign message this GOP primary election cycle for why he supports and is like President Trump.

Interestingly (or maybe I just noticed it), Lee’s ads now identify him as a “Conservative Republican,” not just as a “Conservative” as the other GOP primary candidates have primarily done during this campaign cycle.


Not to be left behind, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean has begun airing a new TV ad about “The Forgotten Tennessee.” It is his campaign’s effort to speak to parts of the state, largely rural areas, that feel left behind.

Even though he’s former big-city Mayor, Dean says he understands the issue from his own upbringing.

I am also noticing in Dean’s recent ads, a slightly revised campaign logo, for whatever that’s worth.


Former governor and Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, Phil Bredesen, has tried to make it clear.

He is not running his campaign to be opposed to President Donald Trump.

He says if he likes something Mr. Trump is doing, and it thinks will help Tennessee, he will support him.

If he doesn’t like it and thinks what the President wants to do will hurt Tennessee, he will oppose it.

And so it is with the latest Bredesen TV ad. It spells out where he stands on the President’s North Korea peace efforts versus the new tariffs placed by the Administration on numerous goods involving both our allies such as France and Canada and rival nations such as China.

The Bredesen campaign goes into a bit more detail with this :60 digital ad.

Of course, Bredesen’s opponents aren’t buying it. The Republican National Senatorial Committee issued a statement trying to equate Bredesen’s latest comments to his opposition to the President’s tax cuts last year.

“Phil Bredesen’s vehement opposition to the tax cuts contradicts his phony claim that he’d do anything other than resist President Trump and his agenda in Congress,” NRSC Spokesman Michael McAdams said in the statement. “Tennessee voters deserve better than someone who will be a total tool for Chuck Schumer and out-of-touch Washington Democrats.”

So far, Republican Senate candidate Congressman Marsha Blackburn has not aired any TV commercials and apparently will not be placing any on the air until next month. It is being reported on the tariffs issue that she has sent a letter to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to reconsider the tariffs.

Meanwhile this past week, Bredesen continues to receive indirect support from Bob Corker, the current Republican Senator whose seat is up for grabs in November. The junior Senator continues to be not only

one of the President’s sharpest critics on the tariff controversy but on also the migrant family separation controversy. That’s another policy area that Bredesen does not like what he sees or hears from the Trump administration or from Washington in general. Tom Humphrey has the details about what Corker is saying.


It may take an act of Congress (something which seems to be very hard to do these days).

While the Trump administration is renewing calls to sell the transmission lines of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Senate candidate Phil Bredesen sees a new role for the federal agency. That would be to “Bridge the Digital Divide” in Tennessee and act as a model nationwide to address this issue.

In remarks the candidate made this week to the Kiwanis Club in Montgomery County, Bredesen said:

“In today’s world, broadband internet is fast becoming just as important as roads or telephones.

Almost ten percent of the population in Tennessee does not have access to broadband internet. Although Clarksville is poised to be a tech hub and job generator, surrounding counties still languish when it comes to broadband internet access. Next door in Houston County and nearby Humphreys County more than half of the population does not have access to broadband internet.

Broadband internet access is a creator of economic opportunity. When any business is looking to invest in communities, they look at the infrastructure including internet access. We need to make sure our rural counties are not left behind when it comes to new companies coming in and investing in new jobs. Access to broadband creates jobs and keeps people living in their communities.

It’s time to add fast, robust broadband service to that list of fundamental utilities that power communities across our state.

We must empower TVA to echo once again what it did at its inception--this time with broadband internet.

This could be accomplished legislatively by amending the TVA Act. TVA is uniquely positioned to continue its original mission to “serve the people of the Tennessee Valley to help the region thrive and grow.”

I want our country to get back to the days when it did bold projects and not just fool around the edges with grants, tax credits, and demonstration projects.

Two recent actions in Tennessee lays the foundation for TVA to reach this objective: First, TVA recently approved a $300 million strategic fiber initiative that will expand TVA’s fiber capacity and improve the reliability and resiliency of the transmission system. Second, the Tennessee General Assembly passed legislation giving electric cooperatives the authority to offer broadband service.

Broadband has become a basic component of infrastructure for improving economic growth, job creation, and competitiveness. Over the past century, the federal government has ensured that

telephone and electric power are available everywhere, and not just in the densest, most profitable areas.

It is in our national interest to provide essential services wherever our citizens live.

We have the opportunity to have our state lead the charge in bridging this digital divide and ensure that all of our communities-- whether rural, urban, or suburban-- have equal access to the infrastructure necessary to get ahead.”

Leaving aside the wisdom or lack thereof of the Bredesen proposal, what’s the politics?

Well, it gives candidate Bredesen something new and positive to talk about, not just about something he did as mayor of Nashville or Governor of Tennessee some years ago. The proposal also gives Bredesen something positive to talk about in opposing President Trump on an issue important to Tennesseans, not just saying no, no, no to ending TVA.

That could also be true for current statewide Republican elected officials (Governor Haslam, Senators Corker and Alexander) who also have spoken out against selling TVA. They would have a new positive reason and purpose to keep TVA.

And where does that leave Bredesen’s GOP opponent, Congressman Marsha Blackburn on this issue?

Well broadband is an issue she has been quite active while in Washington. But she sees how to address the digital divide issue differently from Bredesen. She told THE TENNESSEAN:

“We are going to put this emphasis on getting broadband into these unserved rural areas because you’re not going to have economic development or 21st-century health care or expanded education opportunities or workforce and jobs retraining without it,” Blackburn said in January.

“Broadband as a utility is a big government solution that will raise taxes," Blackburn said in a statement Tuesday. "Instead, we should be focusing on implementing Governor Haslam’s broadband bill, which will facilitate broadband expansion by putting forth initiatives such as allowing existing electric co-ops to form public private partnerships. TVA should stay focused on its core mission, which has served Tennesseans well for decades.”

This week Blackburn did find some political leverage to attack Bredesen out of the U.S. Supreme Court decision (5-4) upholding the constitutionality of President Trump’s revised travel ban as reported by THE TENNESSEE STAR.

THE TENNESSEE STAR online also has a very interesting article regarding a poll of likely GOP voters in Williamson County, which historically has been among the strongest Republican areas of the state. The poll was done by Triton Polling. It also has one focused on Maury County. I can’t vouch for the viability of these surveys, but the numbers given in Williamson County for the GOP Governor’s race are good news for Bill Lee and not so good for Diane Black. As for the U.S. Senate race, THE STAR poll numbers are potentially more less than good news for Marsha Blackburn.


Capping off a very busy week for his campaign, Democratic U. S. Senate candidate Phil Bredesen had to move quickly to respond and stake out his position on the breaking news late Wednesday that long time Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, the key deciding vote on many major decisions over the years, is retiring.

You can sure the GOP Senate candidate, Marsha Blackburn will try use the news to fire up the Republican base to vote for her to insure President Trump’s nominee (whoever that will be) is confirmed and that the now narrow conservative majority on the Court (as reflected in several recent decisions this term) is preserved. Reports the TENNESSEE STAR: “Blackburn called the confirmation of Supreme Court justices “one of the Senate’s most important responsibilities. As Tennessee’s next Senator, I will vote to confirm constitutional justices, who will follow the rule of law and do not legislate from the bench. It’s absolutely critical to confirm justices who understand the importance of upholding the Constitution, including the right to life.”

She will likely also tell voters that voting for Bredesen is placing in the Senate an obstructionist Democrat who will be “a tool” of national Democratic leaders to stop the President’s Court nominee.

So, what will Bredesen say? He was quick to issue this video on Twitter and Facebook.

It is possible that neither Blackburn nor Bredesen will vote on the President’s nominee if the Senate acts this fall on the Court nomination before this Senate leaves office early next year. But, given the highly partisan and closely divided current Senate, it wouldn’t take much to push this confirmation issue into next year and to the new Senate.

So regardless, the Kennedy resignation clearly makes the Supreme Court an even bigger, more pressing issue in the Tennessee Senate race than expected. With President Trump remaining a very popular figure in Tennessee, that makes this Court nomination a real acid test for Bredesen as he continues to maintain he is not running to oppose the President to just oppose Mr. Trump and his policies.


The U.S. Supreme Court always generates lots of news (and usually controversy) when its issues its final decisions and ends its term each June.

That was true this year, although the announcement of the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy this week tops it all.

We’ve asked Vanderbilt Professor of Law Brian Fitzpatrick to join us on INSIDE POLITICS to assess the historical importance of the 30-years Anthony Kennedy served on the nation’s Highest Court, what his continuing legacy will be and his thoughts on the likely politically bruising fight that lies ahead to confirm Kennedy’s successor.

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 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.


Ever since he took office on an acting basis back in March, Mayor David Briley has indicated he wanted to bring in his own top aides and create his own office structure for the new administration.

This week, with the Briley elected last month by 55% of the voters to serve out the rest of his predecessor’s term (until August 2019), and a difficult budget and property tax fight also now resolved, the Mayor acted.

Two long serving Metro officials, Chief Operating Officer Rich Riebeling and Chief of Staff Debby Dale Mason, will be leaving the Mayor’s office in the next few months with Emily Passini, Briley’s campaign manager, political strategist and confidant, becoming Chief of Staff. She will be, according to the news release from the Mayor’s office, “the senior official in the administration.” The release adds Passini will “organize the policy priorities of the office, manage staff and work with department heads to drive the Mayor’s agenda.”

The staff change appears to be completely cordial. Said Mayor Briley: “Both Rich and Debby have given the city many years of dedicated service. We owe them our deep appreciation.”

“Rich’s work in particular has been recognized nationally. He has helped to facilitate unprecedented economic opportunity, investment and development as Nashville has become one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities. In that work, he has been instrumental in improvements across Metro Nashville, in our schools, parks, libraries, neighborhoods, public safety and infrastructure. I am grateful for all that Rich and Debby have done for Nashville,” said Mayor Briley.

As for Passini, the Mayor strongly believes she is the right person to join the office; “Emily is an incredible talent,” Briley said. “She has keen knowledge of and strong relationships with Metro Government and Metro Council members, and she’s familiar with my policy priorities. I am confident that her sharp organizational skills and strategic focus will drive progress and results for the city.”

Rich Riebeling has been the most important person in the Mayor’s office (not called Mayor) for the past decade. He served eight years (two four- year terms) as Finance Director for Mayor Karl Dean before assuming the new (and even more powerful post) as COO under Mayor Megan Barry. And Riebeling’s work in Metro dates back even further, being Press Secretary for Mayor Richard Fulton and a key member of Fulton’s kitchen cabinet in the 1970s and 80s.

Mason served under three mayors as well, being in Mayor Bill Boner’s office in the late 1980s before returning to the Courthouse under Mayors Barry and Briley.

Their dates for departure and their future professional plans remain unannounced.

Nobody stays in a public office as long as Riebeling and Mason have without getting into some controversies. That includes one of those that surrounded the Barry investigation that led to her resignation. Beyond media headlines their involvement did not seem to figure in the Barry probe.

In the city’s policy areas, The NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL noted other achievements and controversies: “Riebeling and his role as a top Metro dealmaker has often been a lightning rod for debate and controversy. He has helped shepherd several of Metro's biggest deals and projects, including Music City Center, First Tennessee Park and the city's planned $250 million Major League Soccer stadium.”

The Mason and Riebeling departures are the most significant, but not the first since Mayor Barry left and Mayor Briley took over. THE TENNESSEAN points out: “Multiple staff members, including former Press Secretary Sean Braisted and senior advisor Claudia Huskey, Barry's former campaign manager, have either left the mayor's office since Barry's resignation, or have announced their departures.

Others are: Morgan Mansa, director of the Barnes Fund for Affordable Housing; Justine Avila, director of the Music City Council; Laura Moore, senior advisor on education; Erik Cole, chief resilience officer; John Murphy, senior advisor of economic inclusion; Chris Haas, new media manager.”

There will likely be many headlines and conversations that this is “a courthouse shakeup” and in several ways it is. It is even historic change.

But this is something one everyone should have seen coming weeks in advance, not the usual unexpected bombshell development that often goes along with this kind of major change.

Yes, Mayor Briley is bringing in his own team and office structure, as all mayors have done. It just happened a little differently and on an elongated timetable, given the unique circumstances under which he took office.

That’s just the kind of strange, rather different and often difficult political year it’s been in Nashville.


I turned six yesterday (Thursday, June 28).

That’s how long it’s been since I suffered a serious stroke that put me in the hospital for three weeks, and then in rehab for over two months, before I began a return to regular life.

Through the Grace of God, surviving a stroke has given me six more years to work, enjoy life and cherish my friends and my family, which now includes four wonderful grandchildren.

But none of that likely would be happening if two members of then Mayor Karl Dean’s staff, Tam Gordon and Janie Conyers had not insisted, then persisted that we call 9-1-1 to get me immediate help that day six years ago. I was attending an event at the mayor’s office but didn’t recognize the seriousness of the situation. Now I just thank God those two ladies were there.

In the last year, I have had other medical challenges to overcome. But so far, so good, I am much better.

As the Irish say, I have been spared for yet another year. Thanks to my wife, my children, my sisters and brother, all my friends and co-workers for continuing to put up with me, pray for me, and act as an inspiration to help me keep on keeping on. Life is indeed a journey, and I don’t intend for mine to come to an end anytime soon.