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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 2, 2018

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Posted at 3:19 PM, Feb 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-02 18:07:33-05

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners company
March 2, 2018

AN UP AND DOWN WEEK AS MAYOR BARRY CONTINUES TO HANG ON; CORKER SAYS HE IS OUT AGAIN; AP STORY ON RIDE SHARING; MORE TV AND A CRUCIAL VOTE; INSIDE POLITICS; NEXT WEEK

AN UP AND DOWN WEEK AS MAYOR BARRY CONTINUES TO HANG ON
Now entering her fifth week of trying to weather a scandal over her admitted two-year long extra marital affair with her security chief, Mayor Megan Barry had an up and down last seven days. That followed some potentially serious charges that surfaced last week as a result of an ongoing criminal investigation by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI), as well as a story by NEWSCHANNEL5 regarding trips the pair took to a graveyard. 

On Wednesday of this week, Mayor Barry lost the support of a major ally in the media when THE TENNESSEAN issued an editorial calling for her to resign. The paper endorsed Barry in a crowded 7-person field for mayor in 2015 and the publication had continued to be supportive of her efforts. But it says now she should go…

Tennessean: Megan Barry Must Resign

In reaction, the Mayor continues to say she is not resigning. “I was elected to serve as Mayor by the voters of Davidson County, and I will continue to do so," she said in a statement to the Scene. "The Tennessean is welcome to their opinion.”

Maybe it’s a sign of changing times in the media business, but the call for the Mayor’s resignation first appeared on line on THE TENNESSEAN’s web site Wednesday morning, then in the next day’s (Thursday) print edition. I can remember times when an editorial of this importance would shake the very foundations of the city’s politics. So far, not so much.

THE TENNESSEAN’s call for Barry to leave has now been echoed by one other element of the city’s print media.  On Thursday (March 1), the African American weekly paper, THE TENNESSEE TRIBUNE also issued an editorial calling for Mayor Barry to step down. The editorial seems to reflect issues that go beyond this recent scandal.

Tennessee Tribute Editorial: Mayor Barry Must Resign

So far no other part of the city’s media has taken a position.  Nor have any elected officials or local business leaders spoken out.  In fact, a recent poll conducted by Vanderbilt University found the embattled Mayor with a job approval rating still above 60%. Now that’s down 11 points from her over-70% approval numbers found in a similar poll last year.

The most recent Vanderbilt survey was conducted before the TBI revelations came out last week. But even if the Mayor’s numbers took another 11-point hit (which would be unlikely all by itself) support levels for her in the 50s would still be considered a positive for almost all elected officials.

The investigations are not over and here are a couple of other related new stories that came out this week:

Meanwhile the official investigations (now totaling four in all) are underway (including the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office).  The TBI investigation this week has been quiet publicly.  The Metro Council’s Special Committee held its second meeting Thursday and reviewed recommendations from Vice Mayor David Briley on what law firm the group ought to retain (subject to approval of the full Council) to help conduct the investigation. The focus of the Council probe is to see if the mayoral affair in any way involved the misuse of taxpayer dollars. The Mayor insists it did not.

The Vice Mayor recommended two Memphis law firms to be chosen. The choice by the Special Committee seemed to be driven, in part, by which firm had the least connections to Nashville (no local office). Nashville Public Radio has more at the link below.

Metro Council Seeks A Memphis Law Firm To Investigate The Mayor

The fourth investigatory group, the Council’s Ethical Standards Board got the green light from outside legal counsel to proceed on an ethics complaint filed against the Mayor, while a council member says he is filing legislation to broaden the group’s authority.

Metro Councilman Steve Glover to Introduce Legislation to Plug Hole on Ethics Accountability

There is also a recall effort getting underway to remove Mayor Barry. Organizers admit it’s a long shot to get 10% of registered voters or more than 60,000 folks to sign a petition to force such an election. But the effort is moving ahead. 

Group Pledges Recall Petition If Mayor Barry Doesn't Step Down

 

CORKER SAYS HE IS OUT AGAIN
For the second time in recent months, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker says he plans to retire and not seek a third term in Washington.

For the past couple of weeks, the junior Senator admits he has been “listening” to supporters and other Republican leaders in Washington who have been urging him to change his mind and seek re-election. 
They expressed concern the likely Republican nominee to replace Corker, Congressman Marsha Blackburn was not strong enough to hold the seat against the Democratic candidate, former Governor Phil Bredesen. That sent Blackburn into overdrive, with her campaign declaring those who doubted her vote getting ability were “just plain sexist pigs” and no one should listen to “those ego-driven old men” in Washington.  Piling up favorable polls and numerous endorsements Blackburn tried to show she was plenty strong in terms of GOP support and in the race for good.

Still two weeks ago it looked as if Corker would jump in the Senate race especially after Blackburn’s strongest primary opponent, former Congressman Stephen Fincher announced he was dropping out and endorsing Corker.

But then Corker went silent, indicating he still was unsure. When the final announcement was made last Tuesday, it came not from the Senator himself but his top aide, Todd Womack who told the USA TODAY NETWORK- Tennessee….

“Over the past several months, Senator Corker has been encouraged by people across Tennessee and in the Senate to reconsider his decision not to seek re-election," Womack said. "Based on the outpouring of support, we spent the last few days doing our due diligence and a clear path for re-election was laid out.”

"However, at the end of the day, the senator believes he made the right decision in September and will be leaving the Senate when his term expires at the end of 2018. When he ran for the Senate in 2006, he told Tennesseans that he couldn’t imagine serving for more than two terms because he has always been drawn to the citizen legislator model and believes public service should be missional. This has been the greatest privilege of his life and he is forever grateful to the people of the Volunteer State for the opportunity to serve our state and country.”

Translated? While Corker had a shot to hold the seat in November against the Democrats, he likely could not win the much more conservative Republican primary against Blackburn in August. One thing hurting Corker was his at times very intense public feud with President Donald Trump last year. While the two seem to be getting along now, it is highly unlikely Trump would support or endorse Corker over Blackburn who has been one of the President’s most loyal supporters in the state. 

And so, what some consider a “dream political matchup” between Blackburn and Bredesen seems assured…and the political fireworks could likely start right away and not wait for the fall.

Already a new political PAC, Smokey Mountain Values, has surfaced. It appears aimed towards going after Blackburn with a web site, Facebook page and Twitter account.  The group behind the new PAC remains unclear although its organizers admit some of its supporters used to live in Tennessee but now are outside Tennessee.

“Whether it was Al Gore, Phil Bredesen, Bill Haslam, or Lamar Alexander, Tennessee has a long history of electing moderate problem solvers to public office. We’ve been shocked to see today’s Tennessee Republican Party shred that proud tradition by inching closer and closer to nominating someone as extreme as Marsha Blackburn as their candidate for the U.S. Senate.” says Kyle Tharp, a co-founder of Smoky Mountain Values PAC.

“A few of us don’t live in Tennessee anymore, but as folks who have lived nearly all of our lives in the state, we felt the need to start this effort because we know Marsha Blackburn doesn’t share our Tennessee values. For example, while Marsha’s been in Washington, she’s made it easier for billion-dollar international drug corporations to trap our families and communities into a growing opioid crisis. She’s done absolutely nothing to protect our children from the growing threat of school shootings.”

“…She’s fought tooth and nail against anything getting done in Congress to fix healthcare, or immigration, or education, or infrastructure, or jobs. And although she’s a been a member of Paul Ryan’s leadership team for years, she tries to act like she’s some DC outsider. In fact, Marsha Blackburn is exactly what’s wrong with Washington.”

PAC officials say in the coming months, Smoky Mountain Values will work to run original campaigns to highlight Marsha Blackburn’s out-of-touch policy track record in various outlets. Smoky Mountain Values PAC is not affiliated with any candidate or candidate’s committee.
Despite the PAC’s sharp criticism, in the wake of Corker’s decision, Blackburn was quick to reach out and smooth over any ruffled feathers…

Reports THE TENNESSEAN:

“Blackburn thanked Corker "for his dedicated service on behalf of Tennessee families."

"Now, we can unify the Republican party and focus on defeating Democrat Phil Bredesen in November," she said in a statement. "As we continue to take our campaign to every corner of the state, I'm looking forward to listening to Tennesseans families and sharing my ideas on how we can get the United States Senate back to work and pass President Trump’s agenda."

Tennessee’s senior Senator Lamar Alexander (two years away from his next eklection0 also seemed to reach out in a positive fashion to both Corker and Blackburn. Again, from THE TENNESSEAN:

“Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., said he was disappointed by Corker’s decision not to run again.

“Bob Corker is a terrific United States senator and a good friend,” Alexander said. “I was disappointed in his decision not to run for reelection but respect that decision. I invited Marsha Blackburn to breakfast this morning. We had a good discussion about a variety of issues that we both care about and how we might work together to make the Senate a more effective institution.”

But according to CNN, Senator Corker was not yet ready to join forces with Blackburn…

“While he was boarding an elevator to attend the Senate GOP lunch Tuesday, a reporter from NBC asked twice whether he'd endorse Blackburn. He looked forward and did not answer the question while the elevator doors closed.

Corker's office has not responded to a CNN inquiry to clarify whether he plans to endorse Blackburn.”
And, of course, the Democrats are continuing to seek to exploit this seeming rift among the GOP.

Reports THE TENNESSEAN:

“The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee said the fact that some Republicans wanted Corker back in the race shows that Blackburn is a weak candidate.

“Republicans raised concerns over Congresswoman Blackburn because they know she is out of touch with Tennessee," spokesman David Bergstein said. "Their public display of anxiety has not only underscored her vulnerabilities but revealed a point of agreement between Democrats and Republicans: Congresswoman Blackburn is not fit to represent Tennessee in the U.S. Senate.”

This Senate race looks as if it’s going to be a doozy!

AP STORY ON RIDE SHARING
Since the group, No Tax 4 Tracks first surfaced a few weeks ago as the leading voice opposing the city’s multi-billion-dollar transit plan (set to be on the May 1st ballot), it has strongly maintained that Nashville would be wiser to rely on ride sharing to solve the city’s traffic congestion. 

No Tax says that would be a more modern, cheaper way to go compared to what it says is the old technology of building a light rail system.

But a national story published this week by the Associated Press says several studies show ride sharing adds to congestion and does not decrease it…

Studies are increasingly clear: Uber and Lyft congest cities

This story has been picked up and run on line and in papers and other media all over the country this week. Will the city’s transit supporters pick it up and use it to discredit the No Tax 4 Tracks group as we draw ever closer to the May 1st referendum for Metro voters to decide what to about transit?

The anti-transit plan folks did get support this week from some downtown merchants who question the multi-billion $$ proposal. 

Downtown Nashville merchants raise concerns over multi-billion-dollar transit plan

 

MORE TV AND A CRUCIAL VOTE
In the governor’s race, GOP primary candidate and Congressman Diane Black has gone back on the air. She re-started after running an ad during the Super Bowl parroting the criticisms of President Donald Trump regarding the National Football League and its players for taking a knee during the National Anthem this fall.

In her new TV spot, President Trump remains out front praising Black for her work in Washington to pass the tax cut legislation. But then the candidate goes back to introducing herself, outlining her background and telling the real reason she says she is running…

Meanwhile another GOP gubernatorial candidate, House Speaker Beth Harwell, is extolling her first TV ad, even though it was produced and paid for by an outside group which is also her own re-named former PAC.

The spot has already solicited ethics complaints saying it violates the required separation required by law between campaigns and outside groups. Now the Harwell campaign has sent out an e-mail to supporters playing up the spot. See this story from Erik Schelzig of THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL…

Harwell cites PAC ad in campaign email

And then there is this story from Cari Wade Gervin of the NASHVILLE POST. It says the new blast e-mail could raise new ethical questions about Harwell and in-kind contributions.

The story also raises some interesting questions about how viable the Harwell campaign is, at least in the eyes of some of her opponents…

Harwell's campaign plugs PAC ad

As alluded to in the Gervin article, Speaker Harwell cast a deciding vote this week to gain sub-committee approval of the medical marijuana (cannabis oil only) bill.

The Speaker is a voting member of every House committee and she was present to move the measure along. She is also, by far, the most favorable GOP gubernatorial candidate on this issue. She has evolved on the issue especially after a family member found use of medical marijuana (using an oil, not a joint) to help her recover from an injury without going on opioids.

The approval of medical marijuana use has much more support among the public than it has so far among lawmakers. Is the issue one that could help Harwell move forward in the GOP primary because she is the lone supporter of such a bill? Or is it still too negative a topic to work in a conservative Republican primary?  

Regardless, it does appear more and more that the Harwell campaign needs to do something to show it is viable in this crowded four-candidate field.

 

INSIDE POLITICS
This week on INSIDE POLITICS we continue our discussions about the regulation of firearms in this country in the wake of the latest mass shooting at a South Florida high school that resulted in the deaths of 17 students.

Last week our guest was Beth Joslin Roth from the Safe Tennessee Project.
This week we welcome John Harris of the Tennessee Firearms Association.

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:
 7:00 p.m. Friday;
 5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday;
 1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday. 

THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2. 

One option for those who can’t see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com. Just use your TiVo or DVR, if those live times don't work for you.

This week’s show and previous INSIDE POLITICS interviews are also posted on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website for your viewing under the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS section. A link to the show is posted as well on the Facebook page of NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Each new show and link are posted the week after the program airs.

NEXT WEEK
There will be no Capitol View column next week.
It’s approaching spring and the crack of the bat draws me away.
Look for my next Capitol View on March 16.

There will be a fresh INSIDE POLITICS show airing the weekend of March 9-11.
My guest is author Stephen Strang. His new book is entitled GOD and DONALD TRUMP. 
I think you will find our conversation intriguing (although for some of you it might make your head hurt).
As an example, here’s one tease about our interview; The author maintains the election of Donald Trump to be President was “prophesied” by leaders of charismatic movement years ago. They say he was chosen by God to lead the nation through a time of crisis.

Watch us…and if you think you might need it…keep the aspirin nearby. 

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:
 7:00 p.m. Friday;
 5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday;
 1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday. 

THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2. 

One option for those who can’t see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com. Just use your TiVo or DVR, if those live times don't work for you.

This week’s show and previous INSIDE POLITICS interviews are also posted on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website for your viewing under the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS section. A link to the show is posted as well on the Facebook page of NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Each new show and link are posted the week after the program airs.