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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 30, 2018

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Posted at 1:59 PM, Mar 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-30 14:59:40-04

CAPITOL VIEW

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

March 30, 2018

ERICA GILMORE TO RUN FOR MAYOR; ANOTHER RADIO AD ATTACK ON DIANE BLACK; BLACK ENDORSES BLACKBURN; NEW TV AD FOR BOYD; NO TAX 4 TRACKS ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE DEBATE GOES TO THE NEXT LEVEL; MOVING THE MLS SOCCER STADIUM; THE SCHOOL SAFETY ISSUE REMAINS ACTIVE ON THE HILL; IMPROPER SEXUAL ALLEGATIONS COME UP AGAIN; AS THE LEGISLATIVE CLOCK CONTINUES TO CLICK DOWN;

ERICA GILMORE TO RUN FOR MAYOR

Whenever the State Supreme Court decides the special election will be held, Metro Councilwoman At Large Erica Gilmore is running to be Nashville’s Mayor. If elected, Gilmore would be the first African American to hold the post. She would serve out the remaining year left in the term of former Mayor Megan Barry. Barry resigned earlier this month after pleading guilty to felony theft charges arising out of a nearly two-year long, extra marital affair she had with her chief of security.

Here is Gilmore’s campaign website, including her announcement statement.

Gilmore represents the first potentially major opponent to take on current Mayor David Briley who has previously announced he is running. Briley took over as Mayor after serving as Vice Mayor before Barry’s resignation. While Gilmore finished among the top vote getters in the At-Large race in 2015, that is a race where a voter can cast up to 5 ballots. It has always been difficult to assess the true political strength of an At- Large councilmember when they seek to run in a single vote contest. There will also be questions about Gilmore’s ability to raise the money needed to be a viable countywide candidate for the city’s top post. She says she is confident she can raise the funds she’ll need.

As she enters the race Gilmore has highlighted her key issues and why she is running now, not waiting until 2019. That includes bringing down the city’s rising homicide rate: She told THE TENNESSEAN:

"I have a track record of getting results,” said Gilmore, who served two terms as the District 19 council member prior to being elected to a countywide at-large seat in 2015. “I know I have the right message that will appeal to voters from all walks of life, in every zip code of our great city."

“What we need more than continuity, is a mayor with a strong mandate from the voters," she said. “We have runaway economic inequality in Nashville right now. We’ve successfully built a thriving and prosperous ‘New Nashville.’ But far too many hard-working families aren’t sharing in the fruits of our city’s success.”

Mayor Briley would seem to remain the clear favorite in the mayoral contest especially given his strong support from the business community. Two other potentially strong mayoral candidates, businessman Bill Freeman and Sheriff Daron Hall have both declined to run and are supporting Briley in the special election. Another At-Large council member John Cooper also says he will not run and businessman

David Fox, who finished second in the 2015 mayor’s race says he is not running either. Fox says he will support community activist jeff obafemi carr. Carr has pulled the necessary papers to run but has not qualified. Former Metro councilman and current Nashville NAACP President has also pulled qualifying petitions to run. Wallace is a plaintiff in the pending lawsuit on when the special election will be held. He says the Metro Charter requires it be held in May.

If the mayoral election is held in August, Erica Gilmore will be on the ballot with her mother, State Representative Brenda Gilmore, who is running for the State Senate. One other matter to keep in mind, Metro elections require the winner to receive a 50% plus one vote majority. If others significant candidates now follow Gilmore’s lead and enter the special mayoral contest, might it force an additional runoff election (between the top two vote-getters) to decide the matter?

ANOTHER RADIO AD ATTACK ON DIANE BLACK

There is a second radio attack ad against Republican gubernatorial candidate and Congressman “Dishonest Diane Black.” The spot is now airing on some radio stations across the state. It is funded by a PAC called Tennessee Jobs Now. The group’s seeming sole contributor is Clinton, TN businessman Joe Hollingsworth.

You can learn more about the ad and hear and read its script here.

Tom Humphrey offers this additional background into the history of the legislation involved:

“House Speaker Beth Harwell, who is also running for Governor, was among the House members who voted for the same bill to give drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants in 2001. Harwell, however, is not mentioned in the SuperPAC ad. After 9-11, when some of the terrorists used drivers’ licenses issued in other states to board planes that they “weaponized” to murder over 3,000 people at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Tennessee quickly stopped issuing the drivers’ licenses.

Black has recently been an outspoken opponent to legislation pending in the state legislature that would provide for in-state tuition discounts for illegal immigrants.”

I would guess Congressman Black is not pleased to be the subject of another attack ad. But I am sure her campaign advisors are reminding her that the only candidates being attacked in political ads are ones their opponents think are ahead of them or close enough to beat them.

BLACK ENDORSES BLACKBURN

Congressman Black made an endorsement of her own this week, coming out in support of fellow Tennessee congressional delegation member, Marsha Blackburn who is seeking to replace Senator Bob Corker who is retiring.

Black says in supporting Blackburn: “I’ve served alongside Marsha in the state legislature and in Congress and have always known her to be a fighter and a passionate champion for conservative causes and I support her 100 percent.” Black said the Brentwood lawmaker would help protect Republicans'

Senate majority, support President Donald Trump's agenda and ensure conservative justices serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

"It’s time for Republicans in Tennessee to unite and stand with conservative Marsha Blackburn against liberal Phil Bredesen," she said.

Black even encouraged her three GOP gubernatorial opponents (Businessmen Randy Boyd, Bill Lee and House Speaker Beth Harwell) to join her in endorsing Blackburn.

Maybe another question to ask is who will Blackburn endorse in the four-way GOP August gubernatorial primary battle?

So far none of the Republican gubernatorial candidates have followed Black’s lead to endorse Blackburn. In fact, one of them Randy Boyd all but said no in a radio interview in Jackson as reported in THE TENNESSEE STAR:

“I’m not really thinking too much about what Diane Black is or isn’t doing,” Boyd said. “I think Marsha’s been a great Congresslady and I think she’ll be a great Senator. But I’ve got my own race to run so I’m not running around endorsing candidates in primaries.”

Boyd pointed out that “she has a primary opponent right there in Jackson and I don’t think it’s really necessary for me to get involved in endorsing people in primaries anywhere.”

NEW TV AD FOR BOYD

Businessman Randy Boyd is up (as of Thursday) with another new TV spot.

This one is entitled “K to J” (kindergarten to jobs).

Says the candidate in a news release: “We must bring back technical education to our schools and teach job-ready skills so every Tennessean has the opportunity to get the skills they need to get a great job.”

You can see the ad here.

The ad doesn’t say it. The campaign news release does. Boyd is one of the major architects of Governor Bill Haslam’s Drive to 55 education and workforce development initiative. Boyd also helped create Governor Haslam’s other education legacy programs the Tennessee Promise and Tennessee Reconnect scholarship programs.

So why not mention that in the ad? Well the spot is only 30 seconds long, and you can only include so much information. Frankly, I sense the candidate’s delivery of the ad script seems to be (at times) to be more read than spoken, and the delivery seems a little rushed too. As for not mentioning Governor Haslam himself, the Governor is not popular in some elements of the Tennessee Republican Party and this ad is aimed at GOP primary voters.

Finally, in case you haven’t noticed, it doesn’t seem any of the GOP statewide candidates, for both Governor and U.S. Senate, identify themselves in their ads this year as Republicans. They’re “conservatives.”

NO TAX 4 TRACKS ON INSIDE POLITICS

This week on INSIDE POLITICS we focus on the transit referendum set for the May 1st ballot.

The major group opposing the proposal is called No Tax 4 Tracks. Its spokesman is Jeff Eller and he is our guest on the program.

The No Tax group says the transit plan should be rejected because it costs too much ($9 billion) to build and operate. It would give Nashville one of the highest sales tax rates in the nation along with other taxes being raised on car rentals, hotel rooms and businesses. The group also says the plan uses outmoded technology such as light rail at a time when ridership of such systems is declining across the nation. The No Tax group says more modern ride sharing technology would be more effective at dealing with the city’s traffic.

Early voting begins on this issue in less than 2 weeks on Wednesday, April 11.

The plan proposed and pushed by city leaders, including current Mayor David Briley and former Mayor Megan Barry, would fund significant improvements to Nashville’s existing bus system plus build several light rail lines along some major thoroughfares. There would also be a transit tunnel to connect the system downtown.

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.

THE DEBATE GOES TO THE NEXT LEVEL

As the time to vote draws closer, I see an increasing number of forums being held to explain and debate the transit plan. More endorsements are forthcoming with several local labor unions stepping up to endorse the plan. Reports in the media say these labor organizations represent up to 11,000 members, which would be a significant block of votes if they show up at the polls.

Meanwhile the pro-transit supporters are debuting a new TV ad, featuring members of the Nashville Predators organization. The Preds’ team ownership has endorsed the transit plan and given the NHL’s team outstanding, team-record regular-season, and its expected deep run again in the soon-to-commence Stanley Cup Playoffs, transit leaders clearly hope to play off the team’s growing fan base and turn them into voters for transit, too.

Voter turnout will be a question. Usually, May elections are just party primaries and voter participation has been in 50,000 to 60,000 range, with some blips where the turnout was in the 80 to 90,000 range once or twice.

There are some judicial posts on the May 1st ballot so that may boost turnout a little. Clearly the transit issue will be the biggest driver for voters on May 1. What does history tell us about the vote on referendums in May? For the May 7, 1996 vote on our NFL stadium, 125,913 turned out to cast ballots. That’s much higher than any of the other local May elections I checked but no where close to the much higher turnout we get in this county every November presidential election. In 2016, that voter turnout was 252, 926 out of 408,000 registered.

With this transit vote, is Nashville making a major step forward for our future or making a big mistake? What can the experience of other cities tell us? THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL is embarking on some stories in that vein. It begins with Seattle where the Nashville Are Chamber of Commerce took a delegation of city leaders earlier this month.

Here’s another NBJ article with transit comparisons to Nashville’s peer (rival) cities.

One other interesting development about the transit fight. THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL reported this about the comments of former Nashville Mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean:

“Democratic gubernatorial candidate Karl Dean told a business group this week that while he believes the state should do more to encourage transit solutions, he didn’t want to say whether he supports a $5.4 billion plan that goes before Nashville voters on May 1. Asked about the proposal after a speech to the Economic Club of Nashville on Tuesday, Dean demurred. “It’s not my issue,” he said to laughter from the audience.”

MOVING THE MLS SOCCER STADIUM

I told you last week that the fight over Nashville’s pro soccer stadium is not over.

After the Metro Council soundly rejected a move to rescind the bond funding to locate the MLS stadium at the Fairgrounds, there is now legislation filed to move the facility to Metro Center or any other appropriate area where Metro owns sufficient property. At least one of the main sponsors of the new legislation (Steve Glover) was also the main force behind the previous effort to revoke the stadium’s funding.

Another issue pushing the effort to move the stadium to Metro Center is that the developers would no longer have access to 10 acres of additional Fairgrounds property not originally part of the stadium footprint. That change was made late to the proposal approved by the Council and that clearly still sticks in the craw of some council members.

“It (his legislation) tells people of Nashville, we are fully committed to soccer,” Glover told WTVF-TV (Ch. 5). “What we are not fully committed to is giving away free land to billionaires.”

Are there enough Council members (21 votes) to move the Stadium? Is that even permissible under the city’s current agreement with the team and the developers? I have my doubts. In fact, the MLS team owners and developers have sent a letter to the Council and Mayor Briley sternly warning that if the new stadium site legislation is approved, it is bye-bye MLS franchise for Nashville.

There is however other legislation still required to pass the Council to make the MLS Stadium a reality at the Fairgrounds (including a bill to allow demolition of some outdated buildings that require a 2/3 vote). So look for this issue to stay a hot one.

THE SCHOOL SAFETY ISSUE REMAINS ACTIVE ON THE HILL

Last week Governor Bill Haslam recommended an extra $30 million be placed in next year’s state budget to deal with the issue of school safety.

Now having received the recommendations of a statewide panel he appointed to study the issue, the Governor has now sent these suggestions for how the $30 million ought to be allocated:

1. A first-ever review and risk assessment of all school facilities statewide to identify vulnerabilities;

2. An increase in available resources to help secure school resource officers (SROs); and

3. A statewide technology application for anonymous reporting of security threats.

But that’s only part of the discussion about school safety as lawmakers continue to push towards their final days of session. Legislation to train and arm volunteer classroom teachers is also still alive for possible passage. And since this is not necessarily an either-or choice, it is perhaps possible that both efforts will be enacted into law.

Meantime last weekend, there were thousands of Tennesseans who participated in the student-led, worldwide March For Our Lives demanding for more gun control legislation. Nationally and worldwide over a 1 million marched, one of the largest such events ever.

IMPROPER SEXUAL ALLEGATIONS COME UP AGAIN

Once again charges of sexual misconduct have arisen on Nashville’s Capitol Hill.

This time they involve Republican Representative David Byrd of Waynesboro He is accused by former members of the girls’ basketball team he coached. They say he tried to take sexual advantage of them almost 3 decades ago.

While this occurred well before he was elected to public office, House Speaker Beth Harwell has urged Byrd to resign. Lt. Governor Randy McNally has joined the chorus. Byrd says he will fight the allegations, although he did express sorrow for his actions during a taped conversation with one of the women involved. While the tape has just surfaced, Byrd did not specify exactly what actions he regrets.

He does indicate he will not resign. It also appears Byrd is poised to run unopposed for re-election with the qualifying deadline set for next week on April 5.

Byrd issued a statement on Wednesday that also questions “the motives of his accusers.”

Since 2016, two other state lawmakers have resigned (Mark Lovell) or been ousted (Jeremy Durham) over sexual misconduct charges.

AS THE LEGISLATIVE CLOCK CONTINUES TO CLICK DOWN

With lawmakers seeing the end of session likely just a few weeks away, significant action was taken these past few days on several pieces of high profile legislation.

The State House approved one of Governor Haslam’s top legislative priorities, the downsizing and reorganization of the University of Tennessee’s governance system. The Governor believes the UT Board has become too large and wants to bring it into line with the smaller boards approved two years ago for the Regent colleges and universities. But the lengthy floor debate and final vote (51-41, meaning approval was with just 2 votes to spare) indicates there is some significant opposition about these changes which could come back into play if the House and Senate can’t reconcile the tweaks each chamber made to the plan.

Another high profile bill managed to survive another week. The Cannabis Oil Only (medical marijuana) bill passed 9-2 in a House committee, the second committee approval its received this yea. It marks the greatest amount of progress this proposal has ever made in the General Assembly.

The latest committee vote is also a sign that the sponsor’s effort payed off to significantly pare down and streamline both the administration of this cannabis oil only program as well the diseases allowed to be treated in this manner. But final approval of the bill remains quite iffy. There are more committees and a full floor vote to pass in the House, and the Senate hasn’t begun any consideration of the measure yet.

Once again efforts to allow DACA/ DREAMER students to pay in-state college tuition in Tennessee died in a Senate committee. The DACA issue has become part of the partisan gridiron in Washington and that likely played some role in its demise here. The defeat also comes just a few years after the in-state tuition measure missed final legislative approval in the state House by one vote. Some supporters of the measure were not present that day and so the bill fell short and has not been able to get that close to approval since.

Finally, the effort to place further restrictions on teen marriage in Tennessee moved ahead by the process of subtraction, then substitution. First, Republicans in a Senate committee killed the measure pushed by Democrats substituting in its place a bill with exceptions to a teen marriage ban more to their liking.

Look for final adjournment by the middle of April.