Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 18, 2018

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - CAPITOL VIEW

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

May 18, 2018

LESS THAN A WEEK TO GO; A PROPERTY TAX HIKE PROPOSED; THE POWER POLL; STILL RANKING HIGH; MORE GUBERNATORIAL TV ADS INCLUDING A DEMOCRAT FOR THE FIRST TIME; A LITTLE DIFFERENT BLACK TV AD; MORE ATTACK ADS ON BLACK; MORE ENDORSEMENTS; BILL LEE ON INSIDE POLITICS; IT JUST KEEPS GOING; THE LATEST VANDERBILT POLL; TUESDAY;

LESS THAN A WEEK TO GO

Nashville’s most unusual, if not downright bizarre mayoral election goes to the voters in less than a week (Thursday, May 24).

With the city’s long history of being considered a progressive bastion, a blue dot in the middle of what is now deep-red Tennessee, you’d think current Mayor David Briley would be a shoo in to win.

Considered a strong progressive in his own right, Briley took over the city’s leadership post when Megan Barry resigned in scandal back in March. With his reserved, understated style, he sought to bring normalcy back to the Courthouse after over a month of political chaos while Barry’s scandal unfolded. Briley now seeks to serve out the final year-plus of Barry’s term.

But things haven’t been normal in Nashville recently. An aggressive transit plan championed by Mayor Barry (and supported by Briley) was crushed at the polls by voters on May 1 (64% no—36% yes). Then faced with an unexpected tax revenue shortfall during a time of a booming economy, Mayor Briley proposed his first city budget.

To avoid a property tax hike, Briley had to cut out all but $5 million of a $40 million-plus request for more funds for Metro Schools. The proposed budget also cut out the second year of an already-approved 3- year, 3% cost of living pay raise for city workers.

Nashville has never had a contentious budget process in the middle of a mayor’s race. Now even supposedly settled controversies such a building a new MLS Soccer Stadium at the Fairgrounds (a Barry legacy project) has been kicked back to life. The Metro Council considered legislation on Tuesday (but deferred it) to move the new sports facility to Metro Center and reverse a decision to allow the soccer team’s owners to develop a mixed- use project on 10 acres next to the stadium. Mayor Briley and the MLS owners say such changes will cost Nashville its major league soccer franchise.

There are also moves in the Council to give that body more input into land swap efforts, a direct slap at the controversial move by the Briley administration to trade land across from the downtown library to allow a local developer to build 75-story high rise in return for Metro using a significant portion of the city’s homeless funds to build a downtown service center and some affordable apartments on property near the Courthouse.

And then there is this growing controversy regarding the Metro Legal department and how it is handling a lawsuit involving Metro Schools and an alleged sexual assault. It has Council members very upset. Read more here.

Even deciding when to hold this special mayoral election has been on a bizarre path. Metro lawyers said originally it should be in August with the next general election. But one of the 12 candidates on the ballot opposing Briley, former Councilman Ludye Wallace went to court insisting it must be a special election. And given the legal requirements of how soon the vacancy must be filled, the vote should be held in May.

The Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously agreed, setting the election on May 24, just a little over three weeks after the May 1 balloting on transit. That left little time to spare to conduct early voting. In fact, the first six days of that process were held only at the Election Commission with the other, more convenient satellite locations only opening in the last few days.

Heading into the final days, the Briley for Mayor campaign got an endorsement from the city’s NHL franchise, the Nashville Predators. A top team official and mascot Gnash sent out this video.

This is the second straight election that the Predators have made an endorsement. The team also supported the ill-fated transit plan. The move into politics is not sitting well with the TENNESSEE STAR website which prides itself as being “The Breibart of Tennessee.”

Mayor Briley also released his second (and likely final) TV ad of this time compacted campaign. It’s more of a refresh message of moving Nashville forward together and “getting back to basics.” It also references, in one of the ad’s talking points, holding the line on “new taxes”, a seeming reference to his budget that does not raise property taxes.

The quick election turnaround and the lack of multiple early voting sites has likely added to confusion and what some are calling “voter fatigue.” There are also reports of a lack of confidence in city’s government given the Barry scandal, the failed transit plan and the unexpectedly difficult city budget.

Now with former Vanderbilt professor and conservative commentator Carol Swain emerging as Mayor Briley’s strongest potential competitor, some in the progressive community are starting to freak out a little. Take this Word Press essay written by former Metro Councilmember Kristin LaLonde.

As for a mayoral endorsement by THE TENNESSEAN, the paper’s editorial board has published a lengthy article outlining its thoughts about the city’s present situation, how voters should evaluate the candidates and how the publication ranks. That amounts to a 5-way endorsement listing Briley first, followed by four of his opponents, in order, jeff obsfemi carr, Erica Gilmore, Harold Love, Jr. and Carol Swain. You can read in full here.

It would appear highly unlikely that next Thursday’s voting results will show David Briley finishing anywhere but first in votes. But to avoid a runoff election June 28 with the second- place finisher (Swain?), Briley must get a 50% plus one vote majority on May 24.

It appears possible Briley could win outright. But with a crowded field of 13 candidates and an early vote only about half of what we had in the transit election (60,000 to about 20,000 through Thursday with two more days of early balloting), it gets hard to make firm predictions. That early vote total means the overall total vote for mayor could be 50,000 or maybe 60,000, which would be the lowest ever for any Metro Mayor’s race in the past 56 years. That is pitiful.

Here’s one sure thing to expect! Watch us next Thursday night on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS from 7 to 8 PM for the fastest and best election coverage in town!

A PROPERTY TAX HIKE PROPOSED

With Metro Council well into its own budget hearing process, some members have decided the spending plan proposed by Mayor Briley is too restrictive to provide the funds needed for schools, city workers’ salaries and other needs. They are proposing a way to find more revenue. Specifically, they are calling for a 51-cent property tax hike.

In the 55- year history of Metro government, I have seen Councils rewrite or change a mayor’s request for a property tax increase. But I have never seen a Council approve a tax hike on its own with the mayor not requesting it.

This is likely going to be very controversial and a long tough putt for the Council to make reality.

THE POWER POLL

From NASHVILLE SCENE editor Bruce Dobie has his Power Poll of city business and community elites, media types and others to weigh in on the special mayoral race, along with a couple of questions about a suggestion of another potential tax hike (sales tax) to provide more funds for the city.

Here’s what Bruce found and his analysis of the situation.

STILL RANKING HIGH

Despite this period of seeming self-doubt among some in our city, we still seem to rank high very high nationally. That includes a new survey that ranks us second in the nation for our creative class of citizens. THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL reports Nashville still ranks high despite our rising cost of living.

There are also reports that Amazon has completed its visits to the 20 finalists cities vying to be the company’s second North American Headquarters. Nashville is among the 20 finalists. Some cities claim they are getting a “halo effect” of other companies showing interest in them because of Amazon.

Is that happening for Nashville?

MORE GUBERNATORIAL TV ADS INCLUDING A DEMOCRAT FOR THE FIRST TIME

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has put up his first TV ad of the campaign. While almost all the Republican candidates (especially Diane Black and Randy Boyd) have aired numerous political commercials already, Dean is the first Democrat to do so.

The spot will sound and look familiar to those who remember Dean’s campaigns for mayor and two of the major issues he faced while in office, the Great Recession and the May 2010 flood. The ad visually plays off of one of the city’s recovery themes of “rising.”

“We have been building a strong grassroots base in all 95 counties and now it’s time to take our message to a bigger audience,” Dean Campaign Manager Courtney Wheeler said. “Mayor Dean has the most individual contributors than anyone else running for governor, which is another exciting indication that the momentum continues to build in the campaign.”

Thus far, Dean’s primary opponent State House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh has not aired any broadcast or cable TV ads that I have seen. But from his Facebook page, he seems to have the creative content for a spot if and when his budget allows.

This week also marked one of the first times that Fitzhugh and Dean got in an issue dispute. The Minority Leader criticized the Mayor for his administration’s use of $7 million in federal disaster relief funds to help build the downtown ASCEND Amphitheater.

“With all due respect, building a riverfront attraction with disaster relief does not fit my definition of fiscal responsibility,” said Fitzhugh. “I was disappointed to hear how the Dean administration abandoned flood victims in order to divert over seven million dollars in disaster relief to corporate cronies, contractors and consultants who had cozy relationships with the administration.”

“These funds were specifically designated to help 2010 flood victims with down payment assistance, rehab assistance and neighborhood clean-up. 52 counties across West and Middle Tennessee were

declared federal disaster areas, including rural areas like Lauderdale County where I am from. There were homeowners who needed help and didn’t get it, people who drained out retirement accounts waiting for help that never arrived.”

“Taxpayers deserve to know their tax dollars are being used as intended, not diverted off to political cronies. As your next governor, I will insist on full transparency when it comes to spending your tax dollars, because I know who pays the bills. You deserve a governor you can trust, plain and simple.”

Mayor Dean countered the charges by saying the money was spent on riverfront flood protection and not on the ASCEND facility directly.

Later in the week, the Dean campaign gave a more detailed rebuttal to the charges. Campaign manager Courtney Wheeler says Fitzhugh is repeating misinformation.

“Let’s settle this right now with some facts: After the flood, the city received $33 million from a Community Development Block Grant. These funds were in addition to $87.1 million in FEMA assistance and $117 million Small Business Administration (SBA) loans for individuals and businesses. The city set up disaster information centers to help make sure people were applying for all of the assistance they were eligible for.

Three years later, long after people had stopped turning in applications for assistance, Karl and the Metro Council repurposed $7.1 million of remaining grant money to mitigate against future floods and help our city’s economy fully recover with the redevelopment of Nashville’s west riverfront. This decision was vetted and approved by the Metro Council, MDHA, and HUD through a transparent, public process. As part of the project, the city built a below-ground seepage cut-off wall along the length of Nashville’s West Riverfront Park (where the amphitheater sits). This infrastructure fix slows down the movement of underground water and helps decrease the impact of future floods.”

A LITTLE DIFFERENT BLACK TV AD

Republican gubernatorial candidate and Congressman Diane Black has yet another TV ad up on the air.

This one focuses again on a conservative hot button issue.

The commercial concerns the candidate’s years-long effort to limit abortion rights in the state through an amendment to the state Constitution.

There is one thing different about this political ad from Diane Black’s other spots. It’s more a testimonial to her work rather than the candidate herself appearing on camera and narrating the commercial (as she has in all her other spots). Because of that, the ad may seem a little less angry and “in your face”, which are criticisms I have heard of Black’s other commercials. Or maybe it’s just my imagination.

I say that because this is the newest Black TV ad, released today (Friday) coming down hard again on illegal immigration with the candidate delivering the message directly on camera.

MORE ATTACK ADS ON BLACK

One way of discerning who may be ahead in the GOP gubernatorial primary race is which candidate is being attacked.

Is that Diane Black?

Well there have been periodic radio attack ads aired against her by a sole-funded Super PAC group.

Now there is word that the radio attacks may be moving to TV, although Tom Humphrey reports not as quickly as first thought.

I am told the group placing the ads say they aren’t quite ready to go, indicating the spots may be placed again for airing soon.

MORE ENDORSEMENTS

If one gubernatorial campaign, from the beginning, has put a lot of stock in garnering endorsements it’s East Tennessee businessman and former state Economic Development Commissioner Randy Boyd.

He’s gotten several city and county mayors to endorse him. This week he added to his list of supporters among state lawmakers. From his campaign release:

“Senate members endorsing Boyd today include Sen. Steve Dickerson from Nashville, Sen. Ed Jackson from Jackson, Sen. Jon Lundberg from Bristol, and Sen. Shane Reeves from Murfreesboro.

House members endorsing Boyd today include Rep. Michael Curcio from Dickson, Rep. Martin Daniel from Knoxville, Rep. Ron Gant from Rossville, Rep. Gerald McCormick from Chattanooga, Rep. Bill Sanderson from Kenton, and Rep. Ron Travis from Dayton.

They join previously announced legislative endorsements for Boyd by Sen. Richard Briggs, Sen. Becky Massey, Rep. Kent Calfee, Rep. John Ragan, Rep. Cameron Sexton, and Rep. Eddie Smith.”

The biggest political name in the latest Boyd endorsement group is former House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, who later this year is a likely candidate to be the next Speaker of the House. But wading into the gubernatorial race, did not seem to deter the Chattanooga lawmaker from making his choice known. Again, from the Boyd news release:

“For me, it boils down to proven conservative leadership, both as a businessman and as a former state commissioner, and someone who has a bold, new vision for our state,” said McCormick. “Randy Boyd is the only candidate who meets both of these criteria, and I fully support him in this race.”

BILL LEE ON INSIDE POLITICS

This week on INSIDE POLITICS we continue our conversations with the men and women who seek to be our next governor.

Our guest is Franklin businessman and farmer Bill Lee.

Mr. Lee is a candidate in the Republican gubernatorial primary on August 2.

Tune in!

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.

IT JUST KEEPS GOING

We wrote several weeks ago about the seemingly “changing relationship” GOP Senatorial candidate and Congressman Marsha Blackburn has with former Governor Don Sundquist. For many years they were enemies over a state income tax proposed by Sundquist. Now he is strongly endorsing Blackburn over Democrat Phil Bredesen, who Sundquist defeated for governor in 1994.

But the story keeps on going even after the Blackburn campaign sent out an endorsement column across the state signed by the former governor. Now read this op-ed piece in the KNOXVILLE JOURNAL penned by a former state Democratic legislator. It ran in THE TENNESSEAN print edition on Wednesday. All I can say is: Ouch!

Indeed, the Sundquist factor in the Tennessee Senate race got the lead in a recent analysis piece in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.

There was one piece of good news for Marsha Blackburn this week. Not only is President Donald Trump coming to town to help her raise money, he is also holding another public rally at the Municipal Auditorium on that same day (May 29) that is bound to stir up the Republican/ Conservative base.

THE LATEST VANDERBILT POLL

In the wake of all these ongoing developments on the campaign trail, Vanderbilt University has released its annual spring poll of Tennessee voters. It provides some very interesting information on both the U.S. Senate and Governor’s race.

This is not a who’s first, who’s second, etc. poll. It is about candidate name recognition and favorability numbers. Some top line highlights from the Senate race show good numbers for Phil Bredesen and some potential challenges for Marsha Blackburn, especially among independent voters. The pollsters says the former governor has a “significant lead but is not a lock” since this race isn’t decided until November, leaving lots of time for Congressman Blackburn to surge forward.

The Governor’s race is still wide open on the GOP side says the Vandy poll. In terms of favorable name recognition. the large amount of TV advertising done by candidates Black and Boyd has paid off with both having the highest name recognition numbers. But neither of them is so far ahead of their other two opponents, Bill Lee and Beth Harwell to count anybody out, especially since the VU poll also shows Black with some high unfavorable numbers with voters.

Here’s the news release (and a video overview of the poll) from Vanderbilt and a couple of the news stories it has generated that you can read here and here.

Besides the flood money dispute between Dean and Fitzhugh, there are other signs this week that the GOP primary is getting heated too. Even before the Vanderbilt poll indicated the unfavorable poll numbers for Black were somewhat “baked in” to the race, Boyd said the following to some of his supporters on a conference call, according to THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL:

"GOP rival Diane Black has 'painted herself in such a corner' that Republicans would run a 'real risk' of losing the general election campaign against former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean if she’s the nominee.”

Somewhat amazingly the Boyd campaign initially denied the candidate made that statement. But then when presented with an audio tape of the comments, admitted Boyd did say that, he just didn’t remember saying it to that group. Fasten your seat belts, everyone, it could be a bumpy ride from here to August 2.

TUESDAY

Tuesday, May 22.

That’s the day by which Governor Bill Haslam must decide what to do with a controversial bill passed by the legislature that tightens restrictions on so-called sanctuary cities (which are already illegal under state law).

Will the Governor sign the measure, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature?

He’s getting lots of advice.

From Democratic parts of the state such as Nashville, the Metro Council, the police chief, the schools’ director and members of the School Board have all urged Mr. Haslam to use his veto pen. Twice crowds of demonstrators of up to 1,000 people have protested at the Metro Courthouse and/or marched on the nearby State Capitol to deliver the same message. They say the pending measure is a mass deportation bill that will breed fear among immigrants and hinder law enforcement.

But among Republicans not so much.

In fact, at least two of the major GOP gubernatorial candidates, Diane Black and Randy Boyd have used their frequent TV spots to make it clear they are opposed to sanctuary cities…and therefore likely want the new bill passed into law.

What will the Governor do? A veto likely means injecting his decision as an issue right into the middle of a hot primary fight to help select his replacement. There will also be calls for the General Assembly to come back to Nashville to override his veto (which only takes a simple majority in both houses).

Signing the bill will likely create continued protests but largely from Democrats and other progressives. This Governor has only vetoed a handful of bills during his seven plus years in office. The odds say he won’t pick up his veto pen on this measure. We will find out no later than Tuesday.

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