Capitol View Commentary: Friday, November 17, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - CAPITOL VIEW

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

November 17, 2017

OGLES OUT; DOG PARKS, MEGASITES AND GRANTS; SOME GOOD SOME NOT SO GOOD; METRO MAY TAKE ON OPIOIDS MANUFACTURERS AND DISTRIBUTORS; THERE IS ALWAYS A TENNESSEE CONNECTION; HAVE WE SEEN THIS ALL BEFORE?; THE TENNESSEAN’S DAVID PLAZAS ON INSIDE POLITICS; NEXT WEEK

OGLES OUT

The big news on Tennessee campaign trail this week is that conservative activist Andy Ogles, the former head of the Tennessee chapter of Americans for Prosperity, has announced he is dropping out the GOP race for the U.S. Senate immediately.

Ogles got in the race before Senator Bob Corker decided not to seek a third term. At the time he announced Nashville businessman Lee Beaman planned to help him raise $4 million to fill his campaign coffers. But as more candidates got in the race after Corker bowed out, that may have changed.

Said Ogles in a news release: “I entered this race to insure that Tennessee would have conservative representation that would reflect their values and commitment to 'draining the swamp' that Tennesseans expect and deserve. With Senator Corker making the decision to exit the Senate at the conclusion of his term rather than being terminated by the voters, the political landscape changed dramatically, With two Republican candidates for the nomination, who have millions of dollars in their Congressional accounts or personal wealth at their disposal, I do not see a path to raise the millions of dollars needed to run a successful race this election cycle."

Indeed, Ogles’ exit leaves the two strongest candidates in the GOP field to be former congressman Stephen Fincher and current congressman Marsha Blackburn. She is perceived to the frontrunner at this point. But Ogles is not taking sides:

"Like millions of Tennesseans, I will be watching and listening carefully to what the Republican candidates say and do before I choose who to support," said Ogles. "In the meantime, I encourage all the candidates, at every level in Tennessee, to focus on the issues that matter to conservative voters, speaking clearly and honestly about where they stand and how they plan to fight for us if we trust them with our votes."

Dr. Rolando Toyos, who lives and works in both Memphis and Brentwood is also in the GOP field. He is an ophthalmologist.

This latest development with Ogles dropping out, leaves the biggest remaining mystery in the Senate race to be whether former Governor and Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen will join the Democratic field. Increasing rumors seem to say he will do so, but those again, at this point, are just rumors.

The other Democrat in the Senate field is Nashville attorney James Mackler. He also entered the race when it appeared Bob Corker would seek re-election.

DOG PARKS, MEGASITES AND GRANTS

As a former commissioner of economic and community development for the state of Tennessee, Republican gubernatorial candidate Randy Boyd talks frequently about his time in that job and his business experience. That includes his work with the Invisible Fence, a dog related company he invented and markets.

So I guess it’s not surprising that he is mixing those matters together on the campaign trail. The DYERSBURG STATE GAZETTE reports Boyd is making a $10,000 personal donation to build a dog park in that community. He told the paper (via Tom Humphrey’s blog):

…“It didn’t take long (as ECD commissioner) before you realized that companies don’t want to move to a place that’s not a good community. Quickly, I realized that the community is the most important part. We’ve supported things like Main Street programs and downtown programs to make the communities more livable.

“But then, as a career, I’m in the dog business. We love dogs. About 12 years ago, my company had this big field, about 3 acres, and we didn’t have anything to do with it or no ideas on what to do with it. One of my employees had the idea of turning it into a dog park. We tried it. We built up this dog park and sure enough, the minute we built it, they came.”

The GAZETTE’s article continues: “After that initial dog park, Boyd played a role in creating other dog parks in his hometown of Knoxville as well as other communities around the country with his company’s Bark for Your Park contest.

“One of the great things about a dog park is that it brings the people in the community together,” added Boyd. “Whether you’re old or young, black or white, rich or poor, we all love our dogs. We all share a park bench. We all share the love of your dogs watching them play and enjoy the park.

“Dog parks are a key part of our community. Dog parks will help economic development. It’s something that we believe in,” explained Boyd. “Jenny [Boyd’s wife] and I have been blessed beyond our wildest dreams, and we decided that the rest of our lives are about giving back. When the mayors told me about this project, I thought this is something that I’d be willing to help with.”

But sometimes Boyd’s opponents are taking some pot shots at Boyd’s ECD work. The latest is not about dogs. It’s about the Memphis Regional Mega Site where state officials have tried for over a decade to attract major new industries to locate. The latest company to say thanks but no thanks is Toyota-Mazda, which has eliminated the mega site from consideration for a new automotive plant because it’s not as “shovel ready” as the other sites it is evaluating.

Boyd’s rival Congressman Diane Black has used that decision to launch yet another attack on Boyd. This time it’s about his work at ECD. Through a spokesman she says:

“Some may campaign on making Tennessee a business-friendly state, but they are overlooking their failures to make Tennessee a business-ready state. The state has had years to make the Memphis Regional Megasite ‘shovel ready,’ and has come up short once again. Losing Toyota-Mazda is a tremendous, inexcusable loss for our state. We have to take action and stop leaving West Tennessee behind.”

In fact, current state ECD officials told Governor Bill Haslam during recent budget hearings that they plan to ask for another $2 million this coming year to finally make the Memphis Megasite shovel ready.

Meanwhile, there are questions being raised about Boyd and his time at ECD by the right-leaning TENNESSEE STAR on-line publication. Via a story by Tom Humphrey: “The Star says unnamed “political observers” (are) questioning whether Boyd “used his previous office as a platform to prepare a gubernatorial campaign by directing state grants to local officials and businesses who might, and in many cases have, support his run for governor.”

In particular, THE STAR is pointing to a recent $5,000 contribution by Murfreesboro businessman Shane Reeves to Boyd. Reeves is now a GOP candidate for the special election to fill the seat of State Senator Jim Tracy who resigned to take a position in the Trump administration. The paper details how Reeves’ business also received a major grant from the state while Boyd was ECD commissioner. Reports THE STAR:

“In July 2016 Randy Boyd, then-commissioner of TECD, approved a $1 million “Fast Track Economic Development Fund” grant for Murfreesboro based TwelveStone Health Partners, whose founder and and CEO Shane Reeves is a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 14th District State Senate special election prompted by the resignation of State Senator Jim Tracy (R-Shelbyville).

Soon after Boyd left his state position to run for governor, the Reeves Family PAC, which lists Shane Reeves as the sole officer, donated $5,000 in April, 2017 to the Randy Boyd gubernatorial campaign. Reeves also personally endorsed Boyd during a campaign stop in Murfreesboro that same month.

Randy Boyd resigned as commissioner of TECD in January 2017 and announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for governor in March.”

THE STAR has been critical of Boyd in the past, calling him “LaRaza Randy” for his contribution to that national immigration rights group and a “Never Trumper” because of his comments and non-support of Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign.

So maybe candidate Boyd is learning about what President Harry Truman once said: To paraphrase him: If you want a friend in politics, get a dog.” Maybe that’s also true this year on the campaign trail, if you’re running for governor in Tennessee.

SOME GOOD SOME NOT SO GOOD

There is now a major national issue (sex trafficking) in which the state of Tennessee ranks first in the nation in trying to combat it.

According to an article from THE BRISTOL HERALD COURIER:

“The Protected Innocence Challenge, conducted by Shared Hope International of Vancouver, Washington (an anti-sex trafficking organization), grades each state on the strength of its laws

addressing child sex trafficking and produces legal analysis for stakeholders. Report cards, which are reported each year, were released Wednesday morning.

Tennessee received a score of 96.5 out of 100, an A, which is the best in the nation. Last year, Tennessee came in second place behind Louisiana.”

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation held a congratulatory news conference to outline all the efforts being taken by the state to combat this terrible crime.

But unfortunately, when it comes to corrections overall in the state, Tennessee seems to be having major issues…and not for the first time in recent years.

According to an article by Tom Humphrey: “A state comptroller’s audit has found several problems at private prisons operated for the state of Tennessee by CoreCivic, previously known as Corrections Corporation of America. Short staffing at Trousdale Turner Correctional Center, the newest and largest prison in the state, is a major focus, but there’s also criticism of operations at Whiteville Correctional Facility and Hardeman County Correctional Center.”

Not surprisingly long- time critics of the Corrections Department and of the state’s use of private prison operators seized on the findings to amplify their criticism. Said State Representative Michael Stewart as quoted in THE TENNESSEAN:

“Today we have explosive findings. Clearly, we have CoreCivic facilities that are a powder keg waiting to explode, potentially endangering the public,” Stewart said.

“Clearly, the Department of Correction has not been doing its job supervising this contractor, and we have to have a separate, independent agency come in and find these problems.”

Stewart’s comment found sympathy even from Republicans at a state legislative meeting. So much so, the group decided to defer consideration of reauthorizing the operations of the Corrections Department until it meets again in a few weeks.

One last piece of good news from state officials this week. For the fifth consecutive month, Tennessee’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for October remains at an all-time low of 3%. A county by county breakdown will be issued on November 22. Last month, for the first time in keeping such records, all 95 counties in the state had unemployment rates below 5%.

METRO MAY TAKE ON OPIOIDS MANUFACTURERS AND DISTRIBUTORS

Nashville Mayor Megan Barry has asked the Metro Council to retain a law firm to possibly file suit against the manufacturers and distributors of opioid products that have “that have wrongfully caused drug addiction in Davidson County and resulting economic harm to the Metropolitan Government,” according to an article from THE NASHVILLE POST.

The law firm, Lieff,Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein was one of several who responded to an Request For Qualifications from Metro this summer. It has previous experience in pursuing large settlements against tobacco companies.

Mayor Barry, who lost her son to an opioid overdose this past summer, had this to say through a spokesman: “Every day, the opioid epidemic costs our community in lives lost, families destroyed and

financial burdens on city services. Outside counsel has been requested in order to determine what role prescription drug companies have played in causing this epidemic. While financial awards do not bring back the lives of those lost, they can hold companies accountable and result in positive change when federal or state regulations fall short.”

Assuming the Council approves its hiring, the outside law firm will recommend how the city should proceed and which opioid-related companies might be a target of Metro’s legal action. It will also consider whether the city ought to join existing similar lawsuits including one approved recently by the Shelby County Council in Memphis. That action has been questioned by the Shelby County Mayor. There is also a lawsuit already filed on the topic by a Nashville firm on behalf of three district attorney generals in East Tennessee.

THERE IS ALWAYS A TENNESSEE CONNECTION

The red-hot controversy over Alabama U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore continued to build this week. At least eight women have come forward to charge that in his younger days (while in his 30s in the late 1970s) Moore tried to date or seek sexual favors from them. That’s when they were young adults or teenagers, and even in at least one case, underage.

The loudest outcry for Moore to quit the race is still coming from the Republican leadership in both houses of Congress. That includes a significant number of current GOP members of the Senate who would be Moore’s colleague if he wins the special Senate election next month.

Building the pressure on Moore, GOP leaders have gone from saying Moore should step aside if the charges are true, to now saying he should withdraw regardless because they believe the charges leveled by the women and that the evidence they have presented is compelling.

Moore denies all the charges and says it is politically motivated. He is even threatening to sue THE WASHINGTON POST which ran the first story on the matter, but he has yet to do so. His campaign says it is investigating the women involved seeking to discredit them. A couple of the latest polls seem to indicate some movement in the special election away from support for Moore. But it is unclear if he will lose enough voters to be defeated next month. It is too late to replace Moore on the ballot so there is talk of a GOP write-in candidate to hold the seat, maybe even Jeff Sessions who held the Senate seat before becoming Attorney General under President Trump.

Given the history of write-ins that might be hard to accomplish. Sessions has shown no interest in running again. So the idea is also being discussed that if Moore is elected his fellow Senators would refuse to seat him, and even expel him with a two-thirds vote. That would not be an easy thing to accomplish and it would bring even more controversy to the Senate if its members refused to seat a senator-elect chosen by the voters.

But if there is an effort to expel Senator-elect Moore, that’s where a Tennessee connection might become involved, at least historically.

In the history of the Senate, only 15 members have been expelled over the years. All of them except one were removed from the body because of their loyalty to the Confederate States of America when the Civil War broke out in the early 1860s.

The only other Senator (and first member that was expelled) was in the 1790s. He was William Blount of Tennessee. Blount was a signer of the U.S. Constitution and he was the territorial governor of the state, playing a major role in bringing this area into the Union in 1796. He was elected one of our first two senators. But then he ran afoul of his land speculation efforts.

From an on-line bio of Blount, here’s what happened:

“In 1797 his (Blount’s) speculations in western lands led him into serious financial difficulties. That same year, he also apparently concocted a plan involving use of Indians, frontiersmen, and British naval forces to conquer for Britain the Spanish provinces of Florida and Louisiana. A letter he wrote alluding to the plan fell into the hands of President Adams, who turned it over to the Senate on July 3, 1797. Five days later, that body voted 25 to 1 to expel Blount. The House impeached him, but the Senate dropped the charges in 1799 on the grounds that no further action could be taken beyond his dismissal.

The episode did not hamper Blount's career in Tennessee. In 1798 he was elected to the state senate and rose to the speakership. He died 2 years later at Knoxville in his early fifties. He is buried there in the cemetery of the First Presbyterian Church.”

Indeed, the Blount name is not forgotten (William Blount’s half-brother, Willie Blount was later governor from 1809-1815). There is a Blount County in East Tennessee and also the city of Blountville in Sullivan County. According to Wikipedia: Grainger County and Maryville are both named after William Blount’s wife, Mary Grainger Blount. Quite a legacy in Tennessee for the first United States senator expelled from that body.

What happens with Roy Moore remains to seen.

Of course, the Moore controversy is pushing Tennessee candidates to take a stand. Tom Humphrey has this roundup of how they are responding with the help of THE NASHVILLE POST and THE TENNESSEAN.

Now Senator Green says is he concerned about the charges against Moore and believes he should step aside.

This issue of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior among public official took a bi-partisan turn late in the week as Democratic Senator Al Franken was accused of kissing and fondling a woman colleague without her permission during an overseas USO tour back in 2006. The action occurred before Franken became a Senator (he was then a comedian). The Senator has now twice issued a statement of apology. But Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he believes this matter is something the Senate Ethics Committee needs to investigate. Franken says he welcomes the inquiry and will fully cooperate in the probe.

Not surprisingly, President Trump, back in the country after his extensive trip to Asia, is blasting Senator Franken but staying silent about Judge Moore (except express through a spokesperson some concern abut the charges but add that the people of Alabama should decide who their next senator will be). Of course, these comments by the President are rekindling charges of sexual harassment and inappropriate comments and actions that came up last year during the presidential campaign. All this a time when the

President’s job performance poll numbers have reached another new low (41%) while his disapproval number is 59%.

HAVE WE SEEN THIS ALL BEFORE?

Thursday (November 16) the U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation 227-205 to overhaul the nation’s tax code and cut taxes for businesses and many individual middle- class taxpayers.

If approved by the Senate, the new law would provide the first major legislative victory for congressional Republicans and President Trump in 2017.

But just like earlier in the year on health care change (repealing the Affordable Care Act) there are continuing questions about whether the GOP can deliver its narrow majority in the Senate for the bill. First, as happened with healthcare, the Senate has drafted its own legislation that is quite a bit different from what the House passed. That includes another effort to partially dismantle Obamacare by repealing the individual mandate that requires everyone to buy/ be covered by health insurance.

Senate GOP leaders seem to think that will bring in support from more conservative Senators who have been lukewarm on the tax bill. But will it drive away some of the moderate Senators (Murkowski, Collins) who voted no and help defeat the Republican health care plan last time?

Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander says he will vote for the tax bill, including the individual mandate repeal, even though that might threaten his efforts to pass a bi-partisan measure to keep the national health insurance exchanges alive while uncertainty continues to grow about the future of national health care.

What about Senator Bob Corker? He has not announced a position on the Senate bill (which is still being finalized). What he has said is that he won’t support any tax proposal that raises the national debt. I am not aware of any pending legislation on taxes which doesn’t raise the debt by billions.

So what will Senator Corker do? With Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson saying he is a no vote (for different reasons than what Senator Corker has concerns) one more GOP defection would require the vote of Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie to pass a tax bill. One more beyond that (three GOP Senators voting no) would again stymie any major legislation from making it through the Senate.

One interest group (The National Taxpayers Union) is sponsoring TV ads (airing at least here in Nashville) urging voters to call Senator Corker’s office to tell him to support the GOP tax bill. That’s perhaps yet another sign of how critical his vote might turn out to be.

The Senate is set to take up the tax proposal after Thanksgiving.

THE TENNESSEAN’S DAVID PLAZAS ON INSIDE POLITICS

David Plazas, the Editor of Opinion and Engagement for THE TENNESSEAN is my guest on INSIDE POLTICS this weekend.

We will discuss a broad range of local, state and national issues as well some new topics he will be concentrating on soon: the loss of civility in our discussions and the short- term rental situation in Nashville.

David has been quite active and outspoken in the community since coming to Nashville and we welcome him to be our guest for the first time.

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

THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL 5’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 NEWSCHANNEL 5 website for your viewing under the NEWSCHANNEL 5 PLUS section. Each new show is posted the week after it airs.

NEXT WEEK

Due to short work week for Thanksgiving, there will be no column next week.

Look for the next Capitol View on Friday, December 1.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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