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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, November 30, 2018

Posted at 9:19 PM, Nov 30, 2018
and last updated 2018-11-30 22:19:18-05


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


The 111th Tennessee General Assembly convenes for the first time in early January.

But its leadership is already being chosen.

Last week Williamson County Representative Glen Casada won a three-way battle to become the Republican nominee to be Speaker of the House.

Given the GOP’s super majority, he is a shoo-in to be elected when the Legislature begins its work.

Soon to be House Speaker Casada is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

With all the change underway on the Hill in Nashville in both houses of the General Assembly and with a new governor and administration being formed, my conversation with Speaker presumptive Casada is very interesting to say the least.

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There still aren’t many Democrats in the new Tennessee General Assembly.

At 25 in number (which is one more than last term), they remain unnecessary for the 99-member body to have a quorum to meet.

But the House Democratic Caucus did make history last Sunday with its choice of an African American female lawmaker from Memphis to be its (Minority) Leader.

Representative Karen Camper will succeed Craig Fitzhugh who left the Legislature to run unsuccessfully for governor.

"I am honored by the faith the Caucus has shown in me and I pledge to bring the type of aggressive leadership needed to advance legislation that promotes the Democratic agenda," Camper said in a statement.

According to THE TENNESSEAN: “She highlighted "quality health care and economic opportunities for all Tennesseans" as legislative priorities.”

Camper, a retired U.S. Army chief warrant officer, was first elected to the legislature in 2008.


With a goal of having his team in place by the time he is sworn into office on January 19, Tennessee Governor-elect Bill Lee made his first cabinet and top staff appointments on Tuesday.

The first three cabinet choices include perhaps the most important one, Finance Commissioner. It is a position that is clearly first among equals in the hierarchy of state commissioners and usually is the key contact person for the administration with the General Assembly.

Beginning a theme that continues throughout these first appointments the new Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, has close personal ties to the Governor-elect and played key roles in his successful campaign to be governor. Here is the brief bio released from the Governor-elect’s office:

“Stuart McWhorter currently chairs inauguration planning efforts. He served as Finance Chairman for Governor-elect Lee’s gubernatorial campaign. McWhorter serves as Chairman and President of Clayton Associates, founded in 1996, an investment management company primarily focused on the early stage investment cycle in the healthcare and technology industries.”

McWhorter has no previous experience in government although he did briefly consider running for mayor of Nashville in 2015. Outside of the other two cabinet appointments, most of those announced this week to join the administration have limited, if any, experience serving in government. That would seem to be in keeping with the Governor-elect campaign theme of running as an outsider.

Those other two cabinet appointments announced this week are holdovers from the current cabinet of Governor Bill Haslam. That is not unusual in previous Tennessee government transitions. In fact, this being the first time Tennessee Republican governors have succeeded each other in office, there is talk other Haslam commissioners may be kept on as well.

Here are two Haslam commissioners who will remain with the Lee team:

“Crockett County native Marie Williams currently serves as Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS), and she will continue in that role. She leads the Department and their over 1,800 employees in assisting individuals in securing treatment and recovery services for serious mental illness, serious emotional disturbances, and substance abuse disorders. Prior to assuming the Commissioner role, she served as Deputy Commissioner and as the Assistant Commissioner of Mental Health Services where she worked collaboratively to expand consumer-based recovery services.”

“Danielle Barnes currently serves as the Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Human Services, and she will continue in that role. Prior to joining DHS, she served as Deputy Commissioner & General Counsel for the Tennessee Department of Human Resources. In her capacity, she had oversight over all legal issues within the Department, offering counsel and advice to her agency, other state agencies and individuals on employment law matters. Commissioner Barnes grew up in the Knoxville area. She received her undergraduate degree from Spelman College and her law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law.”

Here are the top staff choices by Governor-elect Lee. Like the choice of Finance Commissioner Stuart McWhorter, all played key roles in the Lee campaign.

“Blake Harris (Chief of Staff) currently serves as the Executive Director for Governor-elect Lee’s transition leadership team. He is an attorney and served as General Consultant for Bill Lee’s successful gubernatorial campaign. Responsible for overall campaign strategy for the campaign, he built the campaign team that helped propel Bill to victory this year.

Butch Eley (Chief Operating Officer) currently serves as the Chairman for Governor-elect Lee’s transition leadership team. He most recently served as Chief Growth Officer of DBI Services, one of the nation’s leading providers of performance-driven operations and maintenance and asset management services. Prior to that, he founded Infrastructure Corporation of America in 1998 to provide comprehensive asset management solutions for infrastructure assets. Butch served on Bill Lee’s Business Advisory Coalition during his campaign and is a former member of the Republican Governor’s Association Executive Roundtable.

Lang Wiseman (Deputy to the Governor and Chief Counsel) served as Campaign Counsel to Bill Lee’s gubernatorial campaign. He founded Wiseman Bray PLLC in Memphis and specializes in business and commercial litigation. Lang currently serves on the University of Tennessee’s Board of Trustees and also currently serves on Gov. Haslam’s Council for Judicial Appointments.

Chris Walker (Communications Director) served as Communications Advisor to Bill Lee’s gubernatorial campaign. Most recently, he worked in communications advisory roles with the American Enterprise Institute and The Heritage Foundation. He has served in various capacities for former U.S. Senators Bill Frist and Fred Thompson and served as Press Secretary for U.S. Senator Richard Burr (NC). He also

served in the George W. Bush administration as a Public Affairs officer at the Department of the Treasury and as a Defense Fellow at the Department of Defense.

Tony Niknejad (Policy Director) served as the Policy Director for Bill Lee’s gubernatorial campaign. Prior to that, he served as Tennessee State Director for the American Federation for Children. He also worked with the Republican Party of Kentucky in their historic retaking of the state House in 2016, as well as two Republican campaigns for congressional candidates in Georgia and Tennessee. He has also served as a policy staffer at the Tennessee State Senate and is the former chairman of the Davidson County Young Republicans.

Laine Arnold (Press Secretary) currently serves as the Press Secretary for the Transition. Previously, Arnold served in the same role for Governor-elect Lee’s General Election campaign. She also served as Press Secretary for the Randy Boyd for Governor campaign in 2017 and 2018.

All these choices, particularly the Finance and staff appointments, are clearly folks the Governor-elect is very comfortable with having in his administration. That’s always is and should be a top priority for any governor. On Election Night, Governor-elect Lee pledged to include a mix of political persuasions in his administration, perhaps even a few Democrats. That apparently will have to wait for another round of announcements. Outside of two of the commissioner appointments, this week’s choices don’t seem to include even any Republicans who did not work for the Lee campaign.


It was a week of major, sudden changes in how Metro does its procurements.

First on Tuesday following an internal audit and several investigative media stories (especially in THE TENESSEAN), Mayor David Briley ordered the halt of the current and planned procurement processes for four Metro Public Works proposals pending review of internal practices.

Mayor Briley will also hire Metro’s first-ever Chief Compliance Officer who will work in the Mayor’s Office.

These actions are in direct response to the results of the audit Mayor Briley requested in May to look at allegations of ethics violations committed by current contractor Collier Engineering and/or Metro Public Works employees.

The new Chief Compliance Officer will be tasked with: 1) overseeing a comprehensive review of the regulations governing ethics in the City's procurement processes; 2) reviewing the City's ethics ordinance and regulations and their enforcement as well as employee and contractor training in regards to both; and 3) recommending the steps necessary to institutionalize the role of the Chief Compliance Officer going forward.

In a news release from the Mayor’s office: “This audit and related investigations have revealed a number of vulnerabilities and inconsistencies in Metro Public Works procurement practices,” Mayor Briley said. “We must have a fair, transparent and ethical procurement process across all of Metro, and I am committed to doing what is necessary to make this happen.”

The next day (Wednesday), there were even more sweeping procurement changes announced. These come out of recommendations of an outside Disparity study commissioned in 2017 under the previous administration of Mayor Megan Barry.

Some of the changes that will be reflected in legislation being proposed to the Metro Council include:

• Adding race- and gender-conscious inclusion tools in place of the existing race- and gender-neutral tools in Metro’s Procurement Non-discrimination Program. To reflect this change and others, the program will be renamed the Equal Business Opportunity Program (EBO).

  • Adding annual goals – express race and gender targets for the EBO – which are based on the availability statistics identified in the Disparity Study.
  • Establishing a Small Business Reserve Program. Through procurement regulation changes, Nashville will implement a race- and gender-neutral program that establishes a contract threshold, under which certain contracts become eligible for designation to only be bid on by small business in accordance with SBA guidelines. The program will also provide more time for prime contractors and subcontractors to plan for and prepare timely bids. This is to increase the ability for firms to form joint ventures or teaming arrangements and to obtain any needed support services.
  • Metro is developing an enhanced communications plan for how it will better assist the W/MBE Business community in understanding its programs, implementations and how to prepare for future procurement opportunities.

“Without exception, all potential contractors deserve equal access to Metro projects, regardless of race or gender,” said Mayor Briley. “Unfortunately, this study – the first since 2005 – found that the playing field has not been equitable over time. These measures will seek to change that. For our city to continue to thrive, everyone needs to be at the table.”

The Mayor’s comments came in a release that was sent out following a news conference where he was backed by Council sponsors and by African-American and female business owners, members of the Mayor’s Minority Business Advisory Council and leaders of the city’s black, Hispanic and LGBT chambers of commerce, as well as representatives from the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

“Today is a long time coming for many of us,” said Councilwoman Tanaka Vercher (a sponsor of the legislation along with Council Member At Large Sharon Hunt and district council member Scott Davis). “Historically, minority and woman-owned businesses have simply not been given a fair shake when it comes to bidding on and earning Metro contracts. These measures seek to make real change. I want to thank my legislation co-sponsors, Mayor Briley and his team, and the many others who worked so hard to get us to this point.”

These changes appear to have such strong support. I suspect Council approval will quickly follow. It should be noted there have been no reports of any law enforcement investigations underway in the wake of these procurement issues involving the Metro contract proposals which Mayor Briley has halted.


When Mayor Briley was on INSIDE POLITICS with me two weeks ago, he did not rule out giving cost of living raises to Metro employees in next year’s budget. Metro deleted such pay hikes in the current budget because of tight revenues.

As for next year, Mayor Briley indicated it would depend on the city “checking off” some financial boxes to ensure the funds for a raise will be there. He says it’s still too early to know that for sure.

In the wake of the city landing a major investment by tech giant Amazon to bring 5,000 high-paying jobs to Nashville, some Metro Council members want to tie the city’s incentives to the company ($500 per job per year for 15 years) to city employees getting a raise.

According to a story by THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL, there is a Council resolution up for debate next Tuesday (December 4) that reads: The Metro Council “hereby goes on record as requesting that the Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County provide cost of living adjustments to employees of the Metropolitan Government if economic incentives are to be awarded to Amazon. If the Metropolitan Government is unable to provide cost of living adjustments to Metro employees, however, no economic incentives should be given to Amazon."

The resolution is non-binding, but if it’s passed, it could indicate the Briley administration would have issues getting the Amazon incentives approved down the road, as required.

Again, quoting from THE NASHVILLE BUSINESS JOURNAL article, the Council resolution is being supported primarily by members who have opposed the Briley administration in the past.

"If we found the money for $15 million for Amazon, then why can’t we find $18 million to put into our Metro employees’ pockets?" Councilman Steve Glover, the resolution's lead sponsor, said in a phone interview Tuesday. "Frankly, I’m gonna keep saying the same thing I’ve been saying for months: If we don’t get our act together … then we are driving nails into our own coffin."

Other Councilmembers pushing the resolution are Robert Swope, Brenda Haywood and Freddie O’Connell.

"We as a city either have priorities for our current employees or we have priorities for people who may or not be future employees," Swope told the NBJ. "I’m not against the Amazon [incentives], but I think we need to prioritize the thousands of workers we already have."

Based on the past, I have my doubts this non-binding resolution will receive enough votes to pass, even though that is just a simple majority not 21 votes. As expected, the Briley administration is opposed.

“Thomas Mulgrew, the mayor's spokesman, said in an emailed statement: "While we are sensitive to the issue of the cost-of-living raises, these two things are separate matters and should be treated as such. Therefore, we are not supportive of this resolution." Stay tuned.


While it remains unclear the size or strength of opposition that Mayor Briley may face for re-election next year, it hasn’t taken long following the November election for potential Metro Council candidates to emerge for next August’s vote for the 40 seats up for grabs along with the Vice Mayor’s post.

NASHVILLE POST has the first of what may be several stories in the weeks to come about who is exploring or who is already primed to be in the field of candidates.

A couple of interesting things to watch for going forward. After just getting elected just this past fall, will Vice Mayor Jim Schulman draw much opposition for re-election to a full term?

Because of the two-term limit on incumbents, those open seats tend to draw potentially large fields. But how much turnover will we see in the 40- member body we elect in 2019?

Almost two-thirds of the current Council are first-termers elected in 2015. They can run again. Unless they’ve messed up some zoning or there is a general and strong “throw out the incumbents” sentiment at the polls, those current council members historically stand a decent chance to return.

So perhaps the 50% or more turnover we’ve seen in past Council races may not be as large in 2019? But as you can see in THE POST article, all the political foment in country, largely driven by Washington/ Trump issues is getting lots of people interested in running for office. This Metro election could be their next chance to do that, swelling the overall field of candidates.


Over the past 35-plus years, the state of Tennessee has become a major player in the automotive manufacturing industry. When unsettled or potentially bad economic times seem to lie ahead that has presented challenges. When the auto industry gets a cold, we sometimes catch pneumonia.

But, somewhat surprisingly, not this week.

On Monday, General Motors announced it is closing several production plants and discontinuing a number of car lines. It’s a $6 billion cost-cutting plan that will result in 15,000 employees (15% of the GM workforce) getting pink slips.

The company says the move is to position General Motors to be ready for the advent of more electric and self-driving cars while giving priority to production of better-selling, larger SUV models over sedans or smaller passenger vehicles.

That will be the savior for Tennessee this time, as GM is adding a third Cadillac crossover vehicle next year to its Spring Hill plant.

There remains much controversy about the GM plan, especially opposition from the Trump administration in Washington. But for now, it appears the winds of change blowing hard through the domestic auto industry aren’t blowing away jobs or plant investments from our state.


Nashville has lost a courageous and visionary leader with the passing of former Mayor and Congressman Richard Fulton at the age of 91.

I have lost a friend, a former boss and a political mentor.

It may be hard to understand today the guts it took as a Southern politician to vote for the 1964 Civil Rights Act and later the Voting Rights Act. It almost cost him re-election in 1968.

But Congressman Fulton had the courage of his convictions. He also was the first member of the Tennessee delegation to hire a person of color to his staff. Kitty Smith stayed with him for many years including in the mayor's office.

When he came home to be Mayor in 1975, Richard Fulton was often ridiculed for his efforts to build Riverfront Park, the first downtown Convention Center, and to revitalize the Market Street/ 2nd Avenue/ Lower Broad area. It some cases it took additional years for the seeds he planted to come to fruition, but clearly what we enjoy in a vibrant Nashville today is the ongoing culmination of a dream he had for our city decades ago.

And he wasn’t just a downtown mayor. He told me near the end of his term in 1987 that he was proudest of what he had done as mayor to extend water and sewer services throughout Davidson County. That was politically controversial to do. It took raising the rates of existing customers to expand service. As that occurred it also got harder and harder to find a 21-vote Council majority to raise rates further to expand the lines. Mayor Fulton had some setbacks and delays in moving ahead, but he ultimately got it done.

I can add to Mayor Fulton’s achievements, the creation of countywide fire protection and an emphasis on maintaining our historic buildings, including not only our iconic Union Station but also the original Customs House and the Hermitage Hotel downtown. All faced an uncertain future and perhaps the wrecking ball but gained new life thanks to his involvement and leadership.

As a part of those efforts, Mayor Fulton strongly supported the Metro Historical Commission, especially its work to nurture the urban pioneer efforts then underway in the historic neighborhoods in lower East Nashville as well as in Germantown in North Nashville. To do that, he helped passed legislation through the Council to create the Historic Zoning Commission. The Mayor was also supportive of the work by the Commission encourage neighborhood associations being created all over Nashville. Many of them and others remain vibrant and politically active today all over Davidson County.

I could write even more of what Mayor Fulton accomplished in his 12 years in office, and what he did in Congress voting in favor of such landmark legislation as Medicare and the Great Society programs. He was also there during the difficult days of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

One final thing I will note about Mayor Fulton is his concerted effort (the first of its kind in Nashville and Metro history) to maintain and preserve our government records and other important documents.

Without his establishment of the Metro Archives many of our precious historic heirlooms would have been lost forever in the landfill.

In a simple sentence. Richard Fulton loved Nashville, and in his nearly quarter century of public service did all he could to make our city better.

RIP, Mayor. We all remain in your debt for what you did for Nashville.