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Capitol View Commentary: Thursday, July 2, 2015

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Posted at 3:52 PM, Jul 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-30 19:45:22-04

CAPITOL VIEW

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

July 2, 2015

THREE TIMES IN EIGHTEEN MONTHS; BEGGING FOR BUCKS, LESS FORUMS MORE TV AND BEGINNING THE FINAL FULL MONTH; JEREMY KANE ON INSIDE POLITICS; ANOTHER SPECIAL SESSION; NEW LAWS TAKE EFFECT WHILE OLD LAWSUITS CONTINUE; DYSFUNCTION IS; STILL IN SHOCK

THREE TIMES IN EIGHTEEN MONTHS

Who says Nashville is the “It City”?

Well, maybe President Barack Obama does.

After ignoring our town completely the first 6+ years he was in office, the POTUS has been in Music City three times in the past eighteen months, including twice this calendar year. He’s keeping score too, telling his hand-picked audience when he arrived in town. “It’s good to be back in Nashville. I like Nashville. I don’t know if you’ve noticed. I come back here quite a bit.”

Yes, we’ve noticed that, if just recently

The President’s latest visit happened Wednesday (July 1) to speak to a small group of invited supporters (about 75 folks including the press corps). The audience also included numerous state and local public officials such as Mayor Karl Dean and Congressman Jim Cooper. Cooper in fact got off the plane with Mr. Obama here in Nashville and was described by the President as “one of my favorite people.”

In the audience along with several Democratic state lawmakers, there were local health care executives, community activists and others. One of those others was former Majority Leader and Tennessee Republican Senator Dr. Bill Frist, who later even wrote about being there on his Facebook page.

In some ways it appeared the Presidential visit was getting as much notoriety for what it wasn’t than what it turned out to be. Republican critics (Congresswoman Diane Black) claimed it was an inappropriate victory lap by Mr. Obama held in the wrong state in the wake of last week’s Supreme Court ruling upholding the legality (for the second time) of his signature Affordable Health Care Act.

The White House said the event was actually a look ahead by the President to what comes now in the future of health care in this country. It was apparently held in Nashville, in part because we are the private health care capitol of the U.S. Indeed, the President praised our city and Tennessee for being leaders in health care innovation, “creative stuff” he called it in terms of holding down costs.

But the President resisted any temptations (and many were offered by those in the crowd) to use his visit as a prep rally to build support to resurrect the twice rejected INSURE TENNESSEE health care plan of Governor Bill Haslam . That plan would extend health care coverage to well over 200,000 needy and working class Tennesseans. The President said he was no expert on Tennessee politics and clearly tried not to put any more heat on the Governor (who for the third time did not welcome him to Tennessee).

The President also seemed to try in his comments on Tennessee and health care not to further annoy Republican state lawmakers who deeply distrust and dislike him. But Mr. Obama did make it clear he thinks the public should tell lawmakers if they approve expanding and improving health care

opportunities. “It’s about people not politics. It’s not about Washington. It’s about families.” The President also seemed open to Tennessee suggesting its own plan to expand and improve health care saying he’d like to see “some good sense spring fort in Tennessee.”

It didn’t get much publicity but another political topic the President managed to steer clear of while in town was Nashville’s red-hot mayoral race, which includes at least two candidates (Bill Freeman & Charles Robert Bone) who have been major fundraisers for him. As far as I can tell, nobody’s campaign or candidate got to work their way into the presidential spotlight, and trust me, at least one campaign (reportedly Freeman) tried pretty hard. The President and his folks should maybe get their highest marks on this trip for not getting caught in any political mine fields over this mayor’s race.

To me the neatest thing about the President’s visit was again the town hall format where those invited got the chance to ask the Leader of the Free World a question on any topic of their choice (even sports questions he said). Sure, it’s a friendly, well-screened group of supporters he faced, but watching the informal nature of the process was really fascinating. Also high marks to the President’s advance and planning staffs who clearly did their homework, identifying and getting the room populated with a number of locals who’ve written letters and e-mails to the President. Also high marks to the President himself for knowing and recognizing these folks on sight (and I didn’t see any name tags or teleprompters to help him).

The White House’s attention to detail also included involving Kelly Bryant, a local cancer survivor who opened the program and introduced the President. In her remarks, she thanked Mr. Obama for his health care program because it helped her get the insurance coverage and care she needs to still be alive. It sure gave the proceedings a real down to earth, human touch from the start.

Adding to all that the President even picked up Ms. Bryant at her home and she rode to the event with him. It is those kind of personal touches that helped to put a special mark on this trip, even if apparently the President didn’t stop to sample any of the local cuisine as he did during one of his previous visits.

Also, where else but Nashville and Tennessee could the President field a question and a comment from someone named Davy Crockett? That’s right, it happened. It seems Mr. Crockett has a Social Security problem which the President promised to look into but not before Mr. Obama broke into song (which he’s been doing a bit of lately) intoning the beginning theme song of those 1950s Walt Disney TV features on the Tennessee legend: “Dav-ey, Davey Crocket…” crooned then POTUS, then stopping and leaving off the closing lyrics of the first line of the tune..… “King of the Wild Frontier.” Only in Nashville, right? Where it’s always about the song…even when the President comes to town.

By why was the President’s session held in a “cafetorium” (cafeteria plus auditorium) at Stratton Elementary School in Madison? Wouldn’t HCA or Quorum or any business in town be willing to share a large board room or auditorium to host the President of the United States? Were they even asked? Then it occurs to me this kind of school setting is one a “community organizer” would be comfortable in doing his work, especially as compared to some corporate setting. I think I may have answered my own questions.

BEGGING FOR BUCKS, LESS FORUMS MORE TV, AND BEGINNING THE FINAL FULL MONTH

Political campaigns are almost always marathons, not sprints.

So as Nashville’s seven mayoral candidates begin the final full month of their countywide quests, the end of June marked a critical deadline. I am pretty sure this city has never had a mayor’s race with seven financially viable contenders.

That mean all seven candidates have each already raised and spent several hundreds of thousands of dollars (some now probably close to or over a million dollars or more) on their campaigns. The latest financial disclosure deadline was end of day June 30 (Tuesday) with reports due to the Metro Election Commission by July 10.

Fund raising, of course, will continue all the way to Election Day. But these July finance reports (and the pecking order that will arise from them) will be the last time voters and the media can measure in terms of dollars and cents who has raised and spent what so far (and who has given them that money including the candidates themselves). We’ll also how much they’ve got left to in the bank to spend. Positive reports could also give extra life to claims coming from all the mayoral camps that they have “momentum,” while a less impressive $$ report will raise doubts about success among perhaps even the most ardent supporters.

So all seven campaigns were filling up everyone’s e-mail boxes in the early part of the week, encouraging folks to help them meet their on-line fundraising, goals which are always just a few thousand dollars away, if you’ll just help (and you’re not already maxed out this campaign cycle by giving the limit of $1500 per person).

Perhaps trying to steal the spotlight quickly in the “momentum game,” two campaigns released some preliminary financial numbers within hours of the $$ cut-off time. The Charles Robert Bone campaign had the first news release out that I saw. It hit my Facebook feed less than 12 hours after the midnight June 30 deadline. It claims the candidate has now raised over $1.1 million in total contributions since the beginning of the campaign, with $330,000 coming in this last quarter (the best fundraising period yet for Bone, with now more than 2,000 individuals from all over the county giving him money).

But not to be outdone, the Bill Freeman team was quickly out with their e-mail release that claimed he had raised $432,000 this past quarter, giving him over a million $$ donated from individuals. Both candidates have also given themselves substantial sums in the past, Freeman $500,000 and Bone $275,000. Neither has released any updates on those numbers along both are expected to pitch in more personal funds sometime in the race. Neither Bone nor Freeman have disclosed how much they have left in the bank, which could be a key indicator of viability heading into the stretch. The left on hand figure could be crucial for Bone who had a somewhat low balance last time blaming it on laying down some substantial TV buys for the final weeks.

Obviously, the Bone and Freeman teams both feel their numbers give them momentum. Maybe so. For sure both reports put out markers for the other campaigns to meet and/or exceed in the days to come. If their numbers don’t measure up, well obviously that momentum conversation could be a little different.

The other thing changing on the campaign trail as we move into July is a decline in the number of candidate forums being held. Close to 50 have already been conducted all over the county. So maybe we are approaching the saturation point and have run out of our sponsoring groups? I know the candidates have gotten a bit weary and are tired of hearing their own and their opponents’ talking points being repeated over and over again.

But the decrease in the number of forums means the campaigns will need to rely more on other (more expensive ways) to get out their messages and touch voters. (Don’t worry, the forums will pick back up again during the September runoff race when we down to just two candidates).

For now the emphasis goes more to volunteer canvassing of neighborhoods, phone bank calling for support, dropping direct mail piece, and, of course new paid advertising.

So maybe it’s not by happenstance that three of the seven mayor’s candidates started new TV ads in recent days (Bill Freeman, David Fox and Charles Robert Bone).

The Freeman ad is perhaps the most intriguing. The candidate is promising to lift tens of thousands of Nashville families out of poverty by gradually raising the minimum wage in Nashville to $12.00 an hour over the next few years (by 2018).

You can see the Freeman ad here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-x_aE-m3hLc&feature=player_embedded

A couple of comments here. Nashville doesn’t have an official minimum wage and neither does the state of Tennessee. In fact, all state law (and the Republican Super Majority in the General Assembly) allows local governments to do is establish wage standards that don’t exceed the federal minimum wage which has been stuck for some time at $7.25 an hour.

Freeman himself admits he’s a campaign convert to raising the minimum wage. He even told reporters when asked (WPLN back in January) that he wasn’t sure that raising the standard was a good idea for the city. He was concerned it would put Nashville at a disadvantage in the competition for jobs with surrounding counties. But Freeman says he’s studied the issue and consulted with experts on what has happened in other parts of the country, and he now thinks establishing and setting a $12.00 minimum wage is a good idea for Nashville,

Maybe it is, except for that pesky state law that doesn’t allow it and which I’d bet GOP lawmakers would oppose changing. So does the Freeman TV ad offer voters a benefit he can’t deliver on if he becomes mayor?

Freeman’s opponent David Fox has debuted his second TV spot. I wondered out in last week’s column if he might go a bit negative and use the language out of one of campaign’s e-mail appeals that says the city’s $ 3 billion debt (due to new city downtown development projects and rising employee pension

and health care costs) are “officially a problem” and must be decreased, especially since the city’s debt rating has been downgraded by one of the international bond rating firms.

But Fox doesn’t do that in his new spot. Instead, he takes to the airwaves with his core campaign theme. “The Nashville Way” is what Fox says makes our city different and special. But it is in danger of being lost claims the candidate because of our rapid growth, and we must fight (through his campaign) to save it.

You can see the Fox spot here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r0LtGhD4lRI&feature=player_embedded

The spot, narrated by the candidate himself, is well done. There were so many people doing good deeds and pitching in to help a neighbor, I kept looking for a Boy Scout to show up and do his bit too. Yes, I must say Nashville (from the 60-plus years I lived here) is a friendly, polite and helpful community. But what the ad fails to connect (at least to me) is how voting for and electing David Fox will somehow “save the “Nashville Way,” a phrase Fox believes so strongly in he’s tried to trademark it.

That’s certainly putting your money where your mouth is. And Fox stilli seems to have plenty of campaign funds on hand to keep his new ad on the air a lot between now and August. But will that spot really convince voters that’ he’s the one to save “the Nashville Way” and how will he do that?

Late in the week (Thursday), Fox released a second new ad. This one seems be more for fun than anything else, although THE TENNESSEAN reports (July 2) with Fox spending up to $150,000 per week on TV now, there will some fairly serious money behind it.

The spot spoofs the promotional ads ESPN runs all the time. Fox is known as a bit of a serious nerd. So the spot is a change of pace for him for sure, although earlier in the campaign he was pushing a bumper sticker to remind voters he was “running for mayor, not homecoming king.”

See the spot here. If this spot any kind of deep political message behind it, I haven’t found it yet (looking in the mirror or otherwise). But it’s clearly the funniest ad so far of this mayoral campaign (and by a long shot). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IprRxn65BM&feature=player_embedded

The final new mayoral ad to debut this week is from Charles Robert Bone. Entitled “Future,” the spot reinforces his pledge that as mayor he will seek to share Nashville prosperity with all parts and populations in Davidson County.

You can see the spot here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=T2l48poc6Qw

The ad features a voiceover endorsement by country music superstar Kix Brooks (although he is never seen or identified on the air, which could lessen its impact for viewers). The ad does have a number of familiar civic and community leaders literally finishing the sentences of the candidate (Bone) as to why Nashville’s kindergarten teachers are as important as the numerous construction cranes in our downtown skyline (banker Marty Dickens): the 40% of our single mothers living in poverty are as

important as our CEOs, bankers and pastors (Pastor Emeritus John Holt); and our neighborhoods as important as “a vibrant downtown” (retired Circuit Judge Barbara Haynes).

Endorsement ads are usually helpful in campaigns especially one like this where voters are just starting to tune in and many have still not decided on a candidate. This could help Bone in particular whose campaign has raised and spent a lot of money, and aired a lot of TV spots. Bu t so far, all the polls released about the contest (no polls have been released by Bone himself) show him mired in single digits well down the pecking order of the race. Can this ad help him move up?

One endorsement Bone would love to have is from former Mayor and Governor Phil Bredesen. I have heard from several sources Mr Bredesen is telling friends he supports Bone and plans to vote for him, but so far that hasn’t become an actual public blessing or endorsement.

There are also no more TV debates scheduled until the runoff. Then there are three one-on-one square offs planned between the mayoral finalists, including a debate August 24 on NEWSCHANNEL5, which is also sponsored by Vanderbilt University and the League of Women Voters. The lack of an immediate new debate is clearly a concern for some of the current mayoral candidates. That includes Jeremy Kane (who, by the way, is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week).

Kane has by all accounts been one of the consistent stars of the TV debates and other forums, along with Bone. Having at least one televised session more could be a big help, especially for Kane who lacks the financial support to be on the air with his ads as often as others. So this week (TENNESSEAN, June 29) Kane sent a letter to Tennessee State University asking that institution to host a debate before the August vote. No response as yet from TSU nor did Kane say who might televise the event.

Howard Gentry still remains the only candidate not on TV. I reported last week he was seen out filming some segments recently, so maybe it won’t be long. I thought he’d be up on the Tube by the 4th of July holiday and surely it will be no later than the start of Early Voting on Friday, July 17.

One last breaking news story from months past also threatened to re-involve one of the mayoral candidates. Megan Barry was quite outspoken when the controversy broke over domestic violence charges being brought against prominent developer David Chase. Barry even called for local Judge Casey Moreland to resign over his involvement in the matter.

The new breaking news part of the story is an announcement Wednesday (July 1) by prosecutors that they are dropping the charges “because of concerns about the alleged victim’s credibility.” So will there now be blowback against the Barry campaign, saying she over-reacted.

That’s hard to say. She’ll need to defend herself if asked. I’d guess she’ll try to make the distinction that she reacted not to Chase’s guilty or innocence but the fact that Judge Moreland released him from jail without a hearing and despite an apparent state law requiring a mandatory 12-hour cooling off period behind bars for anyone arrested on domestic violence charges.

JEREMY KANE ON INSIDE POLITICS

This week on INSIDE POLITICS we continue our in-depth, one on one interviews with Nashville’s mayoral candidates. We are trying to learn more about their campaigns, along with who they are personally, and their plans and vision for our city.

Our guest is Jeremy Kane. His appearance marks the fifth of seven candidates to join us. We appreciate their willingness to come on the program and we hope viewers are finding the conversations helpful.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include 7:00 p.m. Friday; 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday; and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. on Sunday. THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 (note new channel) and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

For those who can’t see the show locally, you can watch it with live streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com. All the mayoral candidate interviews will also be posted in full on line the following week after they air (under the INSIDE POLITICS tab of the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS section of NEWSCHANNEL5.com).

Next week our mayoral candidate guest on INSIDE POLITICS is scheduled to be Bill Freeman.

ANOTHER SPECIAL SESSION

It’s not just the INSURE TENNESSEE advocates who want the General Assembly to come back to town for a special session. Some state GOP legislative leaders want the Governor to call them back too, so they can provide “religious freedom” in Tennessee in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last week making same-sex marriage the law of the land.

Lawmakers are concerned about pastors and other religious leaders being forced or sued to perform such ceremonies against their will, even though there is nothing in the court ruling that even remotely requires that the right to same sex marriage applies to anything except civil marriages not religious ones.

Governor Haslam is no fan of the Court’s decision, especially since it invalidated a constitutional prohibition on same-sex marriage approved by 80% of Tennessee voters. But he’s also not so certain there’s any immediate need for action that couldn’t wait until lawmakers come back to Nashville in January. Besides, I am sure the Governor doesn’t want all the grief he’s sure to receive if he calls a special session to protect Tennessee from the possible bad consequences of same sex marriage, but not trying once again to get legislative approval of his INSURE TENNESSEE program so hundreds of thousands of needy working class Tennesseans can obtain health care insurance coverage for themselves and their families.

Perhaps surprisingly another group that does not seem to be a big fan of a special session regarding same sex marriage and religious freedom is the conservative Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT). It’s leader, former State Senator David Fowler sent out a long e-mail to supporters this week (Wednesday) pointing that Tennessee already some protections on the books other states don’t. He also

points out our laws on who can perform weddings are more permissive, meaning that they (including clerks and other elected officials) “may” perform weddings not that they must (“shall”) do so.

Fowler is also concerned about ongoing efforts that could be made (during or special session or even when lawmakers come back for their regular work) to weaken current religious liberty laws already on the books or to pass an even more permissive Sexual Orientation/ Gender Identity law.

The FACT e-mail seems to say the impulse to “do something” about same sex marriage should be tempered: “even Scripture tell us to figure out before we go to battle if our forces are sufficient for the task. Those who do not take full account of the political landscape will go to “war” without having appreciated the political topography, and will most likely be sorely disappointed to find the path more rocky and uphill than anticipated.”

But some GOP legislators are working to draft specific legislation and to make the special session call as limited as possible to avoid problems and surprises. They can also call the special session themselves. While I am not aware it has ever happened in Tennessee history, if two-thirds of the legislators in both houses sign a letter to their Speakers requesting a special session it is allowed under our state constitution. The Republican Super Majority on the Hill is certainly large enough to make that happen. Are they united enough about what they think needs to be to make it happen. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile in anticipation of the legislative sessions ahead, and to replace his Chief of Staff Mark Cate, who is leaving government to return to the private sector, Governor Haslam has asked his State Department of Children’s Services (DCS) Commissioner Jim Henry to take over Cate’s post. Henry is a well-regarded, seasoned veteran of Tennessee state and local government. Most recently he bailed out the Haslam administration with how he came into DCS and slowly got the troubled department back under control and out of the nearly daily media spotlight.

Henry is a former mayor (Kingston) as well as a former GOP State Party Chair and one-time candidate for governor back in 2002. Most importantly, he is a former state legislator who served 12 years in the House. Based on the reaction of legislative leaders to his appointment, Henry seems to remain highly regarded on the Hill. That should help the Governor whose legislative relationship reportedly began a bit frayed under Cate, especially with the rejection (not once but twice) of the Governor’s INSURE TENNESSEE program this year.

NEW LAWS TAKE EFFECT WHILE OLD LAWSUITS CONTINUE

The first week of July brought new laws into effect in Tennessee.

That includes two new measures that seek to regulate abortions in the state.

One requires a 48-hour waiting period before such a procedure can be performed. The other requires the facilities where abortions are performed to meet the standards of an ambulatory care center.

The enforcement of the second law is being delayed because of an injunction from a federal judge who is hearing a lawsuit seeking to have the measure thrown out.

Meanwhile another lawsuit challenging the legality of the constitutional amendment that allows these regulatory bills to be approved by the General Assembly won a round in court this week. The State of

Tennessee asked Judge Kevin Sharp (who is also handling the abortion lawsuit) to throw out the legal challenge or at least remand the case to the Tennessee State Supreme Court.

But Judge Sharp said no, leaving the plaintiffs it appears with the opportunity to further make their arguments that the state did not properly count the ballots last November in declaring the constitutional amendment had been approved by voters.

DYSFUNCTION IS

Dysfunction, thy name is the Metro School Board.

Less than a week after selecting one of its assistant directors, Jay Steele, to serve as Interim Schools leader to replace Dr. Jesse Register (who officially retired Tuesday), the School Board reversed itself and voted without dissent to name the schools finance chief, Chris Henson to fill the interim post. The Board had actually rejected Henson for the post last week before choosing Steele.

Why the abrupt change of plans?

Well, you’ll recall when the Board hired Steele by a 5-4 vote it did so without debate. That apparently raised (or confirmed) suspicions among some watching the Board. A Sunshine Law complaint was filed, alleging some members had discussed the matter prior to the decision. Last Friday afternoon (June 26) School Board Chairman Sharon Gentry moved to resolve the issue by calling a special meeting Tuesday (June 30).

The Board convened as scheduled, but then surprised on-lookers by voting 5-3 to remove Steele before bestowing the job on Henson (who has served in the interim spot before while the Board was looking for a new director).

It still remains unclear why one board member Jo Ann Brannon flipped her vote from “yes” to “no” on hiring Steele. One other Board member (Anna Shepard who also voted for Steele) was absent from the special session for medical reasons (says THE TENNESSEAN (July 1). There were reported efforts (NASHVILLE POST July 1) to defer any voting and reschedule the special meeting but that failed too on a 5-3 vote. So the die seemed cast on who finally would be the interim director.

Now the concern is: Will all this confusion about the hiring of an interim leader cloud the selection of a permanent schools chief. That is particularly a concern because Steele had been a candidate for the Director’s job but withdrew when the Board’s outside consultants said they were leaving him off their list of recommended finalists because he didn’t have enough experience.

Still, Steele’s surprise initial selection as Interim Director had raised talk the Board might put him on its short list anyway and made him a possible early favorite for the permanent job. Of course, that’s not true now. But will other qualified candidates now be reluctant to apply? Some school board members even raised that issue during the board’s debate at the special meeting. Ominously, so did the Board’s consultant who was quoted by THE TENNESSEAN as saying: “I am hoping it has (no impact). But there is no question that it could.”

And so this School Board, having also previously quarreled often bitterly in public and helped divide the community on several policy issues including the role charter schools, now moves bravely forward to

begin to wrap up its permanent director search. Right after the July 4 holiday, board members face a very compact, fast-paced schedule to review the still-undisclosed list of finalists; then bring them to town for further interviews, vetting, public meetings, etc., All this with the goal of selecting a new director and hiring that person before the end of this month.

Really. Really?

Well, this interim schools selection has sure become an embarrassment (Board Chair Gentry reportedly apologized to both Henson and Steele “for the back and forth” says THE TENNESSEAN). Let’s hope they get it right on the permanent Director’s choice. Educating our young people is the most important job our Metro government performs. The Director’s job and his/her role in that is most critical. Let’s have no more apologies. Get the right person (if he or she is on the finalist list). If not, continue the search. But most importantly, do it right!

STILL IN SHOCK

The Nashville community remains in shock following the sudden death of Mike Pigott this week at the age of 61.

When the word first began to spread that Mike was gone, I came to his Facebook page hoping I'd learn something there that would tell me it could not be true.

We've lost one our great ones in public relations, journalism; just in being a great man, father, husband, mentor and citizen.

I have known and been friends with Mike for well over 30 years. I never had the pleasure of being his co-worker. It seems whether in the media or in public relations we were always working for competing firms. I wish I’d had the opportunity to work with Mike, particularly after reading this wonderful remembrance penned by one of his former NASHVILLE BANNER co-workers, Bruce Dobie.

http://www.thenashvillebanner.com/city-update/2015/06/30/my-memories-of-mike-pigott.1652672

Mike, you have been taken from us much too soon. Rest in peace with prayers and comfort to your family.