Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 17 - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, July 17



By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

July 17, 2009


Well, they waited until almost the last minute, but the 2010 Democratic candidates for Governor filed some mighty interesting campaign finance disclosures in the last few days.

Some would say at least one of the disclosures (from State Senator Roy Herron) was quite creative. News releases from his campaign touted that he had collected "over $650,000." That's conveniently just a little more than chief rival Mike McWherter reported, which was $650,000. But a further check of Herron's records shows that he made that number only if you add in money he raised, spent and/or transferred from his State Senate campaign account.

Now that's all apparently legal, but when almost a third of the funds you are reporting ($251,049.15) and your largest expenditures (over $40,000) actually came from monies collected for your previous state senate campaigns, and not directly from your gubernatorial efforts, some people might get a wrong impression about how well the Herron campaign is really doing.  Actually, Herron's only had about a month to raise gubernatorial funds because of the ban on state lawmaker raising money during the recent legislative session and his disclosure also included some on-line funds raised after the June 30 deadline. It was all disclosed says the candidate to be complete and transparent about his fundraising. That is, if you read more than his news release.  

Why is this important? Well, so far, this Democratic race has not had a clear frontrunner. If Mike McWherter, the son of the former Governor Ned McWherter, had been able to use these financial disclosures to show some distance between his campaign and the rest of the field, it could have allowed him to claim to be the frontrunner. Now the situation is probably muddied up enough, that that's not going to be possible, although clearly McWherter and Herron are head and shoulders above their other Democratic rivals, former House Majority Leader Kim McMillan of Clarksville ($294,957) and Nashville businessman and former Republican Ward Cammack ($189,467 including $72,00 of his own money).

McMillan's numbers are probably just barely enough to keep her competitive for now. I've also heard there might be some pressure coming from other state Democratic leaders for her to drop out, which I kind of doubt she will do just yet. These first disclosures always represent the "low hanging fruit" or the easiest money for them to collect. The question now is can all these candidates keep it up or even step up the pace as the race intensifies in the months ahead?

As for Cammack, he told THE TENNESSEAN (July 16) "We're disappointed obviously. You can't get elected by putting in your own money. People have to have some equity in it to succeed." That's true, but so far for Cammack he hasn't raised enough equity from any source to be considered a real contender. Does he have a decision to make about staying the race?

One other comment: I continue to be fascinated by the relationship between Mike McWherter and Roy Herron. They are both from the same part of West Tennessee. Mike's father, former Governor and House Speaker Ned McWherter was clearly Herron's political mentor at one time. Herron took McWherter's House seat when he was elected Governor back in 1987. So why are they now likely splitting their supporters and running against each other?  


For what it's worth, there's also an early statewide poll on the Governor's race. It's from THE SOUTHERN POLITICAL REPORT.

The survey of 604 registered voters conducted on July 13 (weighted for age, race, gender and political affiliation) found McWherter, a Jackson businessman with 23% of the vote, Herron with 13%, Memphis Senator Jim Kyle (who just announced and didn't have to file any financial disclosures this time ) 6%, Cammack 5%, McMillan 3%, Other 16% and Undecided 34%.

Even here where Mike McWherter might be tempted to claim he is the front-runner based on his 10-point lead in this poll, the leader is clearly still Undecided at 34%. That's not unusual this early in a campaign, and it shows the challenge all these candidates face in building their name recognition and support in a crowded primary field.

But here's the biggest challenge of them all for the Democrats. The major Republican candidates have so far outraised them almost 4 to 1. If money represents votes and enthusiasm, the GOP clearly has an advantage in this 2010 contest right now. Nobody on the Democratic side can come close to the money raised so far by Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam ($3.9 million) or Chattanooga Congressman Zach Wamp and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey ($1.3 million  each).   

And Wamp is trying to make political hay out his standing in THE SOUTHERN POLITICAL REPORT poll which, again for what it is worth, found the Republican field shaping up this way:

Wamp 22%

Haslam 15%

Ramsey 7%

Gibbons 4%

Other 13%

Undecided 39%

Here again, you can make the case that Undecided really leads the field. But Wamp is also crowing about his tie for first place (with Ramsey and with Haslam a distant third) in a straw poll taken among Nashville party activists recently. Straw polls don't usually mean much, but combined with the SOUTHERN POLITICAL REPORT poll, it may have some of those GOP undecided voters taking a second look at his campaign, especially after the early "consensus" has been that Haslam is the front-runner because of his strong advantage in fund raising. Also the Ramsey campaign must have some concerns about these developments. They are competing with Wamp for the most conservative voter wing of the party. And while I doubt the Lt. Governor is really down 3 to 1 to Wamp as this poll suggests, perception can become reality very quickly, so it would behoove the Lt. Governor to come up with a way to show some strength as soon as possible. Or maybe make Congressman Wamp continue to have to talk about the owners of the building where he lives in Washington. J

I thought long and hard about whether and what to write about this poll. I offer it "for what it's worth" because, while it was done by an independent group, I am not really sure what to make of it. The sample size seems big enough, but doing all the polling in just one day seems odd to me given most past professional polling I've seen. I also don't know for sure exactly how the poll was weighted in terms of geography, race, gender, etc. so I can't say what that means about its accuracy. So I wouldn't take as gospel, just for what it is worth for its political entertainment value. And I find political junkies like myself just can't resist that. So enjoy. I am sure there'll be plenty of polls yet to come.    


The intense political war over where those who have state hand gun permits can take their fire arms continues to rage all across Tennessee.

The new state law allowing permit holders to carry their weapons into bars and restaurants was allowed to go into effect by a Nashville judge, although she indicated that those filing suit against the statute because it is unconstitutionally vague, make some good points, which she wants to consider further when a hearing in the case is held sometime in the next few months.     

Meantime, a number of prominent restaurant owners in Nashville (and even on Beale Street in Memphis) are posting signs saying guns are not allowed in their establishments, an opt-out which is allowed under the new law. The owner of the world-famous Tootsie's Orchid Lounge is going even further, saying he plans to install a metal detector at the front door to screen patrons. It would seem one thing fueling this move is a concern about what this new law will do to the liability insurance costs for restaurant and bar owners.

But those in favor of the new law are fighting back. They have their own materials, a handbill to be given to restaurant and bar owners who won't let them come in with their weapons. The handout (to be given directly to the owner/manager or left with the bill and a tip) says the customer won't ever again patronize a place that denies them their constitutional rights.

Gun permit supporters also say they plan to go back to the Legislature next year and ask them to get rid of the "opt-out" provisions, not only in the "guns in bars and restaurants" law but also in the new "guns in parks" act. This came in response to Governor Phil Bredesen who told reporters he thinks lawmakers are beginning to realize they made a mistake in passing these new measures and he hopes they will repeal them and replace them with more reasonable laws.

The "guns in parks" law is also making lots of news, with more and more cities and counties opting out, such as Goodlettsville and even in heavily conservative and Republican parts of the state like Williamson County, Franklin and Brentwood. It is also spreading into more rural areas. For example, in Macon County both the cities of Red Boiling Springs and Lafayette have passed resolutions opting out of the state law and barring guns in their parks and recreation areas.

I have no idea if lawmakers will change their minds about what do with current or future gun laws. But I do know this issue has stirred the deepest passions on both sides that I have seen in many years. And therefore, unless something happens to simmer things down, what a mess lawmakers have gotten themselves into when they come back to Nashville next January, trying to deal with these an election year! 


Normally things are quiet in the halls of Congress during the summer months, but not this year as lawmakers grapple with a Supreme Court appointment, global warming, energy, and perhaps most importantly, national health care reform.

After a week of grilling by the Republicans, even GOP leaders admit that Sonia Sotomayor is headed for easy confirmation to the High Court. Some Senators huffed while others puffed at her, but no one could knock Sotomayor off her game...."a wise Latina judge" indeed. A filibuster would be pushing things too far and might hurt the GOP in the future with the growing Hispanic vote.  It appears some GOP Senators (Lugar) may even vote for her. But the point has been made by Republicans and the lines drawn for perhaps future court nomination fights, when the balance of power on the Supreme Court might be more in play than this appointment is. 

But while President Barack Obama seems headed for a great victory with his first High Court appointment, as for national health care reform, he remains in some peril. Knowing that Congress really only focuses when it has a deadline, and that deadline is pinned to a looming Congressional vacation, President Obama has urged legislators to pass a health care plan before they go home the end of this month. That's hasn't looked to likely in recent days, although Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper, a recognized health care expert among his colleagues, believes this coming week (especially Tuesday, July 21 and Wednesday, July 22) could be key times to determine what happens.

That's when the Congressional Blue Dogs, a group of moderate to conservative, mostly southern House Democrats (including Cooper, and other Tennessee congressmen including Bart Gordon, John Tanner and Lincoln Davis) will decide if they can support the latest health care plan (supported by the Administration) and pending approval in the House. Congressman Cooper says there is good in the bill, but some bad too (especially by how it pays for the plan with new taxes, fees, etc).

The Nashville Congressman says he believes there is enough waste and inefficiency in the current health system to pay for it, but do enough other lawmakers think that to change the bill? The Blue Dog vote could be critical and already some, including John Tanner are voting against their party's health care bills in committee. The Republicans, led by our two Senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, say the current health care reform plans being considered by the Democrats are government at its worst in terms of bureaucracy and new taxes, etc. And it seems the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office agrees. But the GOP doesn't have enough votes to stop the Democrats unless the Blue Dogs cross over or decide to sit it out.

So are we, as Senator Corker said recently "headed for a train wreck?" Or will Congress find a compromise, one that can pass in a bi-partisan fashion? It seems to me Congress is in a bind. It can pass something before the break...and catch some flack when they come home. Or they can wait, and still catch flack from some for not doing anything when they come home. Or maybe they can just stay in Washington and get it done and forget their August vacation until something is passed. The public wants something done about health care and done now. So maybe that's what Congress ought to keep most in mind in trying to resolve this mess.


One other note I want to make about Congressman Jim Cooper. NewsChannel5 reported the other evening that he raised some eyebrows during a recent interview with Bob Schieffer of CBS News when Mr. Cooper said flat out "No," he did not want any campaign help from retiring Alaska Governor and former GOP Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin. She recently said she was willing to go out on the campaign trail to try and help moderate to conservative Democrats and Republicans get elected.

Why would anyone raise their eyebrows over Congressman Cooper saying no to that? Sure, he is a moderate to conservative Democrat, but he represents probably the most Democratic district in the state and historically one of the most reliably Democratic seats in the U.S. Congress. It's not called the "Old Hickory" or "Hermitage" district for nothing. It's because one of the first persons who hold the job was Andrew Jackson, later Tennessee's first U.S. President, and the one of the founders of the Democratic Party.

The last thing Jim Cooper needs is to have some former Governor who just quit her job from way off in Alaska, and who is disliked by some voters, even in the Republican Party, coming to Nashville to "help" him. I can't think of a quicker way for the Congressman to get himself some real primary competition if he did something like that. And Jim Cooper is way, way, way too smart to even think about that. I think the question by Bob Schieffer was a "throw-away", end of the interview, light-hearted inquiry, and anyone who raised their eyebrows about the answer just doesn't know their politics.     


Six years ago Nashville, and particularly the Metro Council, tied themselves up in knots politically over a bill that would have extended the city's non-discrimination policy to include sexual orientation or gender identity.

In fact, the final vote on the measure was a 20-20 tie until the Vice Mayor Howard Gentry killed the measure by voting no.

Now the proposal is coming back to the Council, where it chances for passage look much better this time. That's not only because the 40-members of this Council look more progressive than their predecessors, it also because Mayor Karl Dean has come out strongly in favor of the proposal, telling reporters: "I am against discrimination. Everyone should be treated fairly when it comes to employment with Metropolitan Government. I support this ordinance."

You can't much clearer than that, and no can accuse the Mayor of sitting on the sidelines on this one (such as some say he did on the May Town zoning controversy, which may still not be over). The non-discrimination bill currently has co-sponsorships from four of the city's five At-Large Council members (everyone but Charlie Tygard). That's another sign of the strength this proposal appears to have as it goes through the legislative process over the next couple of weeks. But that's doesn't mean it will be a unanimous vote. Far from it, I fully expect some strong and outspoken opposition to appear when the bill comes up again later this month.


Many of these topics and more are the subject of discussion this week on my INSIDE POLITICS show. My guest is Nashville icon John Seigenthaler, the Publisher-Emeritus of THE TENNESSEAN and the founding Editorial Director of USA TODAY.

John is one of my favorite people to talk politics with, and at 82 years of age, his knowledge, insight, wisdom, and historical memory are a wonder to behold.

And we have a special treat this week for those of you who complain to me that you can't see INSIDE POLITICS because you don't have Comcast Cable service. There will be a special presentation of INSIDE POLITICS this Friday (tonight) at 6:30 PM on WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5.

By the way, while we won't be on the main channel Sunday in our regular 5:00 AM slot, you can watch INSIDE POLITICS several other times this weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network.

FRIDAYS (July 17).........7:00 PM.........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50

SATURDAYS (July 18)...5:00 AM..........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

SATURDAYS (July 18)....5:30 PM..........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

SUNDAYS (July 19).........5:00 AM.........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

SUNDAYS (July 19).........12:30 PM........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS

 You can also see excerpts of previous shows here at and you can sign for an RSS of this column every week here on this web site.

Have a great weekend!

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