Investigative reports can play an important role in understanding what’s going on behind the scenes in business, government, or any institution, but it ain’t cheap. Media outlets, especially TV outlets have fewer resources and smaller staffs to do these kinds of things.
Watching NC 5′s “A Question of Influence” is not only important for people all over Tennessee…so they can see what’s happening behind the scenes, its also important to reward them by watching it at their website.
Doesn’t cost you a thing.
Here’s part 1. Go check out the other 6 parts at their website, and get your learn on.
Happy new year.
This is part 3 in a series of 3 posts (part 1, and part 2) that looks at who came out ahead, who came out behind, and who didn’t move an inch in the past 12 months. As with all these type lists, they are both subjective and incomplete, so make any additions/corrections in the comments. Thanks and have a Happy New Year. -SR
|It could have gone either way for the former legal counsel, turned leader of the largest school district in the state. Sure, there were some problems…an early rough start getting kids to and from school and the municipal schools talks could have derailed the whole thing, but Hopson persevered and has largely come out ahead and smelling like a rose.
Hopson has some big challenges this year…including the possible closure of schools, and what will likely be another bout with the County Commission…not to mention the likely shrinkage that will occur when those muni-school districts come on line. But if the past several months are any indication, he’ll find a way to make it through without too many dings.
Of course, there are still the long-term lingering problems that face the district…which include teacher retention (from munis and retirements) and increasing educational outcomes. The latter doesn’t have to be completely fixed overnight (and can’t be, by the way) just show some improvement. The former is the bigger immediate problem. One that will no doubt cause his administration a good deal of trouble over the coming months.
2014 Outlook – Partly Sunny
|They say cats always land on their feet (though I’ve seen more than a few fall on their asses) Aitken had the pick of the litter when it came to which municipal school system he would lead. Courted by all, and on the payroll (as a consultant) of several, Aitken not only landed on his feet, but called his shot.
From here the outlook gets a little murkier. There’s no question Aitken is an adept administrator, and political operator, but is he a builder? Can he build Collierville schools from the ground up?
Time will tell, and how well he fosters relationships with his school board will probably have more to do with it than anything else.
|It doesn’t matter how you feel about Terry Roland, he has, by all accounts had a banner year. Consistently sought after for comments from the media, and on a continual crusade to “do what’s right” in his own mind, Terry is one thing, and that’s consistent.
Sure, his efforts to raise ethical questions about his colleagues may not hold any water according to the law, but they hold water to his constituents, and that’s all that really matters in the politics game.
I can’t think of a day when I’ve been at the County Commission office where Roland wasn’t either there talking to constituents, or either coming or going. That’s saying something. Since I’m not a constituent I can’t say whether he does constituent services well, but he does it harder than anyone else, and that makes him a hard mark for anyone looking to rid the Commission of his presence.
Is Roland effective? That’s a good question. I’m not sure he is in the long run, but so long as he keeps fighting his “gold fight” (even when its not “the” good fight) he’ll stay within his definition of success…and I’m convinced that’s all he worries about.
2014 Outlook – “Terry-bull”
Muni schools – The hard work may just be beginning for the 6 newly minted municipal school districts, but the first fight is won…the fight for survival.
All the districts now have buildings they can call home, though perhaps not all the buildings they wanted. No matter. Its done. Now comes the hard part. Educating. How soon that starts happening is going to be one of the most interesting elements going forward.
2014 Outlook – Honeymoon Over
County Commission – The County Commission makes the winners list for one reason and one reason only…Brent Taylor is no longer on it.
That doesn’t mean I’m a fan of his replacement, but much of the drama that ensued in 2012 was due in large part to Taylor’s presence. Folks who don’t understand that, weren’t paying attention.
Now if they could just coalesce around something they could accomplish before 2014 other than cut staff and raise taxes, they’d be number one on my list.
2014 Outlook – Partisan
Teachers – Screwed out of raises and with many on the chopping block due to funding and attendance issues, can anyone truly say that Teachers haven’t gotten the raw end of the deal this year? On the local level it has been bad, but not as bad as on the state level. Still, they’re included here for the cumulative effect of all of the above.
2014 Outlook – Cloudy, with a chance of apocalypse
|The City Council came this close to being on my winners list. I mean, it was virtually handed to them. But their inability to get beyond two things: the “what’s in it for my district” syndrome, and the “I’m legislating to be Mayor” condition, that they end up being losers.
I agree that in a “Strong Mayor” governing system, a lot of the “vision thing” lands on the executive to both articulate and propose. But the Council has also gone above and beyond in their attempt to discredit the Mayor and damn near anyone else that crosses them individually, including each other, that they are a ghost of what they could be.
Vision doesn’t have to come from above. But the Council has largely allowed it to have to originate there so they can play the foil. That may score political points, but it doesn’t make you a leader.
2014 Outlook – Jockeying for position
A C Wharton
|Political capital is a funny thing. Think of it as a commodities market. When people are buying, your price goes up. When they’re selling…getting any value out of it is damn near impossible.
Such is the state of Memphis Mayor A C Wharton. He rode in on a 75% margin of victory, with a fist full of political capital. Sat on it, then sat on it some more, and ultimately squandered it. Now he’s in many ways, a man without a country. The City Council doesn’t trust him (for many reasons), he’s articulated no real vision to move people (his 5 year plan is still at unicorn status) and his inability to put a proposal before the Council that stands up to scrutiny has many asking if he’s in over his head.
I think I’d rather be a leper colony resident than A C Wharton right now. He’s thrust himself in a position of extreme scrutiny by not playing offense and letting his defense spend two years holding down a stool at Krispy Kreme. Now that he needs both, he’s too slow, and out of shape to move the ball in any way but the way others want him to.
That’s no way to lead.
2014 Outlook – Needs a miracle
Unemployed – The unemployed have made every list because they’ve been failed at every level. At the local level, the failure is more about sacrificing solutions focused on the systemtemic problems in Shelby Co. in favor of the more immediate political considerations. It’s about not playing a long game. The unemployed need someone in Shelby Co. to play a long game, because the employment picture here isn’t getting any rosier.
2014 Outlook – more screwed (if that’s possible)
Poor neighborhoods – Executive programs to address blight notwithstanding, poor neighborhoods have suffered another year of severe neglect at the hands of both legislators and executives in local government. Both have chosen to look at the poor in the “Ronald Reagan” way…as just one step above the “Cadillac Driving welfare Queens”. The implication is that the poor have chosen to be poor…somehow, despite the fact that their parents were poor and their parents parents were poor, etc.
Poor neighborhoods suffer much the same fate, and easy judgement as the poor, except the drag on society is due SPECIFICALLY to this very attitude, which would allow property values to plummet in exchange for the new and expensive growth that we’re just now coming to pay for…that started over 25 years ago.
Nevermind that dead beat property owners have exploited the City and County’s weaknesses for their own personal gain, or that they’re making wild profits at the expense of the very poor they serve. Poor neighborhoods, like poor people just need to pick themselves up and dust themselves off in the eyes of those who judge on the Council and Commission, who…by the way, have largely never been poor, nor from the looks of them, ever missed a meal.
2014 Outlook – compassion will continue to be absent
Faith in government – State House Democratic Caucus leader Mike Turner has a saying, “Republicans run on a platform that government is broken, then get in office and do everything to prove it”. Locally, that’s what it seems like is happening, though in a bipartisan fashion.
It didn’t happen overnight. Two governments, city and county, that have largely been built on patronage rather than proficiency…(which in both cases the patronage system was started by white folks for those of you who want to make this racial)…are mired in a condition where neither of them really work because folks are more interested in the “right” candidates for the positions than…you know, people who can actually do the job.
Add to that the toxicity in the legislative bodies, and ineptitude at the top and you’ve got a recipe for success at failure. A recipe that no one seems genuinely interested in correcting, including the electorate.
2014 Outlook – Failing Forward
|In the world of County politics, few are as popular as County Mayor Mark Luttrell. Of course, that popularity is more based on his personality than his policies.
Luttrell gets a draw because as an administrator, he hasn’t really done much. He’s got no signature agenda, on the hard stuff, he’s dispatched his chief henchman Harvey Kennedy to do the dirty work. Luttrell doesn’t have to do much politically, because he knows the more he does the more scrutiny he opens himself up to.
Because of this under the radar tactic, you can’t really rate him an anything. So he gets a draw…and a question…am I reading Mark wrong?
2014 Outlook – Can he stand up to a challenge?
This is part 2 in a series of 3 posts (part 1 is here) that will look at who came out ahead, who came out behind, and who didn’t move an inch in the past 12 months. As with all these type lists, they are both subjective and incomplete, so make any additions/corrections in the comments. Thanks and have a Happy New Year. -SR
|Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey – The State Senate strongman, and person who’s actually in charge of the state has had a downright awesome year. He can say whatever the hell he wants and knows he only has his constituents to answer to, all while ensuring the good Governor doesn’t get to mamby pamby on his conservative credo, by offering legislative strong-arm tactics as a response to even the slightest flinch of liberality…(is that even a word? Who cares, this is Ramseyland…the dictionary is full of liberal lies!)
Sure he had a run-in with the twitter, but no one in Ramseyland pays any attention to that stuff….or the impact of public policy on people for that matter. Nope, its all horse racing and cow milking contests for legislative coverage…and legislators these days…so Ron Ramsey can carry on to enjoy the spoils of his office…as the true head of state.
2014 Outlook – What could go wrong?
Education “reform” – Reform is a tricky word. It literally means “to make changes”. You’ll note, there is no value statement in that definition. For years many have looked at Education Reform as a positive. Any change was seen as good. When “No Child Left Behind” was passed, it was good, until it wasn’t. The more recent batch of reforms, which include a doubling down on testing, more oversight of teachers, less pay for teachers, and teacher evaluations based on student performance on said testing, has been focused on…teachers.
This doesn’t mean its been a good year for education. Just “reform”. The results of that “reform” will take years to calculate…though this years test scores were hailed as a victory. Of course, that doesn’t mean we’re adequately educating out kids…we’re just passing more tests now.
2014 Outlook – More
|“Friends of Bill” Haslam – Y’all got your taxes cut on investment income, and a whole bunch of you FOB’s (friends of Bill) got gubament contracts to boot! Way to go rich people!|
2014 Outlook – Cake
|Honorable Mention: TN House Democratic Caucus – Its a long-shot, but I have to give a shout out to the only currently functioning state Democratic organization right now…the TN House Democratic Caucus. Sure, they’re not flashy…and they haven’t developed a stable cast of characters beyond leadership, but at least they’re doing something…which is more than I can say for their colleagues across the plaza.
Usually timely, and pretty well on point, especially since the session ended. The House Caucus is still a work in progress. But they’re working, which is more than I can say for…oh never mind.
2014 Outlook – Keep the faith
Hospitals/sick people – One lost hundreds of millions of dollars in the decision to not expand Medicaid, the other lost the opportunity to not go into financial ruin just because they were sick. Both suffered. But who cares, right? At least the state is screwing over President Obama’s signature legislative achievement! That’s all that matters these days in Tennessee.
2014 Outlook – sicklier
The poor – Speaking of screwing people over, 80% of everyone in the US is on the brink of poverty. What does that have to do with Tennessee? We’re in the bottom 25% of all the states in the US, which means we’re more screwed than most everyone else. Yay us!
2014 Outlook – poorer
Unemployed – It took all year, but preliminary numbers from the Dept. of Labor show that unemployment finally dropped to 8.1% down from 8.5%. Don’t get too excited. Future drops will only reflect those who no longer qualify for unemployment because their benefits weren’t extended by the Feds. State politicians will take this and try to sell you that things are getting better. They aren’t and things getting better for working people isn’t anywhere on their menu.
2014 Outlook – Still out of luck
Rural Communities – If there’s one thing that guaranteed the GOP’s victory in 2010, it was the support of rural communities. Which is why its puzzling that rural communities are getting screwed over so hard under GOP rule. I mean, screwing over Nashville and Memphis (and soon Chattanooga and Knoxville), that’s a no-brainer. But when most of your elected officials owe their position to rural folks, screwing them over as well is…well…ballsy to say the least. But that’s what’s happened. Unemployment is high, hospitals are closing their doors, and the only opportunity right now is the opportunity to move or continue to suffer.
The worst part is, there are no signs folks in rural TN see the connection. They’re still buying in to it being Washington’s fault.
2014 Outlook – #DANG
Teachers – If any one group has gotten a raw deal in the past several years its teachers. At once blamed for “failing schools” and tasked with bringing up achievement, teachers have had their pay cut, lost the right to collectively bargain, and had more paperwork thrown at them…which takes time away from doing what they trained to do…which is teach. Honestly, I don’t understand why anyone would do this to themselves.
2014 Outlook – Lots of retirements
|Gov. Bill Haslam – To say that 2013 was an unremarkable year for Bill Haslam is to say that the remarkable revelations about his administration were largely either ignored, or didn’t get the full hearing they deserved. From contracts to cronies, to the intense pressure to eschew his moderate image to both save himself the indignity of a primary, and avoid a standoff with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and his band of merry men. And then there’s the PILOT investigation, which shined a light on the inner workings of a company he both benefits greatly from, and seeks to minimize in the public as just a little company his family owns. For all the stories in Tennessee this year, at least from a political perspective, Bill Haslam, his family, his friends, and his general impotence as a state leader… those were the stories…even if they didn’t get the full hearing they deserved.
The saddest part is it looks as if Haslam will run unopposed from the Democratic party…unless someone steps in at the last second to be the sacrificial lamb, which means Tennessee will never hear a full accounting of these stories, and will have no alternative if they decide they don’t want the teflon coated co-governor at the front and center of state politics…at least in appearances.
You’ll note, I haven’t even gotten into the depths of his relationship with the Lt. Gov., who pulls the real strings in the state. There’s just not enough time. But pay attention, and see if the two cross. I think you’ll find they won’t publicly. The Governor just doesn’t have the juice to take him, or any other legislative leader, on.
2014 Outlook – Shady, with a side of puppetry.
This is part 1 in a series of 3 posts that will look at who came out ahead, who came out behind, and who didn’t move an inch in the past 12 months. As with all these type lists, they are both subjective and incomplete, so make any additions/corrections in the comments. Thanks and have a Happy New Year. -SR
Inaction – If you’re one of those that thinks the government needs to do less, you probably liked the hell out of 2013. Congress took more vacation time than the average person gets in more than 10 years of working, and little if anything was done to address the sluggish economy, unemployment, or any of the other major problems facing the country. Since Congress writes the laws, most of this falls on their heads, but you’d be hard pressed to know that in the national press, which continuously placed the blame on an administration hamstrung by recalcitrant members of the House.
Outlook for 2014 – Good (which means bad for the rest of us)
|Harry Reid – The strong, silent type…Reid shoved through the Senate what he could, and spearheaded an effort to cripple the crippling filibuster, which kept a record number of Obama appointees from ever coming up for a vote. He also held his own during a government shutdown that was largely blamed on those same recalcitrant House Members that were mentioned above.
Reid isn’t the most compelling character in a TV driven national conversation, but his behind the scenes skill at getting things done and keeping his party together earned him a win for 2013.
Outlook for 2014 – Good
|Paul Ryan – The 2012 GOP VP nominee stayed out of the spotlight for much of 2013, but surged in the waning weeks of the year to pass a Budget that accomplished most of what he wanted while giving up little in return. Bipartisanship may not be popular on the GOP side of the aisle, but any negotiation that gets you 70% of what you want is a win.|
Outlook for 2014 – Not Bad
Misinformation – The media struggled against noise machines like Darrell Issa (R-CA) and others this year to get basic facts right about the stories that dominated the headlines. What’s more they struggled to even understand if those stories held any relevance. The Affordable Care Act, Benghazi, and the IRS scandal were the top three issues where the media largely parroted Issa and his acolytes despite information that would eventually discredit their assertions (Sources: – Al Quaeda wasn’t involved in Benghazi Attack, IRS targeted progressive groups, Too, Documents reveal, Top 16 myths about the health care law).
The media politics of “He said/She said” continue, and the only winners are those who profit either politically or financially through stirring up misinformation and strengthening the paranoia machines.
Outlook for 2014 – Worse
|Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN) – This may seem an odd addition, since Fincher isn’t a member of the GOP House leadership…but he did get some headlines, and those headlines didn’t seem to hurt him much. The whole SNAP Flap over farm bill subsidies and food stamps helped put Fincher on the national map. That attention helped him raise over $2 million dollars for his campaign…and that’s just through the end of September. Fincher has benefitted from a constituency base that is isolated from media outlets that have the resources to draw the connection from his preferred policies to the impact on the area he represents. Also, having the most conservative swath of Shelby Co. in his district, which can easily provide him 41% of the votes he needs to win in any election doesn’t hurt.|
Outlook for 2014 – Good
|Steve Cohen (D-TN) – Cohen also had a good year. He too got a good deal of national attention…some of it not always in the best ways…but far better than many of his contemporaries in the House. In addition to working for several progressive bills that will likely never see the light of day in the GOP led House, he used his time on the national TV circuit to push for more progressive legislation to deal with all kinds of problems that haven’t garnered the national attention that the should. This may not seem like a win, but in a year that saw the GOP led House do more of less, anyone doing more of more comes out a winner in my book.
What’s more, Cohen hasn’t drawn a serious challenger in his re-election bid as of yet (unless you count Ricky Wilkins as a serious challenger…and I don’t).
Outlook for 2014 – Good
|Barack Obama – Coming off an election year that saw him win 51% of the popular vote, and 61% of the electoral college, you might think there would be a tailwind for the first year of his second term. That simply didn’t happen. Stymied by a GOP led House that seemed more interested in voting to repeal his signature healthcare law and investigate bogus scandals…the President might have made it through the year with at least a draw…if not a win in the wake of the GOP forced government shutdown. But the botched rollout of the healthcare.gov site erased any gains the President made and ultimately distracted the public from the foolishness that was, by far, the signature of the GOP led efforts to implicate him in something…anything.|
Outlook for 2014 – Neutral
|John Boehner – “Cryin’” John Boehner had a shitty year. Plain an simple. If “herding cats” is an overused metaphor for damn near everything, that’s still what Boehner was tasked with doing…and he largely failed. Unable to grab the reigns from the TEA Party elements in his party, he led the House to vote for a government shutdown that surged public opinion against him, and his GOP colleagues. Boehner looked weak, and acted weak…eschewing the “Hastert Rule” to eventually end that shutdown, and pass some of the few pieces of legislation that actually had a chance in the Democratically controlled Senate. On top of all of that, he gained a Primary Challenger, something that just about never happens to a sitting House Speaker. Every morning I wake up and thank God that I am not John Boehner…for these, and a multitude of other reasons.|
Outlook for 2014 – Worse
|Mitch McConnell – If John Boehner’s year was bad, Mitch McConnell’s year was somehow worse. The Senate Minority Leader managed to block a good deal of Obama nominees to various and sundry posts throughout the year…until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid effectively took away the filibuster for the approval of nominees…effectively hampering that effort. On top of that, McConnell is about as unpopular in his home state as a politician can be…and he drew a credible opponent in Alison Lundergan Grimes, the current Democratic Secretary of State of Kentucky.|
Outlook for 2014 – Worse
Unemployed – The US unemployment rate may have dropped from 7.9% in Jan. of 2013 to a mere 7% in November of this year, but the unemployed still got the raw end of the deal. Congress failed to reauthorize long-term unemployment benefits, which means 1,300,000 people who have been looking for work for a long-assed time are more screwed than they were before.
Outlook for 2014 – Worse
Working Poor – Wages for all workers in the US eked up 2¢ for the year. At the end of the year, the average hourly wage in the US was $10.31/hr. That’s the average, so a whole bunch of folks are way below that number. Median household wages are still below their pre-recession level, which means that damn near everyone is still worse off than they were before the Bush Bubble Burst. But for the working poor…who were struggling in the first place, its just not looking good…and there are no immediate sings of improvement in the future.
Outlook for 2014 – Worse
Affordable Care Act – The Affordable Care Act may have been an early success in helping women, and children get or keep healthcare they needed, but the rollout of the healthcare.gov site was a disaster…and has been largely pegged to the failure of the law in general…even though that’s pure BS. The law has been scratched bare by scrutiny, some of it legitimate, much of it rhetorical flourish and the fumbling of the rollout of a key component only gives credence to those who proudly say that government can’t do anything right. Add to that the 23 states that aren’t expanding Medicaid and the 4,800,000 people that are being left behind and you’ve got a full on catastrophe. Its a damn shame, because despite its flaws, this law could help a lot of folks.
Outlook for 2014 – Neutral
TEA Party – The most recent iteration of secessionists finally got their civil war…though not where they expected…in their own party. Now I’ve always held that the TEA Party folks aren’t Republicans, but newfangled “know-nothings” that are more interested in maintaining the status quo than the public populist persona they initially used to their advantage. Nonetheless, the National GOP embraced them as a means to an end, and now they have to deal with them. There’s always been an element of these folks in government, but this is the first time in my lifetime they have grabbed this much power. Even conservative groups are running away…like the US Chamber of Commerce which has pledged $50 million dollars to defeat them. Popcorn popped. I can’t wait to see how this plays out in the primaries.
Outlook for 2014 – Not Good (Which is just fine by me)
The filibuster – Most people have no idea what the filibuster is. I’m not going to get in to all that. But it is a loser this year for reasons I mentioned above. Earlier this year the Senate voted to limit its use as a delay tactic in the Senate for most Presidential nominees. This has been called “the nuclear option” but in reality, its little more than a grenade tossed in the general direction of a nuclear blast fortified door. In any case…its a loser this year which is a huge change and could mean swifter justice, and a whole host of other efficiencies in government…which is something we all want, right? (maybe not)
Outlook for 2014 – Worse (which is good for people who want to see appointees make it through…)
Dist. 8 Constituents – While their Representative may have had a good year, the people of the 8th district of Tennessee had a bad one. Unemployment is 1.7% higher than the state level, and 2.8% higher than the national outlook. Nearly 25% of all the people in rural counties in the district (All but Shelby Co.) are on food stamps. Businesses have closed, population is dwindling, and there’s no help in sight. If only the people of the 8th district would draw the connection between the decline and their elected leaders. It was NEVER this bad when John Tanner was in office.
Outlook for 2014 – Awful
Congress – This may be the worst Congress ever. It may be that only 13% of Americans approve of how Congress is functioning. But like most dysfunctional relationships, this is one that probably won’t end without something really terrible happening. This article describes why Congress as a whole is unlikely to flip. At the height of the shutdown, 60% of Americans said fire every member of Congress…but that sentiment faded when the House GOP decided to relent for its own good. People still hate Congress and love their Congressmen…for the most part. So any real hopes of things suddenly “changing” when there are 538 cats to herd, is unlikely. Also, the notion that Democrats could surge in 2014 aren’t supported by history. The President’s party typically gets hammered in the last two years of a Presidential term. 2014 could be different, but it seems unlikely.
Outlook for 2014 – Good
It may be the only thing they do well, other than cow-tow to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.
But when it comes to putting pen down to paper to actually propose a plan…one that he even is pushing for…its just too much for him to muster.
So this morning when I heard him talk about his “Tennessee Plan” on an endless loop…a plan that, by the way, only exists in his head, MY head nearly exploded because I knew it was a crock.
Haslam was in town yesterday on a (campaign) swing through the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce’s annual luncheon. It wasn’t an official campaign swing mind you, but it might as well have been.
I mean, for God’s sake, he talked about increasing income inequality as if he actually gave a crap about it. Of course he had no idea about how to fix it or anything else. He just knows its there…not why. (look in your Medicaid expansion policy crystal ball Governor)
Haslam’s been shadowboxing with the Feds on Medicaid expansion for months. On Monday, he released a letter detailing his oft parroted complaints about Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. But there’s one problem with this craftily written letter/press release…
His plan still only has a name, no real details
In fact, the Governor has sent no real details to the Feds of what his “Tennessee plan” would be…which is why when the Tennessee House Democratic leadership calls the whole thing a farce, they’re being too kind.
This is messaging over meat.
This is the healthcare policy equivalent of “let them eat cake”.
This is complete and utter BS.
The Governor has no real plan to expand Medicaid, even though 63% of the state wants it.
What’s more, there’s no plan to have a plan. Just more talk, more wait and see until the money runs out.
So when working people who don’t have insurance at work get sick, the Governor will continue to not understand why they’re getting poorer…even though healthcare costs have traditionally outpaced the inflation at a rate higher than anything but college tuition.
This is called “willful ignorance” and its sick that the Governor thinks he can tout it as “leadership” and not get called on it.