NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — I don’t often begin my column focusing on next week. But the final days of February 2019 could be the beginning of a week or more such as we’ve rarely seen in recent American politics.
At least one house of Congress will begin consideration of a resolution that would nullify President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration to obtain funding to build his southern border Wall.
It seems pretty clear such a measure will pass the Democratically-controlled House and it might even pass in the Senate, where several Republicans believe the declaration sets a very bad precedent and is constitutionally questionable.
It appears unlikely however the resolution, even with Republican votes in both houses, will receive the two-thirds majority necessary to override a certain presidential veto. Therefore, it’s likely the national emergency fight will be decided in the Supreme Court not on Capitol Hill.
It will still be an embarrassing development to have the President rebuked by Congress especially if it happens in the wake of his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen testifying before a couple of Congressional committees, an appearance which could develop into a tell-all, knock- down, drag out political fight.
But all these political developments may pale in comparison to what may happen as early as next week. That’s when Special Counsel Robert Muller may file a report on his Russia probe of President Trump and the 2016 campaign. Such a development has been predicted incorrectly several times in past months. But now all the tea leaves indict some kind of Muller report is coming soon…maybe as early as next week or no later than mid-March.
So what kind of report will it be? You can read all kinds of speculation. I have found this article from WIRED Magazine a good, well- reasoned, even-handed overview of seven potential scenarios. It worth a read. Will we see the political equivalent of T.S. Eliot’s poetic phrase of the world ending “not with a bang but with a whimper” or the reverse?
Let’s see what happens.
GOVERNOR LEE SEEKS TO AXE AMUSEMENT TAX ADD $30 MILLION FOR SCHOOL SAFETY OFFICERS
It will be early next month (March 4) before Governor Bill Lee makes his first State of the State Address and presents his first budget to the General Assembly.
But two more elements of what he will propose were unveiled this week.
One is a tax cut, eliminating an amusement tax on gyms, fitness centers and health clubs that has generated $10 million in revenue for the state since the mid-1980s.
The Governor announced the proposal (which will require legislative approval) when he spoke to a business group (the Tennessee Chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business) which has opposed the tax as being burdensome on small businesses.
A news release from Governor Lee’s office cited another reason to repeal the amusement tax: improving the health of Tennesseans:
“Unfortunately, we’ve discouraged Tennesseans from investing in their health and wellness by taxing their efforts,” said Lee. “The skyrocketing costs of health care and Tennessee’s high rates of obesity and diabetes means we simply cannot afford to discourage healthy habits.”
According to the Department of Health, Tennessee ranks 40th in the nation for physical activity and 35th for adult obesity. Recent estimates show that illnesses related to diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease cost Tennessee more than $5.3 billion annually in direct and indirect costs.
“I look forward to working with the legislature to modernize our tax code and prioritize the wellness of Tennesseans,” said Lee.
It is not clear if repealing the tax will directly lower the cost for individuals joining health clubs, gyms and fitness centers. Meanwhile Nashville Democratic State Senator Brenda Gilmore says another way Governor Lee can directly assist the health of many Tennesseans is by supporting her bill to remove the sales tax on feminine hygiene products.
"The health clubs are able to afford lobbyists to advocate for them, but families who struggle to buy feminine hygiene products can’t,” she said in a statement. "We should support healthy lifestyles and I understand why we would want health clubs to be more affordable, but we can’t forget everyday families who are hit hardest by Tennessee’s regressive sales taxes.”
Late in the week, Governor Lee also announced he is proposing an additional $30 million fund to provide for school safety officers.
From a news release from Governor Lee’s office:
“The safety of our children and teachers is a top priority for my administration, and this investment ensures that school districts will have the resources they need to better protect our schools,” said Lee.
Gov. Lee is proposing a $40 million investment for the school safety grant fund $30 million than its present annual funding level). Legislation filed will provide additional changes to existing law to prioritize the distribution of these grants to school resource officers.
Approximately 500 Tennessee schools do not currently have SROs, and changes to the law will enable them to fill these positions. The proposal also accommodates underserved counties working to secure schools and fill SRO positions by adjusting limited match requirements to be proportional to districts’ fiscal capacity.
“Several members of the legislature have begun working on school safety measures,” said Lee. “We commend their efforts and look forward to working together to protect our students and teachers.”
The new funding plan also enables schools that currently have an SRO to pursue grants to fund other safety priorities such as implementing building security measures or developing innovative violence prevention programs.
“While we are providing resources for additional security measures for our schools, districts need to also consider programming that identifies students who are in need of intervention,” said Lee. “Security is paramount, but we must also double down on efforts to identify harmful situations before they arise.”
Ironically, the announcement on the Hill came as Nashville Police recently pulled out their school resource officers from Metro’s two alternative schools because of safety concerns regarding the officers. It’s a matter Vice Mayor Jim Schulman wants quickly resolved by council members and school board officials, setting a deadline just one week for action.
IT WAS BOUND TO COME UP
Given recent controversies arising out of Virginia where that state’s top elected officials were found posing in their college days for yearbook pictures and other activities (appearing in black face and supporting the KK and ‘the old South”), similar questions were bound to arise concerning Tennessee’s leaders.
This week, after some media inquiries, Governor Bill Lee revealed his involvement, wearing a Confederate uniform while attending a fraternity event at Auburn University in the late 1970s and ‘80s. These are actions which he now says he regrets.
In a related, long standing controversy, the display of a bust of Southern Civil War General Nathan Bedford Forrest in the State Capitol, Governor Lee indicted that, while he does not support removing the statue, he is in favor of adding some historical context to it even though he hasn’t offered any details of what he has in mind.
Via THE TENNESSEAN, reaction by legislative leaders to Governor Lee’s yearbook photo included Lt. Governor Randy McNally. Through a spokesman he said the Governor has sufficiently explained his involvement in the issue. ““Lt. Governor McNally continues to support the governor and his administration wholeheartedly and without reservation."
Reaction of African American lawmakers was critical but willing to forgive. Nashville State Senator Brenda Gilmore: "I hope he will be the governor for all people. Time will tell, but I am willing to give him the opportunity to show he has changed," Gilmore said.
Representative G.A. Hardaway of Memphis, Chair of the Black Caucus of Tennessee Legislators: “I have been exposed to this type of segregation and soft bigotry all my life,” Hardaway said. “None of it surprises me. I think we have quite a few in the (General) Assembly with the same general experience and background. If you look at the inability for some of my colleagues to have sensitivity to how black people feel about Confederate memorials … these are because they haven’t had a high degree of communication or substantive time with black people.”
“We are looking forward to dialogue with the governor," Hardaway said. "If he is truly the governor for all of Tennessee, then we can acknowledge he has grown from those mistakes."
New lawmaker Vincent Dixie of Nashville: “I do appreciate that he was remorseful about it, he was open and didn’t hide,” Dixie said. “But that doesn’t make it is OK by any means. What he did was hurtful and disrespectful to people.”
“I hope that he uses this opportunity as a wake up call to realize that he represents all people, black, white and everyone in between.”
CASADA IN CONTROVERSY
House Speaker Glen Casada is back in controversy over his continued defense of fellow GOP lawmaker David Byrd. Byrd, who was overwhelmingly re-elected last fall, has been accused of sexual assault thirty years ago while he was a coach in Wayne County.
Last year, both Lt. Governor Randy McNally and then House Speaker Beth Harwell urged Byrd to step down, while Casada ran ads calling the charges against Byrd “fake news.” Now Casada is back in controversy because of a secret-camera interview he did with a new progressive web site, The Tennessee Holler. The interview was conducted by former Democratic congressional candidate Justin Canew. He asked the Speaker what he would do if he were a rape victim.
“…If I was raped, I would move," Casada said. "And hell would have no fury."
The video has gone viral and attracted some national news attention. Critics accuse the Speaker of “victim blaming” while Speaker’s office says his comment was taken out of context. Reports THE TENNESSEEAN:
“On Wednesday, Casada spokesman Cade Cothren said the speaker was referring to taking action.
"It wouldn't make any sense for him to move from his house," Cothren said. "All actions would be on the table to pursue. Hence 'hell would have no fury.' That's what he meant by move — a move to action."
Here’s a link to the video from The Tennessee Holler:
Late this week, Speaker Casada also got embroiled with the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust controversy through a confrontation with protestors on the Hill.
TENNESSEE’S GOP NOW HAS A HEALTH CARE PLAN
The news conference Speaker Casada was attending while this confrontation about the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust was unfolding, involved the unveiling by the House GOP Super Majority of its own statewide healthcare plan. It seems no longer will the GOP just be opposed Obamacare or expanding Medicaid. Here are the details released about their plan which seems to echo some of the themes voiced by Governor Lee in his campaign.
Democrats say the GOP plan is just another smokescreen to avoid expanding healthcare. The 11-bill package does seem to have some national implications with similar bills being introduced by Republicans in at least one other state according to this FORBES magazine story.
THE END IS IN SIGHT
While the 111th Tennessee General Assembly seems to just be getting underway, lawmakers first came back to Nashville almost two months ago, right after the first of the year.
When a session begins with a new gubernatorial administration, the pace of activity on the Hill is always a little slow while the governor, his administration, and new lawmakers get their bearings.
Things should be up to full speed after the State of the State is given and the proposed budget is filed in early March.
Still, legislative leaders are already looking ahead to set up a timeline for when this session of the Legislature will end this spring. In terms of what needs to happen for lawmakers to get ready to head home, you can see it will require several steps in terms of closing out committee work.
March 25: Agriculture, Transportation, Consumer & Human Resources.
April 1: Commerce, Insurance, Local.
April 8: Education, State, Health.
April 15: Judiciary. Also the full committees of Government Operations and Naming & Designating.
Even with this schedule it would likely be May before the 111th General Assembly is finished for year. That would be close to a month later than when lawmakers have adjourned in recent years. Keep this schedule in mind in the weeks to come to see how close our leaders come to following this plan.
There was activity on the sub-committee level this week with three controversial pieces of Republican-backed legislation passing successfully through sub-committees. One bill would ban abortion after a fetal heart beat can be detected. Another measure would close Tennessee primary elections only to those registered as either Republicans or Democrats.
The third proposed law would strip subpoena power and diversity membership requirements from community review boards such as the one approved overwhelmingly by Nashville voters last year to review police complaints. Republican sponsors said during debate people in our Capitol city should spend more time supporting their police not making their jobs more difficult. Nashville Mayor David Briley strongly objected to that characterization and testified in opposition to the measure.
He was not alone. Both Knoxville and Memphis have similar community review boards and the Knoxville City Council has gone on record opposing the bill along with the city’s police chief. Former Knoxville Mayor and Republican state representative and state senator Victor Ashe is also opposed. Writing in his Knoxville political column Ashe said, according to a story from the TENNESSEE JOURNAL:
“(Ashe) created Knoxville’s Police Advisory Review Commission, or PARC, by executive order 20 years ago and that it was made permanent by unanimous City Council vote two years later.
“PARC has worked well in Knoxville and has stood the test of time. It has gone a long way to establish credibility and objectivity in disputes involving the Police Department,” Ashe wrote. “It is unfortunate that legislation to weaken it is pending, when it has been a credit to Knoxville.”
LONG BEFORE THE TRIAL THE OFFICER ANDREW DELKE CASE REMAINS IN HEATED CONTROVERSY
Officer Andrew Delke is the first Nashville police officer ever indicted on homicide charges out of a shooting that occurred while he was on duty. Delke is charged with killing Daniel Hambrick who died in July 2018. Delke shot him twice in the back and once in the head as Hambrick ran away.
The incident, between a white police officer and a black man, was clearly a major development that led to voter approval of the Community Review Board in Nashville.
Delke has pleaded not guilty in the case, but even months before the trail, legal wrangling continues in the courts over whether evidence in the case should be made public and whether defense attorneys should be dismissed from the case because of potential conflicts of interest.
Judge Monte Watkins is expected to render rulings on both matters next week.
Adding further potential controversy to the case is a new website that has surfaced. It being backed by the Fraternal Order of Police union and targets Hambrick.
Several of these controversies may surface again if, or more likely when, motions are brought to the court to change the venue of the trial to outside Nashville or select and bring a jury from elsewhere in the state to hear the case in Davidson County.
LESS OIL OR MORE CASKETS ON INSIDE POLITICS
Has the United States been in the Middle East these last few decades to defeat terrorism or to protect our access to the world’s oil supply?
Do Americans unwittingly help fund terrorists every time we fill up our cars with gas?
And why is becoming oil-independent not just good for the environment but vital for our national security?
These are some of the questions raised in the provocative book written by our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.
He’s Greg Ballard. He is a retired Marine Lt. Colonel and the former Mayor of Indianapolis.
His book is entitled LESS OIL OR MORE CASKETS: THE NATIONAL SECURITY AGRUMENT FOR MOVING AWAY FROM OIL.
Tune in for a very interesting discussion.
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MAYOR’S RACE FLARES OVER HOMELESS AND AFFORDABLE HOUSING ISSUES
Still the only major candidate in the field to oppose Mayor David Briley for re-election August 1, State Representative John Ray Clemmons took issue this week with the Mayor’s recent approval of clearing out a large homeless encampment. Clemmons also sharply criticized Briley over the city’s overall policies and results to create more affordable housing in Nashville.
It remains unclear if other candidates will decide to enter the mayoral race. Nashville businessman Bill Freeman had indicated he would announce his plans a week or so ago, but so far, no word. Others have announced they will not enter the contest. The qualifying deadline to run is Thursday, May 16.