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Capitol View Commentary: Feb. 8, 2019

Posted: 12:30 PM, Feb 08, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-08 18:30:13Z
Capitol View

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — CONGRESSMAN JIM COOPER ON INSIDE POLITICS

It seems every week in Washington there are unprecedented developments and unexpected change, especially since President Donald Trump took office two years ago, and with a Democratic majority now elected to take over the U.S. House of Representatives.

Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper is in the middle of it all. He’s our guest this week on INSIDE POLITICS.

Among our topics for discussion are the recent government shut down and if another one is on the way. We also talk about the Congressman’s increased powers on the House Armed Services Committee. That includes being a sub-committee chair where he has oversight responsibilities over our national intelligence programs as well as the nation’s nuclear arsenal, space program and ballistic missiles.

With the Mueller Russia investigation continuing to cast a cloud over Washington, we’ll get the Congressman’s take on where he think that’s headed particularly a public release of any final report from the Special Counsel and any impeachment efforts in Congress involving President Trump.

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:

7:00 p.m. Friday;

5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday;

1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday.

THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

One option for those who can’t see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com. Just use your TiVo or DVR, if those live times don't work for you.

This week’s show and previous INSIDE POLITICS interviews are also posted on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website for your viewing under the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS section. A link to the show is posted as well on the Facebook page of NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Each new show and link are posted the week after the program airs.

MORE DEVELOPMENTS IN THE NASHVILLE MAYOR’S RACE

The August 1st race to elect Nashville’s mayor took another step towards candidate clarity this week. John Cooper, the brother of Nashville’s Congressman, announced he will not run to seek the city’s highest office. More surprisingly, Cooper also indicated he is unlikely to seek re-election to his current position as of one of Metro’ five at-large councilmembers.

THE TENNESSEAN’s Joey Garrison has the story, including word another potential mayoral candidate, Nashville businessman Bill Freeman, is just days away from making his own decision about a mayoral run.

https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/02/07/john-cooper-nashville-mayor-metro-council/2770988002/

At present, incumbent Mayor David Briley and State Representative John Ray Clemmons are the only major candidates in the field. One other name I am now hearing as a possible candidate is Nashville/ Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk. It is interesting to note, given recent local election outcomes, there are no African-American or female candidate names being strongly mentioned as candidates. Stay tuned.

METRO COUNCIL AVOIDS MAYORAL CENSURE AND SCHOOL BOARD FEUD

I predicted to you in my last column how the Metro Council was going to have a tough meeting this week. Sure enough, the session was over six hours long extending well past midnight.

Two thorny issues the Council decided not to get into involved censuring former Mayor Megan Barry and not taking sides in the ongoing feud between some Metro School Board members and Schools Director, Dr. Shawn Joseph.

In both cases, the Council’s committee system did its job. Resolutions to censure the former mayor and to call for an apology from school board members to Dr. Joseph did not show enough support to pass in committee, much less in a vote by the full Council.

Therefore, the bills were ultimately withdrawn. On the censure motion, councilmembers argued the matter had already been handled when Mayor Barry resigned from office and pled guilty to felony theft charges. The censure effort was merely symbolic (although recommended by the city’s ethics board). Nevertheless, there was also a question of whether a censure motion was appropriate regarding someone now a former, not current, public official.

As for the school board controversy, it just appeared the Council doesn’t want to get involved or take sides.

Long meetings are not unusual for the Council, but they do seem to come more frequently towards the end of a council’s four-year term as councilmembers seek to wrap up their business and prepare for the next Metro election.

THE STATE OF THE UNION OFFERS LITTLE HOPE TO SOLVE NATION’S CHALLENGES

If you tuned in President Trump’s second State of the Union address Tuesday night hoping to see signs a solution to our nation’s challenges is on the horizon, it didn’t happen. The ongoing southern border wall fight continues to threaten another government shutdown February 15 (next Friday) or perhaps provoke a national emergency declaration that would set off a long and controversial legal battle.

Both sides seem to be firmly sticking to their positions and talking points. The President talked up unity and bipartisan solutions. That includes in other areas such as a major infrastructure repair program and lowering prescription drug prices. But the devil will be in the details (which were not presented in the speech). Divided government will likely make any agreement, even in these areas, problematic at best.

Further complicating the situation was this comment/ threat made by the President in his speech. Mr. Trump seemed to say to Democrats and other investigating his administration to back off or no deal on anything.

"An economic miracle is taking place in the United States – and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations," the president said. "If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn't work that way!"

Trump continued: "We must be united at home to defeat our adversaries abroad."

Ironically, the President’s address only further outlined the profound policy disagreements he has with his own national intelligence and security leaders over Syria, Iraq, Iran, ISIS, North Korea and on and on.

By the way, this NEW YORK POST article below outlines how President Trump comments on “ridiculous partisan investigations” seems to echo an earlier President, Richard Nixon, made in his 1974 State of the Union address.

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/president-trump-calls-for-investigations-into-him-to-end-during-state-of-the-union-—-just-like-nixon-did/ar-BBTe1Ws?ocid=spartandhp

Much like the congressional reaction in 1974, Democratic leaders are not backing off their oversight and investigation efforts. In fact, less than 24 hours after President Trump’s comment, Democrats in House voted to expand their efforts. President Trump responded calling it “Presidential harassment.”

https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/house-expands-russia-inquiry-as-pelosi-declares-democrats-will-not-be-cowed/ar-BBTfwjr?ocid=spartandhp

TENNESSEE HELP TO BUILD THE WALL

Believe it or not…

Among the blizzard of bills filed in the Tennessee General Assembly this week was one that its sponsor says will raise funds to build the Trump Border Wall. Interestingly, there appear to be similar proposals filed in other states to do the same thing. So maybe this bill is more politically coordinated that just a little odd. The money for the Wall would come through a fee on business transactions made with folks and businesses in Mexico.

One problem for the measure in Tennessee. It apparently does not yet have a sponsor in the State Senate. More details from THE TENNESSEAN:

https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/02/06/tennessee-lawmaker-border-wall-funding-bill-bruce-griffey/2788320002/

GOVERNOR LEE MOVES FORWARD ON FIRST LEGISLATIVE INITIATIVE REGARDING EDUCATION

Expanding vocational and technical education was a key promise Republican Bill Lee made on his campaign trail for governor last year. So, not surprisingly, it’s now his first legislative proposal.

The administration has dubbed its proposal the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education, or GIVE, program.

A news release from Governor Lee’s office outlines some details.

““I believe that expanding our vocational and technical offerings will be transformational for Tennesseans and the future of our state,” said Lee. “We have the opportunity to help students discover quality career paths and gain skills that are needed right now in the workforce by emphasizing career and technical education.”

The GIVE initiative is a two-pronged approach that utilizes regional partnerships to develop work-based learning and apprenticeship opportunities. Communities will now have the funding and flexibility to build programs that best reflect local needs and work directly with private industry to structure programming.

GIVE also provides funding for high school juniors and seniors to utilize four, fully-funded dual enrollment credits for trade and technical programs. Previously, high school students only had access to two fully-funded dual enrollment credits. With access to four credits, students will now be better prepared for entry into the workforce within two years of graduation.

“With GIVE, there is now a framework in place to partner with the private sector in addressing gaps in our workforce,” said Lee. “This initiative also puts students in charge of their future by preparing them for a good job right out of high school.”

Two grant programs will fund the initiative: GIVE Community Grants and GIVE Student Grants. Using the framework of the state’s Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP), the governor will recommend new funding in support of work-based learning through GIVE Community Grants. These competitive grants will go to regional partnerships between TCATs, industry, and K-12 to build new programs in work-based learning and apprenticeships, market-driven dual-credit opportunities, and the expansion of industry-informed CTE offerings at local high schools.

GIVE Student Grants will be funded via the Tennessee Lottery and support expanded access to dual enrollment.

“It is time to make sure education in Tennessee embraces multiple pathways to success,” said Lee. “We believe GIVE is a key step for the future of our kids and ensuring we can fill the jobs of tomorrow.”

One thing missing from the release was the cost of the overall GIVE program. At first the Lee team said that would come next month when the Governor releases his state budget and makes his first State of the State address. However, a few days later, after more questions from the media, the GIVE cost numbers did become public. They include $5 million in lottery monies and $25 million in one-time state funds. The size and scope of the program initially seems to be, in some ways, more of a pilot project effort than a statewide program.

https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/education/2019/02/07/tennessee-vocational-training-program-bill-lee/2804583002/

As for another of his education priorities outlined during his campaign, WPLN Nashville Public Radio reports Governor Lee is still “mulling over” whether to propose a school voucher program for Tennessee. Parental choice in education was a major campaign theme for Lee last fall.

STRIKE THE FLAG LETTERS

In past administrations, legislation that is raising concern or opposition from the governor’s office sparked a “flag letter” to sponsoring lawmakers. Governor Lee ‘s legislative team is doing it differently.

Here’s the letter that was sent out to legislators outlining those new plans.

“Members,

I am alerting you to a change in policy that will take place over the next week regarding legislative priorities.

In the past, you have received “flag letters” from the Governor’s Office or departments when they have noted an issue, concern or opposition to legislation that has been filed. This transparency is critical, but we believe there is a more effective way to communicate these positions.

Moving forward, we will begin implementing the following system for positioning around legislative proposals.

When the Governor’s Office, or a state department/agency, notes opposition or concern about a legislative proposal, someone from that team will see you personally.

If a member of the liaison corps is not able to reach you in person, you will receive a phone call from them, followed by an email letting you know they are reaching out about a legislative item.

We will also share a weekly list of bills that have been “flagged” for various reasons with legislative leadership to provide an additional layer of transparency about our positioning. This document will be available in their respective offices for your review.

From personal experience, I know that connecting one on one is a best practice and can help us all move forward more effectively. With this change, we appreciate your patience and welcome your feedback.

Best,

Brent Easley

Legislative Director

Office of the Governor

CABINET PAY

Governor Lee is also handling pay for Cabinet members a little differently. The lower paid commissioners are receiving raises while the others will see their compensation left at the same level the position received in the Haslam administration.

THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL reports more details on the pay breakdown (along with the Associated Press). The troll comments just come with the link.

http://onthehill.tnjournal.net/lee-raises-pay-for-15-members-of-cabinet/

GOP STATE LAWMAKERS SEEK TO LESSEN POWERS OF NEW NASHVILLE POLICE REVIEW BOARD

The group hasn’t even held its first meeting, but already state Republican lawmakers seem poised to use their Super Majority on the Hill to significantly curb the powers of the new Nashville Community Oversight Board. The panel was overwhelmingly approved by local voters last November to review police conduct.

Such review would include issuing subpoenas as a part of investigations. The GOP bill would prohibit that, as well assigning seats on the Oversight Board based on where members live in Nashville. The regulations would apply to oversight boards in Knoxville and Memphis too, but the effort is just the latest in a series of legislative moves to override or significantly regulate Nashville. These moves always seems occur on issues where the GOP disagrees with what leaders, and now the voters of Davidson County want to do.

But even the only Republican left in the Davidson delegation has spoken out in recent months against the state overriding local decisions. Reports the NASHVILLE POST:

“The legislation could face at least some opposition from fellow Republicans. Sen. Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville), the new chair of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, told the Nashville Scene last year that he generally opposes attempts by the legislature to restrict the actions of the state’s larger cities, a source of tension between state and local governments in recent years.

“To the extent that legislators outside Davidson County want to come in and pre-empt the will of the voters of Davidson County, my natural inclination is to do what I can to stand with Davidson County,” Dickerson said then.”

Updating: Senator Dickerson has told THE NASHVILLLE SCENE he will still oppose the bill if it comes before him in the Senate. Meanwhile, THE SCENE also reports local Democrats are scrambling to come up with a coordinated strategy in opposition.

https://www.nashvillescene.com/news/pith-in-the-wind/article/21046316/house-democrats-plan-response-to-republican-bid-to-hamstring-police-oversight

But Tennessee’s Super Majority Republicans still seem united overall on this issue. That includes Governor Lee. He’s on record. If the GOP Super Majority passes the bill, he will sign it.

https://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/gov-lee-supports-gop-legislation-limiting-power-nashvilles-police-oversight-board

Supporters who want full powers for the Community Oversight Board have responded by launching a public campaign to urge high school star athletes, both in and out of Tennessee, not to sign scholarships to play their chosen sport in the Volunteer State as a sign of protest. The call clearly came too late to have any impact on the latest National Signing Day earlier this week. It remains unclear if this boycott call will have an impact going forward.

A LAST LOOK THROUGH THE TORRENT OF NEW BILLS FILED BY THE LEGISLATURE

I haven’t seen the full list of all the new bills filed this week before the deadline for legislation passed.

But a couple I did see, through media reports, caught my attention.

One I have mentioned before is the increasing number of bills that would legalize medical marijuana in Tennessee. With now over 30 states allowing such treatment, it would seem Tennessee is behind the curve.

Maybe that’s why one of the new medical marijuana bills introduced is the most comprehensive and expansive proposal yet on this topic. It is also noteworthy that its key sponsors are major Republican lawmakers. The major opponents of approving medical marijuana are also top GOP leaders. That includes the Speakers of both Houses and quite likely, new Governor Bill Lee. How will this seeming GOP division work itself out? I’d say passing medical marijuana will still be a very tough fight this year.

Another bill that caught my eye, shows a continuing trend in Tennessee and elsewhere across the nation regarding “freedom of conscience” measures. These bills would allow individuals or businesses not to provide services to those whose lifestyles are in conflict with their own moral standards or beliefs.

The latest bill filed in this regard is one that would allow adoption agencies in Tennessee to deny services to LGBT couples. The measure would also shield such adoption services from being sued over the matter. We had this fight in the last General Assembly which approved a similar bill over counseling services. I expect more of the same controversy over this bill.

Finally, two other measures filed before the General Assembly seemed to be anticipating the future. With two new conservative justices joining the U.S. Supreme Court, one proposal would outlaw abortion in Tennessee within days after a court decision overturning the Roe v. Wade ruling of the early 1970s. There would still be limited exceptions to a ban involving the life of the mother. It also would not make seeking an abortion a criminal matter in Tennessee after any court repeal of Roe or a constitutional amendment is adopted to ban abortion.

The other bill I will note is one from GOP leaders looking to expand the state’s health care coverage. No, it’s not a Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. They still loathe Obamacare.

This measure would anticipate using health savings accounts and vouchers along with a federal block grant. The Trump administration seems receptive to approving waivers for the states to receive such grants to begin these expanded health care programs. It’s not at all clear what the costs of all this would be, who would be impacted by the health care change or what health care services would be available.

Governor Lee seems to be receptive about seeking a waiver. He has said he wants to improve health care while lowering costs. Would a bill like the one just introduced be an area of discussion in the Governor’s speech March 4?

One thing seems certain. Republicans read the polls. They know health care is the number one issue in Tennessee. Being against Obamacare is not enough anymore. They must do something on their own to address the issue.