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Capitol View commentary: Friday, Aug. 5, 2022

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Posted at 2:27 PM, Aug 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-08 06:33:35-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF)  — FIRST TAKEWAYS FROM THE AUGUST 4th ELECTION; METRO COUNCIL VOTES DOWN HOSTING 2024 REPUBLICAN CONVENTION, EVENT LIKELY HEADS TO MILWAUKEE; THE LATEST TWISTS AND TURNS IN THE ABORTION WARS; WORKING TOWARDS THE AUGUST RECESS; INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE STATE OF OUR SCHOOLS; THERE IS NO ROOM FOR THIS

FIRST TAKEWAYS FROM THE AUG. 4 ELECTION

I think I will always remember the Aug. 4, 2022 election as the “Night of the Long Ballot and the Long Wait.”

Even though voter turnout was nowhere near record levels (think the presidential election) officials across the state struggled with long lines of voters, leaving the polls open for over an hour longer than normal in several of the large urban counties (Nashville, Memphis, Montgomery County and others)

Some counties even delayed releasing any returns until all the polls were closed.

It is unclear what caused the problems — not enough staff or voting equipment?

It could well be the ballot, which was perhaps the biggest and longest ever, combining local, county and state general elections along with federal and state primaries for other offices. In particular, there were a lot of state judicial retention elections. Those only appear in number every eight years. So maybe whatever the problem is, election officials have plenty of time to address it before this kind of ballot is likely to occur again.

The dislocated delivery of election returns led to a temporary misconception in the only statewide race on the ballot. During the early returns, Nashville doctor Jason Martin appeared comfortably ahead to win the Democratic nomination for Governor.

But then when the returns rolled in from “Big Shelby” (Memphis), that lead for Martin shrunk to less than 1%, as Memphis Councilman J.B. Smiley, Jr. surged in the vote tally. The Associated Press declared Martin the winner about 11:30 am Friday morning, perhaps avoiding an audit or re-count of the vote. That would be a development state Democratic Party leaders would not want, leaving them unsure about their nominee, who already faces a huge uphill challenge to defeat Governor Bill Lee for a second four-term.

Lee was unopposed in the GOP primary and has a massive campaign fund war chest to use, if needed. The Governor garnered 494,195 votes which is an impressive complimentary vote. But it is less than his predecessor, Bill Haslam received (570,997) in winning renomination for a second term as governor in 2014. Haslam did have opposition in that race but he won overwhelmingly (87.68%)

In the other top race of the night, Maury County Mayor Andy Ogled handily won the hotly contested Republican primary to be the U.S. Congressman for the new 5th Congressional District that includes parts of Nashville.

The district, which for decades has been solidly Democratic, was redrawn by Republicans to favor the GOP. With Ogles garnered over 35% of the vote, winning by double digits over former Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell and retired general Kirk Winstead (along with six other candidates). The size of the win seems to make it likely the Republicans will be united in November to take the seat, despite almost two million dollars in campaign attack ads being hurled across the airwaves, against all the top three candidates.

Nashville State Senator Heidi Campbell was unopposed to win the Democratic nomination for the new 5th District. But she, like most Democratic candidates in this state, faces an uphill fight to win in a deeply red state like Tennessee. That even includes what was once deep blue Nashville.

There is more I could report on other interesting races, but I will save that for next week, I do discuss the Nashville school board races on INSIDE POLITICS (see more on that later in this column).

METRO COUNCIL VOTES DOWN HOSTING 2024 REPUBLICAN CONVENTION, EVENT HEADS TO MILWAUKEE

Tuesday night, the Metro Council voted overwhelmingly to end weeks of debate and controversy. By a 22-10 margin, with 3 members abstaining, the body rejected a contract proposal for the city to host the 2024 Republican National Convention.

While the matter has been on the council’s agenda twice in the last month, the vote this week was actually the first time council members voted on the issue. Earlier resolutions and ordinances were either deferred in committee or withdrawn.

But besides all the threats from state GOP lawmakers, followed by possible incentives to convince Nashville leaders to approve hosting the convention, the votes were never there. Given the fractious nature of 2024 politics in both parties, there was little appetite in the Council to host any national political event this presidential cycle.

Being a nonpartisan, but decidedly Democratic-leaning group, the Council likely felt more that way about a GOP convention, especially given the continuing possibility of former President Donald Trump (he of Jan. 6 infamy) being the leading candidate to be nominated by the Republican Party in 2024.

No matter how much, or how often convention supporters told them what a great deal it would be for Nashville ($200 million in visitor spending, worldwide visibility) and how all costs for extra security would be covered, the Council wasn’t buying it. Even when the councilmen sponsoring the RNC contract said “Nashville's future is at stake” to host major events is at stake, those words fell on deaf ears.

Talking to council members Tuesday night before the vote, some were also uncomfortable with GOP offer to pass state legislation to allow Nashville to impose an impact fee on new projects or to impose inclusionary zoning to mandate a percentage of affordable housing in new developments. One told me it felt almost like being offered a bribe, while others wondered if the incentive offers were real.

There might have been some backlash from GOP lawmakers too, concerned to read media reports about incentive legislation being passed with their votes, and they hadn’t seen the bills involved.

As for a blowback to punish Nashville in the next legislative session for not hosting the RNC, you can put a long list of possible actions together. To be sure, it is clearly a question of what and when retribution will be dispensed, and not if that happens.

The 2024 GOP Convention will, in all likelihood, be held in Milwaukee, with the final approval coming as soon as today. Milwaukee was the last city left on the list of finalists that party leaders had identified.

THE LATEST TWISTS AND TURNS IN THE ABORTION WARS

In the wake of the Dobbs decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, there is only one abortion clinic open in Middle Tennessee (Mt. Juliet). The situation there from protesters there is close to getting out of hand at times, so much that a federal judge has issued a restraining order to try and get things back in line.

Right now, abortions in Tennessee are allowed during the first six weeks of pregnancy but the law gets even stricter on Aug. 25 when the new “trigger” takes effect, which all but outlaws abortion.

The new law does allow doctors to perform abortions to save the life of the mother or prevent "serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of major bodily function." But that protection only comes into play after an arrest (of the doctor involved) has been made — it doesn't necessarily protect them from being initially criminally charged.

There is concern this could have a "chilling" effect on medical providers who may choose to delay treatment for fear of legal liability, even in the absence of actual prosecution.

The issue of “medically necessary abortions” is the focus of a lawsuit filed by the U.S Justice Department. While it focuses on an Idaho law, might it bring more clarity to the situation in Tennessee?

When you talk about deep-red Republican states, Kansas would rank near the top. Which made the results of Tuesday’s election there, quite surprising. One of the most conservative states in the nation voted overwhelmingly to keep a woman’s right to an abortion in the state constitution. This election result is so stunning it is making political analysts wonder just how big abortion rights will be as an issue and a driving force for voters in the November midterm elections.

Interestingly in 2014, Tennessee voters considered, and overwhelmingly passed, a constitutional amendment similar to what Kansas rejected. That constitutional change opened the way for the abortion ban laws now, or soon to be, in place in the Volunteer State.

Therefore, it appears for now here in Tennessee, the only way women in the state can access abortion services is to go to a surrounding state that allows such procedures. The Metro Council continues to do what limited things it can to facilitate that. This week they approved an ordinance on the second of three required readings to mandate companies “seeking economic and community development incentive grant agreements and PILOT (payments in lieu of taxes) agreements with the metropolitan government provide their employees with access to obtain medical treatment that is otherwise unavailable in their respective home state.”

The major significance of this bill is that it is an ordinance not just a resolution expressing the Council’s to have city agencies take actions to protect reproductive rights.

The Council took action to deal with another hot-button issue, immigration. The body passed a bill on the second reading that would ban the use of License Plate Readers (LPRs) information to assist with enforcing laws outlawing abortion or outlawing interstate travel to obtain an abortion.

The bill looks poised to gain final approval in two weeks with sponsors saying the measure is crafted not to run afoul of the state’s “sanctuary city” law. Stay tuned.

There is one other challenge. Metro doesn’t have an LPR program, and a pilot program to start one seems delayed. Stay tuned.

WORKING TOWARD THE AUGUST RECESS

After a week of unsuccessfully trying to get the eggs off their faces after 25 Republican Senators voted against a bill to expand health care services for veterans, a measure they had green-lighted just days before, the GOP caved and flipped their votes to yes to get the bill to President Biden’s desk.

Democrats have their own drama to deal with as the annual August recess looms. Late last week, it looked like the Democrats had scored a major victory by reaching an agreement with West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin on a major bill. The measure would fund major programs to deal with climate change and reduce prescription drug costs along with even lowering the national deficit.

But it takes all 50 Democratic Senators to pass the measure under the budget reconciliation process, and another nemesis of Democrats’ plan under President Biden, Senator Kystin Sinema of Arizona has, as usual, been doing the quiet act, leaving everyone guessing. By late Thursday, it appears Senator Sinema has reached an agreement with Democratic leaders.

That will at least begin the elongated process of debating the so-called inflation-fighting bill this weekend. That includes the “vote-a-rama” process where all manner of amendments will be considered, and the entire lengthy bill read out to the body. Such is the strange process of budget reconciliation. But for President Biden and the Democrats to avoid the filibuster and get a major part of their legislative agenda finally approved in the Senate, I am sure they think it is more than worth it. If passed, the bill will still need to be approved by the House when it returns from its August recess.

But the biggest news about Congress this week may have come, not from the Senate or even on Capitol Hill, but from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who visited Taiwan despite angry warnings from the mainland Chinese government not to come. The Madame Speaker visited on Tuesday, becoming the highest-ranking American official to come to Taiwan since the late 1990s. She calmly stared down the Chinese threats and won.

But the Chinese are still showing their displeasure with the Pelosi visit. Live-fire military exercises are being conducted closer than usual to Taiwan. Some rockets have hit pretty close, not only to Taiwan, but also to Japan raising further concerns in that area of the Pacific.

Also, for the first time in many weeks, the words Afghanistan and President Joe Biden appeared in a positive way in a major news story. It’s been about a year since the President’s abject failure to successfully remove American troops from Afghanistan and end our nation’s longest war. But this week, the President showed America is still a force to be reckoned with in that part world, even though our power now comes from over the horizon. The drone strike Mr. Biden authorized to kill one of the terrorist leaders who plotted 9/11 also shows nearly 21 years later America is still seeking justice.

But the Chinese are still showing their displeasure with the Pelosi visit. Military exercises using live ammunition are being conducted closer than usual to Taiwan. Some rockets have hit pretty close, not only to Taiwan, but also to Japan raising further concerns in that area of the Pacific.

As of Friday, the Chinese government is further venting its anger by cutting talks with the U.S. over climate change or other issues where there has been cooperation. The Chinese are also imposing personal sanctions against Speaker Pelosi and her immediate family. It is not known what assets the Pelosi family owns that the Chinese have access.

INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE STATE OF OUR SCHOOLS

In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, and a mid-term election year, our public school system remains a major political battleground.

Is that ever going to change?

Did the first-ever partisan school board elections in Tennessee, which culminated with the Aug. 4 election, make the partisan division in education, better or worse?

Will we ever reach a consensus on the role of charter schools?

Is there any room or role for the Hillsdale College charter schools in Tennessee?

What about the school voucher pilot program set to begin this month in Nashville and Memphis?

Will free low-income students be trapped in failing schools or will just suck more taxpayer money away from public education?

Will the new state funding plan for K-12 public schools be a step forward or still leave school districts and students behind?

Gini Pupo-Walker is the Tennessee Director of the Education Trust. She has also been a member of the Metro School Board the last four years, although she decided not to seek re-election.

But she is joining this week on INSIDE POLITICS to talk about what she sees and thinks about our public schools in Nashville, across Tennessee and throughout the nation.

We thank Ms. Pupo- Walker for joining us.

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THERE IS NO ROOM FOR THIS No matter how divided we are over politics or anything else, there is no excuse for the antisemitic materials recently being circulated in West Nashville.

Mayor John Cooper and other government and civic leaders are stepping up quickly to denounce this kind of garbage. Hopefully, those behind creating and circulating this trash, will be quickly identified, arrested, then punished to the full extent of the law.

Nashville is a diverse and welcoming city to all. There should be zero tolerance for these materials being circulated here.