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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, March 1, 2019

Posted: 5:31 PM, Mar 01, 2019
Updated: 2019-03-01 23:38:36Z
Capitol View

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — CAPITOL VIEW

ASSESSING THE OMINOUS POLITICAL WEEK THAT WAS ON INSIDE POLITICS

It was far from a quiet week in Washington, or around the world these past few days.

We talk about that at length this week on INSIDE POLITICS with our guest Dr. John Vile, a political science professor in the Honors College at Middle Tennessee State University.

While there was no final report released from Special Counsel Robert Mueller about his Russia investigation, there was explosive congressional testimony given by President Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen that is bound to intensify the debate about a possible impeachment of the nation’s chief executive.

At the same time this week, for the first time, the U.S. House voted to nullify a President’s national emergency declaration. Will the U.S. Senate or President Trump’s first veto stop that, sending his funding of the Southern Border Wall into an extended court fight? Or will GOP Senators led by Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander lead a revolt against the emergency declaration and seek another way to fund a border wall?

Meanwhile overseas there was a second summit held seeking to bring peace to the Korean peninsula while there were threats of possible war and nuclear attacks involving India and Pakistan and the U.S. and Russia.

Tune in! There is lots to discuss!

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.

SENATOR ALEXANDER COULD BE KEY PLAYER ON NULLIFYING TRUMP EMERGENCY DECLARATION

As mentioned earlier, Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander has been publicly critical of President Trump’s national emergency declaration. Now this POLITICO story says our state’s Senior Senator, who is retiring from office in 2020, appears to be leading a move to have the President rescind his own action or face a GOP Senate revolt. Alexander says there are other ways to fund the wall without setting up a constitutional crisis or setting a bad precedent for future presidents and Congress, https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/republicans-pressure-trump-to-back-down-on-border-emergency/ar-BBUdyog?ocid=spartandhp

Of course, it remains to be seen if enough Republicans in both the House and Senate would join Democrats to buck the President and override his veto of any nullification legislation if it reaches his desk.

ICYMI HOUSE DEMOCRATS PASS GUN CONTROL BUT SHOW DISARRAY

It’s a story that definitely got lost with all the other major news developments of the week.

Democrats in the U.S. House passed the first new gun control bills to gain approval in any house of Congress in decades.

The measures greatly strengthen and expand the requirements for universal background checks on gun purchases. The votes left Nashville congressman Jim Cooper pleased.

From a news release:

“Ninety percent of Americans support expanded background checks for gun purchases. Criminals, domestic abusers, and the mentally ill should not be permitted to legally obtain guns. Now it’s up the Senate to do the right thing.”

H.R.8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, would require background checks for all gun purchases.

H.R. 1112, the Enhanced Background Checks Act, would expand the initial background check review period for gun sales from three days to ten days. This legislation would close the loophole that allowed Charleston, S.C. shooter, Dylann Roof, to purchase the gun he used in the deadly church shooting when he was not eligible.

In addition to an uncertain future about whether a Republican-controlled Senate will pass similar gun control bills, House Democrats became divided among themselves during some of the procedural votes involved in passing the measures. The split resulted in one of the bills being watered down with a Republican amendment. Fallout from the snafu has also intensified a seeming split between the Democratic House leadership and several new house Democrats. https://thehill.com/homenews/house/432115-dems-struggle-to-unify-after-gop-embarrasses-them-on-procedure

MORE ON MONDAY’S STATE OF THE STATE

Governor Bill Lee will make his first State of the State and Budget Address Monday night (March 4). In an unprecedented move, the Governor also plans similar addresses next week in Knoxville and Memphis.

This past week Lee continued to unveil more details about what he will first discuss Monday with lawmakers and a statewide television audience, including on NEWCHANNEL5 PLUS (6 P.M.)

The first of two announcements from the Governor’s office this week included a $15 million mental health initiative. From a news release:

“The mental health of our citizens is foundational to all other goals we seek to accomplish in education, job growth and public safety,” said Lee. “By prioritizing our mental health safety net and suicide prevention, we are caring for more Tennesseans and building healthier communities.”

Gov. Lee is proposing $11.2 million in new funding to expand access to services for Tennesseans living with serious mental illness. This investment seeks to cover an additional 7,000 uninsured Tennessee adults through the state’s Behavioral Health Safety Net program, which provides several essential mental health services. Additionally, the investment addresses increasing costs at the state’s four regional mental health institutes and ensures that those facilities will continue to provide high quality care to Tennesseans with the most significant psychiatric needs.

To complement Tennessee’s work in recovery courts and alternative sentencing measures, Gov. Lee is also proposing a $3 million investment to the Creating Homes Initiative. Since 2000, the program has created more than 20,000 quality, permanent housing opportunities for those living with mental illness. This new investment will expand recovery housing options for Tennesseans struggling with substance abuse.

“In addition to measures that address substance abuse and mental illness, we are tackling Tennessee’s shockingly high suicide rate that is now 20 percent higher than the national average,” said Lee. “There is tremendous opportunity to engage public-private partnerships as we work to prevent suicide and save lives.”

To address this issue, Gov. Lee is proposing a $1.1 million investment that will expand the state’s partnership with the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network (TSPN) to establish a new regional outreach model and increase the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services’ efforts to focus on interventions at the community level using evidence-based practices.”

The second announcement this week of new programs and spending from the Lee Administration is the governor’s 2019 legislative package on criminal justice reform. It emphasizes increased educational opportunities and support for inmates, including help for them to clear their records. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/crime/2019/02/28/criminal-justice-reform-bill-lee-wants-invest-offender-support/3017310002/

The Governor’s criminal justice reform package is line with what he talked about last year on the campaign trail.

THE CASADA CONTROVERSY CONTINUES

Governor Lee also got himself involved this week in the ongoing controversy regarding House Speaker Glen Casada’s steadfast support of David Byrd. Byrd is a state representative appointed to be an education sub-committee chair by Casada. Byrd is accused of sexual assault of young teens years ago when he was a high school basketball coach.

Sparks flared again on Tuesday when protestors came to Byrd’s sub-committee meeting holding signs and asking committee members questions during a recess. Speaker Casada then ordered Tennessee State Troopers to remove the women involved. https://apnews.com/8d144eb8e032472e81eff5dd3c456f4c

Governor Lee commented to reporters the next day when he spoke with reporters and indicated support for the women involved.

Reports THE TENNESSEAN:

"We just need an appropriate way for that to be heard," Lee said. "And this subject, certainly we need victims' voices to be heard. Sexual misconduct should never be tolerated."

Casada’s counterpart in the Senate, Lt. Governor Randy McNally has also commented on the matter. Last year, he joined House Speaker Beth Harwell in saying Byrd should step down from office in light of the sexual assault allegations. Late last week, McNally told reporters.

“"If I were the speaker of the Senate, should it happen to one of our members, I would probably handle it a little bit differently, but I certainly respect Speaker Casada and his judgment," McNally said Thursday. "He's a little bit closer to the situation than I am."

McNally added he probably would request the Senate ethics committee to investigate if a similar situation were unfolding in his chamber.

The Casada controversy also created headlines in recent days when another portion of a hidden camera interview Casada did with a progressive blogger, brought push back from the victims.

Again, as reported by THE TENNESSEAN:

“In a video made public last week, Casada said he met with Byrd's accusers.

“They came into my office and spoke,” Casada said in response to a question by former Democratic congressional candidate Justin Kanew about whether Casada had “listened to the victims.”

The women told the USA TODAY NETWORK - Tennessee they have never met or spoken with Casada, R-Franklin, or any of his staff.

“I’ve never met this man (Casada) and I was completely shocked that he would say he met with us,” said Christi Rice, one of Byrd's accusers. "I have not met with him or anyone on his staff."

Rice said Byrd molested her in the 1980s when she was 15.

"Maybe he thinks we wouldn't respond to his comments," she said. "Maybe he thinks we wouldn't talk."

“We absolutely want it to be clear. This man did not speak to us,” said Robbie Cain, who has accused Byrd of sexually assaulting her in a swimming pool on a basketball team trip when she was 15. Byrd was the team’s coach.”

At the end of the week, a different set of protestors tried to get Casada embroiled again in the ongoing controversy over the bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest in the halls of the State Capitol. Two got arrested by Capitol Police after one tried to throw a cup of coffee on the Speaker. That protestor has now been banned from the State Capitol.

Somewhat ironically, moments after the coffee-throwing incident, Casada announced he is joining Governor Lee and Lt. Governor McNally to support bringing some historical context to the area around the Forrest bust, or maybe even moving it to a museum. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/02/28/nathan-bedford-forrest-bust-tennessee-capitol-house-speaker-glen-casada-calls-additional-context/3015209002/ https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/breakingnews/story/2019/feb/28/2-arrested-after-protesting-confederate-statute/489674/ https://www.nashvillepost.com/politics/state-government/article/21049213/uproar-in-the-house-over-byrd-forrest

At week’s end the controversies surrounding Casada don’t seem to be ending as this TENNESSEAN article outlines. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/03/01/glen-casada-david-byrd-media-fake-news-protests-nathan-bedford-forrest-bust-tennessee-capitol/3020613002/

WHAT MOVED FORWARD AND WHAT DIDN’T ON THE HILL

Legislation to ban an abortion in Tennessee if a fetal heart beat can be detected continues to move towards approval. The bill faltered last year after questions were raised about its constitutionality. But now it appears poised to pass the state House, and the measure is getting national media coverage. https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/431709-tennessee-lawmakers-advance-fetal-heartbeat-bill

Also in the House this week, a bill to strip Nashville’s new Community Oversight Board of its subpoena power and its diversity membership requirements, easily passed out of the Judiciary Committee and appears headed for full House approval. https://www.timesfreepress.com/news/local/story/2019/feb/27/memphis-police-oversight-board/489632/

Following a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year, a bill to legalize sports gambling, (opening up a new tax revenue stream for schools and local governments), moved ahead with a positive vote in a House sub-committee. Governor Bill Lee has expressed his moral opposition to gambling. https://sportshandle.com/tennessee-mobile-sports-betting-bill/

Republican efforts to expand health care in the state advanced as well this week. The legislation would seek federal approval to convert the state’s Tenncare program into a block grant. https://www.nashvillepost.com/politics/state-government/article/21049070/block-grants-bill-on-tenncare-advances

Finally, in something of a surprise, (at least the margin of its disapproval), a bill to require party registration to vote in the state’s primary elections, failed in a House committee by a vote of 14-2. It appears the Republican members joined Democrats in saying the current open primary system works well. Governor Lee, former Governor Bill Haslam along with other top elected Republicans have also opposed the measure. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/02/27/bill-require-voter-registration-party-tennessee-fails-committee/3007815002/

No doubt unhappy the bill failed is the Executive Committee of the Tennessee Republican Party. That group passed a resolution last year asking the General Assembly to pass legislation approving party registration and require closed primary voting.

MAYBE THE SECOND TIME AROUND

Conservative commentator and former Vanderbilt professor Carol Swain may run for Nashville mayor again.

She finished a distant second (23%) to Mayor David Briley (54%) in last May’s special election. She had said she wasn’t running a second time. However, her personal choice, At-Large Councilman John Cooper decided not to enter the mayoral field, and she says supporters in the community renewed efforts for her to reconsider.

She has filed qualifying papers and named a treasurer so she can raise money. I have already seen her Facebook fundraising ads back on line. But she has not yet filed the required qualifying petition of voter signatures.

That’s only 25 names. But Swain maintains she will only complete her paperwork to run if her fundraising goes well. https://www.bizjournals.com/nashville/news/2019/02/26/swain-files-paperwork-for-mayoral-run.html

The qualifying deadline is Thursday, May 16. Both Mayor Briley and State Representative John Ray Clemmons are already in the race. One other potential mayoral candidate is businessman Bill Freeman, who finished third in the 2015 mayoral race. Freeman is the co-owner of FW Publishing, the publishing company that produces the Nashville Scene, Nfocus and the Nashville Post, and Home Page Media

Group in Williamson County. He’s been quiet lately about any political plans but on THE SCENE’s web site Thursday he posted a letter raising questions and concerns about the city’s budget, it finances, its debt and its employee pension funds. What the letter means about Freeman running in the 2019 mayoral race is unclear, but here’s a link to read it. https://www.nashvillescene.com/news/letters/article/21048830/from-bill-freeman

THE DEFENSE PREVAILS

After a hearing last week, Criminal Court Judge Monti Watkins has ruled in favor of the defense regarding two controversial motions in the criminal homicide case of Metro Police Officer Andrew Delke.

Delke is charged by Metro’s District Attorney Glen Funk in the shooting death of Daniel Hambrick last July. The state says Delke shot Hambrick in the back during a chase. Officer Delke claims he saw Hambrick with a gun.

The Judge rejected a request by the State to remove the lead attorney for the defendant because of a conflict of interest. The conflict was allegedly due to David Raybin representing both Delke and Fraternal Order of Police officials, when both were interviewed by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation during its probe of the shooting.

Judge Watkins also rejected the state’s motion to release the evidence in the case to the media and the public prior to the trial. The D.A. said that is the long- time policy in local criminal cases. But the defense argued that an open discovery could cause "harmful irreversible damage" and would impair a fair trial. Judge Watkins agreed with the defense "after careful consideration" and ruled that all future court filings be placed under seal and not released.

There was also an argument from the defense that cited a recent State Supreme Court ruling in the Vanderbilt rape case involving several football players. The High Court ruled evidence in that case be sealed prior to trial. The judge in that case was also Judge Watkins.

While the Delke trial evidence will be under seal, the Fraternal Order of Police is expanding its efforts to “show the public the truth” about Officer Delke’s case and the overall plight of Metro Police officers.

In addition to a website and on-line advertising, the FOP paid for an outdoor board placed right in front of Nashville’s new police headquarters on Murfreesboro Road. The ad went up Thursday just as ribbon cutting ceremonies were held to open the new HQ.

The billboard blasts the city’s leadership, specifically Mayor David Briley and District Attorney Glen Funk for “broken promises, lack of support and political agendas.” https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/02/28/daniel-hambrick-andrew-delke-fraternal-order-of-police-metro-nashville-shooting-indicted-ad-campaign/2706024002/

By the way, NEWSCHANNEL5 reports the FOP apparently paid for the outdoor board to be up on location just for Thursday. It has now been taken down.

Both Mayor Briley and D.A. Funk dispute the F.O.P. charges. Funk also was pro-active this week in dealing with another controversy. He confessed, first to the NASHVILLE SCENE, that while in college at

Wake Forest University in the 1980s, he appeared in a fraternity group photo in the school’s yearbook that prominently displayed a Confederate flag. Funk now apologizes for doing that. https://www.nashvillescene.com/news/pith-in-the-wind/article/21048902/glenn-funk-apologizes-for-college-frat-photo-with-confederate-flag

Funk was not alone this week in having to deal with Confederate symbols and race. There were reported incidents of black face use at the University of Tennessee and a controversial homework assignment in a Willimson County school in Brentwood.. The U.T. incident is getting some national ink. https://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/ny-news-university-of-tennessee-knoxville-blackface-photo-statement-20190228-story. html https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/school-apologizes-homework-prompting-students-pretend-slaves-211142484.html

AND THE RAINS CAME

Nashville and much of Tennessee set all-time records for rainfall for the month of February, with at least 13.5 inches here in Nashville alone. That’s more than four times the average rainfall amount for February and its our seventh wettest month ever.

The rain was so intense this past weekend it led to a state of emergency being declared statewide by Governor Lee. There was extensive flash flooding and river flooding throughout Middle Tennessee and significant flooding in Knoxville as well. Fortunately, no one was killed although there were a number of car and home rescues required by first responders in several counties. Property damage was also extensive in some flood prone areas with the total amount of $$ loss still being caluculated.

The most lasting public issue from the flooding is a rock and mud landslide that occurred overnight Saturday into Sunday. It blocked all the in-bound lanes of I-24 near Briley Parkway. I-24 coming from Clarksville has been closed ever since and it will likely stay that way until at least March15. Naturally, it is causing snarled daily commutes throughout the north part of Davidson County as state transportation officials seek to clean up the mess and build temporary lanes to reopen vehicular access. https://www.newschannel5.com/news/tdot-to-give-update-on-i-24-landslide

To make matters even worse, and much more costly to taxpayers long-term, here’s a TENNESSEAN story which indicates what happened on I-24 was predictable and likely to happen again in several areas of the state during future periods of heavy rain. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/02/25/nashville-landslide-i-24-tdot-rain-damage/2980136002/

The I-24 landslide occurred just as the state is beginning its work to redo I-440. That’s a very busy road corridor that connects I-40, I-65 and I-24 through the west and southern parts of the city. The work will be so extensive it will continue 24 hours a day, 6 days a week. Traffic will be down to two lanes at times with a speed limit of only 45 mph (if the traffic congestion will allow any one to go that fast).

All the work won’t be complete for a year and a half or until August 2020.

Nashvillians love to complain about our traffic. Now they have even more to complain about for the next eighteen months.