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Capitol View commentary: Friday, October 23, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 12:38 PM, Oct 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-23 13:38:42-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL 5 Political Analyst

October 23, 2020

FINAL PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE PUTS NASHVILLE AND BELMONT IN NATIONAL AND WORLD SPOTLIGHT; INSIDE POLITICS FEATURES TOP POLITICAL REPORTER FROM SCRIPPS; CONCERNS RISE ABOUT VOTER INTIMIDATION, FOREIGN INTERFERENCE AND VIOLENCE; THE LASTEST VIRUS SURGE SPIKES AROUND THE WORLD, NATION AND TENNESSEE; THERE WAS SOME GOOD ECONOMIC NEWS FOR OUR AREA THIS WEEK; THE ONGOING POLITICAL GRIDLOCK IN WASHINGTON OVER VIRUS RELIEF REMAINS A SCANDAL; AND NOW THERE ARE FIVE; THE METRO REFERENDUM IS IN COURT NEXT WEEK;

FINAL PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE PUTS NASHVILLE AND BELMONT IN NATIONAL AND WORLD SPOTLIGHT

First, congratulations to Belmont University and the city of Nashville for hosting an excellent presidential debate!

Given the complexity, strictest security and high- profile nature of an event like this, it is very difficult to do something like this well in a normal election year.

We all know 2020 is not normal in any way. Given the pandemic, the health concerns and the highly partisan and unpredictable nature of this round of presidential debates, it makes what Belmont and Nashville did even more noteworthy.

As for the debate itself, the new rule tweaks worked. Allowing each candidate to speak uninterrupted, while their opponent’s mic was muted, during the opening question of each debate segment, set a tone that continued throughout much of the debate when everyone’s microphone was open.

It wasn’t perfect but I thought both candidates gave their best debate performances yet and the moderator Kristen Welker did an excellent job.

This is not to knock earlier journalists who tried this thankless job. It is just a sign of how much more informative and productive a debate can be when the candidates abide by the rules their campaigns already agreed on.

President Donald Trump’s more subdued temperament is perhaps the biggest clue as to how much his overbearing demeanor in the first debate hurt him and why he did not repeat it.

With close to 50 million people having already voted, and the number of undecideds being lower than four years ago (3%), it did not appear the debate had many voters to convert. Firing up the base therefore was what each candidate did, and it worked.

I don’t think this debate changed the trajectory of the race, meaning President Trump will have to pull out a victory by increasing more turnout than expected in key battleground states.

With Democratic candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, ahead in almost every national and battleground state polls, making a good showing and not making any mistakes is likely all he needs from this debate. While President Trump seemed to think Biden’s comments about phasing out fossil fuels gives him an opportunity in some battlegrounds, that remains to be seen with the Trump campaign possibly short on cash to make and air new ads in the final days.

The President also seems to think his personal attacks on Biden’s and his family’s financial dealings will help at least pull down the former Vice President’s positive ratings, but unless you watch FOX News a lot, it is hard to understand or follow the charges. So the attacks so far are likely doing more to fight up the President’s base.

Joe Biden’s ability to lookinto the camera and speak directly to the audience continues to help him. That is particularly true regarding the virus pandemic and the death and economic desolation it has caused. The President again did not show much empathy, repeating the same talking points (“rounding the curve” and a vaccine will be here soon) which are at odds with what his own health experts say, and ongoing media reports about the latest spike in COVID-19 all over the country.

I thought Mr. Biden got a bit tired and towards the end, his speech issues started to manifest themselves. However, given the Trump onslaught against him, he did very well. He is not Sleepy Joe.

I thought the biggest gaffe by President Trump can when he said only the " low IQ" immigrants would show up for their asylum hearings. Before he made that slur, he said maybe he shouldn't say it.

He was right, he shouldn't have said it, especially coming for someone who always claims he is the least racist person in the room.

INSIDE POLITICS FEATURES TOP POLITICAL REPORTER FROM SCRIPPS

With the Belmont debate over and the presidential election now just over a week away, we add to a new voice to our ongoing conversation on INSIDE POLITICS about the race to the White House, as well as control of Congress in Washington.

To bring his insights and wisdom, we welcome Joe St. George. He is the National Political Editor and Washington Correspondent for E. W. Scripps, the parent company of NEWSCHANNEL5.

We welcome him to the program and thank him for joining us.

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. on 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. We are also back on DISH TV with the rest of the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK.

One option for those who cannot 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 early in the week after the program airs.

Finally, I am now posting a link to the show each week on my Facebook page as soon as it is available, usually on Monday or Tuesday.

CONCERNS RISE ABOUT VOTER INTIMIDATION, FOREIGN INTERFERENCE AND VIOLENCE

As early and absentee mail in voting continues, concerns also grow over voter intimidation and violence.

On Wednesday, the nation’s top law enforcement agencies said some of the latest efforts are coming from both Iran and Russia.

As the week came to a close, the threat from Russia to disrupt the election seems the greatest say several new studies.

There was also an assassination plot foiled this week seeking to kill Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.

Fortunately, so far, nothing is stopping the record amount of early and absentee by mail voting all over the nation.

The record pace of early voting can be seen all across Tennessee. With early voting continuing through October 29, you can monitor the county by county turnout so far.

You can also compare 2020 turnout so far to the 2016 and 2012 elections.

Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper remains concerns about the very tight deadlines absentee voters in Nashville and across Tennessee have to apply and get their ballots back to the state.

Says Congressman Cooper: “If the ballot has already been received by the voter, it should be mailed in this week, and no later than October 27th. If Tennesseans haven’t yet ordered their absentee ballots, the safest way to ensure that their votes are counted at this point, is to ‘mask up’ and go vote early between today and October 29th and on Election Day.”

Cooper, a Nashville Democrat did express some relief that U.S. Postal Service officials are implementing changes in processing and quickly delivering absentee ballots that would be “a “homerun if implemented.”

“This is a comprehensive solution by the US Postal Service to ensure that ballots are delivered and counted. Tennessee postal officials should act swiftly to respond to all of these changes.”

Another effort that is paying to boost voter turnout is coming from state and local elections officials who have been working creatively to find a way that seniors cooped in area nursing facilities can vote despite the visitation restrictions because of coronavirus pandemic.

THE LASTEST VIRUS SURGE SPIKES AROUND THE WORLD, NATION AND TENNESSEE

No matter what you call it, a second wave, a third wave or a continuation of a first wave that never ended, COVID-19 continues to spread and spike.

Around the world especially in Europe.

In most every state in this country.

The fear nationally is that the worse is yet to come.

One positive development came on Thursday when the Food & Drug Administration approved the first treatment to help hospital patients battle the virus. It is the drug that President Trump was given when he had COVID-19.

For the President however, this latest virus surge could not come at a worse time.

The virus situation in Tennessee and Nashville is also getting worse.

It turns out the “secret” White House report became public through the work of the public radio station at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and a public records request.

By the way, when Governor Bill Lee was asked by another reporter to share the White House report, he declined, saying, “Multiple streams of data from multiple places is not helpful to people,” Lee said.

Oh, really?

Here is what the Knoxville station reported, how it got the report and the report itself.

While Governor Lee continues to double down on his position that leadership on the virus is geographical, meaning a mask mandate won’t work statewide, but it is OK if city and county mayors want to require it, while the state continues a multi-million dollar paid media ad campaign that suggests Tennesseans wear masks, while the Governor is often pictured without one.

After having them lapse in recent weeks, some mayors are reinstating mask orders including Williamson County.

Wilson and Sumner Counties are also reinstating mask mandates as of Saturday while officials in other counties seem to be recommending but not requiring masks.

I do think Governor Lee is sincere about his stance on a mask mandate. From a political point of view, he also surely knows that the most likely way he will get a strong, well-funded Republican primary opponent to oppose him for re-election in August of 2022, is if he orders a mask mandate.

State health officials this week released the plan it has submitted to the Trump administration about how it would distribute a coronavirus vaccine whenever it becomes available and is shipped to the state.

Nationally, the CDC issued new guidelines about what “close contact” with someone with COVID-19 means. Health officials say it is based on the increasing amount of knowledge they now have about the virus.

The expanding amount of information doctors and health care providers have learned about how to effective treat those with the virus is cutting the death rate, although it still remains very high compared to many other infectious diseases.

Concerns continue to rise in the Greater Nashville area and beyond as the number of virus cases and hospitalizations continue to rise. It led the major health care providers in Nashville to issue a rare joint statement urging the public to wear masks, practice social distancing and be vigilant about not spreading the virus. But they did not urge public officials such as Nashville Mayor John Cooper to re- institute restrictions on the public or businesses.

Nashville’s COVID numbers continue to rise again, with some of the metrics the city is monitoring moving towards where they were in July during the last virus spike.

NEWSCHANNEL5

During Mayor Cooper’s weekly COVID-19 media briefing, one of the city’s and the nation’s most prominent infectious disease specialists actually got, by his own admission, a “little testy” in imploring everyone to wear masks and follow other health precautions to fight the virus.

The state continues to see increases in hospitalizations with records being set multiple times in recent days.

This week the Metro Council overwhelmingly rejected a resolution calling for Metro Schools to immediately reopen all its grade levels to in-person classes. The Council says that a decision for the city’s School Board to make. Interestingly, the Board is meeting this afternoon to discuss next steps as virus cases among local school age children are increasing.

THERE WAS SOME GOOD ECONOMIC NEWS FOR OUR AREA THIS WEEK

While there are many difficult situations for our city and region to deal with these days, there were some news developments this week that are good news.

Perhaps the largest in terms of monetary impact came from General Motors outlining its commitment to electric cars and the major role the GM plant in Spring Hill will play. A commitment to the tune of $2 billon!

TENNESSEAN has this analysis of what appears to be a bold investment by GM in our state.

In the area of education, Nashville Public Schools will be benefitting from a $7 million investment being made by J.P. Morgan Chase to help meet the growing demand for skilled workers.

Ever since the city created the Barnes Fund to support and greatly increase the supply of affordable housing in Nashville, the hope has been that the financial sector would chip in funding to go with tax dollars.

This week that finally began with the Regions Foundation of Tennessee contributing $250,000. “The Regions Foundation of Tennessee’s donation is proof of Nashville’s thriving philanthropic spirit and a community-wide commitment to affordable housing,” said Mayor Cooper. “While my administration remains committed to supporting the Barnes Fund through the operating budget, we welcome increased investment from our community partners. The Regions Foundation of Tennessee’s generous donation will hopefully be the first of many from the philanthropic and private sectors.”

“The Regions Foundation of Tennessee is committed to serving the needs of communities across our state, and one of the greatest needs in Nashville is access to affordable housing,” said Lee Blank, Foundation Chairman. “We believe access to affordable rent or home ownership are cornerstones to supporting hardworking families and creating a path toward improved prosperity. This investment in the Barnes Housing Trust Fund is an important step in supporting this critical need.”

So the question now to the city’s financial community: Who’s next?

The damage to our local economy from the economic pandemic is still very evident, especially as the Convention & Visitors Corporation released its annual report this week. But tourism officials remain optimistic.

Finally, the ongoing tragedy of our ongoing opioid overdose crisis (now at record levels in Nashville) might see some financial aid from an $8 billion court settlement announced by the federal Justice Department this week.

It appears the settlement funds will be used opioid treatment and abatement funds. But the settlement money seems to fall well short of the actual need created by the greedy people who created this massive problem. Some say the settlement falls way short.

It won’t bring back the many lives lost to this scourge. But if used wisely (unlike the tobacco/ smoking settlement from a few years back), we might see some progress. But don’t count on it just yet.

THE ONGOING POLITICAL GRIDLOCK IN WASHINGTON OVER VIRUS RELIEF REMAINS A SCANDAL

There was some good news nationally this week from the new claims for unemployment benefits.

They are the lowest since the pandemic struck in March. The decline means some folks have been re-hired or have found new jobs.

They may be also technical reasons as some have exhausted short term benefits and are transitoning to long term jobless assistance. In some states there are signs some folks have gotten discouraged and are no longer seeking a new job. Regardless the numbers of those needing help continue to historically high levels.

Here in Tennessee, the numbers look much like what is happening elsewhere across the country.

The ongoing problem is only about half the jobs lost during the pandemic have returned, and without more virus assistance from Washington, the Federal Reserve and most economists believe more layoffs from hard hit industries such as the airlines will be coming, creating ripple effects across the economy.

But the Trump White House, House Democrats and Senate Republicans continue to be at odds about what to do, especially the size of the aid package. Senate Republicans tried to pass their own scaled down plan, but Senate Democrats blocked it because the GOP didn’t have the 60 votes needed to bring their bill to the floor.

The White House and Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have continued all week to negotiate a larger aid bill but while differences have been narrowed, no agreement has been reached with the increasing likelihood nothing will happen until after the November 3 election, where the political calculus of what will happen could depend on which party holds the White House and both houses of Congress.

One vote that will be taken before the election comes on Monday as Senate Republicans are poised to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Senate. The move will come despite unanimous opposition from Democrats who sought unsuccessfully to delay a Senate Judiciary Committee vote to endorse the Barrett nomination, but their boycott of the committee did not stop the vote.

Democrats did not go quite as far as they did in the fall of 2018 to stop another Supreme Court appointment of Justice Brent Kavanaugh. They did seem to leverage their opposition to Barrett to leverage still more campaign contributions from the party’s base and perhaps further motivate to vote (if that’s possible). Republicans are clearly proud of their accomplishment to appoint three conservatives to the nation High Court in the last three years, but the hope that the Barrett appointment might impact the presidential contest to help Mr. Trump does not seem to have materialized in the polls as it did to expand the Republican Senate majority in 2018.

As for moves by Democrats to expand or “pack” the Supreme Court if they take full power in Washington. Joe Biden has finally issued his position on the issue. Not unlike many candidates or public officials facing a decision on a hot-button issue, Biden says he would appoint a bi-partisan, blue ribbon panel to study and recommend any reform.

Meanwhile the uncertainty of what millions of Americans will do to pay their bills and feed their families as we enter the end of the year (and ironically the holiday season), continues. It is nothing short of a scandal that our leaders in the two political leaders continue to focus on the election and not finding common ground on how solve this growing problem.

This article is about Florida, but I suspect the situation is similar nationwide.

AND NOW THERE ARE FIVE

Nashville’s search for a new police chief took some major steps forward this week.

After a reported nationwide search and receiving 57 applicants, the city cut the qualified field to 27 candidates, and now to 5 diverse and experienced finalists. They will be coming to the city later this month for more interviews.

The Metro Charter gives Mayor John Cooper the power to name the new chief. One other major element to this effort is a plan being drawn up by a blue -ribbon panel of citizens (the Nashville Policing Policy Commission) to make Nashville the national model for law enforcement reform.

The group’s recommendation are supposed to be ready to be unveiled then used in the final conversations with the police chief finalists to make sure everyone is on the same page.

In these troubled times of racial and community unrest over police brutality in Nashville and across the country, selecting a new chief may be the easiest task for the Mayor to accomplish.

But it will be the person in charge of Nashville police, empowered to implement what the blue -ribbon panel recommends (whatever that is), who will be key to whether the plan is ever implemented or is successful.

THE METRO REFERENDUM IS IN COURT NEXT WEEK

Next Monday through Wednesday (October 26-28) in the Nashville Chancery Court courtroom on Judge Ellen Hobbs Lyle, legal arguments will be heard that will shape the future of the city’s consolidated government. The court case concerns a a proposed referendum by a citizens group to repeal the 34% property tax increase approved this summer.

The petition campaign also seeks to change the Metro Charter to greatly restrict the size and frequency of future property tax hikes, as well as limit the Council’s power to sell city property, enter into leases or approve bond issues without approval by a public referendum.

While there are enough voter signatures to call a special election in December, the Metro Election Commission is unsure about the language and the legality of the petition. So, election officials asking the courts to help them, seeking a declaratory judgement. That will bring all the parties into court to argue the matter.

Judge Lyle is promising a decision by November 3, but with likely appeals by whoever loses, it may be a few weeks yet before a final decision about the referendum is reached.

Meanwhile the issue continues to remain prominent anytime the Metro Council meets.

In anticipation the referendum might make to voters and pass, Metro officials continue to tighten the city’s financial belt, where it thinks it can, just in case.

WPLN Nashville Radio offers this interesting story on the referendum and the main attorney behind it.