By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
August 23, 2019
NASHVILLE’S MAYOR’S RACE GOES BACK TO THE FORUMS; A CLARIFICATION; A FITTING FINAL ACT; A NEW DAY ON THE HILL AS SEXTON BECOMES HOUSE SPEAKER; REVITALIZING RURAL TENNESSEE; ASSESSING THE STATE OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS ON INSIDE POLITICS;
NASHVILLE MAYOR’S RACE GOES BACK TO THE FORUMS
Whether it’s the general election or a runoff campaign for mayor, Nashvillians love to hold their candidate forums. They do tend to get more- lively when they are one-on-one affairs.
After a two week plus hiatus following the August 1 balloting, the two remaining mayoral candidates incumbent David Briley and front runner At Large Councilman John Cooper, squared off Sunday night to respond to a variety of questions from the N.O.A.H. faith and labor group (Nashville Organized for Action and Hope).
Briley, behind ten points after the August ballots were counted, is trying to push back into the race. But after also suffering defections from some significant business and financial supporters, the Mayor has not run a single campaign ad on TV since the runoff began.
All this raises questions about how effectively Briley can compete. Frankly there are just not enough forums to get the word out to try and chance the momentum Cooper has been enjoying.
There will be a televised mayoral debate on NEWSCHANNEL5 on Monday, August 26. It will be held at 7:00 p.m. on the campus of Belmont University with THE TENNESSEAN also a sponsor. This event should further elevate the profile of the runoff.
Early voting begins today (August 23). But with only one location (Metro Election Commission office) open to cast ballots until Friday August 30, turnout will likely be dismal until the 10 satellite sites come on- line. Even then, it is likely overall voter turnout for the runoff election will be less than the slightly more than 100,000 good citizens who came out to cast ballots in the August general election.
come on- line. Even then, it is likely overall voter turnout for the runoff election will be less than the slightly more than 100,000 good citizens who came out to cast ballots in the August general election.
On Thursday, the Briley campaign lashed out against John Cooper for skipping some debates, forums and joint appearances. In a news release, Team Briley said Cooper has said no to attending another televised debate, a forum hosted by Parents Requiring Our Public Education System To Lead (PROPEL), an Urban Land Institute Forum and a WPLN Mayoral Conversation. The Briley’s campaign said their candidate has accepted invitations to each of these events and offered dates for rescheduling if needed.
“This should be a wake-up call to voters. It’s always concerning when a candidate avoids a chance to appear in public with their opponent and let voters make an informed decision. But this on a different level,” said campaign spokesperson Morey Hill. “Voters should also use this as an example of the kind of leader that John Cooper would be. The mayor’s office needs to operate in transparency and openness. Ducking out of these forums shows a concerted effort to do the opposite.”
“It’s certainly easier for my opponent if he lets his TV ads do the talking, but voters deserve better,” said Mayor Briley. “I hope he reconsiders his decision and joins me on stage at as many events as possible between now and Sept. 12.”
The Cooper campaign did not respond to the Briley attack but did release a statement attacking the incumbent Mayor for continuing to support a controversial parking meter privatization plan that is in the current Metro operating budget.
“Privatization is not progressive and this parking deal is the wrong move for Nashville. Nashville needs a mayor who will not move forward with this overwhelmingly unpopular and anti-neighborhood plan to privatize street parking. Calling it “modernization” isn’t fooling anyone. The parking deal was poorly negotiated, lacks transparency, and would sell our right-of-way for a pittance just when it has become extremely valuable to us.”
The John Cooper campaign picked up another runoff election endorsement this week. It is one that went to John Ray Clemmons in the August general election. The Metropolitan Nashville Education Association's Political Action Committee for Education (MNEA-PACE) has voted to endorse Cooper for the office of Mayor because of his “willingness to fight private school vouchers and provide more oversight to charter schools, which target two of the biggest threats to funding for public education.”
The Cooper endorsement comes at a time when a new statewide survey finds almost one-third of teachers say they are considering other employment.
Back on the mayoral campaign trail, a Cooper campaign news release added this addition information about their candidate endorsements: “Since August 1st, Cooper has been endorsed by MNEA-PACE, Nashville Firefighters Association, LiUNA, and Tennessee Building and Construction Trades. Cooper has been re-endorsed by The Fraternal Order of Police and the Coalition of Nashville Neighborhoods.”
There will be more mayoral candidate forums coming up, including one I am moderating with both candidates on Tuesday, August 27. The event will be hosted by the Southeast United Neighborhood Associations. It will be held at the Lakeshore Christian Church at 5434 Belle Forge Lane East in Antioch. Doors open at 6:00 pm and the panel gets underway at 7:00 p.m.
Last week in this column we reported on the somewhat unusual letter sent to Mayor David Briley and members of the Metro Council by State Comptroller Justin Wilson.
The letter raises questions about the city’s budgeting and debt service practices. It asks for more details particularly about the proposed sale of the city’s property and assets to balance the budget. These have been in the forefront of issues debated at the Metro Courthouse as the current budget proposes the controversial sale of the city’s parking meter system as well as the downtown system. There are also continuing questions of the increasing size and handling of the city’s capital debt.
In that regard, I thought it appropriate to provide a link to the Comptroller letter so readers can see and read it for themselves.
As expected, the letter is already creating controversy, especially in the midst of a mayoral runoff election. Metro Councilman At Large and candidate for mayor John Cooper sees this as a major development and one that shows the need for better financial stewardship. Last week on INSIDE POLITCS, he told me the Comptroller ‘s letter puts the city in a “soft receivership” with the state.
No one has been more critical of Metro finances than John Cooper’s Council At Large colleague Bob Mendes. In his comments so far (August 6) about the matter on his blog, Mendes, already re-elected to another term in Council, does not seem quite as alarmed as mayoral candidate Cooper. He says the letter is “serious”, comes at an awkward time, but is “manageable.”
The Metro Council wants to stay informed, especially as some of the city’s report-back dates to the State occur while the 40-member body is in transition to a new term and won’t be holding meetings. The body adopted this late resolution at its final meeting Tuesday night.
“The Metropolitan Council hereby goes on record as requesting that the Mayor’s Office and the Metropolitan Department of Finance fully and regularly apprise, and coordinate with, Vice Mayor Jim Shulman, as presiding officer of the Metropolitan Council, regarding the intended response to the requests and concerns submitted by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury well in advance of responsive deadlines. “
Councilmembers want to stay in the loop because at least one of the deadlines the state has set for answers or more information from the Briley administration falls next month when the Council is in transition and won’t be meeting.
A FITTING FINAL ACT
The 14th Metro Council has completed its work after four years in office (2015-2019).
Fittingly, the members spent their final meeting Tuesday night, dealing with two issues that have dominated, and at time bedeviled, their legislative efforts. One issue is regulating short-term rentals. The other is what to do with electric scooters?
On short term rentals, the latest Council ordinance, approved on a final vote 25-5, sought to close a loophole. It will phase out non-owner -occupied rentals in all residential areas including multi-family residences by 2022. The new plan would also bring the city into compliance with state law and end some pending lawsuits.
The effort nearly floundered when councilmembers tried to figure out whether to allow those with existing or pending non-owner -occupied short term permits to pass them along, perhaps multiple times, when the property is sold. Ultimately, the Council adopted a substitute bill that did not allow such transfers. But when substituted by the Council, the measure got just 19 votes. That’s two less than needed for final approval.
After further debate, and perhaps a concern that the amended bill was better than no action at all, the proposal passed picking up 6 additional yes votes on the final roll call.
The Council’s action does not mean that violations and complaints about short term rentals have lessened or are anywhere close to being under Metro’s control.
As for scooters, the Council turned down an effort to completely ban the vehicles with only 7 members voting for it and 24 voting no. Mayor David Briley had been among those advocating the ban (for the second time in recent months). Interestingly, his runoff opponent At Large Councilman John Cooper also voted yes for the scooter ban.
Interestingly, which matters Councilman Cooper voted on or abstained from voting at the last Council meeting are the subjects for questions and further attacks by the Briley campaign.
Regarding scooters, the Tuesday vote by Council seems to indicate a majority of the body wants to allow the changes in scooter regulation lawmakers approved last month (without the Mayor’s signature on the final bill) to be fully implemented. Those changes include a significant temporary reduction the number of scooters, curtailed operating hours and restricted zones for operations. All these changes will stay in place until a request for proposals (RFP) can be completed for the issuance of new scooter permits. The Transportation Licensing Commission is to formulate the new rules while current operators will be allowed to continue under “temporary” permits. The law also envisions only three scooter companies will be allowed to operate in the future rather than the seven offering services now.
This outgoing Metro Council will also be remembered for the record number of zoning bills it considered. It is perhaps one of the ultimate indications of the ongoing explosive growth in Nashville that at its final meeting alone, the Council considered 65 zoning bills that were up for final approval.
In its final hours, the Council once again dealt with the future of the city’s Fairgrounds. Lawmakers rejected a proposal to endorse a moratorium on the building demolition required to build the new MLS soccer stadium. Opponents of the facility have a lawsuit pending to stop the project. They were pushing the moratorium because an appeals court has sent their lawsuit back for a re-hearing by a lower court to consider other potential evidence. But the Council felt the MLS stadium should proceed, and there will be no moratorium.
It was announced this week the new MLS stadium is going to cost more… a lot more to build…. $50-$70 million more than originally estimated. But it is said, the extra cost will be picked up by the MLS team owners and developers not the taxpayers. The Nashville MLS facility, with a capacity of 30,000 fans, it will be the largest stadium built for soccer in North America when it is completed!
The final bill considered and approved by this Metro Council last Tuesday provides that a portion of 25th Avenue South receive the honorary street designation of Perry Wallace Way. The action is in honor of the late civil rights icon and basketball legend Perry Wallace. He broke the color barrier in Southeastern Conference while playing for Vanderbilt University in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Quite fittingly, the portion of 25th Avenue to be called Perry Wallace Way runs right by Memorial Gymnasium where Wallace played his home basketball games while a member of the Commodores.
Tuesday’s Council session marks my second meeting back as the announcer for live televised coverage of the body on the Metro Nashville Network. I have enjoyed these trial runs during August for the final two business session of this Council. We are aiming towards being ready to continue coverage when the new Council begins its work in October.
In some ways, being back in the Council chambers feels like I never left from my earlier stint of doing this job from 1973-1985. Everyone has been very nice and friendly. The issues have evolved, the people are different, but the overall goal to do the public’s business remains. I like following and reporting on that, so I am happy to be back, even if the last two Council meetings ran over 4 hours and over 7 hours, respectively.
The large number of zoning requests is one reason Council meetings have been so lengthy. The length of these most recent meetings, and others in the last few years, have some council members looking for ways to shorten their sessions, although no plan has yet emerged for the next Council to possibly consider in adopting its rules when it begins it work in October.
I wish them or I am going to need a nap!
A NEW DAY ON THE HILL AS SEXTON BECOMES HOUSE SPEAKER
The Tennessee House of Representatives finally has a new Speaker of the House.
He is Crossville Republican Cameron Sexton. Sexton replaces Williamson County lawmaker Glen Casada. He officially stepped down earlier this month after weeks of controversy and scandal revolving around sexist and racial text messages and other revelations.
Casada will continue to serve in his house district seat. He leaves leadership after one of the shortest terms as Speaker in Tennessee legislative history (7 months).
Sexton was the choice of the House Republican Super Majority which holds 73 of the 99 House seats. His nomination was easily confirmed by the full General Assembly during a special session called by Governor Bill Lee and held in Nashville today. Here is an overview of news coverage.
WPLN NASHVILLE PUBLIC RADIO
While the proof will lie in the future, House Republicans sought to further herald a new day on the Hill with its selection Thursday of Representative Jeremy Faison. The upper East Tennessee lawmaker (representing all of Cocke County and part of Greene County and Jefferson County) is now the House GOP Caucus Chair. He takes over Sexton’s previous leadership post.
Faison was one of former Speaker Casada’s earliest and most outspoken critics, even enduring the loss of his previous committee chairmanship under Casada, before his return to legislative prominence. Faison is now the number three ranking Republican in the lower chamber.
THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL
WPLN NASHVILLE PUBLIC RADIO
As the special session was held, the Casada replacement and other GOP leadership changes took something of a backseat to renewed efforts led by House Democrats to oust another GOP House member. That is Representative David Byrd of Waynesboro. For over a year he has battled charges from three women of sexually assaulting them when they were teenagers in the 1980s while he was their teacher and basketball coach at Wayne County High School.
Byrd seemed have been protected by former Speaker Casada. But even with his leadership demise, ousting a member requires a never-easy -to- muster two-thirds vote. In Byrd’s case, it would have required two such majorities, first get it before lawmakers (it wasn’t included on the special session’s agenda) and then to actually remove him from office.
There were also questions about process and whether an ouster was allowed for actions that occurred before a lawmaker was in office. Speaker- to- be Sexton asked for a legal ruling from the Tennessee Attorney General, which obviously was not ready to be reviewed when the special session was held.
Not surprisingly. the efforts to oust Byrd failed, being sent to committee and never making it onto the House floor.
Just before the special session convened, possibly looking to buy more time in office from lawmakers, Representative Byrd himself announced what Governor Lee says he asks him to do a few months ago. Byrd will not seek re-election in 2020.
Despite all the back and forth during this one-day special session, the Byrd issue is not going away and it may become one of several litmus tests for the Republican Super Majority on the Hill to prove that there really is a new day dawning in the post-Glen Casada era?
Here is another summary of the on-day special session from THE NASHVILLE SCENE.
REVITALIZING RURAL TENNESSEE
Governor Bill Lee campaigned on the issue.
This week he took a symbolic, and hopefully significant, step forward in an effort to revitalize rural Tennessee.
The Governor took his cabinet there for a summit on rural issues. It might seem like a small move, but those who went on the trip surely noticed how different the issues are in the rural parts of Tennessee in terms of facing the challenges of everyday life.
TIMES FREE PRESS
But now that the summit is over: What’s next?
ASSESSING THE STATE OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS ON INSIDE POLITICS
As Nashvillians head to the polls for early voting to select our next mayor and Metro Council in a runoff election, and as the 2020 race for President continues to unfold nationally, there are a number of foreign policy issues that continue to confront our nation in new and sometimes troubling and unique ways.
Our guest this week on INSIDE POLITICS to discuss these matters is someone we often turn to for guidance and perspective. He is Dr. Thomas Schwartz, professor of history and political science at Vanderbilt University.
Our INSIDE POLITICS schedule on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS includes:
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.
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.