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Capitol View commentary: Friday, April 1, 2022

Capitol View
Posted at 10:58 AM, Apr 01, 2022

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

April 1, 2022

A NEW TITANS STADIUM EFFORT MOVES GOVERNOR BILL LEE TO PUT THE STATE’S FINANCIAL CARDS ON THE TABLE; THE NASHVILLE SPEEDWAY RENOVATION GETS FUNDING IN THE GOVERNOR’S NEW REVISED BUDGET; A REFERENDUM TO CONSIDER MAJOR CHANGES TO THE METRO CHARTER SEEMS MORE UNLIKELY; LEGISLATURE APPROVES RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS FOR PARTY CANDIDATES FOR CONGRESSIONAL AND OTHER FEDERAL OFFICES IN TENNESSEE AS A LAWSUIT IS FILED;   ELSEWHERE ON THE HILL; THE LATEST COVID SUBVARIANT IS NOW THE MOST PREVALENT IN THE U.S. WHILE ANOTHER VACCINE SHOT IS APPROVED; WHERE THINGS STAND IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR ON INSIDE POLITICS; ENOUGH VOTES TO CONFIRM? NASHVILLE D.A. RACE BECOMES EVEN HOTTER AFTER RECENT TRIAL AND CONVICTION OF FORMER VANDERBILT NURSE 

A NEW TITANS STADIUM EFFORT MOVES GOVERNOR BILL LEE TO PUT THE STATE’S FINANCIAL CARDS ON THE TABLE

After several weeks of growing community-wide discussion and controversy about whether to build a new stadium for the city’s NFL Titans, rather than renovate the current 23-year-old Nissan Stadium, one of the major players looked to be providing financing for the project, the State of Tennessee, has become the first to put its financial cards on the table.

Every year about this time, the governor submits a supplemental budget to the Tennessee General Assembly for its approval before lawmakers go home for the year.

In the updated budget he released this week, Governor Bill Lee recommended $500 million in bond funding for the new stadium. Besides legislative approval, the offer is contingent on Metro and the Titans providing their contribution to the project which is guesstimated to be $2 billion total. It is unclear how much the Titans or Mayor Cooper and Metro Council will put in. But would the governor offer half a billion dollars if there wasn’t at least some informal understanding of what the parameters of the financial contributions will be from the other major partners in the deal?

That seemed to me to be hinted at when Lee administration officials tried to convince lawmakers this week that this is the right time and the right amount for the state to contribute to what is being pitched as a major economic development effort for Tennessee.

The governor says the state’s contribution is contingent on the new stadium being enclosed with a roof, not an open-air facility, or the present stadium just being renovated. Building an enclosed stadium would open the possibility of the city’s hosting future national sports events such as the Super Bowl or an NCAA basketball Final 4. Based on comments from the Titans and the city’s tourism officials, having a roof on a new stadium has their support, and having one does not appear to be an issue that would complicate the state’s contribution.

The question now is when do the Titans and Mayor Cooper put forth plans on their roles in funding the new stadium? It is not just inquiring minds who want to know, the Titans suggest the new stadium be ready by 2026 along with a new neighborhood being developed on the East Bank of the Cumberland River. That would move the new stadium closer to the nearby interstate, and the new neighborhood would reportedly be more than just a sports-related village.

THE NASHVILLE SPEEDWAY RENOVATION GETS FUNDING IN THE GOVERNOR’S NEW REVISED BUDGET

Along with half a billion dollars for the new NFL stadium, Governor Lee is recommending $17 million in state funds to help the efforts by Nashville Mayor John Cooper and the Bristol Motor Speedway to renovate and expand Nashville’s Fairgrounds racetrack and bring NASCAR events back to Nashville after many years of absence.

The plan was first unveiled by the Mayor and Speedway officials a few months ago. but has been delayed by an outside financial study still underway to review the plan’s viability. There are also two vacancies on the Metro Fair Board. Mayor Cooper has pledged to fill both spots before the racing plan is submitted for the Board’s approval. The Speedway plan will also need approval from the Metro Council.

Fairgrounds and Raceway supporters have long felt like the red-headed stepchild in getting Metro’s support for their plans for racing or other fairgrounds improvements. The pro-Fairgrounds folks were often reluctant or even opposed efforts to build the new MLS stadium which will open at the Fairgrounds on May 1.

The state’s financial support for the new Fairgrounds Raceway plan has been expected. But having it proposed, and perhaps in hand in the next few weeks, will it keep Racetrack supporters from feeling left out again as the debate over the $2 billion NFL stadium moves towards reaching critical mass?

Governor Lee’s revised budget would also suspend the state’s food tax collections for 30 days to help Tennesseans better cope with the currently ongoing, rampant inflation, which remains the highest in 40 years.

A decision on the budget revisions will come in the next couple of weeks when lawmakers pass the entire budget for the next fiscal year beginning July 1. It has not been announced what days the food tax suspension will be in effect.

Finally, the Governor’s new budget seeks to reduce a professional privilege tax from $400 to $300. The tax is levied on lawyers, doctors, lobbyists, investment advisors and stockbrokers. Most of the estimated 200,000 people who pay the tax live out of state. The tax reduction for a year would cost the state $20 million and up to $80 million if the tax is repealed permanently.

A REFERENDUM TO CONSIDER MAJOR CHANGES TO THE METRO CHARTER SEEMS MORE UNLIKELY

59 years ago today (April 1, 1963), the consolidated Metropolitan government for Nashville and Davidson County began.

Most observers say the move has been a very positive, if not perfect, effort to make Nashville a better city.

But in the wake of a 34% property tax hike in June 2020, and in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, some community activists sought to roll back the tax hike and call a voter referendum to change the Metro Charter. Their proposal would significantly cut the powers of the Metro Council and other city officials, including limiting future property tax increases.

Their efforts failed at first. But then the Metro Election Commission ruled there were enough signatures on petitions to call a referendum. Metro Legal officials stepped in and filed suit against the Commission. The judge on the local trial level ruled against holding a referendum. Now, the State Court of Appeals has agreed with that lower court. That leaves the only appeal left to the Metro Election Commission is to take the case to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The High Court does not have to hear the appeal, but Election Commission officials have seemed insistent, so far, to pursue the matter to the end.

By the way, in this lawsuit where one part of our local government is suing another part of the same local government, the legal fees for the taxpayers to pay already amount to over $700,000, just for the Election Commission alone.

Happy 59th Birthday, Metro Nashville!

LEGISLATURE APPROVES RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS FOR PARTY CANDIDATES FOR CONGRESSIONAL AND OTHER FEDERAL OFFICES IN TENNESSEE AS A LAWSUIT IS FILED

Breaking a brief stalemate between the State Senate and State House, Tennessee lawmakers this week approved a three-year residency requirement for party candidates running for federal office in the state. There is already a similar residency requirement for candidates running for state office.

The stalemate between the House and the Senate was over when the bill becomes law, immediately after it is signed by the Governor (Senate version) or after this year’s November election (House version).

The House ultimately agreed to the Senate’s wishes and that is what is going to Governor Bill Lee for his signature. But exactly when will he sign it? The qualifying deadline for this year's congressional party primaries is April 7 (next Thursday). If he signs the bill before April 7 the residency requirement applies to this summer’s campaigns. If he signs after April 7 it won’t apply until the congressional primaries in 2024.

All this is most important because if the residency rule applies this year, at least one candidate in the GOP primary in the new 5th District, Morgan Ortagus can’t run since she did not move to Tennessee until 2021.Ortagus is the candidate endorsed by former President Donald Trump which has caused controversy within the Republican Party and in MAGA Nation in Tennessee and across the country.

Will Ortagus file suit? Some believe the new law is unconstitutional because similar laws in other states have been struck down in the courts. Ortagus has issued a statement, but it does not speak to a legal challenge. The residency bill did not surface on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill until Ortagus announced her candidacy. The Senate sponsor of the bill, Rep. Frank Niceley says he wants the law to keep well-financed “carpetbaggers” from coming into Tennessee to seek elected office.

If Ortagus is not talking about filing suit over the new residency standards, THE TENNESSEE LOOKOUT reports a new little-known Tennessee Super PAC may do so.

Actually, a lawsuit has already been filed in federal court here in Nashville. It happened on Thursday afternoon even before the bill has become law. It appears the plaintiffs are voters in the new 5thCongressional District who support Ortagus.

Elsewhere on the campaign trail, 5th District GOP candidate and former Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell has received another endorsement from a national GOP women’s political action committee.

ELSEWHERE ON THE HILL

Lawmakers are in a sprint, working hard to get the legislation they want passed into law before lawmakers adjourn for the year, in just a few weeks.

What they are wanting to get approved is often the Republican legislative agenda. It’s controversial and bad news for those (Democrats), who again this year, don’t have the votes to stop it.

This NEW YORK TIMES article points out the fights in Republican-dominated Tennessee are going on all over the country, between states and cities, even on seemingly boring bills.

Tennessee was recently ranked among the worst states in the nation concerning its treatment of transgender athletes and other LGBTQ citizens, as the legislative assault continues.

The effort to further denigrate transgender athletes appears likely to be expanded beyond junior high and high school students to include college-age athletes in Tennessee. Opponents warn that, besides being discriminatory, the NCAA, the body that regulates college sports, may not like it.

Efforts to ban “obscene” books from Tennessee school libraries are moving through both houses raising unsubstantiated questions about the professionalism of teachers and librarians. The bill might also see these professionals face criminal charges.

There is also a bill, backed by the top leadership in both Houses, that would require Tennessee inmates in prison for serious crimes, such as murder and dealing drugs, to serve their entire sentences before being let out. However, a former Tennessee Commissioner of Corrections says such a move could have serious unintended consequences.

All these actions on Capitol Hill come even as a federal grand jury brought a number of GOP lawmakers to the Federal Courthouse in Nashville this week to testify about an ongoing fraud scandal.

In another ongoing scandal on the Hill, NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES talked to a lawmaker who says he heard a bribe being offered to get votes to pass a school voucher bill.

THE LATEST COVID SUBVARIANT IS NOW THE MOST PREVALENT IN THE U.S. WHILE ANOTHER VACCINE SHOT IS APPROVED

It seems like a rerun of a bad movie or TV show. It is one we have all seen several times before and have we have never liked it.

COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have been trending down for weeks now. Mask mandates are all but gone. With spring here, it feels almost like normal, or at least 2019 before the COVID-19 virus emerged.

But now, again comes a new subvariant of the disease. It is the most prevalent in the country. Next will there be another terrible spike with more disease, people hospitalized and dying? Maybe not, at least national health officials say they don’t expect one. They claim that, even as spikes are occurring in China, other parts of Asia and in the United Kingdom.

At the same time, there are renewed concerns in this country that current vaccines and boosters are losing their effectiveness as the months pass. Therefore, the federal Food & Drug Administration this week, while not following the usual procedures as it has in the past, has approved a fourth vaccine shot (a second booster) available to everyone over age 50 and for those over 12 who are immune-compromised. As usual following any major decision during this pandemic, controversy has ensued along with predictions that four shots will probably not be enough either.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden took his fourth COVID shot, while warning Congress, that the body’s failure to approve additional virus relief monies could mean the federal government will soon be out of money to pay for shots, testing and other related services to fight the pandemic.

As inflation continues to soar, the president is taking a step to keep fuel prices from skyrocketing even higher. He is authorizing taking from the nation’s strategic oil reserves a million gallons a day for the next six months. This will be the largest such withdrawal ever.

It is thought that the use of the oil reserve will have, at best, a modest impact on reducing gas prices.

One bit of good news for the White House: The March jobs report found 431,000 new jobs created with unemployment down to 3.6%. These numbers would seem to ease fears, for now, that the Russia-Ukraine war is already hurting the economy.

WHERE THINGS STAND IN THE RUSSIA-UKRAINE WAR ON INSIDE POLITICS

As we enter the sixth week of the war between Russia and Ukraine, is either side winning an advantage? Are we seeing signs of a negotiated settlement on the horizon? Or are we headed for a protracted conflict that could last for months, possibly even years?

Throughout this crisis, we have looked to Dr. Thomas Schwartz, Professor of History and Political Science at Vanderbilt University, for guidance, insights and answers to what is happening in this war and what lies ahead.

Dr. Schwartz is our guest again this week on INSIDE POLITICS.

We welcome Dr. Schwartz 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 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 here on my own Facebook page, usually on the Monday or Tuesday after the show airs.

ENOUGH VOTES TO CONFIRM?

This week saw U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson, pick up her first Republican vote for confirmation in the Senate.

Judge Jackson is the first African American woman ever nominated to the nation’s highest court. The endorsement of her candidacy by Senator Susan Collins of Maine would seem to all but assure her confirmation, provided all 50 Senate Democrats vote for her, which seems likely.

It is unclear if any other Republican Senators will vote for Jackson, who was confirmed by a somewhat larger bi-partisan Senate majority (3 GOP votes) to her current post as an Appeals Court judge. One thing that does appear clear. Despite Republican efforts to discredit Jackson during her confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, a USA TODAY poll finds a huge majority of Americans support her confirmation to the Court.

NASHVILLE D.A. RACE BECOMES EVEN HOTTER AFTER RECENT TRIAL AND CONVICTION OF FORMER VANDERBILT NURSE

The May 3 Davidson County primary election involves a number of offices.

All the judges in the Metro Courthouse and the other judicial-related posts, along with all but one of the state constitutional offices in Nashville, are on the ballot.

That includes the Office of District Attorney where incumbent Glenn Funk is seeking a second 8-year term. The contest has already seemed to be the most high-profile one for voters to decide, with Funk facing two challengers.

Things became even more heated this week after a former Vanderbilt nurse, RaDonna Vaught, was put on trial and convicted in the 2017 death of patient Charlene Murphey, 75. Vaught gave Murphey the wrong medication.

Even before the trial began, the case was creating concerns nationwide among health care professionals that it could lead to more criminal prosecutions for medical mistakes. There is an online petition that as of mid-week had already attracted over 150,000 signatures seeking Governor Bill Lee to grant clemency to Vaught. The effort comes even before she has been sentenced. Penalties could range from probation (Vaught has an otherwise spotless record) up to a prison term of 8 years.

In the wake of the conviction, Funk's opponents are seizing on the case to attack him for pursuing the matter, saying what he has done sets a bad precedent for the future. Funk says this is more than an honest mistake, that the former nurse was guilty of repeated “gross neglect” in the case.

The political question is: Is there enough time for these attacks against Funk to matter? Early voting begins April 13, less than two weeks away. The early vote in Nashville usually makes up half or even more of the total vote.

A TikTok video is helpful. It has already gotten over 130,000 views and raised $12,000, but how many who have seen it live outside Davidson County, and can’t vote in this race? Do Funk’s opponents have the resources to place their message on local TV and radio in paid spots?

Funk has run a strong reelection campaign featuring numerous yard signs put up all over Nashville (although remember yard signs are not votes). The Funk campaign also has TV ads, one of which features a host of endorsements from leaders from various communities across Nashville.

Funk also received the highest ranking, compared to his opponents, in a Nashville Bar Association survey of its members. That survey is closely watched because judicial-related elections are of high interest to members of the bar. It should be noted that Funk also received the highest “do not recommend” rating from NBA members compared to the others seeking the D.A.’s office.

It should also be noted that a survey conducted by the Napier Lobby Bar Association found its members give the highest support to Funk opponent P. Danielle Nellis.

The size of the Napier-Lobby Bar group is rather small and participation in the survey was low. But keep in mind, African American support for Glenn Funk was important to winning his race to be Davidson County District Attorney.