NewsChannel5 +Inside PoliticsCapitol View Commentary


Capitol View commentary: Friday, April 10, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 1:12 PM, Apr 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-10 14:12:23-04

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
April 10, 2020


As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread and the number of deaths rise, there were predictions that this week would be our toughest moment yet. Indeed, close to 17,000 Americans have now succumbed to the disease. That is a total larger than the deaths resulting from the 9/11 and Pearl Harbor tragedies combined.

But then came word early this week that revised models tracking the virus now show a lower, flattened curve resulting in significant fewer deaths than predicted last week, which was between 100,000 and 240,000 losing their lives by August.

The same revised lowered predictions are seen for Tennessee.

As we neared the end of the week, one model posted on- line by National Public Radio gives a state by state projection of peak dates, bed shortages, peak day deaths and total projected deaths. It shows a few states may already be past their peaks. For Tennessee, the numbers are: Peak Day Saturday April 18, 0 bed shortage, 25 deaths projected on peak day and a cumulative death total of 617 deaths through August. Here’s a link. Remember this is a model and models can change as new data comes in on social distancing compliance, etc.

By late in the week (Thursday), Vanderbilt Medical Center offered its own model predictions for Tennessee including a later peak date in June and a much higher rate of hospitalizations.

Confused over which models are correct? Join the club. What does appear clear is that social distancing efforts are working and are likely the best way to bring an end to the pandemic any time soon.

The revised lower models have gotten an immediate thumbs-up from the Director for the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Under any virus model, hospitalizations and deaths will continue to add up. We will only see the lower totals overall, and the curve continue to flatten, if everyone continues to follow social distancing mandates.

Meanwhile, President Trump continues to tout as a “game changer” to stop the virus, a prescription drug used to help malaria and lupus sufferers. His comments are dividing the medical community.

The anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine is seen as a possible treatment for the new coronavirus and Vanderbilt University Medical Center is leading one of the first studies of its effectiveness.

Another “game changer,” a COVID-19 test that can report results in 5-minutes, rather than in days or weeks, is now available in Tennessee.

President Trump also sees other potential vaccines (still more than a year away) as “a light at the end of tunnel.” Using that description however, is historically, perhaps most unfortunate.

This ongoing discussion about where we stand with the virus is just a foreshadowing of the difficult political fight that lies ahead when the peak of the virus appears past and the clamor begins to immediately end the social distancing restrictions, re-open the economy, and return to “normal.”


Another example of the struggle ahead to transition back from shutdown to re-opening are the challenges facing Major League Baseball and other sports. One plan being considered by MLB is to restart everything for the ‘boys of summer” in Arizona next month (May). It will be very tough to do.


As if he doesn’t have enough on his plate, President Trump this week is also joined in a fight with the World Health Organization, criticized a federal Health and Human Services report that finds federal action on providing supplies has been lacking. The President this week also fired the independent watchdog overseeing the implementation of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief fund[PN1] [PN2] [PN3] .

Along with the virus, the President seems to be particularly at war against federal oversight agents whose jobs are to be government watchdogs. The President has even fired the federal inspector general who did his job by reporting a whistleblower complaint that led to Mr. Trump’s impeachment last December.

Nashville congressman Jim Cooper is seeking to protect the inspectors general by filing legislation. His bill is co-sponsored by Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. It establishes seven-year terms for Inspectors General and protects them from politically motivated firings by only allowing for removal for cause.

“The removal of seven Inspectors General (in recent weeks) without just cause is reckless and appears to be political retaliation,” Rep. Cooper said. “An Inspector General shedding light on serious problems is a good thing; I have always said sunlight is the best disinfectant. If anything, our Inspectors General need more power, not punishment, so they can hold bad actors accountable.”

Finally, in terms of fights, there is this strange new development about the role of the federal government and hard to find medical supplies.


The hope this week has been to get the virus relief checks out to the public beginning as early as yesterday (Thursday), but there are fears a number of eligible folks will get left out.

The relief checks are not likely to be enough to tide people over for long as they need to continue to pay their bills. It also appears the virus relief loans to small businesses is getting off to a slow start. So Congress is trying to pull together would be a fourth relief bill.


But, as could be predicted, this fourth relief effort is now bogged down by competing ideas over who should get more funds.

This impasse over additional relief from Washington is another indication that there is not likely be a quick recovery for the economy when our virus- related restrictions are eased.

And the food and hospitality layoffs continue to be brutal.


To me, some of the squabbles we see in responding to virus pandemic have a few echoes in American history. Those of us who took history, civics or political science classes remember that there has always been a tension in this country over federalism, i.e. what the federal government can and should do, and what should be left to the states to handle. In the early 1800s the fight, believe it or not, was over whether building roads, bridges, canals and other “internal improvements” is something the federal government should do or whether that should be left to the states or the private sector. Later in the 19th Century, there was a federalism struggle over which part of government should regulate or allow slavery, the individual states or the federal government.

Now in dealing in the hot-house atmosphere of the pandemic, we have daily seen federalism conflicts in the efforts to stop the virus. But President Donald Trump has flipped the script about what the feds should do in terms of testing, equipment, personal protection gear, etc. versus what the states should do. Most Presidents in modern times have favored more federal interventions and control, Mr. Trump does not. His position is also different because, even though this President equates the virus struggle to war, no modern president has sought to delegate his commander in chief powers to the 50 states in how to wage a conflict. And so, the fights rage on.

One other matter complicates this debate. We have a couple of very significant credibility gaps in this country (to use that old Vietnam-war era term). Many polls consistently show about half of those responding believe almost nothing President Trump says. Recent polls show a spike in support for the President is fading. At the same time a sizable group of Americans believe nothing that is reported by the mainstream media (fake news). These gaps make it hard to build or keep the consensus needed to wage war.

The conflicts and credibility gaps could even further intensify with reports President Trump was considering appointing a second coronavirus task force focusing on reopening the economy. I don’t see any medical authorities in the early reports on who will be a part of the new task force. Late word Friday morning is that the work on reopening the economy is being done informally, with the President consulting his advisors, in and outside the administration. It is also reported any effort to reopen the economy by the President will be done with advice from medical experts.

Other news stories indicate the President wants a phased-in “big-bang reopening of businesses in May.” Some top health officials say they are worried that, without more testing and identifying those exposed to the disease, “by December we are going through this again.

Finally, as we grapple with what government can do in perilous times, pay attention to this 1905 Supreme Court ruling.


In the wake of the revised model for a flatter virus curve and lower hospitalizations and deaths in Tennessee, Governor Bill Lee said on Monday he has not decided whether to extend his statewide Stay At Home order which he issued last week, but which is set to end at midnight Tuesday, April 14.

As for Metro, the chairman of the city’s Board of Health says its too early for Metro to relax its Safer at Home order which has now been in effect nearly 3 weeks.

What about plans to convert Nashville’s Music City Center into a temporary 1600 bed hospital to help deal with the pandemic? Governor Lee says such a move is still under consideration, but perhaps with fewer beds being created.
The Governor has closed schools until April 24. Will that closure be extended? No decision has been announced, but it appears moves are underway in state government to put policy changes in place in the likelihood school is cancelled for the rest of the school year.

On the national level, the nation now has close to 17 million people who have filed for unemployment benefits. That’s occurred in just the last three weeks as the coronavirus related economic crash continues to wreck major havoc in many people’s daily lives. In excess of 6.6 million more folks applied for help this past week alone. The amount of unemployment is likely even bigger than that. Many folks report they can’t even get through to state officials to apply.

Here in Tennessee, just as in nearly every other state in the nation, the crush to file for unemployment benefits is overwhelming the system. Last week 112,000 filed for unemployment aid in the Volunteer State. To deal with ever rising numbers that total over 250,000 unemployment assistance application in the past three weeks, the state is seeking more staffing. State government is also reconfiguring its computer system. Meanwhile officials remain unsure when the extra federal unemployment dollars from the virus relief bill will arrive in Tennessee.

Nashville congressman Jim Cooper is adding information about all the federal assistance programs available at an expanded web site; That will include information regarding food assistance, cash assistance, unemployment benefits, and more.

Any delay in receiving relief funds is likely to impact the rising delinquency rate in residents paying their monthly rent. That number is now estimated to be close to one-third of renters nationwide.
Some federal relief to assist healthcare centers is getting down to the state.

Another statewide coalition of social justice and labor organizations is asking Governor Lee to act. They want him to temporarily waive some restrictions in state law during the pandemic. The changes would involve paid employee leave and waiving sanctuary cities sanctions to allow local communities deal with the pandemic, and while parts of Middle Tennessee recover from the March 3 tornado. So far, the Governor’s office has made no response.

The state continues its efforts to recruit retired physicians and other health care workers to come back into service to join the virus fight. Meanwhile, such an effort by local hospitals to recruit and reward nurses, for being the heroes they are, is also bringing forth long standing pay issues. To deal with the growing shortage of front line health care workers, and looking towards reopening the nation, federal health officials are changing some of their guidelines regarding essential workers.


Adding to the data about the spread of the virus the city of Nashville released on Tuesday, a detailed map of where the local cases have occurred in the city. It is shown with a zip code overlay, along with some additional explanation about how the cases occurred and what that means.

The additional breakdown on the virus locally came amid a growing national controversy about whether the likelihood of testing positive for the virus and its severity is victimizing a disproportional number of African Americans.
Metro officials say the information it has about local coronavirus cases comes from testing and does not include a racial breakdown. The city is seeking to capture such data but there has given no date on when that will be complete and then be disclosed.

The state is beginning to provide racial demographic information as well as more information on nursing home virus cases. That move comes in the wake of a nursing facility in Gallatin, that was briefly evacuated and closed, with many staff and residents hospitalized, and now 11 former residents dead.

Another hot spot for potential large COVID-19 outbreaks is corrections facilities. While the debate rages about to who and how many inmates ought to be released to ensure safety and social distancing, some criminal justice reform advocates hope this discussion could have long term implications.

But for now, the efforts to release many inmates is going slowly in the courts.


For the state, three Tennessee Department of Corrections staff members and three contract employees at the TDOC facilities have already tested positive for COVID-19. So all staff at both facilities are being offered testing with help from the Tennessee National Guard. The facilities are Northwest Correctional Complex in Tiptonville and the Bledsoe County Correctional Complex in Pikeville.

At the same time, there are also efforts by a criminal justice reform group and Jay Z to provide masks to inmates and correctional staff at state prisons.
The virus pandemic has led to a moratorium on visitors being allowed to come inside correctional facilities, including family. This creates a tough situation for everyone involved, particularly juveniles.


There are still legislative elections set for this summer and fall.

In something of a surprise move, the Tennessee Democratic Party leadership has voted to remove a long- time incumbent Tennessee House member from seeking re-election in the August Democratic primary.

One of those opposing Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper in the August Democratic Primary apparently won’t be on the ballot either. Qualifying petitions with enough voters’ signatures were still required by last Thursday. Activist Justin Jones apparently fell one voter signature short. Jones says in a tweet, one of his supporters who signed the petition, a 50+ year voter, did not provide her signature under her new address. Another signature Jones says was disallowed because the person who signed was disqualified because of “felony disenfranchisement.” Jones concludes his tweet saying: “by a 1 signature technicality, we’re not allowed on the ballot.”

In the U.S. Senate race to take Senator Lamar Alexander’s place in Washington, one of the two major GOP candidates, former ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, released his fund -raising numbers for the quarter.

The disclosure, reported by THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL, evoked quite a few comments from the trolls who follow the publication’s blog site. I can’t figure out if this is a sign of how more of our political communications will be conducted in this virus pandemic era, or if political junkies just have more time on their hands while they stay home and socially distance from everyone.


I have covered or observed the Metro Council for almost 47 years.

The Council meeting I covered on Tuesday night, as the announcer for live TV coverage through the Metro Nashville Network, was one for the history books

Operating under an executive order issued by Governor Bill Lee, the 40 members of the Council convened on-line and conducted the city’s “essential business” on what amounted to a 41- member conference call.

The only members present in the council chambers were Vice Mayor Jim Schulman, who led the meeting, along with Chairman Pro Tempore Jeff Syracuse. At Large member Bob Mendes, the chair of the Budget & Finance Committee was also there, since he sponsored and handled most of the legislation that was considered. Along with myself, Council Attorney and Staff Director Jon Cooper was also there, along with a representative from the Metro Clerk’s office and the IT staff. There were less than 10 of us in the chambers and we all observed social distancing.

The meeting began with a 30-page agenda but that was shortened considerably. With the public not allowed to attend due to the health concerns over the virus, six pages of public hearings, on zoning and other matters, were deferred. All bills on first reading (10 pages) were approved (as usual) in a single vote while non-controversial bills on second and third readings were approved on consent calendars in the same way.

Obviously, with council members doing their business electronically, the meeting was bizarre at times, but historically unprecedented throughout. The roll call for attendance took close to 10 minutes, as members learned how to open and close their microphones to participate. All 40 members did attend!

There was a loss of audio a time or two, and once or twice we heard a dog barking when some opened or left their mic on accidentally. There were also issues when members forgot to delete their hands up button to be recognized, so Vice Mayor had to go back to them to see if they wanted to speak. Roll call votes on bills (there were a couple) took some time too.

Regardless, the session seemed to go well. The Council meeting took three and a half hours, which is not overly long by recent Council standards. It should be pointed out however, with so many zoning bills with public hearings deferred, along with other legislation, there is going be quite a long Council meeting coming when the pandemic ends. Here is how other media saw the historic Council session.

Let me add a couple other interesting developments from the meeting. The Council considered a resolution to honor the local news media for its coverage of the March 3rd tornado. I am told those who asked for the bill drafted wanted, in particular, to honor the local TV weathercasters who gave key last- minute warnings on air just moments before the storm hit. The warning to take cover saved lives they thought. But the caption on the bill just used the words news media in terms of who should be honored. That led some Councilmembers to say it is not appropriate for government to honor the media for its work, any more than label the media “fake news.” Some members also still felt that some neighborhoods got slighted in the media’s tornado coverage, which isn’t true. But regardless the resolution was defeated 15-18-4.

Also of significance, for the first time the Council passed on final reading two rezoning bills (their public hearings had already held). The bills prohibit short term rental facilities in the neighborhoods being rezoned. Both are located in District 2 Councilmember Kyonzte Toombs district in northwest Nashville.

If the virus restrictions continue, I am not sure how this on-line, virtual meeting process will work when the Council begins its budget deliberations in May and June. With the public not be present, except electronically, it is particularly uncertain how the format will work, especially with Mayor John Cooper recommending what he describes as a “sharp” and “substantial increase” in the city’s property tax rates.


If the 40 members of the Metro Council had been able to gather together at the Courthouse this week as they normally do, the hallways outside the chambers would have been full of conversations about the property tax hike Mayor John Cooper announced during his first State of Metro address on March 31.

The Mayor did not mention an amount, only that it would “a sharp…substantial increase” in the tax rate. One Council source says the requested tax increase could be between 80-cent and $1.00 on the property tax rate. By historical standards that would be a big one.

In the two last years, the previous Metro Council came close to raising taxes on their own, over opposition from then Mayor David Briley. The new Council that took over last October seems to be even more predisposed to approving higher taxes for better schools, larger teacher and other city employees pay raises and improving city services to neighborhoods.

But will the Council’s resolve to support higher taxes be dampened depending on exactly what “a sharp and substantial tax hike” means? And what the tax increase will pay for?

Lawmakers usually agree to approve higher taxes so they can point out to voters the better services they will receive. But will Mayor Cooper’s property tax increase do that, or just try and maintain the status quo in the wake of the March 3rd tornado and the COVFID-19 pandemic that has shut down the local economy and sharply decreased the city’s sales and other tourism-related tax collections?

While Mayor Cooper did not mention an amount for his tax hike proposal, he did say he plans to keep Metro’s tax rate of $3.15 per $100 of assessed property value, the lowest among major cities in Tennessee. The next lowest to Nashville, is Knoxville and Knox County at a combined rate of $4.58.

That spread could give Mayor Cooper a tax increase of $1.40 or a few pennies more. To my memory, if recommended and approved, that would be close to the largest property tax increase in Metro history. In 1980, Mayor Richard Fulton proposed a $2.87 tax hike. It was that high because property vales at the time had not been reappraised in years and were way of whack with fair market value (and state law). Regardless, the Metro Council rebelled at the high number, and approved $1.57 instead (although that was later reduced to 82-cents for reasons I will explain in a moment.

There is one other reason I don’t think Mayor Cooper will go as high as or above the Knoxville property tax rate of $4.58. In 2006, Metro voters, in overwhelming numbers, placed a cap on the property tax. The cap was imposed at the tax rate at that time, which was $4.79. Putting a cap on property taxes has never been challenged in the courts, and the city could go higher than that if the new tax rate is approved by voters in a referendum. But given all the other issues on his plate, I just don’t think Mayor Cooper will want to go there and fight about the cap.

But could a referendum still be part of Mayor Cooper tax plans? When he was running for office last summer, several times candidate Cooper expressed interest in maxing out the local option sales tax by adding another half-cent. He indicated at the time he might pursue that as mayor if Metro needed more money, rather than raise property taxes. As Councilman At Large , John Cooper twice voted against property tax hikes, and he has expressed support for such an increase now, only after the devastation caused to local government and its revenues from the pandemic and the tornado.

There is some history in Metro seeking a sales tax increase in conjunction with a rise in property taxes. The last time local voters increased the sales tax by referendum (as required by state law), it was done after the property tax increase in 1980, forty years ago.

Councilmembers put the sales tax hike on the ballot and told voters they would roll back some of the property tax hike if they “shared” the tax burden with visitors and non-property owners by increasing the sales tax. Voters said yes, and the property tax increase was reduced. That is why the record $1.52 property tax increase approved by the Council in 1980 got rolled back to 82 cents. Might that be proposed and happen again in 2020?

Keep this in mind, any estimate of how much money a sales tax increase would generate is subject to serious question until it is known how soon and how much the local economy will rebound after everything is reopened after the virus subsides.

This is a major challenge for both Metro and the State in putting together and keeping their budgets in line (balanced). Indeed, if current estimates are correct that the city will see local sales tax collections decline $200-$300 million between now and the end of June. That size of revenue loss will be hard to budget for to complete not only the current budget year as well as for the next budget which begins July 1. The state still has an ample “Rainy Day” Fund to cushion that gap. Metro does not.

For all these reasons, look for the mother of all Metro budget and tax debates to begin the end of April when the Mayor unveils his plans. A new budget and property tax rate must be approved by the Council by June 30.

The funds coming to Metro from Washington, as relief from the damages suffered from the virus pandemic and the tornado, could also help cushion the budget blow to the city. But how much Nashville will receive is still unknown, and it does not appear the total of it all, will be anywhere close enough to close the huge budget deficit the city is now facing.

Already one of the conservative leaders in the Council, At-Large Councilman Steve Glover is signaling opposition to a substantial increase in property taxes. Posting on Facebook, he says:

“Unless I see major reductions of non-essential service for a solid majority of Nashville residents; I will not support any substantial increase in property taxes. I am open to discuss how we take care of our employees. We cannot keep doing what we have done. If we do, we land exactly where we are now.”

The size of Metro’s revenue shortfall can be seen in news stories about the potential size of the cuts to Metro schools of up to $100 million. Schools receive the lion’s share of our local sales tax revenues, as required by state law, and therefore could be hit hard.


The hope is again that federal tornado and virus relief monies will help cover some of the revenue shortfalls for the city. But looking at the size of the funding already announced through the state (and divided up among other counties and cities) it doesn’t appear to include a large amount of new dollars compared to Metro’s projected red ink.

Metro is receiving $40 million from the city’s Convention Center Authority to help with the budget and revenue shortfall.

Several people have asked me if Metro might be able to forgo or reduce the size of a tax increase by stopping construction of the MLS Stadium at the Fairgrounds. Based on this story, that is not going to happen.

To do what he can to cushion the blow of higher property taxes for some taxpayers, Mayor Cooper is emphasizing (in a mayoral news release) that “the deadline to renew or apply for Tax Relief or Tax Freeze has been extended to Wednesday, July 1, 2020. Renewal vouchers for the Tax Relief and Tax Freeze programs may be mailed to the Trustee’s Office or placed in the secure drop box. Senior, disabled, and disabled veteran taxpayers who wish to apply for Tax Relief or Tax Freeze for the first time should call 615-862-6330.”


As we now enter into a second month of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting near collapse of the U.S. and world economy, where do we stand, and how is what’s happening impacting our politics and the upcoming elections? With Senator Bernie Sanders dropping out of the presidential race this week, what impact will that have on uniting the Democratic Party? What about that party’s national nominating convention being conducted virtually this summer, especially if the virus restrictions are still in place? And, what if the pandemic hangs on or reoccurs, will the national election day in November look like what happened in recent days when Wisconsin held its primary elections?
Will or can we all vote by mail?

Middle Tennessee State University Professor Dr. John Vile will join on INSIDE POLITICS this week to discuss those topics. Watch us!

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times over the 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.

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 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


The numbers from the pandemic are not good news at all.

Worldwide on Friday morning the number of positive cases is close to 1.5 million

Deaths worldwide are approaching 100,000.

In the U.S, the numbers are more than 476,000 cases and close to 18,000 deaths

For the state of Tennessee, the Friday numbers will be updated at 2:00 p.m. CDT and can be accessed here.

Here are the Friday numbers for Nashville.

A total number of 1,224 confirmed cases of coronavirus COVID-19 in Nashville/Davidson County, an increase of 84 cases in the past 48 hours. The estimated number of cases reported yesterday (1,231) have been adjusted after further review and confirmation.

The confirmed cases range in age from 2 months to 94 years.

There has been a total of thirteen (13) deaths in Davidson County.

Forty-four (44) individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 remain hospitalized, and 204 individuals have recovered from the virus. The remaining cases are self-isolating at home and have mild and manageable symptoms.

The MPHD COVID-19 Hotline received 186 calls on Thursday, April 9, 2020.

Total number of Cases: 1,224
New cases (48 hours): 84
Cases by sex
Male: 570
Female: 619
Unknown: 35
Total Cases by age
Unknown 71

0-10 17
11-20 60
21-30 421
31-40 199
41-50 139
51-60 158
61-70 99
71-80 49
81+ 11

Total 1,224
Recovered 204
Deaths 13
Total active cases 1,007

Total number of tests administered Total positive results Total negative results Positive results as percentage of total
12,810 1,224 11,586 9.6 %

But despite all the continued gloom there is kindness and good news to be found.

The efforts to help come as both the Jewish and Christian faiths celebrate significant religious holidays (Passover and Christmas).
Virtual Holy Week

On a very sad note, Nashville lost its “Mark Twain” this week with the passing, from COVID-19 complications, legendary Americana, folk and country music song writer and artist John Prine. May he rest in peace.