By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
April 9, 2021
ANOTHER WEEK OF THE VACCINES VERSUS THE VIRUS VARIANTS; OTHER VIRUS- RELATED ISSUES REMAIN WHILE SIGNS OF RECOVERY CREATE ISSUES TOO; HOW TO USE THE NEW VIRUS RELIEF MONIES; NEXT MOVES FOR BIDEN ADMINISTRATION; ANOTHER PRIMARY CHALLENGE; UP ON THE HILL; METRO COUNCIL; A PUBLIC REFERENDUM ON CHANGES TO THE METRO CHARTER REMAINS IN QUESTION; DAVID PLAZAS OF THE TENNESSEAN ON INSIDE POLITICS
ANOTHER WEEK OF THE VACCINES VERSUS THE VIRUS VARIANTS
Throughout the year plus of this COVID-19 pandemic, the virus and its variants have seemed to be trying to outsmart us.
Every time we think we are getting things under control, especially with the growing number of people vaccinated, we let our guard down, or the virus mutants change, and another surge begins.
The new virus spike also seems to be hitting hardest now at younger patients.
The surge also seems to be driven in part by youth sports say some health experts.
But so far, the surge is not being seen in Tennessee or here in Nashville. In fact, much of it seems concentrated in a small number of states in the upper Midwest.
In terms of vaccinations, the nation is up to 33% of the adult population having at least one shot, and close to 20% now fully vaccinated (as of Thursday). President Biden has again moved up his requested deadline for every person over age 16 be eligible to get a shot by April 19 (the date was May 1). Many states (including Tennessee) have already met the deadline and it is believed all 50 states, plus territories and tribes will get there by next week.
Even better news is a report from the CDC this week that says 80% of K-12 educators and staff (including day care workers), have received at least one vaccination nationally.
The 20% of the U.S. adult population being fully vaccinated may still seem to be a low number to some. It is much higher than most of the rest of the world is likely to achieve in all of 2021.
More sobering news is another report that claims a third of COVID-19 survivors face long term mental health issues.
Back on the vaccine front, AstraZeneca once seen as the serum most likely to be used heavily around the world to combat the disease, continues to have problems including restrictions on where it is already being used (it has not been approved for use in the United States).
FULL DISCLOSURE: I am in the local AstraZeneca study and know I received its vaccine. I just hope it will still be approved in this country even if its doses are sent overseas.
One reason I hope that happens is the continuing discussion about “vaccine passports.” Increasingly, it appears few, if any, elected officials want to have government impose such a requirement. That includes not only conservative Republicans such as Tennessee Governor Bill Lee but also the Biden administration.
There is no doubt a concern about a public backlash even stronger than the one that continues over wearing face masks. But it does appear some universities, airlines, cruise ships, concert venues, and other groups and businesses might impose their own mandate.
Vaccination skepticism continues especially among some religious groups.
Despite that reluctance, nationally, the daily number of shots being given is now averaging above 3 million, with Tennessee now at 33.1% of its adults with one arm stick, and 16% fully vaccinated.
Nashville reports as of Thursday April 8, 31.7% of our residents having received one dose and 18.4% are fully vaccinated. Mayor Cooper’s goal is to reach the 50% level for first inoculation by May.
Anticipating a new surge of people now eligible to be vaccinated, the city is transitioning one of its virus testing centers into a one- shot vaccine drive through location.
With the first vaccination rate now above 30% in Nashville, another revised health order is expected to be issued early next week that will further relax the remaining virus restrictions in the city. This article outlines what the next round of changes might include.
While many health officials still recommend wearing a mask to continue to fight the virus, another mask mandate in a county surrounding Nashville expires overnight tonight.
OTHER VIRUS- RELATED ISSUES REMAIN WHILE SIGNS OF RECOVERY CREATE ISSUES TOO
Over one million Tennesseans have sought unemployment assistance during the pandemic. The onslaught has completely overwhelmed the state’s system to handle the requests.
This week we got a clue how much the state’s failure is costing taxpayers. It’s over $6 million, and while the state Commissioner in charge says he thinks his agency is doing a good job, this NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES story will make you wonder.
More than 3,000 Tennesseans entered new requests for jobless help this week, as numbers ticked up, not only in this state, but nationally.
With unemployment aid requests still at historically high levels, what is the Republican leadership in the Tennessee General Assembly. Believe it or not they are pushing a bill that would cut the state’s unemployment benefits by more than half, making them the lowest in the nation!
Fortunately, it appears wiser heads in the State Senate seem to be applying the brakes to this harebrain idea.
Another piece of House-approved legislation, making the Holy Bible the state’s official book, seems have also been sidetracked in the upper chamber.
Getting back to pandemic relief and recovery, help for the many small performance venues in Nashville that make the city so special, is now easier to access, according to an announcement made by Congressman Jim Cooper.
The future of one legendary Nashville music club remains in limbo however, although fans are rallying to keep the Exit Inn on the Elliston Place Rock Block in midtown alive.
Members of the Metro Council are also speaking out although their ability to impact this Exit In situation is fairly limited, unless a change in the property requires new zoning.
Another longtime Nashville landmark with an uncertain future after a sale, is the downtown Arcade.
Other signs of the coming economic rebound from the virus, as vaccinations rise, is news a survey shows a lot of Tennesseans are ready to travel.
Another sign of the rebound, and how the state of Tennessee and Nashville, have maintained their appeal nationally, can be seen in another survey released this week by the U-Haul company.
HOW TO USE THE NEW VIRUS RELIEF MONIES
Congress has acted.
President Biden has signed the new American Rescue Plan.
Now state and local governments must decide how to spend the millions to billions of dollars coming to them in new virus relief funds. This round of aid is not as restricted as the previous CARE Act funds, but the money is still one time in nature (non-recurring), so decisions will have to be made carefully.
There have been some in the Metro Council who want to use the new American Rescue money to lower the city’s 34% property tax increase from last year. Federal law has long prohibited money from Washington being used that way, but several Republican state attorney generals across the nation have filed suit over the issue (including Tennessee).
NEXT MOVES FOR BIDEN ADMINISTRATION
After disappointing gun reform advocates by deciding not move ahead on legislation to tighten firearm rules in the wake of new mass shootings across the country (including more this week), they may be feeling better after President Biden announced several executive actions this week.
Of course, the President’s moves won’t take effect immediately (due to the rules making process) and will likely also be challenged in the courts. Meanwhile, the infrastructure legislation the President decided to pursue right away, saw its chances for passage improve (even again with Republican support) because of another ruling by the Senate parliamentarian.
But even needing only 50 votes from all the Senate Democrats to pass, that, right now, seems to be not a sure thing.
Meanwhile, another major issue dogging the new administration continues to grow on the southern border, with little in sight of the problem getting under control.
ANOTHER PRIMARY CHALLENGE
For the second time in two years, Nashville’s long -time Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper will be facing a primary challenger in August of next year.
The 2022 challenger seems to be potentially stronger than the ones in 2000 that made the incumbent run a very active race before prevailing handily.
The question is, what congressional district will these candidates be running in?
Because the 2020 U.S. Census is running well behind, it looks like it will be this fall before the Tennessee General Assembly can decide (by special session?) how to redraw the state’s nine congressional districts. It is something lawmakers do every decade following the Census.
But with reports continuing that the Republican Super Majority will divide up “blue” Davidson County into the surrounding “red” Republican congressional districts, it is hard to say what the 5th Congressional district will consist of, or even if Congressman Cooper and his primary challenger will be in the same district, depending on the new lines and where they live.
UP ON THE HILL
The 2021 legislative session is turning out to be a good one for Governor Bill Lee.
On Thursday, he signed into law one of the signatures pieces of legislation he’s been supporting.
That would be the “constitutional carry” bill that will allow any adult over 20 who is handgun owner to carry the weapon (concealed or open) without any training or a permit from the state.
The bill passed despite strong opposition from both police and sheriffs’ organization across the state. Those are groups who normally support Republicans and vice versa.
It also appears another long sought legislative priority of the Governor….criminal justice reform… may be in reach of passage this year.
There has not been much public activity on the issue, but the Governor went into high gear this week hosting an all-star panel of Republican conservatives who have been leading the charge on this issue nationwide, some for many years. That includes one of the panelists whose name may sound and look familiar. We are cousins. His grandfather and my great grandfather were brothers.
Elsewhere this week on the Hill, the Republican war against the LGBTQ community continues with the Senate approving a bill that will allow parents to opt out their children from any school instruction about the topic. Another would remove any such discussion in textbooks in Tennessee schools.
Meanwhile during a public appearance before a business group this week, Governor Lee sidestepped questions about whether this anti-LGBTQ legislation is discriminatory and might hurt the state.
What will he do when the bills come to his desk to be signed into law?
It was good meeting of the Metro Council last Tuesday night for Nashville Mayor John Cooper.
Two major bills he has been pushing gained approval after being deferred more than once.
One would begin the process of creating a local Department of Transportation under the city’s Public Works Department. The resolution would move Public Works’ non-transportation duties to pick up trash and recycling and have the Metro Water Services Department take that over.
The other important bill for the Cooper administration approved Tuesday night by the Council, was a second reading ordinance to modernize the city’s downtown on street parking system with the use of a still to be selected private firm.
While both efforts by the Mayor can now continue to move ahead, there will be more approvals needed from the Council in the future.
One other major vote by the Council this week gave final approval to a nearly decade long controversy over health care insurance coverage provided to past and future Councilmembers after they leave office.
A PUBLIC REFERENDUM ON CHANGES TO THE METRO CHARTER REMAINS IN QUESTION
The latest petition effort, to have Nashville voters decide several major changes to the Metro Charter, has already caused a lawsuit to be filed. It came even before the Election Commission voted on whether to put the matter on the ballot.
Some kind of decision by the Commission was expected on Thursday, but given the issues already being raised by all the parties involved, a final decision on what happens will still likely be ultimately decided in a courtroom.
In the meantime, to determine if the petitions have enough signatures to call a special election, the Election Commission has hired highly respected Vanderbilt Professor of Law Jim Blumstein to advise them.
Remember, unlike all the other Metro boards and commission, this five-member body is appointed on a party basis, with Republicans having a 3-2 advantage. That partisan underpinning is something to keep in mind as the Election Commission decides what to do.
DAVID PLAZAS OF THE TENNESSEAN ON INSIDE POLITICS
Finding a way to bring or restore civility to our politics has been a topic for ongoing discussion for the past few years.
Are we making progress? Or is our political discord and polarization getting worse on the national, state and local levels?
Is the pandemic playing a role in that?
Are misinformation efforts adding to the problems?
One of those here in Nashville leading the effort to find civility has been David Plazas.
He is the Opinion and Community Engagement Director at THE TENNESSEAN and USA TODAY-TENNESSEE.
David is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.
We thank David for joining us again.
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 own Facebook page as soon as it is available, usually on Monday or Tuesday.