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Capitol View commentary: Friday, August 26, 2022

Capitol View
Posted at 8:27 AM, Aug 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-26 09:27:43-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

August 26, 2022

NEWSCHANNEL5 CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER PHIL WILLIAMS JOINS US ON INSIDE POLITICS TO PROVIDE HIS INSIGHTS AND THE LATEST ON YET ANOTHER SCANDAL AT THE STATE CAPITOL; TENNESSEE PULLS THE TRIGGER TO BAN ABORTION; PRESIDENT BIDEN FINALLY ACTS ON STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS BUT WINDS UP AGAIN IN THE MIDDLE AND UNDER FIRE FROM BOTH SIDES; A VISION FOR THE EAST BANK; THE COURT FIGHT OVER THE MAR-A-LAGO RAID CONTINUES; SOME TROUBLING REPORTS FROM METRO SCHOOLS; THE FEUD BETWEEN METRO PD AND THE COMMUNITY OVERSIGHT BOARD WIDENS

NEWSCHANNEL5 CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER PHIL WILLIAMS JOINS US ON INSIDE POLITICS TO PROVIDE HIS INSIGHTS AND THE LATEST ON YET ANOTHER SCANDAL AT THE STATE CAPITOL

It seems it happens at least every decade or so in Tennessee.

On Tuesday of this week (August 22), the other shoe dropped one more time on Capitol Hill in Nashville.

Former Tennessee House Speaker Glen Casada and his former chief of staff Cade Cothren were indicted by a federal grand jury on multiple charges including fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery and accept kickbacks along with theft and money laundering.

It all stems from an investigation that went public in early January of 2021. That’s when federal agents raided the former Speaker’s home early in the morning while he stood by his bathrobe.

It ended Tuesday morning when Casada and his former top aide were arrested and appeared before a federal magistrate just a few hours later.

They were led into the court in handcuffs and leg chains before pleading not guilty to all charges in the 20-count indictment. They were released from custody Tuesday afternoon.

No reporter has been on top of this scandal, and others in the past, more than NEWSCHANNEL5 ‘s Chief Investigative Reporter Phil Williams.

Phil is our guest us this week on INSIDE POLITICS to tell us more.

We thank him for joining us.

Our interview will air first on the main channel of the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network (WTVF-TV Channel 5) at 6:30 p.m. Friday night.

INSIDE POLITICS can also be seen on its regular weekly schedule on NEWCHANNEL5 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 on my own Facebook page, usually on the Monday or Tuesday after the show airs.

TENNESSEE PULLS THE TRIGGER TO BAN ABORTION

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in late June that there is no constitutional right to an abortion, and left that the issue up to the states, Tennessee for several weeks has operated under a “heartbeat law.”

That measure outlawed abortion after 6 weeks of pregnancy, but it was really seen as just an interim step, until the state could activate its “trigger law.” This latest abortion measure has that name because it would go into effect only when the High Court ruled as it did on the issue.

Yesterday (Thursday, August 25), the trigger was pulled. Amidst controversy, abortion has become totally illegal in Tennessee. No exceptions, not for rape, not for incest. Not for the life of the mother.

If a woman needs this type of reproductive health care, they will have to travel to another state where abortions are still allowed. There are reports some women are deciding to move from Tennessee or not come to the state because of what they feel is a loss of control over their own bodies.

The first day of the trigger ban brought an emotional protest outside the new federal courthouse in downtown Nashville.

There was also a protest in Murfreesboro.

Pro-life supporters spent the day celebrating the abortion ban. A spokesperson for Tennessee Right to Life said this is something they have worked 50 years to see happen.

The new trigger law doesn’t proscribe criminal penalties for a woman having an abortion in Tennessee. But it does set such tough penalties for any doctor (jail time and a fine) for performing such a procedure, legal experts strongly advise against it.

Because the trigger law has no exceptions, pro-choice advocates want state lawmakers to put exceptions like rape, incest and the life and health of the mother into the code. But Right to Life proponents say they will oppose any changes, and want the new trigger ban strictly enforced. Giving the Republican Super Majority in control of the General Assembly, it appears unlikely any change in the trigger law will pass or be signed into law.

Governor Bill Lee says he is focused on seeing the trigger ban enforced. He also sees a protection for doctors in the law, even though it comes into play only AFTER a doctor has been arrested, indicted on a felony, then put on trial, with the hope that, somehow, he and his lawyer can convince a jury that what he did was legal to save the life of the mother.

Here in Nashville, the Metro Council has been passing whatever resolutions and laws it can to push back against the Supreme Court ruling and the new state laws. The next Council meeting on Tuesday September 6 could see even more legislation. The focus will be an effort to continue to provide abortion access which would include funding for women to pay their expenses to go out of state to undergo an abortion. The legislation will also seek to fund better sex education in schools.

Finally, I have not seen any indications of this in Tennessee, but in some elections across the country, some Republicans candidates seem to be seeking a politically safer place to be on the increasingly high-profile issue of reproductive rights in the post-Roe v. Wade era.

PRESIDENT BIDEN FINALLY ACTS ON STUDENT LOAN FORGIVENESS BUT WINDS UP AGAIN IN THE MIDDLE AND UNDER FIRE FROM BOTH SIDES

Dating back to his 2020 Presidential campaign, President Joe Biden has promised to help financially hard-pressed young people to see their college loans reduced or forgiven.

For months not much has happened, except the moratorium on paying back the loans, first implemented early in the pandemic, has been extended several times.

This week, the President acted. Here is his plan.

As has happened so many times in his nearly two years in office, reaction to the President’s plan has found him caught in the middle criticized by both Republicans and even progressive elements of his own Democratic Party.

Of course, a legal challenge to his plan seems likely as well. But will it help the President and his party in the mid-term elections now just over two months away?

A VISION FOR THE EAST BANK

It may be the most expansive and expensive redevelopment plan in Nashville history.

For those reasons, Mayor John Cooper prefers to call what he unveiled this week after 18 months of quiet planning, a “vision” for the future of Nashville’s East Bank. He calls it: Imagine East Bank.

It includes many of the proposals the Mayor has already been talking about such as the new domed stadium for the Titans; massive new infrastructure, featuring new bridges and a new road system, a development that will also facilitate a completely new residential neighborhood to be built. The vision also envisions the Tennessee Performing Arts Center relocating there and the Phillips Metal Plant relocated somewhere else away from that part of the river. The vision also includes greenways, bike lanes, and commercial development, including a residential and retail village near the new stadium.

While details and financing remain uncertain at the moment, the Mayor thinks he has a proposal that could significantly change Nashville’s future.

“We can be the most exciting city in the country," Cooper said at the news conference where he unveiled his vision. "This will bring decisive benefits as we move up the ranks of great cities."

City planning officials plan to hold sessions to gather public reaction and input. The goal is to have the vision become a plan approved by the Metro Planning Commission this fall.

But already other neighborhoods are concerned their needs for infrastructure and city services will be left behind.

Metro Councilman At Large Bob Mendes believes this push for a new vision and plan for the East Bank is being pushed by the stadium effort. He told AXIOS-Nashville. “If we take a football stadium out of the mix, there is, I would argue, a 0% chance that citizens of Davidson County are signing up for $700 million worth of [bonds] for infrastructure for a couple hundred acres that are undeveloped when water fountains don't work in schools, and there's flooding concerns in neighborhoods all over the city, and all the other things that are underfunded chronically," Mendes says. Early on, news reports seem to reflect an overall wait and see reaction from councilmembers and other local leaders.

The Cooper Administration is adamant their Vision Plan is not linked to the new domed stadium. But it does seem true the vision will have to be significantly adjusted if Nashville decides to renovate the current Nissan Stadium rather than build a new one. It is believed one of new major roads to be built under the vision goes right through part of the stands at the current Nissan Stadium.

But it is clear, given the significant new development by Oracle already underway just to the north on the East Bank, the city would be wise to have a plan or miss a golden opportunity to guide all the other new development bound to come to this area and very soon.

But the timing may present challenges. Metro is now less than a year from choosing its mayor, vice mayor and all 40 council members. John Cooper was elected saying he would place more emphasis on all neighborhoods in Nashville and not as much on downtown and the city’s inner loop.

The East Bank plan creates a whole new part of downtown just across the river, reorienting Nashville for the first time in over a century, to face and embrace the Cumberland River, not put it to the city’s back. That means striking a balance to achieve success for both downtown and the city’s growing neighborhoods, could be a challenge, given the pressures and political competition of an election year.

THE COURT FIGHT OVER THE MAR-A-LAGO RAID CONTINUES

The efforts by national news organizations to make public, the affidavit the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) used to get a Florida magistrate to authorize an FBI raid on former President Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago home, was supposed to be an intervention to advance the public’s right to know.

Instead, the matter for a while this week looked like it might go behind closed doors. The DOJ on Thursday submitted, per the magistrate’s request, a redacted version of the affidavit for the judge to decide what if anything could be released. Last week, the judge indicated that he thought some elements could possibly be given to the public. But with the DOJ asserting the document contains “the roadmap” of their investigation and releasing it might imperil the probe, the judge then said perhaps there be so little left unredacted, it might not be worth releasing anything.

However, after seeing what the DOJ wants redacted and released, maybe the judge changed his mind and decided maybe there is valuable information to be given to the public. So late Thursday afternoon, the judge ordered the redacted affidavit, whatever it contains, be released no later than 11 AM Nashville time Friday (today).

Based on other comments from the judge, it appears witness’ names will be redacted along with grand jury testimony which is always considered secret. Other key elements of the investigation may also be blacked out.

However, perhaps the likely long and drawn out back story of how and why the DOJ decided it had to seize the documents in Mr. Trump’s home because of the gravity of what those documents are in terms of national security, will be made clear.

If this, in general, is what is released, none of this would seem to work in the former president’s favor. As a seasoned prosecutor, Attorney General Merrick Garland likely detests setting up a precedent that many folks burdened in the future by a search and seizure will want to take advantage of. He also knows media groups may well continue the litigation by appealing the affidavit release seeking the redacted portions of the document as well.

But a successful appeal would seem unlikely, while the limited, protected release of the affidavit might put an end to the ongoing lies that there was no justification for the Mar-A-Lago raid.

If the release comes as late as 11 o’clock today, that would be after my deadline for this column, but I am sure I will be writing more about this topic again next week. And if I am wrong about what the impact of the limited affidavit will be, I am sure the crow I will have to eat will still be quite warm!

Donald Trump also faces a deadline today to explain to different federal judge why he wants the documents seized in the Mar-A-Lago search to be given over to a special master to keep the DOJ from reviewing it and the public from seeing any of it. This legal move comes after the former president has been all over his social media site saying all the related documents should be released. The judge is wondering as well why this request isn’t before judge handling all the other Mar-A-Lago issues?

This week a letter from the Library of Congress also came to light. First, it was leaked, then released to media. The letter reports on an earlier voluntary release of documents from Mar-A-Lago by Mr. Trump a few months ago. The letter says over 700 pages of classified documents were retrieved from Mar-A-Lago, including several of the highest level of secrecy. Remember this 700 number doesn’t include what was taken in the raid, meaning Mr. Trump had quite a stash of government documents he has taken with him from the White House.

As for why the former president took top secret documents to his Florida home, a former Trump aide said this week, he has for years loved to collect souvenirs. Top secret souvenirs? Really?

SOME TROUBLING REPORTS FROM METRO SCHOOLS

Two stories about Metro Public Schools caught my eye this week.

One is a report from the Beacon Center on how Tennessee public school systems have spent the hundreds of millions of federal tax dollars they received during the pandemic.

Except it seems MNPS has spent less than 20% of its funds. The report also questions some of the ways the local school board did spend the money.

Metro government is not having any problems allocating its pandemic funding. Mayor John Cooper announced this week 468 small businesses will receive awards from a $9 million grant program made available through the American Rescue Plan for small businesses in Nashville and Davidson County. The recipient firms are located across Nashville, spanning many industries. The small businesses, which have often struggled to receive pandemic assistance, will receive an average of $17,500 in federal funds, which they will not have to pay back. An additional $9 million loan plan is also available to help local small businesses.

Then there is this second story concerning Metro Schools. Despite being about 3 weeks into the new school term, dozens of Metro teachers, many of them new to the school system or just transferred into their jobs, have not received a single paycheck.

MNPS officials are apologetic about this apparently major bureaucratic foul-up. They say they hope these educators will get all their pay by today (Friday).

THE FEUD BETWEEN METRO PD AND THE COMMUNITY OVERSIGHT BOARD WIDENS

Another week and more concerns arise between the Metro Police Department and the city’s Community Oversight Board. Now the Tennessee NAACP is getting into the conversation asking for a federal probe.

The Oversight Board met this week and reportedly discussed whether it should ask the Davidson County District Attorney’s Office to get involved with an investigation as well.