By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
August 28, 2020
THE LATE SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT; THE STATE’S VIRUS RATES GOING DOWN BUT SCHOOLS REMAIN A CHALLENGE; MORE POLITICS AND MIXED MESSAGES FROM WASHINGTON; THE MAIL MUST GO THROUGH BUT WHO KNEW THEIR TRUCKS WERE EMPTY?; STILL NO ACTION IN WASHINGTON AS MILLIONS WAIT FOR VIRUS HELP; INSIDE POLITICS ANALYZES THE GOP CONVENTION WITH CHIP SALTSMAN; TENNESSSEANS WHO SPOKE AT THE NATIONAL CONVENTIONS; A VERY INTERESTING POLL WAS BEING CONDUCTED LAST WEEK;
THE LATE SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT
You can feel in Nashville and across the state.
We are making progress against COVID-19 but not enough to even begin to get back towards normal.
And some people are getting frustrated.
Those who feel the government is going too far, are seeking to fight back in the courts.
They have filed a lawsuit challenging the orders issued by Governor Bill Lee under the emergency powers granted to him by state law, as well as the legality of him delegating some of those powers to local governments across the state.
In Nashville, the discontent can be seen in the continued strong push back against the 34% property tax increase city leaders approved back in June. The 34% increase is seen as a way to keep local government services strong as a part of fighting the virus.
Previous efforts in the Metro Council, and by a petition campaign, to cut the tax rate have failed, but now with the help of the conservative Americans for Prosperity group (Koch Brothers) enough voter signatures may have been filed to force a December 5 referendum to roll back the entire 34% tax increase and limit any future property tax increases to no more than 2% annually unless voters approve.
Serious question legal questions seem likely to arise. Tax bills are already being drafted to send out to property owners by October 1 (payable by the end of February). The bills are based on the tax hike approved by Metro. If voters approve the referendum will the extra taxes be rebated? Does state law even allow a tax vote like this?
Mayor John Cooper calls the tax referendum, along with other proposed restrictions on Metro government as a part of the petition push, a “poison pill.” Will Metro challenge the referendum in court to keep it from happening? By the way, the Americans for Prosperity group was deeply involved in bankrolling the successful effort to defeat the transit referendum in May 2018.
Getting back to the virus, the city continues to make strides against COVID-19. Daily new cases recently have even been in the double, not triple, digits for the first time in a long while. The positivity rate has been below 10% the last 7- day average, and it would now take 120 days for the virus to double itself in the city.
The efforts to wear masks and practice social distancing, along with continued business restrictions, appear to be working. But on another key metric, the number of cases per 100,000 population we still have a significant way to go, even though we have seen significant progress. Until we reach a number on that metric of 10 or below (we have recently been in the low 20s or high teens) we will not meet the standards that allow nursing home visitation in the county (most counties in Tennessee still don’t either) or for Nashvillians to travel freely to other states and, eventually, overseas.
While the summer surge of COVID-19 cases continues to wane in Nashville and across the state, for Davidson County schools it is not enough to begin in-person classes before October. So virtual learning will continue with the phase-in back to classroom instruction starting after fall break, first with specially abled students, followed by Pre K, K and up the grade levels, with high schools possibly not getting back in the classroom until January.
Not getting high schools back for in person instruction until possibly 2021 raises this question. With health experts not sure what to expect when the seasonal flu comes back and mixes with COVID-19 cases in the fall or early winter, will that make Metro high school students subject to that same uncertainty about going back?
Left in the lurch already are Metro’s fall sports teams. Schools officials say they will not be allowed to compete ‘’for the foreseeable future,” or at least until their schools are back into in person instruction.
Other schools in surrounding counties are having fall sports competition even those in counties that have both virtual and in person instruction.
Metro coaches say they want a chance to have a plan to play their sports safely.
Mayor Cooper says he backs MNPS school officials for their phased reopening plan and for keeping sports on pause.
Add all this school news up and the reaction is a mixture of disappointment, with a little bit of anger, frustration and resignation and acceptance that school officials are doing the best they can.
But other Metro School parents say virtual instruction just is not working.
Some are organizing on the issue.
To try and provide some help, especially to hard pressed essential workers, Metro Schools and the YMCA are offering some limited free child -care assistance for students in K-5 classes.
As for the city overall, Mayor Cooper and health official continue to tweak the city’s restrictions on businesses and activities. The changes probably won’t make any of the folks involved pleased and it will frustrate those not getting some or more of an adjustment.
Interestingly, it does allow the city’s transpotainment industry to operate begin business again at 50% capacity (with social distancing observed). The transpotainment folks are among those challenging the Governor’s emergency powers in the courts.
Nashville being a college town with a long-ago nickname of “The Athens of the South”, how well all the local colleges and universities do in fighting COVID-19 will do a lot towards Nashville’ overall success, making this WPLN story about Vanderbilt noteworthy.
THE STATE’S VIRUS RATES GOING DOWN BUT SCHOOLS REMAIN A CHALLENGE
Like Nashville and much of the country, the state has seen its lowest daily virus numbers in many weeks. But higher numbers on Wednesday and Thursday (back up close to 2,000 a day) are to be noted as well.
Outbreaks of COVID-19 cases in schools remain something to watch, along with the continued and puzzling legal uncertainty about what the state can report on this matter (as compared to other states who do not seem to be having this problem).
This week the state did disclose information that 12% of the total number of COVID-19 cases in Tennessee (a number close to 150,000 as of Thursday) are children under 18, with over half that number being in high school. Still state officials refuse to release any breakdown of the schools impacted.
And the COVID-19 hot spot in Tennessee’s prisons is also re-emerging.
Colleges and universities in the state are an area to watch and the administration at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville is cracking down.
It is not directly COVID-19 related, but racial tensions came to the surface this week on Capitol Hill between members of the state legislature’s Black Caucus and Governor Bill Lee as well as a racial tainted meme posted (but later removed) by Lt. Governor Randy McNally.
It has been two weeks since members of the Tennessee General Assembly left town after their special session. Now another member, Nashville Representative Bill Beck says he has tested positive. He blames his illness on the lack of mask wearing by members during the session.
MORE POLITICS AND MIXED MESSAGES FROM WASHINGTON
For years, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) have been considered above reproach in the agencies’ abilities and integrity in dealing with infectious diseases.
Now that reputation is more and more under attack. First this week, the FDA, under pressure from the Trump White House gave emergency permission for use of a plasma treatment for COVID-19 patients. The move came even as other health experts questioned the amount of clinical study done on the treatment. Then the head of the FDA overstated the benefits of the plasma use, something for which he later apologized.
The Center for Disease Control stirred up an even greater controversy this week. It sent out controversial new guidance saying that those who come into contact with confirmed or probable COVID-19 patients should not be tested, even if those exposed are not showing symptoms.
A firestorm of criticism ensued with the head of the CDC now walking back the new guidance.
Critics of the new CDC guidance see these developments as politics. President Trump among others has frequently downplayed testing saying the less testing means less cases which is incorrect. Metro Nashville health officials are rejecting the latest CDC guidance.
The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci says the new guidance was issued without his approval and out of pocket having surgery.
THE MAIL MUST GO THROUGH BUT WHO KNEW THEIR TRUCKS WERE EMPTY?
The controversy over the increased use of the U.S. Mail to vote in the November election continues to rage.
The new Postmaster General, Lewis DeJoy now says he will give voting-related mail top priority in being delivered. He also says he will hold off, until after the election, other changes he is planning in the postal system, including removing mailboxes and high- speed mail sorting machines.
But Democrats in particular, remain skeptical. NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES may have given them more reason to feel that way. It seems one of the changes the Postmaster is implementing is to have mail trucks leave on time, even if the mail has not been loaded on board.
The use of voting by mail in Tennessee continues to be debated in the courts. In a recent ruling, the State Supreme Court says there is no absolute right to vote by mail due to fear of COVID-19, but during arguments before the high court, lawyers for the state said it was OK under to allow people most at risk for the virus, those with pre-existing conditions such as age, diabetes, high blood pressure, to vote by mail.
But the state has now removed any mention of COVID-19 in its absentee voting forms. A local Nashville judge has ordered the language the state said would be Ok put back in.
In anticipation of the increased voter turnout the Metro Election Commission announced its early voting schedule including two new locations.
STILL NO ACTION IN WASHINGTON AS MILLIONS WAIT FOR VIRUS HELP
Next week marks the first of September.
It was almost a full month ago…the end of July… when the extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits ran out for the millions across the country who lost their jobs due to the virus pandemic.
Congress and the White House remain far apart about what to do to address the issue and other matters related to virus relief. In fact, with Congress on recess and out of town most of August, there have not even been any negotiations, although late this week indicates that seem to be changing.
As the clock ticks, and with all parties still far apart, the outlook is becoming more and more grim for those who need help.
Through an executive order, President Trump is using FEMA money to pay $300 dollars a week to those in need if their states have agreed to participate. Tennessee has applied and has been approved with the monies (retroactive since the end of July) do to begin going out this week.
But some Democratic state lawmakers say it is not enough and won’t help everyone in need. They say it is time the state dips into its Rainy Day Fund to help.
The number of people needing help continues to grow each week. While several million have found new jobs, at least one million people nationally have made new applications for unemployment assistance almost every week since March It happened again this week too.
Here in Tennessee, the number applying for new unemployment help was 11,000. That down about 3,000 from last week. But the total of those who have applied since mid-March is now over 800,000 with continuing claims at close to 200,000.
We have written about this before, but unbelievably, our state bureaucrats are about to forfeit getting $50 million in federal aid to feed children in need.
The continuing difficulties in the Covid economy can been seen with the announcement this week by Stein Mart, a 112-year old department store chain, that it is declaring bankruptcy and is closing all its retail locations, including here in Tennessee.
Here in Nashville, amidst all the bad economic news, especially in the tourism and hospitality sector, this week it appears Nashville is a prime candidate in 2021 to host its first IndyCar street race downtown.
That would be like finding an oasis in the desert.
INSIDE POLITICS ANALYZES THE GOP CONVENTION WITH CHIP SALTSMAN
The national party conventions are over.
The candidate field is now finalized for the fall presidential campaign.
What impact did the conventions have?
What lies ahead in this always unpredictable year of 2020?
Last week on INSIDE POLITICS, we spoke with Mary Mancini, Tennessee State Democratic Party Chair about all that.
We wanted to do the same with the Tennessee Republican Party.
But no active party leader made themselves available despite several efforts to set up an interview.
We are pleased to have former state Republican State Party Chair and noted GOP consultant, Chip Saltsman, join on INSIDE POLITICS.
INSIDE POLITICS will air 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 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 Facebook page as soon as it is available, usually on Monday or Tuesday.
TENNESSSEANS WHO SPOKE AT THE NATIONAL CONVENTIONS
The only two Tennessee elected officials who gave speeches at the national party conventions this year were women.
One is Memphis State Senator Raumesh Akbari. She helped give a keynote speech on the Tuesday night of the Democratic National Convention.
The other speaker was Tennessee’s soon to be senior U.S. Senator, Marsha Blackburn. She spoke Wednesday night at this week’s GOP convention with attacks on Democrats as being like “Communist China.” She also praised the military and against “defunding the police.”
Both Tennessee elected officials spoke to their conventions on evenings when the so-called “rising stars” of the parties were spotlighted.
Just what that means in the future for these two ladies remains to be seen.
But in terms of TV ratings, the conventions in general drew smaller ratings than 4 years ago, while the Democrats drew significantly more viewers than the Republicans this year.
How that will translate into votes in November also remains to be seen.
By the way even though the GOP convention seemed to want to deal with the coronavirus pandemic in the past tense and in the rear view mirror, at least four people who went to Charlotte to help re-nominate the President have tested positive for the virus.
It does appear based on the other major news events of the week (with another African-American male shot by a police officer) that law and order seems to be moving to the top issue that President Trump wants to run on for re-election.
A story like this involving Senator Rand Paul shows how explosive this issue is, and how developments in the news could both help and backfire on both national tickets.
As tensions run high on social justice across the nation, it appears this week here in Nashville, the new acting Metro Chief of Police is seeking to build a much better relationship than his predecessor had with the city’s Community Oversight Board.
Acting Chief John Drake is also speaking out on the latest police shooting in Wisconsin.
A VERY INTERESTING POLL WAS BEING CONDUCTED LAST WEEK
It is certainly not surprising that polls are being conducted this election year.
But an e-mail from a reader caught my eye.
The e-mail was about a very extensive survey done on national, state, and local matters. The e-mailer says a member of the family was called to participate. Here are some details.
The poll included almost 25 minutes of right track wrong track questions with strongly agree, somewhat agree , disagree and strongly disagree offered as responses.
The first 5 minutes of that focused on whether TN moving in a right or wrong direction.
The same types of questions were asked about Metro.
Then there were questions about Governor Bill Lee, Mayor John Cooper, State Senator Dickerson Steve Dickerson (but no questions were asked about his Democratic opponent).
Then my source says there were 20 minutes of questions regarding the Tennessee Titans, Nissan Stadium, the Titans’ owner, as well as should the Titans lease be renegotiated, all covered with 4 or 5 different scenarios.
Anybody else get called or know who is doing this very expansive (and likely very expensive) poll?
Inquiring political minds want to know. I have great faith in my readers that somebody knows more.