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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, August 7, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 1:24 PM, Aug 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-07 14:24:27-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

August 7, 2020

QUICK TAKEAWAYS FROM THURSDAY’S ELECTION; DR. THOMAS SCHWARTZ BRINGS THE TENNESSEE SENATE PRIMARY AND OTHER ELECTION RESULTS INTO FOCUS; NASHVILLE COVID RECOVERY REMAINS “FRAGILE BUT HOPEFUL”; STATE AGAIN CHANGES COURSE ON DISCLOSING VIRUS INFORMATION; THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY RETURNS YET ONE MORE TIME; A STUNNING DEVELOPMENT IN THE SEARCH FOR A NEW NASHVILLE POLICE CHIEF; BURNING THE MIDNIGHT OIL AGAIN AT THE METRO COUNCIL; WASHINGTON GRIDLOCK CONTINUES WHILE UNEMPLOYMENT AID REQUESTS REMAIN AT NEAR RECORD HIGHS;

QUICK TAKEAWAYS FROM THURSDAY’S ELECTION

In the most high- profile election Thursday night, former ambassador to Japan and state Economic Development Commissioner, Bill Hagerty won the Republican nomination to succeed Lamar Alexander in the U.S. Senate.

In what POLITICO labeled “the nastiest Republican primary in the nation”, Hagerty prevailed over Nashville surgeon Dr. Manny Sethi by a larger margin than anticipated (about 11 points). Why?

Hagerty had the endorsement of President Donald Trump who remains the most popular political figure in the state. If Mr. Trump is for Hagerty that appears to be good enough for a majority of Tennessee GOP voters.

Why wasn’t it as close as expected? With both candidates, along with outside PAC groups, attacking each over who was the true (Trump) conservative, and who wasn’t, Hagerty seemed to have the advantage. He had the most money to spend and late he hammered Sethi with a plethora of ads that Sethi could not overcome.

Most interestingly, Hagerty seemed to copy President Trump in 2016 Presidential campaign. Several pro-Hagerty ads gave Sethi a nickname “Massachusetts Manny”. Just as it did for President Trump the label stuck and worked to help for Hagerty.

The returns did have some interesting results. A quick look at county by county vote numbers found Hagerty winning big in Shelby County (Memphis) as well as in upper East Tennessee, which had a very active GOP congressional primary. Sethi won in all three of the major urban counties (Davidson, Knox and Hamilton) as well as coming out on top in the two of the most Republican counties in the state (Williamson & Rutherford). But Sethi’s margins in those counties were not enough to prevail statewide.

Hagerty’s Democratic opponent will be African American activist Marquita Bradshaw from Memphis. She will be the first African American women to be the U.S. Senate nominee by a major political party in Tennessee history.

Her victory was an upset. Party leaders seemed to favor Nashville attorney and war veteran James Mackler who finished third behind another African American candidate. Looking through incomplete returns, it appears Bradshaw had a very strong showing in Shelby County and carried about 45 counties statewide.

No Tennessee Democrat has won a U.S. Senate race in 30 years (1990) when Al Gore, Jr. won re-election. Bradshaw will be a big underdog in November unless the political energy in the black community statewide and nationally can somehow change the dynamics of the race.

Another sign of the rising political power of African Americans in the Tennessee Democratic Party was the strong showing of activist Keeda Haynes. A political unknown, she garnered around 40% of the vote against long time Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper.

Cooper was aware he faced a tough campaign (his first primary challenge in a decade). The Congressman went all out, sending voters at least 5 different mail pieces, running lot of on-line ads and purchasing a significant amount of TV time to run over and over (sometimes twice in the same commercial break) featuring a strong endorsement from former President Barack Obama.

Now all but re-elected (he has no Republican or Independent opposition) Jim Cooper must now deal with likely GOP efforts in next year’s state legislative session to divide up his district and Davidson County into multiple congressional districts making unlikely or any Democrat can win a congressional seat in this area in 2022.

One last development of note, especially for the November election. The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled 4-1 on Wednesday that fear of COVID-19 is not a valid excuse to vote absentee by mail in Tennessee this November. A ruling court ruling in Nashville did allow the fear of the virus to be a valid reason to vote absentee by mail.

The state High Court says the previous ruling was in error and voided it. What will the virus say and how will this court decision impact the November vote (early and day-of) if the virus still rages and perhaps is complicated by an outbreak of the seasonal flu?

DR. THOMAS SCHWARTZ BRINGS THE TENNESSEE SENATE PRIMARY AND OTHER ELECTION RESULTS INTO FOCUS

Tennessee voters have spoken in the state’s August primary election. What does it mean for what lies ahead with the general election in the fall which will include the presidential contest?

To give us some wisdom and insight on these matters we are happy to welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS this week, Dr. Thomas Schwartz, a history and political science professor at Vanderbilt University.

Watch us!

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.

NASHVILLE COVID RECOVERY REMAINS “FRAGILE BUT HOPEFUL”

Amidst an overall decline in COVID-19 cases in the past few weeks, Mayor John Cooper described the city’s status as “fragile but hopeful.” He told a media briefing on Tuesday: “Nashville’s 14-day average number of new COVID-19 cases has declined since peaking at 400 on July 14. Our 14-day average is now 244, a 39% decrease over the past 3 weeks. Over the same time period, the rest of Tennessee has seen an increase of 51%.”

This week across the state, the number of daily new virus cases has declined (after a record July). However, Tennessee is still among states being warned by the White House about its spread of the COVID-19 virus.

The state is seeing fewer cases but is also conducting fewer tests. State health officials don’t seem to know if that means there are fewer sick people out there or folks are discouraged by the continuing delays to get test results back. Tennessee also experienced this week its deadliest day yet from the virus.

On Thursday, Mayor Cooper again called the city’s status with virus “hopeful.” Metro posted new metrics on its COVID-19 web site to assess where the city stands. While much work remains to be done, the key numbers and measurements are headed in the right direction. the mayor says the progress is thanks to the people of Nashville supporting the mask mandate, along with the closing of bars and a 10:00 p.m. curfew for all restaurants.

Without calling out the administration of Governor Bill Lee by name, Mayor Cooper continues to push for a statewide, or at a least regional effort to combat the virus. That would include a statewide mask mandate which the Governor says would not be effective, even though it definitely seems to be one of the major reasons Nashville’s numbers are going down. The Governor is allowing all local mayors to impose mask requirements if they deem it necessary.

This week another coalition of doctors, teachers and pharmacists called on the Governor to act on a mask mandate.

Besides the lack of a statewide effort to deal with COVID-19, Mayor Cooper’s and the city’s biggest challenge and embarrassment are these ongoing videos showing large parties and other activities where masks are hard to find and social distancing impossible. Even more embarrassing concerning the Fashion House Party on Fern Street in East Nashville, was that even though Metro Police finally shut it down (after 1:00 PM), no citations of any kind were issued even though the event was in clear violation of the city’s health order imposing a 25-person limit on crowd sizes.

Now the city is threatening prosecution and has shut down the business where the party was held because it was operating illegally in a residential neighborhood. Metro’s Legal Director is talking tough even mentioning jail time.

Beyond legal action, might Mayor Cooper be considering what Los Angeles is doing? With many large parties and other gatherings being held in now-vacant short- term rentals (Nashville has many of those) L.A. officials are cutting off water and other utilities if parties or large gatherings are held in violation of health mandates.

The Lower Broad tourist district continues to be the most prominent offender among areas of the city ignoring the mask order, as well as social distancing. That is happening even as the city’s health director walks through the area, handing out masks, all but begging those on the street to wear them,. Metro Police meanwhile hadissued tens of thousands of warnings but no citations to anyone for not following the health order. On Tuesday, the Mayor said he met with Police and other city officials and he expects things will be different going forward. Indeed, late Wednesday, Metro police promised there will be stepped up enforcement, especially downtown. That means citations, not just warnings!

Indeed, the first citation issued by Metro Police came Wednesday night. The violation of the mask order is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail. But it is expected, in most cases, the punishment will be a monetary fine. There is already controversy on social media that the first person arrested, and given a citation, is an African American homeless man.

That arrest was later dropped by Police, and the homeless man arrested, was released from jail. Police did (finally) issue more citations on Thursday.

The city is still struggling to get downtown transpotainment” party vehicles to shut down whether they are serving alcohol are not. Bars on Lower Broad and elsewhere remain closed, but those outside downtown are complaining that some of honky- tonks on Broadway have been allowed to stay open because of the amount of food they sell, which is unfair.

The downtown bars and restaurants say they are doing their part to encourage their patrons to be ‘honky- tonk heroes.

All this turmoil has Butch Spyridon, the person most responsible for turning the Broadway area into a national tourist mecca, feeling caught in the middle.

The whole mask wearing, social distancing controversy has become so emotionally charged, there has been at least one unfortunate, and potentially dangerous incident, involving a visiting party of bachelorettes.

Mayor Cooper told reporters he has some other, so-far unnamed, “strategies” to deal with Lower Broadway. He also said again this week that all options remain on the table, including doing what a petition signed by several thousand people wants to happen, close down the entire Lower Broad area.

Based on the latest hot spot map from Metro released Tuesday, the southeast part of the county remains of concern. That is perhaps even more true based on an investigation by WPLN News. It outlines the continuing problems and challenges that have plagued the city’s efforts to effectively work with the ethnic communities in that part of town.

STATE AGAIN CHANGES COURSE ON DISCLOSING VIRUS INFORMATION

The administration of Governor Bill Lee has changed its mind. It will now track and disclose to the media and the public any COVOID-19 cases that arise out of the reopening of Tennessee schools in the next few weeks.

With the opening of schools being the latest and perhaps biggest COVID-19 flash point of controversy across the nation, making this information available is being done to provide better transparency, although the change in policy seemed to catch state health officials not on the same page as the Governor.

This is at least the third time since the pandemic struck 6 months ago, the administration has decided to reverse an earlier decision about virus information disclosure. Previously there was reluctance by the state to disclose county by county virus information as well as outbreaks in nursing homes across the state.

Governor Lee is a strong proponent of school reopening with in- person classes even though both the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and several studies say the key to reopening schools safely is to have the spread of the disease under control. Almost every county in Tennessee now has an “unacceptable level’ of the virus by the state’s standards, yet the Governor still says in person classes are the best way to open and keep children safe.

The state’s teachers’ union, the Tennessee Education Association, this week called for a delay in opening schools, while news reports are raising some questions as classes begin and the virus is around.

TENNESSEAN

KNOXVILLE

MEMPHIS

Nashville’s public schools opened virtually this week and will remain in that format until at least Labor Day. The first day back can be challenging in any school year, and this year of the virus was no different. But so far every challenge seems manageable.

Williamson County also plans to open virtually although some parents want the in-person class option.

Some counties are offering both in person and virtual school options.

Some counties like Rutherford are delaying the opening because the school system has received so many requests to attend on line.

THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY RETURNS YET ONE MORE TIME

Much like back in March, state lawmakers did not get all their work done when they adjourned back in early June.

Governor Bill Lee is bringing them back to Nashville Monday for a three-day special session to deal with a trio of topics. One deals with expanding and funding telemedicine. Another is a bill to provide some legal protections to businesses and other groups from being sued over the coronavirus.

The details on that latter matter got the leadership in both Houses exchanging some harsh words in the final hours before they adjourned. It is not fully clear what kind of meeting of the minds has been reached on the details of the protective legislation most likely to be passed.

The third matter the Governor wants legislators to handle would strengthen penalties for protestors, including those who vandalize state monuments, property and/or try to camp out on state property. If that sounds like the group of activists that have been outside the State Capitol for the last 50 days, you are paying attention.

If the purpose of the new legislation is to get the protestors to leave or make them think twice about staying or coming back to the Hill, I have my doubts. In fact, it would not surprise me to see them receive a new round of reinforcements to show their opposition to the new measures and to renew their calls for the removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the Capitol, and to meet in person with Governor Lee.

As for the GOP Super Majority they are likely to pass the new state protections. It gives them more political raw meat for their voters in November to show how they are standing up for law and order and against the “the leftist mob.”

A STUNNING DEVELOPMENT IN THE SEARCH FOR A NEW NASHVILLE POLICE CHIEF

Last week Mayor John Cooper announced his road map for searching and selecting a new police chief for Nashville.

A prominent part of that plan was that current chief Steve Anderson would not begin his retirement until his replacement comes on board in late October. But in a stunning announcement early Thursday, Chief Anderson’s last day on the job was Thursday August 6. Here is what the Mayor’s office announced in its entirety. Notice it gives no explanation for this change in plans.

“ Mayor John Cooper today announced that Thursday, August 6, 2020 would be MNPD Chief of Police Steve Anderson’s final day in command of the department before expediting his previously announced retirement. Deputy Chief John Drake will assume command of the MNPD as Interim Chief beginning Friday, August 7, 2020 while the city continues its national search for a reform-minded Chief of Police who will make Nashville a model of community engagement and policing innovation. More details of the search process will be announced next week.

“I’m grateful to Chief Anderson for his 45 years of service in the Metro Nashville Police Department. He is a dedicated public servant with an unwavering sense of civic duty,” said Mayor Cooper.”

Is this related to the ongoing fiasco in how Metro Police are handling (or not) the enforcement of the city’s virus-related health orders. Or it is this potential scandal mentioned in this story?

For now, this is just another unexpected development in a year of one unexpected development after another in Metro government.

BURNING THE MIDNIGHT OIL AGAIN AT THE METRO COUNCIL

The Nashville Metro Council this week took action to allocate over $11 million in federal funds to help with virus relief in Nashville. Most of the monies ($10 million) will go to help the growing number of Nashvillians who are out of work due to virus economic shutdown and can no longer afford to pay their rents or their monthly mortgages.

The Council also once again turned back efforts to cut the size of the record 34% property tax increase the 40-member body approved in June. Based on reports that Metro collected $100 million more than expected in local sales taxes from March through June, some councilmembers saw the opportunity to cut the tax hike.

At Large Councilmember Steve Glover wanted to scale it back from 34% to 22% although that big a cut might mean Metro employee layoffs and furloughs as has been seen in the private sector. Other councilmembers did not want to go that far. When the Glover bill came up on first reading, they suggested a smaller tax cut of 5%.

But under the city’s constitution, the Metro Charter, the Council is not allowed to make up their own revenue numbers. Only the Metro Finance Director Kevin Crumbo can recognize and make revenue estimates.

Both Crumbo and Mayor John Cooper oppose reducing the tax hike. They say the city’s financial status remains uncertain and one quarter’s estimate of tax revenues might be off, especially with all the one- time federal money being pumped into the community, to keep the economy alive between March and June. That may not be true for the rest of this fiscal year they say.

But at first, the Council seemed unconvinced. They voted 32-8 to substitute the 5% tax reduction bill in place of Councilman Glover’s plan. Then the debate continued. Councilmembers were warned again that only the city’s Finance Director could make revenues estimates. They were also warned if the tax rate reduction bill got final approval, the city’s Legal Department would have to take the Council to court to get the tax reduction bill declared illegal.

Finally, the Council was told, if the bill passed (or maybe even before it was approved ), State Comptroller Justin Wilson might well renew his threats to take over the city finances because it had already passed a budget that was not balanced as required by state law. Comptroller Wilson had expressed somewhat similar concerns about Metro’s money and budget policies last year.

I don’t know which arguments struck home with Councilmembers but when the final roll call was taken the revised tax levy, cutting the property tax increase by 5%, was defeated 15-24-1. It was a debate and a vote turnaround (from 32-8 to 15-24-1) such as I have never seen in my 40 plus years of covering Metro government.

By the way, the Council continued its stretch of long meetings. For the last 6 meetings (3 in June, 2 in July and now 1 in August), the body has not been able to finish its business on the same day the meetings began. At about 5 hours and 45 minutes, this was the shortest of recently meetings, ending at 12:15. Several have gone to 3, 4, even after 5:00 a.m. after the sun came up. Will the Council keep the midnight oil burning at its next meeting on August 18, or will lucky 7 break the streak? As someone who has sat through every minute, all I can is “Yawn.” I need a nap., especially these days on Wednesday.

This first meeting in August marks the one year anniversary of my return to be the announcer for the live TV coverage of the Council meetings. In spite of the late hours, I am enjoying it. In many ways, I feel right at home just as I did from 1973-1985 when I previously performed this Council announcer job.

Of course, 2019-2020 in Nashville has been a year unlike any other, which makes my work even more interesting, if sometimes a little scary, and even head scratching. I am covering matters and developments at the Metro Courthouse I never imagined would happen. There’s never a dull moment, even covering meetings in the dead of night or as the sun rises.

WASHINGTON GRIDLOCK CONTINUES WHILE UNEMPLOYMENT AID REQUESTS REMAIN AT NEAR RECORD HIGHS

One week after tens of millions of unemployed Americans lost their extra $600 a week in benefits, Congress and the White House remain stalemated about what to do next in terms of virus relief.

New applications for unemployment assistance were down a bit this week, both nationally and here in Tennessee. However the requests for help still remain near historic levels, adding still more pressure to find a solution in Washington. If not the economic pain from the downturn caused by the virus is likely to become even more intense. That pressure further increased with today’s (Friday) announcement of new national unemployment numbers for .

Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Donald Trump are both on the ballot in November. Yet their roles are different in how they are involved in these negotiations.

Majority Leader Mc Connell

President Trump

The latest jobs creation report released Friday morning found, while unemployment is down, the economy is faltering again after the recent surge in the virus in a number of states around the country.

This latest economic news has so far not broken the political log jam in Washington.