By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
December 17, 2021
OMICRON NOW ONLY 3% OF CASES BUT CDC WARNS OF MAJOR VIRUS SPIKE BY WINTER; MORE COVID POLITICAL FALLOUT; IS SEVERE WEATHER PART OF OUR NEW NORMAL? CONGRESSMAN JIM COOPER ON INSIDE POLITICS; STATE REDISTRICTING EFFORTS PICK UP PACE; LOCAL ELECTION POLITICS RAMPING UP; THE NEXT FOUR WEEKS
OMICRON NOW ONLY 3% OF CASES BUT CDC WARNS OF MAJOR VIRUS SPIKE BY WINTER
Even as the Delta variant continues to infect most of the more than 100,000 Americans being diagnosed with COVID-19 each week, and the 1,200 who die every day, health officials remain concerned that the worst is, once again, still to come this winter. The more highly contagious omicron variant is growing across the nation and will soon be dominant and perhaps lead to a “triple whammy” for American public health. That triple would be the delta and omicron variants combined with the flu.
The latest studies from South Africa (where omicron was first detected) show the two shots of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the one shot from Johnson & Johnson provide only 30% protection from catching the omicron virus. Fortunately, a booster shot increases protection back to a high level. So there appears to be no need for a specific new booster shot for omicron. In that regard this week, the CDC is now recommending people get the Pfizer and Moderna shots over the one dose J&J vaccine because of continuing concerns over side effects just ones that are heart related.
Omicron has been described as highly contagious and resulting in an illness with mild symptoms. But the World Health Organization says don’t be fooled, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are unvaccinated.
Omicron also has some different symptoms from the other covid variants.
Because omicron is more contagious and dangerous for the unvaccinated, that portends bad outcomes in a state like Tennessee where our fully vaccinated rate remains at 53%, which is below the national average. That is especially true among teens and children in rural parts of the state.
The rise in cases is also bound to raise demand for the soon to be available Pfizer covid pill that seems to be moving towards approval as soon as early next year by the Food & Drug Administration. It is likely to be approved only for use for those who just contracted the disease and are either at high risk due to underlying conditions or age. But I could see a controversy arising over non-vaccinated persons taking the medication and forgoing taking any dabs. I can also overwhelming demand for the pill creating problems over who gets priority.
Nationally, the CDC is predicting this latest virus surge could result in more than a million new cases a week by the end of December. That makes this new pill a game changer, not just for patients, but also to save the health care system from being overrun by the highly contagious omicron.
Late this week (Thursday) Metro health officials confirmed the first case of the omicron variant virus in Nashville. Even though the fully vaccinated patient (including a booster) had recently traveled to South Africa, it is likely the disease has already been here for at least a few days. Two other cases were found in Shelby County (Memphis) last weekend. Another case has been reported in Hamilton County (Chattanooga).
MORE COVID POLITICAL FALLOUT
With the pandemic showing few signs of abating anytime soon, there remains ongoing political fallout from the virus.
Despite how strongly Governor Bill Lee and the Republican Super Majority patted themselves on the back for their recent special legislative session that neutered most of the public health tools to fight COVID-19, a new Vanderbilt poll shows Tennessee voters are not as approving of what they did. The Governor’s number are down 10 points from a similar poll in May. Lawmakers took a hit too.
But that doesn’t seem to be changing the “bully boy” attitude of some GOP lawmakers. They are still threatening to abolish the state’s Board of Medical Examiners because its members are doing their jobs to take action against doctors who spread false COVID-19 conspiracy theories.
The Vanderbilt poll also reflects our national leaders are experiencing declining support during this time of on-going uncertainty. There is also less support for another run for the White House by former President Donald Trump.
As for Governor Lee, the poll does not seem to indicate his re-election next year is in jeopardy. He remains solid with Republicans and his conservative base. That means the Governor’s clear tilt towards anti-mask, anti-vaccine, anti-science policies have succeeded for him politically. It appears he will face no significant major primary opposition and the Democrats are too weak to field a viable statewide candidate.
The Governor, along with other leaders across the state, did come in for criticism this week in the 16th annual Beacon Center listing of wasteful spending. The list had several listings related to covid, although with other examples of what the conservative group thinks is unwise or wasteful uses of taxpayer dollars.
Early this week, Metro Schools Director Dr. Adreinne Battle hinted that the system might modify its mask mandate policy after the holiday break in January. Metro would go to masks being recommended but not required.
But if the predictions that came out late this week about another virus spike coming in the next few weeks due to the new omicron variant, you wonder what the Metro School Board can do when they meet early next month?
Finally it’s not related to politics but some of the nation’s major professional sports leagues, the NFL, the NBA and the NHL are finding out again how difficult it is to conduct their games in the midst of rising virus cases. For example, Nashville’s NHL Predators have 7 players and the entire 4-man coaching staff on the league’s Covid list. With back to back games on Thursday and Friday. The Preds won the Thursday game 5-2, over a Colorado team also impacted by Covid. Let’s see how Nashville does against Chicago tonight (Friday). The NFL Titans have already set franchise and league records for dealing with injuries and roster changes this season, but Covid has played a small role in that so far. Can the Titans remain that lucky as the team heads towards the post-season?
IS SEVERE WEATHER PART OF OUR NEW NORMAL?
With the Middle Tennessee experiencing at least 15 tornadoes (and still counting) last Friday night into early Saturday morning, it might seem hard to say we dodged a bullet. But compared to the other severe storms that struck 5 other nearby states, especially Western Kentucky, we did.
Tornadoes in December in this part of the country are rare, and this outbreak of storms is historic with nearly 90 people dead, others still missing, along with several small towns such as Mayfield and Dawson Springs destroyed. The major storm was a EF4 tornado (on a scale of 5) packing winds of up to 190 miles per hour. This tornado may be found to be the longest long track storm on the ground in history (well over 200 miles) across four states (Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri and Kentucky).
President Joe Biden came to the area on Wednesday to comfort the victims and promise the federal government will pay for all the massive cleanup and short- term housing and other help needed at least for now. The President also took quick action to provide aid to the Tennessee counties which also suffered tornado damage and some deaths.
While being in the White House for still less than a year, Mr. Biden has already had several occasions to be Comforter-In- Chief.
Will he have even more opportunities as this continuing rash of severe weather and storms across the nation may be part of the “new normal” as a part of global climate change?
The recent round of storms has brought many in need of medical care to Nashville as the city is a regional center for health care. This, in turn, has worsened the blood supply in the community. The local Red Cross says it is the worst blood shortage here in a decade. They are pleading for more blood donations.
CONGRESSMAN JIM COOPER ON INSIDE POLITICS
As we approach the end of 2021, it has been another challenging year for the nation.
COVID-19, with its seemingly never-ending variants, continues to rage.
While the economy has shown some signs of improvement, inflation has spiked to its highest level in 40 years. That includes consumer prices which saw their largest one month increase ever this week.
Congress seems more divided than ever beginning with the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6.
One person in the middle of all this is Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper.
He is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.
Congressman Cooper has always been willing to come on the program and answer questions.
Therefore, we appreciate him being back with us.
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 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.
STATE REDISTRICTING EFFORTS PICK UP PACE
Of course, we spend a great deal of time talking with Congressman Cooper on INSIDE POLITICS about the likelihood that his Davidson County district will be divided up into several pieces. That will allow Republicans to pick up another (eight) of Tennessee’s nine seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The Republican Super Majority in the Legislature, which will make the decision, has been very secretive about exactly what it will do. They have allowed members of the public to present plans, but that was likely a dog and pony show, just to be nice and appear to be open and transparent in the process.
It appears Congressman Cooper is not the only state Democratic lawmaker in danger of losing their seats under redistricting. Just when you thought the GOP Super Majority could not get much larger, there are reports of one plan being secretly circulated among Republican lawmakers that would put 3 current Nashville Representatives, John Ray Clemmons, Mike Stewart and Jason Potts (in the same district (Potts has announced he is not running for re-election).
It is one of the oldest redistricting tricks in the book, draw the line so your fellow representatives of the opposing party wind up having to run against each other. Similar maneuvers also appear in the offing for other urban Democratic lawmakers in Memphis and Knoxville.
The final and so-far secret Republican redistricting plan could be unveiled as early as today (Friday), although Cooper thinks it won’t come until early January). Final approval by both houses of the General Assembly would likely come shortly thereafter in the new year, when lawmakers are back in Nashville for their next session.
LOCAL ELECTION POLITICS RAMPING UP
It has been over 13 months (November 2020) since we had an election.
The next one is in May 2022 when every judicial post in Nashville and across the state will be on the ballot.
One contest has Davidson County District Attorney Glenn Funk seeking re-election to the post he won eight years ago.
He has two opponents with the race already heating up over, of all things, a Christmas party.
One set of new primary elections on the May ballot in Nashville and across the state are school board races. There are four Metro School Board seats (Districts 2,4,6 and 8) up for grabs.
In the past, these posts were run on a no-party affiliation basis. But as part of the Tennessee General Assembly’s revenge against school board members across the state who had the courage to “follow the science” on the virus and invoke mask mandates or employ remote classes, these races are now subject to be conducted on a partisan basis
It will be interesting to see if the Davidson County Republican Party will field candidates in all four school board districts. There remain significant parts of Nashville where running for office with an R next to your name is more an millstone around your neck, rather thana boost to your chances. However, depending on the way the city’s new school boards are drawn there might be a district or two where the GOP candidate might have a change in the August general election.
Maybe selecting school board members by party will not be a problem. But school politics tends to be difficult enough without bringing Democrats versus Republicans partisan squabbling into the mix.
Re-election for Nashville Mayor John Cooper is not until August 2023. But already His Honor has a potentially well-funded and well- known opponent, Hal Cato. Cato says he will step down from his CEO position with Thistle Farms next year to contemplate running for the city’s highest office.
Since Mayor Cooper has not announced his intentions about a second term, you can be sure he will be put on the record one way or another about that very soon. Cato’s announcement may also have other potential mayoral candidates moving up or reassessing their chances.
Most recent Metro Mayors have been easily re-elected (Phil Bredesen, Bill Purcell, Karl Dean) to a second term. No incumbent Mayor had ever been defeated until 2019 when John Cooper ousted David Briley who was filling out the remaining months of Megan Barry’s term.
Hal Cato has been very successful in many positions in the non-profit and business world. But would he leave his current job more than a year before the mayor’s race, without already having some kind of polling research in hand assessing his chances to beat John Cooper?
Mayor Cooper has had his challenges since taking office in 2019 including the city’ s financial issues he inherited, followed by the pandemic and the economic shutdown that followed. Then there was the 34% property tax increase he proposed and got approved to keep Metro afloat during the pandemic. All that spawned unsuccessful efforts to recall him and rewrite the city’s charter.
Given the passage of time, and the massive federal covid recovery funds Metro now has in hand, there appears to be no major fiscal issues on the horizon between now and August 2023. The Mayor may also benefit from new announcements this week on plans to move ahead on renovating the Fairgrounds Speedway and bring NASCAR racing back to to Nashville and address the city’s growing pedestrian safety issue.
There are also other issues that could create controversies and challenges for an incumbent mayor. That includes the continuing rise in police-officer related shootings in Nashville including another one this week.
THE NEXT FOUR WEEKS
Today is my last Capitol View column of 2021.
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year to all!
January 2022 will mark 20 years since I began this weekly epistle.
Because I now have the opportunity to do some of the things the pandemic did not allow in 2020 and 2021, I will be taking an additional two weeks off from the column in the first part of January (the virus willing).
Look for the next Capitol View on Friday, January 21.