By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
December 3, 2021
WITH A NEW VIRUS VARIANT LOOMING NASHVILLE HEALTH BOARD CHAIRMAN DR. ALEX JAHANGIR IS OUR GUEST ON INSIDE POLITICS; SOME THINGS ABOUT THE PANDEMIC IN TENNESSEE THAT NEVER SEEM TO CHANGE; GOVERNOR LEE MAKES THE FIRST USE OF HIS CLEMENCY POWERS; CONGRESS IS NOT JUNIOR HIGH; ARE THE DAYS OF ABORTION RIGHTS UNDER ROE VS. WADE NUMBERED?; ANOTHER STEP FORWARD TOWARDS NASCAR COMING BACK TO NASHVILLE;
WITH A NEW VIRUS VARIANT LOOMING NASHVILLE HEALTH BOARD CHAIRMAN DR. ALEX JAHANGIR IS OUR GUEST ON INSIDE POLITICS
We have been down this road before during the pandemic.
While the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths have declined a bit in recent weeks, creating the feel that Thanksgiving and the rest of the upcoming holiday season might be closer to normal, now another variant of the virus, omicron, is emerging, creating renewed uncertainty about what is to come. The case with the new variant was diagnosed in California on Wednesday.
Tennessee is also in a different place with the Republican Super Majority in the Legislature recently making major changes in the protocols to handle COVID-19.
To bring some insight and wisdom to where things stand and what lies ahead, we welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS Dr. Alex Jahangir, the Chairman of the Metro Board of Health.
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SOME THINGS ABOUT THE PANDEMIC IN TENNESSEE THAT NEVER SEEM TO CHANGE
Along with low vaccination rates compared to the rest of the nation, one of the things that never seem to change during the pandemic here in Tennessee are more questionable no-bid contracts by the administration of Governor Bill Lee.
The latest exposed by the media (TENNESSEE LOOKOUT and THE TENNESSEAN) is a contract tracing agreement with a Hendersonville firm worth $75 million. The firm apparently has no experience in the area of contact tracing.
Will anything change?
Mixed messages and legal confusion also never seem to change in Tennessee.
President Joe Biden’s efforts to impose vaccine mandates continues to be paused in federal courts, including rulings this week involving health care workers and federal contractors. At least one of the decisions impacts Tennessee. Therefore, the State Comptroller is stopping a program recently approved by state lawmakers during its special session on COVID-19 protocols.
The program allowed Tennessee businesses to apply for exemptions to allow vaccine mandates if they face the loss of federal funds. Even though the vaccine pause in the federal courts might be appealed to a higher court, or reversed when the matter comes to trial, the state is now ending the exemption program immediately, stripping close to 70 Tennessee businesses from already approved exemptions and dozens more applications rejected.
This results in more confusion and mixed messages for businesses who just want to what’s they think is right and make their own decisions about how to run their businesses and stay safe.
All this has some lawmakers questioning why their special session was even held.
GOVERNOR LEE MAKES THE FIRST USE OF HIS CLEMENCY POWERS
In two more months, Governor Bill Lee has been in office three years of a four- year term.
As a chief executive who has made criminal justice reform a priority, until Thursday he had never used his clemency powers.
Now he has. Here is an overview of how, in what cases, and involving what inmates, he has done so.
CONGRESS IS NOT JUNIOR HIGH
The Republican Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives actually made that comment this week.
Congressman Kevin McCarthy is clearly exasperated that some members of his GOP House Caucus are not only feuding with Democrats but with fellow Republicans.
In some ways Congress, on both sides of the aisle, is an institution that acts like a bunch of immature junior high students. They don’t get their jobs done on time. They don’t finish their homework.
Therefore, they once again come to the end of the year with work undone. That comes after putting off making tough decisions by deferring or kicking the can down the road on difficult, but critical bills. Now our elected “leaders” face a gauntlet of urgent matters that should have never been neglected, with their continued inaction placing our nation on the verge of some embarrassing and unnecessary problems.
As usual when a final deadline looms, lawmakers again just kicked the can down the road one more time, still procrastinating like immature children who know their parents (voters) haven’t been holding them accountable for the partisan games they play in Washington. With a government shutdown looming today (Friday), another makeshift, very temporary extension to at least keep the government operating all the way to mid-February, was approved in both Houses on Thursday.
The far-out, right- wing members of the House GOP Caucus and some GOP Senators did try but failed to stop any new spending plan unless it prohibited the Biden vaccine mandate, which hasn’t even started and seems stymied in the courts.
By the way, my apologies to those responsible junior high kids who are often are mature beyond their years. It is too bad Congress isn’t more like them.
More fun and games will continue on Capitol Hill this month. The nation’s debt ceiling will be exceeded by December 15 unless Congress acts to extend it. The Defense appropriations bill also needs to be approved to keep the nation safe. Look for Congress to ride to the rescue again in the final hours before beginning their holiday recess with more temporary stop gap solutions that create about as many problems as they fix.
Another interesting development on Capitol Hill this week was the announcement that former Chief of Staff to President Donald Trump, Mark Meadows, is in talks to cooperate with the House Committee probing the January 6th insurrection. The announcement comes after the Justice Department indicted another former top Trump advisor, Steve Bannon, for being in contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate. This was one of a couple of developments this week that are a boost to the congressional probe. I also wonder if any other reluctant potential witnesses are considering a change of heart or at least tactics?
Meadows announced his willingness to cooperate (at least to some degree) at the same time his insider tell-all (?) book was released. So will he tell investigators to go to page 215 for what really happened? Will he now sell more books?
ARE THE DAYS OF ABORTION RIGHTS UNDER ROE VS. WADE NUMBERED?
I can’t remember the last time I heard oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court aired live on the radio (National Public Radio on WPLN) as I did on Wednesday.
While it is dangerous to conclude that questions or comments made by the nine Justices are a predictor of the outcome of the case involved, the consensus of the national media is that the High Court seems poised to repeal or significantly restrict the reproductive rights that have been the law of the land for close to 50 years under the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision in the early 1970s.
But there are reports that Chief Justice John Roberts may be looking (perhaps in vain) for a way to uphold the Mississippi law before the Court while also keeping the precedents of Roe vs. Wade and other abortion rights decisions. It would involve the Court allowing each state to set their own rules about abortion. Tennessee already has a law, now on hold in the federal court system. The law that outlaws abortion after 6 weeks, so soon in the process many women may not even know they are pregnant. Tennessee also has a law on the books that bans abortion outright if Roe vs. Wade is repealed. The 6 weeks (heartbeat law) is set to heard soon by the full 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to get the measure approved to go into force even before the pending lawsuit against it goes to trial.
With the oral arguments in the Mississippi case before the Court complete, a decision could at any time. There is an even more restrictive law from Texas also before the Justices. There is some precedent in cases this controversial and emotionally charged, no ruling will be handed down until next June, near or at the very end of the High Court’s term.
ANOTHER STEP FORWARD TOWARDS NASCAR COMING BACK TO NASHVILLE
With NASCAR again holding its annual awards celebration event in Nashville this week, efforts to bring one or more of NASCAR’s actual races back to Nashville, after a multi-decade hiatus, took another step forward.
Back last spring, Mayor John Cooper announced a letter of intent with the owners of the Bristol Motor Speedway to take over operations of the city’s Historic Fairgrounds Speedway. Now the city has moved the effort up to a deal in principle. Here is what that means.
The agreement is not final. In fact, several things must happen before things are final. One, the deal has to be validated by a consulting firm that the proposal will generate the revenues, etc. that are projected. Second, Metro’s cost still needs to be nailed down. It was thought Metro would issue up to $50 million in revenue bonds for the Speedway renovations, with the city being reimbursed by the lease payments, taxes, sponsorships, etc. generated by the project. It won’t involve the city’s general fund, says Mayor Cooper. But the deal has grown since it was first announced in the spring, so Metro may have to issue more revenue bonds.
There are also issues of a political nature. The Metro Council and two city agencies (the Metro Sports Authority and the Metro Fair Board) must OK the deal. Already there are some councilmembers (Steve Glover) are raising concerns about whether taxpayers might get left in the lurch if the projected revenues do not materialize. The district council member who represents the Fairgrounds area (Colby Sledge) shares the concerns of surrounding neighbors about increased noise and traffic. He is also concerned the Speedway project is not getting the needed review and oversight needed, including a community involvement plan, compared to what happened with the construction of the MLS stadium about to open next door in the spring of 2022.
There is one other potential issue involving the Council. For months, two seats on the Metro Fair Board have been left vacant as Mayor Cooper, Vice Mayor Jim Schulman and the Council have been at odds over who should fill the volunteer posts. Everyone wants more diversity on the board. But after the Mayor couldn’t vet a person, he thought the Council would approve, his appointment power passed to the Vice Mayor. Vice Mayor Schulman has nominated two well qualified African American women. But neither were approved by Council with some members wanting Hispanics in the post instead.
Mayor Cooper says he won’t move ahead with the final Fairgrounds Speedway deal until the Fair Board seats are filled. It is not clear when that might happen. There are no Fair Board appointments on the agenda for the next Council meeting set for Tuesday night (December 7). There is only one other Council meeting scheduled for 2021 on December 21. The Council meets on the first and third Tuesday of every month.
Therefore, who knows when this deal with cross the finish line and receive the final checkered flag of approval? And as for Nashville racing fans revving their engines for the first NASCAR Cup race being held in a newly renovated Speedway, when that will happen is also unclear. Mayor Cooper had said he hoped such a race might happen next year. But now the talk is that is more likely to happen in 2023 or even 2024.