By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL 5 Political Analyst
February 18, 2022
IS THE LARGEST MILITARY CONFLICT IN EUROPE SINCE WORLD WAR II ABOUT TO ERUPT?; THE LATEST ON THE 5th DISTRICT CONGRESSIONAL RACE; ELSEWHERE ON THE HILL; LOOKING BEHIND THE CURTAIN; MAJOR ISSUES CONTINUE TO ROIL THE METRO COURTHOUSE; THE LATEST ON THE 2024 REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION;
IS THE LARGEST MILITARY CONFLICT IN EUROPE SINCE WORLD WAR II ABOUT TO ERUPT?
For the last several weeks, and especially this week, the world has been on edge over a possible invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The United States and its NATO allies have been warning Russian President Vladimir Putin that his country faces unprecedented and severe sanctions if the invasion occurs.
This week, every day, if not every few hours, signals have emerged that the largest military action in Europe since World War II was imminent.
But then came word of continued diplomatic talks and that some Russian troops are being withdrawn as war games along the Ukraine border are concluding. But the U.S. and NATO say that is false. They claim Russia in recent days has added 7,000 more troops to a potential invasion force.
When we need insight and wisdom in the area of foreign affairs, we always turn to Vanderbilt political science and history professor Dr. Thomas Schwartz.
He joins us on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend.
We thank him for being on the program again.
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 here on my own Facebook page, usually on the Monday or Tuesday after the show airs.
THE LATEST ON THE 5thDISTRICT CONGRESSIONAL RACE
The focus on the emerging Republican primary in the new 5th District congressional race was on Capitol Hill this week.
You read it first here in Capitol View last week, a bill sponsored by Senator Frank Niceley would impose residency requirements for congressional and U.S. Senate candidates.
The bill, which passed through the Senate State & Local Government Committee on Wednesday, originally would have required candidates to have voted in past three elections in the state. However, the measure was amended in committee to say federal candidates must meet the same residency requirements as state lawmakers. Those requirements include being a Tennessee resident for at least three years and a resident of the county for at least one year before the election in which they seek to run.
Senator Niceley won’t say what candidates inspired him to offer the legislation. But no matter what version of the bill you consider, two Republican candidates in the emerging 5th District race would likely be disqualified to run if the bill becomes law.
One is former State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus. The other is conservative activist and former record producer, Robby Starbuck. Both have not lived in Tennessee long enough to be a candidate under the bill.
While Senator Niceley is a bit mum about who might have motivated him to push this legislation, his recent comments to AXIOS would seem to give some pretty good hints:
Niceley told AXIOS his bill would aim to "protect Tennessee from invasion."
The Senator added, according to AXIOS, that “he started considering a residency requirement for U.S. House and Senate races after hearing about Ortagus and learning "that you could move in here and never even vote here and just run for Congress.”
We became a well-managed state because we elected Tennesseans who know how to pronounce 'Maury County,'" Niceley says.
In response, Ortagus, who has the endorsement of former President Donald Trump, says she will "leave state matters to the state legislature.
"I'm focused on earning the support of Fifth District Tennesseans who want a Conservative fighter to defend President Trump's agenda."
Starbuck, who has the endorsement of Senator Rand Paul and Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green, is more direct in opposing the legislation. On Twitter, he said the bill is an attempt to "force me out of the race" and "change the rules in the middle of the game."
In a statement to Axios, Starbuck predicted the effort would fail and accused opponents of trying "every trick in the book to silence the people's voice."
Having gotten a committee nod, there seems to be some chance the Niceley bill will get to the floor of the full Senate for a vote. The companion bill has not yet been moved in the House.
Time is of the essence as the qualifying deadline to run is in early April, so the bill would have to be approved and in effect as law by then. Litigation is likely under constitutional grounds, so that might further complicate the timeline for election officials to finalize the August primary ballot in time for absentee and early voting. Of course, with a contested legal fight, there could be confusion among the “candidates” and the voters on who is really in the race.
All that is still some weeks away, and it all could end up being far-fetched. However, for now, all this is not beyond the realm of possibility.
Finally this week, there is also now a new report that Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles is eyeing the 5th congressional race. All of his fast-growing county is in the new district.
ELSEWHERE ON THE HILL
Governor Bill Lee’s bill, to require schools to list online all the materials they have in their libraries or use in the classroom, passed in a Senate committee this week.
It is one of a couple of bills that concern some school advocates. The Governor’s bill leaves it up to each school district to decide what materials are “age-appropriate” which could leave to confusion.
Another bill is even more vague in purging books and other materials deemed “obscene or harmful to minors” from school libraries.
If these measures pass the General Assembly, we are likely to see more library, textbook and classroom materials controversies across the state.
Also in the area of K-12 education, Governor Lee’s office says the administration will file its legislation next week (February 24) to give the final details of the new funding formula for schools it wants to use beginning in the 2023-24 school year.
The Governor unveiled broad details of the plan in his State of the State address the end of January. That includes an extra $1 billion in new funding. But working out the final details has delayed the introduction of legislation and increased talk among lawmakers about studying the plan and putting off final approval until next year. It is a move which the Governor opposes.
I have talked to some Capitol Hill observers who were disappointed Governor Lee has not taken the past few weeks to go across the state to build general support for his new formula and the extra funds. They think any excitement the Governor built out of his speech may have lessened now.
Education advocates I talk with do believe the General Assembly will approve the new formula this session, ending years of controversy and litigation. But the final details of who gets what in terms of new and existing dollars is bound to create some further delay, as lawmakers closely study the details.
Therefore, the odds they give me for passage are only 60-40.
Next week, when the formula details and dollars are unveiled, should be very interesting.
There is another piece of higher education legislation that has caught my eye. I say that because HB2670 is sponsored by Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton. SB2290 is the companion bill sponsored by Senator Mike Bell.
The overview of legislation says it “prohibits a public institution of higher education from taking certain action with regards to divisive concepts or ideologies of political viewpoints of students and employees; revises the duties of an institution’s employees whose primary duties include diversity; requires each institution to conduct a survey of its students and employees to assess the campus climate with regard to diversity of thought and the respondents’ comfort level in speaking freely on campus and to publish the results on the institution’s website.”
Well, this ought to create some controversy, and with Speaker Sexton as sponsor, it might become law.
LOOKING BEHIND THE CURTAIN
There is so much activity on the Hill, at the beginning and throughout the legislative session, you can easily lose the forest for all the trees.
That’s why I urge you to watch the series of reports Phil Williams has on NEWSCHANNEL5 about what happens at the beginning of every session to raise campaign funds, and how powerful interests are spending more money than ever throughout the year to influence lawmakers.
Phil’s reports indicate there is a loophole in the state ethics law that ironically was passed over a decade ago to clean up the Hill after a campaign fundraising scandal called Tennessee Waltz.
MAJOR ISSUES CONTINUE TO ROIL THE METRO COURTHOUSE
This week the Metro Council approved a $500,000 contract with a Louisiana firm to do a performance audit of the city’s homeless-related efforts and report recommendations within twelve weeks.
The approval came as the Council requested such a study back in January and even appropriated the funds out of the city’s Unappropriated Fund Balance.
There are some in the Council who hope the study will recommend putting the city’s homeless and affordable housing programs under one department and not scattered across the government. The vote came just one day after what was described as a “very tense” meeting at the Courthouse where there was unhappiness and disagreement expressed by Council members and homeless advocates about some of the city’s current homeless efforts.
Other long-term hot-button issues were also discussed at Tuesday’s regular Council meeting. The second of three new leases for local charter schools failed to pass. It is no secret there are several councilmembers who do not like charter schools and believe they siphon off funds for public schools. Others in the Council say charter schools are public schools and need to be funded.
It is unclear what is next for the charter school leases that did not pass the Council. But up on Capitol Hill, there is a bill in the Legislature that would enlarge the number of charter schools in the state and speed up the process for local officials to approve them. It would also require local school boards to provide charter schools with space to operate in closed or under-utilized existing school buildings. Stay tuned.
Another area of ongoing contention between Metro and the State, the regulation of the downtown tourist entertainment vehicles, may be sailing into calmer waters. During the debate over new rules for how the Metro Vehicle Licensing Board will oversee the entertainment vehicle industry, the bill’s lead sponsor expressed the hope that, given how the local bill is being drafted and amended, the General Assembly may pass a bill to make it clear Metro can regulate entertainment vehicles. That is a subject which has been hotly contested in the past with the Legislature nullifying regulation bills approved by the Council.
One other issue that was not debated by the Council is the continuing struggle Metro is having to collect the city’s recycling and trash. The once-a-month recycling program was suspended late last year through February 1, because of difficulties being experienced by the city’s private trash hauler which is in bankruptcy.
Equipment and a shortage of personnel has also been an issue which was another reason why Metro suspended curbside recycling pickups so those crews and equipment could be used to pick up trash.
Now that both services are back in operation, there appear to still be issues. It is to the point this week Metro officials told residents to put out the trash on their regular day, but it may not be picked up until a day or two later or even the end the week.
Trash and recycling pickups are vital city services. Hopefully, a plan will be in place and funded to solve this problem at least when the new Metro budget starts in July. By then the next Metro election will be only about a year away. This is not a problem the Mayor and Council want still hanging around when they are running for re-election.
Another big Metro story involving the Tennessee Titans broke Thursday afternoon. After months of talks between the city and the team to renovate the stadium and develop a major mixed-use project in the area of the East Bank surrounding Nissan Stadium, it appears the cost to renovate the nearly 23-year-old facility has gotten so high, building a new stadium might make more sense.
Who pays for what remains unclear right now. I doubt there is much public or political appetite for a city-funded facility. New NFL stadiums now run into the billions of dollars. Can Mayor John Cooper negotiate a deal similar to what he did to build the soon to open MLS soccer stadium at the Fairgrounds, where much of the facility cost has been covered by the team owners?
Mayor Cooper late Thursday also announced some major changes in his office. Sam Wilcox will become Deputy Mayor for Policy & Innovation and Jennifer Rasmussen-Sagan will be Chief of Staff. Bill Phillips, who has served in both those posts since 2020, will continue with the Cooper administration on a part-time basis as Special Counselor to the Mayor.
Wilcox joins the Cooper administration from D.A. Davidson, where he served as vice president for technology investment banking. In terms of local political experience, he served as field director for Jeff Yarbro’s 2014 campaign for Tennessee State Senate. He launched John Cooper’s 2015 campaign for Metro Council At-Large and he helped organize a community campaign to save Nashville’s historic Fort Negley Park.
Wilcox is a Harry S. Truman scholar, an Auburn University alumnus and a Middle Tennessee native.
Rasmussen-Sagan has served as a senior staff assistant to Mayor Cooper since 2020. As Chief of Staff, she will lead day-to-day operations in the Mayor’s Office and manage the mayor’s personnel.
Prior to joining the Mayor’s office, Rasmussen-Sagan was director of marketing, brand management and public relations for D & JR Holdings as well as deputy chief of staff to then-Mayor Mike Fahey of Omaha. She has consulted, managed or worked for more than 10 campaigns for community, city and federal candidates.
The Cooper administration has seen quite a bit of high-level turnover with a new Finance Director and Legal Director coming on board in 2021. Hopefully, we will see a period of continued stability in the Mayor’s office in the months to come.
THE LATEST ON THE 2024 REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION
Per Politico as of Thursday February 17:
“SCOOP: MILWAUKEE TAKES LEAD IN COMPETITION FOR 2024 GOP CONVENTION — Leaders of the RNC are in Milwaukee today touring the city with former Gov. SCOTT WALKER as part of its site selection process for the 2024 presidential convention. The verdict is already in, we’re told by someone familiar with the ongoing conversations: They love this town and it’s now the “frontrunner.” Republican Party officials are planning to tap former RNC chair and ex-White House chief of staff REINCE PRIEBUS, a Wisconsinite, as chair of the host committee if Milwaukee is selected.
One of the biggest appeals of Milwaukee, we’re told, is that it’s almost “turn-key.” The city of beer and cheese curds was supposed to host the 2020 Democratic convention before it was canceled amid the pandemic, so the infrastructure and planning are already far along. The city also hosts to an annual concert series called “Summerfest,” so it’s used to dealing with massive crowds, and boasts an expansive arena.
Another perk? The funding: So far, local donors have pledged $30 million in support, the person involved said.
The group was also impressed by Milwaukee acting Mayor CHEVY JOHNSON, a Democrat who nonetheless has been making a hard sell for his town. Local law enforcement officials have also briefed them on their plans for security.
Of course, Nashville is about to give them a run for their money. The RNC will be in the country music city next week to check out that location, we hear.”
I told you in last week’s column that Milwaukee would have an edge, and maybe a civic hunger, to host the RNC Convention since they got left with a significantly scaled-down Democratic Convention in 2020 which was mostly held virtually.
I suspect that civic hunger may have also helped with the local funding raising that is needed.
But who knows? This is the same publication that last week wrote Nashville had the inside track on landing the convention.
The MILWAUKEE JOURNAL-SENTINEL did have a similar headline of Milwaukee ‘takes lead” for the convention in this story that was posted online Thursday.
THE WEEK IN COVID-19
The number of new cases of the COVID-19 virus continue to tank, down over 50% statewide and 42% in Nashville. Even deaths are beginning to decline a bit.
On the national level, cases sparked by the omicron variant, were over 807,000 a day back in January at the nation's peak. A month later, cases have plummeted to an average of 134,000 new cases per day. Nearly every state is seeing a drop in case rates, but 97% of all the counties in the nation are still reporting high transmission rates. With the increase in the amount of home testing, it is likely the number of new cases are higher than the reported numbers.
As many hope the virus pandemic will soon become endemic like the seasonal flu, many states are continuing to ease covid restrictions such as mask-wearing, although some public officials warn we need to guard against moving too quickly. The CDC indicated this week it is reviewing its guidance on the matter and even Dr. Anthony Fauci is more upbeat about “inching” towards a better future.
Locally more, but not all, performance venues are easing their covid requirements. The Metro School Board meets next week. With case numbers down, but the transmission rate still elevated, will they ease or end the mandate for masks in Nashville’s public schools?