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Capitol View commentary: Friday, February 21, 2020

Posted: 11:35 AM, Feb 21, 2020
Updated: 2020-02-21 12:36:53-05
Capitol View

CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL 5 Political Analyst
February 21, 2020

WHEN A CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM ADVOCATE ACTS LIKE A TERRORIST; THE MLS DEAL ONE WEEK LATER; IT SOMEHOW STILL SEEMS TO BE A POPULAR JOB; THE BUDGET FIGHT AHEAD SMOLDERS AT METRO COUNCIL MEETING; METRO LOSES ONE OF ITS LAST FOUNDING FATHERS; INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE 111th TENNESSEE GENERAL ASSEMBLY AT MID-SESSION; PAID FAMILY LEAVE FOR STATE WORKERS NOW SUBJECT TO LEGISLATIVE APPROVAL; A NEW POLICY BY GOVERNOR BILL LEE LEADS TO MORE LAWSUITS?; SOME THINGS DON’T CHANGE; A FISH STORY THAT CONTINUES TO GROW AND HOT BUTTON ISSUES BOIL OVER;

WHEN A CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM ADVOCATE ACTS LIKE A TERRORIST

The last few years have seen a series of unusually bizarre stories crop up in the news impacting Nashville’s Metropolitan government. Those include a mayor resigning in a sex scandal; another sitting mayor defeated for re-election for the first the first time in Metro history; a city council declining to pass an operating budget, allowing the mayor’s spending plan to go into effort by default, even though it was $40 million in the red.

But this week, a story unfolded that seems to top them all: A criminal justice reform advocate arrested on felony vandalism charges regarding what was supposed to be, the soon to open new Metro detention center. No, this is just not a case of graffiti. And it involves much more than originally reporting, breaking into and burglarizing the construction worksite, tampering with the facilities locks, and the security system along with stealing keys.

It has now been disclosed by Sheriff Daron Hall that this “evil” plot (as he describes it) also includes hiding tools, weapons and ammunition inside the new corrections facility to carry out what Sheriff Hall says would have been a “massive escape” that could have resulted in the loss of life. It would have resulted in the “greatest security breach in Nashville history.” Adds the Sheriff: “This has never been done anywhere. It will forever change how correctional facilities are built.” For starters for Nashville, the opening of the jail is being postponed while all the locks are changed, and other security protections are taken. The extra cost to taxpayers is at least $2 million. A search is also on for others possibly involved in the scheme.

THE MLS DEAL ONE WEEK LATER

The new deal to build the MLS Stadium at the Fairgrounds is just over a week old. The agreement is still causing reverberations and recriminations at the Metro Courthouse.

While getting to this deal seemed a lot bumpier than it was for other recent big projects, at least two Nashville business icons say its just another example of the Nashville way, i.e. how the city always seems to come together to get things done.

The city’s major African American newspaper, THE TENNESSEE TRIBUNE continues to have a different take. Their story this week headlines that Mayor John Cooper was “pressured cooked” by big business to OK the new MLS agreement. The article even claims (with no evidence offered) that Governor Bill Lee was among those putting on the pressure.

THE TENNSSEAN sees a revised MLS agreement as a win for win Nashville, while avoiding potential disaster if the deal had fallen through.

One Councilmember somewhat caught in the middle on the new MLS agreement is Metro Councilmember At Large Steve Glover. He has strongly urged his constituents and Facebook followers to hang with Mayor Cooper and trust him to do the right thing. But some of Glover’s FB friends don’t like the new MLS deal and are blaming both the Mayor and now, to some degree, Councilman Glover. Here are some comments from the Councilman’s Facebook page.

“Steve, I thought you backed him on this decision. You kept telling us to support the Mayor, well, we did and it backfired! No more....”

“Mark my word — taxpayers on the hook! Cooper caved”

“I knew the money would win out. Always does. None of the powers that be pay attention to the people. If they want it, they get it. NO cost to taxpayers - what a joke.”

“Thank you, Steve! You are doing the tough work and we appreciate it!”

Councilman Glover suffered another MLS related setback at this week’s Metro Council meeting. He was sponsoring a bill to require stadium like facilities to be 100 away feet from other related facilities and have an approved security plan. He argued safety was paramount. Other councilmembers argued the bill was unnecessary. At first, it appeared the measure passed on a voice vote on second reading. But when a roll call vote was demanded, the bill was killed 16 for-22 against-with 1 councilmember abstaining.

Last week I was a little surprised during his comments on INSIDE POLITICS, how supportive Mayor John Cooper is about bringing NASCAR back to Nashville in a revitalized Fairgrounds Speedway. I figured if the Mayor took the NASCAR backers from the Bristol Motor Speedway to see Governor Bill Lee to ask for state funding, he had to be supportive. But his comments to me seemed almost effusive. Now one of the top Bristol officials is asking the Mayor to push forward even harder.

Last week I was a little surprised during his comments on INSIDE POLITICS, how supportive Mayor John Cooper is about bringing NASCAR back to Nashville in a revitalized Fairgrounds Speedway. I figured if the Mayor took the NASCAR backers from the Bristol Motor Speedway to see Governor Bill Lee to ask for state funding, he had to be supportive. But his comments to me seemed almost effusive. Now one of the top Bristol officials is asking the Mayor to push forward even harder.

The new Nashville MLS team is now turning its focus to the franchise’s first game on Saturday, February 29 at the club’s temporary home of Nissan Stadium. The opponent will be Atlanta United with a goal of having over 40,000 tickets sold. That is a number, by the way, that is 10,000 more than the capacity of the new MLS stadium, when (if?) it is built.

As that great political philosopher Yogi Berra once said: “Play ball” (or whatever they say in soccer). But Yogi also said: “It ain’t over, ‘till it’s over.”

And maybe it’s not over. Late in the week, came word of another delay. There is asbestos in the old buildings about to be demolished on the MLS stadium. That has to be very carefully removed, to mitigate any health issues. Therefore, the MLS stadium may still not be ready in 2022 for the Nashville team to start, would be its third season.

Stay tuned.

IT SOMEHOW STILL SEEMS TO BE A POPULAR JOB

It’s Metro Nashville Schools’ third search for a superintendent since 2015. You’d wonder why anyone would apply for the job, given local funding issues and the acrimony that has gridlocked the School Board in recent years, not to mention the ongoing legal fights with the state over its financial support and over charter schools and now school vouchers.

But this week it was announced a pool of 19 applicants from across the nation has stepped up to express interest in the job.

The plan is to pair- down the applicant pool to 5 finalists with interviews of those to be held here in Nashville in March. Acting Metro Schools Director Dr. Adrienne Battle is considered the favorite to keep the post.

For whoever takes the post, this week saw yet another preview of the difficult budget struggle that lies ahead for schools this spring and beyond.

THE BUDGET FIGHT AHEAD SMOULDERS AT METRO COUNCIL MEETING

With Mayor John Cooper due to present a FY 21 operating budget by the end of next month, city departments are asking for more funds, but not just for new services. They say they need to recover from the cuts they took during the great recession from 2008-2010. Take Metro Parks for example.

The Cooper administration is presently wrapping up a series of countywide listening sessions to gather public input on the future of transportation and mass transit in Nashville. The city’s WeGo transit service says it needs more money just to maintain the status quo. Otherwise there could be still more service cuts.

So far, despite these requests for more funds from almost every Metro department, last week on INSIDE POLITICS, Mayor Cooper remained non-committal on a possible property or other kind of tax hike.

The Metro Council is doing its part to prepare for a likely difficult budget process. It is looking throughout the government to raise fees and permits. Some have not been increased in years and overall the hikes won’t raise big bucks, but they do all add up. At least one Councilmember wants his colleagues to go on record that increasing revenues are not the only way to solve Metro’s problems. But Councilman At Large Steve Glover’s measure ran into wording concerns and was deferred indefinitely Tuesday night. All the fee increase proposals on the Council agenda passed easily.

The Council also continues to try and deal with the ongoing controversy over the increasing number of short-term rental properties in the city. The Council gave final approval 33-2-4, to a bill that creates a new NS zoning designation where no short- term rentals will be allowed. The new law doesn’t rezone anyone’s property or restrict anyone’s current use of their property. It just provides an alternative zoning district that could be used in the future for rezoning, which will likely bring future neighborhood controversies down the road.

As for Metro streets, they are increasingly unsafe. To slow down the increasingly fatal Wild West trend on our roads, the Mayor’s office is releasing this public service announcement to reach out to drivers and pedestrians. It contains a sobering message but hopefully more will be done.

METRO LOSES ONE OF ITS LAST FOUNDING FATHERS

With the death this week of Charlie Warfield, Nashville has lost the last member of the group that put together the charter almost 67 years ago to consolidate Nashville’s city and county governments. The Metro Charter has been the focal point of Nashville’s growth and progress these past 6 decades and Charlie Warfield’s contributions to the community in so many ways were exceptional.

INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE 111th TENNESSEE GENERAL ASSEMBLY AT MID-SESSION

The Tennessee Legislature is 6 weeks into its second and final session. The deadline to introduce new legislation has passed, with over a thousand potential new laws being tossed in the hopper.

It’s “get down to business time” on the Hill for lawmakers to see what they will pass or won’t approve this year (outside a balanced operating budget which they are required to do by the state Constitution).

So far about all that’s gotten done has been final passage of a controversial measure to allow adoption agencies to refuse to assist LGTBQ couples. The measure was quickly signed into law by Governor Bill Lee, despite sharp criticism and threats of lawsuits and even a boycott of the state by some groups. Several dozen large and smaller businesses with operations in Tennessee have sent an open letter to the Legislature and the Governor asking them to refrain from passing any more ant-LGBTQ legislation.

What will we see happen for the remainder of 111th General Assembly? We’ve invited some of the top journalists covering this session to join us and talk about it on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

They are TENNESSEAN Capitol Hill reporter Joel Ebert and Kim Kruesi, the Legislative reporter for the Associated Press.

Watch us!
INSIDE POLITICS airs 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. 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 can’t 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 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.

PAID FAMILY LEAVE FOR STATE WORKERS NOW SUBJECT TO LEGISLATIVE APPROVAL

It was too much ballyhoo that Governor Bill Lee announced back in January, that by executive order, he was granting 38,000 state workers up to 12 weeks of paid family leave beginning March 1.

Administration officials were also quoted as saying the costs of granting that extra benefit would amount to less than a million dollars.

But I wondered about that. When I’ve had House Speaker Cameron Sexton and Lt. Governor Randy McNally on INSIDE POLITICS, both expressed overall support for the move, but didn’t seem as certain about the costs and therefore about lawmakers extending the additional paid family leave to all state workers.

Now, after further review and more questions and concerns from lawmakers, Governor Lee is backtracking and will seek legislative approval before the new family leave benefit takes effect.
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The start of sports gambling in Tennessee also continues to be delayed due to push back from legislative leaders over the proposed rules to govern the process.

On another on-going issue it looks like more states than Tennessee are struggling to meet the October 1 federal deadline to implement the new Real ID program and airports across the country see a crisis coming.

A NEW POLICY BY GOVERNOR BILL LEE LEADS TO MORE LAWSUITS?

Unlike his predecessor, Governor Bill Lee and his staff are not reaching out to lawmakers to express concerns about all the controversial, hot button bills that seem to fill the legislative agendas in both Houses. Perhaps as a result more these bills are becoming law and creating more lawsuits against the state. That includes seven legal actions since Governor Lee took office in January of last year, and maybe more are on the way regarding the new anti-LGBTQ adoption law.

One of the new laws now being blocked in the courts, one to restrict (some say criminalize) the state’s voter registration laws, has lawmakers looking to pass an alternative in time for this fall’s elections. Opponents of the blocked law say the new proposal is being rushed through without input from citizens group. They are happy to see a new law being proposed by wary this latest bill may be just another attempt to suppress the vote of certain groups.

Democrats on the Hill are the super minority, so not many their proposals become law. This week a proposal came from almost out of blue by some blue lawmakers wanting Tennessee to replace New Hampshire and Iowa as the first state to vote for President in 2024. Does this idea have any legs on the Hill? Is a pipe dream politically on the national stage? Probably not. Besides both New Hampshire and Iowa have laws that automatically move their primary or caucus ahead of any other state, even if that means moving it into the year before the actual presidential election year.

As for the Tennessee Presidential primary set for March 3, it seems rather quiet. With 13 other states voting, including California, the Volunteer State seems again somewhat overlooked, even though we do seem to be seeing more TV ads than in the past.

While former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had a disaster in his first national TV debate this week, he has spent by far the most TV money here in Tennessee for at least a couple of months(as he has across the country). Now other Democratic candidates are joining him including national front-runner Senator Bernie Sanders (he’s been on for over a week) along with (I think) Senator Elizabeth Warren and , late this week, Senator Amy Klobuchar. I have begun to see ads for businessman Tom Steyer who seems to be placing a sizable buy.

How quiet is Tennessee? Reports THE HILL in a wrap up of Super Tuesday polling on February 12: “No recent polls have been conducted in Tennessee’s primary. Sixty-four pledged delegates are up for grabs in the Volunteer State.” I couldn’t find anything about the Tennessee vote after making a Google search this week.
Yawn.

Even worse for Democrats, the early vote and absentee ballots counted so far statewide through yesterday (Thursday) show 81,668 voting in the Republican primary, and just 58,425 voting in the Democratic primary. With President Trump likely to get well in excess 90% of the Republican primary vote, he seems certain to garner more votes than any of the Democrats who might win the Tennessee primary. Might he also get close to, or amass more votes in Tennessee, than all the Democrats combined? It is all likely just a foreshadowing of how strongly the President will carry the Volunteer State this fall.

SOME THINGS DON’T CHANGE

It’s getting to be an unfortunate habit.

Another legislator is getting into apparent difficulties with his personal and campaign finances which has state officials looking into the matter.

A FISH STORY THAT CONTINUES TO GROW AND HOT BUTTON ISSUES BOIL OVER

It’s an issue Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Phil Bredesen didn’t get much political mileage out of two years ago. That’s when voters seemed more concerned about caravans invading our southern borders. But, unlike the caravans, the invasion of our waterways by the Asian Carp is still around and growing into a major challenge. So much so even a Tennessee Republican State Senator now wants immediate action.

Meanwhile the hot button, fire up the base, re-election bills continue to advance on the Hill, including the “fake news” resolution.
The need to speak out on hot button issues is so overwhelming this session, some GOP lawmakers can’t refrain from becoming scientific experts (which they are not), even on memorializing resolutions.

Finally, perhaps the longest standing hot button issue on Capitol Hill, what to do with the bust of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, came up once again this week during a public hearing before the State Capitol Commission. That’s a group of state officials which could help decide the bust’s fate. However, it was announced no vote would be taken until a vacancy on the Commission is filled.

Now it seems the hot button bill quota bubbles over with a proposed law to regulate library presentations in Tennessee.