By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL 5 Political Analyst
ANOTHER MAJOR CANDIDATE JOINS THE FIFTH DISTRICT GOP CONGRESSIONAL PRIMARY; METRO IS STILL TRYING TO CATCH UP ON TRASH COLLECTION ISSUES; IT HAS BEEN A WHILE; METRO SCHOOLS’ MASK MANDATE SET TO END IN MARCH; A LEGISLATIVE UPDATE ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE WAR IN EUROPE HAS BEGUN;
ANOTHER MAJOR CANDIDATE JOINS THE FIFTH DISTRICT GOP CONGRESSIONAL PRIMARY
The August primary battle to be the Republican nominee, and likely the next congressional representative for the new 5th District, gained another major candidate late this week.
Former Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell announced she is entering an already potentially crowded field (and the qualifying deadline is not until April).
Harwell is believed to be a contender because much of her former state house district in Nashville is in the new congressional district. She also has significant name recognition across the district from her years in office and her leadership role.
In a news release announcing her candidacy, Harwell plugged her accomplishments in office, while also heaping criticism on the Biden administration. She says she will “bring Tennessee common sense to Washington,” adding, “they could learn a thing or two from the way we do things. It’s time to rein in our federal government, stop the fiscal insanity, and return power to the states.”
Harwell also claims to be “the only proven conservative leader and reformer in this race.”
Her comments seem aimed at her two likely strongest primary opponents, Megan Ortagus and Robbie Starbuck. Both are new to Tennessee and are running for office for the first time. The two also seem to be competing hard for the voters who support former President Donald Trump. Mr. Trump has endorsed Ms. Ortagus, bringing complaints from others in MAGA land. If that part of the conservative vote is split, it likely would benefit Harwell although she also will run hard on her conservative credentials.
Another potential benefit for Harwell is a controversial bill pending in the General Assembly. It would impose a three-year residency requirement for congressional and other candidates for federal office which Ortagus and Starbuck likely could not meet. The bill has already passed out of committee in the Senate. It has yet to move in the House.
Ortagus did get another endorsement this week. It is from her former boss and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Another 5th District Republican candidate, Kurt Winstead, an attorney and retired General in the Tennessee National Guard has made his race official.
METRO IS STILL TRYING TO CATCH UP ON TRASH COLLECTION ISSUES
You probably know Metro has been having trash and recycling pickup issues for months.
In fact, over the Christmas holidays and throughout the month of January, you will remember recycling collections were suspended so Metro’s in-house crews could concentrate on getting trash collected once a week. They have been working 12-hour daily shifts, even over the President’s Day holiday weekend, but things still seem to be behind.
In fact, even with once-a-month recycling service resumed on February 1, garbage pickup problems have continued to the point that Metro officials said during a news briefing on Thursday that the matter has gone from “an inconvenience to a major public health issue.”
Metro’s biggest challenge is with Red River, an outside contractor, that is supposed to handle to the lion’s share (73) of the city’s trash routes. The firm has reportedly continued to fall behind. City officials say it has even gotten to the point where Red River is not submitting required reports to Metro on which trash routes it is collecting.
Due to this lack of service and potential contract violations, Metro has sought to end its agreement with Red River. But the company is in bankruptcy and the judge involved with the case has not allowed the contract to be voided. There is another court hearing on March 8 to pursue the matter.
In the meantime, Metro has taken back several of the routes assigned to Red River. They have been given to a couple of other vendors (Waste Management and Waste Pro). This is being done on an ongoing emergency basis at a higher cost (although Metro officials did not disclose what that extra cost is). They did say they plan to recoup those extra expenses from Red River through the courts.
Metro believes with these steps they are slowly making progress towards resuming regular on-time garbage collections. Long term, they hope to put together a new RFP (request for proposal) to seek new vendors. They add they will not sign a long-term deal with just one firm as they did with Red River.
They also believe incorporating new technologies into the RFP will also provide additional help in the future.
By the way, the Red River contract runs until 2024. Mayor Cooper says he is expecting “dramatic improvement’ in trash collection. With the Metro elections for the mayor and council set for August of 2023, that should be more than enough incentive to solve this “major public health issue” as soon as possible.
In the meantime, based on this TENNESSEAN article, Metro’s trash problems and the failure to deliver a basic city service, are getting strong criticism from those writing letters to the editor. The possibility of building a new stadium for the Titans, rather than renovating the current one, is creating comment as well.
IT HAS BEEN A WHILE
This happens every so often in our governmental process.
There has not been a countywide election in Nashville/Davidson County, or statewide since November 2020. That will be more than a year and a half when we hold our next election on Thursday, May 4.
And we start this election cycle, most of the positions in the Metro Courthouse are up for election in May, including almost all the judgeships. Many in those posts are unopposed for re-election, while other judgeships without incumbents are, of course, attracting candidates.
Here is a list of who has qualified for the May 4thprimary for judgeships. Remember this list could still change as candidates had until noon yesterday (Thursday, March 24) to withdraw.
Primary elections in Davidson County are also being elected for District Attorney, Sherrif, and the various Court Clerks positions. No Republicans have qualified to run. The hottest contest in the Democratic primary will be for District Attorney. Incumbent Glenn Funk has two opponents seeking to deny him a second 8-year term. Most of the other races are unopposed for the incumbents or there are contested contests if the post is without an incumbent.
Here is that qualified candidate list.
Here is one other important update. Here is a list of candidates still on the judicial ballot, including those Democratic candidates who have been removed by local party officials and some still facing challenges. Stay tuned.
Finally for the first time because of a new state law, four of the nine positions on the Metro School Board will be elected on a partisan primary basis, with the party primaries to be held on May 4.
Democrats have candidates qualified in all four districts. Republicans are fielding candidates in just two contests. No one withdrew by Thursday’s withdrawal date.
Here is a list of the 14 candidates who qualified.
There is only one seat without an incumbent (District 8). In that contest, two Democrats will square off in May, then face an independent candidate in the August general election. In the other three races, District 2 will see the incumbent Democrat faces the winner of a three-way GOP primary and an Independent in August. In District 4, the incumbent Democrat will face a primary challenge from the former school board member he defeated in 2020. That primary winner will then face a Republican candidate in August. Finally in District 6, the incumbent school board member is seeking re-election as an Independent. She will face the winner of a two-candidate Democratic primary in August.
Primary elections always seem to be confusing to voters since you must pick a primary and can’t go back and forth in casting votes in races in different primaries. Further confusion could come this year, since the school board races are being run in new districts which were recently redrawn by the Metro Council due to population changes found in the 2020 Census.
METRO SCHOOLS’ MASK MANDATE SET TO END IN MARCH
Like their colleagues across the country, members of the current Metro School Board have struggled mightily over how to deal with the pandemic for almost two years. Following the science to keep students, faculty and staff safe has even meant going to court, and prevailing in their case, to stop a new state law that would have outlawed school mask mandates.
But with virus case counts falling quickly in recent weeks, the board finally voted Tuesday night to end the mask requirement after March 11, the final day of school before Spring Break.
Even after the vote, controversy ensued. School officials say they plan to continue to monitor the situation and they may ask the board to reconsider a mask mandate if cases spike again before Spring Break. Even after classes resume after spring break, masks will be recommended, even if not required.
It was all too much for the anti-mask protestors present at the board meeting. They let their unhappiness be known. In response, school board members vented their frustrations of the past two years with one even letting out an F-bomb during her comments. To restore calm, the room where the board meets, was cleared and there was a break before the meeting resumed.
By the way, there is yet another variant of the omicron virus spreading across the nation and the world. It is thought to be even more contagious than the original omicron. It is still unclear if it will bring a new spike in cases.
As the pandemic continues to ease, state government, just like Metro Nashville, is struggling on how to allocate the remaining millions of dollars in federal virus relief aid. They don’t really like to put it this way, but with so many requests, it is very hard to pick winners and losers of who will get help and who won’t.
There continue to be other struggles as we approach what could be a post-pandemic world. The real estate market for homebuyers in Nashville is crazy. Locals say they feel outnumbered and always outbid by out of towners or corporate buyers when it comes to landing a piece of the American Dream. Now there is a new national study that these concerns among Nashvillians are accurate.
A LEGISLATIVE UPDATE ON INSIDE POLITICS
The 112th Tennessee General Assembly has a goal to finish its second and final session by the middle to end of April.
That means they have about 6-8 weeks left to wrap things up.
Obviously, approving a new operating budget is the biggest item still on the table.
What else does the Republican Super Majority and Governor Bill Lee want to get done?
What surprises lie ahead to create controversy?
To give his insights and wisdom about all this is veteran Capitol Hill reporter Sam Stockard who works with THE TENNESSEE LOOKOUT.
We thank Sam for joining us again on INSIDE POLITICS.
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THE WAR IN EUROPE HAS BEGUN
We spent last week’s INSIDE POLITICS focusing on what was then the looming invasion of Ukraine by its neighbor Russia.
This largest war in Europe since World War II is now underway.
The Russian move has received almost universal condemnation with the United States, NATO, the European Union and countries around the world imposing an increasing array of economic sanctions against Russia.
There appears to be almost no likelihood of the U.S. or others bringing ground troops into the fray. But that doesn’t mean the conflict won’t have major impacts on our daily lives.
In a weekly column, it is difficult to monitor and accurately report a fast-breaking story on the other side of the world like this one. Things can change every day or even every few hours.
So I plan to follow and report on the major impacts and developments of this war from a 50,000-foot level, particularly its impact on American and world politics.
Already, a new national poll shows the challenges ahead for the Biden administration as economic impacts from the Russia-Ukraine war unfold.
In fact, according to government figures released Friday morning, inflation in January, before the war broke out, is already up to 6.2% compared to January of last year, and the highest in four decades.
Usually, Republicans are the best at collectively agreeing on and sticking with their talking. But this time, the Party has been somewhat split in how to respond to this conflict.
Another late-breaking story Friday morning is President Joe Biden’s choice to fill a vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court. In making the appointment, the President is fulfilling a campaign promise to elevate the first African American woman to serve on the High Court. The nomination is now up for confirmation by the U.S. Senate. These confirmations have become more and more controversial and partisan in recent years. With lawmakers returning to Washington next week, what will happen this time?