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Capitol View commentary: Friday, February 28, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 1:05 PM, Feb 28, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-28 14:05:01-05

THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION COMES TO TENNESSEE ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE TENNESSEE SET UP FOR SUPER TUESDAY; THE WILD CARD EMERGING ISSUE: THE CORONAVIRUS; MORE ISSUES FOR GOVERNOR BILL LEE ON FAMILY LEAVE; PERMITLESS GUN CARRY BILL ALSO INCLUDES FELONY PENALTIES FOR STEALING A GUN; PLEA DEAL FOR KETRON; THE BUDGET AND OTHER METRO ISSUES; FOLLOW UPS;

THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION COMES TO TENNESSEE ON INSIDE POLITICS

Tennessee voters get their chance to participate in the nation’s presidential nominating process. Our state is among 13 others holding both Democratic and Republican primaries on Tuesday. Where does the race stand in Tennessee? And where are we headed nationally with so many delegates to the national conventions being selected on what’s known as Super Tuesday?

We’ve invited two of our best political analysts to join us this week on INSIDE POLITICS to sort everything out. They are Republican Debra Maggart and Democrat Larry Woods.

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.

THE TENNESSEE SET UP FOR SUPER TUESDAY

The early vote is over, and it contains a bit of a surprise.

With a late surge, slightly more Democrats (169, 447) than Republicans (167,018) have voted early or by absentee. It is not a big difference, and the Republican primary is a complete walk over win for President Trump who faces less than nominal opposition. The lack of a contested race among Republicans is one reason voter turnout overall is down compared to 2016 when both sides had contested presidential primaries.

Regardless, the Democratic edge is worth noting because Tennessee Democrats haven’t led Republican in any statewide count since Phil Bredesen was re-elected governor in 2006. That’s 14 years ago!

Who are these Democrats? Are they the new voters front runner Senator Bernie Sanders say he will bring to the polls to support his revolutionary progressive agenda? Are they late deciding Democrats, maybe trying to decide who would be the best Democratic nominee to beat Donald Trump and/or to stop Bernie Sanders from getting the nomination?

Here's one overview from THE HILL on how Super Tuesday looks as of late this week. Frankly, it looks rather muddled, largely due to a lack of polling in many states. I would add there is a late poll in Colorado (Thursday) that shows Sanders with a significant lead.

As we’ve noted before, the Democratic presidential candidates have been more active here than in the past. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is making his fourth trip to the state in the last three months. He is holding rallies Friday (today) in Memphis, Clarksville and Johnson City. With candidate time even more precious before Tuesday’s Super Tuesday vote in 14 states, Tennessee clearly seems to be a focus for Bloomberg along with Arkansas and Oklahoma according to his campaign. However sources tell me the Bloomberg campaign has cut back on some of media buys in the final days? Why is that? To spend it in a state where it might help Bloomberg?

Whatever he is doing in Tennessee, will it be enough to head off the national front runner, Senator Bernie Sanders? His wife was in Nashville on Wednesday to campaign for the Senator with an emphasis on the African American vote. Senator Amy Klobuchar is also in Nashville for a reception and fund raiser on Friday afternoon (today).

In terms of media, Bloomberg has aired and posted a wide variety of TV and on-line ads for months now and I have even gotten a couple of direct mail piece from his campaign. Bernie Sanders has been on TV in the state for about three weeks including finally beginning a second spot for some variety this week. Both Klobuchar and Tom Steyer had made late TV buys as has a Super PAC supporting Senator Elizabeth Warren. As for the other remaining Democratic candidates such as former Vice President Joe Biden, he has brought a small TV buy in Nashville while otherwise largely relying on volunteers and surrogate endorsements Mayor Pete Buttigeig has not aired any TV that I have seen. Late word is that Buttigieg is holding a rally in Nashville on Saturday afternoon. It will be similar to one he held in Nashville a few months ago, which drew a large crowd of close to 1,000 attendees.

As for Biden, his chances to win in South Carolina on Saturday (tomorrow) seem to be increasing based on late polls (and attack ads launched by a Trump Super PAC). How would a victory in the Palmetto State help Biden here? That could be hard with the vote in Tennessee coming just three days later.

No matter who wins in Tennessee (and it looks to be either Sanders or Bloomberg), the Democratic nominee looks to be a big underdog to President Trump in November. In fact, he seems likely to get more votes next Tuesday in the Volunteer State than whatever Democrat prevails.

Finally, it would seem one reason we seeing such late Democratic activity is candidates must sense they have a chance to win a delegate or two, if not by getting 15% of the vote statewide, but by getting over that same threshold in one of Tennessee’s 9 congressional districts where a portion of the state’s delegates will be allocated.

THE WILD CARD EMERGING ISSUE: THE CORONAVIRUS

As it has spread across the world in recent weeks, concerns continue to rise that the new coronavirus could soon become a worldwide pandemic, creating potential major issues for public health and the economy. This week, U.S. health officials said it is a matter of when, not if, the sometimes-deadly disease becomes an issue in this country. They urge taking personal precautions such as frequently washing your hands, and they want government officials to have plans ready to close schools, ban public gatherings, etc. if the disease breaks out in a significant way in their community.

Already financial markets are in sharp decline with Wall Street losing all its 2020 gains and losing between 3-4 thousand points on the Dow this week., including the biggest single one- day decline of over 1,200 points on Thursday alone. The week’s stock decline is the greatest since the 2008 Great Recession. President Trump is counting on a strong economy and stock market for his re-election. He has so far maintained that fears of a pandemic in the U.S. are overstated by Democrats and the media, and that the disease is likely to fade by later in the spring. The seeming disagreement the President has with government health experts seems to somewhat echo his ongoing fight with national security officials over past and current election interference by foreign governments. Late in the week ,after a backlash even from Republicans, about whether his administration is doing enough about the coronavirus, Mr. Trump placed Vice President Mike Pence in charge of overseeing the nation’s readiness on this public health issue.

The coronavirus is also becoming a topic for discussion in Tennessee’s U.S. Senate race. Nashville physician and Republican candidate, Dr. Manny Sethi has issued an 8-point plan to address the potential public health crisis. His plan seeks to thread the needle and find possible common ground between public health experts and the President.

THE TENNESSEAN

MORE ISSUES FOR GOVERNOR BILL LEE ON FAMILY LEAVE

This weekend, Sunday March 1, was when 38,000 Tennessee state workers were supposed to receive the added employee benefit of 12 weeks paid family leave. Amidst much fanfare back in January, Governor Bill Lee signed an executive order to that effect.

But Republican Legislative leaders have been slow to warm up the idea. They believe the General Assembly ought to approve such a move (executive orders can be rescinded by future governors). They also think the extended benefit will cost the state a lot more than the $1-$2 million the Lee administration suggests.
Upon further review, the Governor agreed to submit legislation to let lawmakers decide what to do. While voicing overall support for the benefit, efforts for lawmakers to pass it got complicated this week. A “fiscal note” required on all legislation, and based on a fiscal review done by legislative staff, says the cost to extend family leave to state employees to 12 weeks will be $15 million a year!

I still expect lawmakers to pass some kind of legislation in this area, but it may well be scaled back or extend the existing maternity leave benefit.
Regardless this has been less than a shining moment for the Lee administration in how it has has handled the matter.

Another administration effort that got applause during Governor Lee’s State of the State address earlier this month, is running into questions in committee. It’s a $68 million plan to address the problem of early childhood literacy. It is a problem that finds many Tennessee third graders reading well below grade level. State lawmakers are concerned the administration’s plan is too aggressive in its timing and implementation and it is not allowing enough input from teachers and local school boards.

PERMITLESS GUN CARRY BILL ALSO INCLUDES FELONY PENALTIES FOR STEALING A GUN

Every year, the Tennessee Legislature passes pro-gun ownership bills.

In that regard, Governor Bill Lee and the leadership of the Republican Super Majority appear to be together on a somewhat intriguing but highly controversial piece of guns legislation. The bill, if passed, would allow Tennesseans, without having a state permit, to freely carry weapons in the open or concealed. It is what gun supporters call “constitutional carry” and they pushed for it for years. Sixteen other states already allow it.

The fact that Governor Lee is leading the charge is surprising. “Constitutional carry” is not an issue he ran on when he was elected in 2018. The bill would also increase the penalties for stealing or illegally possessing an illegal firearm. The governor intends for the legislation to make theft of a firearm a felony, an offense that is currently a misdemeanor in Tennessee. It will also mandate a six-month incarceration sentence for the crime, up from the current 30-day requirement.

Sentencing will be enhanced when a gun is stolen from a car, as well as for providing a handgun to a juvenile and unlawful possession of a handgun by a felon.

Crimes committed with stolen firearms especially by minors, and often, taken from unlocked cars, is a growing problem in Nashville and elsewhere. Such a strengthening in penalties for the crime you might think could bring support from normally pro-gun control lawmakers (usually Democrats). But it does not appear the bill will have much impact on juveniles, and reaction so far about the measure has been along predictable lines. The National Rifle Association loves it. Democrats and some prosecutors and other law enforcement officials do not. So far business response is somewhat mixed.

Bottom line, I suspect, united with Governor Lee, the Republican Super Majority will pass it.

One other late breaking state government story that broke Friday morning (today) is a split decision from the Tennessee Supreme Court (3-2) upholding Tennessee’s monetary damage limits in tort cases. I worked with business groups to help pass this bill a few years back in my PR days. So, I probably ought not to comment except to observe this is a landmark decision by Tennessee’s highest court on a matter (limiting tort liability) that has been and will remain highly controversial.

PLEA DEAL FOR KETRON

The months-long investigation and legal battle regarding Kelsey Ketron, the daughter of Rutherford County Mayor Bill Ketron, has ended.

A former Republican party official, she was arrested last fall on dozens of charges including fraud and money laundering. Many of the 70 felony counts listed in the subsequent indictment in her case, stemmed from her work with her family's Murfreesboro insurance business, Universal International Insurance.

This week a plea bargain deal was reached. It includes many of the charges being dropped. The others were reduced to misdemeanors to which she pleaded no contest. In return, Ketron will be on probation for eight years; must perform 300 hours of community service and pay a $10,000 fine. She will also have to undergo random drug screenings and can no longer work in insurance or political campaigns. She will not serve any time in jail.

THE BUDGET AND OTHER METRO ISSUES

With Mayor Cooper deciding not to continue the tradition of public budget hearings prior to the submission of the next Metro annual spending plan by the end of March, members of the Metro Council are doing a series of their own community meetings to explain the city’s financial situation and get the views of attending about what Metro ought to do about the city’s financial situation, including raising taxes.

At the first Council session held in North Nashville, the response was not completely negative. Folks were wary, wanting to know if taxes rise, what’s in it for their neighborhoods.

If there is one man who Metro needs to satisfy with its next spending plan, its State Comptroller Justin Wilson. He called Metro on the carpet last fall over its budget being $40 million out of balance along with its water services being broke. Now he written an op-ed piece for THE TENNESSEEAN that may shed some light about what he hopes to see in Metro’s next operating budget. It is a spending plan that is set to be done a month earlier than usual (by the end of May, instead of end of June) so the Comptroller’s office can review it. The op-ed doesn’t mention Nashville by name but he does criticize budget and spending problems that have gotten Metro in trouble in the past.

In that regard, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce has been conducting an outside study about how Nashville compares in its spending and services provided compared to other peer cities. Results of the plan seem to indicate Nashville has more of a “not enough revenue” issue not a “spending too much” issue.

Under the city’s accelerated budget process, Mayor Cooper’s first State of Metro address will be on March 31 about a month earlier than usual. It comes as his office released its first capital spending plan late last week.

Mayor Cooper’s $154 million capital plan is much smaller than recent years, given the city’s budget issues. The spending is divided between schools and general government needs. The crunch for education means a new Goodlettsville elementary school will be built while a long hoped for new high school for Bellevue is being delayed. For the general government, million more is recommended to complete construction of the new headquarters for the Sheriff’s department which was woefully under- funded when first approved. The Council has passed legislation to reform the capital funding process to keep that from happening again. The new capital plan is still subject to approval by the Metro Council.

Meanwhile as if the Metro Council doesn’t have enough to argue about dealing with city issues, this week Councilman At Large Steve Glover got caught up in a controversy over some comments he posted on Facebook about the Boy Scouts of America.

In the area of schools, the search for a new Director of Schools is down to five finalists, who will be coming to Nashville early next month to meet with Metro School Board members, other city officials and the public. The School Board’s schedule is to make a job offer by late March. The finalists include the current acting Schools Director Dr. Adrienne Battle. She has been considered the favorite to land the job permanently.

One budget matter Metro schools is having to deal with stem from lawsuits settlements due to bad decisions made by the last Schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph concerning sexual harassment allegations. It’s an issue NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES has been reporting on from the day the issue surfaced.

Another perplexing budget issue for Metro is the growing debt at some schools over unpaid school lunch bills. It is not a long- term solution, but this year local churches and others are stepping forward to help.

The Tennessee Legislature has to stick its nose into the matter, some playing politics with an effort to stop children from being “shamed” over their lunch debt. Some Republican lawmakers this week tried unsuccessfully to kill the bill in committee.

Finally ,this week in Metro, Mayor John Cooper announced he is working with state lawmakers to try and resolve an issue many of us in Nashville have been frustrated to deal with when we are in the entertainment district downtown. It is those slow moving transpotainment” vehicles such as tractor-pulled hot tubs, repurposed firetrucks, and other similar slow-moving vehicles.

From a mayoral news release:

“We want to ensure that everyone who visits Music City has a great time,” said Mayor Cooper. “However, the complete lack of local control over these entertainment vehicles in one of our busiest neighborhoods has created safety concerns and tremendous headaches for both downtown brick-and-mortar businesses, residents, and local commuters. By working with the state, we hope to ensure that downtown Nashville remains a fun, world-class tourist destination while implementing commonsense policies that prevent traffic jams and disturbances to local residents and businesses.”

Tennessee municipalities currently have no authority to regulate slow-moving vehicles. SB2513, sponsored by Senator Steve Dickerson (along with its House companion bill HB2381, sponsored by Rep. Patsy Hazelwood) adds transpotainment to the list of passenger transportation service vehicles for which municipalities are empowered to regulate, including:

(1) safety policies for both participants and residents;

(2) the presence of industry vehicles on local roads during peak commute times; and

(3) preventing local business disturbance by loud music during normal hours of operation.
Even those who have help create Nashville as an IT City for tourists say its time for action. ““These vehicles initially added to the character and fun of the city, but with our rapid growth has come the unintended consequences of growing pains,” said Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. “While no one intends to eliminate this aspect of our entertainment, we need to make sure that downtown remains a great place to live and work, as well as visit.”

The bills are in the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee and in the House in the Safety & Funding Subcommittee. Will the GOP Super Majority give these measures a green light or will they get stuck in political traffic the way all of us do downtown behind these “transpotainment vehicles?”

Finally, Nashville has seen concern raised in recent weeks because the migration of those moving to the city has slowed. But apparently jobs and employment have not been drying up. THE WALL STREET JOURNAL says we are the second hottest job market in the country.

FOLLOW UPS

The NASHVILLE SCENE published two articles this week that are interesting follow-ups on stories that have been at the top of the headlines in recent weeks locally.

The other SCENE article digs into the bizarre story of Alex Friedmann, the anti-private-prison activist accused of planting weapons inside the about to open new Metro Jail downtown.

The other SCENE article digs into the bizarre story of Alex Friedmann, the anti-private-prison activist accused of planting weapons inside the about to open new Metro Jail downtown.