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Capitol View commentary: Friday, January 22, 2021

Capitol View
Posted at 11:22 AM, Jan 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-22 12:22:52-05

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

January 22, 2021

DEMOCRACY HAS PREVAILED; GETTING TO WORK; THE VIRUS SPIKE STARTING TO SLOW DOWN?; TENNESSEE HOUSE SPEAKER CAMERON SEXTON ON INSIDE POLITICS; OPENING ALL SCHOOLS TO IN PERSON CLASSES POLITICIZES SPECIAL SESSION; COVID-19 CREATING CONSTIUTIONAL CRISIS FOR SOME IN JAIL; A SPECIAL METRO COUNCIL COMMISSION PROPOSED TO STUDY PUBLIC SAFETY CHANGES IN THE WAKE OF THE SECOND AVENUE BOMBING; DOWNTOWN TOURISM GETS A MAJOR NEW DESTINATION;

DEMOCRACY HAS PREVAILED

With the lack of any crowd, and all the troops at the ready, you might have been deceived.

The United States of America, on January 20 of this week, once again successfully conducted the peaceful transfer of power in our government.

We have done it repeatedly, since the founding of the nation in 1792, and we did again!

But it was not easy, and it will remain difficult for the time being.

Joseph R. Biden became the 46th President of the United States just before high noon on a windy, cold, but sun- kissed day, in Washington D.C.

President Biden did so on the very spot, where just two weeks before, enraged supporters of his predecessor, Donald Trump, sought to overturn our democracy by seizing the U.S. Capitol, looting the building, killing 5 people, while also threatening to kill multiple elected officials, including Mr. Trump’s Vice President.

Such actions in many parts of the world might have sparked an all- out civil war. But, so far, not in America.

In fact, federal and state authorities moved quickly to identify and arrest many of the ringleaders of the riot, and to greatly tighten security for the inauguration and across the country (we had many more troops in D.C. than the country has in several hot spots around the world such as Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan). While security was increased in Nashville as the State Capitol, like Washington, we saw no major disruptions or protests leading up and during the Inauguration.

One week ago, and one week after the riot, again at the U.S. Capitol, a bi-partisan majority of the U.S. House feels it did its job, impeaching now former President Trump for “inciting” the protestors to march on Capitol Hill to overturn the November election. He will stand trial in the U.S. Senate soon, a move that may again test our ability to stay together as a nation.

All this has occurred as the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic had already put the brakes on many traditional inaugural activities, closing the National Mall in D.C., cancelling any inaugural balls, and making the inaugural parade a virtual one.

Yet the 2021 inaugural event, at least on TV, had many moments evoking national pride and patriotism, much like any of its predecessors. It even made history with Kamala Harris becoming the highest ranking female American official in our history, becoming the first female, woman of color and of South Asian ancestry to become Vice-President.

Yes. the inauguration went on as planned! It was different from any other ever held, but with the same result. When the American people elect their president, not even the sorest of losers will stop us.

Faced with some of the most difficult and divisive issues ever to face this country, President Biden is again calling for unity and healing, imploring we end “our uncivil war. ” The new President pledges to work as hard for those who voted for his opponent as he will for who supported him. Here is his inaugural speech in full.

GETTING TO WORK

Along with handling the political fallout of the upcoming impeachment trial of his predecessor, President Biden must also govern.

He and the previous President had profound disagreements on how to run the country. To that end, Mr. Biden sought to bring an immediate end to many Trump administration decisions by issuing executive order to reverse them. Seventeen such orders, on a broad range of issues, were signed and issued within hours of Mr. Biden’s swearing-in.

Mr. Trump took many of his important actions by executive order. Therefore to reverse the Trump legacy, by issuing a similar order reversing it, is a relatively quick way to do so. Indeed, there are still many more executive orders to come from President Biden over the next 10 days.

There are other matters in which President Biden wishes to change the direction of the country after the last four years. Those will take congressional action. Democrats control both houses of Congress, but the margins are very narrow. To that end, there was this letter from some Republican members of the House which may give Mr. Biden more hope.

One of the first executive orders issued by President Biden concerns many of the steps taken to restrict immigration. Those could have an impact here in Nashville, but new Republican Tennessee U.S. Senator Bill Hagerty is not in support.

In the area of the upcoming impeachment trial, comments this week by now Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell indicate he may be leaning to convict former President Trump. What would that mean to the chances that at least 17 GOP Senators would vote to convict Mr. Trump?

The articles of impeachment will be sent over from the House to the Senate on Monday. Even as it seems there is a consensus, for now at least, that the GOP votes in the Senate to convict won’t be there.

Senator McConnell also indicated this week that he would like to defer the impeachment trial until later in February to give former President Trump time to organize his defense. Democrats are not rejecting the delay although they want the time gained by the deferral to have the Senate move ahead on confirming the many cabinet and sub-cabinet appointments still pending, the hold up being because the Trump White House refused to start the process of the transition of power earlier.

THE VIRUS SPIKE STARTING TO SLOW DOWN?

This week marks the one- year anniversary of the first COVID-19 case being detected in the United States.

Now we have nearly 25 million cases reported in this country and over 400,000 deaths. That is more than the U.S. lives lost in World War II, in much less time. And the death toll is likely to go as high as half a million by Valentine’s Day.

The spread of the disease has been particularly strong in recent months.

But some researchers say there are signs, the current surge may be easing or plateauing, at least for now.

A decline in the onslaught of COVID-19 in the state of Tennessee seems to be happening, although the disease remains at very high levels.

During the city’s weekly briefing session on Thursday, Nashville health officials and Mayor John Cooper say the case numbers and the spread of the virus show similar encouraging signs in our community. Of course, there are lots of caveats with these projections.

For example, Nashville’s transmission rate is now below the goal of being less than 1. Almost all the other metrics to measure the disease are down from their peak earlier this month or late last year. But remember to see any continuing progress, we must continue to follow health recommendations to wear a mask, keep a distance and stay out of crowds, as well as washing our hands. There is also concern about continued hot spots for the virus across the country, as well as the more contagious variants of the virus that are spreading rapidly across the nation and the world (two of the variants were confirmed in Tennessee this week). At least one of these virus variants (from South Africa) may be so different, some think it may require some changes in the available vaccines.

On his first full day in the White House, new President Joe Biden focused on declaring war on COVID-19. For the first time, it appears the nation will have a coordinated, consistent national plan to wage this conflict. The plan (as outlined in one of the President’s new executive orders, includes a federal mask wearing “mandate” of sorts to try and stop the spread of the virus.

The new focus on the virus comes as previous efforts by the former Trump administration, to get the new vaccines into the arms of Americans, have been exposed as a complete fraud. This failure may also may it even more difficult to meet the Biden administration’s goal of administering 100 million vaccinations in its first 100 days (or by late Apri1.) All this is yet one more example of a Trump White House that overpromised and under delivered throughout the pandemic.

Across the country the lack of planning and not nearly enough vaccine serum is leading to cancelled efforts to administer scheduled shots in multiple cities and states across the country.

Both the State of Tennessee and Metro Nashville are doing what they can to use the few vaccine dosages they are receiving. It has been reported on Twitter by TENNESSEAN reporter Yihyun Jeong, that at the current rate of vaccine supply in Nashville, the city will not be able to start vaccinating teachers and child- care workers (about 25,000 people) until mid-February. As for the entire state, at this rate of vaccine supply, we are talking 3 years to finish the job!

TENNESSEE HOUSE SPEAKER CAMERON SEXTON ON INSIDE POLITICS

When the calendar says January, that means the Tennessee General Assembly has begun its work for the new year.

After an organizational session last week, Governor Bill Lee called lawmakers into a one- week special session to focus on education issues surrounding the ongoing pandemic.

After that, the 112th General Assembly will begin its regular work session stretching into the spring.

To give his insights and wisdom on what lies ahead for the Legislature this term, we welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS, the Speaker of the State House of Representatives, Cameron Sexton of Crossville.

We thank the Speaker for joining us.

Tune in!

UPDATE: The $160 million package of bills recommended by Governor Bill Lee to pass during the special session on education have been approved.

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:

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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 on my Facebook page as soon as it is available, usually on Monday or Tuesday.

OPENING ALL SCHOOLS TO IN PERSON CLASSES POLITICIZES SPECIAL SESSION

Even as the special session began, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, in his opening address to lawmakers, seems to blame, much if not all, the learning loss suffered by students in the state, on educators relying on virtual classes rather than in person instruction.

He did not mention any school systems or counties by name, but it seems pretty clear the Governor means Memphis/ Shelby County and Nashville/ Davidson County schools.

The Governor’s use of the phrase “follow the science” seems almost a retort to those who have repeatedly pressured Mr. Lee to impose a statewide mask mandate to fight COVID-19. I am not sure how further politicizing the virus issue helps anybody, but Nashville and Memphis lawmakers have been quick to respond and criticize Mr. Lee.

To further raise the volume on this issue, as if on cue (was it?), GOP lawmakers in the Legislature have unveiled a bill that would strip local school systems of some or all state funding unless they hold at least 70 in person class days this school year. That likely will be hard to achieve for Memphis and Nashville. State law requires at least 180 days of classes total. The proposal is getting strong opposition from Memphis and Nashville officials.

On Thursday, Nashville Mayor John Cooper and others adding his comments to criticize the Governor and the proposed law. The Mayor says it is not right to penalize students. Everyone he says want to get back in the classroom, but it must be done safely and by following science.

TENNESSEAN OP-ED

Efforts to pass the bill, to strip the funding from schools not offering in-person classes, was not brought to the floor for consideration in either the House or the Senate during the special session. The bill is still alive for consideration when lawmakers begin their regular session next month.

The COVID-19 virus does not care if lawmakers are in a special or regular session. Now there are reports, that for the first time, one of Tennessee’s state senators has fallen ill, and others in the upper chamber have been exposed. A number of House members have had the virus, with a couple hospitalized in past weeks. Efforts have been made to enforce social distancing on the Hill, but mask wearing remains optional.

COVID-19 CREATING CONSTIUTIONAL CRISIS FOR SOME IN JAIL

Here in Nashville and in states across the country, COVID-19 is creating a constitutional crisis for some of those in jail or others out awaiting trial. With few exceptions, there have not been any jury trials for nearly a year, and the Tennessee Supreme Court says, out of concerns about the virus, there won’t be any trials until at least March, maybe longer. Making matters even worse, the backlog of cases set to go to trial was already up to 18 months even before the pandemic.

All this leaves those in limbo filing legal motions, saying their constitutional right to a speedy trial has been violated. Nobody knows how this will get worked out, but in some states, inmates are being released or are having their charges dropped.

Another problem, those in jail, in many cases, have been charged but not convicted of a crime. Still because they are behind bars, they cannot get to the polls to vote. State Senator Brenda Gilmore wants to change that.

A SPECIAL METRO COUNCIL COMMISSION PROPOSED TO STUDY PUBLIC SAFETY CHANGES IN THE WAKE OF THE SECOND AVENUE BOMBING

The Christmas Day bombing on 2nd Avenue downtown may soon be the subject of an up to a year-long investigation by a special commission created by the Metro Council.

Such a proposal was approved on first reading last Tuesday night by the 40- member body. The ordinance will need two more approvals before it becomes law.

The nine- member commission is charged make any recommendations regarding public safety improvements.

Seven of its nine members would be appointed by Mayor John Cooper with the other two being the Chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee (or another Council Member designated by that Chair) and the Vice Mayor (or his designee).

The Commission will have subpoena power to conduct its investigation. It can also hold hearings, request the services of the Metropolitan Auditor, and, upon adoption of a resolution by the Council, engage the services of outside professionals. Subpoena power means the panel can compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of books, papers, and records pertinent to the investigation or any hearing, and to administer oaths to witnesses.

It is not clear why an investigation of this power and magnitude is needed. There are continuing questions about why Metro Police were aware via a complaint in 2019 from his former girlfriend and his lawyer, that the bomber was making explosive devices in his home and in the RV he later used in the bombing. Police admit they spoke to the bomber, but after being refused entrance to his property, they did not seek a search warrant from a judge to continue a probe.

There have also been questions raised about why the city allowed critical telecommunication equipment to be positioned in the downtown area rather in a rural location. The blast damaged the equipment, including knocking out 9-1-1 service in many parts of Tennessee and other states.

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile as efforts to raise money for the businesses and residents severely impacted by the bombing continue to move ahead successfully, some on the street are beginning to return to a bit of normal.

DOWNTOWN TOURISM GETS A MAJOR NEW DESTINATION

More than two decades in the making and located on the site of Nashville’s first downtown convention center, the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday last Monday was an excellent opportunity to have a “virtual ribbon cutting” for the new National African American Music Museum.

It will be a couple of weeks yet before the facility is open by appointment for the public for tours (due to the pandemic), but all indications are, it will another important new downtown tourist destination to begin to help an industry decimated to the tune of billions of dollars over the past year due to the virus.

The preliminary opening this week garnered national publicity.

You can get something of a sneak preview of the museum and make your reservations to take a tour here.

If Nashville wants to enhance its reputation as a city of music and a community committed to diversity and racial justice, this new museum seems to be an addition that will hit just the right note, in several ways, to do just that.