By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL 5 Political Analyst
January 28, 2022
REPUBLICAN SUPER MAJORITY GIVES FINAL APPROVAL TO REDISTRICTING; NASHVILLE DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN JIM COOPER WITHDRAWS FROM RE-ELECTION BID; THE CHAIR OF THE TENNESSEE DEMOCRATIC PARTY HENDRELL REMUS IS ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE WEEK IN COVID: OMICRON IS PEAKING BUT DEATHS AND OTHER CHALLENGES ABOUND; BANNING BOOKS; A HISTORIC SUPREME COURT APPOINTMENT LOOMS; NASHVILLE ROLLS INTO 2022 AFTER SETTING RECORDS IN 2021; STILL MORE PROMINENT NASHVILLIANS ARE LEAVING US
REPUBLICAN SUPER MAJORITY GIVES FINAL APPROVAL TO REDISTRICTING; NASHVILLE DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSMAN JIM COOPER WITHDRAWS FROM RE-ELECTION BID
The rumors began even as Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly were preparing to release the final version of their redistricting plan late last year.
The word was long time Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper would abandon his re-election efforts as the GOP proposal would divide (Cooper calls it dismember) Nashville’s Democratic-leaning congressional district into three Republican-leaning parts.
But at least for a couple of weeks before and after the new plan was unveiled, Congressman Cooper continued to speak out against the division of his district, saying it would hurt Nashville not to have its representative live in Davidson County and focus on Nashville’s urban needs.
Cooper also continued to indicate he was pursuing plans for re-election. He said as much when he appeared on my INSIDE POLITICS show the weekend of December 17.
But when the Republicans announced their proposed congressional lines just a few days later, he likely knew what that meant.
After running over 30 years of successful congressional campaigns, Jim Cooper knew he could not win another term. When the new district lines were given final approval on Monday night in State House, Cooper was ready to go public, saying less than 24 hours later, on Tuesday, that he is bowing out of another congressional race and is doing so early enough to give other potential Democratic candidates the time to raise the money and support needed to mount a campaign.
Some may have been surprised, thinking that Cooper would die with his political boots on, seeking to win a doomed to fail campaign to stay in Congress. Yes, it is disappointing for him to end his career the way he is, but I think it’s better than pursuing a “bridge too far” “last hurrah” effort that would not succeed.
As for those Democrats who will seek to run in Jim Cooper’s place, they face the most daunting of challenges to win in a district where a multi-term incumbent with huge name recognition numbers thinks he can’t win. Is there a Democrat that can?
On the Republican side there is already a potential candidate, Morgan Ortagus, who has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, although it is not clear if she plans to run. Ortagus is a newcomer to the Nashville area and likely unknown to voters.
Ortagus’ Trump support and her work with consultant Walt Baker, who helped elect both Tennessee’s U.S. Senators, Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty, makes her at least a candidate to watch. Ortagus moved to Nashville in 2021. She has maintained ties with former Trump Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is thought to have presidential aspirations.
Ortagus could be a rival for support for conservative Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles who has been eyeing the race. Meanwhile, the Trumps' support for Ortagus is being denounced by supporters of an already announced GOP 5thDistrict candidate Robby Starbuck, who is a conservative filmmaker. Others mentioned as potential GOP 5th District candidates are retired National Guard general Kurt Winstead and entrepreneur Baxter Lee.
Still, as week wore on, the MAGA revolt against the former President’s endorsement grew. By the way, one Republican source tells me the Trump endorsement came at the urging of his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner.
With all the emerging controversy in the right-wing side of the party, the potential front runner in the GOP 5th District congressional primary could well be former Tennessee Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, if she runs. A good bit of her former House District is in the new 5th District. I am told by one supporter of hers there is at least an 85% chance she will enter the contest.
The GOP primary in the 5th District will present personal political choices for Senators Blackburn and Hagerty. Both live in the new district. Who do they plan to vote for and support? Or will they sit out the primary and then support the nominee who will be heavily favored to win the November general election? Republican politics involving Davidson County has never been so high profile or consequential. That is just one way this new redistricting law is changing politics in this part of the state.
As for the other two congressional districts that now include portions of Nashville/ Davidson County, the two incumbents John Rose (6th District) and Mark Green 7th District) seem to be strong favorites to win their August primaries and re-election in the November general election.
As for the Democrats, it is unsure who might emerge to challenge the two GOP congressmen. An African American candidate, Odessa Kelly, was an announced candidate in the old 5th District, poised to give Congressman Cooper a potentially serious challenge in the August primary. She still sounded like a candidate when she sent out a Twitter statement about Jim Cooper’s not running.
“I don't have to imagine what it felt like for my parents to have their voices & votes erased in the Jim Crow South anymore,” she wrote. “We're living through a racist power grab. But I'm not giving up. My fire’s been lit. We've fought too hard for too long to let them take it all away now.”
Kelly says she is studying the new redistricting maps about how to proceed. Frankly, I don’t know if she is still in the new 5th District or now in either Congressman Green’s or Rose’s districts.
THE CHAIR OF THE TENNESSEE DEMOCRATIC PARTY HENDRELL REMUS IS ON INSIDE POLITICS
The impending loss of Congressman Jim Cooper’s seat is far from the only difficult challenge facing Tennessee Democrats.
The 2022 mid-term elections are just a few months away.
Historically, the party in power in the White House loses seats in Congress.
What will happen this year?
On INSIDE POLITICS this week, our guest is the chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, Hendrell Remus.
We will ask him his thoughts on what he expects to happen nationally and here in the Volunteer State. That includes the 5th Congressional District and the two others that include Davidson County.
There is also a promised lawsuit to be filed within days by the state party to get the recently approved GOP redistricting plan thrown out by the courts, including both the new congressional maps and the redistricting law for the 133 seats in the Tennessee General Assembly. A move that could be pursued in both the federal and state courts.
INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:
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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
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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 WEEK IN COVID: OMNICRON IS PEAKING BUT DEATHS AND OTHER CHALLENGES ABOUND
It appears, even in Tennessee, the omicron variant of COVID-19 is showing signs of peaking. Maybe by summer, the disease will become endemic like the flu. If there isn’t yet another variant.
So, we have heard this story before.
In fact, there is now emerging another version of the omicron variant.
Meanwhile, the continuing omicron decline doesn’t mean the hospitalizations and deaths are gone. Deaths from omicron are running more than 2,200 people a day, a number higher than what the nation suffered at times during the peak of the Delta variant outbreak. As it has been in recent months, most of those dying are unvaccinated.
With the country now approaching 1 million total deaths from the disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week looking forward to the weeks ahead:
“COVID-19 deaths will remain stable or have an uncertain trend over the next 4 weeks, with 4,900 to 25,600 new deaths likely reported in the week ending February 19, 2022. The national ensemble predicts that a total of 923,000 to 979,000 COVID-19 deaths will be reported by this date.”
At the same time, the dislocations in our schools and our health care system from this highly contagious virus strain is creating ongoing issues because so many are out with the disease. In nearby Wilson County that includes students, teachers and staff.
Nashville is continuing to see a record spike of cases in schools.
The problems are equally difficult to keep some hospitals appropriately staffed. Even using outside staffing agencies is leading to complaints of “price gouging.”
The nation’s vaccination rate continues to inch higher (76% with one dose, almost 64% fully vaccinated). But in the wake of a recent Supreme Court ruling that nixed the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate order for businesses with 100 employees or more, such efforts are being abandoned for now, leaving the best effort to arrest COVID-19 up to what individuals think is best for them. It’s the everybody for themselves approach.
In that regard, it seems here in Tennessee the Tennessee Department of Health seems poised to enforce a federal mandate for nursing home employees, along with other health care workers, to be vaccinated. It is a requirement the Supreme Court has upheld. Yet the state Health Department has no rules that their own employees be vaccinated.
Even the booster shots being strongly recommended are now seeing only a 40% participation rate and those seeking the extra dab have declined by half compared to December.
At the same time, Republican state lawmakers seem to remain at odds with the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners about what to do about doctors who spread false and misleading information about COVID-19. The Board has further tweaked its on-line policy statement and says the group must remain a source of truth. But state lawmakers have passed a law to keep doctors from being disciplined over how they treat COVID prevention and treatment. Despite several complaints against doctors, the Medical Examiners Board has taken no action.
Despite all this confusion and politics, stay safe. Take advantage of the free test kits being sent out by the federal government. More free masks are also available. Wear them when you are out in the public. Covid and omicron may be peaking but the virus is not gone, and it remains highly contagious.
As if our school systems don’t have enough challenges to face, now an effort to ban certain books from school curriculum is gaining strength, including here in Tennessee. You might think the move focuses on race but in McMinn the effort is to remove a Pulitzer Prize-winning book about the Holocaust. Once again, some think Tennessee is getting national, even international publicity for all the wrong reasons.
There is also a more broad-based effort to restrict or remove books gaining strength in Williamson County.
A HISTORIC SUPREME COURT APPOINTMENT LOOMS
This week it became clear President Joe Biden will soon be making his first nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
That happened because 83-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer announced he plans to retire at the end of the current court term in June.
Breyer, considered a liberal member of the court, has been under pressure from other progressives to step down so President Biden can make his replacement choice while Democrats still control the Senate, which must confirm the selection. Breyer has been balking about leaving but now seems ready to go.
All appointments to the High Court are historic but this one may be even more so. It won’t change the balance of power on the Court which strongly favors Republicans, But the appointment could well allow President Biden a chance to fulfill a campaign pledge. While running for President in 2020, Mr. Biden several times promised he would nominate the first African American woman to be elevated to the Court. These judges appear on the short list of who the President is considering.
The Democrats cannot expect much, if any, Republican support. Therefore, to confirm the President’s choice, Senate Democrats must be united, a condition that has eluded them in the recent efforts to pass the Build Back Better bill as well as changing the filibuster rules to approve voting rights legislation.
But so far, the two Democratic Senators who have resisted being united, Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, have voted for the President’s judicial nominations.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is pledging to move quickly on whoever President Biden nominates. He said that will happen “with all deliberate speed.” That may be an unfortunate phrase to use since it was invoked in the Supreme Court decision to desegregate schools in 1954. It took decades to accomplish what the High Court mandated.
As for the Republicans, if Democrats are united GOP Senators can possibly try to delay the confirmation but they likely can’t stop it.
NASHVILLE ROLLS INTO 2022 AFTER SETTING RECORDS IN 2021
As Nashville rolls into the new year, it enters 2022 in the glow of setting several records as 2021 ended.
First, the New Year Eve celebration held at the foot of Historic Broadway set a new record for visitors spending.
According to the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. the live event generated an estimated $30 million in direct visitor spending. This marks a 12% increase over 2019’s record-breaking $26.6 million in visitor spending.
The Nashville Convention Center also announced that the event provided a boost to the local economy with a record 29,118 hotel rooms sold on Dec. 31, 2021. This was an increase of more than 25,529 sold on Dec. 31, 2019.
As for Nashville’s projected population growth, experts see an explosion in the next five years of another 200,000 people moving to the 10-county mid-state region that encompasses greater Nashville. That would mean 40,000 new residents coming here each year or 109 people each day. The previous record was 109 people moving here daily back in 2016.
No wonder anticipating that kind of growth (and traffic), Mayor John Cooper plans to use federal money to build a new traffic management center. Let’s hope that works better than the multiple efforts over the years to synchronize traffic signals to improve our vehicle flow. The funds for the new traffic management will be going to the Metro Council soon for approval.
Finally, Nashville set a record in 2021 for the number and dollar amount for building permits issued. Those totals are 14,600 building permits valued at nearly $5.5 billion. It is the first time in history the city has issued more than 14,000 permits in a single year. In 2020, those numbers totaled $4.6 billion for 11,482 building permits.
Get used to seeing lots of construction activity along with cranes dotting our ever-expanding skyline.
Meanwhile there continues to be changed in the top levels of Mayor John Cooper’s office. The latest includes the departure of the top aide that has been dealing with transportation and infrastructure issues.
Nashville’s continued record growth comes as the latestnational GDP (Gross Domestic Product) numbers showed the greatest increase since 1984. That came despite the omicron disruption which was a factor in making the nation’s economic rebound, uneven at best. Across the country and here in Nashville and Tennessee the biggest challenge remains spreading the economic good news to all segments our economy and population. Inflation is back at a 40-year high, offering more challenges along with higher interest rates as 2022 moves ahead.
STILL MORE PROMINENT NASHVILLIANS ARE LEAVING US
I talked about this in last week’s column.
We are just four weeks into 2022, but we have already seen a number of prominent citizens of Nashville pass away.
One is Earl Swensson, a long -time architect who left his mark on Nashville’s built environment and skyline. That includes the iconic Batman Building downtown. He also designed the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, multiple buildings on the campus of Belmont University, the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt, Centennial Medical Center and Summit Medical Center. Even NewsChannel 5's TV studios on James Robertson Parkway was designed by Mr. Swensson.
One personal note about Earl Swensson. I worked with him on several projects including the event to unveil the Batman building design. The resemblance of the design to the Caped Crusader’s cowl was something we discussed. At first the building’s owners, South Central Bell were not warm to the comparison, but we told them it might be a positive thing to make the building iconic and unforgettable.
And so it has become.
The city’s Hispanic community has lost a prominent leader this week. Eliud Trevino was a pioneering journalist, broadcaster, and a community activist. He passed away from COVID.
I knew Mr. Trevino well as he served for several years on the Metro Emergency Communications 9-1-1 Board, which was one of my public relations clients. I always sought his counsel about the best ways to make sure the Board’s public education and outreach efforts to reach the growing Hispanic community were on target. He will be missed.
Another civic loss to Nashville is the death on Sunday January 23of renowned jazz musician Bobbe “Beegie” Adair. Coming to Nashville from Kentucky, she became a session musician, working on the Johnny Cash television show, the Ralph Emery Show and the WSM Noon Show broadcast. During her 65-year career, she was a sought-after studio musician, and contributed to the recordings of such legendary performers as Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Clifton Davis, Henry Mancini, Delbert McClinton, Joe Williams, Chet Atkins, Lucille Ball, Steve Allen, Dinah Shore, Mandy Barnett, Ray Stevens, Boots Randolph, Hank Garland, Mama Cass Elliott, Peggy Lee and many others. Ms. Adair appeared on well over 100 albums, with more than 35 studio albums recorded with her trio mates, bassist Roger Spencer and drummer Chris Brown, over the last 25 years. With over 2 million albums sold to date, the Beegie Adair Trio is widely recognized as one of the most successful, respected working jazz acts in the world. She also hosted Improvised Thoughts, a popular radio talk/music show for NPR, featuring local and international jazz artists.
Bobbe “Beegie” Adair clearly created and earned her own special place in the Nashville Sound that makes this city so unique.
Her passing garnered national recognition.