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Capitol View commentary: Friday, July 10, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 1:37 PM, Jul 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-10 14:37:24-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

July 10, 2020

THE VIRUS BRINGS ANOTHER WEEK OF GRIM MILESTONES AND DISTURBING NEW INFORMATION; METRO SCHOOLS DIRECTOR DR. ADRIENNE BATTLE IS ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE STATE AND METRO BATTLE THE VIRUS SPIKE; A DAY TO BEGIN RACIAL RECONCILIATION IN TENNESSEE; THE METRO COUNCIL GRAPPLES WITH POLICE REFORM AND SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUES; TENNESSEE GOP U.S. SENATE RACE BECOMES A BATTLE OF POLLS; NO PRESIDENT IS ABOVE THE LAW

THE VIRUS BRINGS ANOTHER WEEK OF GRIM MILESTONES AND DISTURBING NEW INFORMATION

This week saw the coronavirus pandemic approaching thirteen million cases worldwide while the United States surpassed the 3 million mark for infections. Those are big numbers for a disease that has been spreading for less than a year worldwide and about 7 months in this country.

The U.S. remains by far the nation with the most cases (in fact, almost 25% of all cases worldwide) This week with states like California, Arizona, Texas and Florida seeing major spikes in the virus, we also continue to see daily records nationwide for new cases at now over 60,000. Some medical experts are saying the numbers could reach 100,000 daily if we don’t get things under control.

But Disney World in Florida despite record virus cases there.

Even more disturbing is new information is that COVID-19 is a disease that can be spread more by airborne transmission than previously thought. There are also disturbing new reports of new symptoms, warning signs and complications from the disease.

But President Donald Trump continues to downplay the virus saying 99% of cases are “totally harmless,” a comment few seem to support, and one that is rated False.

On the world scene, President Trump made it official, sending paperwork to the United Nations to end the country’s involvement in the World Health Organization. It’s a move that Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander sees as ill-timed.

The W.H.O. exit doesn’t take effect until next year after the November election, so it may not happen.

The President this week is also pushing to open all K-12 schools, demanding in- person classes despite guidance from the government health experts, and despite all but a few states seeing a spike in virus cases. He is threatening those states who don’t reopen that he will seek to take away their federal funding, although it is not at all clear he has the power to do that.

At first, when President Trump criticized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines on reopening schools as being too tough, Vice President Mike Pence announced the CDC regulations would be redone and softened by next week. But by Thursday CDC officials announced there will not be a redo. However in another surprising comment, the director of the CDC told reporters keeping schools closed creates more health issues for children than opening them will.

As has been typical throughout the pandemic, our national leaders in Washington continue to send out mixed, conflicting messages, actions which hardly show effective leadership.

The conflicting messages and information continued at the end of the week as President Trump again went after the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Tennessee education officials say re-opening schools does not have a “one size fits all” solution.

METRO SCHOOLS DIRECTOR DR. ADRIENNE BATTLE IS ON INSIDE POLITICS

It is proving to be one of the most vexing, and now politically polarizing problems in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

How to get schools re-open safely?

Nashville is among the many communities facing this challenge.

The Director of Metro Public Schools Dr Adrienne Battle on Thursday of this week released her system’s latest plan to restart instruction in early August. It calls for virtual instruction for all 86,000 local students until at least Labor Day, leaving parent reaction divided.

Dr. Battle is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

With all she has on her plate, we appreciate her joining us. Tune in!

This week’s INSIDE POLITICS will air on the main channel of NEWSCHANNEL5 WTVF-TV at 6:30 PM.

INSIDE POLITICS will also air 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. 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.

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.

THE STATE AND METRO BATTLE THE VIRUS SPIKE

In last week’s CV column, I talked a lot about the pressure building on Governor Bill Lee to move outside his political comfort zone with President Trump and issue some of executive order regarding masks. I wasn’t a bit surprised when Friday afternoon (after my column was sent out) the Governor gave the mayors in 89 of the state’s 95 counties (the ones without a health departments) the authority to issue mask orders similar to the ones adopted in Nashville, Memphis Knoxville, Jackson and Knoxville.

Some Middle Tennessee counties have now issued mask orders. Some have not.

Cheatham County: No mandate

Coffee County: No mandate

Davidson County: Mask mandate for all residents

Maury County: No mandate

Montgomery County: Mandate for employees of public businesses

Robertson County: Mask mandate for all residents

Rutherford County: Mayor says no mask mandate

Sumner County: Mask mandate for all residents

Williamson County: Mask mandate for all residents

Wilson: No mandate; announcement expected

Dickson County: no mask mandate but strong encouragement to wear them

In something of a surprise Tuesday night, the Nashville Metro Council rejected a resolution endorsing the city’s mask mandate. The vote was 11 members for, 18 against with 11 members abstaining. Those who voted no said they support the wearing of masks but they think the penalty for violation, which is a Class C criminal misdemeanor, is too severe. The Council later during its meeting strengthened local mask wearing requirements by making them mandatory for all essential employees and holding their employers liable if that doesn’t happen.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper has expressed his support for the surrounding counties who are issuing mandatory mask orders to fight the virus. He is also becoming more vocal about the wisdom of the state allowing the counties in the Nashville region to work together more on virus issues. But so far, Governor Lee has not seemed to show much interest in that idea.

With the state experiencing a 121% increase in cases after reopening the economy in June, the Governor is getting renewed pressure from more than three dozen critical care doctors from across Tennessee to issue his own manditory statewide mask order and get tough on enforcement.

The virus is respecting no political boundaries as seems to be different and changing in its demographics, both across the state and where it has its hot spots in Nashville. Spoiler alert: the hot spot has moved from Antioch and southeast Nashville to downtown and the inner loop of Nashville. And while state shows an older age group driving the virus increase in some areas, in Nashville the younger demographic is the dominant group in the city and Mayor Cooper says the spike is coming from folks doing a lot of non-essential activities that carry a higher risk of catching the virus.

For now, both Metro and the state seem to be keeping on top of the curve of the virus and have enough hospital bed, ICU, and PPE capacity to handle things. But there does seem to be concern about a potential shortage of health care workers and if more people don’t become or remain diligent about wearing masks and practicing social distancing some health leaders say the state and local situation could change dramatically and it could happen quickly.

Both the state and Metro saw single day records for virus cases this week and counts remain significantly elevated in the numbers each day. The state has also experienced its deadliest week so fatr from COVID-19. Metro is reporting some numbers from tests done in late June which has led to questions and the city changing one of its lab partners for tests. This delay in tests results being reported has a problem for Tennessee and is a growing challenge for states across the country.

A DAY TO BEGIN RACIAL RECONCILIATION IN TENNESSEE

At the request of Governor Bill Lee, the Tennessee Capitol Commission voted 9-2 Thursday to remove the controversial bust of Confederate General and Ku Klux Klan leader Nathan Bedford Forrest from the State Capitol to the Tennessee State Museum.

The move is step one in the process. The Tennessee Historical Commission must also approve the idea by a two-thirds majority. That group won’t likely take up the matter until at least October. By the way, a couple of years ago, the Historical Commission rejected a move to change the name of an academic building on the Middle Tennessee State University campus that bears General Forrest’s name.

The Forrest bust has been in the Capitol since the 1970s, placed between the State House and Senate chambers. Controversy over the piece intensified in recent weeks in the wake of social justice protests and Confederate and other statues being removed, and in some cases, destroyed nationwide, in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis.

The request by the Governor Lee marked an evolution of his stance on the matter. As a candidate for Governor in 2018, he opposed a move, then later said the bust should stay on the second floor of the Capitol, but with more unspecified context added. With protestors staying at the Capitol for the last month demanding the bust removal, the Governor on Wednesday unveiled his plan to move it to the State Museum saying the bust is hurtful to African Americans and its removal is in the best interest of all the citizens of the state.

The vote by the Capitol Commission also marks a change by that group which had rejected previous efforts to remove the Forrest bust as recently as 2017. The makeup of the body has been changed in recent years with the appointment of new members, including more African Americans. The removal of the Forrest bust was amended to include two other famous Tennessee military men who are honored with busts in the Capitol: Federal Civil War Admiral David Farrragut and Spanish American War and World War I Admiral Albert Gleaves.

Lawmakers and some members of the public spoke to the Capitol Commission during its deliberations. Those who addressed the Commission included Nashville State Senator Brenda Gilmore. At times, choked with emotions, Gilmore said a vote to remove the Forrest bust would be the first of many necessary steps to bring “racial reconciliation” to Tennessee.

The Senator’s comments are well said, for an action long overdue, and still not yet achieved.

THE METRO COUNCIL GRAPPLES WITH POLICE REFORM AND SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUES

The Metro Council got knee-deep in police reform and social justice issues Tuesday night.

The Council passed a resolution requesting Mayor John Cooper include a representative from the Community Oversight Board, a representative from community organizations and advocacy groups, and a representative from the Fraternal Order of Police on a committee to select the next Chief of Police to succeed Steve Anderson who is retiring.

The selection committee process has not yet begun, yet there are reports of a frontrunner among potential in house candidates to be Chief.

The Council also approved a resolution asking the Metropolitan Civil Service Commission designate Juneteenth (June 19 each year) as a Metropolitan Government holiday.

But when the Council got into police hiring practices and the use of force, there was not a consensus. It deferred a resolution to prohibit the Department from hiring police officers who were previously fired or under investigation by another law enforcement agency for malfeasance or use of force. The Council Office noted in its analysis that “it is questionable whether the Council has the authority to legislate police hiring practices.”

The Council also deferred a resolution to incorporate certain limitations on police use of force. Again, Council staff noted ‘it is questionable whether the Council has the legal authority under the Metro Charter to require the Chief of Police to modify departmental policies.”

There were other police related measures on first reading on the agenda last Tuesday. The Council will consider them in two weeks. Usually the Council passes first reading bills routinely into committee for future debate. But a bill to ban the use of tear gas by police, the Council debated on first reading Tuesday anyway, barely approving it 16-13-10. It should be noted the proposed law takes 21 votes for approval, when and if gets to third and final reading.

The Council also indefinitely deferred a bill that would end the city’s contract with the private corrections company Core Civic effective in 2022. Some councilmembers don’t like the concept of private corrections, but the replacement process and the ongoing operations cost of replacing CoreCivic, has been an issue.

Those who want to end private corrections got a boost recently when Sheriff Daron Hall said he can operate the Metro facility that CoreCivic handles at no additional cost to the taxpayers, outside of a $5 million cost to make the transition. That angered CoreCivic which sent a letter to councilmembers that it will walk away from the Metro contract which ends this month, except for a 90 day transition period.

In a bind to identify a new operator that quickly, the Council moved to defer the bill indefinitely as a sign of good faith to work out an acceptable exit for the private prison firm. I understand they hope Sheriff Hall can be their negotiator. Good luck!

The Tuesday Council meeting was again a marathon, running from 6:30 P.M. Tuesday night to 3:15 A.M. Wednesday morning. I was there for every minute of it (yawn). The meeting continues a record, covering at least its last four meetings, (three in June and one in July). The Council has not conducted a meeting that ended on the same day the meeting began.

Besides dealing with 27 zoning bills, the Council spent the biggest part of its time on a single bill (about 2 hours) debating, amending and giving final approval (25-14) to a bill that legalizes a new system for allowing and regulating home businesses. The measure has been under consideration for nine months and has been though two full substitutions to rewrite the bill. It was amended once more early Wednesday morning to sunset the law in January 2023 so Council can either extend it, modify it, or scrap it and write a new law. By the way, August 2023 is the next election for all 40 Council members.

The biggest change in the new law is to allow a limited number of customers to visit home businesses. This is seen as particularly helpful for home recording studios (a major enterprise in Nashville) along with music teachers, tutors, and those who operate personal care businesses.

Those who favor the new law say it will bring a new day, as business models continue to evolve and change in the wake of the pandemic. Opponents say it will bring traffic, noise and enforcement issues worse than what the city has faced with short term rental properties.

TENNESSEE GOP U.S. SENATE RACE BECOMES A BATTLE OF POLLS

Ever since the Tennessee U.S. Senate race to replace the retiring Lamar Alexander took shape a few months ago, the consensus has been that Bill Hagerty, former U.S. ambassador to Japan and Tennessee ECD commissioner, was the front runner to win the August primary. These days winning that election in a deep red GOP state, is tantamount to winning the seat. One of Hagerty’s big advantages in the race is his endorsement by President Donald Trump, who remains very popular especially among Tennessee Republicans.

But this week the reading of the race was challenged by an internal poll released by the campaign of Dr. Manny Sethi, who is the strongest rival to Hagerty in the Senate contest. The Sethi poll shows the race within the margin of error, with Hagerty up just two points.

Hagerty: 33%

Sethi: 31% (+16 since June 2)

Undecided: 30%

George Flinn: 6%

In response, the Hagerty campaign, of course, sees the race very differently, with a comfortable lead for their candidate based on a July 1 poll.

Hagerty: 46%

Sethi: 29%

George Flinn: 5%

Undecided: 18%

Other candidates: 2%

Regardless, Sethi supporters are so encouraged, they say they are guarding against over confidence. They say there is an enthusiasm advantage they see in campaign events across the state. Of course, in the age of Covid, campaign events are hard to find and difficult to read in terms of significance. But the Sethi team points to what happened in the Jackson area in early July. Both candidates appeared at the same location and spoke at different times on the same day. Sethi’s campaign says he drew the bigger crowd and stayed to answer questions, while Hagerty left after speaking, in order to attend another event.

So which poll is accurate? Late in the week, a third public poll surfaced. It’s a survey conducted by the Trafalgar Group. It shows the race at 42.3% Hagerty to 38.6% for Sethi. Less than a 5% point difference.

Remember all campaign polls are suspect. Not necessarily wrong but suspect, because they come from folks who have a vested interest in the outcome. The public poll shows the race not quite as close as Sethi’s team says it is, but not the blowout the Hagerty campaign projects.

Here's another way you can gauge how close the race is.

Both campaigns are running a significant amount of TV advertising. But neither side has gone negative against the other. A pro-Sethi PAC has aired on-line videos criticizing Hagerty for not being a true supporter of the President based on the other GOP candidates he supported for President back in 2016. As far as I know, Hagerty has not responded to the PAC attack.

But if the race is as tight as the Sethi campaigns suggests, some kind of ad attack either by the Hagerty campaign or by a supportive PAC seems both likely and necessary to try and stop Sethi’s momentum. With early voting starting not too many days from now, those attack ads need to start very soon to have any impact with voters.

Watch carefully what happens. Will the race go negative? That could provide some indication from the perspective of the campaigns how close the Senate race is……or isn’t.

NO PRESIDENT IS ABOVE THE LAW

The U.S. Supreme Court has issued its last ruling of its latest, historic term. The High Court handed down a split decision upholding a New York state prosecutor’s authority to access President Trump’s tax returns but dealing at a least a delay to congressional Democrats who also sought Trump’s records.

Even though he won at least a tactical victory (it seems unlikely his taxes will be public knowledge during the rest of presidential campaign), the President went off on Twitter. I am sure it didn’t help his mood that the two Justices he has nominated and placed on the Court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh voted against him in 7-2 votes in both cases.

In both rulings, even the one keeping Congressional Democrats from getting Mr. Trump’s tax information, the Court made it clear, no President is above the law.

With the Court term over and Congress on recess for most of July, the latest weekly filings for unemployment assistance didn’t have much of a political audience to react. The national numbers showed some improvement, but they still do not reflect the latest virus spikes, causing new economic pullbacks and layoffs in some major states, meaning the economy still has a long recovery ahead.

The unemployment application numbers in Tennessee were the highest since back in May.

There continues to be talk of another virus relief bill when Congress returns. But there is a lot to work out to get a bill pulled together and passed.