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Capitol View commentary: Friday, July 31, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 11:13 AM, Jul 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-31 12:13:47-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

July 31, 2020

TENNESSEE SEES VIRUS SURGE CONTINUE AS STATE MOURNS 1,000 DEATHS AND 100,000 CASES; TENNESSEE BACK TO SCHOOL POLICY DRAWS CONCERNS; SIGNS OF VIRUS IMPROVEMENT BUT NASHVILLE REMAINS IN SERIOUS BUT STABLE CONDITION; DR. MANNY SETHI IS GUEST ON INSIDE POLITICS THIS WEEK; STALEMATE IN WASHINGTON ON MORE VIRUS RELIEF WHILE EXTRA UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS END AND QUARTERLY GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT EXPERIENCES WORST CRASH EVER; MAYOR COOPER ANNOUNCES POLICE CHIEF SELECTION PROCESS AS NEW MOVE TO CUT PROPERTY TAX HIKE LOOMS IN THE COUNCIL;

TENNESSEE SEES VIRUS SURGE CONTINUE AS STATE MOURNS 1,000 DEATHS AND 100,000 CASES

Another grim week as Tennessee mourns its 1,000th death and reports 100,000 cases suffered from COVID-19.

Almost 40% of those cases are still active. Some health experts fear the worst is still to come as the virus seems to be spreading more into the rural parts of the state.

These disturbing numbers come as Dr Deborah Birx, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, visited the state on Monday. Her trip is part of a move to have top health officials go to states that are considered hot spots for the virus.

With the nation going over 150,000 in deaths this week, President Donald Trump continues to go solo in doing the White House coronavirus media briefings. It led to another strange week, to say the least, from what the President said.

When Dr. Birx came to Tennessee she urged Governor Bill Lee to take action by closing bars and cutting back on in-service restaurant service.

These are moves other hard-hit states such as our neighbor to the north, Kentucky have implemented at the request of Dr. Birx. But Governor Bill Lee says he will not do that. He also continues to refuse to impose a statewide mandate to wear masks, saying those actions work best when the public officials closest to local citizens impose such requirements.

Curious, isn’t it? The State Legislature is always imposing restrictions on what local governments can do, even nullifying local laws approved by those same local officials who Governor Lee says are so well positioned to require masks. Since he has been Governor, Bill Lee has never objected or vetoed efforts by the General Assembly to restrict local governments in the state. Of course, in terms of mandating masks, it’s the local officials who will catch any political heat about taking that action, not the Governor. Funny how leadership works. Or how it doesn’t.

Tennessee’s lack of action is also raising concerns from Dr. Birx’s colleague, Dr. Anthony Fauci. He sees bad signals that our area and this part of the country could be the next big hot spot.

Adding to the federal government’s increased interest in Tennessee and its COVID-19 status is an oversight committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. It wants to know what is going on.

It is demanding the Governor’s office send them all the communications and recommendations the state has received from the White House and the Coronavirus Task Force. A good bit of the information that the state is a “hot spot” has come from internal documents or information leaked to the media, but never released to the public.

So far, no response by the Governor’s office. But throughout this pandemic the Lee administration has been reluctant to share information. Even now, the extra nature of the budget cuts approved by the General Assembly to deal with loss of revenue due to the virus shutdown of the state still remains shrouded in secrecy a full month into the state’s new fiscal year.

One budget matter that did come to light this week. In the month of June alone the State of Tennessee spent $850,000 for overtime to bring a number of State Troopers to Nashville to protect the Capitol after protestors have occupied the adjoining Legislative Plaza (they call it the Ida D. Wells Plaza) demanding that the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue be removed and that Governor Bill Lee meet with them, neither of which has happened, so the protests have continued with some occasional interactions and arrests and more overtime costs for July which have not been disclosed.

There was another involving arrests at the Capitol overnight as the protestors approach 50 days on site.

One ray of good news for the state, at least about COVID-19 this week, Wednesday and Thursday saw more people added to the recovered list than the number of people added as new virus cases.

TENNESSEE BACK TO SCHOOL POLICY DRAWS CONCERNS

This week Governor Bill Lee unveiled his long- awaited guidelines on how Tennessee schools should reopen in the next few weeks. The preference in his plan is to re-open with in person classes. He says in person classes are “the best option with the danger to young people and their future is greater with schools closed, than re-opening them for the first time since March. the Governor says opening with virtual classes (as Nashville and Memphis plan to do until Labor Day) amounts to “planned delays that should be reserved for the most extreme situations.”

But the pushback and the questions being raised about the Governor’s plan have been significant. The Tennessee Nurses Association says while in person instruction is preferred, the recommendations from the CDC say the first priority in opening schools is the “positivity” of the virus in the community. And in many parts of the state the rate of the virus spread is just too high. The group thinks the state also ought to do more to protect students, teachers and families by adopting the CDC guidelines on what to do if someone in school tests positive.

Indeed here in Metro, even before on line classes begin, virus cases are being detected as preparations for instructions were underway at one school.

There also concerns about the increasing number of school age children in Tennessee, in just the last 10 days, who have been found to have the virus.

Also speaking out are a group of ministers urging the Governor not to push an in class opening of schools.

Some teachers are unhappy with the state back to school plan. Nashville’s teachers’ union joined by others across the state held a “Die-In” urging schools not re-open for in person instruction until there has been at least 14 days with no new virus cases in the community.

There is also a new study that young school children might spread the virus more easily than adults. Others want to see more study on that topic.

The Governor’s plan also green lighted high school football and girls soccer to begin practice and start their seasons on time next month. The move is getting calls from Nashville health and education leaders to defer moving ahead so quickly.

As for how the public will learn if going back to school in Tennessee through in person classes is safe, it won’t be through the Lee administration. It will be up to the grape vine and individual school systems or individual schools to announce if students, teachers or staff test positive for COVID-19, and how many are quarantined, etc. No data will come from the Tennessee Department of Health.

SIGNS OF VIRUS IMPROVEMENT BUT NASHVILLE REMAINS IN SERIOUS BUT STABLE CONDITION

In contrast with the State of Tennessee, Nashville officials have been scaling back their economic reopening in the wake of the recent virus spike.

A mask mandate for anyone going out in public has been in effect for three weeks now. The city has also moved back into a modified Phase II of its reopening plan. That includes closing all bars for the last two weeks , a move that will now stay in place until mid-August. A 10 p.m. curfew for restaurants or any businesses that serves alcohol remains in effect as well until the middle of next month.

There has been quite a bit of confusion about whether city’s various forms of transpotainment can stay on the road. First the ban didn’t apply to every business. Then the vehicles could operate if they didn’t sell alcohol. Now it appears they are all shut down to maintain social distancing and good health.

It has taken a few weeks but now there are signs that these efforts, especially wearing masks are bending the curve of the virus, even though vigilance to keep on keeping on remains the key. As Mayor John Cooper put it on Tuesday: Nashville remain in serious condition, but the city is stable for now, even though this week a record for the highest number of deaths in one day was observed and mourned.

COVID-19 has been and continues to be a virus of hot spots, including nursing homes, prisons and jails among other place. A new one that may bear watching is the Metro Fire Department where first responders not only put out blazes, they also respond to medical emergency calls as trained EMTs.

Friday saw even more good news in terms of new cases, down to just 132 in the past 24 hours. That is by far the lowest number in some time. Masks work! Keep it up, Nashville!

Nationally, there are signs that hot spots for cases in some cases are easing but things getting anywhere back to normal are still way out of reach.

On a world level, the rise in COVID-19 cases has been staggering, increasing by 2 million in just the last eight days, with the total case number now over 17 million with about 680,000 deaths.

On a personal note, one COVID-19 death touched me this week. When Herman Cain ran for the Republican nomination for President in 2012, he was nice enough to visit with us on INSIDE POLITICS. He came on about the time he was becoming the “flavor of the month” among GOP voters, before he faded among an avalanche of sexual harassment allegations, and ultimately, Mitt Romney became the nominee. I remember thinking some of things Cain wanted to do (his 9-9-9 plan and putting an alligator infested moat across the Mexican border) sounded pretty wild in those pre-Donald Trump days. But he seemed to be nice and I enjoyed having him on the show.

I also am sad to see the local Dairy King on Thompson Lane in South Nashville close after 50 years in business. When I was in school at Vanderbilt my friends and I eat there quite a few times after playing several rounds of miniature golf nearby. I enjoyed the food, but being young and foolish, we used to buy a large 64-oz milk shake called a “Monster.” A sign promoting the shake, asked; “Are you man enough for a Monster?” The answer is, I was. But now, as an older man, I wished maybe I wish I hadn’t done that. It was one of the poorer dietary decisions of my life. But I will still miss the Dairy King.

One of the more positive stories about battling the virus this week is the continuing progress being made in developing vaccines to win this battle. This week was no exception. A Johnson & Johnson vaccine candidate is moving forward after protecting monkeys with a single dose. Here is an article on how all this vaccine work is going so well and so quickly.

DR. MANNY SETHI IS GUEST ON INSIDE POLITICS THIS WEEK

By this time next week, we may know, who is the Republican nominee to be one of our U.S. Senators from Tennessee. That person will replace long- time GOP incumbent Lamar Alexander who is retiring. It’s a race that had been conducted in relative anonymity for most of this year.

However down the stretch the two major Republican candidates have been lambasting each other with attack ads over who is the true conservative. Even the staff of both campaigns have gotten into the attack act, while outside PAC groups have chimed in as well.

This week POLITICO labeled the race: “THE NASTIEST GOP PRIMARY IN THE COUNTRY.”

One of those seeking to go to Washington is Dr. Manny Sethi.

We’ve asked both candidates to be on INSIDE POLITICS.

The campaign of Former Ambassador Bill Hagerty has not worked out a time for him to join us.

Dr. Manny Sethi has.

Therefore Dr. Sethi is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

Watch us!

INSIDE POLITICS will 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.

STALEMATE IN WASHINGTON ON MORE VIRUS RELIEF WHILE EXTRA UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS END AND QUARTERLY GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT EXPERIENCES WORST CRASH EVER

It’s probably the worst news so far coming out of the economic downturn resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Based on government figures released Thursday morning, the Gross domestic product (GDP) — the broadest measure of economic activity — shrank at an annual rate of 32.9% in the second quarter of 2020 (April 1-June 30).

It’s the worst sudden economic slump in modern American history.

As for initial unemployment claims, they stayed above 1 million for the 19th consecutive week. With the virus spiking in parts of the nation, the number of claims also rose for the second week in a row. As for Tennessee, new claims were down by 6,000 last week. Continuing claims also dipped with the total number of unemployment aid requests now up close to 760,000 since March.

Tennessee’s unemployment rate has improved since reaching an historic peak at 15.5% in April. But unemployment remains highest in the state’s biggest cites.

All this news put even more pressure on the White House and Congress to come up with yet another virus relief bill to ease the ongoing economic pain in the country. Critical unemployment help, providing an extra $600 a week to millions of people struggling to survive, officially expires with no renewal of those funds or a replacement plan in place. In fact, after talks were held all week, no consensus seems at hand.

Deadlines are also approaching to spend some of the federal virus relief funds. At a time when hunger and food insecurity is skyrocketing, the State of Tennessee may forfeit $60 million to help low income families feed their children. Other surrounding states have waived their bureaucratic processes and found other ways to get the funds out, but not Tennessee.

President Trump had a very interesting response all this difficult economic news. With Congressional talks going nowhere, he chose this time to again complain about more mail-in voting across the country for the November election as a way for voters to limit exposure to COVID-19. Offering no firm evidence, the President says more voting by mail will result in massive voter fraud. This time, Mr. Trump went even further. He suggested the November election should be delayed because of virus concerns.

President Trump does not have the authority to delay the election. Congress does. Even the President’s friends among the Republican congressional leadership are rejecting the his suggestion.

Tennessee lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle, also gave a negative response to the President’s idea to postpone the November election.

Meanwhile, the ongoing court battle over whether Tennessee voters have the right to vote absentee by mail because of fear of COVID-19 was argued before the Tennessee Supreme Court. The state lost this case in lower courts and it may have further muddled its case by changing its argument before the state’s High Court Justices under questioning.

Getting back to President, in recent weeks, he seems to have been searching for an issue or a way to revitalize or jump start his re-election effort which appears to be lacking in the polls behind Democrat Joe Biden. His latest effort to bring up the issue to delay the election didn’t help and may further indicate he realizes the difficulties he is facing.

The President has been trying a “law and order” theme, dispatching federal agents to multiple cities trying to protect federal facilities from protestors. The effort in Portland, Oregon seemed to have only inflamed the situation and the agents are now being deployed to other cities.

It is unclear if this law and order effort will move voters in the President’s direction. Any success may depend on whether Black Lives Matter officials, who are organizing these demonstrations in the wake of the George Floyd death in police custody, take the President’s bait. Or did federal officials want to leave and now the President is looking elsewhere for an issue?

Could that next issue to re-attract white suburban voters (women) be low income housing?

MAYOR COOPER ANNOUNCES POLICE CHIEF SELECTION PROCESS AS NEW MOVE TO CUT PROPERTY TAX HIKE LOOMS IN THE COUNCIL

By sometime in late October, Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson will retire after 30 years on the force and a decade as the city’s top cop. Mayor John Cooper this week outlined a plan to find a new chief through a nationwide search utilizing an outside consultant along with regular citizens having a chance to participate.

Interestingly, the most speculation and efforts to influence the Mayor have been who will be on his review committee to be a part of the selection of finalists. The Mayor’s roadmap to select give no clue of who will select or when they will be chosen, except the committee will be in place in late September to begin to review potential finalists.

Mayor Cooper also faces another challenge at next Tuesday Metro Council meeting to slash the city’s recent 34% property tax hike and cut Metro budget to require a still unspecified number of city employee layoffs and furloughs.

The move comes after city finance officials admit local sales tax collections for April-June wound up being $100 million more than anticipated. Therefore, says Council sponsor Steve Glover the property tax hike should be reduced to 22% and city workers will have to join their colleagues in the private sector and share some of the pain of the COVID-19 recession.

The Cooper administration says given the uncertainty of the virus Metro need to keep the tax hike where it is so city services can stay intact. Two weeks ago, the Council rejected a resolution asking the Metro Finance Department to submit a revised tax levy. The Council agreed with the Cooper administration. We will see if they see any differently now that an actual new property tax amount is spelled out.

It is rare an ordinance on first reading is debated or rejected on first reading before it is sent to committee for review. But this Council and this year of 2020 has seen many unusual things become commonplace. We could well see this tax hike fight battled out again Tuesday night. In fact, Metro Councilman Bob Mendes, who sponsored the 34% property tax hike and budget says the Glover tax bill is “fatally flawed” and he will seek to kill it on August 4.

Finally, it didn’t help my trash pickup this week. It was a day late. But Metro Public Works taking back over some collection routes from a private firm that is struggling to get the job done. After a mountain of complaints from the public, council members are scrambling to figure how a basic city service is not getting handled especially in the wake of a record 34% increase in property taxes.