By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL 5 Political Analyst
March 11, 2022
INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE STATUS OF THE RUSSIAN WAR IN UKRAINE AND WAR CRIME CHARGES; DEMOCRATS SEEK A PAUSE IN STATE GAS TAX TO SHOW SUPPORT FOR UKRAINE AND PROVIDE RELIEF AT THE PUMP FOR TENNESSEANS; SCANDAL STRIKES ON TENNESSEE’S CAPITOL HILL AGAIN; ACTIONS ON THE HILL; A TV ELECTION AD, ENDORSEMENTS AND A LAWSUIT; THE WEEK IN METRO: THE PRESENT AND FUTURE LOCAL PRO SPORTS FACILITIES; A NON- LAW ENFORCEMENT RESPONSE TO SOME 9-1-1 CALLS, MORE MONEY TO FIGHT DRUG OVERDOSES; AND A METRO COUNCILMEMBER FACES POSSIBLE CENSURE;
INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE STATUS OF THE RUSSIAN WAR IN UKRAINE AND WAR CRIME CHARGES
We are now well into the third week of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
It had been expected the Russian army would rather easily conquer its neighbor.
But that has not been the case even though the Russians have doubled down on their efforts to prevail by striking civilian targets with intense bombings and indiscriminate shelling. A maternity and pediatric hospital was even attacked this week.
Charges of war crimes are being leveled against Russia and its President Vladimir Putin, as a humanitarian disaster has also been created with over 2 million refugees, and counting, now seeking shelter.
Vanderbilt professor of law Dr. Michael Newton is an expert in the area of the conduct of hostilities.
He is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.
We thank the Professor for joining us on the program.
INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:
- 7 p.m. Friday.
- 5 a.m., 3 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.
- 1:30 a.m. and 5 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
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 here on my own Facebook page, usually on the Monday or Tuesday after the show airs.
DEMOCRATS SEEK A PAUSE IN STATE GAS TAX TO SHOW SUPPORT FOR UKRAINE AND PROVIDE RELIEF AT THE PUMP FOR TENNESSEANS
The cost of gasoline has been soaring for weeks, even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The per-gallon cost is now approaching and will soon top $4.00 in the state. Prices may rise even more as President Biden has announced a ban on oil and gas imports and it is possible other countries may follow suit.
To provide support to Ukraine and relief to Tennesseans at the pumps, Tennessee state House Democrats are asking the Lee administration to pause collection for 90 days of Tennessee’s tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. That move might cut prices by over 25 cents per gallon.
They say Governor Lee can do that through an executive order; by sponsoring a bill for the General Assembly to approve; or include it in the new operating budget now pending before lawmakers.
Perhaps caught off guard, the Governor’s office says it wants to study the details. Democratic lawmakers say the state has plenty of financial cushion to absorb the fuel tax pause.
In Washington, President Joe Biden has imposed a ban on the import of Russian oil and natural gas. The U.S. House has approved similar legislation with only 17 of its 435 members voting no. One of the 15 Republicans in the negative is Tennessee Congressman Scott DesJarlais.
The total $ 1.5 trillion spending bill approved by the House also provides $13.6 billion in military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine ($10 billion more than the White House requested). The bill also funds the federal budget for the rest of this fiscal year (September 30). The hope was the measure would get Senate approval quickly. However, problems surfaced Thursday that threatened to stall the legislation. This legislation is key to stopping yet another government shutdown. Finally late Thursday the Senate passed the bill overwhelmingly although not without some challenging moments.
The passage of the funding bill is the most recent example of a rather uncharacteristic week of bi-partisanship. Congress passed a long-delayed reform of the U.S. Postal Service while renewing the Violence Against Women Act in the funding bill. And, after over a century of failure, Congress has made lynching, a federal crime, outlawing perhaps the most dastardly act and symbol of racism and Jim Crow politics.
The spending bill also includes several set-asides to fund projects of House members. That includes retiring Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper. Cooper for many years opposed such spending and it fell out of favor. But now that is back, Cooper is ‘bringing home the bacon” for his district with almost $5 million in federal funds to benefit three projects in North Nashville.
Getting back to the war in Ukraine, the Russian oil ban is likely to only increase the spike in gas and diesel costs, which already has prices at the pump at near, and soon to be above, record highs.
The increases come as the latest government measure of inflation shows consumer pieces were up another 7.9% in February compared to the same month in 2021. That is the highest since 1982. This latest increase in inflation, by the way, does not reflect the most recent hikes in fuel costs due to the Russian war, nor do they reflect the spikes in the price of food commodities such as wheat, of which Ukraine is a major source.
SCANDAL STRIKES ON TENNESSEE’S CAPITOL HILL AGAIN
The Tennessee General Assembly has been no stranger to scandal in recent decades. That includes two major federal investigations, one called Rocky Top, another the Tennessee Waltz. Both saw lawmakers arrested, indicted and convicted.
Despite pledges and bills passed to implement new ethics rules and campaign finance regulations, the problem continues. This latest federal probe first came to light in January 2021 when FBI agents raided lawmakers’ offices and some homes, including those of House Speaker Glen Casada. Another lawmaker whose home and office were searched was Chattanooga representative Robin Smith, who is also a former Chairperson of the Tennessee Republican Party.
This week Smith was indicted and pled guilty on federal wire fraud charges involving a scheme to use taxpayers’ money earmarked for constituent newsletters to instead be passed through a shadowy marketing firm with some of the funds coming back to Smith and others as a kickback. After being indicted, Smith immediately resigned from her seat.
The indictment charging Smith also seems to point to now-former Speaker Casada. He is set to retire from the General Assembly and run for office in Williamson County. One of Casada’s former aides, Cade Cothren, is also implicated in the Smith indictment. Neither Casada or Cothern have been charged or indicted. But with Smith pleading guilty to her charges and set to be sentenced in October, there is strong speculation she is cooperating with authorities in the ongoing investigation and more charges may be coming.
Smith’s scandal was the second to surface in a week’s time on the Hill. Memphis Republican Senator Brian Kelsey, already under federal indictment for misuse of campaign funds, announced he won’t seek reelection and will leave the Legislature at the end of this term.
Finally, earlier this year, the State Senate ousted a Democratic Memphis Senator Katrina Robinson after she was convicted on separate federal wire fraud charges. It was the first time the Senate has ever kicked out a member. She is appealing her conviction and says her removal from office is wrong, but her Senate seat has been filled by Memphis officials.
ACTIONS ON THE HILL
Governor Lee’s new formula on how to award state money to K-12 schools has finally come up for consideration on the House sub-committee level….and has been deferred for at least a week.
Members on both sides of the aisle say they want more time to study the plan. It’s very important, and they don’t want to rush to approve it just because that is what the Governor says is the best thing to do. The 112th Tennessee General Assembly is about to complete its business and adjourn by the middle to end of April. Committees are about to shut down. With each passing week, putting this new formula until next year when the 113th General Assembly is looking more and more likely.
Meantime, the Governor’s push to increase the number of charter schools, including up to 50 to be run by the controversial Hillsdale College out of Michigan, seemed to have some problems this week. An application by Hillsdale to operate a charter in Memphis has been withdrawn. Governor Lee, who extensively praised the school, especially its history curriculum during his recent State of the State address, now seems a bit more subdued in his comments.
The push to ban “obscene” books from Tennessee schools and libraries continues to gain steam. The bill passed out of a committee this week. It would allow school boards, lawmakers and parents, not librarians to make decisions about what books would remain. What is happening here is something that can be seen in Republican legislatures all over the country.
Meanwhile, it appears some state lawmakers must have watched the recent story by NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES Ben Hall about how shamefully understaffed the state Department of Human Services is in terms of caseworkers. They are discussing adding more funds to the department’s budget to correct that issue which has foster parents and others speaking out.
A TV ELECTION AD, ENDORSEMENTS AND A LAWSUIT
The May primary and judicial elections are already well underway. I have seen my first TV ad for incumbent Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk.
Meanwhile, Funk and his two opponents, Sara Beth Myers and Danielle Nellis, are seeking support by touting lists of prominent citizens who are endorsing them.
Nashville Democratic Party officials have been exercising their power and authority by seeking to remove some candidates from the May primary ballot. It has made one candidate so upset he has filed suit seeking to have the whole May election canceled. A court hearing is set for March 23.
There was a major development this week in one of Nashville’s now three congressional races set for the August and November elections.
Black and gay community activist Odessa Kelly has decided to run in the 7thCongressional District against Republican incumbent Dr. Mark Green. Kelly, the first Democrat to enter any of the three local congressional contests, had originally qualified to run against Democratic incumbent Jim Cooper in the old 5th District. But when Cooper decided to retire after the district was divided into three parts by the redistricting plan of state Republicans, Kelly, who presently lives in the 6th District, says she will move to the 7th to oppose Green (even though congressional rules don’t require it).
Running against a multi-term incumbent, Kelly is clearly an underdog. Former President Donald Trump won, in what is now the 7th District, by 15 points in 2020. But in 2018, when Republican Marsha Blackburn defeated former Governor and Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen for a seat in the U.S. Senate, the race was very close in the new 7th District. The district has a 17% African American population, particularly in downtown, the traditional heart of the black community along Jefferson Street, and the rest of the northern part of Davidson County along with the city of Clarksville.
With strong funding and a sizable turnout of Democratic and independent voters, this race has the potential to be closer than expected, but for now, that is a big if.
THE WEEK IN METRO: THE PRESENT AND FUTURE LOCAL PRO SPORTS FACILITIES; A NON-LAW ENFORCEMENT RESPONSE TO SOME 911 CALLS, MORE MONEY TO FIGHT DRUG OVERDOSES; AND A METRO COUNCILMEMBER FACES POSSIBLE CENSURE
Nashville, and its future role in professional sports facilities, is creating conversation and news stories all over these days.
Lots of eyebrows were raised a few weeks back when Metro officials announced that it would make more sense to build a new NFL stadium downtown rather than try to renovate the current facility, which was built in the late 1990s.
With the going rate for new (domed) stadiums running into the low billions, concerns were raised about how this might be funded and who (taxpayers?) might fund it. While no design photos or financing plans have emerged this week officials of the Tennessee Titans tried to bring some urgency to the issue. They see as not just a new sports facility but developing a whole new city neighborhood on the East Bank.
Stay tuned. Remember the devil is always in the details
At the same time, after years of controversy, negotiations, and hard work the city’s new MLS soccer stadium is undergoing final construction details as it plans to open on May 1. The facility will be the largest soccer-specific stadium in the U.S. and Canada and this week it got its name.
The success, at least so far, in bringing together the MLS team, the surrounding community and Metro government to build this new stadium, without leaving the bills to the taxpayers has been notable. But now the next step in Mayor John Cooper’s plan to revitalize the Historic Fairgrounds property, by bringing NASCAR racing back to the Nashville Speedway has seemed to hit a potential rough spot, with a member of the city’s Fair Board stepping down while expressing serious concerns about the effort.
The Fair Board would be the city agency overseeing the Speedway effort. Mayor Cooper has said he wants the group to approve the plans, once a financial review is done, and the Board is fully staffed. There are now actually two vacancies to be filled on a board that has struggled to be at full strength, with the Mayor, the Vice Mayor and the 40-member Council at odds over who and what will bring the right amount of diversity to the body. If that fight is rekindled over whether a neighborhood representative should be on the board, might the Speedway project be further delayed?
Elsewhere at the Courthouse, Mayor Cooper announced the city is set to receive $23 million from a recent national opioid court settlement. The funds will be spread out over 18 years with the first payment possibly received in May. Initially, funds will be used to focus on life-saving practices, such as improving early diagnosis and detection, supporting linkage to treatment and promoting retention throughout the recovery process.
Mayor Cooper says Nashville has played a major legal leadership role in getting this settlement done. The monies are coming from with the “Big Three” drug distributors - AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson - and opioid manufacturer Johnson & Johnson. it amounts to $26 billion globally. Total payments to Davidson County represent nearly 9 percent of the $242 million in funds going to all counties in Tennessee, which is only a portion of the $613 million that the state of Tennessee receives.
With Metro experiencing an ever-rising number of fatal and non-fatal overdoes for the last three years, the money is badly needed, although I suspect some will say it is not enough and Metro’s share is too small.
Meanwhile, moves continue to have the city divert some 9-1-1 calls for assistance to a non-law enforcement response.
Mayor John Cooper this week announced Nashville is one of five cities across the country to receive federal technical assistance to support the development of the new program. There was no dollar amount mentioned in terms of the size of the federal assistance, but it appears the new service will complement the Partners in Care pilot program already is use.
That program, which began in June of 2021, places mental health clinicians in police cars with MNPD officers in two precincts – North and Hermitage. This pilot connects individuals in a mental health crisis to care and services while ensuring the safety and wellbeing of community members, police officers, emergency medical responders and clinicians. So far, the pilot is delivering on its charge: 41 percent of participants are experiencing active mental health crisis at the time of service; 96 percent are connected to care; less than 4 percent are arrested.
A contract, to provide training to expand this mental health co-respondent pilot program countywide, is up for final approval by the Metro Council on March 15. With the additional federal assistance, Mayor Cooper says he plans to fund even more this new non-law enforcement service sometime in the upcoming fiscal year, FY23 which begins July 1 of 2022.
There is still a need to develop a county-wide strategic plan to develop the service for implementation, likely in the latter half of FY23. The Mayor’s Office is convening a planning committee to guide the process. Members of this committee will include key departments and stakeholders.
Finally, the Metro Council is being asked to censure one of its members, Jonathan Hall. The request comes from the city’s Board of Ethical Conduct which has been struggling for years with the Finally, the Metro Council is being asked to censure one of its members, Jonathan Hall. The request comes from the city’s Board of Ethical Conduct which has been struggling for years with public complaints about the councilmember’s failure to file or file on time required financial disclosure reports.
It is not clear when the full Council will act on the censure request. Such an action is rare. I can remember it happening back in the 1970s when Donelson Councilman Jack Clariday was censured after he was convicted on bribery charges.