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Capitol View commentary: Friday, March 6, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 12:22 PM, Mar 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-06 13:22:36-05

CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
March 6, 2020

NASHVILLE AND MIDDLE TENNESSEE FOREVER STRONG; INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE TORNADOES OF 2020; THE MOST REMARKABLE WEEK IN PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS; BIDEN IN TENNESSEE; AFRICAN AMERICAN POLITICAL POWER CONTINUES TO RISE IN DAVIDSON COUNTY; OTHER AREA ELECTIONS TO NOTE; UP ON THE HILL;

NASHVILLE AND MIDDLE TENNESSEE FOREVER STRONG

If you live in Nashville and Middle Tennessee for as long as I have (68 years), you learn the strength and resilience of this area when struck by adversity.

The latest example came this past week in the early hours of March 3, 2020. That’s when a series of tornadoes struck several neighborhoods across Nashville, as well as three surrounding counties. The storms left 25 dead, hundreds injured and others still missing. When fully calculated, the devastation and damage wrought by the tornadoes are sure to reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars, perhaps higher. Already damage estimates for the John Tune Airport in Cockrill Bend is over $92 million while the Agriculture School at TSU estimates at least $20 million in damages to its buildings.

The good news is Nashville Mayor John Cooper and Tennessee Governor Bill Lee have worked quickly to request federal aid. President Donald Trump has now signed the paperwork for that to happen as he visits storm ravaged parts of Tennessee today (Friday). This weekend the Hands on Nashville group has recruited 20,000 volunteers to help with the clean- up effort.

For Nashville, whether it’s been the Flood of 2010, other previous major tornadoes in 1998, 2008, even as far back as 1933, or following the Great East Nashville Fire in 2016, this city and this region have always come together in our state’s tradition of being “Volunteers” to help one another recover and to set ourselves on the path once again towards better times in the future.

We will do it again in 2020! It won’t be easy. It will take time. There will be delays, frustration and difficult times ahead. But Nashville and Middle Tennessee are forever strong. We will see this latest challenge overcome as well. There’s a providential reason why God and Mother Nature left undamaged the I Love Nashville mural on the wall outside the destroyed Basement East music venue in East Nashville. No matter how damaged we are, Nashville is a special place and we will come back soon and strong!.
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Even one of Nashville’s newest iconic symbols, the guitar shaped scoreboard at the Nashville Sounds ballpark was significantly damaged. But repairs are in process in the hope things will be back to normal as soon as possible with Opening Day next month.

Of course, the tornadoes became national even international news. And yes, we even got identified again as “Central Tennessee” not “Middle Tennessee.” It was also noted the old State Prison, the site of several movies after it closed was damaged by the storms. Our city even got a rare shout out about our strong voter turnout on Super Tuesday.

Another challenge may lie ahead. News broke late this week (Thursday) that the first case of the coronavirus has been detected here in Middle Tennessee. The patient is a 44-year old man in Williamson County who had recently traveled out of state to Boston via the Nashville international Airport. He is presently isolated at his home with mild symptoms. Health officials emphasize the threat to the public from the virus remains low. But they do urge everyone to take proper precautions as they would to combat the flu, especially washing your hands frequently.

The advent of the virus being detected in Tennessee comes as Governor Lee this week appointed a task force to make sure Tennessee is ready for the coronavirus. But to hear some lawmakers talk (before the first case in Tennessee was detected), you’d wonder why.

The overall “business as usual” atmosphere on Capitol Hill (which is just a few miles from storm damaged areas) came in for some criticism by Democrats

INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE TORNADOES OF 2020

The old saying is that the month of March comes in a lion.

That was certainly true this week when several parts of Nashville and three surrounding counties suffered serious damage along with tragically, the loss of 25 lives, dozens injured and for most of the week, some residents missing. This week on INSIDE POLITICS, we look back on that horrible day and ahead to the recovery already underway.

Our guests are two Metro councilmembers whose districts experienced significant damage. They are 19th District Councilman Freddie O’Connell who represents the Germantown area and parts of downtown and 21st District Councilman Brandon Taylor from North Nashville and the Tennessee State University campus.

They have some very compelling stories to tell about what’s happened in their districts as well across Nashville and Middle Tennessee. We also discuss some very serious issues about housing availability and those who may attempt to prey on storm victims.

INSIDE POLITICS airs 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. 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 can’t 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 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 MOST REMARKABLE WEEK IN PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS

I sure wish journalist/historian Theodore White was still us, working on another edition for the 2020 election of his highly acclaimed book series, THE MAKING OF THE PRESIDENT.

What a chapter he would write about the unprecedented week in American presidential politics we’ve just witnessed.

It may be the most unlikely turn of events for a candidate since Tennessee’s James K. Polk won the Democratic Party nomination, and election as President in 1844, as the original, successful “dark horse” candidate.

2020 Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden has had a very up and down campaign. Beginning as the front runner in the polls, a series of gaffes, poor fundraising and a weak campaign staff, has seen him stumble through the first few primaries and caucuses. The vote in South Carolina last Saturday with its large African American vote was always seen as Biden’s last campaign firewall. Nevertheless, some wondered if could win there, or, even if he did, how soon Biden’s third presidential effort would implode.

Today, after South Carolina and Super Tuesday, Joe Biden is back among the leading Democratic candidates. How did it happen?

It began with the rise of Democratic-Socialist Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders as the presidential front runner after the Vermont Senator did well in the early primaries and caucuses. Biden, on his way to being an afterthought, managed to receive a key endorsement from the leading African American congressman in South Carolina. That seem to rejuvenate the Biden campaign. He won a much bigger victory than expected in the Palmetto State last Sunday. It was likely even larger than he and his campaign team expected. To further add to the oddness of the South Carolina drama, the election was held on that unlikeliest of day of this year or almost any year, February 29.

Following his unexpectedly big win, and perhaps sensing that Biden was beginning to gain strength in the wake of his strong African American vote, national Democratic leaders put on an all-out effort to persuade Biden’s more moderate opponents to get out of the presidential race, all in an effort to unite behind a single candidate to stop Senator Sanders, who some party leaders fear will be easier for President Trump to defeat in the fall and perhaps hurt the prospects for down-ticket Democrats on the ballot in November.

It should be noted, this strategy, in some ways, resembles what national Republican leaders tried to do four years ago, when they sought to pare down a large GOP presidential candidate field and unite behind a single candidate to stop Donald Trump from winning the Republican nomination.

The other GOP presidential candidates declined to get out of the 2016 race and Donald Trump prevailed while the more moderate candidates continued to divide their party’s primary vote.
In 2020, the Democrats’ strategy has worked, at least in terms of candidates dropping out of the race. In fact, beginning on the night of the South Carolina vote on last Saturday until Super Tuesday of this week (less than 72 hours), three Democratic candidates (billionaire Tom Steyer, followed by former Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar) all dropped their campaigns, with the latter two endorsing Biden.

Bolstered by a slew of other top national Democrats endorsing Biden, including former Texas congressman and presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, the wave of voter support for Biden in the Super Tuesday contests continued to grow stronger. On March 3, the former Vice President won 10 of 14 state primaries, taking the lead in delegates won and in total votes compared to Sanders. Here is Biden, a candidate who, until South Carolina, had never won a single primary, now winning 11 primaries in just 4 days!

It’s a turn of events that would have seemed totally impossible less than a week ago.

The Biden wave grew still stronger on Wednesday. That’s when billionaire and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg abandoned his short-lived presidential campaign. The Bloomberg bow out came after two bad national TV debate appearances and a disappointing Super Tuesday showing, where after spending over a half a billion dollars of his own funds, all Bloomberg had to show for it is a handful of delegates and a primary win in the American Samoa territory.

Bloomberg is not just taking his money and going home. He too is endorsing Joe Biden and pledging his full support (money & maybe some staff) which is another big plus for Biden. He needs more money and staff badly.

The Democratic race for President is not over. There are more primaries to come in the weeks ahead. It remains unclear if any candidate can garner enough delegates to win on the first ballot at the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee this summer.

Bernie Sanders continues his campaign as the head of a movement against the party establishment; still positioning himself as the outsider who can bring in new and younger voters, and who can beat Donald Trump (according to some national polls). Sanders also won Super Tuesday primaries in his home state of Vermont along with Idaho, and the biggest delegate prize of the night, California, although Biden finished stronger than expected there.

The other remaining major Democratic candidate in the presidential race, Senator Elizabeth Warren spent Wednesday assessing her chances to continue after failing to win any primaries on Super Tuesday or before. She even lost her two home states, Oklahoma and Massachusetts on Tuesday, finishing third in the latter and fourth in Oklahoma.

On Thursday, Warren dropped out of the presidential race leaving Biden and Sanders as the two remaining major Democratic candidates. Will she endorse another candidate? Will her progressive go over to Sanders further tightening the race for the nomination?

What an incredible week!

BIDEN IN TENNESSEE

Tennessee was one of those states where Joe Biden came out of nowhere to win by 17 points Tuesday. There was a poll last July where he appeared to be the frontrunner in the state. But except for an early fundraiser, he never personally campaigned here. His wife, Jill did come to Memphis and Nashville last weekend for some very last- minute campaigning. Biden placed only one small, late TV ad buy. I don’t think he had any staff here, and mostly relied on locals to endorse and move his campaign ahead.

What appears to have happened to put Biden over the top in Tennessee is the late surge of African American support. It materialized all over in the South, and across the country Tuesday night, after what occurred in South Carolina. That combined with the withdrawals and endorsements of Biden by other candidates seemed to have created a sense among many members of the party that they needed a candidate to unite behind, someone who they thought had the best chance to beat Trump. Electability is the number one factor motivating Democrats this year. I think it may have also been the driving reason for so many Democratic candidates to drop out of the presidential race and endorse the former Vice President.

Here is a sign of how that worked in Tennessee. From the county by county returns I found Wednesday morning on the Tennessee Secretary of State website, it appeared Joe Biden carried 91 out of 95 counties in the state. Again, that is astounding given his low level of campaigning and compared to how more much money and effort both the Bloomberg and Sanders campaigns put in here.

There is also this factoid. In Davidson County/ Nashville, which has a significant black voter population, Joe Biden beat Bernie Sanders by about 7,000 votes according to figures on the Davidson County Election Commission web site. But in the early vote, which all occurred before the Biden surge, Sanders was ahead by 3,000. That means Biden won the day of vote in Nashville (after the Biden boom began) by 10,000 votes! Biden also carried Memphis/ Shelby County, another area with a significant African American voter bloc, by more than a two-and-a-half to one margin (50,000-20,000).

Much as what happened in the early balloting, more Democrats than Republicans voted statewide in Tennessee on Super Tuesday. Given the level of competition between multiple Democrats that may not be surprising, although I am told there was a late, high- level push from Republican leaders to jack up GOP turnout to help President Trump. The President did garner more votes in Tennessee than Joe Biden (384,000-215,000) and more than what the two leading remaining Democrats (Biden and Sanders) got combined (384,000-343,000). Therefore, don’t expect Tennessee to flip blue in November.

AFRICAN AMERICAN POLITICAL POWER CONTINUES TO RISE IN DAVIDSON COUNTY

One notable outcome in Nashville on Tuesday was the election of former Nashville Councilmember at Large Erica Gilmore to be Metro Trustee. She will serve out the remainder of the term of the late Charlie Cardwell who died last year. Gilmore, whose mother is State Senator Brenda Gilmore, faces no opposition in August so her win in the Democratic primary is tantamount to election.
Gilmore defeated former Metro Councilman Parker Toler. He was elected by the Council to serve as interim Trustee until this election was held. The outcome was not close in that race nor the one involving incumbent Judge Jennifer Smith who kept her criminal court judge seat.

The election of Erica Gilmore continues a trend of African American candidates winning the constitutional offices and court clerk positions in Nashville/Davidson County. All these posts are elected countywide.

Until Howard Gentry was elected Criminal Court Clerk in 2012, no African American had ever held such a county constitutional position in this city. Now African Americans have been elected to be Register of Deeds, County Clerk, Assessor of Property, Juvenile Judge and Juvenile Court Clerk.

OTHER AREA ELECTIONS TO NOTE

Nashville Mayor John Cooper has mentioned that one option he is considering if he decides the city needs more revenue is to raise the local option sales tax. That requires approval by voters in a referendum. It may or may not be a barometer of Nashville residents, but voters in two other Middle Tennessee counties did approve local sales tax hikes Tuesday with most of the extra funds generated going to schools.

I should note the local sales tax has not been raised in Nashville for 40 years (1980). When it occurred then, voters were promised a recent property tax hike would be partially rolled back if the sales tax increase was approved. Might that be in the offing again? In the wake of the awful storms this week that damaged and destroyed so many homes and businesses throughout the city, raising property taxes sure got a lot more politically difficult to recommend.

UP ON THE HILL

Moving into what could be its last full month in session, Tennessee lawmakers are starting to consider and, in some cases, approve key legislation in committee. That includes Governor Lee’s controversial gun bill to allow the carrying of firearms without a state permit, a measure that was just unveiled last week.

Another bill pushed hard by the Republican Super Majority is a broad-ranging effort to further restrict abortion in Tennessee. The measure was announced over a month ago but hasn’t been moved in committee awaiting the final details of the measure which surfaced this week.

The annual effort to approve medical marijuana in Tennessee is taking different directions on the Hill this year making approval once again uncertain or unlikely.

It wouldn’t be a normal week on the Hill without a lawsuit being filed. This time it is a second effort to stop the state’s education savings account or school voucher program set to begin this fall as a pilot project in Memphis and Nashville.

Finally, mindful of this week’s natural disasters across Middle Tennessee, lawmakers are looking for ways to help storm victims.