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Capitol View commentary: Friday, May 8, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 12:15 PM, May 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-08 13:15:51-04

CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
May 8, 2020

AFTER A “DELICATE” WEEK NASHVILLE IS A GO TO START PHASE ONE OF ITS ECONOMIC RECOVERY ROAD MAP ON MONDAY; I GUESS MOTHER NATURE DOESN’T LIKE NASHVILLE; BREAKING RANKS; UNEMPLOYMENT WOES RISE TO 14.7% WITH THE LOSS OF 20 MILLION JOBS; CONGRESS AND TRUMP ADMINISTRATION DIVIDED ON NEXT RELIEF PACKAGE; THE METRO COUNCIL HOLDS VIRTUAL PUBLIC HEARINGS FOR THE FIRST TIME; OPERATING SOME TENNESSEE SCHOOLS MAY BE FURTHER COMPLICATED BY COURT RULING THAT VOUCHER PLAN IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL; SIXTH DISTRICT CONGRESSMAN JOHN ROSE ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE NUMBERS AND THE KINDNESS CONTINUE;

AFTER A “DELICATE” WEEK NASHVILLE IS A GO TO START PHASE ONE OF ITS ECONOMIC RECOVERY ROAD MAP ON MONDAY

Last Friday (May 1) when Mayor John Cooper extended his Safer at Home order for another week, he said as my guest on INSIDE POLITICS, he hoped to end the virus restrictions as soon as key health and data indices indicated it was safe to do so.

That included, as the most important factor, a rise in new cases that averaged around 80. The next few days saw several triple-digit increases in new cases, including a couple of 24- hour periods that saw among the largest increases recorded so far. There was even a day with the largest number of deaths (5) in a one-day period.

By Tuesday, Mayor Cooper described the situation for Nashville beginning to reopen as “delicate.” The Wednesday and Thursday new case virus numbers were much lower and better (24 on Wednesday 86 on Thursday). Therefore, even with two of the six major metrics the city is monitoring, new cases and the transmission rate for the virus, flashing yellow, not green, Mayor Cooper announced Thursday morning, the city has a “passing grade” and therefore is moving into Phase One of Metro’s roadmap to slowly reopen the local economy. The reopening will begin on Monday May 11, ending a lockdown that began back in March 23, over 50 days ago. Here is what the Phase One re-opening includes. Not surprisingly some businesses cannot wait to reopen Monday for some dine-in customers. Others are concerned it may still be too soon to open to serve even a limited number of dine-in customers.

What about enforcement of Metro’s re-opening? It appears to be much tougher than the state’s, which is strictly on the honor system. Businesses are asked to sign the Tennessee Pledge to follow the continued social distancing restrictions. Otherwise there appears to be no other enforcement by state agencies in the 89 counties the state has jurisdiction to reopen.

In contrast, Metro says it is hiring at least 20 more health inspectors. They, along with Metro Police, will follow up on complaints that re-opened businesses or customers are not following the continuing virus rules. Mayor Cooper indicated those businesses who open early or violate the rules could have their licenses to operate revoked. The Mayor also urged residents to refuse to patronize any business where they do not feel safe.

To help facilitate reopening efforts, Metro has been holding on-line webinars with restaurants, retail businesses as well churches and next week tourism related companies. In regards to religious services, the state has offered its guidelines and now so has Metro.

In light of this, the Catholic Diocese of Nashville has announced a resumption of public Masses on Monday, May 18, although with continued social distancing restrictions and other state and Metro guidance.

The city is also increasing its number of contact tracers to more quickly and effectively deal with hot spots outbreaks such as at the Fairgrounds and Rescue Mission homeless shelters along with nursing homes and close contact food related processing plants. The state has also been increasing its contact tracing efforts. In terms of hot spots, the state is now testing all state prison inmates and staff as well as all nursing and extended care residents and staff, if requested.

Both Metro and the state are now moving towards more testing. The Metro testing sites are now open Monday-Friday with a mobile unit coming soon, while the state is now targeting vulnerable groups.

Metro’s reopen plan has four phases, with the city proceeding to the next phase (with more openings and fewer restrictions) every two weeks, provided the virus and the public are cooperating. Still, that means 8 weeks, or 2 months, before the plan is fully implemented. Metro officials hinted, but did not promise, that what would reopen or see fewer restrictions, might be moved ahead more quickly. if the virus indices improve more rapidly than expected.

For the first time this week, one day before Mayor Cooper announced the city was reopening, there was a public demonstration at the Metro Courthouse demanding the city reopen right away. The number of demonstrators was small. Some of them also expressed opposition to the proposed 32% property tax increase proposed by Mayor Cooper to deal with the impact of the virus. That issue is now pending before the Metro Council.

Another group of activists says Mayor Cooper should use some of the federal relief monies it has received to help small businesses stay afloat and pay the rent for those who lost their jobs.

In another virus -related matter this week, the state has begun to distribute virus protection masks to everyone in the state free of charge. The first shipment to Metro of 25,000 masks was gone in a few hours. More will likely be on the way soon. But some Democratic state lawmakers are critical of the quality of the masks which are costing the state $8.2 million.

I GUESS MOTHER NATURE DOESN’T LIKE NASHVILLE

It was like adding multiple insults to injuries this week.

First, Nashville is seven weeks into a war with the coronavirus, keeping Davidson County shut down with a Safer at Home order (now until Monday). While keeping us safe, the impact of the order has been strangling the local economy as a major and growing side effect.

Second, there remain the devastating effects from the March 3 tornado that inflicted millions of dollars in damages across the city from Cockrill Bend, to North Nashville, Germantown, East Nashville, Donelson and Hermitage.

But Mother Nature was apparently not through.

On consecutive nights this week (Sunday & Monday), Nashville was struck by major rain and windstorms. Their fury left multiple trees down, homes damaged (some in the same neighborhoods struck by the tornado), and a record number of folks without power. At its peak Nashville Electric Service estimated 130,000 customers without juice. Even with help from out of state power crews (which were hard to bring in due to coronavirus regulations), it was originally estimated would be a week or more, even with round the clock non-stop repair efforts, before everyone is back on the power grid. As of Friday morning, the customer outage number is down to xxx.

These latest storms (in particular, the one Sunday night) seem to be somewhat freakish in what caused them. It’s a weather term I had never heard before. It seems storms like these don’t happen often (although we’ve apparently had some before, and not too long ago). I just hope we don’t ever hear this weather name again, or start seeing biblical swarms of locust or frogs on the horizon next.

NEWSCHANNEL5

And now, could the “murder hornets” be on the way to Tennessee and Nashville soon?

BREAKING RANKS

Unlike some other states, local officials, especially here in Nashville, have, for the most part, refrained from criticizing the regulations Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has set out to reopen businesses across Tennessee.

But this week when those rules include opening “close contact” businesses such as beauty salons and barber shops (Wednesday), and recreational businesses such miniature golf and bowling alleys (today), that began to change. Shelby County is not covered by the state’s regulations. But the County Mayor is concerned about public confusion and more virus cases. The Shelby County Mayor is issuing his own re-open orders which he indicates is based more on public safety.

Even Republicans party officials are publicly grumbling. Some in Maury County have asked the Governor to remove all remaining coronavirus restrictions.

Based on a national poll conducted by Harvard, Northwestern and Rutgers Universities, 64% of Tennesseans approve of how Governor Bill Lee has handling the state’s coronavirus response. The survey, reported by the TENNNESEE JOURNAL blogsite, offers information on many of the survey’s interesting questions.

Meanwhile, with Nashville this week still under a Safer at Home order that allowed only essential businesses to be open (until this coming Monday May 11), there has been room for confusion since all the counties surrounding Metro have been operating for close to a week or more under the new state reopening rules. County lines are invisible like the virus. So, what’s more important? Some of Metro’s satellite cities are literally cut in two with the different restrictions.In fact, the Mayor of one those cities, Goodlettsville, is asking Mayor Cooper to jump forward to Phase 2 of Metro’s reopen road map to ease confusion.

The re-opening of close contact businesses such as barbershops, beauty and nail salons also reflected the divisions with those in Nashville remain closed while others in outlying counties are open. It is likely the same will be true with small amusement businesses such as bowling alleys and miniature golf courses can reopen today (Friday), but cannot yet do so in Davidson County.

Here in Metro, for the first time this week, there was a public demonstration at the Metro Courthouse demanding the city reopen right away. The number of demonstrators largely from Broadway owners and musician was small. Some also expressed opposition to the proposed 32% property tax increase proposed by Mayor Cooper and now pending before the Metro Council.

UNEMPLOYMENT WOES RIVAL RISE TO 14.7% WITH THE LOSS OF 20 MILLION JOBS; CONGRESS AND TRUMP ADMINISTRATION DIVIDED ON NEXT RELIEF PACKAGE

Applications for unemployment benefits continue to rise this week, another 3.3 million people added to that list nationally. That brings the seven-week toll, since the virus pandemic hit and the economy shut down, to over 33 million folks.
In Tennessee the numbers are equally stunning. Almost a half million residents have filed for unemployment help in just the last several weeks.

The news was even more foreboding Friday morning with an overall unemployment rate for April of 14.7%. That means the loss of over 20 million jobs in just one month of April. In several ways the numbers are unprecedented. It is the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression of the 1930s. It appears all the job loss gains over the last 11 years since the Great Recession have been wiped out. In one month.

What are Congress and the President going to doing about it? Efforts to pass yet another virus relief bill find everyone stuck in the mud among themselves about what to do.

SENATE REPUBLICANS
HOUSE DEMOCRATS

President Trump wants payroll tax cuts (when xx% of the workforce don’t have jobs?) along with an infrastructure spending program. The two top Democratic congressional leaders are teasing a FDR type plan.

Several Republicans are not even sold on another round of stimulus checks.

Even as Congress fights over the next virus relief bill, frustration and anger grows, not only concerning whether there will there be another stimulus check to give the unemployed some help, but why so many people have been found ineligible to receive the first checks sent out several weeks ago.

What about President Trump?

Despite what many economists fear, the President believes the 20 million jobs lost will be “back very soon.

As for the virus itself, much as President Trump seems to try to be outside the White House and above the virus fray, that remains difficult. He’s giving all the heavy lifting on reopening the economy to the states (except for taking credit when he can, and tweeting out criticism when he seems to think it helps him politically). Still his strategy doesn’t seem to be working.

The White House has now shelved both the national social distancing recommendations and the plan to reopen the nation it requested from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, again leaving everything up to the governors.

This week, the President’s first trip outside the White House in a month, a visit to a mask factory in Arizona, ran afoul of the same snafu that hurt his Vice President during one of his recent trips. Neither wore a mask. It’s something everyone is being told to do these days when in a public place. There are signs up everywhere asking people comply, even in mask factories. Who exempted the President and the Vice President?

It is clear the President has long been over dealing with his national coronavirus task force, a group he created two months ago, and which he sought to use in their daily briefings to get out his messages to rally his base just as he did with his frequent large campaign rallies. That is until the virus made rallies impossible to hold.

The daily briefings, at first, seemed to help improve the President’s job approval numbers, but too many gaffes and the growing popularity of the doctors on the task force, who offered credible information to the public, while sometimes gently correcting the President’s exaggerations or misstatements. Now the President is seeking to bar the task force doctors from testifying to House committees (made up of Trump haters) while it is OK for them to appear before the Senate which is controlled by the Republicans. After three plus years, does he still not know that congressional committees in both Houses contain both Democrats and Republicans? Or does he not want any criticism?

Early this week, word leaked the national Coronavirus task force and its doctors were going to be phased out, first by around Memorial Day, then later in the year, then not at all. The backlash was too strong for even Donald Trump to ignore or double down on.

The virus also is beginning to hit closer and closer to the White House. Aides to both the President and Vice President have tested positive and both Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence are now being tested daily. Neither has been placed in a 14-day quarantine.

Of course, it was also another week for interesting side stories in Washington. That included a new whistleblower accusation. This time it’s related to the President’s efforts to promote an anti- malaria drug to beat COVID-19 without any strong clinical proof it works.

And harking back to the Russia investigation, the U.S. Attorney General William Barr has sought to drop a guilty plea entered by the President’s first national security advisor.

Finally, when he was attacked this week by a digital ad produced by the Lincoln Project, a Never Trump group, regarding his handling of the coronavirus, President Trump responded so forcefully on Twitter, he made a much bigger story out of it and helped the group raise millions more money to promote the ad. Mistake. However the news coverage is also attracting more attention about how this particular Super PAC is functioning and that could create a downside for the group.

THE METRO COUNCIL HOLDS VIRTUAL PUBLIC HEARINGS FOR THE FIRST TIME

For the first time in its nearly 57- year history, the Metro Council held its public hearings on rezoning bills through a virtual format Tuesday night. City councilmembers have more or less complete authority over land use changes in their districts, so they acted cautiously to the new on-line format. Concerned the public might feel shut out of the process due to ongoing virus restrictions and the widespread power outages throughout Nashville due to this week’s storms, the Council deferred 35 of the 47 zoning matters before them. They passed only those that appeared to be routine and non-controversial. But still there were complaints.

Long time neighborhood activist John Stern phoned into the virtual hearings twice to object to the process. Stern believes virtual public hearings violate the First Amendment, Tennessee’s Open Meetings Law and Governor Bill Lee’s executive order allowing local governing bodies to meet during the pandemic, but only to handle “essential” city business.

A few council members expressed similar concerns but only one, Russell Bradford, abstained in protest on all the zoning bills (11 or 12 in number) that did pass second reading after their virtual public hearings. The deferral of the rest likely means a very, very long agenda the next time the Council does rezoning public hearings again, which is on June 9. The Governor’s executive order has been extended through June 30, so those proceedings will likely be virtual again.

So will the June 2 public hearings on Mayor John Cooper’s multi-$$ billion operating budget and controversial 32% property tax increase. The Council is slowly adjusting to conducting its meetings on- line, but these budget and tax public hearings might be the true tests, particularly given the capacity of the Council’s on line phone system to handle what could be a high call volume of likely unhappy taxpayers phoning in.

This week, THE NASHVILLE SCENE offers some interesting thoughts on how Nashville (mis)handled the its recent boom years in a way that now may threaten our the future.

In other budget related matters, the Council gave final approval to a five- year contract with Waste Management Services to continue Metro’s once a month curbside recycling program. Some councilmembers hoped the city could expand the program to twice a month. But given Metro’s financial issues, that isn’t going to happen this year and the new contract will also cost Metro millions more just to keep the current recycling program going.

The Council also accepted a $1.5 million federal grant to assist Metro Police in fighting the coronavirus. The Council also went on record asking Tennessee Senators Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn, along with Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper, to make unrestricted relief funds for local governments a requirement for their support for any future COVID-19 relief packages. This is a matter being debated in Congress right now. The Council also passed resolutions praising nurses during National Nurses Day, Week & Month. The lawmakers also praised all essential workers and first responders.

Finally, in something of a surprise, the Council rejected by one vote a proposed lawsuit settlement that would have seen the city receive $144,000 from the private corrections company that operates Metro’s downtown juvenile detention center. A few months back, four young detainees escaped and stay on the loose for days, costing Metro Police an estimated quarter of a million dollars to recapture them. Councilmembers said the settlement was not nearly big enough and many it is known several in the Council don’t like private corrections companies anyway. What happens now in terms the any settlement of the matter remains unclear.

OPERATING OF SOME TENNESSEE SCHOOLS MAY BE FURTHER COMPLICATED BY COURT RULING THAT VOUCHER PLAN IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL

As if reopening Tennessee schools later this summer isn’t already problematic depending on the virus, now schools in Memphis and Nashville face further uncertainty due to a ruling by a Nashville Chancery Court judge. Her ruling says the state’s education savings account or school voucher program, aimed only at Shelby and Davidson County, violates the Tennessee Constitution.

Approval of the education saving account program was a major victory for Governor Bill Lee. But opposition was so strong, it probably would not have passed unless the program pertained only to Nashville and Memphis. Of course, those two governments don’t like it either, hence the (so far successful) lawsuits.

As expected, an appeal by the state is already underway to quickly reverse the decision. But with the state’s court system having to deal with the virus like everyone else, it will be interesting to see just how quickly this matter can be resolved. To get a final ruling, the case seems very likely to go to the State Supreme Court. Nashville and Memphis schools start in August. The first full days of classes for private schools could vary. Metro schools will have its first full day on August 4. Memphis public schools’ first full class day is August 10.

Don’t forget, families with students who want to use the $7,000 plus savings accounts (5,000 are available) have applied for vouchers to pay tuition and other expenses to attend the private schools who say will accept a number the students. The deadline to apply was Thursday.

Much to the concern of plaintiff lawyers, Governor Lee early this week, in the wake of the court ruling, was still publicly urging parents to apply for the savings accounts. Nobody said it, but a trip to court claiming the state and the Governor were in contempt of court ruling seemed in the offing. The Governor’s office late backed off and said the state would refrain from pushing ahead with vouchers until the legal matter is decided.

The state has already lost its first appeal to get the ruling stayed. Judge Ann Martin said she won’t be her order on hold and told the state not to continue to market the voucher program. And while she says the state needs to keep parents informed, she adds officials should also warn them to be looking at a Plan B.

The TENNESSSEE JOURNAL blog gives even more insight to the Judge’s mood, thoughts and the words of her ruling in rejecting the state’s effort to get a stay.

So it’s hurry- up and wait for all the parents and students who have applied for education savings accounts to see what the courts decide. It’s a difficult time all sides in this debate for sure.

One last note, it was at the insistence of the Lee administration that the savings plan is going into effect this coming school year (2020-2021) instead of starting in 2021-2022 as lawmakers originally approved.

Finally, with state lawmakers planning to return to Capitol Hill June 1, there are continuing questions about what else will need to be cut out of the state budget to deal with the tax revenue loss. There is even talk among some Republicans that funding for the vouchers (including the millions to reimburse Nashville & Memphis for losing students) should be on the table when considering what else to slash in state spending. Ouch!

SIXTH DISTRICT CONGRESSMAN JOHN ROSE ON INSIDE POLITICS

It has been said over and over again in recent weeks.

We live in unprecedented times.

That is particularly true for members of Congress serving their first term in office.

They have had to deal with a presidential impeachment, several major national, state and local natural disasters, a couple of federal budget crises and now the COVID-19 pandemic and economic shutdown.

One of the rookie members of the House is Tennessee Republican 6th District Congressman John Rose.

Congressman Rose is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

We appreciate him joining us particularly as his district includes Cookeville and Putnam County which were severely impacted by the killer tornado of March 3.

Watch us!

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. 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 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 NUMBERS AND THE KINDNESS CONTINUE

As of 11:00 AM CDT Friday May 8.

WORLDWIDE
The number of total cases is approaching 4 million (over 3.7 million) with active cases at about 2.3 million.
Almost 1.3 million people have recovered.
Almost 270,000 victims have died

U.S.
Total Cases are approaching 1.3 million. Active cases are approaching 1.1 million
Approaching 175,000 have recovered.
The death total is over 76,000 (76,655)

STATE OF TENNESSEE
Numbers are updated daily at 2:00 PM CDT

METRO
The day after announcing the city would begin to reopen the city’s economy on Monday, here are the virus numbers:
Metro Public Health Department officials announced today a total number of 3,460 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Nashville/Davidson County, an increase of 28 in the past 24 hours.
The confirmed cases range in age from 2 months to 99 years.
A total of thirty-five (35) people have died after a confirmed case of COVID-19. 1,810 individuals have recovered from the virus.
The MPHD COVID-19 Hotline received 195 calls on Wednesday, May 7, 2020.

Total number of cases: 3,460
Cases reported in the past 24 hours: 28
Cases by sex
Male: 1,751
Female: 1,530
Unknown: 179
Total Cases by age
Unknown 67

Ages
0-10 87
11-20 247
21-30 868
31-40 674
41-50 537
51-60 470
61-70 301
71-80 140
81+ 69

Total 3,460
Recovered 1,810
Deaths 35
Total active cases 1,615

Total number of tests administered Total positive results Total negative results Positive results as percentage of total
34,160 3,460 30,700 10.1%

Despite all the sadness and uncertainty, and even as the local rebound begins, the kindness fortunately never ends!

THE NASHVILLE SIGN SHOWCASES WORKS OF NASHVILLE ARTISTS
HERMITAGE HOTEL FEEDS FIRST RESPONDERS
THE NIGHTLY NASHVILLE HOWL THANKS THE FRONT LINE
MUSICIAN CREATES CONCERT WEBSITE FOR NURSING HOME RESIDENTS
POWER CORDS TO HELP THOSE IN A TIME OF NEED
A TRIBUTE TO MOMS IN QUARANTINE

Stay safe!

Stay well!

Happy Mother’s Day weekend!