Capitol View Commentary: Friday, Nov. 10, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations

November 10, 2017

ANOTHER BIG STEP TOWARDS A MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER FRANCHISE IN NASHVILLE; SOME BIG CHANGES IN HEALTHCARE FOR NASHVILLE; YOU MIGHT NEED A MAP AND A ROSTER CARD ON THE HILL; ONE YEAR LATER; ENDING THE UNCIVIL WAR ON INSIDE POLITICS; AND NOTHING WILL CHANGE

ANOTHER BIG STEP TOWARDS A MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER FRANCHISE IN NASHVILLE

In a major victory for the administration of Mayor Megan Barry, the Metro Council has approved $225 million in bonds to build a new major league soccer stadium to be located at the Historic Fairgrounds.

The 30-6 vote does not make it a certainty that Nashville will have a MLS expansion team. The League will announce which two cities it wants to add in December. But the vote is likely a big step towards making Nashville a favorite to get a franchise while competing with a 12-city field of applicants.

The vote for the Mayor was her first major test in passing controversial legislation through the 40-member Council, and it passed easily. Some last- minute changes to the lease for the developers and other small tweaks to the legislation (as outlined by the Mayor when I interviewed her last week on INSIDE POLITICS) seemed to satisfy some potential no votes or votes for deferral in the Council.

But there is still more legislation to be considered by the Council if Nashville gets an MLS team. That would include a two-thirds vote (27) needed to demolish some non-essential buildings on the Fairgrounds, as well as rezone some of the property. Any of those efforts could regenerate the debate about ten acres of Fairgrounds property given to the developers for a multi-use project to complement the stadium, including retail and affordable/workforce housing. Some council members are still not comfortable with that part of the deal, even though developers insist it is necessary if they are to pay 90% of the costs of the bonds, which will also be paid for from lease payments and the sales and other taxes generated by the stadium.

Of course, nothing will happen if Nashville doesn’t get an MLS team. But it does Mayor Barry would seem to approach these other legislative hurdles from a position of strength.  

She will need all that because soon the Council will consider her $5.2 billion, 30- year mass transit plan for Nashville. That plan and the tax increases needed to make it a reality must be approved by the public with the vote set tentatively for May 1, 2018. From what I have heard from Council members, while they may have questions and concerns about some of the details, they believe the public wants to do something about transit including having a full debate on the Mayor’s plan. So I suspect she will get the majority vote (21) she needs to put it on the ballot.

Meantime Mayor Barry took steps this week to address one of the issues that is already bubbling up in the Council and the community about the transit plan. Will implementing more transit mean less for affordable housing? The Mayor claims it is not either or but both plus. To that end she appointed a blue- ribbon panel of elected officials and city leaders to look at the issue and give her suggestions to make sure the transit effort is inclusive both for citizens and small businesses. The panel is co-chaired by former Mayor Bill Purcell and current County Clerk Brenda Wynn.

From a news release from the Mayor’s office: “Housing and transportation are inseparable issues, as together they represent the highest cost-burdens for most working families,” said Mayor Barry. “If Nashville voters adopt Metro’s Transportation Solution in May of next year, we’ll face a tremendous opportunity to create affordable housing and commercial space along our major pikes and corridors so that Nashville’s future is more equitable. I’m grateful to all the taskforce members for their willingness to help identify and shape policies to ensure our community’s growth and prosperity is inclusive of all.”

The Mayor hopes the group will be guided by best practices and lessons learned from other. The panel held its first meeting Wednesday with other sessions to follow including gathering public input and ideas. The plan is to have a plan back to the Mayor in early 2018 in time to be a part of the public debate leading up to the May referendum.

SOME BIG CHANGES IN HEALTHCARE FOR NASHVILLE

For over 125 years the city’s General Hospital has provided comprehensive health care services to the community. But that could be changing in the next few months. In a letter this week, Mayor Megan Barry told members of the Metro Council that it’s time to revisit the hospital’s operating model.

Quoting excerpts from the Mayor’s letter:

“Nashville General’s current daily census is about one-third of its licensed capacity. Only about 40 of its 120 beds are being used on an average day, and 20 percent of those are part of an inmate care contract. Meharry (an historically black local medical school which trains its students at General) currently has to pay to send students to other states in order to get the experience necessary to enter the medical profession.”

“It’s time for a new model,” Barry wrote, “one that will be focused on preventing people from needing in-patient services while ensuring that the patients currently using Nashville General for their outpatient health care needs, which amounts to more than 90 percent of the total patient visits, will still receive the same — or better — care at this facility.”

The Mayor seems to be recommending this change not only because the city can longer keep spending tens of millions of dollars annually to subsidize General (she estimates it’s over a half a billion dollars since 2005), there is also a new opportunity for Meharry to train its doctors locally. In an agreement announced the same day Mayor Barry sent her letter to the Council, Meharry and officials of Hospital Corporation of America announced that Meharry will begin training its third and fourth years students at HCA’s Southern Hills Hospital.

So here’s the Mayor’s transition plan as outlined in her Council letter:

“Later this year, my administration will submit to the Council a substantial request for supplemental funds to stabilize Nashville General’s fiscal situation, so the hospital can continue to provide services and meet its financial obligations for the rest of this budget year. Meanwhile, we will work with stakeholders throughout the upcoming budget cycle toward a goal of refocusing Nashville General Hospital’s operations to an ambulatory care model that provides high-quality clinic and other outpatient care services. “

“We also will create an indigent care fund to ensure that all patients who are currently using Nashville General will still have their health care needs met either at Nashville General or at other area hospitals. This will result in better health care outcomes for the patient population being served.

As a city, we are financially committed to promoting better health results and health care operations. We can restructure that commitment in a way that results in the best health care outcomes for residents while providing a more stable funding model that won’t require Metro to sacrifice services in other areas of government, or possibly raise taxes, in order to provide that quality care.”

But I suspect there will some negative blowback from this change. Already General’s employees, who say they were unaware of this until the Mayor’s announcement, want to know what their futures are. Others in the community may see this change, despite the Mayor’s reassurances as a decrease in health care services and accessibility to the poor and African American communities. It is also not clear how much support there is for the Mayor’s plan among General Hospital’s leadership and the city’s Hospital Authority which operates General.

By the way, as an historical note, Metro is legally mandated to provide health care services to the indigent, a responsibility that dates back many years and certainly predates Obamacare in case you were wondering. Now it does appear those financial funds will be reimbursed through General out-patient services but also to local area private hospitals for those patients who qualify as indigent.

YOU MIGHT NEED A MAP AND A ROSTER CARD ON THE HILL

The winds of change continue to blow strongly on Tennessee’s Capitol Hill. That is rather unusual especially since the next legislative election is still almost a year away.

The Trump administration has a lot to do with the changes especially in the State Senate. Two senators, Mark Norris and Doug Overby have been nominated to the federal judiciary (Norris) and to be a U.S. Attorney (Overby). Both still await Senate confirmation. That always seems to take a while. But both are very likely to be confirmed and will the resign their Senate seats. In fact, Overby was confirmed to his post late this week and will leaving the Senate very shortly. Since it is now less than a year before the next election, Overby’s successor will be chosen by the local legislative body.

Earlier this week, Senator Jim Tracy resigned his Senate seat just a few days ago as well. He’s been appointed by the President to a top job in U.S.D.A. It doesn’t require Senate confirmation, so Tracy resigned immediately to assume his new post.  But because Tracy resigned more than one year before the next election, that is necessitating a special election to fill his empty seat. Already two Republicans, former State Representative Joe Carr and health care business executive Shane Reeves have announced they will be candidates.

That’s not surprising but it should be noted the date for the special elections (both for the primary and general election) have still not be set by Governor Bill Haslam. Regardless it doesn’t appear Tracy’s seat will be filled before lawmakers return to Nashville early in January.

One other vacant Senate seat is being filled. Senator Mae Beavers resigned a couple of months ago to concentrate on her race for governor. The primary election was held this week and the general is set for December 19 just before the holidays.

Add it all up, and we will likely see 4 new Senators in the 33- member body by early in 2018. And the change in the Senate is not over. Democratic Minority Leader Lee Harris has announced he will not seek re-election next year to run for a local office in Memphis. The GOP could see a Senate leadership change too since when Mark Norris leaves he will also vacate his post as Majority Leader in the upper chamber.

The House has a major leadership change coming after the 2018 election. Speaker Beth Harwell is running for governor and therefore is leaving the House. And some significant committee chairs such as Finance Chair Charles Sargent are announcing they are retiring after the 2018 session due to health concerns.

And who knows how much more change the 2018 elections might bring?

So, if you head for the Hill, you might want to take an updated roster with you as well as a map. That’s because starting later this year, lawmakers will have a new home for their offices and committee meetings. It’s the newly renovated, historic Cordell Hull building that was set for the wrecking ball just a few years ago. Now it’s the Legislative Plaza, home of the General Assembly since the early 1970s that will be vacated. That underground space will reportedly become additional parking.

ONE YEAR LATER

It was this week one year ago that Donald Trump was elected President. At the time both national parties were widely criticized by voters for nominating two of the most unpopular candidates ever.

Now both parties are locked in internal civil wars. The Republicans have the current and former GOP Presidents attacking each other, a rather unprecedented event in U. S. history. While the party controls both houses of Congress and the White House they can’t get any major legislation passed because of disagreements largely in the Senate which might even threaten to scuttle the GOP’s last chance to pass something major in 2017, tax cuts. Republicans know their failure to approve a new health care was a top motivating factor on voters’ minds in both parties Tuesday. So, they know it will likely be even worse for them in 2018 if they don’t produce. But can they?

Not to be outdone, the Democrats are fighting among themselves, with the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders wings of the party still slugging it out in the national media just as they did last year in vying for the party’s presidential nomination. Now the charges, coming largely from former DNC Chair Donna Brazile in her new book, are that the nomination process was “rigged” and the Clinton campaign was like a “cult.”

But while both parties are dealing with some rather serious internal struggles, there were a number of interesting state and local elections held across the country this past week.

For once in recent years, the Democrats got by far the better of it in those contests, winning governorships in both Virginia and New Jersey. Now both states have tended to be somewhat blue in their recent presidential choices, the Democrats have not had much of any election victories to brag about since the Trump election, despite the anti-Trump RESIST efforts touted by party activists.

Now they do.

Looking down ballot in Virginia, there was a startling change in the party mix and makeup of the Virginia House of Delegates. That’s where the Democrats picked up at least 15 seats in Thursday’s election and all but wiped out a Republican Super Majority there. Sound familiar?

Well Tennessee is a lot more of a red state than Virginia (and if the polls are accurate, Donald Trump is a lot more popular here than the Commonwealth). Still this article by Carie Wade Gervin  from THE NASHVILLE POST outlines both the caution and optimism that state and national Democratic party leaders are voicing for 2018 in the Volunteer State and the elections next year. There is even talk of Tennessee being a battleground state…

 http://www.nashvillepost.com/politics/elections/article/20982171/tennessee-a-battleground-state

One of the key Tennessee races next races next year is the contest for the open U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Republican Bob Corker. Now comes word from THE NEW YORK TIMES that national Democratic leaders are wooing from Governor Phil Bredesen to run.

“Mr. Bredesen has been courted personally by Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the (Senate) minority leader, as well as several governors who now serve in the Senate, including Mark Warner of Virginia, according to Democrats briefed on the overtures. And the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee commissioned a poll aimed at coaxing Mr. Bredesen to run.

Mr. Bredesen is in Washington this week and is said to be nearing a decision.”

There is also talk that the Tennessee Senate race could be the key to the Democrats taking control over that body.

But all this may be the cart before the horse a little less than a year out from 2018 general election. Based on the elections this week it is clear Democrats have some renewed enthusiasm. They did a much better job in turning out their base than in past off-year elections. Clearly President Trump’s unpopularity is a boon to Democratic turnout and may in some areas have deflated GOP voter enthusiasm.

But being anti-Trump alone will not be enough to win for Democrats next year especially in the red and swing states. The Democrats need to find their identity and their issues, then unite (despite Will Rogers’ famous quote).

The Republicans obviously face many problems and divisions as well. That includes the years ago sexual molestation allegations now being leveled against the GOP nominee to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat in Alabama. Could it open to the door to make that race one that Democrats might win in a deep red state?

Already, national Republican leaders are calling on Judge Roy Moore, the Alabama Senate nominee to step aside if the charges are true. They say that even though there is not time to put a replacement candidate on the ballot.

And, if the Democrats win that race, what impact will that have on the tax legislation before the Senate. The new Alabama senator will take office not long after the Alabama special election next month.

It is perhaps one of the most curious times in national party politics I can ever remember.

ENDING THE UNCIVIL WAR ON INSIDE POLITICS

We have a most timely show on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

Our guest is local author Jim Brown. Jim has had a long and distinguished career as a journalist and in government affairs. He’s written a book entitled: ENDING OUR UNCIVIL WAR: A PATH TO POLITICAL RECOVERY AND SPIRITUAL RENEWAL.

If the country, and its increasing loss of civility, is making you a little crazy, Jim’s book may give you something to think and a plan for action about going forward. I hope you will find our conversation about the book interesting too.

Watch us!

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each 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; along with 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. Each new show is posted the week after it airs.

AND NOTHING WILL CHANGE

Mass shootings and terrorist attacks in this country are happening so frequently, the media is starting to delineate the tragedies by ranking them. That includes most recently, the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history (Las Vegas); the deadliest attack since 9/11 (New York City), and this past weekend, the largest mass shooting in a church (Texas).

We in Nashville have some experience in shootings at places of worship after what happened at a church in Antioch a few weeks ago. But with (fortunately) only one person killed (and several others injured) what happened here was largely ignored by the national media.

But one thing is evident. These tragedies can happen anywhere, anytime and to anyone. In terms of terrorist attacks, there will be increased security and more debate about tightening immigration laws and additional “extreme vetting” of those coming to America. There will debate and some actions regarding security.

As for the mass shootings, which have been largely acts of lone wolf domestic terrorism, you can bet nothing will be done. There will be lots of thoughts and prayers offered, but no action and not even much debate or discussion among our national lawmakers about what to do and/or how to curb this seeming endless and senseless carnage.

 President Trump is among those who say it’s a mental health issue but then  he signs legislation passed by Congress to make it easier for the mentally ill to purchase firearms. 

The latest Texas church mass shooting is made even more maddening because current laws and requirements are not being followed. The killer should have been barred from buying guns if officials of the U.S. Air Force had done their job and reported to the F.B. I. the information about the shooter’s background and his serious crimes and issues while in the service that made him ineligible to purchase firearms. How many more have been overlooked and not reported by the Air Force and other branches of our armed forces?  

And so it goes, as we await the next mass shooting. And they seem to be coming with increasing frequency these days.

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