By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
November 13, 2020
INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE STATUS OF A PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION WITH SOMEONE WHO KNOWS, LINDA PEEK SCHACHT; HERE IN TENNESSEE; RAYS OF HOPE AS THE VIRUS SURGES ACROSS THE COUNTRY, TENNESSEE, AND NASHVILLE; THE ECONOMY REMAINS UNCERTAIN; STATE GOVERNMENT ADJUSTS TO YEAR II OF A COVID BUDGET; METRO PONDERS SIGNIFICANT NEW INVESTMENTS IN RENEWABLE ENERGY AND HEALTH CARE
INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE STATUS OF A PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION WITH SOMEONE WHO KNOWS, LINDA PEEK SCHACHT
The final votes are still being counted and certified, while recounts and lawsuits continue over 2020 Presidential election.
At this point it appears Democrat Joe Biden has enough Electoral Votes. He is the President-elect and set to take office on January 20, 2021.
Yet President Donald Trump continues to refuse to concede the election.
Beyond demanding recounts and filing multiple lawsuits in several states, claiming fraud and other irregularities such as the election being stolen or fixed, Mr. Trump this week also used his influence and his executive powers to slow down, if not stop, the efforts of the Biden team to begin the normal transition that occurs between presidential administrations.
This week on INSIDE POLITICS, we have invited a guest, Linda Peek Schacht who has experience on both sides of a presidential transition. Linda is the Founding Director of the Nelson & Sue Andrews Institute for Civic Leadership at Lipscomb University.
She has also worked in the U.S. Senate for both Majority and Minority Leaders, positions that always play a major role what happens, or doesn’t happen, in Congress, including with a new President.
We thank Linda for joining us again to share her experience and insights in this area at a critical time.
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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.
HERE IN TENNESSEE
Being the deep red state Tennessee is, Republican officials (with the exceptions of former GOP elected officials such Senator Bob Corker, former Governor Bill Haslam, former Senator Bill Frist and Congressman Zach Wamp ), are lining up behind President and not even recognizing Joe Biden as the likely winner of the 2020 presidential election.
In their zest to back the President, some Tennessee GOP leaders are either lying or are misinformed about how quickly the state finished all its vote counting. It was NOT by midnight Election Night. It never is.
And there is this national poll, conducted by Reuters and reported by the WASHINGTON EXAMINER (hardly a MSM liberal bastion). The survey finds 69% believe Joe Biden won the election including 60% of Republicans.
What about the long deep- red state of Georgia? It may be the key to when or if Republicans ever drop their reluctance to accept the new President. Georgia is about to turn purple as Joe Biden continues his small lead in the vote there, and as two U.S. Senate races in the Peach State are going into an early January runoff to decide which party controls the Senate in Washington. More than a few observers believe the GOP will seek to stand behind Trump to hold the support of the President’s base (over 71 million voters strong) to win both Senate seats.
Reportedly under pressure from President Trump, the two GOP Senate incumbents (without offering any proof) have demanded Georgia’s Republican Secretary of State, and top election official, resign because of a lack of transparency in handling the election. The Secretary says the charge is “laughable,” and is not stepping down. The Georgia Secretary of State has also announced a hand counted audit of the state’s presidential vote with the goal of having it done by the state’s legal vote certification deadline of November 20.
How long can President Trump and his enablers continue their efforts to shield him (and his ego) from defeat, without proof that the election was unfair or illegal?
By Thursday, there was a sign among senior GOP Senators that the Republican wall of support for President Trump may be beginning to crack. They say President -elect Biden ought to at least be given daily classified national security briefings which are customary.
Late in the week, national organizations with bi partisan memberships are speaking out. Both the national association of election officials and a similar association for secretaries of state across the nation say 2020 was the most secure American election ever held.
Even officials of the federal Homeland Security Department say the same thing. Several of those signing have stepped down from the DHS, convinced they would be fired by President Trump much as he did early in the week in a political purge of the Pentagon.
Of course, in these days of social media, somebody always posts a “joke” they later regret, That includes the school superintendent in Jackson County here in Tennessee.
RAYS OF HOPE AS THE VIRUS SURGES ACROSS THE COUNTRY, TENNESSEE, AND NASHVILLE
As we are posed in the next few weeks to enter a grim winter, with the COVID-19 virus and the seasonal flu about to create a “twindemic,” there were two rare rays of hope this week. First, one of the vaccines being tested reportedly has achieved a 90% effective rate in medical trials. Officials are quite encouraged even as challenges remain.
There was also progress announced when FDA emergency approval was given for use of a new anti-body treatment for the disease.
But despite these much- welcomed advancements, the virus now rages, all but out of control, across the U.S. There will be no wide- spread vaccine use until at least the spring, and drug treatments remain limited in supply and availability. The U.S. is now over 10 million virus cases, with the latest million added just since the beginning of the month of November. The U.S. has seen daily increases of COVID-19 cases of 100,000 or more, every day for over a week. The national case count went over 150,000 on Thursday.
It is not just the increases in cases, hospitalizations continue to set new records in many states, with no sign of stopping.
Tennessee saw record cases number over the last weekend, although state health officials explained some of that was due to a backlog of cases not being reported in a timely manner. Regardless, state hospitalizations continue to set records with available intensive care beds at an all-time low since the pandemic began over eight months ago. On Wednesday, Metro Nashville’s ICU availability was down to 8%. By Thursday, it was just 6%.
Some area hospitals are beginning to feel the strain.
Wednesday saw a new daily record for deaths in Tennessee along with another new peak in hospitalizations. October set the record for most cases and deaths in the state during the pandemic. Still less than halfway through the month of November, we are on pace to break that record shortly after Thanksgiving at the end of month.
The incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden has appointed a new blue- ribbon task force to come up with a nationally coordinated effort to address the pandemic. That includes asking all governors to institute a state-wide mask mandate.
With Governor Bill Lee not even recognizing Joe Biden as President-elect, such requests from a new administration are not likely to be heeded. Governor Lee continues to believe state government is not trusted enough by citizens to follow a mask mandate. But curiously, he thinks local governments and mayors can get it done.
More counties in Middle Tennessee have reinstated mask orders in recent weeks, but not all. The Governor’s continued reluctance comes despite a new Vanderbilt study that says masks can make a big difference in who lives and dies in our state, as well as how many people wind up hospitalized.
The latest CDC guidelines say wearing a mask can also give the wearer a big boost of protection from getting the disease.
If not enough Governors and mayors across the country issue mask mandates, this USA TODAY article hints about some actions the new President could enact through executive orders. That might include requiring face coverings in all federal building and on federal land, as well as requiring mask wearing for state and local governments to receive federal virus related funds.
Another alternative suggested by a top Biden advisor would include be a new nationwide shutdown, but only for a set, short period of time.
Even having the longest-lasting mask mandate in the state, Nashville is not an island. Numbers continue to spike in the city in terms of cases, transmission rates, and hospitalizations. That last category is more acute because Davidson County is a regional health center and treats virus patients and others from counties across Middle Tennessee and surrounding states.
The biggest increase in cases is coming from community spread, in particular, family-related gatherings or meetings with friends. The city is not planning to reimpose any shutdowns, business restrictions or curfews. In fact, with the switch in where virus cases are growing, ongoing enforcement of the mask mandate by Metro Police is fading away.
Now in the wake of a spiking virus, Mayor John Cooper and health officials are begging, continuing to emphasize the need for everyone taking personal responsibility to wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands and stay away from large gatherings.
This will be particularly important during the upcoming Thanksgiving holidays, so the events don’t unintentionally become super spreader events. The Mayor says try to celebrate only among those in your immediate family, or not more than 10 people if you must expand the holiday gatherings to others.
Here is what the CDC is saying about having a safe Thanksgiving.
Metro Schools continue to be a virus concern. Younger students up to 3rd grade are back in in-person classes while all other students remain in virtual learning. While Mayor Cooper and school officials say they are seeing very little virus spread of the virus at schools themselves, some teachers still feel very unsafe and are taking their complaints to the streets and to the Metro School Board.
On a statewide level, the weekly report on virus cases show the numbers are rising in schools across the state.
THE ECONOMY REMAINS UNCERTAIN
This week there was no new progress to report from Washington about a new virus relief bill that could pass during the upcoming rump session of Congress or next year in the new Congress.
The pressure on folks who have lost their jobs, and have not found new ones, continues to rise. Locally, the Nashville Electric Service has ended its March moratorium and has begun the disconnection of customers who are months behind on their power bill.
NES is however is working with the Tennessee Valley Authority to provide assistance to hard pressed customers.
But even for those keeping their lights and heat, some can’t pay with a national moratorium on evictions about to expire the end of the year. That means 2021 could be really bad, with the virus still out of control and no now new relief package from the federal government.
While new unemployment claims fell again this week by 50,000. But the new requests for help and the historically high numbers of those on extended benefits are daunting, especially as skyrocketing virus cases and hospitalizations raise questions about the economy continuing to improve.
In the Nashville area, the latest employment numbers indicate a gradual, but in some ways, unequal recovery, for the various sectors of the local economy.
The bottom line is clear. The situation is not going to get much better until the virus is under control. The economy cannot continue to move back to normal (whatever that may be) until COVID-19 is well on the decline, and people and businesses feel comfortable to move forward. In the interim, there needs to be more government assistance or things will just get worse for millions of Americans.
STATE GOVERNMENT ADJUSTS TO YEAR II OF A COVID BUDGET
This past week, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee held budget hearings for the state’s new spending plan to take effect July 1, 2021.
This is the fourth time this calendar year the budget is undergoing review. During his State of the State address the end of January, Governor outlined a number of spending plans, including a teacher pay raise. Many of those plans were cut or later eliminated by the General Assembly, first in March when the pandemic shutdown began and later in the late spring when lawmakers returned to reassess what other spending revisions were needed.
During the budget hearings this week still more cuts and fiscal austerity seem likely as the economy remains uncertain. That may seem somewhat odd as state tax collections are up $1 billion above what was projected. But with no new federal stimulus funds on the way, state officials are cautious. Governor Lee is however hopeful a “meaningful” teacher pay raise might be in the budget again this coming year.
Governor Lee has also added a retiring state lawmaker to be an advisor to his education team. Outgoing Knoxville Republican Representative Bill Dunn will assist State Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. The Commissioner has had a bit of a rocky relationship with some Republican legislative leaders. Dunn may be able to help, as he is highly esteemed on the Hill. Dunn is also a major supporter of school vouchers, so maybe he can help the Governor and Commissioner Schwinn pick up the pieces after a controversial pilot program for vouchers was ruled unconstitutional by the courts after narrowly obtaining legislative approval.
On the other end of Deadrick Street in downtown Nashville, Metro hasn’t started its budget hearings for next year. With the virus raging last summer, the city did raise property tax 34% to protect vital programs and services.
The move created a very strong pushback, including what have so far been unsuccessful efforts to repeal the tax hike and to recall the Mayor and some Council members. Late news indicates those pushing the tax repeal and charter change won’t appeal their loss in court. Instead, they will be redrafting their proposals and seek to have voters to sign a petition calling a special election in March at a cost of $80,000 to taxpayers.
As has happened for the State, it is highly likely Metro has seen its tax collections, especially the sales tax, increase significantly above projections. I haven’t seen city finance officials release any tax collection numbers and the media does not seem very interested in reporting the numbers either. The numbers are public records.
METRO PONDERS SIGNIFICANT NEW INVESTMENTS IN RENEWABLE ENERGY AND HEALTH CARE
This week it was learned Metro Government may soon approve a partnership with Vanderbilt University, the Nashville Electric Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority that would take a major step towards achieving the city’s goal of being 100% reliant on renewable energy sources by 2025.
The proposal, up for consideration by the Metro Council next week, would include the construction of a 100-megawatt solar array plant in Tullahoma. The plant would be operated by Nashville-based Silicon Ranch Corp., a company founded by former Tennessee Governor and Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen.
Some city officials are also looking at new investments in Nashville’s safety net health care system including a new location and facilities for Metro General Hospital.
While the plans are still preliminary, the move would mark quite a change in Metro heath services plan. Just a few years ago, former Mayor Megan Barry was proposed closing General amid rising city subsidies to keep the facility operating.
Metro has been facing a similar situation regarding its decades old Bordeaux long term care facility. The situation has now become a crisis. To save money, the city privatized the operation a few years ago. The chosen operator has now been dismissed by Metro although city officials have not been able to find another firm to take over.
The Bordeaux facility, which largely serves indigent, elderly African Americans, is now set to close, with its current residents placed in other long-term care facilities, by January 31. That has created an uproar along with a move in the Metro Council to continue to keep Bordeaux open using some of Metro’s CARES Act funds ($5 million) as well as city reserves ($1.5 million). Some are also suggesting Metro take back over operations of Bordeaux through the city’s Hospital Authority.
All these major investments are certainly interesting to observe just months after city officials complained about a lack of resources that led to several capital-related projects being delayed, and only a few small number of new capital outlays approved, while Metro sought to get its financial house in order.