By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL 5 Political Analyst
November 5, 2021
INSIDE POLITICS ANALYZES THE OFF-OFF YEAR ELECTIONS; THE REVIEWS ARE NOT GOOD ON THE SPECIAL COVID LEGISLATIVE SESSION, BUT REMEMBER WHO THE PRIMARY AUDIENCE WAS; SHOTS FOR CHILDREN; METRO HAS A CIVIL RIGHTS DILEMMA
INSIDE POLITICS ANALYZES THE OFF-OFF YEAR ELECTIONS
This week saw the off-off year elections across the country.
The results from the few races held have turned into a belated Halloween horror show for the Democrats and President Joe Biden.
It was a good night for the Republicans as they look for a boost to retake both houses of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections.
But the GOP remains divided over who leads the party.
Is it their congressional leaders, their state governors or is it still former President Donald Trump?
Meanwhile congressional Democrats still can’t decide when and how much of their own president’s legislative agenda they will pass, with the window of opportunity to do anything perhaps already closing.
To help us sort through all this, we welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS, Dr. John Vile, MTSU political science professor and Dean of the Honors College at the school.
We thank Doctor Vile for joining us again.
INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:
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Finally, I am now posting a link to the show each week on my own Facebook page, usually on the Monday or Tuesday after the show airs.
POSTSCRIPT: The U.S. House is supposed to vote today (Friday) on both the bricks and mortar infrastructure bill and the social service infrastructure measure. But we’ve heard that before, so let’s see what happens.
If the bi-partisan brick and mortar proposal passes without any changes from what the Senate approved a few months ago, it will go to President Biden for his signature. The $1 trillion plus law would be a major, if still partial, victory for Mr. Biden in passing his legislative agenda. If the passage comes Friday, it will coincide with the best jobs report since July being released with new jobs and wages up and unemployment down.
As for the larger social services bill, even though all it needs is Democratic support, the measure seems likely to face a different path. If it passes the House it (and that is not certain), approval in the Senate is even less likely without changes. So we may be looking at still further debate, and very possibly a conference committee of the two houses, to determine what if anything happens.
THE REVIEWS ARE NOT GOOD ON THE SPECIAL LEGISLATIVE SESSION ON COVID, BUT REMEMBER WHO THE PRIMARY AUDIENCE WAS
As the world topped 5 million deaths and the U.S. over 750,000 fatalities from COVID-19, Tennessee took another step backward last weekend in trying to combat and mitigate the nearly 2-year long pandemic.
In the dead of night, and during the wee hours of the morning on Saturday, the Tennessee General Assembly ended a three-day self-convened special session. They left after passing a number of bills that greatly diminish or all but outlaw many of the science-based efforts used to keep our citizens safe. The measures instead strip the powers of local government, health officials, school boards, district attorneys, even private businesses to protect public health, and place almost all that authority in the hands of the state government, in particular the Legislature itself, which under the leadership of a Republican Super Majority has long been yearning to call the shots about the virus.
I would say they have been dying to take control, but that dying could well be left to still more citizens of our state if there is yet another surge of COVID-19 in the weeks and months to come. Already over 16,000 Tennesseans have lost their lives. But if the virus returns (as it has every winter so far) the one tool, outside the vaccines, that has best combatted the virus, requiring the wearing of masks, will be forbidden until the outbreak reaches a such a high level that we will surely see many more people sicken and die.
One scientist at Vanderbilt Medical Center (a group our legislators don’t consult) compares the new mask rule to prohibiting a fire department from fighting a blaze until the building involved is totally consumed.
While mandating this new restriction to any governmental entity or school board, lawmakers do still allow private schools and private businesses to require wearing masks. It is at best a hypocritical inconsistency that, at least in this case, might save lives.
Vaccine mandates or requiring proof of vaccinations or negative covid tests are banned for the most part, although again lawmakers made some exceptions that are causing confusion and push back from the business community which see the legislation as “unnecessary government intrusion.”
There has a slow but growing rift between Tennessee businesses and the current Republican-controlled Legislature. It appears the special session just added to that.
While also seeking to block to a January 4, 2022 federal government vaccine mandate (or take a weekly COVID test) for businesses with more than 100 employees, our lawmakers again made exceptions for state agencies or others who might lose federal funding if they defy the mandate.
Late Thursday, Tennessee’s Attorney General Herbert Slatery joined two Republican AGs in other states to challenge in federal court the constitutionality of the Biden vaccine mandate as it applies to federal contractors. In a somewhat unrelated development , the state this week got sued itself over its misguided new law banning transgendered students from playing sports.
Getting back to the Covid bills passed during the special session, city and county governments along with local school boards, got stripped of several of their powers. Lawmakers have wanted to bring these groups under their control throughout the pandemic. Now they are stripped of almost any power to fight the virus. Nashville and several other major counties in the state have likely lost the independence of their health departments. The local restrictions are so severe 24 of the city’s 40 council members have written to Mayor John Cooper demanding some pushback, even litigation by Metro.
Right now, Metro legal officials are scrambling about what to do, reviewing the bills that passed and seeing what options the city has to pursue. They say it appears the situation is murky.
Renewed litigation by Metro Schools about masks is also under consideration. The Governor’s executive order requiring a parental opt-out from mask mandates has been thrown out at least temporarily by three federal judges across the state. They found the governor’s action a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It might stand to reason a complete ban on a mask mandate to protect students, teachers and staff might also be in violation of the federal law.
The new state laws also further politicize school boards allowing them to be run as partisan contests. It seems lawmakers don’t understand our public schools educate children, not Democratic or Republican youngsters. Instead of bringing us together, this move will only further divide the state. Tennessee being a Republican state, I guess the GOP Super Majority sees this move as a misguided way to further expand their already overwhelming political dominance.
Finally, the medical community is particularly concerned about a dead of night amendment added to one of the bills. It would significantly change hospital visitation policy regarding Covid-19. It is something they fear will put lives in danger.
All this uproar and backlash from the special session has produced this commentary saying the passage of these laws marks the death of the Tennessee Republican Party.
It is a well written piece by my friend Jim O’Hara. He makes many accurate points. What Jim does not discuss is that the GOP Super Majority does not care about the reaction of the general public, business leaders, local government, school board or health care officials. They called the special session to pass legislation to pander and placate the conservative base of the Republican Party, They did that, so those conservatives will re-elect them to office lawmakers, and to lessen the chances they wont have to face have any primary opponents this coming August.
In that regard, I fear the special session has been wildly successful. Tennessee, by all political measures, is a deep red, Donald Trump loving, Republican state. If they reflect their party members in other states they believe the anti-mask, anti-vax, and all the other conspiracy theories so popular in the GOP, including the Big Lie, that (without any proof) the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
Looking to the next election, the GOP Super Majority will soon unveil its new redistricting plan in response to the 2020 census. Like the Democrats in the years they controlled the General Assembly, the GOP will seek to maximize the number of seats the party controls in the Legislature, although there aren’t many left now that they don’t.
It is really the Democrats who continue to die a slow death, and that isn’t likely to change until they start winning elections in Tennessee which doesn’t appear to be happening anytime soon.
Governor Lee says he is studying the recently passed COVID-19 bills to decide what to do about signing them, using his veto pen or allowing to them to become law without his signature. I am not holding my breath he will do anything but sign the legislation. Given the weak power of a Tennessee governor’s veto, it is only judicial review that can hold back the dead of night deed committed last weekend when our elected GOP lawmakers threw science and good public health policies out the window for political gain.
Remember, even with COVID-19 waning in terms of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, until the world is vaccinated, variants of the disease or flare ups of the disease can happen anywhere. For example, this week there are new outbreaks reported in Europe.
If a new outbreak of the virus occurs here again (God forbid), what lawmakers have done is put the state and our citizens in a much more vulnerable and dangerous place to deal with it.
SHOTS FOR CHILDREN
After several weeks of working through the necessary government and public health review and red tape, a mini- Pfizer covid vaccine (one third of the adult dose) will be available to protect children ages 5-11 beginning Monday.
Metro Nashville, in what could be one of its last actions with an independent health department, plans to be quite active to get the shots distributed and into the arms of local children.
The expansion of the population eligible to receive the vaccine (by two million young children) is a major development. Unfortunately, as we have seen in every step of the pandemic and with vaccines, it comes with hesitancy and unreluctance, this time from parents.
Next up, will likely be review of a vaccine for children below the age of 5 as well as a pill that reportedly cut the likelihood of hospitalization or death from the virus by 90%.
Of course, the misinformation propaganda machine continues to run full bore. Now it is vaccine waivers being sold on-line by a local company. Watch out!
METRO HAS A CIVIL RIGHTS DILEMMA
At its last meeting Tuesday night, the Metro Council accepted a $50,000 grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the National Parks Service. The money will be used to put together a history of Nashville’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement from 1944-1966.
It is clear Nashville has a deep history in the movement, one that needs to be captured before it is lost and forgotten, especially as those who were involved pass away.
But that also raises a dilemma for city officials. An effort to rename the Public Square Park in honor of Diane Nash, one of the most Civil Rights leader, has been rejected by the city’s Board of Parks because of a longstanding rule that parks facilities can’t be named for someone who is still living.
There is an exception if a person played a very significant role such as funding a park, but the Parks Board did not want to invoke that. So, what should Metro do?
Some Metro Council members are not taking no for an answer, and are seeking a work around to honor Nash in the Public Square.
Nashville has named a major downtown street for the late Congressman John Lewis, another Nashville movement leader. This week Metro also unveiled a portion of a beautiful, new mural of Lewis. But even before he died, he was honored locally several times by civic groups and others for his work.
Maybe the Council work around for the Public Square has merit. Surely someone can put their creative minds to work to honor Diane Nash before she passes. To not do anything makes something of a gender mockery of Nash’s work to achieve civil rights for all, and not just recognition and honors for the Nashville Civil Rights movement male leaders.
I GUESS TENNESSEE NEEDED THE MONEY AFTER ALL
I reflected recently on how during the recent debate in Washington about the American Rescue Plan, Governor Lee told reporters he opposed the proposal and Tennessee didn’t need the money.
I remembered that when I read this story that the Lee Administration plans to use $400 million of Rescue monies the state has received to reduce a 3,500- person years-long waiting long list to receive TennCare help and provide services to residents with disabilities.
So our state didn’t need those funds? I am glad somebody in state government thought differently and found a way to help those in our state in need.