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Capitol View commentary: Friday, October 2, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 11:21 AM, Oct 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-02 12:21:54-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

October 2, 2020

THE FINAL WARNING?; ONE YEAR IN OFFICE MAYOR JOHN COOPER IS ON INSIDE POLITICS BUT NOT WITH ME; WHEN OUR PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE AND CIVIL DISCOURSE DIED; THE VIRUS RAGES ON WITH A TWINDEMIC FEARED; MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE STATE’S NO BID PURCHASING AS THE GOVERNOR HAS ANOTHER TOUGH WEEK IN THE COURTS; MAYOR COOPER AND METRO FACING MAJOR COURT BATTLE OVER TAX HIKE REPEAL AND CHARTER CHANGES; THEY ARE GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER; THE IMPASSE IN WASHINGTON CONTINUES WHILE THE VIRUS RECESSION SHOWS SIGNS IT MIGHT SOON GET WORSE

THE FINAL WARNING?

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have tested positive for COVID-19.

This stunning overnight development underlines once again what has been said so often in the past six months.

This virus offers no quarter or protection to anyone. If the President can get it, so can you, so can anyone.

As Leader of the Free World, the President was perhaps the most protected person in America.

Ironically, he was also the Number One naysayer in the world about the virus pandemic.

Frequently he downplayed its impacts, even its existence. More recently, he’s tried to change the topic when the issue was raised, saying the virus was in its final days. He rarely wore a mask, often belittled those who do, and did not practice social distancing and other health recommendations in the White House, at his rallies and other campaign events.

If you are one of those who believe the President is right, consider what has happened to our nation’s elected leader, to be your final warning.

Wear a mask, wash your hands, observe social distancing. The virus is real. It will make you quite ill. It can even kill you, especially if you are in high risk groups, as Mr. Trump is due to his age and weight.

For all of us, this is no time for gloating or celebrating. Fighting COVID-19 should not be a partisan matter. We should pray for our President and First Lady’s speedy recovery.

Moving back into politics, as we head into the final month of the presidential campaign, we are in uncharted waters where we have been so often in this wacky year of 2020.

NEW YORK TIMES

Stay tuned.

ONE YEAR IN OFFICE MAYOR JOHN COOPER IS ON INSIDE POLITICS BUT NOT WITH ME

On Monday, September 28 of this past week, Nashville Mayor John Cooper marked his one-year anniversary in office.

The Mayor is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week, with the show first airing on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL 5 at 6:30 p.m. tonight (Friday).

Unfortunately, I will not be doing the interview.

I am experiencing symptoms of a cold.

I do not have a fever, but out of an abundance of caution, due to COVID-19, I won’t be hosting.

Someone will take my place and will do a great job talking with Mayor Cooper.

I think it is fair to say this has been the most tumultuous 12-months ever for any first-year mayor, or perhaps any year for a mayor of Nashville.

Even before 2020 began, the city faced budget issues that had the Comptroller of the State of Tennessee threatening to take over the city’s finances unless a $40 million-plus deficit was corrected.

Then in early March came an EF-3 tornado that heavily damaged several Nashville neighborhoods, followed almost immediately by the coronavirus pandemic and shutdown. That in turn triggered a huge economic recession from which the city, the state, the nation, and the entire world are still trying to recover as both the pandemic and the recession continue.

There has also been unrest here and across the country over racial injustice and police brutality. That led to several large peaceful marches in the city, but also in late May a riot damaged the city’s historic courthouse and had Nashville placed under a curfew for several days. Metro is also in the process of looking for a new police chief.

Now there is referendum effort and a court battle brewing over whether to call a vote to repeal a 34% property tax increase the Mayor and Metro Council approved last summer, as well as further impair the ability of Nashville in the future to raise taxes, sign leases, sell property or float bonds for improvements.

Mayor Cooper’s actions to deal with all these calamities and challenges has received both praise and strong condemnation which we will discuss in some detail with him.

We always appreciate the Mayor’s willingness to join us.

As always, INSIDE POLITICS also air several times this 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. We are also back on DISH TV with the rest of the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK.

One option for those who cannot 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 early in 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.

WHEN OUR PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE AND CIVIL DISCOURSE DIED

I was 8 years old when I sat in front of my parent’s black & white TV set to watch the first modern TV presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in the fall of 1960. While I was too young to comprehend much of what was discussed, I remember it was a civil conversation with an exchange of sometimes conflicting ideas, moderated by the legendary journalist Howard K. Smith.

Six decades later, the first of three presidential debates held Tuesday night between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, shockingly displayed how far our nation’s political system has been weaponized. At a time when we desperately need a frank, open and civil discussion about the challenges we face, instead we saw the unbelievably destructive brand of chaos that the current occupant of the Oval Office has brought into our political mainstream. It fomented a train wreck of historical proportions that, if it continues, threatens the very viability of our democracy and republican form of elected government.

Yes, I thought the President would come out strongly on the offensive. After all, he is behind in every national poll, as well as in most surveys taken in key battleground states. But the bulldozer kamikaze attack Mr. Trump launched, and which Mr. Biden responded to, was beyond anything I have ever seen. It was often painful, as well as irritating and depressing, to watch.

I was on the debate team at Peabody College my freshman year. Our topic in our debate matches was the wisdom (or lack thereof) of federal revenue sharing. If anyone had ever “debated” in the manner I witnessed Tuesday, I feel sure that person would have been disqualified from competing and kicked off the team.

Mr. Trump told his opponent not to talk about being “smart” around him, so I won’t either. But I will say the President, by his performance in this debate, stupidly blew yet another opportunity to find or sell a winning message to voters. Yes, I am sure he thrilled his base (as Biden did for his loyalists). But this is still a contest race to be decided on the margins, from the few remaining undecided voters out there. It was dumb for the GOP nominee not to do much of anything to reach out to that group in what was likely his last, best chance to do so.

As many as 100 million Americans had been predicted to view the debate, but it looks like the audience will be less than 4 years ago but still more than most previous debates.

Given what those who tuned in endured, it seemed likely more than a few decide not to stay and watch too long. But surprisingly, the TV rating indicates the audience size remained constant. Still, you have to wonder, how many will bother to come back for the next two scheduled “debates?”

Already over a million voters have cast their ballots early, in person or by mail. By the next debate in mid-October, millions more will have voted, so why waste time watching another verbal food fight? Even more alarming, there may be undecided voters, who give up based on what they saw and heard and will not cast a ballot at all.

That would be the worst thing coming out of this debate. Don’t let those who seek to weaponize and create chaos in our political system, win, or discourage you from participating in our election process, especially from voting. Don’t just throw up your hands, and blame both candidates, or the moderator.

Demand in no uncertain terms to the campaigns and the Commission who puts on these debates to clean things up, strictly enforce the rules, no asking questions of each other (unless the rules allow it), no interrupting or badgering and follow the time limits to answer. If a candidate doesn’t follow the agreed upon rules, cut off his/her mic and/or deduct the time they have to speak.

Maybe some of these changes are already in the works.

And CBS News has more specifics on possible changes.

As someone who has moderated several gubernatorial, mayoral, city council and state legislative candidate debates and forums, I felt particularly sorry for the debate’s moderator, Chris Wallace, who is a well-respected journalist.

If a candidate or candidates won’t follow the rules, there often isn’t much you can do as moderator but hunker down while insisting/demanding (even trying to shame them) into compliance. The worst experience I had, happened when I moderated a debate over a policy issue, not a political race. It was held at Vanderbilt a few years back over the wisdom of the city building the Music City Center.

Those debating the issue included an academic from outside Nashville, who had built a national reputation in opposing convention centers as bad investments for cities, versus a top tourism official here in Nashville.

Before I even finished the introductions, they started trading barbs and insults, and they didn’t appear likely to stop. When I finally found a way to get word in, I re-introduced myself as the moderator, reminded (and read them) the rules they had agreed to, and strongly requested they follow their rules or I would see no reason to continue this event.

That seemed to calm things down and our debate continued without any more major disruptions.

It will be a few more days yet to see what impact the debate had on the polling in the presidential race. A quick CBS News night-of survey found Biden ahead by about the same margin he leads in the national polls. The rest of the voter responses reflected how poorly the debate went in their minds.

The day after, the President was still catching heat, even from some GOP supporters, for how he answered a question to denounce white supremacist groups and their violence. Some saw the request as a political layup for the President. But not the way Mr. Trump handled it.

The Proud Boys group the President spoke to (but who he still claims he doesn’t know) has been trying to make the most out of its undeserved moment in the spotlight.

The night of the debate, the Biden campaign sought to make political hay out of one the retorts their candidate used in exasperation with the President. The comment: “Will you shut up, man” went viral. But the next day, the campaign decided to take down the t-shirts made to promote the comment, despite brisk sales.

In another surprise, despite the resoundingly bad reviews for the debate and calls for format changes, which the Biden campaign says it supports, President Trump and the Republican National Committee are saying not so fast.

In the days following the debate, Democrat Joe Biden is staying out of his basement HQ in Delaware and is actually out on the campaign trail, even taking an old fashion whistle-stop train tour through Ohio and Pennsylvania. Meantime, the mood among Republicans in Washington has turned gloomy again, while questions arise if the country is struggling with “Trump Fatigue?”

There also remain rising concerns about President Trump’s comments towards the end of the debate, that he wants his supporters to become poll watchers during the election. It’s a move that Trump supporters say will protect the process, while others see it as voter intimidation and suppression.

Finally, for now, the debate disaster for the President adds up to the “predictive market” (the bookies) now increasing the odds towards a Biden victory.

THE VIRUS RAGES ON WITH A TWINDEMIC FEARED

Despite national health experts continuing to express concern about a Twindemic coming, meaning COVID-19 is still among us when the seasonal flu and colder weather hit, both Nashville and the state of Tennessee are loosening restrictions.

Virus cases across the state have plateaued in recent weeks. But there is a significant change. What was once an illness that heavily impacted urban parts of the state., now is ravaging rural counties.

Regardless, this week Governor Bill Lee dropped almost all his remaining restrictions on businesses and events for all but the 6 most populous counties in the state, who have their own health departments. Effective October 1, visitations to nursing homes and local term care facilities will also be allowed under new revised state regulations.

In terms of reopening the state’s businesses and economy, Mr. Lee says he’d like the leaders in the urban parts of the state (Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and 3 others) to follow his lead. In fact, it appears while Mr. Lee is keeping his state of emergency declaration in place, he seems to be doing so only because the state can’t receive any more federal funds if such a declaration is not in force.

The declaration remaining in force means mayors across the state can keep their masks ban in effect. But three more counties in Middle Tennessee are dropping them effective this week, leaving Nashville again almost alone in this region in using a proven effective tool in fighting a hidden enemy that doesn’t recognize anybody’s borders.

Nashville Mayor John Cooper is showing no interest in following Governor Lee’s suggestion for a full reopening, although the city is moving back into Phase III of its reopening road map. The biggest bump in the road for Nashville came at mid-week when the city’s undefeated 3-0 NFL Tennessee Titans suffered the league’s first COVID-19 outbreak with a Sunday home against the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers first postponed until early next week. Now, with more Titan virus cases being detected, it is unclear when the game might be played.

The Steeler contest was set to be the first Titans home game to include fans (about 7,0000). There are still two other home games scheduled for later this month. Will fans sill be allowed?

Elsewhere in the local sports world, Vanderbilt has changed its mind and will allow a limited number of upper- class students to attend its Saturday SEC home football game against defending national champion LSU. It was announced this week that Nashville will also see the long- awaited return (after 37 years) of the NASCAR Cup Race series to the Nashville Speedway, even though the race won’t occur until mid-June (Father’s Day), 2021.

Nashville’s virus metrics show continued signs of improvement, but COVID-19 is still around with several elements of the city’s Juvenile Court operations closed due to an outbreak with employees and the presiding Juvenile Judge, Shelia Calloway, testing positive.

Finally, this week under the city’s Phase III reopening, the Grand Ole Opry will be allowed to have a limited number of fans attend its weekly Saturday night show beginning this weekend (and broadcast live as always on WSM Radio). It will be the first live audience for the program since the pandemic began back in March. It comes just as the Opry begins to celebrate its 95th birthday.

MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE STATE’S NO BID PURCHASING AS THE GOVERNOR HAS ANOTHER TOUGH WEEK IN THE COURTS

Controversy continues to swirl over the state’s $80 million in no-bid purchasing related to COVID-19. This week a number of Democrats in the Tennessee General Assembly asked the state’s Comptroller to launch an investigation.

The request is certainly keeping the Comptroller busy as last week Republican Speaker of the Tennessee House Cameron Sexton asked for an investigation into how Nashville Mayor John Cooper has spent its federal virus relief funds.

The investigation into the Governor’s purchasing spree also continues to raise questions about a local Metro Councilman.

Meanwhile, Governor Bill Lee had another tough week in the courts as two of its signal legislative accomplishments during his first two years in office, were kept or put on hold.

The Tennessee Court of Appeals upheld a Nashville judge’s ruling that Tennessee’s pilot program to establish a school voucher plan is unconstitutional.

The case can, and likely, will be appealed to the Tennessee Supreme Court.

But keep this in mind, the state’s high court is not required to hear an appeal. If the justices don’t decide to do so, the voucher program, in its current form, would be dead.

The Governor‘s other signal accomplishment in the last session of the General Assembly was passage of what is perhaps the toughest law in the nation placing restrictions on abortion.

It was set to go into effect October 1, but just hours before that a federal judge put a major part of the new law on hold.

The decision also came down as Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk announced in a court brief last week that he will not enforce the state’s abortion law because he says it is unconstitutional.

MAYOR COOPER AND METRO FACING MAJOR COURT BATTLE OVER TAX HIKE REPEAL AND CHARTER CHANGES

We’ve told you before the city and a local citizens group would wind up in court to decide whether a referendum must be held to repeal the recent 34% property tax increase and place future limits on future tax hikes and limits on the city’s ability to sell property, enter into leases or issue bonds for improvements.

There is no dispute enough voter signatures have been gathered to call the referendum. But during a two hour plus meeting this week, the Metro Election Commission struggled whether it could or legally should put the matter before voters.

Likely realizing the Commission was going to be sued regardless of what they decided, the 5 member body voted to go to court on its own, seeking guidance and a declaratory judgement from whatever local Chancery or Circuit Court judge gets the case. And, of course, there will likely be appeals to that decision to the appellate court, and ultimately, the state Supreme Court.

To get all that done, the Election Commission decided to move the date for the election, if it is held from December 5 to December 15, which is still a very tight timeline. The Commission also voted to place a competing Charter amendment from the Metro Council on the ballot if the referendum is allowed. That amendment would basically negate the petition amendment if both are passed by voters.

The Commission must now decide exactly what it wants the court to rule on in its request for a declaratory judgement. With all parties now lawyered up, including the city, and the citizens group, the court battle will soon commence on what will be a monumental fight over the future of Nashville’s local government.

In an irony only this wacky year of 2020 could create, the legal battle, and the referendum if it happens, will take place after Nashville property owners have received their tax bills reflecting the 34% increase. By law, the notices are required to be sent out by October 1st, payable before the end of February 2021.

THEY ARE GETTING THE BAND BACK TOGETHER

For the first time in six months (April 5), all 40 members of the Metro Council, plus Vice Mayor Jim Schulman, will meet in person for their regular business session next Tuesday night, October 6.

They won’t be meeting where they usually do on the second floor of the Metro Courthouse. Instead, to have enough room for social distancing, they will conduct their business at the Music City Center downtown.

Meeting virtually under emergency rules has been difficult for the Council. Since Governor Lee has extended his state of emergency order, the group could still gather on- line. But I think the Vice Mayor believes bringing his members together will do a lot of good for everyone (and maybe even shorten the marathon sessions, and the, at times, snippy, short tempered debates ,that have plagued the body throughout the pandemic).

I sure hope they bring a portable electronic voting machine. Not having one to use since April has meant all contested procedural or final votes on legislation, has had to be done by roll call, which takes a while.

The Council will meet at the Music City Center at least through the month of October. Its second meeting of the month will be October 20. In my experience with the Council, this is only the third time the group has met outside the Courthouse. In 1975, the Council met in the House Chambers at the State Capitol while its chambers were renovated. During another renovation of the entire Courthouse in 2003-2004, the twice monthly Council sessions were held in the old Ben West Library where the mayor’s office and other city departments were also relocated during the work on the Courthouse.

So tune us in Tuesday night. It will be an historic meeting location, and hopefully one that won’t require more midnight oil to conduct the session. It will just be great to see everyone present, live, and in person again.

THE IMPASSE IN WASHINGTON CONTINUES WHILE THE VIRUS RECESSION SHOWS SIGNS IT MIGHT SOON GET WORSE

It has been another week of grim economic news.

The September unemployment numbers, released Friday morning, are the last to come out before the November election. They show continued new job growth and a decline in national jobless numbers. But the rise in new jobs is less than expected, and unemployment at 7.9% shows the nation has still recovered less than half of what was lost from the coronavirus economic implosion that devastated the economy in the spring.

On Thursday, the latest national weekly report of new jobless assistance requests showed a decline, but the figures remain well above past all-time historical highs, while continuing jobless assistance requests actually went up by a half million people.

In Tennessee, there was better news as both new and continuing requests for unemployment assistance fell.

Meanwhile nationally, there are indications, that with no action from Washington on a new virus relief package, some major new cutbacks, including tens of thousands of furloughs and layoffs in major industry, are looming.

There were further talks in Washington this week between White House officials and House Speaker Pelosi but there are few signs a deal is likely.

Of course, in situations like this, a deal isn’t likely, until it suddenly is. Congress is infamous for 11th hour deals, including this week, when both houses agreed and President Trump signed into law an agreement to keep the federal government operating until mid-December.

But in a further sign of stalemate, Democrats in the House passed a lowered “compromise” relief bill of $2.2 trillion, but no GOP members supported it, and a number of House Democrats voted no, unhappy a measure was brought to the floor for a vote that has no chance to gain approval in the Republican Senate.

And so it goes, with both houses likely to go home now until after the November election, even as millions desperately need help that does not appear likely to come.

Why the continuing impasse on virus relief? It may be because the economic setbacks coming from the pandemic are having very different impacts for different groups and different parts of the economy.