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Capitol View commentary: Friday, October 29, 2021

Capitol View
Posted at 12:36 PM, Oct 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-29 13:36:24-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

October 29, 2021

AS IF HALLOWEEN ISN’T SCARY ENOUGH, THE TENNESSEE GENERAL ASSEMBLY IS BACK IN TOWN AGAIN; AFTER THE SPECIAL SESSION; THE PROOF IS IN THE $$ FIGURES, TENNESSEE LAGS BEHIND IN FUNDING SCHOOLS; DEVELOPMENT DOMINATES METRO NASHVILLE; THE FUTURE OF AMERICA’S POLITICAL PARTIES ON INSIDE POLITICS; POSTSCRIPT

AS IF HALLOWEEN ISN’T SCARY ENOUGH, THE TENNESSEE GENERAL ASSEMBLY IS BACK IN TOWN AGAIN

Like a bad penny, the Tennessee Legislature is back in town again for its third special session of the year, and its second in the month of October alone.

This time the special gathering appears to be for revenge. The Republican Super Majority has been unhappy stuck on the sidelines, not calling the shots during the Covid pandemic. Now they want to flex their considerable political power by enacting into law, all manner of bills that are anti-science, anti-vaccinations, anti-masks, and anti all other mandates (except the ones lawmakers want to impose on their own). That includes measures to restrict how private businesses can operate in terms of masks and vaccines during this ongoing public health crisis. Remember when businesses and the Republican Party used to be on the same page politically?

These Republican lawmakers are particularly intent on stopping the administration of President Joe Biden from imposing a vaccine mandate on employers with 100 workers or more. These mandates have been effective and have been found legal in the courts, so far. Besides our state leaders should know from civics class, the power of the federal government trumps state government, much as the states have similar powers over local governments. The GOP Super Majority loves to use its power to keep local officials in line. It is strange, but not surprising that they don’t seem to recognize their own limitations when it comes to dealing with Washington.

As for mandates, this article by syndicated columnist Leonard Pitts, Jr. seems to capture the mood of many Americans who have taken their shots and are ready to move on, even without those who still resist or refuse.

Back in Tennessee, lawmakers also want to strip or limit the powers of local school boards, local health officials, and others who have stepped up to protect the public during COVID. Members of GOP Super Majority even seem intent on limiting the governor’s powers in declaring and administering states of emergencies. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the current occupant of that office, Governor Bill Lee, a libertarian at heart who says the less government the better, seems open to limiting his and his successors’ abilities to respond in times of crisis.

The all-wise GOP Super Majority also seems ready to pass bills that would oust or neuter local district attorneys who decide not to enforce the misguided laws they pass, not only those measures which enact their covid gospel, but also previously passed laws that discriminate against our LGBTQ citizens.

Even in a time when there is a strong desire to defuse the partisanship and discord in politics, the GOP Super Majority wants to encourage it even more by having local school board races conducted on a party basis.

You’d think with COVID-19 again receding in numbers, hospitalizations and deaths, our leaders would be looking for how to heal our wounds from the pandemic and seek to prepare our nation and the world from ever having something like this happen again. You’d think they would also set or leave in place procedures to handle future pandemics that are based on good science and public health policies, not on misinformation, conspiracy theories and actions that play to just to a political base not to what is best for the people of Tennessee. Getting re-elected in your party primary should not be the primary goal in enacting good public policy.

But we are stuck with these lawmakers being in town, for at least the next few days given the 70-80 bills that have been filed for consideration.

At a cost of over $30,000 a day, this special legislative revenge session seems likely to be quite expensive for taxpayers (close to $100,000 already). The potential results of this special session are also much scarier than anything we will see or experience during this Sunday’s Halloween “trick or treat” holiday.

One other scary note to end this segment. We know for a fact the best way to end this pandemic is to get vaccinated. Yet even as Tennessee remains among the most unvaccinated states in the country (still only 47% of Tennesseans have all their shots), the new vaccination rate hit a new all- time low this week in the state. Really. Just as how our Republican lawmakers address this public health crisis, these latest vaccine numbers are frightening for sure!

 AFTER THE SPECIAL SESSION

What happens after the special session?

Probably we will see another parade to the courts challenging what the GOP special session passes. It would appear the most likely bills to pass are the 8 measures being pushed not only by House Speaker Cameron Sexton but Lt. Governor Randy McNally, the Speaker of the Senate as well.

Based on what has happened in current lawsuits challenging Governor Bill Lee’s executive order requiring a parental opt-out for any school mask mandate, there seems some likelihood a legal challenge might have success.

Three federal judges have enjoined the governor’s order from being imposed in parts of the state including Williamson County and Franklin schools. The latest ruling by a federal judge in Nashville was a legal rebuke to the arguments of the state Attorney General’s office and its chief expert witness in the case. In a potentially further waste of taxpayers’ money, Governor Lee and the AG office says it will appeal the decision and keep the executive order in place. The order is in effect in many parts of the state, but it not being enforced in school districts, such as Nashville, where it is not being followed.

THE PROOF IS IN THE $$ FIGURES, TENNESSEE LAGS BEHIND IN FUNDING SCHOOLS

While this week the Lee administration and the State Department of Education began holding meetings across Tennessee to hear from parents and others about how to better spend our K-12 education funds, perhaps the most critical issue does not seem to be on the table for discussion. If you are not spending much money in the first place, how you divide up the funds is an exercise in futility and failure.

This week one national group released a study showing Tennessee is 44th in the nation in the funds it spends on education giving the state a failing grade.

Is this effort by the Governor a true attempt to improve public education in Tennessee, which must include significant additional funding? Or it is another backdoor effort to create a school voucher program by tying funding to individual students rather the complex needs of school districts across the state?

DEVELOPMENT DOMINATES METRO NASHVILLE

Everywhere you look in Nashville, a wave of new development is popping up everywhere.

Building on a trend that has been growing in recent months, the agenda for the Tuesday, November 2 Metro Council meeting has close to 50 public hearings set to be held on zoning changes for properties throughout the county.

No part of the city is being inundated more by major development change than the areas on both sides of the Cumberland River. The multi-billion- dollar Oracle project shifting into high gear on the East Bank, but now there are calls to delay that work to see if the site sits on top of an ancient Native American burial ground.

While that is being sorted out, this week a Texas developer announced plans for a $2.5 billion, 65- acre mixed use development on the Northwest Bordeaux side of the Cumberland River. There are claims “The Riverside” “development could be of a world class stature, including three parks.

Not directly in Davidson County, there were also plans announced this week for a 47acre “Music Studio” campus in Hendersonville.

No doubt in response to this wave of development getting underway, especially in Davidson County, there are two first reading ordinances and a very important capital spending resolution on the November 2nd Metro Council meeting. One of the ordinances is an effort by the administration of Mayor John Cooper and several council members to preserve and protect the city’s tree canopy which is often a casualty of new development.

The other ordinance is one to combine into a single free-standing department, the city’s efforts to deal with chronic homelessness while encouraging the development of more affordable housing. Right now, these efforts are scattered among several city agencies. Currently in the news there is continued controversy over a growing homeless encampment located at Brookmeade Park in West Nashville. Activists say the city is not doing enough to help those living there.

With new growth and development seemingly everywhere, Mayor John Cooper does not want Metro to fall behind on its infrastructure and other capital needs. Unlike last year, the Mayor feels the city has the financial resources to add the needed debt to do more projects. Therefore, the capitol plan resolution before the Council is much larger than last year, totaling $568 million, with a priority on schools and transportation as well as a record investment in parks along with a new juvenile justice facility.

One of the parks proposals includes purchasing land from the state at a cost of $20 million. It is property the mayor sees as critical, even though three years ago, while serving as an at-large councilmember, he voted against it buying it for $9 million dollars less than the current price!

There will be some conservative council members (Swope and Glover come to mind) who will likely oppose adding as much additional debt as proposed by Mayor Cooper. The full Council is likely to be more receptive. However, look for the resolution to receive at least a one meeting deferral to allow for a more thorough review of the plan in committee.

Finally, all the growth and development is endangering public health in Nashville in a way you might not think about. This week the Metro Fire Department is reporting a 67% increase in natural gas line leaks over the last three years because construction crews and others are not following the rules before they dig in the ground.

THE FUTURE OF AMERICA’S POLITICAL PARTIES ON INSIDE POLITICS

American politics remains more gridlocked and divided than ever.

The problem seems to be not just disagreements between the two major parties but divisions within both the Republican and Democrat Parties.

Is there now a real opportunity for a viable third party to emerge? Or is the political process so institutionalized that is all but impossible?

And among these current intra-party disagreements what party factions will come out on top?

And what will that mean for next year’s mid-term elections and the next contest for President in 2024?

We have two of our best political analysts joining to address these topics.

They are Democrat Larry Woods.

And Republican Bill Phillips.

We thank these gentlemen for joining us again.

Tune in!

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 POSTSCRIPT

We talk a fair amount on INSIDE POLITICS this week about the continued impasse on Capitol Hill between progressive and moderate Democrats over two major pieces of legislation that contain much of President Biden’s legislative agenda as well as the promises Democrats in 2020 said they would deliver to help voters. But this week, after months of negotiations, what would be funded in the multi-trillion- dollar measures and how it will all be paid for remains uncertain.

Trying to get a deal before he leaves for the G-20 meeting and a critical climate change conference in Europe, President Biden on Thursday presented yet another “framework” for an agreement on the major sticking point, the social services and climate change proposal. The new plan cuts the size of that bill down to $1.75 trillion, close to half what the original legislation proposed spending. It also cuts paid family leave provisions as well as two years of free community college for all students.

Even with those reductions, the bill remains potentially among the largest and most sweeping proposals ever approved by Congress since the days of the New Deal in the 1930s and the Great Society legislation of the 1960s. But it remains uncertain if House progressives will have enough buy-in to the new Biden framework to drop their threats to kill a $1 trillion-plus bi-partisan bricks and mortar infrastructure bill that has been approved by the Senate, but held hostage by progressives, to make sure they get what they want in to social services-climate change legislation.

While there remains some optimism a deal will be reached (no Republican votes are needed), emotions are running high, and even President Biden says this next week could be the most critical time yet to see if any of his potential political legislative legacy ever comes to pass. For a second time this week House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cancelled a planned vote on the bi-partisan infrastructure because the votes are just there. That is not a good sign for ultimate success for the Biden administration in this seemingly never- ending struggle to get Democrats on the Hill to unite. He’s been dead almost 90 years, yet humorist Will Rogers’ comment that the Democrats are not an organized political party remains prominently on display in Washington.