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Capitol View commentary: Friday, September 27, 2019

Capitol View
Posted at 12:36 PM, Sep 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-27 13:36:03-04



Just two months after efforts to impeach President Donald Trump seemed to be at an end, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives this week began a formal investigation with the goal to impeach and remove him from office. What’s changed? What are the chances an impeachment by the House will lead to a first-ever removal of the President by the Senate? Will the whistle blower charges that the President pressured Ukrainian President Zelensky to investigate allegations against 2020 Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden and his son be the grounds for removing Mr. Trump from office? And what impact will all this have on American politics, in particular next year’s 2020 Presidential race where President Trump is seeking re-election?

This week on INSIDE POLITICS, we’ve brought in two of our best political analysts to tell us where things stand and where we may be headed in this still developing story. They are Democrat Larry Woods, a Nashville attorney and Republican strategist and lobbyist Bill Phillips.

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Our INSIDE POLITICS broadcast schedule on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS includes:

7:00 p.m. Friday;

5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. 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.

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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.


While he is no big fan of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper was one of several Democratic lawmakers who joined the Speaker this week in now supporting an impeachment investigation.

In the past Cooper has said impeachment was a waste of time, that Democrats should concentrate their energies on investigating the administration as a part of its oversight duties and seek to defeat him for re-election in 2020.

But on Tuesday of this week, Cooper sent out this statement.

“It’s time for the House of Representatives to begin the impeachment process against President Trump. The President’s invitation to yet another foreign power—this time Ukraine—to undermine U.S. elections requires that Congress begin the process in our Constitution to levy formal charges against him.

This is a very serious step, but the President’s continuing misconduct requires that Congress uphold our Constitution and the laws of the land. No one, not even the President, is above the law.” Congressman Cooper elaborated further in this TENNESSEEAN op-ed piece.

The only other member of Tennessee’s congressional delegation who supports impeaching President Trump is Memphis Democratic congressman Steve Cohen, who has long been in favor such of such action. The other seven members our House delegation, all Republicans, are strongly opposed to impeachment although interestingly I have not seen any response from freshman Middle Tennessee Congressman John Rose.

The response from Tennessee’s U.S. Senators were both interesting and predictable. The predictable comes from new Senator Marsha Blackburn who received important, crucial help from President Trump to win her seat in the Senate last year. On impeachment, she is supporting the President and attacking the Democrats.

Retiring senior Senator Lamar Alexander had a somewhat unexpected reaction. He followed the lead of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a somewhat surprising move of having the Senate’s Intelligence Committee investigate the Ukrainian controversy. In that regard, the Senator said he wanted more information before commenting further.

“The Senate Intelligence Committee is determining the facts in the Ukraine whistleblower matter, and I want to know the facts before I comment."

Senate majority Leader McConnell has since said the efforts to impeach President Trump based on the Ukrainian phone call is “laughable.” What will Senator Alexander say?

Both major GOP candidates running in the 2020 election to take Senator Alexander’s place, Nashville surgeon Manny Sethi and former ambassador Bill Hagerty are strongly in support of the President.

Stay tuned this is clearly an ingoing and still developing story.


In the wake of this impeachment probe, Vice President Mike Pence is due in Nashville soon to do what national candidates seem to like to do best here…raise the big bucks needed to run for office.

With the next campaign finance reporting deadline looming the end of this month, the Tennessee GOP Senate candidates are also busy raising money statewide.


Saturday morning (September 28) John Cooper will take the oath of office to serve as the ninth mayor in Metro Nashville’s 56-year history.

In an appeal to reach out to involve the whole community, Cooper’s ceremonies will be held at a Metro school, the Stratford STEM Magnet High School in East Nashville. After that, the new mayor will attend the Neighbor 2 Neighbor Festival at the Southeast Community Center in Antioch.

Cooper is not the first mayor sworn into office at a Metro School. Bill Purcell did that in 1999 when he took his oath at Hume Fogg Academic Magnet School downtown. But Cooper’s choice for his swearing in and his first mayoral activities at a neighborhood festival are deliberate. They underscore his campaign themes to strengthen local school funding, increase teacher and other city workers pay, while changing the city’s priorities away from downtown and towards neighborhoods. All this while getting the city’s finances in order.

All mayors face challenges when they assume their duties. The first mayor, Beverly Briley had to prove consolidated city-county government would be successful. Briley’s successor Richard Fulton came into office to find the city’s downtown Thermal Plant and its water sewer expansion programs were broke. And so it has gone from mayor to succeeding mayor.

But never has a new mayor ousted an incumbent to take office the way John Cooper did in overwhelmingly defeating David Briley (the first Mayor Briley’s grandson) in the September 12 runoff election. A 70% majority clearly gives the former At-Large councilman a mandate for change. But how will he spend his political capital and make his political honeymoon period an effective one to get things done (or at least get things started in a new direction)?

One controversy waiting for the new mayor to resolve is the burgeoning fight between the city’s new Community Oversight Board and the Metro Police Department over access to police records and investigations.


I have no idea exactly what would work but I might suggest looking to the east and the City of Knoxville. That community has had a similar oversight board for many years. Surely, they have found a way for this exchange of information to work. Maybe Knoxville can give us a model to move ahead? Just a suggestion, Mayor Cooper.

The Police-Review Board is one of many “on-fire” items Mayor Cooper must deal with quickly. In the midst of the mayoral election, the Tennessee Comptroller raised questions about the city’s bonded debt practices and an apparent $40 million shortfall in the current Metro operating budget. The outgoing Briley administration responded by saying it would renew efforts privatize the city’s parking meter system and sell the downtown energy system or seek other economies or cutbacks to balance the books if the other moves weren’t approved by the new Metro Council.

With Team Briley leaving the Courthouse, it is clear how to balance the budget is now Mayor Cooper’s job. He opposed selling the parking meter and energy systems, so what is his plan to balance the books? Will he send a new report to the state to outline his actions? With the election over, is the state still interested? Perhaps we will learn more after Mayor Cooper makes his first two critical appointments for Metro Finance Director and Metro Legal Director. Both choices are subject to Council confirmation and should be announced next week.

Another recent Metro-state controversy regards an executive order issued by Mayor Briley late in the runoff campaign. The order urges the repeal of the state’s sanctuary city law and it prohibits Metro Police and other city workers from assisting federal ICE officials in apprehending undocumented citizens. Republican state lawmakers bristled at the order and threatened to penalize Metro under the state law.

All previous mayoral executive orders have been reaffirmed by succeeding mayors. Will Cooper do that with the Briley immigration order? He says Nashville is not and will not be a sanctuary city. Will Mayor Cooper leave at that? Will he issue his own executive order? Will GOP lawmakers on the Hill be OK about where the new Nashville is on this issue? If not will Mayor Cooper’s critical effort to get the city a bigger share of Nashville’s tourism taxes be denied the needed approval of the Legislature?

Before 2015, no member of the Metro Council had ever been elected mayor. Now the last three Nashville mayors have come from the Council. The two before Mayor Cooper, Mayors Megan Barry and David Briley, left in failure due to scandal and a series of budget and other controversies. Will John Cooper find a way to be more successful, including building and keeping good relations with the 40-member Council? Already it seems, even as their political honeymoon is just beginning, there could be issues ahead. MORE FROM THE NASHVILLE SCENE

As Mayor Briley works his last day in office today (Friday), here is a very insightful story written by THE TENNESEAN’s Nat Rau. It profiles the Mayor’s brief time as our city’s leader and why things never seem to work for him to stay there.


Two recent developments in the news that make you wonder if the ongoing fight between the state of Tennessee and the city of Nashville is expanding to the criminal justice system? First, The State Attorney General moved to schedule nine more Death Row inmates for execution with a significant number involving Metro cases.

The Nashville-State controversy also arose when AG Slattery sought to intervene and overturn a court-approved decision that because of likely irregularities in the original trial, the death penalty was overturned in exchange for the prisoner agreeing to spend the rest of life in prison.


The incoming Metro Council continues to reflect the increasing diversity of our city in terms the 40- member body now including its first member of the Muslim faith, the first Hispanic woman elected to the body and a record number of openly LGBTQ members.

But perhaps the most significant change in this Council is its gender parity….20 male members, 20 female members.

It took a long time, baby! It’s taken exactly 56 years to create this kind of history!

For its first 16 years of Metro (four Council terms from 1963-1979), the body had just one elected female member. That is except for a brief period from 1967-1971 when TENNESSEAN columnist Keel Hunt’s mother was appointed to serve in her husband’s place after his death in office. The Metro Council records on- line still identify her in that sexist old-fashioned way as Mrs. Sherman Hunt, no first name.

It was 1979 before there were finally two women elected to Council, Betty Nixon and, for the first time an At-Large female member, Joann North. The body reached a then record number of 11 women during the 1999-2003 term before falling to just 9 women members for the next couple of terms. Then it rose to 16 in the last Council (2015-2019) before finally reaching parity in the new Council which will serve for the next four years. You can see the Council rosters from 1963-2015 here. You can find the 2015-2019 Council roster here.

The roster for the new Metro Council (2019-2023) has not yet been posted.

I covered several of those early Councils with so few women (only a few minorities too). It’s hard to believe the body was so male dominated. We are a much better city to now have a more diverse leadership.


The efforts of Tennessee lawmakers and the administration of Governor Bill Lee to convert the state’s ongoing TennCare healthcare program into a first of its kind federal block grant program, is up for public comment in a series of hearings to be held across the state.

Lots of details remain unclear, perhaps making public comment difficult. Already the political fight has been joined with an influential U.S. House member speaking out against it, calling the block grant effort illegal.

Republican members of Tennessee’s Washington delegation, such as Senator Marsha Blackburn are supporting the block grant plan. If you are still trying to make up your mind about whether the block grant move is a good one for Tennessee, courtesy of THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL, here is a summary of statewide and national news coverage of the plan when it was unveiled last week.


While he is among several Republican state lawmakers embroiled in various controversies, lawyers for Nashville Senator Steve Dickerson say the federal lawsuit against him and his health care company are without merit.

The lawyers for the Senator had earlier said he was cooperating with the federal probe to “minimize his exposure.”


For most of the past two weeks I have been in the Northwest part of the country. More specifically, I attended a family wedding in Seattle, Washington and then took a week-long tour of Alaska and a stop in Victoria, Canada.

I had been to Seattle once before way back in 1985 when I was in Mayor Fulton’s office attending the National League of Cities annual convention. I had never been to Alaska or Canada. It was a cruise, so of course I ate too much. But I did record 25 miles of walking during the 11-day trip so that helped.

The natural scenic beauty of the area I visited is astounding. To see whales, bears, eagles, salmon, glaciers and the native culture there, along with trying to understand totem poles and their role in that native society is truly interesting. It is also disappointing to learn how those natives and their culture were treated for so many years.

Now I am concerned our world is continuing to destroy what I saw last week. I came back to Nashville during a worldwide week of protests and efforts to build public awareness of and support for efforts to curb global climate change. For full disclosure, I once worked for clients who downplayed that such climate change was even occurring, or that humans are causing it.

Now I fear the way of life and nature that I saw last week in Alaska and Canada will disappear even sooner than we expect, going under water amid rising temperatures and more extreme weather patterns. The latest United Nations report on the issue is indeed quite sobering that these changes may already be so far along its too late to avoid some major issues from global climate change. Coming back to Nashville and our extended heat wave did nothing to make me more optimistic about the future.

I noticed one other change this trip. In the past, when I introduced myself, I have often had to explain to people I meet where Nashville is. That hardly happened at all on this journey. Many folks reacted with enthusiasm about Nashville. Some said they had visited, others said they want to come here in the future.

I even met two groups from the Nashville area while I was on board. They recognized me from my work on Channel 5. That doesn’t happen all that often even when I am here in town.

In terms of Nashville, I am sorry I missed the multi-night Ken Burns documentary on Country Music which aired on PBS. Everything I have seen and read about the program has been glowing in its praise. I look forward to watching the series when it re-airs in the future, especially to see the critical role Nashville has played in the industry.

As a native I have come to appreciate what an important role country music, indeed the entire music industry plays in Nashville in creating the very unique stature our city holds nationally and around the world.

It’s good to be home!