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Capitol View commentary: Friday, September 6, 2019

Posted: 1:06 PM, Sep 06, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-06 14:06:09-04
Capitol View

CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
September 6, 2019

EFFORTS TO STOP LOCAL GOVERNMENT SUPPPORT FOR ICE ENFORCEMENT EMERGES AS MAJOR ISSUE IN THE FINAL DAYS OF THE NASHVILLE’S MAYORAL RACE; WHAT’S GOING ON?; LATE CAMPAIGN DEVELOPMENTS; NASHVILLE’S CONFEDERATE MOMUMENT STRUGGLE CONTINUES; ANOTHER SCANDAL IN THE TENNESSEE HOUSE; CONGRESS RETURNS SO DO ISSUES; DR. SETHI SEEKS TO INCREASE HIS FOCUS ON U.S. SENATE RACE; THE EARLY VOTE; INSIDE POLITICS ANALYZES THE RUNOFF VOTE; COMMUNITY OVERSIGHT BOARD STARTS ITS WORK BUT LACKS DOCUMENTS FROM POLICE; THE NEXT TWO WEEKS;

EFFORTS TO STOP LOCAL GOVERNMENT SUPPORT FOR ICE ENFORCEMENT EMERGES AS MAJOR ISSUE IN THE FINAL DAYS OF THE NASHVILLE’S MAYORAL RACE

Should Nashville’s city employees assist in the immigration crackdown being conducted by federal ICE officials targeting undocumented local residents?

It’s an issue that has moved to the forefront in the final full week of the city’s runoff election for mayor.

In some ways it’s an odd issue. Both candidates in the mayoral contest say they oppose city workers assisting ICE unless federal law or a court order says otherwise. But incumbent Mayor David Briley has been much more outspoken on the issue while his opponent Metro Councilman At Large John Cooper, now considered the front-runner in the runoff contest, has spoken out only if asked his position.

The issue flared up twice this past week, the latest on Thursday morning. An ICE official fired two shots after a man in a white panel van sought to flee from a traffic stop in Antioch. The man was reportedly someone who has been deported before and was being sought by ICE. He was wounded in the shooting. He turned himself in and is now recovering from his wounds. Mayor Briley was first of the two candidates to issue statement. I have yet to see a comment from Councilman Cooper.

Said the Mayor late Thursday morning: “The federal government’s inability to arrive at comprehensive immigration reform results in situations like what happened in Antioch this morning. This is exactly what we don’t want happening in our city. MNPD is no longer involved and has turned the scene over to the FBI. MNPD is currently looking for the victim of this shooting so that he may receive any needed medical assistance. My top priority remains the safety and well-being of all of the residents of Nashville.”

Here are the some of latest updated media reports about the incident and its aftermath.

NEWSCHANNEL 5
NEWSCHANNEL 5 (Antioch community reaction)
THE TENNESSEAN

Earlier this week (Tuesday) Briley issued an executive order to spell out what city workers can and cannot do to assist ICE. But his order covers far from every city worker. Says the Mayor’s Executive Order it excludes: “employees of the Nashville Electric Service, Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency, Metropolitan Transit Authority, Metropolitan Sports Authority, the Metropolitan Hospital Authority, and elected officials, due to their independent governing authority.”

“I hereby request that elected officials, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, Nashville Electric Service, Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority, Metropolitan Sports Authority, and the Metropolitan Hospital Authority consider adopting a similar policy for the employees under their authority.” The Mayor hopes all local elected officials, especially Sheriff Daron Hall will join him on this issue.
The Mayor’s executive order also instructs the city’s Legal Department to research filing suit against the constitutionality of a new state law banning so called sanctuary cities. The order describes the impact of the state law this way: “HB2315 keeps parents from going to their children’s schools. It prevents babies from getting well check-ups or, worse, seeking emergency medical care. It keeps the elderly locked inside their homes, with no access to help should they need it. It results in families going hungry, and citizens being afraid to report crimes in their neighborhoods. It is immoral. It is bad for business. It is dangerous. And, it is not at all reflective of who we are as a State, City or a community.”

While Mayor Briley hopes the Nashville delegation to the Tennessee General Assembly will lead the way for the state to repeal its sanctuary city law before the courts overrule it, with the overwhelmingly large Republican Super Majority on the Hill, there appears to be little or no chance the statute will be repealed.

If Mayor Briley is not re-elected next week, there is some question if his executive order will stay in force. Regardless, the Briley order outlines an operational procedure for how it would function. Quoting again from the order:

“1) Each Metro Agency Department Head or Director shall designate a person within their Metro agency to be notified if an employee or agent receives a request to support or assist in an immigration enforcement operation. The designee shall communicate the request to the Department Head or Director and document the request in a memorandum to be sent to the Director of the Mayor’s Office of New Americans within three business days.

2) On an annual basis, the Mayor’s Office of New Americans shall produce and release a public report, on its webpage, describing the total number of such requests received and, for each request, its nature, the requesting federal agency, the Metro agency that received the request, and whether the request was declined or granted.”

There remain questions about whether elected officials will follow suit with Mayor Briley. This latest local ICE immigration controversy exploded into the news last week when it was disclosed that the Probation Department of the city’s General Sessions judges had been sharing contact and other immigrant residents’ information with ICE officials since 2017. At first, the presiding General Sessions Judge Melissa Blackburn said that cooperation with ICE occurred after such actions were approved by the Metro Legal Department. The person in charge of that department both in 2017 and now under Briley, is Jon Cooper. Based on his 2017 legal ruling, Judge Blackburn said the Probation Department should not be made “a scapegoat “in this controversy. Mayor Briley and several Metro Councilmembers are demanding a full audit of the agency.

But perhaps things have changed since last week. A new presiding judge, Lynda Jones has taken the post effective September 1. In one of her first moves Judge Jones stood in support of Briley on Tuesday morning as he signed his executive order at the Metro Courthouse.

Briley himself has had a change of heart about the immigration issue. A video surfaced late last week where candidate Briley, running unsuccessfully for mayor in 2007 urged a crackdown on undocumented residents. Now he says: “(I) didn't reflect carefully enough" on what (I) said in my campaign to make it "accurately reflect" my personal views. “"It is abundantly clear to me that immigrants make our city better in every way, and my actions and words for the past decade clearly demonstrate my beliefs about this," Briley said in a statement. “I have always maintained that diversity brings strength to a community like Nashville."

WHAT’S GOING ON?

As the clear underdog Mayor Briley needs to take some chances, maybe go for broke to turn the race around.

Will his strong, outspoken stand on the ICE issue, become Briley’s last hurrah for his progressive ideals?

Is he seeking to make Cooper more forthright on this immigration issue in hopes he blows his response, ticking off voters of both Carol Swain and John Ray Clemmons?

Swain and Clemmons were the other two candidates in the August mayoral general election. They clearly disagreed on the ICE issue. Swain’s folks strongly believe Metro should help enforce all immigration laws, while Clemmons supporters are progressives and closer to Briley and Cooper on this topic. If Cooper is now found wanting on the issue, would it be enough for Clemmons and Swain supporters to switch to Briley or just not vote? That might be possible for some Clemmons voters, not as likely for Swain backers, although Swain supporters might be more likely to stay home and not vote.

Either way, would it be enough to tip the race to Briley? I doubt it.

What will Cooper do? Getting out front and further stirring up this topic would probably not be helpful for Cooper. He will likely try to continue to be with his friends on this topic and say, if asked, that Metro should not cooperate with ICE without a court order. That’s where a large plurality if not majority of Metro voters seem to be on this issue.

Following the announcement of the Briley executive order, according to the NASHVILLE SCENE, Cooper has equated the action to a last-minute campaign stunt — “a press release masquerading as an executive order.” But, again, according to THE SCENE, Cooper added: ““we should not federalize” local police by collaborating with federal immigration authorities, the same goal as much of Briley’s order.”

Cooper not surprisingly wants to stay with the issues that have made him the front runner in the race. His most recent TV ad, which began running Labor Day weekend, certainly indicates that. The spot seeks to enhance his image as a fiscal watchdog that will put affordable housing transit, education first. The 60 second advertisement also plays up that Cooper is now getting endorsements from groups such as teachers, who supported another mayoral candidate (Clemmons) in August .

But major questions remain: If Cooper is elected mayor, will he rescind the Briley executive order or issue his own? Certainly, Cooper as mayor will be pressured by progressive forces to do something on this issue.

I am advised by a legal authority in the know, that while executive orders do expire at the end of the term of the mayor who issues them, during the 57 year history of Metro, among the first acts of any incoming new mayor, has been to issue their own executive order re-adopting those that orders that preceded them.

Will a Mayor John Cooper do that on the Briley’s immigration executive order? But if he does not rescind the Briley order or just allows it to go away, will that still annoy Republicans at the State Capitol? Might they invoke the anti- sanctuary law and seek to cut off all economic development funds to Nashville? The city would lose millions of dollars, impacting a community which already has serious budget woes which a Mayor Cooper will inherit.

A Mayor Cooper will also need major help from the GOP Super Majority on the Hill to change state law to free up more local tourism funds to spend on employee pay raises and other neighborhood and community improvements he seems to be promising on the campaign trail. To get that done, he will likely need to keep Republicans happy with him on immigration topics.

Here’s a sampling of how other Nashville media outlets reported the immigration executive order:

WPLN NASHVILLE PUBLIC RADIO
THE TENNESSEAN
COMMUNITY IMPACT NEWSPAPER
THE NASHVILLE POST
NEWSCHANNEL5

LATE CAMPAIGN DEVELOPMENTS

How much is now being perceived as the front runner in the mayoral runoff election meant for John Cooper? The latest campaign finance reports submitted on Thursday (September 5) can give you a pretty good idea.

Getting into the general election race late, Cooper almost completely self-financed his campaign. In the runoff, he been able to raise almost $630,000 from contributors while he only “loaned” his campaign another $300,000. That’s still a total of $1.8 million in loans overall, he’s contributed to himself.

People want to be with a winner and based on this Cooper disclosure, lots of folks have gotten on board his political train.

Cooper has spent over a million dollars during this recent campaign disclosure period which extends from just before the August 1st general election until this week.

As for Mayor Briley, reports seem to be accurate that the incumbent has lost the ability to raise significant amounts of money since his disappointing second place finish on August 1. Briley has raised only about $352,000 or half what Cooper has hauled in to his coffers. Briley has spent over $464,000 in the runoff during this reporting period, against well less than half the over $1 million Cooper has spent in the same time period. Briley does report no loans to his campaign.

Mayor Briley has kicked up another controversy this week saying he thinks the construction of a new high school in Bellevue should be delayed because other areas of the city, such as Antioch are in more dire need of classroom space.

His comments did not go over well. It could cost him votes in that part of southwest Nashville while other elected officials from that part of town are speaking out against the Mayor and endorsing John Cooper.

THE NASHVILLE SCENE
THE TENNESEAN

From an historical point of view, the Bellevue community has always been fiercely protective of its schools. When the old Bellevue High was closed in the early 1980s as a part of a court ordered desegregation plan, residents helped led the effort to change the Metro Charter to have the Metro School Board elected not appointed by the mayor. Bellevue education activists have worked hard to get the current School Board to approve the new Bellevue High, meaning the sharp, quick negative reaction concerning Mayor Briley’s comments are exactly what would be expected.

NASHVILLE’S CONFEDERATE MOMUMENT STRUGGLE CONTINUES

Like many southern communities, Nashville faces a challenge about what to do with its Confederate-era monuments. One to Civil War Southern soldiers was recently vandalized in Centennial Park with the words “They were racists” painted on it.

Metro Parks Board had considered removing or moving the monument to some other location. Now the group seems to be leaning towards adding historical context to the monument area. The exact nature of what will be added remains unclear.

ANOTHER SCANDAL IN THE TENNESSEE HOUSE

Yet another scandal and leadership resignation in the Tennessee State House of Representatives controlled by a 73- member Republican Super Majority.
This time it’s the House Whip Rick Tillis. He is stepping aside over an anonymous Twitter account that attacked fellow Republicans.

As GOP lawmakers seek to create a new day on Capitol Hill, I guess it’s always darkest before the dawn. That is, if the dawn of no new scandals is really approaching?

CONGRESS RETURNS SO DO ISSUES

President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency a few weeks back mean students and their families at Ft. Campbell won’t be enjoying a new middle school facility. Instead, that money along with a total of $3.6 billion in military construction funds previously approved by Congress will be used instead to build the southern border wall.

1 Nashville Congressman Jim Copper is not at all happy. Quoting from a news release from his office:

“President Trump has stooped to new lows in trying to illegally fund more border wall. His latest funding grab includes raiding $63 million that was slated to build a much-needed middle school at Fort Campbell,” Rep. Cooper said. “Our troops and their families deserve better. Democrats are united in our opposition; it is up to House and Senate Republicans to stand up to the President and his unprecedented overreach.”

As reported in the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle, students living on Fort Campbell are currently facing an overcrowding situation due to the closure of a middle school.

“President Trump should not be hurting the troops with young children at Fort Campbell this way,” Rep. Cooper said.

Some Republicans are reportedly unhappy too about the funds being moved.

But it doesn’t look like Congress will be able to do much to reverse the money transfer stopping the new school for Ft. Campbell students.

Tennessee Republican U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander is likely also frustrated as lawmakers return to Washington. Before the August recess it looked like bi-partisan legislation he was co-sponsoring to restrict surprise hospital and other medical bills, had some momentum towards passage in both houses of Congress. Instead it appears the bill has been waylaid by health care special interest groups who have filled the airwaves (including here in Tennessee) stirring up opposition.

DR. SETHI SEEKS TO INCREASE HIS FOCUS ON U.S. SENATE RACE

Seeking to further his focus on a 2020 race for the U.S. Senate, Nashville surgeon Dr. Manny Sethi is stepping away from heading a non-profit group whose mission is to improve the health of Tennesseans. His wife will take his place.

Dr. Sethi seeks to replace retiring Senator Lamar Alexander. Sethi’s major opponent for the Republican nomination appears to be former U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Bill Hagerty. Hagerty has still not formally announced his candidacy although he has already been endorsed by President Donald Trump.

The only Democratic candidate in the field is Nashville attorney and war veteran James Mackler.

THE EARLY VOTE

Early voting for the Metro runoff election is all but over with just two days left (Friday & Saturday) for voters to cast their ballots.
It appears the early vote will be about the same (48,000) or perhaps a little higher than the July early balloting before the August 1st general election. Through Thursday, the early vote is now at 34,553.
With well over 400,000 Nashvillians registered to vote, the fact that likely less than 25% of them will show up once again to select our city leaders for the next four years is disappointing, to say the least.

INSIDE POLITICS ANALYZES THE RUNOFF VOTE

Two local journalists who have covered the Metro elections in depth are Yihyun Jeong of THE TENNESSEAN and Tony Gonzalez of WPLN Nashville Public Radio. They are my guests this week on INSIDE POLITICS as we take one last look at the runoff election set to conclude with voting next Thursday September 12. Join us!

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.

One option for those who can’t 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 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.

COMMUNITY OVERSIGHT BOARD STARTS ITS WORK BUT LACKS DOCUMENTS FROM POLICE

The city’s new Community Oversight Board has begun its work. It has received requests for inquiries from citizens and has even begun its first formal investigations into alleged police misconduct.
But so far, the Metro Police Department is not providing requested records. I’d say watch and listen closely for further developments on this matter.

NEWSCHANNEL 5
WPLN

THE NEXT TWO WEEKS
Due to a family wedding and a long- planned trip, I will be out of pocket the next two weeks.

There will be no Capitol View columns on September 13 and September 20. Look for my next CV column on September 28.