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Capitol View commentary: January 17, 2020

Posted: 12:33 PM, Jan 17, 2020
Updated: 2020-01-17 13:33:00-05
Capitol View

CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst
January 17, 2020
AS PRESIDENTIAL IMPEACHMENT TRIAL LOOMS CONGRESSMAN JIM COOPER IS ON INSIDE POLITICS; BACK TO THE HILL; YET ANOTHER METRO BUDGET CUT ALTHOUGH NEW SAVINGS ALSO EMERGE; LOOKING FOR METRO’S THIRD SCHOOLS DIRECTOR SINCE 2015; DELKE TRIAL AND JURY LOOK MORE LIKELY TO STAY IN NASHVILLE; SIGNS OF LIFE IN THE TENNESSEE U.S. SENATE RACE;

AS PRESIDENTIAL IMPEACHMENT TRIAL LOOMS CONGRESSMAN JIM COOPER IS ON INSIDE POLITICS

As the nation braces itself for the beginning next week of the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the U.S Senate, we welcome Nashville Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper to be our guest on INSIDE POLITICS.

As Nashville’s congressional representative, Jim Cooper voted in favor of the two articles of impeachment seeking to remove the President if the Senate concurs with a two-thirds (66) vote. We will question the Congressman to defend his position in favor of impeachment and removal.

We will also seek his insights and wisdom on what to expect as the trial proceeds and how that will impact our political future including the presidential election later this year.

We will discuss as well, the rising profile of Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander. He seems poised to play a crucial role in deciding if witnesses will be heard or if new information is to be considered during the trial.

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each 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. 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.

BACK TO THE HILL

The 111th Tennessee General Assembly had barely returned to Nashville on Tuesday of this week when it was already embroiled in controversy. The first order of business in the State Senate was to consider a bill allowing adoption agencies to refuse to assist same-sex or LGBTQ couples. The measure passed handily in the House last year and passed with a comfortable margin in the upper chamber as well.

But the bill approval came despite warnings the move could engender a nationwide boycott of meetings and conventions being held in Tennessee. It also came despite the rare move of Lt. Governor and Speaker of the Senate Randy McNally putting down his gavel and joining in the debate opposing the bill.

In the final vote tally, McNally voted present. Governor Bill Lee’s office says he will sign the measure when the bill reaches his desk. That could also set up a lawsuit challenging the proposal, something that happens with regularity whenever lawmakers legislate hot button issues like this.

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Governor Lee is continuing to get pushback on his decision to allow refugees to resettle in Tennessee. Legislation is being adopted to stop, although it is unclear how that can be done. One of those raising questions is House Speaker Cameron Sexton.

Lawmakers barely got back into town when the controversy over Nathan Bedford Forrest came up again. This time it is not just the bust of the Confederate general in the State Capitol, it’s also his special day under Tennessee law.

Another headache Governor Bill Lee could likely face this session is an effort to repeal his signature legislative achievement of 2019, the creation of an educational savings or voucher program to provide funds for qualifying students to attend private schools in Nashville and Memphis. Fraudulent use of those funds has been one of the big concerns raised by critics. An audit conducted by the Associated Press, regarding a similar voucher-like programs for children with disabilities in the state, is likely to raise that concern even higher.

In a new development surrounding an ongoing issue from the last couple of legislative sessions, embattled State Representative David Byrd, beset by charges of sexual assault from his days as a high school coach three decades ago, confirmed he does not plan to seek re-election later this year. But he still left the door open to change his mind.

Even though lawmakers are just getting re-started, one key legislative leader is already looking to when the 111th General Assembly will adjourn sine die to prepare for this year’s election cycle. It seems Lt. Governor is looking towards an Easter recess in April. Would that mean the final days of this year’s session will play out on Holy Week?

Disgraced former House speaker Glen Casada, who resigned his leadership post amid scandal last year (but stayed on his elected House seat), may be plotting his own political resurrection.
As for Governor Lee, he is standing behind his new Education Commissioner despite higher than usual top-level turnover in the agency since she came on board last year.

The Governor and state lawmakers are also grappling with a scathing audit report from the State Comptroller’s office. Following up on an audit in 2017, the agency again found serious deficiencies in the operations of the State Department of Corrections.

This second audit came to light as state lawmakers held hearings on whether to “sunset” the DOC. Such hearings are required every few years for all state agencies by law. Of course, it would be very difficult, even ridiculous, to sunset an agency as complex and necessary as the DOC. That left lawmakers to green light continuing the department this week. The committee vote came despite few signs that any progress had been made in dealing with the audit issues identified in 2017.

According to WPLN, Governor Lee told reporters he sees a bright side to the DOC audit, as it identifies the areas that need improvement. In another area of concern, the Tennessee Department of Safety continues to have computer system issues as the department struggles with an onslaught of motorists seeking the new federally mandated REAL ID driver’s licenses. The latest computer issues were national in scale but that was of little comfort to those who took off work to come to the DMV or who still encounter long lines when the computer system is working.

Even hiring new staff is, so far, is not decreasing DVM wait times.

YET ANOTHER METRO BUDGET CUT ALTHOUGH NEW SAVINGS ALSO EMERGE

It is not a part of the city’s state-approved plan to balance Metro’s operating budget, which is more than $40 million in the red. Residents who expected to receive home recycling pickups to increase from once to twice a month have been told that isn’t happening, at least not right away.

THE TENNESSEAN

Meanwhile to improve accountability and transparency at all levels of Metro Government, Mayor John Cooper announced this week his administration is creating a Performance Management Team within the Mayor’s Office.

Quoting from a mayoral news release: “Pursuant to (a Metro Charter) amendment passed on August 1, 2019, the Performance Management Team will save taxpayer money through greater accountability and improved efficiency and is designed to provide leadership, guidance, and support for all Metro departments on performance management and organizational and process streamlining. These efforts are directed toward improving programs and increasing operational effectiveness and efficiency to provide better service to the Metro customer − both internal and external. The work of the Performance Management Team will serve as a bridge between budgeting and operational management by using performance information to support budget requests and measuring performance results for the sake of financial accountability.

“It’s been said, ‘If you don’t measure it, you can’t improve it,’” said Mayor Cooper. “The Performance Management Team will work to improve efficiency in every facet of Metro Government – and they’ll start by measuring how those of us in Metro Government make use taxpayer dollars in delivering core services to Nashvillians. My administration is constantly working to make Nashville the leading example of an effective and results-oriented government. In order to realize these goals, we must ensure that we are supporting our programs and policies through performance management best practices.”

But increasingly, leading members of the Metro Council see the need to raise property taxes this spring.

This week on the Metro budget front also saw some savings being announced. It will come from the city’s housing and development agency. The way the Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency is refinancing its Tax Increment Finance (TIF) loan payments could save $10 million right away.

Another expensive budget issue, looming in the not too distant future, seems to be whether to continue using prison corrections companies to operate Metro’s adult and juvenile correctional facilities.

There is yet another festering law enforcement issue in Nashville. Trying to get a handle on the long-awaited deployment of police body cameras, this week Mayor Cooper announced (according to a news release) “a group of national experts on body-worn cameras will visit Nashville on January 21-22, 2020 to help Metro criminal justice departments finalize plans for deploying and testing body-worn cameras (BWCs). The visit is being sponsored by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a component of the U.S. Department of Justice that helps provide expert consultation as part of its efforts to support cities implementing BWCs.”

The mayoral news release added: “Meetings with the MNPD, the Public Defender, the District Attorney, and the COB will begin next week. In February, the Mayor’s Office and members of the DOJ team will take a group of five stakeholders to Memphis, Tennessee, to see how body-worn cameras have been implemented in its jurisdiction.

In March, the DOJ group will return to Nashville for community meetings. That same month, Metro Police will deploy 24 BWCs to their traffic enforcement unit. In May, the department will deploy an additional 20 cameras as part of a “beta” testing program. Both deployments are intended to provide Metro government with valuable data and insights in advance of a large-scale BWC deployment.”

The mayoral announcement does not speak to identifying the long- range costs of deploying and properly operating the body cam system which has also been a major subject of contention.

Meanwhile, as the Cooper administration has begun a series of countywide meetings seeking public input for dealing with the city’s ever- growing traffic and congestion issues, there are now reports the mayor’s office has interest in looking at possible regional solutions as well.

Mayor Cooper on Saturday (tomorrow) is expected to announce his commitment to Vision Zero, a strategy to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries in Nashville. The announcement will be made at the Walk Bike Nashville annual Pedestrian Memorial Event.

In another transportation development that was in the news this week: There seems to be new life in the long-standing idea of bringing back Amtrak service to both Memphis and Nashville.

In terms of air transportation, the number of people coming to Nashville continues to set records, as has happened the last several years. In fact, local passenger levels in 2019 smashed the record set just the year before, and did so by more than 2 million passengers!

Finally, Is there another major tech company (Microsoft) looking to establish an office in Nashville? The old Eight-Ball toy used to respond: “Signs post to yes.” In this case, signs point to maybe? Stay tuned.

LOOKING FOR METRO’S THIRD SCHOOLS DIRECTOR SINCE 2015

It appears the search for a new Metro’s school director is back on track. Interim Director Dr. Adrienne Battle has again indicated her interest in the job on a full- time basis. It had been thought the often- fragmented Metro School Board might delay the search and selection process until after this summer’s school board election. But it appears the goal is to have a new director, the third in five years, on board by June 1.

DELKE TRIAL AND JURY LOOKS MORE LIKELY TO STAY IN NASHVILLE

The first-degree murder trial for Andrew Delke, the white Metro Nashville Police officer, who shot and killed a African American man during a police chase in 2018, seems more likely to stay in Nashville.

Attorneys for Delke have been trying to get a change of venue to either move the case or at least bring in jury members from outside Davidson County. They claim there has been too much pre-trial publicity for the officer to get a fair trial. But the trial judge disagreed and this week on appeal, the Criminal Court of Appeals declined to take the case.

Now a date has been set for jury selection to begin (March 11) with the trial to follow (March 16).

SIGNS OF LIFE IN THE TENNESSEE U.S. SENATE RACE

With the primary election now less than 7 months away, the race to decide who will replace Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander in the U.S. Senate is beginning to show more public activity.
Former Ambassador to Japan and State ECD Commissioner Bill Hagerty is getting a potential big fund -raising boost with Donald Trump…Jr., the President’s son, coming to the state to help him raise campaign money.
THE TENNESSEAN

On the Democratic side, James Mackler has gotten the endorsement of the national campaign arm of Senate Democrats for the August primary, where he faces two opponents. It is unclear if that support will translate into monetary support in the fall against the Republican nominee. Democrats will be trying to retake the upper chamber nationally and the odds on Tennessee, being an open Senate contest the party can win, look doubtful.