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Capitol View Commentary: March 12, 2021

Capitol View
Posted at 11:34 AM, Mar 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-12 12:34:20-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — ONE YEAR LATER; DR THOMAS SCHWARTZ ASSESSES THE BIDEN PRESIDENCY SO FAR ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE VACCINE ROLLOUT CONTINUES TO GAIN STEAM; TWO STUDIES, TWO DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO BEING TRANSPARENT; RESTORING THE HOUSING FUND IMPOUNDMENT; GENERAL FORREST BUST ORDERED TO RETREAT TO THE STATE MUSEUM …MAYBE; AN INTRIGUING WEEK FOR THE REPUBLICAN SUPER MAJORITY

ONE YEAR LATER

This week (Thursday) marked the one -year anniversary of when the coronavirus pandemic was declared, and our lives changed…perhaps forever.. in ways we could never imagine.

It is hard to capture all the angst, the suffering, the loss of life, the isolation, the loneliness, and the massive economic hardship caused by this virus, but here is a brief look back at the long and painful journey we’ve experienced these last 12 months.

One stunning statistic, in large measure due to the pandemic, 2020 was the deadliest year in American history. More than 3 million people across the nation died last year. That is a 15 percent increase in fatalities compared to 2019, according to a CDC report to be released soon. It is the largest increase in a single year since 1918, when hundreds of thousands of people died in a flu pandemic and the U.S. was fighting in World War I.

Almost one year to the day after the pandemic began, Congress this week (Wednesday) passed yet another virus relief act. It amounts to $1.9 trillion, and it brings to $5.5 trillion the funds that lawmakers have approved in aid over the past year. The virus effort has been compared to fighting a war. Indeed, we are now spending more to beat COVID-19 than we did to win WWII.

And much like war, while prospects for victory over the virus currently look more positive than ever, the sense of loss in the country remains profound.

President Joe Biden has been the leader behind the passage of the latest bill. He gave his first national address to the nation on Thursday night after signing the bill into law earlier that same day. Now comes a national (victory?) tour concerning the new relief law and positioning the Biden administration to be ready for its next legislative efforts.

He also outlined a plan that would see him direct the states to have enough vaccine to make all adults eligible to receive their virus shot(s) beginning by May 1, in the hopes we can see a return to some kind of normalcy by the Fourth of July holiday, celebrating in small groups.

Republicans continue to oppose the new relief act saying it is too expensive, is not targeted to what is needed to fight the virus, and full of pet pork projects for the Democrats.

Both of Tennessee’s GOP Senators opposed the measure. “This hyper-partisan bill and the process through which it’s being passed represents everything that’s wrong with Washington,” Bill Hagerty and Marsha Blackburn said in a joint opinion piece for Fox News. “And unfortunately, Tennessee and other fiscally conservative states are on the losing end of the deal.”

Governor Bill Lee complained too, but he did not say he doesn’t want the federal funds that the new relief act will bring to Tennessee. What Mr. Lee is unhappy about is the formula being used to divvy out the monies.

In the same opinion piece with the Senators, the Governor said the new law is a “blue state payday that shortchanges Tennessee by $164 million because it uses a distribution formula based on unemployment figures rather than population.” The difference makes up about 2.7% of the $6.1 billion in federal money projected to flow to the state under the plan.

Here is a breakdown on where the virus act money is going by state.

The total amount of virus relief coming to Tennessee, including both state and local governments, as well as businesses, rental and mortgage assistance and other aid could total $350 billion!

DR THOMAS SCHWARTZ ASSESSES THE BIDEN PRESIDENCY SO FAR ON INSIDE POLITICS

After a little over 50 days in office, President Joe Biden recorded his first major legislative achievement this week, as Congress approved his $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief bill.

The passage came on a strictly party line vote as no Republican in either house of Congress supported it.

What impact will this newly passed law have, not only fighting the pandemic, but in helping Americans recover from the severe economic recession the nation has suffered this past year?

What is next for the new administration?

And how will it deal with challenges already arising overseas in terms of foreign policy in the Middle East and elsewhere?

We’ve asked Vanderbilt professor of History and Political Science, Dr. Thomas Schwartz to join us on INSIDE POLITICS to discuss these topics.

We appreciate Dr. Schwartz joining us again.

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include:

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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.

THE VACCINE ROLLOUT CONTINUES TO GAIN STEAM

President Biden made a pledge to get 100 million coronavirus vaccine shots into the arms of American arms in his first 100 days in office.

That looked kind of aggressive at the time when the serum rollout under the administration of then President Donald Trump was struggling, some would say. Others called it a failure.

As for President Biden’s pledge, it looks like he will achieve his 100 million shots goals in the next few days well ahead of his 100- day deadline.

More vaccine availability has clearly been the key, and the Biden administration is continuing to work to increase the amount of the serum available, especially the one dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Making the shots more available especially in underserved communities is also a key. Nashville-based Dollar General Stores could become involved.

The growing supply of vaccine, especially the Johnson & Johnson shot is giving Nashville officials the opportunity to hold its first mass vaccination effort with a drive-through event next Saturday (March 20). It already appears to be a great success with all 10,000 reservation slots filled within 2 hours on Wednesday.

Metro is also significantly increasing its reservation capability for vaccinations at the Music City Center downtown with signs ups beginning today (Friday).

The state of Tennessee has resisted doing large scale vaccination efforts, feeling it is fairer to let the counties do it in their fashion. Will still more vaccine supply coming, will that soon change?

We are also learning that some serums thought to be ruined because they were not properly stored at the right temperatures in both Rutherford County and Shelby County may be OK to use after all following further review.

Here is a link to the NPR vaccine tracker for national and state by state numbers. Nobody is close to herd immunity numbers, but things do seem to be improving slowly. Tennessee seems to be near the bottom in its vaccine use compared to the other 50 states.

Here is a more detailed breakdown of the vaccine rollout in Tennessee. It appears Shelby (197,000+) and Davidson Counties (180,000+) are the top two in shots given county by county.

The national vaccine effort is getting a push from a new Public Service TV ad campaign, featuring the nation’s living former Presidents, getting their shots and urging everyone to do the same. That is all the living former Presidents, except Donald Trump.

Perhaps one of the best indicators the vaccine effort is succeeding, is a news release released by former President Trump this week. It tells people “not to forget” about him, as there might not be any vaccinations happening now without his involvement. He could not put his comments on Twitter, since he is still banned on that social media outlet. But Mr. Trump’ s comment did make it to Twitter, where he got roasted in many responses.

On Thursday, the latest CDC numbers on the vaccine rollout and shots administered keeps getting better.

Despite all this progress, there remain concerns among some health officials that relaxed restrictions in some states (the end of mask mandates and dropping other restrictions), combined with the more contagious strains of the virus and Spring Break could spell new trouble.

Back in Metro Nashville, some of the federal money from the previous relief act approved by the old Congress in early January, along with the state money approved during last summer’s special session, will go to thank Nashville teachers and staff for going above and beyond this past year during the pandemic. The $1,000 one- time bonus is still subject to state approval.

School officials this week also announced details on the more extensive summer school session which will seek to help students make up for the learning loss created by the disjointed way school has had to be conducted during the pandemic.

TWO STUDIES, TWO DIFFERENT APPROACHES TO BEING TRANSPARENT

Both the State of Tennessee and Metro Nashville governments have been conducting potentially controversial studies. For the state it has been about the utilization of employees, including improving efficiency and offering “buyouts.”

For Metro, the study has been a look at the racial and gender disparities within the city’s work force.

For its study, the state used an outside consultant and spent over a million dollars in taxpayers’ dollars. Now officials won’t release the study, or comment on its findings and recommendations.

Metro’s study was done by its Human Relations Commission and here is a media report on what was found.

Which way do you think is the best way for government to operate?

Openness and sunshine in government is always the best way to do.

RESTORING THE HOUSING FUND IMPOUNDMENT

Nashville Mayor John Cooper has faced one financial crisis after another since he took office in the fall of 2019.

One of the first challenges led him to impound $5 million from the city’s Barnes Housing Fund. He took a lot of heat from housing advocates about it. He promised to restore the monies as soon as he could. But then came the coronavirus pandemic and city monies got even tighter.

Now the Mayor says city finances are better and will soon to be bolstered even more by federal aid to cities coming from the latest virus relief act. So the Mayor says he can now restore the $5 million.

The mayor’s recommendation goes before Metro Council in coming weeks for approval, part of a one-time Local Support Grant for Nashville.

Another mayoral recommendation going before Council Tuesday night, would settle a civil lawsuit for $2.25 million. It involves the shooting of Daniel Harrick by former Metro police officer Andrew Delke. The incident has resulted in Delke facing first-degree murder charges with the trial yet to begin. The settlement does not impact the murder case and no admissions of guilt are involved.

The Council considers (and usually approves) lawsuit settlements at almost every meeting. But at $2.25 million, this is one of the biggest settlements I can remember coming before the body. This has also been a very emotionally charged, high profile case. It will be interesting to see what debate (if any) the matter might bring.

And there is this story breaking as we send out this column.

Mayor Cooper has a number of major proposals on the Council agenda Tuesday including his plans to begin to create a Metro Department of Transportation and his new “Park Smart” plan to revitalize and modernize the city’s downtown parking meter system. A somewhat similar plan under former mayor, David Briley, failed in 2019, with then Councilmember at Large John Cooper opposing it.

Another recommendation by the Mayor late last week, would seek to enter into an agreement to renovate the historic Nashville Raceway and bring NASCAR Racing back to the city as early as next year. But unless it is filed as a late resolution, the matter is not on the Council’s Tuesday agenda, and might well be deferred for more study anyway due to some issues being raised in the surrounding neighborhood.

There is also a proposal before Council Tuesday to reduce the city’s recent water sewer rates by $10 million. That would occur by eliminating an in-lieu of taxes payment to the city from Metro Water Services.

GENERAL FORREST BUST ORDERED TO RETREAT TO THE STATE MUSEUM …MAYBE

After years of controversy and demonstrations, and after five hours of testimony this week before the Tennessee Historical Commission, the bust of Confederate General and early Klu Klux Klan leader, Nathan Bedford Forrest. will be moved from the State Capitol to the Tennessee State Museum.

The vote by the Commission was overwhelmingly (25-1). The decision is a tribute to Governor Bill Lee who changed his position to move the artwork in recent years, after he was originally resistant to it. He also made numerous appointments to both the Historical and State Capitol Commissions to get the move done.

But is the matter over? Both Lt. Governor Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron have raised questions about whether the State Building Commission should have also signed off on the matter first. They have asked the Attorney General for a legal opinion on the issue.

This week the Lt. Governor also raised the possibility lawmakers could block the move of the bust by passing a joint resolution. He added things are not at that stage right now. But the fact he even mentioned it as an option certainly indicates it is a move that is on the table for lawmakers.

Stay tuned.

AN INTRIGUING WEEK FOR THE REPUBLICAN SUPER MAJORITY

For the last few weeks, it has appeared the Republican Super Majority was poised to oust a Nashville Chancery Judge because they did not like her rulings during the pandemic about absentee voting.

They even got these intemperate comments of support from a spokesperson in the Attorney General’s office given to the Associated Press.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the judicial ouster. The move failed in committee.

Hopefully, that is the end of this fight. But is it?

There is also a bill pending that would prohibit lawsuits challenging the state to be filed in Davidson County. The political rationale for making the change is that blue Nashville elects blue judges. Moving cases brought against the state out of Nashville into other courtrooms across the state, might mean more rulings the Republican Super Majority like.

Of course, the whole thing is political baloney, but a bill like this does not directly get into personalities so it might be easier to pass. Watch this bill.

There is also this bill to watch as state lawmakers want to further regulate police oversight boards in the state. Opponents say it is a potential “poison pill.”

The Republicans in the house this week also passed a resolution that some would find encouraging, if not puzzling, at the same time.

The rush to pass legislation to change who is charge during emergencies, such as the pandemic, continue to move ahead. Despite all the talk of “following the science” a bill passed by the full House this week says elected officials like the county mayor, not the experts on public health on County Health Boards should decide what to do about orders restricting or closing businesses, etc. during an emergency. The proposal comes out of a dispute in Knox County, so now the rest of the state gets pulled into their fight.

Speaking of public health threats, the Republicans in the house this week also passed a resolution that some would find encouraging, if not also puzzling at the same time.

This year the Republican Super Majority keeps getting into reruns in trying to pass hot button social issues. Last week, the move to make the Holy Bible the official book of Tennessee was resurrected. Now, it’s a new version of the “bathroom bill”’ that created controversy for multiple legislative sessions a few years ago.

All these anti-LGBTQ bills the General Assembly is considering, continue to create pushback. This week that included a letter signed by a number of major Tennessee businesses opposing these measures.

But some point out some of these businesses may saying one thing in their letter, but something else in their political contributions to candidates.

In other committee action, Governor Bill Lee’s “constitutional carry” gun bill (no training or permit required) continued to move ahead despite opposition from sheriff’s and other law enforcement groups.

Lawmakers are already poised to flood the November ballot next year with a host of constitutional amendments for voters to consider. Another one that is in the hopper, but by the law, will have to wait until 2026, concerns banning recreational marijuana.

The last few years, the General Assembly has often acted like a statewide school board. It is happening again this year in terms of a six -step policy to remove disruptive students from the classrooms.

Finally, once again, the shadow of an FBI probe, that has stalked this legislative session from its beginning in January, emerged again this week. It has long been against the law for legislators to do business with state. That includes doing business with each other, for example, offering consultant services. That seems to be at least part of the federal investigation. To help lawmakers, a joint resolution has been introduced to help strengthen the law and remind legislators what the law already is.