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Capitol View Commentary: October 16, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 1:56 PM, Oct 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-16 14:56:09-04

LATEST TENNESSEE COVID-19 SPIKE STRIKES NEAR THE TOP WITH GOVERNOR LEE IN QUARANTINE DUE TO EXPOSURE; THE VIRUS SURGES NATIONALLY AND ACROSS THE WORLD AS NASHVILLE SEES A RISE TOO; BEYOND COVID, BOTH MAYOR COOPER AND GOVERNOR LEE FACE MORE LEGAL CHALLENGES; HEADING INTO THE FINAL STRETCH ON INSIDE POLITICS; WASHINGTON REMAINS STALEMATED OVER MORE COVID-19 RELIEF; NASHVILLE STATE SENATE RACE HEATS UP OVER ENDORSEMENTS AND GOP SENATE AD;

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LATEST TENNESSEE COVID-19 SPIKE STRIKES NEAR THE TOP WITH GOVERNOR LEE IN QUARANTINE DUE TO EXPOSURE

We have learned many times over the past seven months, COVID-19 neither respects nor gives special treatment to anyone.

This week (Wednesday) Tennessee Governor Bill Lee went into quarantine “out of an abundance of caution” due to a potential exposure from a member of his security staff. So far, Mr. Lee is testing negative.

THE TENNESSEAN

The Governor’s brush with the virus has NEWSCHANNEL5’s INVESTIGATES raising new questions about the state’s ongoing media campaign ($4.3 million and counting) to promote mask wearing. Can it can be truly effective when Governor Lee won’t mandate mask wearing, and some times doesn’t wear masks himself in public.

The virus, striking so close to the top of Tennessee’s government, comes as a new spike in cases, especially in rural areas, along with a near record increase in hospitalizations, continues across the state.

WPLN

With the Governor in quarantine, the state gave its normal media virus update virtually this week. Some of the information disclosed was described as a “concerning trend”. The number of those dying from COVID-19 in rural areas is now twice what it has been in the urban parts of Tennessee.

If there is any good news in this, it’s that Tennessee hospital officials have improved since the spring in handling a spike in COVID-19 patients.

THE VIRUS SURGES NATIONALLY AND ACROSS THE WORLD AS NASHVILLE SEES A RISE TOO

What is happening in Tennessee is mirrored in almost every state across the country and around the world, particularly in Europe.

The President’s son Baron is recovering from the virus as have other prominent national and world along with now a legendary college football coach battling COVID-19.

The presidential campaigns continue to be impacted. The Democratic vice- presidential candidate, California Senator Kamala Harris has cancelled her campaign travel until Monday because members of her team have tested positive.

The other major COVID-19 development this week were the separate announcements that two proposed virus treatments, one a vaccine, the other an experimental drug similar to one used to treat President Donald Trump in his virus recovery, are being paused in their clinical tests. These are not the first Covid- 19 related treatment effort briefly paused. Health officials say it shows developing effective treatments take time and shouldn’t be rushed to meet arbitrary deadlines.

Meanwhile the Trump White House continues to push for a “herd immunity” policy to stop COVID-19, even though it is uncertain that can actually be attained, and the cost to try could mean a huge number of additional deaths in the months to come.

Child overdose cases are also spiking in Nashville.

A new national report also indicates the national deaths levels from COVID-19 shows “racism still has a grip on America.”

What does all this mean for Nashville?

We don’t live in a protective bubble. While the city has experienced progress in fighting the virus in recent weeks, several surrounding counties have dropped their mask mandates. Due to that, and other factor we are again seeing a rise in cases less than two weeks after re- entering Phase III of our roadmap to reopen the city.

School age children seem to be playing a role in the local virus spike, but not through the classroom.

In response, Mayor John Cooper and other city leaders are urging everyone to redouble their efforts to social distance, wash your hands and, most importantly, wear a mask. There appears to be no consideration (or the political will?) to reimpose restrictions on businesses or shut down the economy again.

Metro is moving ahead to distribute some of the millions in federal CARES Act funds it has remaining to help a wide variety of local businesses. Mayor Cooper in particular has been criticized for being slow to help this sector of the economy, with the sharpest criticism coming from Governor Bill Lee and Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton. The Governor has denied sending Nashville any more CARES funds. Speaker Cameron has asked the State Comptroller to investigate how the city has spent the CARES money it has already received.

Mayor Cooper says the CARES money has been spent based on a community needs survey and recommendations from a CARES Fund advisory committee he appointed. The money must be allocated by the middle of November, and it is likely to run out quickly given the great need for help across the city.

Meanwhile in terms of sports, the city is being labeled as the sports capital of the virus as several local teams have had the misfortune to be among the first in their individual sport to deal with an outbreak.

But that label isn’t fair as other NFL and college football teams are now having to cancel and reschedule games while even legendary coaches such as Nick Saban are proving not to be immune.

Perhaps the best revenge against those who would blame our local sports teams concerning the spread of the virus is the smashing victory our NFL Tennessee Titans scored over the Buffalo Bills Tuesday night in a game earlier delayed by the virus. Convinced the Nashville team would be easy to beat after suffering a major outbreak that impacted nearly 25 players and staff, and which left the squad with almost no practice time the past two weeks, it turns out, that is not what happened at all much to the “embarrassment” of the team from up- state New York!

In terms of fighting the virus, things didn’t get any better when last Sunday a California preacher/musician/politician used social media to attract hundreds of mask-less people to a “Let Us Worship” rally and protest outside the Metro Courthouse. The purpose of the event was to “re-open churches” (which were never closed in Nashville). . It left Metro Police and city health officials investigating because organizers did not seek a permit or permission to hold such a large gathering.

Of course, the story went national.

The story got even more intriguing Thursday, when acting police chief John Drake told reporters he has had a “pointed conversation” with officers who were on the scene as the event began. Almost inexplicably, the officers didn’t think what was happening was important enough to even notify superiors about what they knew! Chief Drake says that won’t happen again, but the damage appears to have been done and chances of any charges being brought, with so many of the organizers and attendees being from out of town seems unlikely.

Also on Tuesday of this week, some Metro Schools Pre-K through 2nd grade students went back to in-person classes for the first time since the spring. Others in the higher grades will return over the next few weeks, although high school students won’t be back on campus until at least January.

Overall, about half of Metro pupils have opted to go back in person classes while the rest will stay in school virtually through the end of the year.

It is all getting mixed reviews from parents.

This week also saw Nashville’s 9-member School Board hold its first in person meeting since March. The members got lots of conflicting advice from teachers and parents about what to do about school re-openings.

Even before the first week back from fall break was over, one Metro Elementary school has been closed for the next two weeks, with classes going back to virtual, all because of a virus outbreak among the staff.

Finally, with long standing and continuing disruptions students, schools and teachers across Tennessee are facing due to the virus, the Lee administration has decided that the state’s annual assessment testing won’t penalize them further.

BEYOND COVID, BOTH MAYOR COOPER AND GOVERNOR LEE FACE MORE LEGAL CHALLENGES

Governor Bill Lee has championed tough new anti-abortion laws passed in recent years, and in this past session of the Tennessee General Assembly.

The Governor’s problem is the courts keep stopping these new laws from going into effect.

It happened again this week when a federal judge ruled as unconstitutional the waiting period the state wanted to impose on women seeking an abortion.

While the state plans to appeal, it can’t enforce the waiting period in the interim, while two other abortion related laws also remain stalled in the courts.

Some pro-life advocates see these latest bills as the best way to get a lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court that would overturn the Roe v. Wade case that have made abortion procedures legal since the early 1970s. But right now, these measures can’t get enough support in the lower courts to be enforced.

As for Nashville Mayor John Cooper, he is waiting for a Chancery Court hearing and then a ruling on whether a petition referendum effort is legal to go on the ballot in a special election in December. The proposed amendment to the city’s charter would repeal the city’s recent 34% property tax increase, as well as place several other financial restrictions on local government.

The Mayor is also facing another effort to recall and remove him from office along with several councilmembers. It is unclear if this effort if this effort will have any more success than an earlier one that failed earlier this year.

One other news development this week that could impact the Mayor’s political position. The state announced its sales tax revenue collections are again this month running well ahead of projections. That likely true for Metro as well. Both state and city officials say they still expect revenues to slide as the fiscal year continues while federal virus relief aid dries up. But the state didn’t raise taxes to deal with the virus economic shutdown. Metro did and it has led to both the attempted Charter amendment referendum and the recall effort.

The Cooper administration did get some good legal news. A long running lawsuit to stop the city from building the new MLS Soccer Stadium at the Fairgrounds has been dismissed. The suit was championed by a lawyer and several others who have been supporting both the referendum and the recall efforts.

One potential setback for Metro this week regarding the Fairgrounds, is a first vote by a state agency to move the long running (since 1906) Tennessee State Fair from Nashville to the Wilson County Fair.

In terms of more sobering news, it is not just COVID-19 that is proving deadly in Davidson County. As of today (Friday), Nashville has already suffered more drug overdose deaths than all of 2019 with nearly two months left in the year.

HEADING INTO THE FINAL STRETCH ON INSIDE POLITICS

A little over two weeks are left before the nation’s race for president comes to Election Day on Tuesday, November 3.

Already over 17 million (and counting) Americans, in 44 states, have cast their votes early, or by mail.

Tennessee joined that list on Wednesday with two weeks of what is expected to be record early balloting beginning.

In large part due to the virus, a record number of absentee votes are also expected in the Volunteer State.

So where do we stand today?

We’ve asked two of our best political analysts to sort through all the many scenarios being floated out there and give us their best insights on where things are and where they are headed.

We welcome Republican consultant Chip Saltsman and Democratic analyst Larry Woods.

We thank them both for sharing their time and thoughts with us as they have throughout this political year.

Tune in!

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. on 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. We are also back on DISH TV with the rest of the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK.

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.

WASHINGTON REMAINS STALEMATED OVER MORE COVID-19 RELIEF

Another week with lots of hot air and talk, but no action on another virus relief bill.

The need for help only grew more desperate with an unexpected rise in first time unemployment claims this week along with a study from Columbia University claiming 8 million more Americans have been pushed into poverty since May.

Perhaps seeing more federal relief as a way to kick start his presidential campaign, President Trump urged his top negotiator with Congress to go even bigger in terms of $$$ to reach an agreement with House Democrats, while Senate Republicans look again to pass a much smaller aid package. In fact, on this proposal Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made a clear break with the President just days before they are both before voters on the November 3 ballot.

If there is any small sign of hope in this ongoing economic disaster, Tennessee continues to show a decline in new unemployment claims and unemployment statewide has gone its peak of 15.5% in the spring to 6.3% now.

But that jobless number is still about double the unemployment rate before the pandemic hit.

The total number of Tennesseans who have sought assistance since May continues to approach close to 900,000.

One other piece of economic good news for Tennessee are the continuing announcements by Amazon to bring thousands of new jobs to the area!

NASHVILLE STATE SENATE RACE HEATS UP OVER ENDORSEMENTS AND GOP SENATE AD

The most closely watched legislative race in Tennessee election night (or however long it takes to determine a winner after November 3) is the 20th District State Senate contest here in Nashville. It pits incumbent Republican Senator Dr. Steve Dickerson versus Democrat and former Oak Hill Mayor Heidi Campbell.

Dickerson is running his campaign, including his TV ads, as being “different and that’s a good thing.” What he means to say is that his voting record in the Senate is not like his very conservative GOP colleagues. Instead it has been more like a Democrat in some ways. In 2016, Dickerson was even a “Never Trumper.”

Campbell has sought to point out Dr. Dickerson’s role in a $50 million federal lawsuit which claims his company billed taxpayers for excessive drug testing. Senator Dickerson says this is all due to his company making a bad employee hiring. The case has now been settled but no financial terms have been disclosed.

Dickerson was unopposed in the August primary and received less than 6,000 votes. Campbell won a closely contested contest (51%-49%) that drew close to 25,000 votes.

You might think that means advantage Campbell and it very well might be. The 20th Senate district tends to lean Democratic, and may do so even more in a presidential election year in a blue county expecting record voter turnout.

But Dickerson is receiving endorsements from groups that might not ordinally be endorsing Republicans including the Tennessee Education Association, and the Sierra Club.

An LGBTQ group, The Tennessee Equality Project is also backing Dickerson saying in its announcement:

“Our endorsement goes to Sen. Steven Dickerson, who has spoken passionately on the floor of the Senate against discriminatory bills and voted against them every time. In addition, as Chair of the Senate’s State & Local Government Committee, he has been a strategic partner in helping us navigate the legislative process to the significant benefit of our community.”

But the Equality Project’s endorsement is now in danger of being rescinded due to a TV ad being pushed by State Senate Republicans on Dickerson’s behalf.

Stay tuned. This is by far the hottest local race going for November 3!