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Capitol View commentary: Friday, Feb. 11, 2022


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — ABRAHAM LINCOLN IS RIGHT; WHAT SHOULD NASHVILLE DO ABOUT HOSTING THE 2024 REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION? THE COVID THAW IS WELL UNDERWAY; THE NASHVILLE CONGRESSIONAL RACES CONTINUE TO MATERIALIZE; ANOTHER SIGN THAT TENNESSEE IS AT THE EPICENTER OF THE EV EVOLUTION IN TRANSPORTATION; THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS REGARDING METRO’S LICENSE PLATE READERS, AN EXPANDED FLOOD MAP AND OTHER CHALLENGES; ON THE HILL; NASHVILLE HISTORIAN DAVID EWING ON INSIDE POLITICS

ABRAHAM LINCOLN IS RIGHT

In 1858 leading up to the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln said: “A house divided cannot stand.”

He was speaking of slavery, but his words have new relevance today for the Republican Party he helped create.

Can the Republican Party be large enough to include both former President Donald Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell? The answer to that question might determine the likelihood of whether the GOP can retake control of both Houses of Congress in the November mid-term elections.

The Trump-McConnell feud ignited to a new level due to some developments late last week.

On Friday, just hours after I filed my last CAPITOL VIEW, the Republican National Committee (RNC), meeting in Salt Lake City, joined several other Republican groups in approving a resolution censuring two Republican House members Liz Chaney and Adam Kinzinger. They are called out for being members of the Democratically led Select House Committee, investigating the January 6 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

That was only a small part of the story. The most shocking element of the GOP resolution is a language that describes the January 6 insurrection as “legitimate political discourse.”

Anyone with eyes and a brain watching the video from that day knows that a false and ridiculous notion.

Yet it is the mantra of former President Trump who says if he is ever back in the White House, he might pardon those involved. Now with the governing body of a national political party endorsing what happened as “legitimate political discourse,” this is becoming quite ominous and frightening. There has been political pushback from both parties in reaction to the resolution. Leader McConnell has been among the most vocal. Seizing the moment and the media spotlight again, Trump now says: “Mitch McConnell does not speak for the Republican Party.” But others say this is all the fault of GOP leaders like McConnell not speaking up earlier. All this is leaving many Republicans feeling frustrated that their party may be endangering its chance to take back control of Congress.

WHAT SHOULD NASHVILLE DO ABOUT HOSTING THE 2024 REPUBLICAN NATIONAL CONVENTION?

This latest manifestation of the schism in the leadership of the national Republican Party comes as Nashville’s chances of hosting the 2024 Republican National Convention seem to be skyrocketing.

With Pittsburgh apparently out and Salt Lake City’s alcohol restrictions a potential liability, is it down to Nashville and Milwaukee? The Wisconsin city hosted a significantly covid-downsized Democratic Convention in 2020. But community leaders still seemed pumped up to do it again.

Nashville apparently made a hit in its presentation to the RNC in Salt Lake City and I am sure we will put on a great show and sales job when national GOP leaders do their on-site visit. The effort here has involved both Governors Bill Lee and his predecessor Bill Haslam. The convention quest is reportedly a bi-partisan effort, at least enough to have local tourism officials silence their previous reservations that the fundraising cost to a host city was not equal to the overall financial boost to the area.

Another past reservation on Nashville hosting a national political convention was not enough top-level hotel accommodations. That issue has surely vanished in midst of Nashville’s stunning hospitality growth.

But as this controversy continues and perhaps grows over the events of January 6 being “legitimate political discourse” will there be concerns, even opposition surfacing, to Nashville hosting the same GOP leaders who approved that ridiculous language to whitewash what was clearly an effort to overturn a legitimate election to elect our President and Vice President? Already the Salt Lake City newspaper has urged local officials to drop its bid to host the 2024 GOP convention unless the Republican National Convention changes its position on censuring the two Republican Congress members and its endorsement of the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol as “legitimate political discourse.” Will we hear anything about Nashville’s GOP bid from THE TENNESSEAN, THE NASHVILLE SCENE or in a memorializing resolution in the Metro Council?

The RNC will make its choice for a host city for the 2024 Republican Convention by August. That means Nashville is already on the clock to decide what to do. My long friend, blogger and author Keel Hunt has shared some similar thoughts on the subject.

My guess if this city is chosen, the RNC Convention will be here in 2024. National conventions are historically important, but they are really, just one big party and Nashville loves to host parties, especially ones that bring lots of dollars and tax revenues to town.

If the GOP convention comes, it will be exactly 4 decades after I covered my last national presidential convention, the GOP conclave in Dallas in 1984 to renominate Ronald Reagan as President and George H.W, Bush as Vice President. My how politics has changed since then.

THE COVID THAW IS WELL UNDERWAY

While spring is still several weeks away, the omicron virus surge is declining now just about all across the country. That is leaving political leaders, even in Democratic states to announce a timeline to end mask mandates and other pandemic restrictions.

The decline in cases and hospitalizations, largely due to the surge in the omicron variant, has been slowly building since last month in most areas, even though deaths (always a lagging indicator) continue to rise or stay stubbornly high. That appears to be the case here in Tennessee even as the U.S. death rate, now over 900,000 remains the worst in the world.

As has happened before, there are concerns we are trying to get back to normal too soon, although now even Dr. Anthony Fauci says “the full-blown phase” of the COVID-19 pandemic is nearly over. But in terms of ending mask mandates in schools and elsewhere, the Biden administration is not ready to join that chorus. The CDC is also not changing its mask guidance just yet.

Meanwhile, the White House and law enforcement agencies across the nation and the world may soon have to deal with trucker protests over vaccine mandates and other pandemic restrictions. Such protests began in Canada a couple of weeks ago. The efforts have nearly shut down parts of the Canadian capitol in Ottawa as well as the major bridge between the U.S. and Canada located in Detroit. U.S. Homeland Security officials say these protests may soon spread to the U.S. and to places around the world. The situation is already causing American car manufacturers to cut back on production.

In Tennessee about the only place to find mask mandates are in a few school systems such as Metro Nashville and Memphis. Will the Nashville School Board now end their mask mandate even as the percentage of fully vaccinated school age children with a booster remains low, and the positivity rate in the community overall remains above 20%? A 10% positivity number is preferred by public health experts for things to return to normal.

THE NASHVILLE CONGRESSIONAL RACES CONTINUE TO MATERIALIZE

Gov. Bill Lee made it official on Sunday.

He signed into law the redistricting bills the Republican Super Majority passed a few weeks ago.

Both the State Democratic Party and the party’s Legislative Caucus have promised to file lawsuits as soon as the new law was in place, charging the redistricting amounts to illegal racial gerrymandering especially in Nashville Davidson County which has now been divided into three districts all with likely Republican voting majorities.

As far as I know as of Friday morning, those suits have yet to be filed.

It may not matter. A ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in a similar case in Alabama case found the new Republican redistricting plan will stay in place at least through the November elections. Some court observers think the Voting Rights Act, which used to govern elections, especially in the South, has, more or less, been overturned by the 5-4 court decision.

With the chances of overturning the new Tennessee redistricting law looking more and more unlikely, more candidates in the three new Republican-leaning districts involving Nashville jumped in the race. That includes former State Department spokesperson and new Tennessee resident, Morgan Ortagus who made her candidacy official.

With the endorsement of former President Donald Trump and the aid of GOP consultant Ward Baker, who helped elect Tennessee’s two U.S. Senators, Marsha Blackburn and Bill Hagerty, Ortagus appears potentially strong. However, her early endorsement by Trump has received strong criticism in MAGA land and other candidates such as conservative Robby Starbuck and others in the field such as Baxter Lee and Quincy McKnight will seek to build their own support. Ortagus told reporters she is “committed to Nashville” but does not live in the 5th District. Congressional rules do not require that she does.

One other potential GOP candidate yet to be heard from is former Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell. As a somewhat more moderate conservative Republican, if she runs, the former Nashville lawmaker might benefit if the MAGA wing of the vote is split.

Other potential 5th District GOP candidates include Kurt Winstead (attorney and retired National Guard General); Omar Hamada (former Williamson County GOP Chair) Natisha Brooks (operated a homeschooling institution) and Anabelle Lee (professional broadcaster, educator and musician).

Rick Shannon, an independent candidate, also announced his intention to run. You can see it is already a potentially crowded field and the qualifying deadline is not until April. Quincy McKnight has withdrawn from the 5th District race and will instead run for Nashville mayor in the summer of 2023. In the new 7th District, incumbent Republican Mark Green announced his re-election bid. He is expected to win easily. One potential Democratic candidate is Odessa Kelly. She qualified to run in the old 5th District against Democratic incumbent Jim Cooper, who has now retired. She could still run in the 5th District, although the new maps apparently indicate she now lives in the 7th District. Therefore, she may run there in the hopes she can build her support to add to the North Nashville African America community that is now in the new 7th. By the way, if you are not sure what Congressional, State House or State Senate seat you live in, you can go to this link. It is a dashboard web site of the office of the Tennessee Secretary of State. Just enter your address and you will find the information you need, even your local city and county legislative districts as well as your school board district.

Retiring Congressman Jim Cooper also continues to speak out. Last week it was an obituary on the demise of Nashville’s politics that he wrote for THE TENNESSEAN. This week in an interview with THE NASHVILLE SCENE, he continued his theme of blaming Republicans for their gerrymandering of his district. However, for the first time publicly, he also blamed state Democratic leaders for their ongoing failure to reach out to Tennessee voters who live in rural parts of the state. The Cooper interview even made national and international news with THE HILL picking up his criticisms along with THE DAILY MAIL out of the United Kingdom. Even the state’s current Democratic Party Chair, Hendrell Remus seems to admit, in an interview with NEWSCHANNEL5 , that Cooper’s criticisms are valid.

One last thing to watch in the 5th District GOP primary is a bill in the General Assembly, SB 2616 in the Senate (Niceley) and its companion in the House, HB 2764 (Wright). The measures would ‘prohibit a person …being nominated as a candidate for United States senator or a member of the United States house of representative unless the person voted in three previous elections in the state.”

Obviously, with at least a couple of the potentially significant 5th District Republican candidates being new to Tennessee and are first time candidates (Ortagus and Starbuck), could they meet the standards of the bill if it passed? Is the bill legal? How much will it split the Republican Super Majority? Can it even get out of committee?

Stay tuned.

ANOTHER SIGN THAT TENNESSEE IS AT THE EPICENTER OF THE EVOLUTION IN TRANSPORTATION

Congressman Jim Cooper got a shout-out from President Joe Biden at the White House this week. It came during an announcement involving the construction of a new EV charger plant to be located in Lebanon. The President thanked the Congressman for his help in landing the plant even though Lebanon is not in Cooper’s district.

No matter where it is in Tennessee, the new plant is yet another sign our state and our city are at the epicenter of the electric vehicle evolution that is quickly coming into focus. Our role includes major investments in factory production and battery facilities announced by Nissan, General Motors and Ford in this state in recent months. President Biden this week also allocated $5 billion in federal funds to the states to be used build electric charging stations across the country.

With the pandemic showing signs of easing (unless another variant appears), and economists predicting early this week a possible decline in recent rampant inflation throughout the economy, there was no doubt optimism at the Biden White House. But those hopes were dashed when the latest economic report on Thursday found prices were 7.5% higher over the last year, meaning inflation overall remains the highest in forty years (1982). In reaction the stock market fell more than 500 points Thursday.

The market reaction could be in response to likely higher and more frequent interest rate hikes coming from the Federal Reserve in the next few months to bring inflation down. It also likely means inflation and the overall economy will remain the number one issue for voters going into the November mid-term elections. For now, it appears Americans are paying $250 more per month for the same items and services they bought last year.

No doubt Republicans will try to use this issue to win back both houses of Congress if they don’t get constantly sidetracked having to discuss the latest Trump “Big Lie” development or revelation.

Here’s another issue that will create controversy and could distract Republicans from focusing on bread and butter issues. This week new political life has been injected into the idea of making Donald Trump Speaker of the U.S. House if the GOP wins a majority in the mid-term elections.

THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS REGARDING METRO’S LICENSE PLATE READERS, AN EXPANDED FLOOD MAP AND OTHER CHALLENGES

Within days of the Metro Council approving a controversial 6-month trial to employ license plate readers as a crime-fighting tool for local police, complications are cropping up.

First. one of the most ardent opponents of the Nashville LPR plan, At Large Councilman Bob Mendes, did some research and found a 2017 Metro law that requires a public hearing be held before the city gets involved in a project like this. Given the public notice that is required, no date for such a public hearing has been set.

Mendes has also filed two ordinances to be considered on first reading this coming Tuesday night (February 15). One would prohibit any LPR data from being used for immigration enforcement efforts. The other bill would give the city’s Community Oversight Board full or same access to the information generated by the LPRs as Metro Police have.

The Council is poised to give final approval Tuesday night to a new expanded flood plain map for Davidson County. Hundreds of Nashvillians are learning their property is now considered flood-prone and will need to buy flood insurance.

Some council members believe this map will be helpful in considering future zoning changes. But some projects that might impact water runoff don’t require a zoning change or may not need (or even seek) a building permit.

Then there are potential challenges that for the “grace of God” Nashville could be dealing with right now. The city of Memphis last week was struck by a paralyzing ice storm that leftover 600,000 customers without power. Even this week, schools have been closed and thousands still left without electric service.

The Mayor, Jim Stickland blames the severity of the damage on Memphis’ large number of trees which fell and knocked down power lines. He says the city needs to have a conversation about burying power lines underground, which would be very expensive, into the billions of dollars, or cutting down trees. The debate in Memphis is underway and here is a sample.

Nashville could well face similar challenges and choices as climate change continues to manifest itself. Fortunately, we’ve had only a couple of difficult ice storms to deal with in recent years. But who can say what the future holds? Burying power lines would be at least as expensive as Memphis, maybe more given how much rock we have. NES did some tree cutting efforts a few years back and created quite a backlash. The utility must have done a better job in recent years, at least I don’t hear as much controversy. But the Metro Council is a very green group, pushing hard to increase the city’s tree canopy.

Lots of tough and potentially expensive choices to deal with, as we hope and pray we don’t experience what our fellow Tennesseans in Memphis are recovering from these days.

Like every part of the economy, Metro government is struggling to attract and keep employees. Now Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall has come up with a new way to approach the challenge.

ON THE HILL

This week, the Legislature confirmed a new justice to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Tennessee associate solicitor general Sarah Campbell says she would recuse herself from any cases she might have encountered as an attorney for the state. Lt. Governor Randy McNally has tested positive for COVID-19.

Governor Bill Lee is still promising more facts and figures about his new K-12 spending formula, which hasn’t been overhauled in 30 years. His budget would allocate $1 billion in new and recurring funding for education. While the Governor remains optimistic, some lawmakers are beginning to say they will need more time and details to review the matter. Therefore, they may not be able to approve the new plan before this session ends.

One non-education budget item in Governor Bill Lee’s spending plan that is of great concern to Nashville and its future growth and development involves $40 million to create the new road system to support the large River North development which includes the new Oracle campus just across the river in East Nashville.

NASHVILLE HISTORIAN DAVID EWING ON INSIDE POLITICS

For the past several years, February has been celebrated nationwide as Black History Month.

How did this tradition begin? Why was February chosen as the month Black History is celebrated?

This year’s Black History month observance comes in the wake of controversy over how, or even if, the history of African Americans and race should be taught in this nation. And there are also concerns about whether new voting laws being adopted in some states create more challenges for black and brown people to exercise their suffrage.

To discuss those topics, as well our city’s unique place in Civil Rights history, we welcome back Nashville historian David Ewing to INSIDE POLITICS.

We thank David for joining us again.

Tune in!





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