Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

Judge Rules to Allow Absentee Ballots

By Peter White 

NASHVILLE, TN –It was an easy decision for Chancellor Ellen Hobbes Lyle. The state’s case was weak. Lyle ruled that anyone of voting age in Tennessee can request an absentee ballot and vote by mail this year. Attorney General Herbert Slatery quickly filed an appeal. “Too much money and where will we store all those ballots?” he complained. 

Lyle’s decision fell short of a complete rejection of the Lee administration’s position. Lyle could have ordered election

Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle

officials to mail absentee ballots to every single voter. Lyle’s order requires “no excuse” voting during this election cycle because of the virus. She indicated she might order a return to the old rules once the pandemic subsides.

Forty-five states allow absentee voting, including five neighboring states. Tennessee state attorney William Lee argued the costs to print and mail absentee ballots was prohibitive and that it would create confusion. Lyle didn’t buy that. Lee said it would disenfranchise in-person voters because election results would be snarled with problems. Basically, he said election officials were incapable of handling absentee ballots, even though 45 other states do. 

Plaintiff attorney Angela Lui said that the state’s incompetence is no excuse to disenfranchise voters who are afraid to go to the polls because of the virus. Lyle agreed and she quoted the Tennessee Constitution that voting “shall never be denied to any person”.

Under the old rules you have to have a doctor’s note (an excuse) to get a mail-in ballot unless you are over 60 or disabled. Lyle has struck that provision from election requirements at least for now.

Those rules are among the most restrictive in the U.S. and the Republicans kept enough voters away to win big in 2016 and 2018, capturing majorities in both chambers of the Tennessee legislature and the governorship in 2018. 

Recently, Republicans twice voted down “no-excuse” absentee voting. Last week Rep. London Lamar offered an amendment to a Republican voting bill that was soundly defeated 70-26. Lamar’s amendment proposed what Chancellor Lyle ordered.

You can request an absentee ballot here: https://www.nashville.gov/Portals/0/SiteContent/ElectionCommission/docs/main/AbsenteeBallotRequest-200806.pdf  You can also call the Davidson County Election Commission at 615-862-8815. The ballot request will require you to check a box (your excuse). Check the second box that says: “I am hospitalized, ill, or physically disabled, and I am unable to appear at my polling place for this election.”

Cooper’s Budget: No Money for Textbooks; Police Get Helicopter and New Gym

By Peter White 

NASHVILLE, TN – Metro Council approved Mayor Cooper’s “crisis” budget last week by a 32-1 vote. It now goes to the Finance and Budget committee to deal with amendments. A third and final vote will be held June 16. 

During a marathon 14-hour council public comment meeting, the council heard many people pushing for a “Peoples

Mayor John Cooper

Budget”. Jamel Campbell-Gooch is a Community Oversight Board member and the deputy director of Gideon’s Army.

“Nashville needs a budget that funds public safety through public goods, not policing and jails” he said.

Others, like Stephanie Silverman, Executive Director of the Belcourt Theater, represented the Nashville Arts Coalition. “I am here today to convey the deep concern in the arts community around the drastic recommendation to cut arts funding by 50%,” she said.

In the wake of the George Floyd demonstrations, still on-going, people all over the U.S. are demanding elected officials defund the police.

This development is quite different from earlier times of public protest. Police departments are getting military grade hardware, including Metro police. In the last two weeks, 143 reporters have been abused during protests they were covering.

They say there has been protestor violence but most of the demonstrations have been peaceful although several have ignored curfews. News reports say the police are doing most of the law-breaking by using excessive force like the tear gas, flash bombs, and rubber bullets used to clear a path for President Trump to walk to a cathedral near the White house, turn around, and walk back.  

In an Op-ed published June 4 for In These Times Hamilton Nolan noted Los Angeles is “massively cutting its police budget”. Its police budget has tripled over the last 40 years. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti pledged to trim $150 million from LAPD’s budget in 2021. Last Sunday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is considering cuts to NYPD’s nearly $6 billion annual budget.

“The entire idea that more police equals more public safety has always been a myth, and the protests in the streets of America today are proof of how deadly that myth has been,” Nolan wrote.

He referenced a 2017 paper in Nature Human Behavior that documented less aggressive policing leads to less major crime. And he said that cutting police budgets is the best way to solve the budget crises many cities are facing.

“The fact that cutting police department budgets can be a strong net good for social justice is not a new insight. Activists across the country have long recognized this, and many of them are organizing to rein in police budgets right this moment,” he wrote. 

Noland said activists for a Peoples’ Budget are calling to cut police budgets in Philadelphia, Los Angels, New York City, and Chicago.

“Mad Dog” Mattis Goes After the President

By Peter White 

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis accused President Trump of deliberately trying to divide Americans, taking exception to his threats of military force on U.S. streets, and praising those demanding justice for George Floyd. 

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try. Instead, he tries to divide us,” Mattis wrote in a statement first published in the Atlantic. 

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis

“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution. Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens—much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside,” Mattis wrote.

“We must reject any thinking of our cities as a “battlespace” that our uniformed military is called upon to “dominate.” At home, we should use our military only when requested to do so, on very rare occasions, by state governors. Militarizing our response, as we witnessed in Washington, D.C., sets up a conflict—a false conflict—between the military and civilian society. It erodes the moral ground that ensures a trusted bond between men and women in uniform and the society they are sworn to protect, and of which they themselves are a part. Keeping public order rests with civilian state and local leaders who best understand their communities and are answerable to them.”

Competing Bills About Nathan Bedford

By Peter White

NASHVILLE, TN — Senator Brenda Gilmore withdrew her support for a bill she co-sponsored to delete Nathan Bedford Forrest Day from state law. She said an amendment added to the bill in Senate State and Local Government Committee simply removed the requirement that the governor must proclaim the day. If adopted, it would still be officially observed.

“That’s not enough,” said Gilmore. 

 She said Gov. Bill Lee told her he didn’t think Tennessee needed to keep honoring Forrest, a Confederate general,

Rep. London Lamar

slave trader, and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. A bust of Forrest’s head sits in an atrium in the State Capitol.

The Republican sponsor of the legislation, Senator Jack Johnson (R-Williamson County) told members of the committee the amendment reflected the will of Gov. Bill Lee’s administration.

“It’s just a way to continue to observe Nathan Bedford Forrest Day,” Gilmore said.  On Wednesday, Gilmore introduced an amendment to SB2199 officially eliminating Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. On the Senate floor, Republicans voted 20-9 to table the amendment, thus killing it.

Meanwhile, Representative London Lamar got her bill to end Nathan Bedford Forrest Day through the House Naming, Designation, and Private Acts Committee.

Earlier in the same House committee meeting, members rejected a resolution that would have requested the removal of a contentious bust of Forrest from the state capitol.  

 “What it means to Tennessee is that we are going to continue to move forward.  We are going to continue to make Tennessee a welcoming state for everybody. That we are going to recognize that we don’t have a perfect past, but we can get it right,” said Lamar.  The bill now goes on to the House Calendar and Rules Committee where it can be scheduled to be heard on the full House floor.

Hannity Calls on Abolishing Chokeholds: Develop ‘Rigorous System’ to Hold ‘Crooked Cops Accountable’

By Joe Concha

Fox News host Sean Hannity on Monday called for police departments across the country to abolish chokeholds “unless it’s a matter of life and death,” arguing if such measures were in place “what should never have happened” to George Floyd could have been avoided.

Sean Hannity

“We should always as one American family strive to make this country a better place for as we say a more perfect union,” Hannity said in his opening monologue on Monday. “That’s why the president and his administration, they say, we’re going to work with the police. We’ll work with community members. We’ll set very clear guidelines and practices and develop a rigorous system to hold those crooked bad cops accountable.” 

“I’ve been saying it for years. We need body cams on every cop. We need cameras in every [police] car. It’s good for the cops, it’s good for those people that they might be arresting or having a dealing with,” he said.

“And, by the way, they need training, regular training and more training than just having one more option on their side of their vest. And, by the way, abolishing those chokeholds unless it’s a life and death moment,” Hannity said. “You can’t put any on somebody’s neck for eight-plus minutes and ever expect any different outcome than what should never have happened but did happen.”

Hannity separately said he opposed calls to defund the police, saying that would be a huge mistake. 

Debates over reforming police have exploded since the death on Memorial Day of George Floyd, who was killed in police custody after an officer pinned him to the ground, putting his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd, 46, was unarmed. His funeral in Houston is Tuesday.

The officer, Derek Chauvin, is now facing a second-degree murder charge. Thee other three officers face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder.

House Democrats unveiled a reform bill around policing policies on Monday. The bill includes prohibiting the use of chokeholds while allowing the Justice Department civil rights division subpoena power to investigate police departments on the local level. and intense debate, looms large in the Capitol Building.