daily memphian

Is the ‘party over’ for Gov. Bill Lee?

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Just weeks ago, Gov. Bill Lee and fellow Republicans who run the General Assembly were arguing about where to stash overflowing tax revenues. Everything has changed since the economic impact of the coronavirus has started coming into focus.

The governor has come under increasing pressure over his decision not to order a statewide shelter-in-place order — he’s instead left it to mayors in the state’s largest cities to issue their own guidance.

The Daily Memphian‘s Sam Stockard is positing that the “party’s over” for the new Lee administration as it grapples with the new realities:

While Lee and his new COVID-19 Unified Command have been working overtime amid a state of emergency and executive orders to provide financial support and stem the spread of a hardcore bug that isn’t even alive, some lawmakers say the state’s response has been scattered, at best, sending mixed messages to the public.

Physicians, meanwhile, call Lee “weak” on leadership for refusing to join about 20 other governors in declaring a statewide “safer at home” order to quell the severity of the pandemic.

Lee and other Republican leaders acknowledge the situation is “liquid” and that strategies can change daily, if not hourly, based on the latest information.

Read the rest of the article here.

Meanwhile, the Boston Globe looks into the blue/red divide when it comes to responding to the pandemic. The paper looked at the city of Bristol, which is famously divided between Virginia and Tennessee.

It was Saturday night on a main street in the South, but locals described something odd: One side of the street was almost normal, if quiet, with restaurants serving dinner and groups of young people milling around. The other side of the street looked practically vacant.

“There was no foot traffic on the left side,” recalled business owner Janet Atwell, 51.

Both sides of State Street are in cities called Bristol, but the left side is Virginia, the right side is Tennessee and the yellow line down the middle of the road is both a state border and a new frontier in this country’s uneven response to the coronavirus outbreak that often is breaking down along partisan lines.

The different scenes on either side of the pavement reflected the differing pace of the two state’s governors as they seek to contain the pandemic. On that Saturday night on March 21, Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia, a Democrat, had established stricter limits on public gatherings than Governor Bill Lee of Tennessee, a Republican. Since then, both governors have banned dining inside restaurants and public gatherings of more than 10 people, but Northam has ordered a larger swath of nonessential businesses to close.

Read the full article here.

A two-week adjournment plan? Lawmakers plot quick end to closed-door session

House Republican leaders are meeting Sunday to discuss their exit plan for the legislative session. The meeting follows a decision on Friday to close off access to the Capitol complex to all but members, staff, and the media.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremy Faison tells the Daily Memphian that he’s been inundated with calls from colleagues worried about the spread of the virus and whether they will get a fair hearing on their bills if the legislature adjourns earlier than planned.

Those concerns come as speculation has spread about a potential effort to pass the budget and adjourn by as early as Friday. Faison said that time table would be moving too fast.

“There are a lot of discussions going on right now and looking at it from every angle,” Faison told the Daily Memphian. “I think the most important thing we do is make sure our members are safe and the people of Tennessee are safe. So leadership is meeting tonight, and I think we’ll devise a plan moving forward.”

Senate Speaker Randy McNally said it would likely take two to three weeks to finish up business even in a hurry-up mode.

“I think the House would like to do it in two (weeks). But if we say two, it ends up being three. That’s not too far ahead of our schedule,” he said. “The main thing is getting the governor’s amendment to the appropriations bill.”

McNally said the Senate has been consulting with state Attorney General Herbert Slatery on the legality of closing public access to the General Assembly. The 2001 Mayhew v. Wilder case resulted in a state appeals court decision that said lawmakers can hold secret meetings to discuss budget plans.