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AP poll: A look at the top 10 Tennessee stories of 2020

December 24, 2020 GMT

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A look at the top 10 Tennessee stories of 2020, according to an Associated Press survey of reporters, editors and broadcasters.

1. COVID-19: The global COVID-19 pandemic hit Tennessee in March and has since caused hundreds of thousands of confirmed infections, with thousands of Tennesseans killed. Republican Gov. Bill Lee has favored a policy that made Tennessee one of the last states to establish a stay-at-home order in the spring and one of the first to reopen its economy, while leaving mask requirements up to counties.

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2. DEADLY TORNADOES: Overnight before the state’s presidential primary in March, at least six tornadoes carved through Middle Tennessee during storms that killed 25 people, including 19 in Putnam County and two in Nashville. President Donald Trump surveyed damage on the ground in Putnam County. During a mid-April Easter, storms in the Southeast produced a tornado on the other side of the state, killing three people in and around Chattanooga.

3. RACIAL INJUSTICE: George Floyd’s death and the subsequent demonstrations against racial injustice in Tennessee and worldwide had divergent effects on the state. Lee recommended moving the bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest out of the state Capitol and into the state museum, and officials cast the first of multiple votes needed to move the bust. Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers passed and Lee signed into law stiffer penalties against certain protesters.

4. VIRUS-VOTING: After COVID-19 hit, Tennessee election officials refused to make it easier to vote by mail as other states had done. The resistance drew prolonged legal challenges, resulting in a state judge’s ruling that made absentee voting widely available. The ruling held during the August primary, but the state Supreme Court overruled it for the November election after the state promised that voters more susceptible to COVID-19, their housemates and their caretakers would still be eligible. Additionally, a federal judge blocked a requirement that requires first-time voters otherwise qualified to vote by mail to vote in person in their first election, or show ID at their local election office to vote absentee.

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5. ABORTION RESTRICTIONS: Lee announced support in January for a sprawling anti-abortion bill. Tennessee has since faced numerous court losses over abortion prohibitions, including the fetal heartbeat restriction of Lee’s law; a 48-hour waiting period enacted five years ago; a COVID-19 restriction that deemed abortion an unallowable nonessential procedure; a required message from doctors to mothers seeking abortion that the procedure could be reversed; and a ban on abortion based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome or fetal race or gender, which an appeals court allowed to take effect while the court case proceeds.

6. SCHOOL VOUCHERS: A Tennessee judge in May blocked the state from implementing the governor’s contentious school voucher program, ruling it violates the state Constitution by only targeting Nashville and Shelby County. An appellate court agreed, and the case is now ready for the state Supreme Court’s consideration.

7. ALEXANDER’S IMPEACHMENT SPOTLIGHT: Retiring U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander drew the national spotlight as one of the few publicly undecided Republicans during President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial. Alexander ultimately voted against having witnesses and against impeachment.

8. HAGERTY WINS SENATE RACE: Republicans held their ground in Tennessee in 2020, with President Donald Trump and Sen.-elect Bill Hagerty winning easily in November, and only one net red seat in the GOP-supermajority Legislature flipping to Democrats. In the race to replace Alexander, Hagerty defeated Vanderbilt trauma surgeon Manny Sethi in the Republican primary, then cruised to a win over Democrat Marquita Bradshaw, the first Black woman nominated by either major party for statewide office in Tennessee.

9. DEATH PENALTY: Tennessee executed Nicholas Sutton in the electric chair in February, continuing its quick pace of executions. Then COVID-19 hit. Four other death row inmates who were scheduled to die have since been granted reprieves, either by the governor or the state Supreme Court. But in late November, appellate judges ruled that a Tennessee trial court judge improperly reduced a Black inmate’s death sentence to life in prison. The trial court judge’s ruling was based on claims that prosecutors had illegally excluded African Americans from the jury pool.

10. PILOT CONVICTIONS TOSSED: A split U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals panel in October tossed convictions for the former president of Pilot Flying J and two of his former employees related to a rebate scheme to cheat trucking companies out of millions of dollars. The three-judge panel’s majority reasoned that jurors should not have heard recordings of racist language by the former president, Mark Hazelwood. Prosecutors have appealed.

PREVIOUS YEARS

Here is a look at the top stories of the previous five years:

— 2019: Rep. Glen Casada resigned as House speaker in August amid multiple scandals, including explicit text messages, after a vote of no confidence from fellow House Republicans. The move prompted an August special session in which Rep. Cameron Sexton was voted in as speaker.

— 2018: Former Nashville Mayor Megan Barry revealed in January that she had a prolonged extramarital affair with her former bodyguard. The two pleaded guilty separately to felony theft charges related to the affair, and Barry resigned.

— 2017: Republican Bob Corker engages in a war of words with President Donald Trump and retires from the Senate after two terms.

— 2016: Wildfires roar out of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, torching hundreds of buildings and leaving 14 people dead.

— 2015: Four Marines and a sailor are shot and killed in Chattanooga.