My thoughts on the new law that cuts Metro Council by half
Last week, the Governor signed legislation to shrink the size of Nashville’s Metro Council and simultaneously plunge Nashville’s upcoming local elections into chaos. I spoke against and voted against this brazenly unconstitutional and dramatically irresponsible legislation, but now we as a city have to figure out what’s next.
Over the coming weeks, there will be lawsuits and big decisions to make in the Metro Council about how to move forward. Councilman Bob Mendes has a good explainer on what to watch and what to expect. But here’s a question that’s been posed over and over to me and other candidates for Mayor:
Should the next Mayor be committed to fighting back against state overreach or finding a way to build a more cooperative relationship with the state government?
That’s a false choice, because the next Mayor of Nashville must do both.
Nashville’s next Mayor — whether they want to or not — will be managing an ongoing, multi-front conflict with the State. This conflict didn’t begin with the Council’s decision on the RNC convention and it won’t end with the shrinking of the Metro Council. The legislature is still considering bills to take control of our airport authority, sports authority, convention center funding, and even regulation of downtown beer permitting. If you’re not willing and able to stand up for the city, its people, and its values, you don’t have any business being our next Mayor.
At the same time, Nashville’s next Mayor — whether they want to or not — needs to work with state government to make progress. On education, housing, roads, transit, infrastructure, economic development, and public safety, the city’s future requires either building partnerships with the state or at least avoiding any efforts by the state to undermine or sabotage our success. If you’re not willing to search for common ground and work with common purpose wherever possible, you can’t succeed being our next Mayor.
The days when Metro Nashville could focus on local issues and trust the State to focus on statewide issues are behind us. Managing our city’s complicated relationship with an increasingly interventionist state government is now an essential job requirement.
Over the last nine years, Nashville has seen me defending our city’s interests and values in the state Senate. I’m not someone who goes along to get along. Too often, I’ve been required to fight against legislation aimed at hurting our city or targeting vulnerable communities the supermajority too often uses as props in divisive culture wars. Sometimes I’ve succeeded; too often, I’ve been outnumbered. While I don’t get into dumb, personal, or performative spats with the supermajority, I’ve never sat out the fights that matter.
At the same time, I’ve consistently found ways to work across the aisle and get things done. I’ve sponsored and passed over 75 laws, including legislation to allow Nashville to invest in affordable housing, to finally start regulating the downtown party buses, and to provide more affordable childcare options. I’ve worked with the last four Mayors and last two Governors to ensure Nashville had pathways to improving transportation and invest in mass transit.
While I’ve got the experience needed for the challenges we face right now, voters deserve to know how I and the other candidates for Mayor view the challenge ahead.
Here’s the deal. The State and its capital city are symbiotic. There’s no way for the State to succeed if Nashville is in political or economic chaos, and it’ll be nearly impossible for Nashville to succeed if the State wants us to fail. The current state of affairs is a negative sum conflict where nobody will win.
But that can’t mean our city sacrifices core values to make peace. Nashville must and should reject any interference that shuts our communities out of deciding our own future. We’ve worked too hard for too long to ensure that minority communities have real and meaningful representation in city government to simply accept a state-mandated replacement now. We will reject becoming a rightwing subsidiary that marginalizes the LGBT community, criminalizes immigrants, or abandons those in poverty. And we’re not going to sit politely and take it for a handful of legislators who want to treat the city as a plaything.
Nashville is one of the great American cities — and it’s time to start acting like it. While we respect the State’s role and partnership, we are not powerless in this dispute. I hardly think the folks who don’t know how to keep children in state custody from sleeping on cots in office buildings are prepared to manage the complexities of managing a modern, international, economic powerhouse of a city. And regardless of recent bluster, the State depends on Nashville’s success.
We have an amazing density of talent, ideas, creativity, and opportunities that attract people to move here and prompt those already here to stay. That’s why Nashville has been the center of Tennessee’s economic and population growth for the last two decades. Any effort to undermine the values of Nashville must be opposed not just because it’s bad for business but also because it’s inconsistent with who we are — and who we will continue to be.