Stockard on the Stump: Will Nashville be punished for blocking the Republican National Convention?

July 8, 2022 7:03 am
The elephant in the room. (Photo illustration: Getty Images)

The elephant in the room. (Photo illustration: Getty Images)

The Metro Nashville Council appears to be firmly opposed to bringing the Republican National Convention – and the accompanying 40,000 whooping and hollering conservatives – to Music City in 2024.

Councilman Robert Swope is still trying to salvage an ordinance to win the RNC bid, but he’s got some heavy lifting to do before the July 19 meeting after pulling the matter from consideration this week.

Progressive council members balked at Swope’s push, irritated at Republicans for a slew of slights such as the splitting of Davidson County into three congressional districts. He clearly didn’t have the votes to gain approval this week.

For months, a host committee has been trying to beat out Milwaukee and draw the convention to Nashville. Gov. Bill Lee, a member of the host committee, continues to hold out hope the largely blue-dominated council will invite the red storm to town. He says he’s communicated that to Mayor John Cooper and contends Nashville is set up to handle a large influx of people, as evidenced by the Fourth of July celebration and the NFL Draft.

Metro can live up to its status as the ‘It City’ which welcomes any and all or they can play politics. We are all watching – including the General Assembly.

– Tennessee House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville

If Metro outright rejects the convention, though, will it face retribution by the state Legislature and governor?

House Speaker Cameron Sexton sends a bit of a signal, telling the Tennessee Lookout, “Metro can live up to its status as the ‘It City’ which welcomes any and all or they can play politics. We are all watching – including the General Assembly.”

Lee says that type of retribution would be “kind of hypothetical.” But he doesn’t dismiss it as a possibility, either.

“We don’t know if that’s going to happen, but there’s no plans for that. We certainly hope they make the decision to (invite the RNC),” Lee says.

It must be noted the Legislature hasn’t hesitated to punish Nashville in the recent past for any number of things, for example District Attorney General Glenn Funk’s refusal to prosecute minor possession of marijuana and now abortion cases.

Cooper’s office issued a statement Tuesday saying he respects Swope’s decision to withdraw the ordinance, noting the mayor has been concerned for months about the cost and security “challenges” of either the Republican or Democratic party bringing their conventions to Nashville. 

In late June, the office said Cooper wouldn’t consider signing an agreement until the council scrutinizes the proposal. The mayor’s office estimated it would cost $100 million to lock down most of downtown Nashville, which would be an unprecedented step and force the city to cancel three scheduled conventions.

The feds would provide at least $50 million for security. But Metro Nashville would still have to pay mandatory police overtime, and the extent of the security perimeter and its effect on businesses and residents is uncertain.

Metro Nashville Councilmember At-Large Bob Mendes chairing meeting of Council's budget committee. (Photo: Metro Nashville Network)
Metro Nashville Councilmember At-Large Bob Mendes: The question is moot. (Photo: Metro Nashville Network)

Councilman Bob Mendes believes the ordinance is dead from lack of support, and not because it wasn’t a good deal that only needed a few tweaks.

“I don’t see why this moment in time Nashville would invite this into our home. It’s just not the right time for hosting a political convention like this,” Mendes says. He’s on the record opposing Democratic and Republican events in Nashville because of the Jan. 6 Capitol violence and national polarization.

Swope, however, says he’s still working through details with Nashville officials, the RNC and the Republican Party mainly dealing with security issues before re-upping the ordinance. He declined to call out the council for getting political.

National Geographic recently named Nashville the world’s number one destination, Swope points out, adding it has a reputation for handling major events with strong security. Thus, it’s no surprise Republicans and Democrats want to hold their conventions in Nashville, he says.

“We look forward to bringing both Democrats and Republicans to town over the course of the next six years and demonstrate to the nation and the world that we are a city where civil discourse is embraced and valued as a bipartisan American right,” Swope says.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, who has played a role in the recruitment, calls Nashville a “perfect location” for the 2024 event, saying it would be a “great showcase” for the city and state.

“The leaders of both political parties support this effort. A major political party convention in Nashville would not only be an excellent economic driver, it would send a message that Nashville deserves a seat at the table alongside our nation’s greatest cities,” McNally says.

The Oak Ridge Republican is “greatly disappointed” some council members are “reticent” to support the host committee and says he hopes their “positions and tactics” won’t hurt the effort to bring it to town. He didn’t address the question whether Nashville could suffer legislative slings and arrows by opposing it.

Liberals and progressives on the council, though, aren’t likely to bend. 

Some are curious, too, why Republicans would want to visit a city whose legislative body doesn’t want them. Remember, the RNC got kicked out of Charlotte, North Carolina, and wound up holding the 2020 event on the White House lawn, even though some considered it a federal election violation.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, noted leaders of both political parties in Tennessee support bringing the Republican National Convention to Nashville, and said he’s “greatly disappointed” in the reluctance of Metro Council members to support the effort.

Of course, Metro is no stranger to “redneck, white socks and Blue Ribbon Beer.” Downtown Nashville plays constant host to country music fans and rabble rousers who tend to be Republican voters. I also recall recently covering a Faith & Freedom event at Opryland Hotel where former President Donald Trump basked in the glow of supporters who think he won the 2020 election.

Maybe the Republican National Convention would push some Democrats over the top. I’ve heard many folks say they’d make sure they’re out of town for a week if the Republican Party descends on Lower Broad.

But will Metro Nashville draw the ire of Tennessee’s Republican-controlled Legislature if the council tries to kill the RNC bid?

More than likely, some sort of punishment is coming regardless. And, secondly, the Metro Nashville Council probably doesn’t care. Still smarting over private school vouchers, this is one of their few chances at making a point.

Abortion divide

The Metro Nashville Council did lob a shot of its own this week when it passed a resolution supporting abortion access, enabling Metro employees to obtain financial assistance to obtain abortions in other states.

It’s not likely to go unchecked.

Expect some sort of retaliation from the state Legislature as well as an effort by the attorney general to remove Funk from any abortion-related case. The General Assembly passed a law allowing the AG to replace sitting district attorneys with a pro tem if they publicly state they won’t support a state law.

The law’s really clear in our state about what is going to be legal and what is not in the future. That’ll be changing when the trigger law goes into effect in a few weeks.

– Gov. Bill Lee

Gov. Lee, meanwhile, is standing by the law that triggers a prohibition on performing abortions. It will take effect once Roe is officially overturned. At the moment, a ban on abortions at six weeks is in effect across the state.

The Metro council is free to pass resolutions, Lee says, but he sure isn’t going to push for a similar measure allowing state employees to obtain abortion procedures.

“The law’s really clear in our state about what is going to be legal and what is not in the future. That’ll be changing when the trigger law goes into effect in a few weeks,” Lee says.

War chest grows

State Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, announced this week she’s raised nearly $300,000 in less than three months for the 5th Congressional District race.

“Donors, from the grassroots up, are showing their support and we’re confident we will have the resources this fall to present a clear contrast between Sen. Campbell’s hopeful vision for our country and whichever ideological agenda stumbles out of the GOP primary,” says Chip Forrester, her campaign treasurer.

Campbell will face the winner of the Republican primary, most likely between retired Brigadier Gen. Kurt Winstead, former House Speaker Beth Harwell and Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles.

Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, announcing her congressional bid in April. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Sen. Heidi Campbell, D-Nashville, announcing her congressional bid in April. (Photo: John Partipilo)

The Federal Election Commission doesn’t have any reports on hand yet for Ogles. Winstead reported raising more than $1 million at the end of March, including a $480,000 personal loan. Harwell raised more than $360,700 by the end of the first quarter, the FEC showed.

Blast from the past

Does anyone remember when Diane Black and Lou Ann Zelenik went at it hot and heavy 12 years ago in the 6th Congressional District race and wound up in a legal tussle?

Well, it ain’t over.

Zelenik vs. Aegis Sciences Corporation for malicious prosecution, which dates to January 2014, could go to trial this summer.

Former U.S. Rep. Diane Black (R-TN) in 2017. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

If you can remember that far back, Zelenik won the initial round of legal entanglements after Aegis, the company owned by Diane Black’s husband, David, sued her for defamation. The lawsuit stemmed from a political ad Zelenik ran claiming his company benefited from state drug testing contracts Diane Black voted for in the state budget while serving as a Republican state senator from Gallatin.

Diane Black served in Congress for a decade, then ran for governor but lost in the 2018 GOP primary.

All the while, Zelenik and Black have been tied up in this second lawsuit. 

Their initial battle seems like it took place a lifetime ago. Heck, I could at least touch the rim back then. By the time they wrap this up, I’ll be on a cane.

“This is the end/ my only friend, the end”

Private school vouchers, carte blanche charter approval at the state level, 50 to 100 charter schools to be run by an out-of-state right-wing school, the governor’s refusal to reject the bashing of teachers and colleges of education.

“No safety or surprise, the end/ I’ll never look into your eyes again.”


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Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.