Rough retaliation against Metro expected in wake of Republican convention decision
Metro Nashville Courthouse. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Days after national Republican leaders tentatively selected Milwaukee for a national convention, state lawmakers believe Metro Nashville Council might have signed its “death warrant” by rejecting the event.
Retaliation against the capital city is likely to be rough when the General Assembly convenes in January, since little time is available for a special session before the Aug. 4 primary election.
Everything from an attempt to cut membership on the 40-member council to threats to stop state support of an East Bank road to rescinding a $500 million bond note for a Titans stadium construction project has been broached.
“That’s to be expected. You’re dealing with this supermajority that likes to bite the hand that feeds them, that’s keeping the lights on in all these rural counties. They still don’t understand the value and importance of Nashville because they are vindictive and petty,” said state Rep. Vincent Dixie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
Dixie predicts retaliation, though he didn’t know what legislation could be coming down from Republican leadership. He was uncertain whether the Legislature had the authority to reduce the number of Metro council members but acknowledged Republican-controlled courts in Tennessee could give the Legislature the ability to pass unconstitutional legislation.
A special session in the midst of early voting and with the primary only two weeks away appears to be off the table.
“Speaker Sexton is focused on returning a Republican supermajority to the House over the next several months – including the addition of new members and more seats. Any decisions related to Metro Nashville can wait until the start of the next session in January. The Speaker is certain there will be ample discussions related to this issue and others,” said spokesman Doug Kufner.
The final decision on the Republican National Convention site isn’t set, either, according to Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Scott Golden.
A site selection committee last week chose Milwaukee but only because that city’s proposal was the only one it had to consider, after the Metro Nashville Council failed to take up a similar ordinance here.
Metro City Councilman Robert Swope is expected to introduce his legislation again Aug. 2, three days before a national Republican group takes a final vote. A Nashville proposal could be offered from the floor at that point, according to Golden.
Golden conceded that Milwaukee is in the “driver’s seat,” with a Democratic mayor and council unanimously supporting the drive to bring the convention there. But if the Metro Nashville Council decides to approve the ordinance, both will be considered at a summer meeting in Chicago.
“There is a lot of support in the (RNC) board to come to Nashville,” Golden said, noting the situation changes “180 degrees” if the attitude of the Nashville mayor and council shifts.
Mayor John Cooper remains concerned, however, about increased security costs, even though he negotiated the deal to play host to the convention. He continues to be leery of bringing the event to town unless state Republicans present a new package such as new increased education funding.
Consequently, some Republicans are laying the blame at the mayor’s feet.
Metro Nashville Council member Freddie O’Connell pointed out it would have been difficult to support the convention ordinance without the mayor’s office backing it.
O’Connell, who is running for mayor, also noted the state “preempts the heck” out of Nashville already, changing the education funding formula, approving private school vouchers and taking several other steps.
“It seems silly to move to a nuclear space over this meeting they have every four years,” O’Connell said. He said he might have voted for it if the deal had been made better for Metro Nashville.
Swope, meanwhile, said Monday he is continuing the push and refiling the administration ordinance this week. “I’m a glass-half-full guy. I always have hope that people will do the right thing,” Swope said.
Although concerns have been raised about whether the host committee has put a full-court press on some of the Metro Nashville Council’s progressive and liberal members, Swope believes they will be lobbied in the next two weeks.
Council member Delishia Porterfield is among those who hasn’t had any contact from the host committee. She doesn’t appear worried about the potential fallout from a negative vote, either.
“We know we’ve been the target of legislation in the past, and … it’s not our intent to agitate the state, but we have no intention of backing down, either, and we have to do what’s in the best interests of Nashville,” Porterfield said.
She opposes the Republican National Convention because of fears it will bring not only traditional Republicans but extreme elements to Nashville, creating security risks such as the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Other Council members have said they oppose both the Republican and Democratic national conventions coming to Nashville.
We know we’ve been the target of legislation in the past, and … it’s not our intent to agitate the state, but we have no intention of backing down, either, and we have to do what’s in the best interests of Nashville.
– Delishia Porterfield, Metro Councilmember and candidate for Tennessee General Assembly
If the ordinance were to be approved, the federal government would provide a $50 million grant for security, which would be used to offset overtime costs for local officers, according to Golden.
The Legislature put in $25 million to hold the event, and the host committee, made up of former Gov. Bill Haslam, Gov. Bill Lee and Blake Harris, Lee’s former chief of staff, would raise another $35 million to $40 million to offset expenses, according to Golden.
“There are a lot of people working on it. There are a lot of people who realize this is a priority for the state and something that, unfortunately, if we miss this opportunity, the window will close for the next at least two decades,” Golden said.
He contends Nashville would be one of the safest places in the nation during the convention because of the emphasis placed on security during the event, which takes two years to plan.
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