The Biden administration announces plans to seize control of the Tennessee Legislature

A work of satire, when truth is at least equal to fiction

February 14, 2023 6:00 am
Tennessee State Capitol. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Tennessee State Capitol. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Imagine yourself reading the following New York Times breaking news story:

WASHINGTON, DC – Democrats in Congress have introduced a new federal law that would specifically target Tennessee by reducing its number of total state house seats by half. Senate Bill 1 has been introduced by leadership as ‘The TITANS Act: Tennessee Is Targeting American National Security’ Act. 

In partnership with the Biden Administration, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-New York, filed a bill in February that requires state legislative bodies to consist of  no more than 50 members. The TITANS Act is the latest piece of federal legislation to target Tennessee’s government. It would reduce the number of state representatives from 99 to 50. Advocates for the bill argue, without evidence, that a smaller body is economically and legislatively more efficient. 

“For years, Democrats have been hearing from business leaders across the country that the size of state legislatures hinders economic growth, particularly in southern states like Tennessee,” said Jeffries.

Members of Democratic leadership assert that the bill does not target Tennessee’s General Assembly, specifically, saying it’s a coincidence that Tennessee is the only state that could be affected by the law. If passed, the law would applies only to states that rank 46th in voter turnout.

“Simply put, the New York elite know much better than you when it comes to how your government should be run,” said Schumer.

The bill is widely regarded among Tennesseans  as obvious retribution for recent legislation passed in Tennessee, one of the few states that have consistently provided celebratory occasions for Republicans in recent elections. After Roe v. Wade was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court, Tennessee’s ensuing full ban on abortion was the most important recent success. The GOP celebration marked decades worth of work influencing the ideological masses to support forced birth. In retaliation, the Congress has decided to punish Tennessee by seizing control of its assets and reducing its representation by half. 

“Don’t worry,” Schumer said in response to objections, “this is in no way retaliation; Tennessee just happened to be the only state that fell within the guidelines.”

Stop. Take a deep breath. 

Consider how you felt reading that story. 

You should get a sense of the hypocrisy when you think about the current plans of Tennessee state Republican legislators, who have introduced a slate of bills to dramatically shrink the Metro Nashville council size and seize control of Nashville’s major entertainment venues. The proposals are largely seen as  retaliation on Nashville for rejecting an opportunity to host the 2024 Republican National Convention. 

HB 0048, proposed by William Lamberth, R-Portland, would effectively fire half of the current council and would require a complete overhaul of the city’s representation. Nashville voters overwhelmingly rejected a similar move in a 2015 referendum This comes after the Republican  supermajority legislature strategically gerrymandered Nashville’s congressional representation from a solidly blue district into three solidly red districts, effectively stripping Nashvillians of federal Congressional representation. 

Follow the money. As part of this plan, Tennessee Republicans will also try hostile takeovers of Nashville International Airport, Bridgestone Arena, and Nissan Stadium. HB 1176 would seize control over the airport’s board of commissioners, while it is undergoing a $1.5 billion renovation. HB 1197, proposed by Ryan Williams, R-Cookeville, would seize control over the appointed authorities for Nissan Stadium and Bridgestone Arena, among others. 

The legislation would include plans to develop Nashville’s East Bank of the Cumberland River with a new stadium entertainment complex, worth a proposed $769 billion. The plan for the East Bank recently received unanimous approvals from the city council, and will replace Nissan Stadium with a state of the art facility that — importantly— will make the city eligible to host a Super Bowl. 

A second bill (SB 0648/HB 1279), proposed by Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, would remove the special tourist accommodation tax that is in effect in the downtown Nashville tourist zone. This move would effectively defund the Music City Center, which has brought over $382 million in direct economic impact in 2022 from hosting 149 different events. 

The idea is in contrast to Republican control in other counties across the state. In 2021, Lamberth’s home district — Sumner County  — doubled its county commission size from 12 to 24, and now has a total of 31 city council members in elected office across the county

Gone are the days of Republican Party principles like limited government, which used to say that those closest to the problem and its people are most likely to solve it.  In Tennessee, Big Brother Republicans have decided to punish the Nashville establishment, despite it being one of the largest economic drivers in the state and doing just fine on its own. All because the city council rejected an opportunity to host the 2024 RNC convention, which was sure to bring a host of security challenges, and has historically not lived up to expectations of economic impact. Bless their hearts. 

This bill sets a dangerous precedent for local governments all across Tennessee. The state is threatening a hostile takeover at any sign of dissent against their policies —many of which have left the public in various states of collapse.

I am hopeful that this proposal’s obvious and petty politics will not succeed, and Tennessee Republicans will use this opportunity to affirm it’s not any of their business how Nashville and other local governments want to organize.   

If they don’t relent and avoid setting this dangerous precedent, Tennessee’s state Republicans can expect to be on the lookout for a lengthy and expensive lawsuit. They should also expect near universal condemnation from Nashville citizens, who have worked to make their city the largest and fastest growing city in Tennessee. 

Tennessee Republicans don’t need to fix what ain’t broke by seizing control of Nashville means of entertainment — or the city in general .

Let Nashville be Nashville.

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Laura Brown
Laura Brown

Laura Brown is a Tennessee-raised businesswoman and writer. She has graduate degrees from Vanderbilt University and Middle Tennessee State University and a bachelor's degree from the University of Tennessee. You can follow her on Twitter @LBonPlanetEarth