Why do Republicans hate Nashville?

Betty BeanKnox Scene

One of the big story lines bubbling up from the 113th Tennessee General Assembly is the growing list of bills messing with Nashville. Laws have been proposed that will allow the Republican-dominated state legislature to cut the size of Nashville’s Metro Council in half, end the authority of the Music City Center and the airport and sports authorities to control the revenues they generate and redirect those streams to the state. A bill to rename John Lewis Boulevard for Donald Trump isn’t pocketbook-oriented but takes owning the libs to dizzying new heights.

Remember when Republicans used to say the government closest to the people governed best and that the era of Big Government is over? That was before the GOP took over Tennessee state government.

Granted, these are all things that GOP extremists have wanted to do for a long time. Gerrymandering the heck out of Democrat-dominated Davidson County and splitting it into three congressional districts that stretch deep into the MAGA-dominated boonies have given a city that went for Joe Biden by 20 points a trio of right wingers to “represent” them in Washington. And this served only to whet the Republican appetite for power – an amuse-bouche, fancy folks might call it.

Sen. Frank Niceley

This change of fortune has likely given reactionaries like Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains, senate sponsor of the Spit on John Lewis’ Grave Bill*, a good giggle. It was Niceley who lectured unhoused Tennesseans that they should take as a role model a young veteran who was homeless in Vienna a century ago. Adolf Hitler worked hard and did right well for himself, Niceley said. It was also Niceley who invited June Griffin, a conservative activist who was arrested for vandalizing a Hispanic grocery store, to offer a prayer to open the 109th General Assembly. She prayed that the legislators would not expand Medicaid.

Open aggression against the state capital isn’t new but has gotten more naked since the city decided not to invite the 2024 Republican National Convention to come to town. The antipathy is palpable.

It wasn’t always that way. Tennessee Republicans haven’t always hated big cities. Once upon a time in Nashville, lawmakers scrapped to get roads and grants and tax breaks for their districts. The urban-rural divide was the biggest issue. Rural Democrats like Ned McWherter and John Wilder dominated the scene, and the issues were often more regional than partisan, less ideological than practical. But there was a good bit of bipartisan cooperation.

I’ve heard Lamar Alexander tell the story of House Speaker Ned McWherter instructing the new Republican governor (who had been sworn in a few days early to rid the state of a corrupt Democratic incumbent) “I’m going to help you be the best governor this state ever had because if you succeed, Tennessee will succeed.”

One time I told Shelby Rhinehart, a powerful old Democrat who chaired a subcommittee that killed off bills his crowd didn’t like, that I couldn’t tell whether he was a conservative or a liberal. His answer was, “I’m a liberal in my district and a conservative in yours.”

Sure, there were individual lawmakers with their pet issues, but the biggest fights were over who was going to bring home the bacon, and partisan concerns didn’t always trump collegiality. Those guys were practical.

My memory of running into an affable Republican House member as we were crossing the street in front of the Hermitage Hotel remains bright. He wasn’t his usual smiling self, and I asked what was wrong.

“Bobby Wood is going to bring up another one of those damned old abortion bills,” he said, looking at the ground and shaking his head. “They just make everybody mad.”

In those days, legislators generally put their political differences aside when the sun went down, and there were fast friendships across party lines. Republicans and Democrats frequented the same bars and eateries, often getting their tabs picked up by lobbyists. From the Gerst Haus to Jimmy Kelly’s to Printers Alley to The Kremlin, party was a verb, not a cultural divide.

If Republicans didn’t like Nashville, they sure managed to fake it. Particularly the Grand Old Party animals, whose numbers were legion.

I don’t get to Nashville much these days, so I don’t know who’s partaking of after-hours fellowship with whom anymore, but this MAGA age is not a collegial time, and it’s not hard to see the antipathy boiling. I doubt there’s much mixing.

The Good Book says, “Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.”

The deed and the truth both show that Republicans hate Nashville, one of the fastest growing and most progressive cities in the South; maybe in the country. Can’t have that.

*Note: Nashville has strong historical ties to John Lewis, a son of Alabama sharecroppers who went to seminary at Nashville’s American Baptist Theological Seminary, was ordained into the ministry and earned a bachelor’s degree from Fisk University. During this time, he was active in the nascent civil rights movement.

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for KnoxTNToday.com.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *