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Why Nashville’s Metropolitan Election Matters for the Rest of America

4 min read
Nashville Downtown View
Emily Dexter · Jul 19, 2023

On August 3, the people of Nashville, Tennessee will vote for their city’s next mayor, vice mayor, and Metropolitan Council. And the rest of the nation should be paying attention. 

Why? Because Nashville is currently functioning as a microcosm of American politics and the ongoing culture wars that have taken over so much of our contemporary political dialogue. The city of Nashville has made national headlines frequently in the first half of 2023. From drag bans to a devastating school shooting, from a multi-billion dollar stadium deal to questions over state control, the Music City has been caught in a whirlwind. 

The way Nashville chooses to respond to these challenges in the upcoming Municipal Election could serve as a crucial example for how the United States can respond to its challenges more broadly. The leaders Nashville elects could help shape the future of our political discourse.

Here are some of the major headlines that have shown the spotlight on Nashville so far this year:

Nashville in the News: How Local Events Reflect National Challenges

Let’s walk through some of the most important Nashville events that have made national headlines, plus how they each reflect bigger obstacles the United States is facing.

The Drag Ban

What Happened in Nashville:

On March 2, USA TODAY broke the news to the nation: Tennessee Governor Bill Lee had signed two historic bills into law: one seeking to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth within the state, and the other restricting drag performances on public property. This second law, the Tennessee Adult Entertainment Act, defined “adult cabaret entertainment” as “entertainment suitable for mature audiences, including entertainment erotic in nature, and featuring” entertainers including “male or female impersonators.” 

The Adult Entertainment Act was originally set to take effect on April 1. However, after protests from groups such as the Memphis theater company Friends of George’s, a federal judge placed a stay on the law. On June 2, the judge, U.S. District Judge Thomas Parker, ruled that the Adult Entertainment Act was unconstitutional. According to Parker, the law would violate the separation-of-powers principle and go against the First Amendment.

As the most populous city in Tennessee, Nashville would have been directly impacted by the Adult Entertainment Act.

What It Means for America:

LGBTQ+ rights have been at the center of the national culture wars for some time, and laws seeking to ban drag performances on public property only add to this polarization. As a liberal city within a conservative state, Nashville is a city to watch as residents choose how to respond to questions regarding LGBTQ+ inclusion.

The Stadium Deal

What Happened in Nashville:

Nashville made history when it approved a $2.1 billion agreement to build a new stadium for the Tennessee Titans along the east bank of the Cumberland River. The stadium deal is not only the largest in the history of Nashville. It’s also the largest in the history of the nation. The deal represents the largest public subsidy for a stadium in U.S. history.

Nashville’s city council has been divided on the deal. In April, a public hearing concerning the stadium went on for five hours. Almost 70 percent of those who spoke at the hearing spoke out against the stadium deal. But the council approved the agreement 26-12. The mayoral candidates for Nashville’s upcoming election are also divided on their approach to the stadium deal.

What It Means for America:

The Nashville stadium deal represents a larger question about money, power, and community. How should public funds be spent? What needs should be most prioritized? And who should get to make the decisions about what gets built in our communities? Nashville is just one notable city grappling with the question of the balance between big money and the local community.

The Covenant School Shooting

What Happened in Nashville:

One of the most devastating headlines to come out of Nashville has been the news of a shooting at the Covenant School, a Christian elementary school. The shooter killed six people, including three children and three adults. The assailant had legally purchased firearms from five local gun stores prior to the shooting, and was being treated for an emotional disorder at the time of the tragedy.

What It Means for America:

School shootings have become a tragically common theme in the American news cycle. The Nashville shooting brings to light more questions about how best to put an end to the national epidemic of gun violence. Importantly, some of the main precautions that supporters of the Second Amendment often propose — locked school doors, armed staff members, and mental health care for the assailant — were already in place. How then should the nation move forward toward creating a safer society?

The Expelled Representatives

What Happened in Nashville:

On March 30, three Democratic lawmakers from the Tennessee state legislature joined a protest demanding gun reform in response to the shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville. Soon after, two of them were expelled from the legislature by Republican lawmakers. Representatives Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, who are both African American, were ousted from the legislature, while the third protester, Representative Gloria Johnson, who is white, retained her seat.

Republican lawmakers have denied that race played a factor in the decision. Instead, some point to the fact that Jones and Pearson used a megaphone at the protest (thus signaling greater involvement) while Johnson did not.

What It Means for America:

The expulsion of two lawmakers from the Tennessee state legislature may signal a turning point in American political polarization. Most state legislatures have the capability of expelling members. However, this ability is usually reserved for times in which lawmakers are accused of serious misconduct. Rarely is expulsion used as a weapon against political opponents, as it was in Tennessee. The way Nashville responds to this open display of partisan hostility could serve as a guide for the rest of the nation as we navigate an increasingly polarized political climate.

The Question of State Power

What Happened in Nashville:

In March, two bills sought to increase the state of Tennessee’s level of control over Nashville’s affairs. One bill (SB 1326 and HB 1176) focused on giving the state greater control over Nashville’s airport authority board, and the other (SB 1335 and HB 1197) targeted Nashville’s sports authority board. Both bills were backed by Republicans. 

Interestingly, neither bill explicitly mentions Nashville. However, Nashville is the only city in Tennessee that meets the criteria to be affected by the bills. In June, officials in Nashville filed a lawsuit over the airport bill, arguing that the new legislation violates the Tennessee Constitution’s home rule and equal protection clauses.

What It Means for America:

The real issue at stake here is one of control. Who should have the power to make decisions concerning the Nashville International Airport and the Nashville sports scene? Should those decisions prioritize the economic needs of the state, or the more local needs of the city? Nashville is far from the only city in the United States that differs politically from its surrounding state, so questions like these could show up in many more places.

The Council Cuts

What Happened in Nashville:

In another move toward greater control over Nashville, Tennessee House Republicans voted in March for HB 48, a bill that would cut the Nashville Metropolitan Council from 40 to 20 members. Currently, the city council has 40 members, including five at-large council members and 35 members representing specific districts. Many view the attempt to shrink the council as an act of retaliation after the council blocked Nashville’s bid to host the 2024 Republican National Convention.

Supporters of reducing the council size have pointed out that many comparable cities have smaller councils. However, champions of the 40-member Metro Council highlight that the council’s size came about in part because of efforts to increase racial diversity and opportunities for Black council members to be elected. In 1962, voters in Nashville and Davidson County approved the 40-member model in a referendum, and the council has functioned that way ever since. Opponents to the council cuts argue that reducing the number of members would once again reduce the ability for marginalized communities to be fairly represented.

What It Means for America:

The debate over the size of Nashville’s Metro Council connects to a larger, long standing debate over the proper size of government in America. How expansive should our government be to adequately address the needs of its citizens? And how much does diversity matter in fair and equal representation? Nashville has to answer these questions on a local level, while the United States is faced with these questions on a national scale.

How Nashville Can Be an Example for America

The news stories and debates described above each come with their own nuances and complexities. But here’s what they all have in common: in each situation, the leaders of Nashville have a choice. Either they will stick to the script of partisan, polarized politics, or they will rise above partisan politics to truly serve the people they represent. Those who make the choice to put the people before politics can serve as an amazing example for the rest of the nation.

At Good Party, we are cheering on candidates in Nashville who are running clean, non-partisan campaigns — candidates who are ready to advocate for the needs of the people. Learn more about the candidates and how you can get involved by visiting Good Party’s 2023 Nashville Independent Voter Guide.

Photo credit to Cullen Jones


Voter Education
Nashville Downtown View
By Emily Dexter
Emily Dexter is the content marketing coordinator at Good Party. Based in the Midwest, she brings a fresh perspective and editorial experience to the team.