Dec 3, 2021 - News

Scoop: Nashville Dems ponder partisan school board races

Illustration of an apple with an I Voted sticker.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

In a move that could end the era of nonpartisan education politics, the Davidson County Democratic Party will soon vote on whether to hold primary elections in Nashville school board races.

  • During a special session last month, the state legislature passed a law allowing county political parties to vote on making school board elections partisan.
  • In an email chain obtained by Axios Nashville, the state Democratic Party urged county officials to embrace the new law and vote in favor of partisan elections if their Republican counterparts do the same.

Why it matters: Although most Nashville school board members would identify as Democrats, elections are currently nonpartisan, a system advocates say lends itself to less vitriol and allows talented Republican-leaning politicians a chance to win spots on the board.

Driving the news: County parties have until Dec. 10 to answer on holding primary elections in 2022.

What's next: Davidson County Democratic Party chairperson Tara Houston confirmed the discussion is on the agenda and a digital vote could happen today or Monday.

  • "If we don't call for the primary, (Democratic) candidates will run as independents as they've always done," Houston tells Axios over email. "The GOP may still hold a primary, which means Republican school board candidates may be on the ballot in August without Democratic opposition.
  • "It's a bad law — we’re discussing what we do now with the reality (we're) in."

Context: In the email chain, the state Democratic Party said county executive committees should "answer any Republican primaries with Democratic primaries."

  • Republicans view partisan school board elections as working in their favor across Tennessee, but in the mostly liberal Davidson County, it will be a steep climb.

The other side: Former Nashville school board member Will Pinkston, who previously advised Gov. Phil Bredesen and has worked around city politics for much of his career, says switching to partisan elections could cut out quality candidates from seeking office.

  • Pinkston says the onus will fall to the county party to take action if a pro-education reform candidate who is actually a Republican runs for school board as a Democrat.
  • "Would this have prevented people like (former board members) David Fox and Steve Glover from serving? Generally speaking, they're both out of step with most Nashville voters but were decent school board members," Pinkston tells Axios.
  • "It's a slippery slope."
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