Jul 8, 2022 - News

GOP leaders ponder drastic response to RNC withdrawal

Illustration of the Tennessee State Capitol building with lines radiating from it.
Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

State Republicans are pondering a scorched earth strategy targeting Metro government after the withdrawal on Tuesday of legislation to host the Republican National Convention in 2024.

  • "Nothing is off the table," Gov. Bill Lee's spokesperson Casey Black told Axios. "We don't believe small businesses should be denied a significant economic opportunity over political pettiness."

The latest: Republican leaders want to see the proposal revived in the Metro Council.

  • If it's not, multiple sources tell Axios that members of the General Assembly are considering a special session to pass legislation to effectively circumvent the city and enable the Convention and Visitors Corp. to enter into a hosting agreement directly with the RNC. It's unclear what such state legislation would look like.
  • In addition, other city priorities that need state government support in the coming months could be in jeopardy, sources say.

What we're hearing: A new north-south road along the East Bank of the Cumberland River, which would be a centerpiece of Mayor John Cooper's ambitious redevelopment plan, would be significantly less likely to receive state backing if the RNC legislation is not revived. Possible funding for a new Tennessee Performing Arts Center on the East Bank would be at risk, too.

Flashback: State legislation to completely overhaul how Nashville school board members are chosen went nowhere this past legislative session, but could be back on the table.

Context: It's unclear if the RNC would be receptive to an agreement that didn't include the city leadership. Milwaukee's mayor and city council have already passed an agreement similar to the one Metro Council withdrew.

  • The optics of a partisan squabble between the state and Metro could make choosing Milwaukee over Nashville a politically simpler decision for the RNC.

What they're saying: "[House Speaker Cameron] Sexton is watching closely as to how some Metro Council members are playing politics on a massive economic and international public relations win for our state and Nashville," Sexton spokesperson Doug Kufner tells Axios. "Hopefully, bipartisanship will prevail, and in the next two weeks, we will have a better idea of what needs to be done — if anything — to secure the convention."

The other side: Cooper's administration helped prepare the legislation that was ultimately withdrawn. Cooper has expressed concerns about safety.

  • "The Mayor's office values our productive working relationship with state leaders and hopes to continue working with them on a number of initiatives that will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans, including new roads and infrastructure that will connect neighborhoods and reduce traffic, a housing-first approach to getting our unhoused neighbors off the streets, more funding to improve public schools and making it more affordable for every family in Nashville and the surrounding area to live and thrive here," Cooper spokesperson TJ Ducklo said.

Threat level: "I am greatly disappointed to hear that some on the Metro Council are reticent to support the effort. I am hopeful Nashville’s leaders will reconsider their positions and tactics and that the overall effort to bring major party conventions to Nashville will not be affected," Lt. Gov. Randy McNally tells Axios. "If Metro persists in attempting to torpedo this effort, the state will have no choice but to explore alternative options to bring major party conventions to our state.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a statement from the lieutenant governor.

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