Lonnie Spivak: New Bill Would Change the Nashville-Davidson County Mayoral Race Outcome, Could Favor Republicans

Mar 10, 2023

Live from Music Row Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed Davidson County Republican Party Chairman Lonnie Spivak in studio to explain legislation that could give Republicans a chance at winning the Nashville mayoral race.

Leahy: We are having too much fun here. In studio with us, the chairman of the Davidson County Republican Party, Mr. Lonnie Spivak. There’s a possibility that everything you know about the Davidson County, Nashville Davidson County Mayor’s race, could change.

And that change agent is the Tennessee General Assembly. There is a bill there that would eliminate the runoff element of it. And now we’ve got eight or nine candidates that have declared. The election is scheduled for August 3rd.

The filing deadline is May 18th. And since the formation of the Metro government back in 1965 the mayor has always had to have won more than 50 percent of the vote. And the way it works is the first election is on August 3rd, the August election, if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, then the top two candidates meet in a runoff.

That’s been the way it’s been for a long time, and I think the past couple of races have had those runoffs. This year, however, that could change. Tell us what’s going on with the Tennessee General Assembly on that.

Spivak: The bill in the Senate is SB 1527 and the companion bill in the House is HB 1399. And what this bill will do is it’ll remove the runoff election element of local elections, and the winner would just have to win by a plurality vote.

Leahy: So for instance, let’s just say if this race, there are eight announced candidates right now. And let’s say the leading candidate gets 29 percent and the second candidate gets 27 percent and the third candidate gets 20 percent, and the rest are below that; in that scenario, in the current law, the 29 percent person and the 27 percent person will be the only two to make it to a runoff in September.

Spivak: Yes. That’s how it’s currently structured.

Leahy: But if this law passes the number one person in that scenario that got 29 percent, the plurality of the vote, that person would be the new mayor.

Spivak: And that this really. This bill, if it passes, will give Republicans are real shot at winning races in Davidson County and other large cities in Nashville, where the demographics currently work against us. It’s being slowed up in the Senate a little bit right now, so its passage is up in the air. It’s in the state and local government committees.

It was supposed to be brought up this week, but there were a couple of members of the committee out, so they deferred it to Monday. And so I really encourage people to contact the members of the state and local government committee and let them know that you would like for them to consider passing the runoff election bill. The language hasn’t been added to the bill yet.

It’s still just a caption, but we’ll need the committee to meet and add the language to the bill, so they consider it for passage. And in order for this to move forward, those steps need to happen. Or else we’re gonna be dead in the water and we’ll lose the best chance we’ve had in a hundred years of electing Republicans in the city of Nashville.

Leahy: Now we Republicans could probably get a candidate who gets 29 percent of the vote.

Spivak: Yes. Typically, we’re in the 23 to 27 percent of the vote, depending on how many candidates are in the race. If Republicans know that there’s a good conservative candidate in the race and they coalesce. There are enough Republicans in Nashville to get to the 35 percent mark. Donald Trump did very well in 2016 in Nashville. So we know the votes are here. We just need to get them to the polls.

Leahy: In this race now there are eight candidates. Five Democrats, two Republicans, one independent, I think, is what it looks like right now. Right now, yeah. Yeah. Sharon Hurt. She’s from the Council of Fred O’Connell from the council, Matt Wilshire, who’s been appointed. He’s a Democrat. Jeff Yarbro.

Spivak: Fran Bush.

Leahy: Oh, and then I guess Jim Gingrich. Carpetbagger.

Spivak: You like that word.

Leahy: I do. Because he is a carpetbagger, by any definition of the word. Jim, by the way, you’re welcome to come in. And then Fran Bush, a former member of the school board, a friend of ours who’s an independent, and then two Republicans, Natisha Brooks, who ran previously in the GOP primary and then Alice Rolli, Natisha and Fran have been.

Alice Rolli will be here a week from today. We’ll talk to her about it. But if you look at it either of those, let’s say of the conservatives, you might add or Republicans, you would add three candidates.

Alice Rolli, Fran Bush, and Natisha. Fran and Natisha, I think are gonna struggle to raise money. I think Al’s gonna raise some money. I don’t know exactly how much we’ll find out when she’s in, on Friday, but really right now it doesn’t look like to me, any of those three are in a position to win. Certainly in the runoff.

Maybe if they have this new law, and of course as the Davidson County Republican Party Chairman, you’re limited in what you can do in this race. Tell us about what Davidson County Republican Party can and cannot do in this mayoral race.

Spivak: I asked the state chairman Scott Golden on what the rules were in non-partisan races. There’s still a lot of ambiguity about how to handle nonpartisan races. From my aspect, there are, there is more than one Republican in the race, and it should be our position as the county party to pick between Republicans.

And so what I’m gonna be proposing to the board on the 28th is that we treat it as a partisan race that we use our PAC to run ads against candidates and ideas that we are against but really treat it as a partisan race. The ultimate decision will be up to the board, but that is how I hope to present things to the board.

It really puts us in an awkward position, and I don’t want the county party to be in a position and have a history of supporting one Republican when multiple Republicans are running.

Leahy: Yes. And that’s the situation here. And that is a very measured approach to it, and it makes a lot of sense. However, I will say that if you look at it, the opportunity here for if one single Republican candidate came out and everybody focused on that candidate and that candidate had money and was credible, I think that candidate would be able to, get up to 35 percent of the vote. And then if this law were to pass, Democrats’ heads would explode.

Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “Lonnie Spivak” by Lonnie Spivak. Background Photo “Davidson County Courthouse” by euthman. CC BY-SA 2.0.