by Steve Gill
As Nashville voters head to the polls on Tuesday to determine the fate of the $9 billion/$5.4 billion Transit Tax there are few public polls that give insight into what voters are thinking. One of the only public polls was one conducted by The Tennessee Star a few weeks ago that showed Nashville likely voters overwhelmingly opposed to the interim Mayor David Briley-supported plan. (Briley himself faces voters in a May 24 election that will decide whether or not he keeps his temporary job.) While there have been rumors that other polls have been conducted, none have been released publicly. Presumably, if the pro-transit forces had a poll showing an imminent win they would have primed the pump with that information to energize their voters. They haven’t.
Another indication of what may be coming with tomorrow’s election results is the bleed of support among Metro Council Members and mayoral candidates. Few, if any, notable public leaders in Nashville have moved TOWARD the plan in recent weeks. Plenty have moved AWAY.
Meanwhile, the increasingly hysterical pro-transit reporting by The Tennessean has moved from encouraging taxpayers to embrace the plan to demonizing any and every individual or group who opposes it. How many more times can The Tennessean be on the wrong side of public opinion regarding critical public policy issues and retain any credibility? Their newsroom keeps moving Left while their declining readership (and shrinking newsroom) reveals that their audience and advertisers are not following along. What happens if, once again, they pick the wrong side that further alienates them from their potential readers and advertisers?
The usual suspects (Chamber of Commerce, Vanderbilt University, Big Banks, McNeely, Pigott and Fox, the Nashville liberal elites, etc.) have also aligned with the liberal pro-tax advocates and against those who PAY the taxes. It is not surprising that so many who will profit from the proposed plan (including construction companies) have supported it with such enthusiasm while those who have opposed it have done so with no profit motive at all.
Does anybody seriously believe that Lee Beaman will sell more cars simply because Nashville puts more empty buses and light rail cars into a few neighborhoods? Or that he is motivated by some profit agenda? Does Beaman Automotive Group sell less cars because the Music City Star carries passengers to and from Mt. Juliet at a loss of about $9,000 per passenger per year? Yet, The Tennessean and pro-transit advocates would have you believe that the “evil” opponents to transit are acting out of some capitalistic scheme to deprive Nashville of a Disneyland-esque utopia of monorails and mass transit. Really? The Koch brothers, who help fund Americans for Prosperity, are playing the profit angle?
59,288 voters have already cast votes in the May 1 Nashville local elections AND transit tax referendum. Based on previous comparisons of early vote versus election day vote totals, the number of voters on Election Day should be about 55,000 more.
For example, the August 6, 2015 Mayoral election that featured several formidable candidates including Bill Freeman, Megan Barry, David Fox and others, produced 53,795 early votes with less than that number voting on Election Day itself. The runoff election, held on September 10, 2015, resulted in 58,633 early votes and a total of about 52,000 more on Election Day for total votes of 110,454. Megan Barry won that runoff election for Mayor over David Fox. Thus, the early voting totals for the May 1 election are aligned with the 2015 runoff numbers and may indicate a similar proportion of additional turnout on Election Day.
Win or lose, the Transit Tax Plan will tell us a lot about the future direction of Nashville and its leadership. More importantly, it will give us greater insight into who the voters in Nashville listen to…and who they don’t.
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Steve Gill is a conservative media and political strategist and Political Editor of the Tennessee Star.