A bill aiming to commandeer control of the Metro Nashville Airport Authority progressed through the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee on Wednesday despite objection from the lone Nashville representative on the committee. 

“‘Insouciant’ is the word that comes to mind,” said Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville) of the bill during the committee meeting. 

The legislation is just one of many bills that the Republican supermajority has filed in its ongoing efforts to rein in Nashville’s more progressive city government, including a bill to cut the size of Metro Council in half, the signing of which sparked a legal battle this week. But with legislation similar to this bill causing multiyear legal battles in other states, one industry expert speculated that the bill to reconstitute the airport authority could lead to the most contentious legal battle yet. 

Heidi Campbell

State Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville)

The seven members of the board that manages Nashville International Airport and John C. Tune Airport are currently appointed by the mayor of Nashville. This piece of legislation would allow the speaker of each chamber of the legislature to appoint two seats, the governor to appoint two seats, and the mayor to appoint two seats. The original bill did not allocate any seats to be appointed by Metro. 

“I think that we have seen from my time chairing this committee the importance of our major airports,” said Sen. Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) during the hearing. “We have become one of the major funding sources for these airports, and therefore we should be in partnership [with the airport authorities].”

An amendment from Campbell, which was seconded by Sen. Mark Pody (R-Lebanon), would have given the Nashville mayor five appointees, and one each to the speakers of the chambers and the governor. The amendment was tabled. In redistricting last year, Pody picked up a portion of Davidson County and has emerged as the rare Republican opposing the efforts to curtail Nashville’s authority within its boundaries. 

“So often around here we say if it ain’t broke don’t fix it, and right now we’re doing a really good job of running this airport,” said Campbell. When the bill came to a vote, Pody, who had previously been lukewarm toward the legislation, joined the ayes, leaving Campbell as the only member to vote no.

The bill applies only to airport authorities in metropolitan cities with populations higher than 500,000, thus singling out Nashville. Campbell introduced an amendment to change the language to encapsulate all major airports in Tennessee, which failed. 

“This is obviously going to be a big mess,” said Campbell. “Basically what we’re doing here is making a decision to spend lots and lots of taxpayer dollars on litigation going forward.”

Kirk Schaffer, the only witness to testify during the hearing, has spent more than three decades in the aviation world, and was appointed as an associate administrator for airports at the Federal Aviation Administration by Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump. He testified against the bill, warning the committee that the legal ramifications could be catastrophic.

“The turmoil that this legislation would cause would upset the financial market,” said Schaffer. He also referenced legal disputes over similar actions in multiple other states, including an ongoing lawsuit in Jackson, Miss., that has lasted seven years.

This story was first published by our sister publication Nashville Scene.