This story is a partnership between the Nashville Banner and the Nashville Post. The Banner is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization focused on civic news and will launch later this year. For more information, and to read a longer version of this interview, visit NashvilleBanner.com.
Fran Bush shot to prominence during the pandemic as the lone voice on the Metro Nashville Public Schools board arguing to reopen schools early. That got her attention and praise from conservative groups like Moms for Liberty, but also forced her to run for reelection as an independent after the legislature made school board races partisan affairs. She lost by more than 40 percent to Cheryl Mayes. Now she's turning her attention to the mayor's race.
Bush has not filed her treasurer form to begin raising money, but she tells the Banner she intends to do so Monday.
Why do you want to be mayor?
Oh, wow, that's a powerful question. It's a no-brainer for me. I mean, the work I've done for the past four years, it's been a huge representation of our Nashville public schools. My work was mainly good, it was a lot of work. There were a lot of things that needed to get done. I just didn't work on behalf of my district, I worked on behalf of the whole entire [system]. And I accomplished a lot of great things. And when I didn't win reelection, that's not where I should have been for a second term.
Actually, I've been thinking about the mayor for quite some time. And the reason why I went on and ran for reelection is because my [district] parents, my parents, were really, really adamant about having someone on that board that was going to do the work for our kids. And of course, it got very political and very, you know, because it was a partisan race. And it's just really political, which that's what I thought was gonna happen anyway. And it was pretty much answered that that's not my space and place at the time. I needed to do exactly what my mind was to do, and that's run for mayor. And I'm doing it now because I want to do this on a bigger scale. The work I did on the school board was huge. But this is even bigger. And so I want to be able to take the things I know how to do as far as being very intentional, and getting the work done for Nashvillians, those who work and live here. And it's been slow-walked for the past four years. I’m a native Nashvillian. I grew up here. I know this city. I know what it means. I know what it wants. I know people, and I want to be able to connect and get this work done. And people are ready for change. I'm fresh. I'm new, I'm young. I have common sense, right? And that's what people are looking for, someone they can connect with.
What do you think makes you uniquely qualified to run the city?
What makes me uniquely qualified is because I have experience, and people want to see experience. They don't want to just see experience just in politics, or that you have been, you know, working behind the scenes and different elements. They want to see somebody that has been in the front, in the front working, boots on the ground. Doing the hard work, making sure that even during the tough times, of course, in the pandemic, as someone was there that helped get our students back in the classroom. And unfortunately, my opponents were not with me to get these kids back in the classroom. So parents saw that, they saw the work. And that's all they want to see moving forward in the city. Someone who's experienced.
When you ran for reelection to the school board, you got about 29 percent of the vote. Why do you think that you can win enough support to become mayor?
Well, the 29 percent was nothing but political. And it was a political era to basically make it just what it was right. It was a Democratic/Republican type of deal to make it partisan, and it just got too political. And I decided to go independent. So when I went independent because I did not want to play sides, people — it wasn't that they didn't know me or you know, all the lines were splitting them around the city, of course, we had everything redrawn. It was the fact that people just wanted to vote for a D. They wanted to look at a Democrat. And that's what happened. And that's the reason why it was dangerous to do what happened as far as both parties agreeing to make this a partisan race. I don't look at it being 29 percent. I look at it as just political. And it was just the way it was, it was customized to do exactly what it was supposed to do.
In fairness, isn't the mayoral race and being mayor politics?
It is, but it's the way you handle politics. And I don't handle politics like a politician. I also call myself a public servant. And that's the difference and that's the reason why people are so excited about me joining the race, because they saw my work. They saw I wasn't a politician, that I was just like them: I’m a mother, a wife. I have my own business working everyday. I’m a working-class woman who took care of business for their children. And that's what they saw and that's why they're so excited for me to jump in this race, because they finally can say we got someone that we know that we have seen over the past four years work for us, or for our children work for our community. And that's what they're looking for.
You said in your announcement video that by voting for you, Nashville will regain a trusted leader. Do you think Nashvillians don't trust their leaders right now?
Well, when you look at the history, the last four years, Nashvillians are tired of getting the promises. Nashvillians are tired of the political talk. And that's when I say they're going to regain a trusted leader. Because that's what I've been in the past four years. It’s no secret, the work I've done, the courage that it took to get our kids back in the classroom, that was huge to a point that I had a lot of change — the legislature has changed the law that kids cannot go back virtual, unless it's an emergency situation. And even then, it is a timeframe that kids can be out of a classroom. So I did something very huge. And that was big.
And you worked with the legislature in order to get that passed?
I didn't work with the legislature. The legislature saw the work that I was doing and decided that it was very important that this wouldn't happen again.
One of the many issues the next mayor faces is the relationship between the city of Nashville and the state of Tennessee. How do you see that relationship? And do you think you can improve it?
Oh, absolutely. I'm so glad to answer that question. I'm so excited. I'm jumping up and down right now in my car. Let me tell you what people think. People are saying, "I'm tired of the divisiveness between Democrats and Republicans." We're tired of seeing the fight. We want to have some type of inclusion. With me, if I am chosen as the next mayor, my goal is to work across the aisle. My goal is to work with the governor, who called me personally during the pandemic, when we had our kids out of school. I want to be able to cross those aisles and be able to work with the legislators and the governor on things that could really affect Nashvillians. And I want to be able to pick up that phone, I want to be able to have that meeting so that we can discuss the issues, discuss the concerns and discuss solutions. That's exactly what my goal is.
If you were mayor right now, how would you approach some of the issues where the state and the city are currently at odds? For instance, there is a bill before the legislature right now that would take away the funding mechanism for the Music City Center.
Well, you have to take a deep dive into those deals, right? Because some of those deals are so — I mean there's so much language there that we have to look at it and be able to come up with why or what benefits. What isn't going to benefit Nashville, is it going to benefit Nashvillians? That's the kind of mayor that I will be once these bills are rolling out. I want to be able to look at them, because if it's gonna touch Nashville, and it's going to affect Nashvillians, then I want to make sure that I'm a part of the equation. And that's exactly what Nashville wants.
Do you think that the current mayor is not part of the equation?
I think the current mayor is very disconnected from the equation. And that's the reason why there's so much combativeness right now. And there's so many different ways. There's so much frustration with getting the work done, because both parties are not talking, both parties are not working together. Now. Are we going to agree to disagree? We are, but at least you're going to have a mayor, if I'm chosen, I'm going to be very intentional on being involved with the process. And that's what's been missing. I can go back to the example when the kids were out of school. The governor and mayor bumped heads on keeping his kids out of the classroom. And that was what showed me that there was no type of relationship.
Do you support a new Titans stadium?
Here's the thing: The most important thing for me is that taxpayers will not be faced with the bill. OK. And that was one of the things that Nashvillians said: “We've already been taxed. We don't even see most of [that money] in our neighborhoods.” And right now I support, you know, renovations, and something that can help improve the stadium. There's still more conversation to be had surrounding this big deal. So I think there should be more talks and conversations around it. I think that there could be some renovations, that could be some things that can be improved. So again, it's just about having those conversations on how this is going to work in our city. Other cities have done it, they have brought their stadiums up to par. They've invested millions and billions of dollars into their stadiums. And it brought in more, you know, revenue for the city. So we just have to take that deep dive into, you know, the next steps for this new stadium.