With the world keeping tabs, Nashville voters adamantly struck down on Thursday a proposed Metro charter amendment proposal that would have made English the government’s official language.
The English Only charter amendment proposal failed by what several said was a surprisingly wide margin — 56 percent voted against the proposal and 44 percent voted in favor. There were 73,896 voters who weighed in on the special election.
A second proposed amendment, which would have made petition-driven charter amendments simpler and easier to achieve, also was defeated by a margin of 62 percent against and 38 percent in favor.
The English Only proposal also stated that no individual had a right to services in any other language.
Other cities have passed similar English Only measures, but Nashville would have become the largest municipality to do so. In the weeks leading up to the election, various national and even international media outlets covered the English Only special election.
Mayor Karl Dean, an outspoken opponent of English Only from the beginning, said the defeat of the proposed amendment showed Nashville to be a progressive, welcoming city.
“This is a great night for Nashville,” Dean said. “The results of this special election reaffirm Nashville's identity as a welcoming and friendly city, and our ability to come together as a community — from all walks of life and perspectives — to work together for a common cause for the good of our city.
“That diversity and that shared desire to see our city succeed and progress is part of what makes Nashville so great and the exact reason why this amendment does not represent the city that we are. I can tell you it a true honor and privilege to serve as mayor of this city.”
On the losing side was Eric Crafton, a Metro Councilman from Bellevue. Crafton had pushed a measure to make English the official language of Metro government for two years. After a failed attempt to pass a Council bill, Crafton gathered signatures of Davidson County voters.
His first attempt, which would have put the proposal on the November presidential election ballot, was disallowed by the Davidson County Election Commission. Crafton went back to the drawing board and gathered more signatures to force the special election.
In defeat, Crafton promised to abide by the “wisdom of the voters,” adding that he was glad the issue was finally decided at the ballot.
“I think it’s been a net-positive for Nashville,” Crafton said. “We’ve had a discussion, the people have decided. I always said I would support the collective wisdom of the citizens and they gave a clear statement tonight.”
English Only brought together a surprise coalition of opponents, led by Dean. It also included the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, the Nashville Convention and Visitors Bureau, immigrants rights advocacy groups and faith-based organizations from across the mid-state area.
The coalition raised in the neighborhood of $300,000, according its campaign finance disclosures. Crafton’s Nashville English First committee raised about $60,000, he said. As of Thursday, the committee had still not filed a financial disclosure, but Crafton said one would be coming soon.
The second amendment, which would have simplified the petition-driven charter amendment process, failed by an even wider margin. Opponents said the proposal was unnecessary and would have led to an assault on the Metro charter.
A pre-election estimate from Metro said the special election would cost around $300,000.