The movement to stop a Nashville mass transit plan has gotten an extra boost of horsepower from an unexpected source: the Koch brothers, described in The Tennessean’s reporting of this development as out-of-state billionaires with a knack for riling America’s liberal masses.
The Tennessee office of Americans for Prosperity, a lobbying organization founded and funded by Charles and David Koch, played a big role in passage of state Senate legislation that would stop the $174 million bus rapid transit project known as the Amp. The bill, which is different from the House’s version, would make it illegal for buses to pick up or drop off passengers in the center lane of a state road.
StopAmp.org Inc., the leading opposition group, thanked AFP in a news release Thursday, and Andrew Ogles, AFP’s state director, said that the group didn’t back the effort financially but that the bill grew out of a conversation he had had with Sen. Jim Tracy, the sponsor.
Charles and David Koch live in Kansas and New York, respectively. Their interest in a Nashville transit project doesn’t sit well with its supporters.
“The Amp Yes coalition is a coalition of local businesses, local individuals and local organizations that live in the community and have a dedication to finding the answers that make this community a great community to live in,” said Ralph Schulz, president and CEO of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.
“These are the people that drive these roads every day, need the alternative transportation opportunities, know where Nashville’s headed and know what kind of community they want Nashville to be.”
The Amp’s supporters note that another out-of-state group, Pro English, supplied more than 90 percent of the money to an unsuccessful effort to require Metro government to do business only in English five years ago. (A common denominator is Nashville automobile dealer and Republican campaign donor Lee Beaman, who was the main local contributor to the English-only effort and has helped bankroll StopAmp.org Inc.)
But Ogles, a 1990 Franklin High School graduate and former deputy director of Newt Gingrich’s 2012 presidential campaign, said he represents a local constituency, too.
“We are an organization with a national presence, but we’re state-run,” he said. “I’m born and bred in Tennessee. They’re trying to frame it as a local issue, but it’s a local issue that requires state and federal dollars. Tennessee has 95 counties, all of whom are vying for those transportation dollars.”