NASHVILLE — The Tennessee House on Monday passed a resolution that says the Volunteer State will not participate in Georgia’s proposed boundary commission to examine moving that state’s northern border 1.1 miles north.
“We stripped it of all the tongue-in-check language,” sponsor Majority Leader Gary Odom, D-Nashville, told colleagues. “Basically, this resolution is very serious. It says we do not believe there is a problem. We decline participation in this commission.”
With no debate, the chamber passed House Joint Resolution 919 on a 91-0 vote. Two Knoxville representatives simply voted present. The measure now goes to the Senate, where House aides say Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, is expected to handle it.
The Georgia House and Senate in February passed a resolution that calls on Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue to name a boundary commission to correct what Georgia officials and experts say were flawed surveys in 1818 and 1826 that set the Tennessee border too far south.
Georgia lawmakers, who say the border should be at the 35th parallel, have raised the issue several times since the Civil War. But the issue has taken on new urgency with exploding growth in Atlanta and North Georgia coinciding with an historic Southeastern U.S. drought.
Georgia lawmakers are open about their ultimate goal — seeking access to the Tennessee River at Nickajack Lake in Marion County in Tennessee. They are not ruling out going to the U.S. Supreme Court, which handles boundary disputes among states.
“It would be better, all the way around, for Tennessee to appoint boundary line commissioners and begin discussions,” said Georgia state Sen. David Shafer, R-Duluth, in an e-mail statement. “A refusal to even discuss the matter could end with Georgia being forced to judicially confirm ownership of the entire disputed area.”
Tennessee Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, said that while he thought in some respects Georgia’s proposal didn’t deserve a response, he wound up backing the resolution “because it stated our position rather than leaving our position unstated.”
Moving Georgia’s border north to the 35th parallel would take in parts of Chattanooga, East Ridge and Lookout Mountain, Tenn., as well as parts of Marion, Bradley and Polk counties.
Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, whose district includes Marion County, said the resolution effectively outlines “the support everybody has in Tennessee to leave the state line exactly where it is.”
The resolution lays out historical and legal reasons behind the Tennessee General Assembly’s assertion that the “border has been well established for nearly 200 years, and that there is no valid reason for Tennessee to revisit this issue.”
It cites a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Oklahoma v. Texas that “long acquiescence in the possession of territory under a claim of right and exercise of dominion and sovereignty over it, is conclusive of the rightful authority.”
It also cites the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Georgia v. South Carolina where the court held “long acquiescence in the practical location of an interstate boundary, and possession therewith, often has been used as an aid in resolving boundary disputes.”
Earlier language that attacked Georgia’s effort as a political stunt to help “water-starved” Atlanta was removed.
Rep. Harry Tindell and Rep. Joe Armstrong, both D-Knoxville, voted present on the resolution.
“I thought that the whole discussion and conversation that’s gone on so far has been a little shrill and hostile,” Rep. Tindell said. “I think we ought to cool the debate down a little bit and really look at this from a more productive arena.”
Rep. Tindell said he is “a hundred percent against revising the state boundary. But I think we need to get past that and actually look at this in terms of (region) and resources. And the river certainly comes through the apex of the three states — Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama. And we ought to look at it regionally and see how we can share the resources.”
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...