published Monday, December 19th, 2011

District redraw muddles ’12 races

NASHVILLE — Senate Republicans are eyeing new lines for the 10th District Senate seat that could swap Democratic areas in Marion County for GOP-leaning territory in Hamilton and southern Bradley County.

If that happens, state Rep. Vince Dean, an East Ridge Republican, said he would consider running for the seat next year against Democratic incumbent Andy Berke of Chattanooga.

Redrawing the 10th District also might impact Chattanooga politics if Mayor Ron Littlefield can’t fend off an August recall election.

Littlefield has said he might not run in that election, so someone else could finish the final seven months of his term and have an incumbent’s advantage in the next election.

Berke is not ruling out running for mayor, although he said Sunday evening his considerations aren’t based on what the 10th District looks like after redistricting next year.

Short on people

Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said Sunday that the 10th District needs more people.

The Democratic-leaning district, which includes much of Chattanooga, Lookout Mountain and Marion County, is 16,153 people short of the ideal population of 192,306, based on U.S. Census figures.

“Certainly one concept that’s been looked at is can you take the 10th and move it eastward toward Bradley,” Watson said.

“That concept has been looked at, but no decision has been made,” he emphasized.

Taking out Marion County’s 28,237 people, plus the need to add 14,000 to 16,000 people to the 10th, would open an opportunity to add East Ridge and southern Bradley County, both Republican areas.

Dean, a former East Ridge mayor, said he would “certainly explore the possibilities” of a Senate run, but “only after the district lines are finalized.”

“I’m not going to jump out there and say I’m running for a district I haven’t seen,” Dean said.

Berke said he hasn’t seen a map or any proposed lines, but he thinks there’s a constitutional problem with such a redrawing.

“The [Tennessee] Constitution says that you can’t divide counties, and the reason for that is to make sure counties maintain their strength.

“When you divide Bradley County you minimize its ability to speak with one voice,” Berke said. “Any attempt to split Bradley County certainly appears to violate the Constitution and hurts [its residents’] abilities to have power in the legislature.”

Federal courts have ruled that counties can be split to achieve the goal of one person, one vote.

But Berke said the Legislature would be “risking a court redrawing your boundaries if they split counties when they don’t have to. The people in those split counties understand what it does to their power when you split them up.”

Mayoral hopes?

Redistricting is “irrelevant to what I decide to do politically,” Berke said.

“I believe that I would have a good chance of winning any district they draw, and so my main consideration is to figure out how I can best serve people these next few years.”

Could that include a mayoral bid?

“It certainly could,” he said.

“The mayor has got his issues to deal with. I’m working on mine, and when I’ve reached a decision, it will be my decision.”

On Friday, Littlefield’s attorney filed suit in Hamilton County Circuit Court seeking to stop the recall by blocking the distribution of qualifying petitions to potential candidates.

Moving the district into part of Bradley also would affect the 9th District, now held by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville. The district now includes the entire county along with McMinn, Monroe and Polk counties.

The proposal would put about a third of Bradley into the 10th District. Bell lives in McMinn County but grew up in Bradley County.

Senate Republicans are seeking to increase their current 20-13 majority over Democrats during redistricting.

about Andy Sher...

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, ...

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