NASHVILLE — Freshman U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., could be headed toward a tough re-election fight in 2012, but the source of the Marion County Republican’s problems doesn’t lie with Democrats at this point.
Rather, DesJarlais and the sprawling 4th Congressional District he wrested last year from incumbent Democrat Lincoln Davis may run headlong into state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, the powerful Senate Republican Caucus chairman.
As the Republican-run General Assembly prepares plans to redraw state legislative and congressional districts in January, Ketron would like to insert his rapidly growing home county of Rutherford into the largely rural district.
Ketron, who sits on the Senate redistricting committee, insisted it is “premature” to get into the issue. Nonetheless, he said, “I think Rutherford in the 4th would be a good scenario.
“If Rutherford doesn’t move into the 4th, then it’s probably going to be split,” Ketron said, noting Rutherford County political leaders and the legislative delegation “don’t want it to be split.”
As for reports that he is interested in running for Congress from a newly reconstituted 4th, Ketron said, “It’s something I’ve never ruled out.” But he said it’s too early and he has made no decision.
In a statement, DesJarlais sidestepped questions about Ketron, saying he is “honored to represent the people of all 24 counties that make up Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District.”
“Right now, I’m completely focused on representing my constituents and addressing critical issues,” he said.
Calling redistricting a “big task,” DesJarlais said state legislators and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam “have already proven themselves more than capable of tackling big challenges.” He said he looks forward to working with state officials “on a host of issues important to the people of Tennessee’s 4th Congressional District.”
DesJarlais, a physician, upset Davis in November elections. Unlike Ketron, the political newcomer is not that well known in the legislature, according to GOP political observers.
Rutherford, population 262,604, has been a part of the 6th Congressional District for decades. But the 6th District, which surrounds part of Nashville and extends east along part of the Cumberland Plateau, is 83,631 people above the target congressional district size of 705,123.
For the first time in more than a quarter century, the 6th District seat is held by someone from outside Rutherford, Republican U.S. Rep. Diane Black, of Gallatin in Sumner County.
The 4th Congressional District is 17,115 people below the target size. The district stretches from Campbell County in East Tennessee south into Sequatchie, Grundy, Franklin and Coffee counties southwest below Nashville before stopping in Hickman County.
Rutherford is nearly 10 times as large as DesJarlais’ Marion County base. Parts of the existing 4th District would have to be taken out to put Rutherford into it. Even then, it would constitute nearly a third of the new ideal district size.
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, ...