published Thursday, November 8th, 2012

GOP gains superiority in Tennessee legislature

The Tennessee State Capitol in downtown Nashville.
The Tennessee State Capitol in downtown Nashville.
Photo by The Tennessean /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE — Republican leaders in Tennessee's House and Senate spent much of Wednesday happily basking in the post-election glow of their "supermajorities."

Aided by legislative redistricting, huge campaign war chests and nearly 60 percent of Tennessee voters who said "no" to President Barack Obama, House Republicans saw their majority rise from 64 to 70 in the 99-member chamber.

House Democrats saw a six-seat loss, going from 34 members to 28. There is one independent.

In the 33-member Senate, Republicans saw their advantage soar from 20 to 26. Democrats went from 13 to six.

Those figures give Republicans well above the two-thirds "supermajority" of 66 House and 22 Senate seats needed to suspend rules, end debate and prevent walkouts by Democrats from halting business.

"Last night's results are a testament to the major accomplishments of the General Assembly over the last two years, a lot of hard work by our stellar candidates around the state, and the fact Tennesseans just completely disagree with the big-government ideas that our opposition constantly espouses," said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga.

Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who also is lieutenant governor, boasted that, since winning outright majorities in the legislature and the governor's mansion two years ago, "Republicans have won the war of ideas across this state ... and changed the political culture."

Not so fast, argued unhappy House Democrats, who held a news conference to spin a counter-narrative that Tuesday's election amounted to a "victory" for them.

Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, of Nashville, said GOP-controlled redistricting cost Democrats 10 of their 34 seats on paper. But instead of falling to 24, Turner said, they picked up three open seats, defeated their first Republican incumbent in two election cycles and successfully defended their own incumbents, several of whom faced tough races.

"That's our story and I think we won," Turner said. He he argued that Democrats were outspent 5-to-1 and faced voter and "fundraiser suppression" as well as a presidential ticket "that was more popular than ours in this particular state."

The Democrats picked up the House seat held by Republican Jim Gotto, of Nashville.

Senate Republicans won all their races, including the open Senate District 10 race in Hamilton and Bradley counties, where Republican Todd Gardenhire beat Democrat Andraé McGary. The seat had been held by Democrat Andy Berke of Chattanooga but was substantially redrawn to give Republicans an edge. Berke did not seek re-election and is expected to run for mayor of Chattanooga.

Republicans also took the open Senate District 16 seat, with Republican Janice Bowling of Tullahoma defeating Democrat Jim Lewis of Marion County. Other Senate GOP victories include the defeat of Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Clarksville.

Unlike their House counterparts, Senate Democrats held no news conference to spin the results.

"Why would we?" said a glum Senate aide.

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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