Andy Berke won't seek re-election to Tennessee Senate

Andy Berke won't seek re-election to Tennessee Senate

February 28th, 2012 by Andy Sher in News

Tennessee State Senator Andy Berke

Photo by Doug Strickland/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should Andy Berke run for mayor of Chattanooga?

NASHVILLE -- State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, announced Monday he will not seek re-election to his Senate District 10 seat, but the lawmaker isn't ready to drop the other political shoe just yet.

That would be whether Berke will run to become Chattanooga's next mayor.

"I'm not running for re-election" to the Senate, Berke told the Chattanooga Times Free Press during an interview in his Senate office in Nashville. "I've enjoyed my time in the state Senate. I think there are other challenges that await me, and I look forward to working on jobs and education in other capacities as time goes by."

Asked if he has made any decision about running for mayor, Berke, 43, said, "I'm seriously considering it. Public service is important to me and my family. I care deeply about the issues that affect my neighbors like jobs and crime.

"I certainly don't expect my career is over."

Berke said he has "been thinking about this decision for a long time. I love this job, but it also requires me to be in Nashville as one voice in the Senate. I think that I can continue to work on issues that I care about in other ways."

The Chattanooga attorney is now the fourth Senate Democrat to announce he will not seek re-election this year following passage of a Republican-drawn redistricting plan.

The new map makes Berke's district more Republican with the addition of GOP-leaning areas in Hamilton County, such as East Ridge, and a good-sized portion of staunchly Republican Bradley County.

State Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, earlier this month picked up a qualifying petition to run for the Senate seat.

"I think it's obvious my core values ... strongly represent the majority of the redrawn 10th Senate District," Dean said at the time.

Berke, whose interest in the mayor's office became the subject of speculation before details of the Senate GOP plan emerged, maintains he could still win the seat.

"There's no question that redistricting was done to make my path to re-election more difficult," Berke said. "I think that's unfortunate because I favor a nonpartisan, independent process.

"All of that being said, I am proud of my record on jobs and education and feel that I can run on that record anywhere, especially in the 10th District," Berke added. "I feel confident I would have won the race."

An attorney, Berke won a special election in November 2007 to succeed former Sen. Ward Crutchfield, D-Chattanooga, who resigned in August 2007 following a guilty plea to bribery-related charges in the FBI's Operation Tennessee Waltz corruption sting.

Berke pointed to a number of legislative successes over his nearly five-year span in the Senate. He cited passage of legislation that boosts government efficiency, helps veterans and their families and protects victims of domestic violence.

In 2009, Berke served on a bipartisan group of lawmakers tapped by then-Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen to work on higher education issues. Bredesen added K-12 education to the mix when the Obama administration announced the federal Race to the Top grants that sought to reward states for pushing education reform.

Berke cosponsored the Complete College Act and the Tennessee Race to the Top Act. The latter culminated in Tennessee winning a $501 million federal Race to the Top grant.

The lawmaker said he intends to continue to push legislative efforts this year to aid small-business owners and jobless Tennesseans. His term expires this year.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550.