Sen. Andy Berke weighs running for mayor vs. legislature

Sen. Andy Berke weighs running for mayor vs. legislature

January 9th, 2012 by Andy Sher in News

Tennessee Senator Andy Berke

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

POLL: Should Andy Berke run for mayor of Chattanooga?

NASHVILLE -- State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, says he finds the idea of working on Chattanooga issues as the city's next mayor appealing but emphasizes he has made no decision yet about running for the post.

Faced with a redistricting plan that weights his Senate district toward Republicans, Berke said his legislative focus on issues such as education and economic development should serve him well regardless of whether he opts to run again for the Senate or try for the mayor's seat.

"My decision on the future is going to be based on where I think I can have the most impact," Berke said in an interview Friday. "I have been working on jobs and education for years now, and I think that's what people want from both parties. So I feel comfortable with the politics of where I am in any [Senate] district."

At the same time, Berke said, he finds the idea of serving as Chattanooga's mayor, a nonpartisan position, attractive.

"As mayor you get to exercise executive leadership and hold people together in a unified way," Berke said. "We have important issues related to crime and economic development. And bringing our citizens together to combat these important problems is something that attracts [me]," he said.

But he insists he could win the redrawn 10th Senate District he now represents.

State Republican lawmakers last week released redistricting plans for state Senate, state House and congressional districts. Lawmakers must reapportion populations and redraw district lines once a decade based on the latest U.S. census. This is the first time Republicans have controlled the General Assembly and redistricting.

The 10th Senate District is expected to include new areas favorable to Republicans such as East Ridge and a chunk of Bradley County.

The General Assembly convenes Tuesday, and the House State and Local Government Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider the district lines.

If Berke chooses to run for re-election, he could face a challenge by Republican state Rep. Vince Dean, who represents East Ridge and once was its mayor.

Dean said he's looking hard at a run.

"I think it'll be a natural progression for me. I represented the citizens of my hometown well. I served on the [East Ridge City] Council and [as] mayor for them," Dean said last week, noting that the area he served expanded when he was a House member.

"It's quite possible I'm ready to expand my 'boundaries' further," Dean added. "I should have an official announcement within a week or so."

4th District Scramble

Meanwhile, proposed changes to Tennessee's 4th Congressional District could lead to a major GOP primary battle for U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., of Jasper.

Sixty percent of the redrawn district's population is new, including all of Rutherford County. That's the home of state Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, of Murfreesboro.

"Starting Monday I will be talking with the people of my new district to see if they are looking for a new congressman who is committed to cutting government and creating jobs," Ketron told the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro. "This is not a decision I will be making lightly."

In a move that could benefit Ketron -- or state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville -- the proposed new district lops off all or parts of a dozen or so counties DesJarlais now represents in Middle Tennessee as well as counties near the Kentucky border.

Still, it adds Rhea County, Meigs County and part of Bradley County, which might benefit DesJarlais, a Jasper physician who was first elected in 2010.

Taking no chances, DesJarlais' campaign on Friday said it began airing radio ads throughout the district, although no dollar amount was specified, and it wasn't clear whether some areas where the ad is running remain in the 4th.

State Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere, said a redrawn district won't deter his 4th Congressional District campaign. He noted that much of the area he represents remains "right in the heart of this district."

It includes Franklin, Marion, Grundy and Warren counties, he said. And despite the inclusion of Rutherford, the district still would be largely rural, he said.

"I'm not letting this way they've drawn the maps change my mind one bit," Stewart said.

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