With their overwhelming control of this year's decennial redistricting, Republican legislators greedily seized the opportunity to squeeze out or weaken seats held by Democrats across the state in hopes of winning super-majorities in both the state House and Senate. The biggest loser may be minorities. Certainly that's true for Hamilton County's delegation, which put the address of Rep. JoAnne Favors, a Democrat who had represented the 29th House District, into Democratic Rep. Tommie Brown's 28th District. That effectively cut the number of House Democrats -- and African-Americans -- in the county's legislative delegation in half.
Favors, who once managed a Brown campaign before running for office herself, is now actively running against Brown. The winner will be the last Democrat in the county's delegation to the House. And whoever wins the August Democratic primary will have to face Republican Johnny Horne in the November election. The winner would still be the sole African-American in the county's delegation.
Rep. Tommie Brown, an 18-year veteran, should be that person. Her indomitable fighting spirit, independence and legislative depth is too great to give up. That's not to disparage Rep. Favors' service over her four terms. Indeed, Rep. Favors, a registered nurse and teacher who has served on the Erlanger Hospital board and administered a county health clinic, possesses valuable insight into health care at a particularly critical juncture: The state still must decide whether to expand Medicaid and establish state insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act.
But while health care is the second-largest expenditure in state government, education is the largest and most critical, especially for minorities. And in that arena, Dr. Brown's insight and long history as a leader is not expendable. A former professor at UTC, Dr. Brown's role in the care and education of Tennessee's children has won her distinction -- and a school named after her here.
Improvement in the state's care for children in its custody continues to rise as a result of reforms she won in federal court in a 1998 ruling on a case she initiated after gathering a ream of data from the state comptroller's office.
Brown's deep legislative history has provided her with enough seniority and experience to keep her on the important House Finance, Ways and Means committee, which reviews appropriations; the joint House-Senate Fiscal Review committee; and a State and Local Government subcommittee. Her seniority guarantees Democrats an important voice on departmental budget matters, and her long leadership in education assures Tennessee an intuitive and experienced watchdog on important educational issues. Over her long career, moreover, Brown has served on more than two dozen committees. Few areas of state government escape her scrutiny.
Brown, to be sure, understands the dilemma facing Democrats in the House, where they now hold just 34 of the 99 seats. They cannot control the outcome on legislative votes these days, but they can serve as a voice of conscience and reason in the service of both poor and middle-class Tennessee families. And that is what Dr. Brown does best. We urge her nomination in the August Democratic primary, and in the November general election.