The riveting drama of the presidential election aside, area Tennessee voters had good reason last night to pay attention to the outcome of local and state legislative elections. Three contested state House seats and the 10th state Senate District seat here were at stake. And so was the lamentable likelihood of Republicans gaining a super-majority in both legislative chambers in Nashville, though nothing could be worse for reasoned lawmaking.
As it turned out, there were no surprises here. Todd Gardenhire won the only serious legislative contest, taking the 10th state Senate District by a margin of more than 5,000 votes over Chattanooga City Councilman Andrea McGary, according to Associated Press reports for 98 percent of precincts. Gardenhire, an investment broker and veteran GOP insider, had been seen as the likely winner of the seat being vacated by Democrat Andy Berke, since it had been given a Republican tilt in the decennial redistricting.
Gardenhire's victory helped Senate Republicans achieve 22 seats they needed to claim a supermajority in the 33-member Senate. That status, for either chamber, gives the super-majority an automatic quorum and the power to suspend rules and cut off debate on any measure. Democrats now will have virtually no leverage in the Senate, nor in the House if final tallies support predictions for a supermajority there, as well.
In House districts 27, 28 and 30, incumbents Richard Floyd (Republican), JoAnne Favors (Democrat) and Vince Dean (Republican), respectively, won handily.
Frank Eaton, Floyd's opponent, and Sandy Norris Smith, Dean's challenger, both Democrats and political newcomers, showed more poise and intelligence and offered more sensible and forward-looking agendas. The 2-to-1 vote margins that defeated them, however, suggest the deep partisan intransigence of their districts. It's hard for any Democrat or independent to make progress in such districts when fixed ideologies held by the far right over social wedge issues outweigh the core issues of education, tax fairness and health care that drive the general welfare of Tennesseans broadly.
In any case, Tennessee's continuing push to the hard right in state government shows no let up. House Republicans were also expected to easily gain more than the two seats needed to give them a 66-member supermajority in the 99-member House. The problem with such power is the temptation for Republicans to go so far beyond sensible lines on civic and educational issues that affect the businesses, graduates and citizens that Tennessee needs to attract or keep. Overreaching Republicans could drive them to more progressive states.
A good example of such recklessness is the NRA-promoted drive finally deferred in the last session to allow employees to bring guns onto employers' parking lots -- and, further, to forbid employers from asking employees whether they're bringing guns to work, and to forbid retaliation against them for doing so. That legislation, due to be resurrected in the new session, appalled Tennessee's largest employers and institutions of higher learning. Even Gov. Bill Haslam urged his fellow Republicans not to restrict employers' rights. But with a supermajority capable of reversing gubernatorial vetoes, Republicans might now go off the deep-end.