NASHVILLE — State Democrats said Monday they hope to make political gains in fall elections against the Tennessee General Assembly's House and Senate Republican super majorities in hopes of having more impact on policy.
Democratic leaders' assertions came as Tennessee delegates to the National Democratic Convention, which began Monday in Milwaukee, held an unprecedented Facebook meeting, with the coronavirus forcing both political parties to abandon in-person national conventions, with most delegates attending remotely online. Republicans are to meet in Charlotte later this month.
Senate Democratic Caucus Chair Raumesh Akbari of Memphis told delegates Republicans "gerrymandered the hell out of us" in the past. But she predicted Democrats were in good position to boost their current five members to eight in the 33-member chamber. "We have a good chance of flipping three seats" and gaining greater influence, she said.
She cited as among the three seats Senate District 10, in which incumbent Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga faces a challenge from Democrat Glenn Scruggs, a Chattanooga Police Department assistant chief. The district includes portions of Hamilton and Bradley counties.
Akbari, meanwhile, is one of 17 "rising stars" national Democrats have selected to provide keynote speeches during the four-day convention.
With their current super majorities of more than two thirds in each chamber, Tennessee legislative Republicans can do business even if all Democrats were to walk out.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart said that while he sees Democrats having little chance of carrying Tennessee for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his vice presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris against Republican President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, he agreed the party does stand to make gains at the state legislative level.
"We will have a dramatic shift and that could have a very significant impact on how our state is run," Stewart said. Democrats now have just 25 seats in the 99-member House. If Democrats can increase that to 32 seats or even 31, Democrats can better "assume a blocking position and can block legislation," Stewart said, putting Democrats in a stronger position given that on some issues, some Republicans have sided with Democrats, blocking a bill from passing or at least forcing a compromise.
Other than Akbari, no else from Tennessee has a prominent speaking role at the convention. But Democratic U.S. Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama does, with an expected Monday night speech. And so does Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who will speak on the convention's final night.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.