The re-election of President Barack Obama provided a bright moment for Tennessee Democrats on an election night that could have otherwise been described as dismal.
With a wash of Republican victories in races at both state and federal levels, members of Tennessee’s once-dominant party now face a period in which their elected representatives will be in drastic minority to their GOP colleagues.
Republicans will continue their control of the governor’s office, both U.S. Senate offices and seven out of nine posts in the Tennessee congressional delegation. But the most notable gain for the GOP on Tuesday came in the General Assembly-where the party now holds supermajorities in both legislative chambers for the first time in state history.
With Republicans comprising more than two-thirds of both the House and the Senate, party members will be able to immediately pass legislation when they return in January, even if no Democrats are present.
In the Senate, the GOP now holds a 26-7advantage.
In the House, the spread is 70-28in favor of Republicans, with one Independent representative.
The most recent time state lawmakers faced a similar scenario in Nashville was in 1976-when Democrats were the ones enjoying supermajorities in both chambers.
The rise of Republicans across the state comes on the heels of redistricting-a decennial process controlled by the party that holds the majority in the General Assembly at the time. Earlier this year, GOP leaders oversaw the redrawing of district lines, creating new boundaries that reflected the latest U.S. census data while conveniently falling in a way that benefitted many of their party’s candidates.
Sen. Ron Ramsey, who at the time called redistricting a “fair, legal and logical” process, made no mention of his party’s advantage following the election Tuesday night. Instead, Ramsey issued a statement saying voters had “spoken with a loud, clear voice” in support of GOP principles and policies, following decades of “Democrat Party rule” in Tennessee.
“The historical majorities we achieved tonight are a culmination of years of hard work and responsible governance,” Ramsey said. “Republicans have many successes under our belt, but there is much left to do.”
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester was less than complimentary of his political opponents following their victories. Forrester, who recently announced he would not be seeking another term to steer the ship for state Democrats, issued a statement criticizing the GOP for its election strategy.
“We had many great Democratic candidates with strong records of accomplishment and smart plans for the future,” Forrester said. “The GOP pulled out every dirty trick in its book, outspent our candidates 3-1 with misleading and vicious attack ads, gerrymandered the lines to suit the candidates, mismanaged the election, and placed restrictions on who could vote and how.”
In areas surrounding Chattanooga and Hamilton County, the effects of redistricting had a palpable impact on state-level races. In the 10th Senate District-where lines had been shifted to include Republican-leaning portions of Bradley County-Todd Gardenhire defeated his Democratic challenger Andraé McGary to claim a Senate seat that had been held by Democratic Party members since 1976.
Gardenhire, who lost the vote in Hamilton County, was ensured victory by besting McGary in consistently red-leaning portions of Bradley County-beating his opponent in the county by a margin of 60 percent.
Following his win, Gardenhire described the effects of redistricting as “the nature of the process” and said he had no qualms about beginning his tenure in the General Assembly as part of a Senate supermajority.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” he said. “The pluses of a supermajority are that you don’t have the bickering, stonewalling and types of things that go on in Washington. The people voted to elect a supermajority, and it will be the supermajority’s responsibility to follow what the people voted for.”
In local House seats, Rep. JoAnne Favors will be the only Democrat returning to Nashville next year.
Favors, a longtime representative for the 28th House District, was elected to her first term in the 29th District after redistricting forced her to run against former Rep. Tommie Brown. The move guaranteed at least one loss to a House seat for state Democrats before primary ballots were even cast.
Describing herself as “a representative first and Democrat second,” Favors said she was not intimidated by the prospect of returning to the House as a member of a superminority-but had experienced doubts upon learning she would have to run against Brown, a longtime colleague and friend, in order to continue her work as an elected official.
“I was very disturbed about that,” Favors said. “It took me a while to go ahead and run. But I had so many people encourage me to run and say that the citizens would make the decision about who to endorse.”
Favors added that she did not have any plans to introduce “partisan legislation” during her next term.
“It will impact all people positively,” she said. “It’s not going to be partisan. I’ve worked hard to establish a good rapport with people across the aisle, so I’m not concerned. I’m pleased to be a Democrat.”
Along with new leadership at the state level, local Democratic leaders indicated that adjustments would be in order in light of the GOP-dominated landscape in Tennessee.
Paul Smith, chairman of the Hamilton County Democratic Party, said his organization would be “reorganizing” in order to have a better approach toward the new districts next cycle.
“We’re going to have to go into those areas and build a new structure,” he said. “Even though [Republicans] have divided us, our ideas and ideals permeate all those areas. We’re going to be aggressive with quality candidates, much like the ones we’ve had this time.”
Updated @ 9:29 a.m. on 11/08/12 to correct a factual error: The House has a70-28 advantage, not a66-32 advantage as originally reported, and the Senate’s advantage is at 26-7, not 23-9, as originally reported.