By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With the dust settling on Republican plans for redrawing legislative districts in Tennessee, lawmakers from both parties are assessing their future plans.
Democrats say they will offer amendments to the state House and Senate maps unveiled last week, but with vast Republican majorities in both chambers it appears unlikely that the proposals will change significantly.
But House members unhappy with the new maps may take heart in the experience of 2002, the last time redistricting occurred in Tennessee with Democrats holding a 57-42 advantage over Republicans in the 99-member chamber. Republicans now hold 64 seats in the House.
The original Democratic plan in 2002 placed 14 Republicans into the seven districts. Republican Rep. Steve McDaniel of Parker’s Crossroads at the time called the Democratic plan “political gerrymandering at its best.”
But McDaniel, a leader in this year’s redistricting process, ultimately helped hammer out a compromise with Democrats to only draw two Republican incumbents into the same district.
“It’s a lot easier for us to go forward with a House that’s together than it would have been with a House that’s divided,” then-Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, said at the time.
In the previous redrawing of House districts in 1992, Democrats squeezed 12 incumbent Republicans into six districts.
Naifeh’s record 18-year reign as House speaker ended in 2009, and he has been a lead critic of this year’s redistricting proposal that would place five black Democrats into 3 districts and draw two other Democrats together with Republican incumbents.
The proposal would also strip Haywood County from Naifeh’s district, leaving him with all of Tipton County where he failed to gain a majority in the last election.
“I’ve been targeted every election since 1990, so this hasn’t been any different,” Naifeh said.
The former speaker also argued that Republicans who argued the previous redistricting processes were unfair shouldn’t now say they’re justified by past practices.
“Just because I did it doesn’t make it right,” he joked after the plan was unveiled on Wednesday.
The Senate proposal would change the shape of the district currently represented by Democratic Sen. Andy Berke of Chattanooga to include heavily Republican areas of neighboring Bradley County. Berke said he wouldn’t be dissuaded from running for re-election this year — provided he doesn’t instead decide to run for mayor of Chattanooga.
“I care deeply about the place where I grew up and I’m certainly considering whether I can do more on the issues I care about as mayor,” he said.
Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Vince Dean of East Ridge said he’s considering running for the reconfigured seat, though he acknowledged that the Bradley County Commission and the local Republican Party object to splitting the county into two districts.
“If I do run and am elected, they’ll find they have more representation than they currently have, because they would have two senators representing their area,” he said.
The House plan stops short of targeting Rep. Kent Williams, who shocked fellow Republicans in 2009 by banding together with Democrats to be elected House speaker. The Elizabethton restaurateur was stripped of his ability to run again as a Republican for the maneuver, and is now an independent.
Some had expected Williams to be punished further by drawing Carter County into a district with his former legislative aide Scotty Campbell, a Mountain City Republican.
“That would have definitely been politically motivated and obvious,” Williams said. “There was no way to draw me together with Scotty.”
The proposed Senate maps add a portion of Carter County to the district of Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, with whom Williams often clashed when he was House speaker.
“We’ve talked, and we’ve mended some fences,” Williams said. “We’re going to represent the same people, so we need to put what differences we have aside and work together for the citizens of our communities