By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey wouldn’t mind one bit having a super majority in his chamber, but the Blountville Republican acknowledges governing the group may be tough.
“No doubt about it, my leadership skills will be challenged,” he said.
He might want to start prepping.
With a financial advantage in their legislative campaigns, and a near dead heat in the presidential race, Tennessee Republicans in both chambers are poised to get a super majority — or more — on Nov. 6.
Currently in the Senate, Republicans have a 20-13 advantage. The margin is 64-34 in the House, with one independent. To get a super majority, Republicans need to claim two seats in each chamber.
Ramsey said it’s possible to win as many as six seats in the Senate, while House Speaker Beth Harwell has said the GOP may gain at least three seats in the lower chamber. (Note: She’s also predicted the GOP pickup will be from three to 10 seats.)
If Republicans do get a super majority, Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer said they may experience problems because sometimes “there’s more competition … within the party than between parties.”
“The general rule is that as parties get larger in Legislatures, they get less cohesive,” he said.
“It’s a natural tendency in any organization … that when one party gets dominant, then the fighting becomes within and not with the opposing party,” he said.
The last time there was a super majority in both chambers was during the 90th Tennessee General Assembly when Democrats controlled the Senate 23-9 and the House 66-32, according to legislative records.
State Republicans have never held a super majority. (Note: Actually, I believe they did back in ‘Parson’ Brownlow’s era.)
Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis said there’s a chance Republicans will reach their mark this election. If they do, he said he hopes the GOP will be willing to work with their colleagues across the aisle, as Senate Democrats did when they held a 23-10 super majority during the 94th General Assembly.
“I can’t recall it being used to prevent someone from representing their constituents,” Kyle said. “And I would expect the same in this upcoming Legislature, if that is the case.”
In the Senate, the District 22 race between incumbent Democratic Sen. Tim Barnes and candidate Mark Green is one Republicans are hoping to claim.
Green was asked to run by Ramsey and has been endorsed by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, Gov. Bill Haslam and Barnes’ 2008 primary opponent, former state Sen. Rosalind Kurita.
Kurita was ousted as the Democratic nominee in her bid for re-election to the Tennessee General Assembly after Democratic officials declared her 19-vote primary win as “incurably uncertain,” allowing Barnes to succeed her.
In July, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge’s refusal to reinstate Kurita.
Republicans have spent thousands of dollars on negative campaign ads targeting Barnes.
“It’s no secret that the 22nd Senate District … is the most heavily contested Senate race this year,” said Democratic party spokesman Sean Braisted. “Republicans have poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into over-the-top, negative advertising that looks like something you would see in a horror movie, not a political ad.”
Ramsey said the effort is more about trying to remove a sitting senator.
“It is the only race where an incumbent is in, so you’re going to have to spend a little more money in that,” he said.
Other races Republicans are hoping to win include the 10th District, vacated by Democratic Sen. Andy Berke, who is running for mayor of Chattanooga; the 16th District, vacated by Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Winchester, who is running for the U.S. House; and the 28th District, a new seat relocated by redistricting from Shelby County to southern Middle Tennessee. The district number was previously designated for Kyle’s seat.
In the House, key races being watched by the GOP are the 5th District, where incumbent Republican Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville is being challenged by former Democratic Rep. Eddie Yokley; the 33rd District, where Republican Rep. John Ragan of Oak Ridge is in a rematch with former Democratic Rep. Jim Hackworth; and the 76th District, where Republican Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden faces a rematch with former Democratic Rep. Mark Maddox.
For the first time in this election, Tennessee voters will be able to see the party affiliations of candidates listed on the ballot after a federal appeals court cleared the way for the change earlier this year.
The ruling means that candidates running under the flags of the Green Party and the Constitution Party, as well as Democrats and Republicans, will be identified.
There are no candidates for the Green or Constitution parties running for the state Senate, while there are four Green Party House candidates.