Republicans gained six seats each in the state House and Senate Tuesday, giving the party more than the “super majority” they sought in both chambers, according to complete but unofficial election returns.
By controlling two-thirds of the seats in both chambers for the first time since the Reconstruction era, Republicans will have a quorum and could continue in session even if all Democrats walk out. The two-thirds “super majority” also allows united Republicans to suspend normal rules and instantly pass legislation.
Going into the election, Republicans held a 64-34 majority in the state House with one independent and a 20-13 majority in the state Senate. They needed a net gain of two seats in each chamber to have a two-thirds majority – 66 in the 99-member House and 22 in the 33-member Senate.
Instead, they gained six seats – in part because of Republican-controlled redistricting earlier this year that put six Democratic incumbents into three districts.
In the Senate, Republicans also won six seats seats held by Democrats in the 107th General Assembly including defeat of Sen. Tim Barnes, D-Clarksville.
The GOP Senate majority will thus swell to 26 seats in the 108th General Assembly, which convenes in January, The Republicans will hold 70 seats in the House, assuming unofficial returns stand. There were at least three House races decided by fewer than 100 votes.
Only one Republican House incumbent was defeated, Rep. Jim Gotto of Nashville – by 91 votes according to unofficial returns. Three other Republican incumbents facing strong challengers – Reps. David Hawk of Greeneville, John Ragan of Oak Ridge and Andy Holt of Dresden – were winners.
Democrats did hold onto some seats where Republicans mounted well-funded and aggressive campaigns. Examples included House District 13 of Knox County, where Democrat Gloria Johnson kept the seat vacated by Rep. Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville, in her party’s hands.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, also turned back an aggressive GOP challenge. Veteran Rep. Charles Curtiss, D-Sparta, also won by a handful of votes.
The state’s only independent lawmaker, former Republican Rep. Kent Williams of Elizabethtown, defeated Republican Thom Gray, who had been backed by state Republican party spending.
The new House partisan lineup, thus, will be 70 Republicans, 28 Democrats and one independent.
Republicans held an edge in the contests statewide because of GOP-controlled redistricting earlier this year and a huge fundraising advantage over the minority party candidates. The state Republican party and political action committees pushing the GOP cause had better than $3 to $1 financial advantage over their Democratic counterparts, according to the most recent reports.
Republican candidates were unopposed in 33 House seats while only 15 seats held by Democrats were not contested by the GOP. In the Senate, 16 seats were up for reelection Tuesday and Republicans were unopposed in six of them. All Democratic candidates faced opponents.
Republican gains in the House came in these districts:
-House District 37, vacated by Democratic Rep. Bill Harmon of Dunlap and won by Republican Dawn White, who had no Democratic opponent on Tuesday. The District number is now in Rutherford County. Harmon’s home is in District 31, won by Republican Ron Travis without Democratic opposition.
-District 44, vacated by Democratic Rep. Mike McDonald of Portland and won by Republican William Lamberth, who defeated Democrat Steve Glasser with 67 percent of the vote.
-District 29, which was held by Rep. Joanne Favors, D-Chattanooga. Favors was thrown redistricting into the same district as Rep. Tommie Brown, who she defeated in the Democratic primary.
-The new -District 65, vacated by Rep. Eddie Bass, D-Pulaski, and moved by redistricting to Williamson County, where it was won without Democratic opposition by Republican Jeremy Durham.
-District 81, vacated by House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington. It was won by Republican Debra Moody with 56 percent of the vote.
-District 89, previously held by Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, and moved by redistricting to Knox County, where Republican Roger Kane was elected without Democratic opposition. Richardson lost to Rep. John DeBerry in the Democratic primary.
-District 92, formerly held by Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, and moved by redistricting to Southern Middle Tennessee where it was won by Republican Billy Spivey of Lewisburg with 60 percent of the vote. Hardaway was elected to represent new District 93 without Republican opposition.
The Republican Senate gains came with these victories:
-Senate District 10, vacated by Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga. He will be replaced by Republican Todd Gardenhire, who defeated Democrat Andrae McGary with 54 percent of the vote.
-Senate District 16, vacated by Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere, who ran instead for Congress. Republican Janice Bowling of Tullahoma, who previously lost a race for Congress, will succeed him after defeating Democratic nominee Jim Lewis, a former state senator, with 63 percent of the vote.
-Senate District 20, previously held by Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Nashville. Steve Dickerson, a doctor, had 54 percent of the vote to defeat Democrat Phil North, a lawyer.
-Senate District 24, vacated by Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden. Attorney John Stevens of Huntington defeated Democrat Brad Thompson of Obion County with 56 percent of the vote.
-Senate District 28, a new district in Southern Middle Tennessee created by redistricting that eliminaed a Democrat-held seat in Shelby County. Joey Hensley, a Hohenwald physician who has been serving in the House, won the seat for the GOP over former Democratic state Rep. Ty Cobb of Columbia with 55 percent of the vote.