NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee Republicans secured a supermajority in both chambers of the Legislature in Tuesday’s election, the first time that has happened since Reconstruction.
The GOP claimed at least two seats necessary in both chambers to gain the supermajority. The margins are now 24-9 in the Senate and 67-24 in the House, with one independent.
The last time either party won a supermajority in both chambers was 1976, when Democrats took control of the Senate 23-9 and the House 66-32, according to legislative records.
This year GOP legislative candidates reached a high-water mark not seen in 147 years, powered by a state that’s turned increasingly Republican and a campaign funding advantage in nearly every race.
Only one Republican incumbent appeared to have lost. The race in House District 60 in Nashville was too close to call, but with all precincts reporting Republican Rep. Jim Gotto was trailing Darren Jernigan by less than 200 votes.
There were four Republican pickups in the Senate.
Democratic Sen. Tim Barnes of Clarksville was defeated by Mark Green in District 22, Republican Joey Hensley of Hohenwald defeated Tyler “Ty” Cobb in District 28, Republican Todd Gardenhire of Chattanooga beat Democrat Andrae’ McGary, and Republican John Stevens of Huntingdon beat Brad Thompson.
In the House, among the key races won by Republicans were incumbent Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville beating former Democratic Rep. Eddie Yokley in District 5. In House District 33, Republican John Ragan of Oak Ridge beat Jim Hackworth in District 33 rematch, while in the 76th District, Republican Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden beat former Democratic Rep. Mark Maddox in another rematch.
“We are very excited about the gains we have made tonight,” said Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron. “We are humbled by the confidence the voters have placed in us and look forward to getting down to work on the many issues we face as the General Assembly convenes in January.”
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said voters apparently “like what they see from Tennessee Republicans.”
“Voters spoke with a loud and clear voice tonight,” Ramsey said.
Green was asked to run by Ramsey and was 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.
Republicans spent thousands of dollars on negative campaign ads targeting Barnes.
Early voter Tanya Beard of Clarksville said she was turned off by the negative ads and they were a factor in her vote against Green.
“Mark Green’s (campaign) called my house continually talking bad about Tim Barnes,” said the 36-year-old Beard, who is a nurse.
On the other hand, Beth Morgan said she got much of the same from Barnes’ campaign.
“What I got from Tim Barnes was always negative, negative,” said the 47-year-old Clarksville school teacher. “Not what he could continue to do for our district, it was always against Mark Green.”
Political analysts, as well as some Republicans, acknowledge governing a supermajority may be a tall order.
“The general rule is that as parties get larger in Legislatures, they get less cohesive,” said Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer.
Haslam said he welcomes a super majority, but allowed that it may present challenges.
“Does it mean we’ll get everything we want, I don’t necessarily assume that,” Haslam said.
When the General Assembly convenes in January, it may take some work to impress voters. Caroline Cooley of Knoxville said lawmakers need to get serious.
“I wish they’d get away from all the silly stuff, all the social engineering, social meandering and just pay attention to education, the economy, and things that government should be doing,” said the 61-year-old physician.