A look back at Tennessee's biggest political storyline this year

Majority caucus to elect new house leadership
Posted at 5:32 PM, Dec 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-29 21:04:12-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — So many big headlines and so many consequential stories in 2022. Among the biggest: another shift in Tennessee's political landscape. And it all began with the rap of a gavel in January.

The 112th General Assembly of Tennessee lawmakers began in earnest in January with the Republican Supermajority ready to flex their legislative muscle by re-drawing the state's political map. It's a requirement every 10 years to theoretically to re-shape representative boundaries to reflect a growing, shifting population.

"They look at the way those population centers have changed and draw the lines accordingly. That's the way it happens every 10 years," said Gov. Bill Lee.

But politically, it's an opportunity — used by both parties across the US — to gain voting advantages.

The proposed maps of Tennessee's Congressional districts drew eyeballs directly to Nashville — where the 5th District, a longtime Democratic stronghold — morphed to include multiple counties. The neighboring 6th and 7th Districts squeezed their way into big chunks of Davidson County. Clearly, Republican leaders saw a chance to dilute the 5th and turn it red.

"It just absolutely makes no sense," said Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville, said.

"You know three congressmen is better than one, that's our opinion," House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, said.

The writing on the maps led veteran Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper to see the writing on the wall, deciding to step down rather than run for a new term — an uphill battle in a newly drawn district.

"My decision is 100% due to the legislature's gerrymandering. It's a sad day not for me, but for Nashville."

Cooper's decision triggered a cavalcade of candidates — rushing to organize, fundraise, and enter the race. Among them: conservative Morgan Ortagus, a former State Department spokeswoman backed by former President Trump.

In the weeks and months following, other Republicans joined the race, including former House Speaker Beth Harwell, retired Brigadier General Kurt Winstead and investor Baxter Lee. Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles jumped into the crowded field in March. Democratic activist Odessa Kelly, who considered a primary challenge against Congressman Cooper, instead shifted her focus to the 7th District to take on incumbent Republican Mark Green.

As the candidates began to organize and fundraise, a shocker from the state Republican party occurred. On April 19, the GOP Executive Committee voted to remove three of the Republican candidates in the 5th District race: Ortagus, Lee, and Robby Starbuck, a music video producer who announced his candidacy in 2021. At issue was whether the three met the requirements of being "bonafide" Tennessee Republicans, which includes a consistent voting history in the state. Legal challenges to the decision fell short.

That left three front-runners for the Republican nomination: Harwell, Winstead, and Ogles.

After a summer filled with attack ads from "outside" groups, the voters had their say in the Aug. 4 primary.

Andy Ogles, the fiery conservative from Columbia, Tennessee, marched into the general election battle against Democratic challenger Heidi Campbell, a local state lawmaker.

With his initial pick out of the race, former President Trump endorsed Ogles, who spent the months before November pitching his positions to a friendlier electorate in the "new" 5th district. And by Election Day in November it became clear: the new district designs would provide just what state Republicans hoped: the color "red" shaded into another of Tennessee's nine Congressional districts.

Ogles, along with incumbents John Rose and Mark Green in the 6th and 7th districts respectively, coasted to victory, leaving just one Democrat representing Tennessee in Congress: Steve Cohen in the 9th Congressional District.

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