Will midterms change the makeup of the General Assembly?

Posted at 12:58 PM, Oct 18, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-18 14:41:55-04

It's a fact of life in Tennessee politics going on ten years: Republicans own the General Assembly. While the conversation around national politics is gripped by the possibility of a "blue wave" the odds look a lot longer for Tennessee Democrats to make any gains. Here are some key races to watch.

Governor's race leaves two important seats open

Beth Harwell (R) and Craig Fitzhugh (D) both pinned their electoral hopes on winning the Governor's mansion and came up short. In Speaker Harwell's case, that means a rare red seat in majority blue Nashville is up for grabs. 

District 56 (Nashville)

Dr. Brent Moody, a surgeon, has the blessing of outgoing Governor Bill Haslam (R)  who calls him  a "great leader for Tennessee." Bob Freeman is the son of former mayoral candidate and Democratic fundraiser Bill Freeman.

Though the district, centered around Belle Meade and Forest Hills, is a bit more conservative than the rest of Nashville, Democrats are hoping that disenchantment with President Trump will improve their turnout.

However, Newschannel5 political analyst Pat Nolan has his doubts. "I am starting to hear the Harwell seat might be in play, but I am not convinced. The district was drawn by Harwell, and as Speaker, surely she drew the lines to maximize Republican votes for her or any other GOP candidate. After all, she is the only Republican in Nashville’s State House delegation."

While the governor's race vacated a rare urban red seat, it has also left an even rarer blue rural seat for the taking. House District 82 seems poised to turn red after Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh left the seat to run for governor. Nolan says Fitzhugh is the last of his kind.

"I am hearing, even from Democrats, that the Fitzhugh seat will go red," Nolan said. "Craig was about the last of the rural West Tennessee Democrats that used to dominate the Legislature and its leadership."

DISTRICT 82 (Brownsville)

Will #metoo turn Waynesboro blue?

A very different dynamic is taking place in District 71, Rep. David Byrd (R) is facing a series of sexual misconduct accusations  from his time as a high school coach. The allegations were even behind a PAC formed by Rep. Sherry Jones (D) called "Enough is Enough" that aims to take down those who face these kinds of accusations. Byrd issued a lengthy statement earlier this year that stopped just short of denying the allegations, noting that "Conduct over 30 years ago is difficult, at best, to recall." He has also refused calls to step down, so his political future will be up to voters in Hardin, Wayne, and Lewis counties.

DISTRICT 71 (Waynesboro)

Changing seats, but no changing of the guard

There are plenty of open seats statewide in the House in the 2018 election: 27 districts will send a first-time legislator to Nashville. That would at least seem to put the Republican super majority at risk, but Pat Nolan was blunt in his assessment. 

"The blue wave is not likely to happen in the Tennessee General Assembly. Republicans are likely to keep a super majority in both houses although they may lose a seat or two."