“We’re headed to court,” House Democratic Caucus chairman Mike Turner declared this morning before equivocating quickly. “There’s no doubt about that—unless something happens and the Republicans want to sit down and talk.”
The garrulous Turner dropped by the Legislative Plaza’s gritty pressroom to make the case that Democrats have been mistreated and took the opportunity to slap Debra Maggart, his Republican counterpart in the House, even as he asked for accommodation from the GOP.
“There was Maggart on Fox News last night saying ‘oh this is really fair,’ she said, ‘it was the population shifts that made us put all those Democrats together.’ Bullshit! They’re trying to go to a one-party state. That’s what they’re trying to do.”
Turner said Republicans did their worst with their map, handing their party “eight or nine potential pickups” in this year’s elections. That would give Republicans as many as 73 of the 99 seats in the House, turning that chamber into a Tennessee version of the Politburo. Before the map was made public, Turner seemed to be tempering his remarks to the media, but he apparently has decided there’s no longer any point in playing nice.
“On paper, they’ve maxed out what they can do,” he said. “They’ve told me, ‘If y’all raise hell we’ll do more.’ And I’ve said, ‘You can’t do anymore. You’re not going to pick up anymore seats.’”
Turner is particularly miffed about the GOP’s pairing of Nashville Reps. Mike Stewart and Sherry Jones in the same district. He said Democrats are trying to talk the GOP into redrawing the lines to put Jones in a newly created district in southern Davidson County.
“That move there is nothing but punitive,” Turner said. “They got two of the people who irritate them. There’s nobody up here who irritates Republicans like Mike Stewart and Sherry Jones. Stewart irritates the fire out of them because he gets onto them. Sherry’s kind of our Democratic barometer. She doesn’t like compromise.”
Turner said any Democratic lawsuit would claim many of the state GOP’s actions have been racially motivated since assuming control of state government after the 2010 elections.
“They’ve got a history. Go back and look at the history of this particular General Assembly. They started out with the school desegregation suit in Memphis. They’ve had the voter ID where they’re disenfranchising African Americans. Now they want to drug-test welfare moms. All this is race-oriented.”
Republicans point out that, while five black incumbents have been drawn into three districts in Memphis and Chattanooga, there are the same number of majority-minority House districts in Tennessee. But Turner said the state’s black population justifies one additional district, and the Democratic alternative plan adds one in Memphis.
Here's House Speaker Beth Harwell on the redistricting plan: