In November, the general election in Tennessee lacked much of the drama experienced in other states, as the Republicans generally maintained dominance on election night. Bill Hagerty scored a landslide victory in the race to replace the retiring U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander with more than 62% of the vote, and political newcomer Diana Harshbarger will now head to Washington as the representative for Tennessee’s first congressional district, taking 75% of the vote in a runaway. The state legislature will remain a Republican supermajority with Republicans only dropping one seat in the Senate, and maintaining their 47 seat advantage in the House. Tennessee mirrored many other states in experiencing a high voter turnout and a record number of early voters. Through early voting, just over 2 million Tennesseans voted and over 200,000 absentee ballots were cast.
Tennessee Democrats achieved a notable victory on election night, with Heidi Campbell defeating incumbent Republican Steve Dickerson (R-Nashville) by four points to take control of the sole remaining Nashville Senate seat that had been in the GOP column. Campbell’s win came in what was perhaps the most watched election in the General Assembly. Campbell is the former mayor of Oak Hill, a satellite city of Nashville. She will be one of two new faces in the state Senate next session, with the other being Page Walley, a Republican from Bolivar, who won the race to replace the retiring Dolores Gresham. Walley is far from a newcomer to Nashville, having previously served five terms as a State Representative.
There were even fewer surprises in the state House elections, as the Republican supermajority will stay exactly the same. That represented a significant accomplishment for Republicans, who had grown concerned about several districts they had dominated in the past, but which had experienced an increase in Democratic influence. Republicans pushed money into the races of open seats created by the departures of Representative Jim Coley (R-Bartlett) and Representative Martin Daniel (R-Knoxville). Ultimately, those seats remained in GOP control, with Eddie Maness prevailing in the Knoxville race and John Gillespie edging out Democratic challenger Gabby Salinas in Memphis. Other Republicans, such as Charlie Baum (R-Murfreesboro) and Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna), withstood tough challenges, as did House Education Chairman Mark White (R-Memphis), who scored an 8 point win over Democratic challenger Jerri Green in the suburbs of Memphis. Also, in Memphis, Representative John DeBerry (D-Memphis), an incumbent who has served 26 years in his seat, suffered a landslide defeat at the hands of Democratic challenger Torrey Harris. DeBerry had been removed from the Democratic ticket and was forced to run as an Independent. This week, Governor Bill Lee announced that Deberry will join his administration as a senior advisor.
The 112th General Assembly will convene on January 12, 2021. It is unclear at this moment how the legislature will conduct business with COVID-19 remaining an ongoing concern. The legislature held caucus elections in November, with Lt. Governor Randy McNally (R- Oak Ridge) and House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R- Crossville) keeping their top-ranking positions. In the House, current Majority Leader William Lamberth (R- Portland) also secured his leadership post. On behalf of the Tennessee Government Relations Team of Adams and Reese, it remains our honor to represent you at the Tennessee General Assembly. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.