NASHVILLE -- The state's Republican-led General Assembly next week plans to unwrap a couple of parting holiday gifts expected to have minority Democrats gnashing their teeth for years.
The GOP's belated present to Democrats is a legislative redistricting plan for state House and Senate seats that is expected to further reduce the number of Democrats in the 99-member House and 33-member Senate.
"Our goal is to have a walkout-proof majority -- which is 66. If things go right [in 2012 elections] we can go into the high 60s," said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga.
The redistricting plan, McCormick added, will be "fair and legal ... especially legal." Political districts are redrawn after every 10-year census to reflect population shifts.
Republicans gained operational control of the House in 2010 and now enjoy a 64-34 edge over Democrats. There is one independent, a former Republican.
A two-thirds majority of 66 seats would give the GOP complete legislative control, including the ability to cut off debate and take final action on bills on the floor without a single Democrat present, if necessary.
Senate Republicans, who now have a 20-13 majority, have their own plan. Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said the GOP likewise intends to draw districts that are "fair and legal" and make them "community consistent."
Republicans "always felt like from our party's perspective that if districts would be drawn fair and legal we would be very competitive because we never have been able to draw districts before," Watson said.
GOP leaders think they can "be more competitive in two or three additional seats," Watson said.
A gain of just two would put them at 22 -- a two-thirds majority.
The action begins Wednesday morning when the House Ad Hoc Committee on Redistricting and, afterward, the State and Local Government Committee, meet to discuss what Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell's office calls "concept plans." Senate Republicans intend to release their plan next week as well.
Republicans also are drawing new lines for the state's nine congressional districts, where they now have a 7-2 majority.
The changes are expected to have significant impact in Hamilton County and other parts of Southeast Tennessee.
The 31st House District will lose its chunk of Hamilton County and be wholly in Rhea County. That leaves Hamilton with five House districts instead of five and a half.
Republicans also plan to put portions of the 29th House District into the 28th. That will pit black Democrats JoAnne Favors and Tommie Brown against each other.
McCormick has said lawmakers must keep Brown's district majority black under the federal Voting Rights Act. He said Democrats would be in the same position if they were drawing the lines.
The move also creates a new Republican House district in Hamilton County.
Watson said most of the Senate GOP's "concept" maps make "adjustments" to the 10th Senate District, now held by Democrat Andy Berke, and to Watson's 11th District.
Berke's district needs to gain 16,153 people and Watson's needs an additional 3,759 to approach the ideal size.
Republicans say Berke's district may lose Democratic-leaning Marion County and add Republican-rich areas such as East Ridge and part of Bradley County.
State Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, has said he would consider running for the seat if that happens. Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, who lives in McMinn County, currently represents all of Bradley.
Berke has not ruled out running for Chattanooga mayor in 2012 if Mayor Ron Littlefield is recalled or when his term ends in 2013.
Changes to the 31st House District could force incumbent Republican Jim Cobb west into Sequatchie County, posing a threat to longtime Democratic Rep. Bill Harmon of Dunlap.
Plans are also said to call for moving Marion and Grundy counties, which Harmon now represents, into the 39th Legislative District, held by Rep. David Alexander, R-Winchester.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...