published Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Redistricting fixes Tennessee Democrats' gerrymandering, Bo Watson says


by Cliff Hightower

The Tennessee General Assembly's new redistricting plans for state and congressional seats clean up gerrymandering the Democrats have engineered for the last 100 years they were in control, state Senate Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said Monday.

Watson gave an example of gerrymandering -- the drawing of district lines to favor one party over another -- saying a sliver in his own district ran from south to north up to Soddy-Daisy.

Federal authorities, when looking at potential gerrymandering, often examine slivers of congressional districts that cut through another district in a seeming attempt to snatch up a particular party's voters from that area.

Watson made his comments to members of the Pachyderm Club, a Republican organization.

The Tennessee House approved the new redistricting plan last week 67-25 and the Senate followed suit in a 21-12 vote. It will now go to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to sign.

Brandon Puttrese, spokesman for the Tennessee Democratic Party, said he thinks the new Republican maps are just as gerrymandered as any previous district maps.

He also said the Democratic Party and people in some communities do not like how some counties have been split apart under the GOP's new plan, citing Bradley County as an example. Part of Bradley County will now be represented by Senate District 10, which previously went into Marion County.

In redrawing boundaries, Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly relied on a closed process with little public input, he said.

"I don't think they deserve a medal," Puttrese said.

At the Pachyderm Club, Watson spent most of his 40-minute speech on redistricting. He also talked briefly about his new role as Senate pro tempore.

The speaker pro tem is one of the top leadership positions in the Senate and presides over the body when the speaker is absent.

"My responsibility is to make sure all the trains run on time," he said.

After his speech, he also spoke briefly about the transgender bill, also named the "bathroom bill." The bill was introduced by Rep. Richard Floyd, R-Chattanooga, and would have required transgender people to use public restrooms and dressing rooms that match the gender on their birth certificate, regardless of whether they had undergone a sex-change operation.

Watson originally was the Senate's co-sponsor on the bill, but he dropped his support last week.

On Monday, he said there are more pressing issues in the General Assembly, such as education reform and state employee reform.

"There are a lot of big rocks out there," he said.

Contact staff writer Cliff Hightower at chightower@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6480. Follow him at twitter.com/cliffhightower or facebook.com/hightowerTFP.

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