Monday, January 23, 2012

Kyle vs. Marrero: One of the Consequences of Reapportionment

Both Democratic state senators now find themselves in District 30.

Posted By on Mon, Jan 23, 2012 at 1:47 AM

Senators Kyle (l) and Marrero
  • Senators Kyle (l) and Marrero
To no one’s surprise, the legislative and congressional maps laid out week before last by the leadership of the Republican-dominated Tennessee legislature settled partisan scores and greased the skids for members of the GOP.

“Gerrymandering,” such a thing is callled, and Republicans got to do it — for the first time, reallly — in much the way Democrats have always done it.

Were there injustices? Of course. (Although there were also some conscientious efforts to make amends if that could be done without inconvenience to the aforementioned Republican majority.)

Several legislators — both Democrats and Republicans — did what they could to ease their own predicaments. And that meant cutting deals — or trying to — with ranking members of the GOP.

At least two Democratic members of the state Senate were able to work out something. Andy Berke of Chattanooga, a rising Democratic star, was able to extend the number of traditional Democratic and Chattanooga-based precincts in his district (though he did have to keep much of the heavily Republican adjacent county of Bradley that he’d been newly given).

And Jim Kyle of Memphis had some serious adventures — and misadventures —before he finally ended up within a district where his reelection prospects were at least tenable.

To begin with, Kyle, the Senate’s Democratic leader, had seen his District 28 radically transformed so that it included only a few bare precincts familiar to Kyle (including his own residence, of course), while much of the newly configured district belonged to the Germantown/Collierville bailiwick of Republican senator Brian Kelsey.

Kelsey’s district had formerly been District 31, but that number had been transferred to the south Shelby County district of Reginald Tate, a Democrat, whose former District 33 was now assigned to a newly created district in Middle Tennessee. (Shelby County was due to lose a seat in reapportionment because the 2010 Census showed its population growth had not kept up with that of other parts of the state.)

Reportedly, Kelsey, whose odd-numbered district would have been up for election until 2014, had volunteered for the even-numbered District 28 (now an overwhelmingly GOP-dominated area where his prospects were considered slam-dunk). In 2012 even-numbered districts were scheduled for election; the odd-number ones will be voted on again in 2014.

For a variety of reasons, however, the number-switching of several districts proved unwieldy, and a revised plan was shortly prepared which re-numbered the Kyle-Kelsey district as 31. That meant, among other things that Kelsey would not be required to run until 2014, after all, and Kyle could not run anyplace at all in 2012. He would be out of the legislature when the 2012 elections were over.

But he worked something out. The Republican leadership was persuaded that, if changes were made that did not affect Republican dominance nor tamper unduly with preponderantly GOP districts, aggrieved Democrats like Kyle and Berke might be accommodated after all.

So it was that in the final redistricting plan, by virtue of a modest flexing of the district lines, Kyle ended up in District 30 — one which, as he noted , contained several areas in Frayser and Raleigh and elsewhere north of Summer that had once belonged to his erstwhile District 28. And District 30 was an even-numbered district he could run in right away.

The problem was that District 30, as previously numbered, had been the bailiwick of Senator Beverly Marrero, another Democrat — though, as newly constituted by the Republican cartographers, it contained a scant few of the precincts she had served before. It did, however, contain a significant portion of the area which she had formerly served as a state representative for the Midtown-based District 89.

The bottom line is that the two Democrats are now pitted against each other.

Says Marrero: “Raleigh and Frayser were not areas I particularly represented, but I represent women and working people and children, and people with special needs, and those areas have lots of those. I’m definitely going to run. District 30 is my district, no matter where it turns out to be. I don’t intend to defer to Jim Kyle.”

As she sees it, “I had a district, Jim Kyle didn’t have a district. Now he does. I guess he made a deal. Jim Kyle did what he thought was in his best interest.”

Kyle says he had been candid about what was going on. “I told the Democratic caucus that, ultimately, Beverly and I would have the same district if I was going to have a district to run in.” (Marrero remembers having little notice of the changes before the final redistricting plan came to the Senate floor for a vote last week.)

There is yet another factor potentially affecting what would seem to be a Kyle-Marrero showdown. District 30 is now 60 percent African-American, and a name black candidate would seem to have good prospects in a Democratic primary, given the likelihood of a split vote between Kyle and Marrero.

A possible third candidate mentioned by both Kyle and Marrero is State Representative G.A. Hardaway, whose District 92 has been folded in, more or less, with the District 86 now served by fellow African-American Democrat Barbara Cooper.

But Hardaway says he hasn’t contemplated such a prospect yet, that he’s fixated on a current court challenge to the redistricting process that he’s signed on to.

But, two-way or three-way , District 30, thanks to reapportionment, will be the site this year of an elimination contest between sitting Democrats. That’s one of the consequences of the dramatic shift to Republican dominance brought about by the 2008 and 2010 elections in Tennessee.

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