Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Tennessee House of Representatives
According to the state constitution of 1870, this body is to be comprised of 99 members elected for two-year terms. In every even-numbered year, elections for state representative are conducted simultaneously with the elections for U.S. Representative and other offices; the primary election being held on the first Thursday in August. Seats which become vacant through death or resignation are filled by the county commission (or metropolitan county council) of the home county of the member vacating the seat; if more than a year remains in the term a special election is held for the balance of the term.
Members are elected from single-member districts. The districts are traditionally numbered consecutively from east to west and north to south across the state; however, in recent redistricting this convention has not always been strictly adhered to, despite a constitutional provision requiring districts to be numbered consecutively.
Districts are required to be reapportioned every ten years following the federal census in order to be of substantially equal population. However, from 1902 until 1962, the General Assembly ignored this provision. It was estimated that by that point that some districts in the Memphis area had approximately ten times the population of some in rural areas. In 1962 this issue was taken to court. U.S. courts had traditionally declined to rule on such issues, saying that they were essentially politcal, not judicial, in nature. However, the Supreme Court of the United States decided to grant certiorai in this case and ruled that the legislature had to comply with the state constitution, as its failure to do so was in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, guaranting "equal protection under the law." This case (Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 182) required the change of many state constitutions and state legislative redistricting processes. Subsequent litigation has further refined the rules regarding this; in the late 1990s a majority-black district in rural West Tennessee was required to be created. As of 2005, the House will consist of 53 Democrats and 46 Republicans.
The 1960s redistricting was credited by some observers with creating the first Republican majority in the Tennessee House since Reconstruction in 1968; however this situation lasted only until the next election in 1970. 1970 also marked the first election of a Republican governor in a half century and saw both houses of the legislature begin to assert themselves as a counterbalance to executive authority; prior to this time legislators had not had their own staffs or even their own offices and were largely at the mercy of what the governor's staff chose to tell them and in many ways were often something of a "rubber stamp."
The Speaker of the House is second in line to succession to the governorship after the Speaker of the Senate; this has never occurred. Since 1973, all Speakers have been from a single Democratic faction in West Tennessee; this has become a source of some resentment. The Speaker, under House rules, has the right to appoint all committees and their chairs and assign proposed legislation to committees, giving the Speaker tremendous power to push legislation through or conversely, to block it. The current Speaker, James Naifeh, has long been a target of concerted Republican efforts to unseat him. Recent high-profile and well-funded efforts to defeat him at the polls in his own district have failed thus far; future efforts may center around their allying with dissident Democrats who do not have a good relationship with Naifeh in an effort to replace him with another, less partisan, Democrat.
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