Monday, January 22, 2007

The Decline of West Tennessee

Very interesting post from Mark Rogers on the decline of the West Tennessee legislative dynasty in Nashville. He writes:
West Tennessee’s dominant political role has been declining as the result of a variety of factors though. The effort by dissident Democrats to overthrow Wilder in 1986 resulted in the famous alliance that preserved Wilder and gave Republicans greater influence in the Senate, shifting some power to East and Middle Tennessee. A political resurgence by Republicans has allowed them to gain control of the Senate and come slose to a majority in the House. The ‘Tennessee Waltz’ investigation and other scandals have weakened the Democrats, particularly the Leadership.

The major factor in the decline of the influence of West Tennessee is not politics but demographics. Fifty years ago West Tennessee and East Tennessee were the two largest Divisions while Middle Tennessee lagged. Today Middle Tennessee has almost caught East Tennessee and has easily passed West TN. For example, from 2000 - 2005 only three counties in West Tennessee grew at the state average of 4.8% or better. At the same time, 10 counties actually lost population. In contrast, almost every county in Middle Tennessee saw some growth, with Williamson, Rutherford, Wilson, Sumner, Robertson, Maury and Montgomery all seeing between 9% and 21% growth.

Much of the growth in Middle Tennessee has come from the influx of well-educated middle class families who display a strong affinity for economic and/or social conservativism. And, this is not just a five year anomaly. These trends existed in the 1980s and 1990s, marking decisive changes in the nature of the state.
He also notes a bit of horrifying change in the length of terms for Speakers of the House and Senate in the latter 20th century:
In particular, the years since the early 70s have seen the concentration of this power in the hands of long-term Speakers in both Houses. Before that time, the tenure of Speakers in both Houses was rarely over four years. In fact between 1900 and 1971 there were 33 men to hold the job of Speaker of the Senate and Lt. Governor while 29 men served as Speaker of the House. Since 1971 there have been four Speakers of the House and one Speaker of the Senate through 2006. In the House, two men account for six years while Speaker McWerter served for 14 years and Speaker Naifeh for 16.
I'm not a fan of term limits. Every election is a term limit. But one has to wonder at the apathy of voters to make changes in the leadership of the State. Such fear of change is often a sign of political sclerosis and a sure marker of old age. It's a sign of a need for real change.

It will be interesting to see if the changes Rogers posts about are that change coming. I fear that it's just swapping tires around instead of buying new ones. I don't think fundamental systemic change is slouching to Nashville to be born.

A graphic displaying what Rogers is talking about can be seen here.