The state House district that includes Oak Ridge and most of Anderson County could be key to Republican plans to maintain a majority this fall–and possibly even gain a supermajority.
“This is one of those races that is going to make or break that supermajority,” said Holt Whitt, a member of the Republican Caucus field staff in Nashville.
Whitt is helping Rep. John Ragan, an Oak Ridge Republican, prepare for the Nov. 6 election, and he attended a Wednesday morning campaign kickoff ceremony for Ragan.
Whitt declined to identify any of the other half-dozen competitive House races, saying he didn’t want to reveal party strategy.
He said Republicans now have 64 representatives in the 99-member Tennessee House of Representatives. They would have a supermajority if they pick up three seats, giving them 67 total members.
Whitt said polling data, Democratic retirements, and Republican enthusiasm all suggest that the GOP could gain the supermajority.
“It’s trending that direction,” he said.
If Republicans gain a supermajority, they wouldn’t need Democratic support and could pass legislation even if Democrats walk out of session, Whitt said.
“It would make the Republican agenda a lot easier,” he said.
Republicans at Wednesday’s ceremony at Ragan’s campaign headquarters on Jefferson Avenue said they expect the Democrats to spend heavily to defeat Ragan, a first-term representative who had never held political office before he was elected in November 2010.
“But they can’t outwork this man,” said Sen. Randy McNally, also an Oak Ridge Republican.
For the first time since Reconstruction, Republicans control the Tennessee House, Senate, governor’s office, and three constitutional offices, Ragan said. The party has cut taxes more than any other General Assembly in Tennessee history, he told several dozen supporters, while reducing government spending by more than $1 billion and keeping money for TennCare.
“I want to continue the trajectory we’ve started on with responsible spending cuts and tax reductions,” said Ragan, a 63-year-old retired U.S. Air Force fighter pilot.
Ragan’s district has 67,000 residents, and it includes Anderson County west and south of Interstate 75.
He said the Republican-led General Assembly has eliminated the gift tax, reduced the food tax, and is cutting the state estate tax, hoping to eliminate it in four years. State spending was cut by 2 percent this session, Ragan said, although education and TennCare spending were not reduced.
Local legislators also helped secure $1 million in funding for a Roane State Community College expansion and $500,000 for the University of Tennessee National Forensics Academy, Ragan said.
Ragan will face former Tennessee Rep. Jim Hackworth, a Clinton Democrat, in the November election. Ragan beat Hackworth in the 2010 election.