FILE - Tennessee state Capitol

The Tennessee state Capitol in Nashville, Tenn.

(The Center Square) – Democrats gained one seat in the state Senate, but Republicans maintained a supermajority in the Tennessee Legislature after 3 million Tennesseans cast votes in Tuesday's election, shattering the previous record of 2.6 million votes set in the 2008 presidential election.

Tennessee Democrats flipped a seat in the state Senate for the first time since 2006. In a competitive race for Tennessee’s 20th Senatorial District in Nashville, incumbent Republican state Sen. Steve Dickerson was defeated by Heidi Campbell, the former mayor of Oak Hill, who earned 52% of the vote.

“I am honored to have earned the votes to serve in the State Senate, and look forward to working with and learning from all of my colleagues to address the issues that matter to residents of District 20,” Campbell said in a statement. “Prosperity and compassion are not mutually exclusive – we can protect our environment, care for the health of our citizens, and fund our schools and fuel our economy.”

Campbell’s victory brings the Democratic minority in the upper chamber to six of the Senate’s 33 seats. It also solidifies Nashville as a Democratic stronghold.

"While it was painful to lose a valued member like Steve Dickerson, his district has been trending away from Republicans for many years. District 20 was won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Karl Dean and Phil Bredesen in 2018," Lt. Gov. Randy McNally told The Center Square. "Throughout that time, Steve has represented Nashville with thoughtful and compassionate leadership. It is a credit to him and his dedication to the people of Nashville that he was able to hold the district as long as he did. And, he very nearly pulled it off again."

The other newcomer to the state Senate in January will be Page Walley, a Republican former state representative who ran to succeed retiring state Sen. Dolores Gresham in District 26. Walley defeated Democrat Civil Miller-Watkins, earning 76% of the vote.

All other incumbent state senators up for reelection prevailed.

Two newcomers to the state House will make history as the first openly LGBTQ state lawmakers to serve in Tennessee: Republican Eddie Mannis of Knoxville and Democrat Torrey Harris of Memphis.

In District 18, Mannis defeated Democrat Virginia Couch in the race to succeed retiring Rep. Martin Daniel. A Knoxville business owner and former candidate for Knoxville mayor, Mannis will be the first openly gay legislator in Tennessee.

In District 90, Harris roundly defeated incumbent Independent Rep. John DeBerry Jr., earning 77% of the vote. After voting for Gov. Bill Lee’s Education Savings Accounts program, DeBerry was ousted from the Democratic party and ran for reelection as an independent. Harris is a human resources professional who identifies as bisexual.

After several competitive races, House Republicans maintained their 73-seat supermajority.

“Despite a national political environment that toggled between unpredictable and unfavorable, Tennessee voters rewarded conservative governance across all three grand divisions of the state," McNally said. 

In a hotly contested race in House District 97, Republican John Gillespie defeated Democrat Gabby Salinas by fewer than 500 votes to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Jim Coley. In another competitive race, House Education Chairman Mark White defeated Democrat challenger Jerri Green by 8 percentage points. 

“Tennesseans are firmly behind their conservative leaders,” said House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville. “Congratulations to our 73 caucus members on their impressive victories; I look forward to partnering with them again during the 112th General Assembly so we can keep Tennessee headed in the right direction with the economy, education, health care, and law and order.”

The 112th General Assembly will convene Jan. 12.

Staff Reporter

Vivian Jones reports on Tennessee and South Carolina for The Center Square. Her writing has appeared in the Detroit News, The Hill, and publications of The Heartland Institute.