Norris, Kyle Talk Changing Legislature

By Bill Dries

The Democratic and Republican leaders of the state Senate see the politics of the state continuing to change and with it the nature of being the majority and minority parties in the Tennessee Legislature.

Republican Mark Norris of Collierville and Democrat Jim Kyle of Memphis are the leaders of their respective parties on the floor of the Senate, which is governed by Lt. Gov. and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.

Norris, on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines” with Kyle, acknowledged the Republican majority in the Senate has seen some difference from within the last year.

“This a typical trajectory, if you will,” Norris said. “The larger your majority grows, the more likely you are to have different opinions. … Chemistry is just very important these days.”

Meanwhile, Kyle said Democrats have to get better at being the minority party and remember that Republicans became the majority in the state House and state Senate based on being an effective minority. The election of the Republican majorities in both chambers and the growth of those majorities two years later came with district lines drawn by the long-time Democratic majorities.

“Social conservative Republicans are getting stronger in Tennessee. And social conservative Republicans are a bigger majority in this upcoming legislature than they were before,” Kyle said. “Democrats have got to take a hard look at themselves in Tennessee and determine where we fit.”

Norris said whether he proposes more changes to state laws governing municipal school districts and the merger of the county’s two public school systems depends on how the countywide school board deals with recommendations on the merger from the consolidation planning commission.

Norris is among those who thought the planning commission should have included the suburban school districts within the framework of the merger.

“I think they restricted themselves unnecessarily, just focusing on merger rather than a new construct. But I think the process has proceeded largely in an orderly fashion,” he said.

Kyle said the entire process has been the most divisive undertaking he’s seen in his political career. And he said the new state laws in the last two years have contributed to that.

“What we’ve done is just made things more complicated. It’s been great for lawyers,” Kyle said. “There’s been a lot of money spent on lawyers because of all of this. But all of this in court, out of court has not been good for our community.”

Norris pointed to legal action by the Shelby County Commission in prolonging the process.

“My preference has been and continues to be that that is worked out locally,” Norris said of the question of a transfer of school buildings to municipal school districts.

“I would hope they would avoid litigation, although all of the litigation recently has come from the County Commission, not certainly from the state.”

Kyle said he believes suburban leaders will eventually “rue the day that they decided they wanted to take on education.”

“I really believe that most people don’t mind municipalities having their own schools,” Kyle said of what he termed an “overwhelming consensus” among Memphians. “What they mind is paying for it if they are not in that municipality. … They just don’t want to subsidize it.”