Tennessee 2nd District
Knoxville, the largest city in East Tennessee, is nestled between mountain ridges where the Holston and French Broad rivers join to form the Tennessee River. It was established not long after the first wave of pioneers came through the gaps and down the mountains of the Appalachian chain. During the Civil War, it was Union territory, and it has remained Republican in allegiance and progressive on civil rights ever since. But its Republican heritage is tempered by another tradition, that of the Tennessee Valley Authority. A venturesome program when created in the 1930s, it is now part of the fabric of life in East Tennessee, sometimes criticized as it has reached capacity to produce cheap hydroelectric power and began to rely more on expensive and sometimes poorly functioning nuclear power plants. The area’s largest cash crop remains tobacco.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Both TVA and the region have undergone turbulent changes in recent years. In a competitive electricity market, and laboring under billions of dollars in debt mostly incurred in building its nuclear plants, TVA has cut its payroll sharply and held down rates. Heavy ozone pollution in Knoxville led the Environmental Protection Agency to impose growth limits. TVA spent several billion dollars to reduce pollution at its coal-fired power plants and the result has been marked improvement in recent years in local air quality due, in part, to TVA emission controls. Delay in construction of a national nuclear-waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada has forced TVA to spend tens of millions of dollars for new storage pools.
Yet Knoxville has overcome setbacks and grown robustly without much notice in the national press. In 2006, it ranked ninth on Expansion Management magazine’s list of the best cities for business expansion and relocation, with growth in construction and services. It was the headquarters of Goody’s Family Clothing, the chain of primarily Southern and Midwestern stores that went bankrupt in 2009. And the University of Tennessee’s football complex, Neyland Stadium, on fall Saturdays contains one of the nation’s largest crowds—it qualifies as the state’s 5th largest city during games—cheering on the Vols. The 1982 World’s Fair site is the home of the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. Women’s basketball is nearly as popular as football here, and in 2009, Lady Vols’ coach Pat Summitt became the only Division I coach, men’s or women’s, to win 1,000 career games. The city is also the home base of Instapundit.com, the popular blog of University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds.
The 2d Congressional District of Tennessee includes Knoxville and Knox County, plus four mountainous counties and part of another to the south. Most of its people live within the Knoxville metro area. Its less populated areas span the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. The district is heavily Republican; it has not elected a Democratic congressman since the Civil War. Knox County surprised many by giving a narrow plurality to Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen in 2002, but Republican Van Hilleary carried the rest of the district by a wider margin. In 2006, Bredesen swept the county 71%-27%, as well as the district. In the 2008 presidential election, the area swung back to its Republican roots. GOP nominee John McCain won Knox County comfortably and the rest of the district with 64%.