Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R)
Tennessee 7th District
Rural Tennessee north of Mississippi is one of the most sparsely settled areas in the state. Along each side of the Tennessee River, as it flows north and widens out into Kentucky Lake amid heavy forests, are small rural communities. Many date to pre-Civil War days and have not grown much since. One of these is Waynesboro, where Davy Crockett delivered campaign speeches from the base of a huge natural stone double bridge overlooking the Buffalo River. Farther west is McNairy County, where Sheriff Buford Pusser of Walking Tall fame carried his big stick and fought organized crime until his untimely death in a car crash 1974. In Fayette County, outside of Memphis, black sharecroppers in 1959 were removed from white-owned land and protested by creating a “tent city” that went on for a decade, the longest civil rights protest in the nation. This mostly empty land is bounded on two sides by large metropolitan areas, Nashville to the east and Memphis to the west. South of Nashville is booming Williamson County, which had more slaves than whites prior to the Civil War, was occupied by the Union Army for three years and was a scene of devastation. Though pockets of poverty linger, its bedroom communities of Franklin and Brentwood make it today the most affluent, highly educated and fastest-growing county in Tennessee. To the north, along the Cumberland River, is fast-growing Clarksville, with many well-restored 19th century homes, a large industrial park and the sprawling Fort Campbell army base, which is home to the 101st Airborne Division and has more than 20,000 military personnel just across the Kentucky border. In 2007, Clarksville was the country’s 10th fastest-growing metropolitan area.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 7th Congressional District of Tennessee spans this territory, packing in Republican voters from Montgomery County’s seat of Clarksville, south through the western half of Cheatham County and most of Williamson County plus a bite of Nashville-Davidson. It rambles on west across the Tennessee River and south to the Mississippi border and finally to the east side of Memphis and Shelby County. On the map, this looks like a rural district. Demographically, it’s mostly suburban. The 7th District grew by 15% between 2000 and 2007, making this the fastest-growing district in the state. Almost 40% of its votes are cast in metro Memphis and 30% in metro Nashville, mostly in the Republican stronghold of Williamson County. Another 11% are cast in Montgomery County and only 21% are from the smaller rural counties. The 7th is solidly Republican. In 2004, while Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry won Nashville 55%-45%, Republican George W. Bush carried the four rapidly growing counties in the southern and eastern suburbs of Nashville by 91,000 votes (66%-33%), with 72% in Williamson. In 2008, GOP nominee John McCain won every county here except for Hardeman, losing it by only 694 votes. He won the district 66%-33%.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R)
Elected: 2002, 4th term.
Born: June 6, 1952, Laurel, MS .
Education: MS St. U., B.S. 1973.
Family: Married (Chuck); 2 children.
Elected office: TN Senate, 1998-2002.
Professional Career: Retail marketing consultant, 1973-98.
The congresswoman from the 7th District is Marsha Blackburn, a Republican elected in 2002. She grew up in a Farm Bureau family in Laurel, Miss., where her father sold oil-field production equipment. Her interest in gardening and canning won her a 4-H college scholarship at Mississippi State University, where she majored in merchandising and clothing. She helped pay her way through college by selling books door-to-door. She then became a sales manager with Southwestern Company, which sells educational materials, and moved to Williamson County. Her hilltop home is known as “Up Yonder,” named by its former owner, Grand Ole Opry star Minnie Pearl. Blackburn became director of retail fashion for a Nashville department store and was appointed by Republican Gov. Don Sundquist as executive director of the Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission. In 1992, she was the Republican nominee who challenged Democrat Bart Gordon in the 6th District. She lost 57%-41%. Blackburn was elected in 1998 to the Tennessee Senate, where she became an outspoken opponent of Sundquist’s proposed income tax. She was well known there for her appearances on conservative radio talk shows and for organizing rallies against the income tax.
|Marsha Blackburn (R)||217,332||(69%)||($1,558,273)|
|Randy Morris (D)||99,549||(31%)||($5,152)|
|Marsha Blackburn (R)||30,997||(62%)|
|Tom Leatherwood (R)||19,025||(38%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (66%), 2004 (100%), 2002 (71%)
When Republican Rep. Ed Bryant decided to run for the Senate, Blackburn sought to replace him. Seven candidates ran in the GOP primary, three of them familiar figures in the Memphis area. Blackburn was the only well-known candidate from the Nashville area. She benefited from $100,000 in advertising and another $90,000 in contributions by the national anti-tax group Club for Growth, and from attacks by the Shelby County candidates on one another. She ran as anti-abortion rights, pro-gun and pro-military. Blackburn won 40% to 20% for the runner-up, and went on to easily win in the general election.
In the House, Blackburn’s voting record is among the most conservative. She has urged across-the-board cuts for non-defense discretionary spending, and she co-sponsored the bill to make sales taxes deductible in states that have no income tax; it was passed as part of the corporate tax bill. On the Energy and Commerce Committee, she urged renewal of the federal ban on Internet access taxes and sponsored a bill to reduce regulations on cable programming. A fervent advocate of the music industry central to her district, she has fought to protect intellectual property rights of artists against illegal music downloads. On energy issues, she supported a gas tax holiday in 2008 after prices at the pump spiked upward and she participated in the recess protest on the House floor after Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to allow a vote on opening up coastal areas to oil drilling.
In the immigration debate of recent years, Blackburn has been an outspoken advocate of securing the borders, including erection of a 700-mile fence along the Mexican border. She called for cutting federal funds to cities that don’t enforce immigration laws and also pushed to ban banks from giving checking accounts or credit cards to illegal immigrants. A staunch supporter of the Iraq war, she criticized fellow Republicans who opposed President George W. Bush’s troop “surge” strategy in January 2007. “Whose side are you on?” she said. “Are you on the side of freedom, or are you on the side of allowing the terrorists to get the upper hand?”
Blackburn was mentioned as a possible candidate for the Senate or governor in 2006. But once she won a seat on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee, she had sufficient incentive to remain in the House. After the 2006 election, she was one of four candidates for chairman of the Republican Conference, but she was eliminated on the second ballot. Instead, she became communications chair for both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the conservative Republican Study Committee.
In 2008, she faced a primary challenge from Shelby County Register Tom Leatherwood, whose campaign gained ammunition when it was revealed Blackburn had misreported more than $440,000 on campaign finance disclosure forms dating to her first House campaign in 2002. Blackburn filed amended returns, but the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission. The underdog Leatherwood, hoping to cement West Tennessee support, also charged that Blackburn had used her campaign funds to help her family’s businesses and that she hadn’t been effective in Washington. But Blackburn easily won the primary, 62%-38%, carrying every county except Shelby. She won easily in November.
In the presidential contest that year, Blackburn initially endorsed Mitt Romney but went on to be a busy campaign surrogate for eventual nominee John McCain. She was a frequent defender of his sometimes controversial vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.