NASHVILLE - Tennessee Republicans are downright giddy over the prospect of being in charge of legislative and congressional redistricting next year for the first time - apparently few more so than Tim Skow, head of a downtown Nashville GOP luncheon club called First Tuesday.
First Tuesday's guest speaker today was Memphis lawyer John Ryder, Tennessee's Republican National Committeeman and chairman of the RNC's redistricting committee. Skow's e-mailed invitation to First Tuesday members for today's meeting gave a glimpse of what Democrats might expect from Republicans in the redistricting process next year if the GOP retains its majorities in the state legislature, as expected.
"You want to know what we can do 'legally' to make the DEMS scream as a result of redistricting?" Skow wrote in the e-mail. "For years our cry has been 'Win the Pen in 2010' - then we can redraw the line for Congress, the State House, and State Senate WITHOUT any input from the dreaded DEMs! - Well, John Ryder is our party's legal expert on this critical issue - and it will be John who leads our fight in court if (or WHEN) the DEMs sue because they don't like the way WE draw the lines. (don't know about you but I can't wait to hear the whining coming from the DEMS when the new lines become public should we 'Win the Pen in 2010' and redraw the lines!)" (sic)
We should note here that these are Skow's words, not Ryder's.
That kind of buildup naturally drew the attention of the press. But when five reporters -- including me -- arrived to chronicle the revelation of the grand strategy, Skow barred entrance, declaring it a closed event. The club is private and, of course, has every right to close its meetings. First Tuesday's monthly meetings attract a mixture of grassroots Republican activists and Capitol Hill officials. For example, Nashville lawyer Linda Knight, a member of the state's Ethics Commission, attends frequently.
Before Skow was elected its chairman, the group's meetings were routinely open to reporters who occasionally dropped by to hear what officials, candidates and insiders had to say.
Skow alternates where he places the blame for the current sometimes-open, sometimes-closed policy. Occasionally, he says the law firm that hosts the meeting in its expansive conference room, Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis, must clear the presence of reporters lest they spy some client who prefers privacy. Other times, he's said that particular month's speaker doesn't want the coverage. And other times, he's just simply noted First Tuesday's status as a private club that can admit whomever it wishes. Sometimes, reporters are allowed in.
Today though, Skow declared: "It's a members meeting.... If a candidate wanted you here, we'd be glad to do it. All the people who are attending the meeting were well aware that it's a Republican Party meeting, okay? A dues-paying members meeting, okay?"
Skow later said reporters need only let him know in advance so he can clear their presence with Waller Lansden.
UPDATE: Ryder -- a cross between an expert attorney and a college political science professor -- walked across the street to the Legislative Plaza pressroom to give the ink-stained wretches there our own briefing on the status of the reapportionment process. (A report on that appears separately in our print and online editions.)
Ryder said he did not ask Skow to keep the press out and said he basically told the First Tuesday members the same thing he told us -- that the redistricting will have to be "fair and legal" in order to pass constitutional muster and the courts. Because Tennessee has "tilted Republican" -- as evidenced, he said, by the general trend of statewide elections in recent years -- a majority of legislative districts will reflect that.