Skip to content

TN History for Kids

Middle Seven: Donkeys and elephants

We've talked about Tennessee, about the governor, and about the legislature. But we haven't talked about how we choose all these state leaders.

In the case of the governor, the Tennessee General Assembly, Tennessee's two U.S. Senators, and Tennessee's nine members of the U.S. House, they are elected by popular vote of the citizens of the state, or of the district that they represent.

The best way to learn about this process is to follow it closely, to read the newspapers and to even volunteer to work on a campaign (you may be too young to vote, but you are never too young to volunteer).

Here are a few basic things you need to know.

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (on the left) is a Republican.
Former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen (on the right)
is a Democrat. The man in the middle is
Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn.

The two party system

American politics has almost always operated on a two-party system. We won't delve into why this is, although it might be a great thing to research at some point in your life. But for now, the main thing to know is that the vast majority of Americans vote for either Democrats or Republicans.

The donkey is the symbol of the Democratic Party.

The elephant is the symbol of the Republican Party, which is often referred to as the "GOP," which stands for Grand Ole Party.

Governor Bill Haslam is a Republican, as are seven of Tennessee's nine members of the U.S. House of Representatives. U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker are also both Republicans.

When the General Assembly convened in January 2017, Republicans had a 28-5 majority in the Tennessee State Senate and a 74-25 majority in the State House of Representatives.

The Republican Party hasn't always dominated Tennessee in this manner. As recently as 20 years ago, Tennessee had a Democratic governor, two Democratic Senators and both houses of the legislature controlled by Democrats.

A group of students poses with State Senator Mark
Norris of Memphis. Norris is a Republican, but he of
course represents all residents of his district
regardless of their party affiliation.

None of this prohibits anyone from running for public office as a member of another political party (such as the Green Party or the Libertarian Party) or as an Independent. But, based on historic evidence, your chances of winning a political race are much higher if you run as a Republican or Democrat.

And what do the Republican and Democratic Parties stand for? The answer to that question entirely depends upon who you ask. We suggest you ask other people, talk to your parents or grandparents, and read up on the subject.

Click here for the web page of the Tennessee Republican Party and here for the web page of the Tennessee Democratic Party.

So how does one actually run for public office? Click here to find out.