Letter: Sunlight shines on redistricting

On November 1, 2011, in News 2011, by Mark Norris

November 1, 2011

Reading state Sen. Jim Kyle’s Oct. 25 Viewpoint guest column “Redistricting transparency appears cloudy” reminded me of the saying “I guess he didn’t get the memo.”

On Sept. 13, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey disseminated a memo to senators and online to other citizens at large with a map and guidelines attached for the submission of redistricting plans by Nov. 1. The General Assembly’s website identifies me as the West Tennessee regional coordinator for the Senate redistricting process. But I’ve never heard from Kyle.

He contends things were better when Democrats were in control and writes as though the proceedings were not secretive even though he admits “the meetings were limited primarily to lawmakers.”

Just because the politicians seemed to agree on previous redistricting plans doesn’t necessarily mean they were often right. In fact, it took Shelby County’s own Charles Baker of Millington back in 1962 to sue the Democrats. For many years, they protected white, rural Democrats by failing to adopt any redistricting plan at all. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Baker v. Carr, laid the groundwork for “one man, one vote” which has forced every state to redistrict every 10 years since.

Under Democratic majorities, despite the outward appearance of what some recall as unanimity, every redistricting plan constructed by Democrats thereafter landed in court and was thrown out as unconstitutional — in 1972, 1976, 1982 and 1992.

Only the 2002 plan went unchallenged. But it never saw the light of day until the General Assembly convened in January of that year. Several newspapers across the state chastised the legislature for lack of transparency at that time.

This year, we have not only invited elected officials to submit plans, as suggested by Kyle, but have also asked all Tennesseans to give us their ideas regarding district lines. The plan will be presented in committee and voted on there and on the Senate floor — all of which will be open to the public and video streamed live. By publicizing this information and putting it on our legislative website, we hope for a more open and transparent process than ever before.

The central goal must be providing fair and legal districts where Tennesseans get their constitutionally guaranteed representation.

Sen. Mark Norris

Majority Leader, Tennessee Senate


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