New TN congressional districts approved

On January 14, 2012, in News 2012, by Mark Norris

GOP plan tweaked for incumbents’ sake

By Chas Sisk,
January 14, 2012

Tennessee lawmakers finished the once-in-a-decade effort to redraw the state’s political maps Friday, approving the Republican-authored redistricting plans after making a handful of adjustments to accommodate incumbent lawmakers.

Both chambers of the General Assembly approved a reapportionment plan for the Senate’s 33 districts, and state senators signed off on plans for the state House of Representatives and Congress that state representatives had passed Thursday.

Democrats complained that the votes culminated a process that had been rushed and cloaked in secrecy. But after some last-minute changes that generally favored members of their party, a few cast votes for the proposals in the end.

Some Democrats have said a lawsuit to stop the plan remains a possibility, but Republican leaders rejected their arguments that the plan violated minority voting rights.

“The redistricting bills we have passed today are fair, legal and logical,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said in a prepared statement. “The plans restore regional integrity protecting neighborhoods and other communities of interest. I am proud of the hard work by members of both parties that went into creating them.”

After lengthy debates Thursday in the House, Friday’s action centered on the Senate. Republicans presented a plan that largely hewed to the proposal they released last week, while Democrats presented an alternative that they said would increase minority representation and reconfigure Davidson County’s three Senate districts to keep them close to their current form.

“Today we are faced with taking my district, Sen. (Douglas) Henry’s district and Sen. (Thelma) Harper’s district and making some mischief,” said state Sen. Joe Haynes, D-Nashville.

Republicans rejected the Democratic plan. Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, argued it could actually decrease minority representation by spreading their votes too thinly.

Senators also voted down a second Democratic alternative that created 33 districts with the exact same population. Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, said the proposal would affirm the principle of equal representation, but Norris said it probably does not comply with state and federal law.

Changes made

Republican senators did make a few changes. They moved Kyle, whose Memphis district will be eliminated, into the same district as Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis. The move lets Kyle, whose term expires this year, run for re-election in the fall, though probably against a member of his own party.

Republicans also redrew the 28th Senate District, a new Middle Tennessee district that will replace Kyle’s, to include Lewis County. The change opens the door for state Rep. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, to run for the open Senate seat.

But Republicans did not make any changes to the 18th Senate District. Their plan has left its current officeholder, Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, out of the district, upsetting many of his supporters within the GOP.

But Roberts withdrew a proposal to redraw the district’s boundaries, saying he could not come up with a solution that was acceptable to other lawmakers.

On the Senate floor, Democrats complained about the process by which district lines were drawn more than about the districts themselves. They said Republicans did not include them in discussions about redistricting, leaving them to discover how the state’s political maps would be reconfigured when their proposal was released to the general public just over a week ago.

Kyle said his intent was not to complain about being shut out of the process but to make sure the law was followed. “I believe that process of secretiveness, that limited accessibility has created flaws, legal flaws,” he said.

Based on the tweaks made to the plan, Kyle and two other Democrats voted for it. Eighteen of the Senate’s 20 Republicans voted for the measure, the exceptions being Sens. Kerry Roberts, of Springfield, and Mae Beavers, of Mt. Juliet.

The House formally adopted it an hour later, sending the redistricting bills to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature.

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