State redistricting plans pass

On January 15, 2012, in News 2012, by Mark Norris

By David Davis, Cleveland Daily Banner
January 15, 2012

A Memphis Democrat pitched the only argument Friday in Senate floor debate against splitting Bradley County between two senatorial districts shortly before the local state senator voted in favor of the split.

By the end of business, Republicans divided Bradley County between state senatorial and congressional districts. Congressional districts were carved from voting precincts down to block levels.

Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, showed an alternative map to the regional integrity plan eventually pushed through by the Republican Party. The map showed Knoxville with its own senator. He said the map (Amendment No. 5) was an attempt to respect county and municipal boundaries.
 
The alternative map also kept as much of Chattanooga in one district as possible.

“I believe the most significant constitutional division in this plan (Amendment No. 5) is the changing of a district in regard to Bradley County. In response to the resolution of the Bradley County Republican Party and Bradley County Commission, we have looked to see if we could draw a district where Bradley County did not need to be divided,” Kyle said.

“We didn’t do that because we’re nice guys or we’re in opposition to the senator in that area.”

He said dividing two counties to form one senatorial district violates the Tennessee Constitution.

“I believe this is a fatal flaw in this plan and a flaw that will cause us to come back here another day,” he said.
 
“It is a flaw based on error in judgment on how we follow our Constitution.”

State Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, who currently represents all of Bradley County in the 9th Senate District, voted in favor of all three Republican plans after he argued in committee against splitting Bradley County.

He said early Friday morning before debate began that when Republicans took the pen to draw redistricting maps, few realized the many intricate legal and constitutional constraints that must be considered.
 
He said the list of federal and state guidelines are not only long and woven with numerous court decisions, some are actually in competition with one another, Bell said.

“Tennessee’s past history with reapportionment has not been pretty,” he said.

“Under Democrat majorities, every redistricting plan constructed landed in court and was thrown out as unconstitutional in 1972, 1976, 1982 and 1992. Only the 2002 plan went unchallenged, and we have since been told that even that plan was constitutionality questionable.

“The four-member working group who drew the districts this year wanted to do better,” Bell continued. “The goal was to draw fair and equal maps that can withstand constitutional challenges. The overriding constitutional task is to assure citizens of equal representation. This right is rooted in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court Tennessee case, Baker v. Carr, which set the “one man, one vote” standard that is used in redistricting nationwide.”

Bell said, “The federal mandate is to draw districts as closely as possible to the perfect population number, while Tennessee’s Constitution in Article 2, Section 6 says we must keep counties whole. This is where the competing requirements begin. As one of my colleagues put it, ‘We have got to abide by the federal requirements to the extent we use Article 2, Section 6 in our state Constitution as a guideline in abiding by the U.S. Constitution as we are doing so. We certainly cannot abide by it to the extent we are in violation of the federal Constitution. This is a very tough task indeed.’”

During his presentation of Amendment No. 5 during Senate debate, Kyle pointed out the process is much easier now than it was in the past when data was input one day and a map was produced the next day.

He said one man from Louisiana sent him a map using a computer application called “Dave’s Redistricting App.”

Kyle argued the product of anything in any aspect of life depends a great deal on the process. It was generally true the public has never before participated in redistricting, but the General Assembly has never had the opportunity to allow the public to participate as currently exists through the Internet.

“For reasons unknown to me and decisions which I was not a part of making, it was decided the process would continue to be a closed process. This may be the most closed process we’ve ever had in the sense that there has been less information distributed to the members on both sides of the aisle,” Kyle said.

“I believe that process of secretiveness, that limited accessibility has created flaws, legal flaws.”

The Senate vote was delayed more than two hours while the Democrat filed amendments to S.B. 1514, the bill establishing the new state Senate boundaries.

Kyle presented Amendment No. 5 that he said had a population deviation of 10 percent instead of 9.5 percent in the Republican plan and only divided five counties instead of eight.

“Everybody in this room knows you should divide as few counties as you can while trying to make districts as equal in number as you can,” he said.

Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who wrote the Senate redistricting bill, said in response to Kyle that senators and the public were invited in September by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey to participate and submit plans. But, in November, only one plan was submitted.

“Contrary to the assertions of the sponsor of Amendment No. 5, using the technology we have, we had a more public and open process than anytime in history. Nobody took advantage of the process,” he said. “We’ve had a very public and open process this time.”

He said the population deviations in the Democrats’ map was 10.04 percent. Ten percent was once considered a safe harbor for many years, but that is no longer the case because maps can be drawn with smaller deviations with current technology.

In addition to less deviation, Norris said Republicans increased the number of majority minority districts to four by adding an additional majority minority district in Shelby County, which he said could have been done by Democrats 10 years ago in order to correct under-representation issues.

But in the process, according to AP reports, Senate Republicans rejected efforts to redraw the lines for the 9th District in Memphis, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen complained the new lines would remove all major Jewish institutions and much of the Jewish vote from his district.

The House passed its plan on Thursday that draws five African-American Democrats into three seats, meaning at least two won’t return to the chamber next year.

Norris said while the Democratic plan observed municipal integrity in East Tennessee, it does the opposite in Shelby County by cutting communities in half. Also, it overpopulates some rural areas and underpopulates urban areas, particularly in Shelby County.

In response to Norris’ assertion that no one took advantage of the lieutenant governor’s invitation to submit plans, Kyle acknowledged receiving a memo from the lieutenant governor asking for plans, but he also remembered the Democratic Caucus informing the speaker they wished to work in a collaborative process.
 
“We asked for a meeting and we had a meeting early in December,” he said. “We left the meeting with the impression that there would be a plan distributed shortly. Another meeting we were called to — we were assured or at least got the impression again that there would be a plan distributed by the first of the year.”

Kyle said he was confident Republicans did not string the Democratic Caucus along, and if a map had existed, it would have been distributed. But, for some reason, it couldn’t be done until hours before the Senate Judiciary hearing on Tuesday.

Shortly after the Senate voted 21-12 to pass its plan, the House of Representatives followed suit to divide the county into two senatorial districts by a vote of 60-29-1.

State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, indicated “present and not voting.”

Brooks said Friday evening, “I am thankful that House District 24 did not change and I was proud to vote on the redistricting the way that my friends, neighbors and Bradley County voters asked for me to vote.”

While Brooks voted in favor of the new state House and congressional redistricting plans, he chose the “present and not voting” option to comply with the Executive Committee of the Bradley County Republican Party resolution passed Dec. 30, 2011, and sent to all three Tennessee Senatorial Redistricting Regional Coordinators and current elected officials. The resolution requested officials to maintain the entirety of Bradley County in a single state senatorial district.

State Rep. Eric Watson voted in favor of the congressional plan after an amendment he submitted failed in committee. He also voted in favor of the state Senate and House plans.

Watson represents the 22nd District that contains part of Bradley County, and all of Meigs and Polk counties.

He said Senate and House leadership made it clear the House would draw its plan and the Senate would draw its plan and asked Republicans in each chamber to support the other. He said an alternative House plan would have removed Polk and Meigs counties from his district.

“I don’t want any of my votes to jeopardize the progress we’ve made in the 22nd District that we’ve made in the past five years,” he said. “Forbes Magazine ranked this area third in the nation for economic development projects.”

Some of the progress includes Wacker, Olin Corp. and Amazon industrial development projects and transportation projects such as U.S. Highways 411, 60, 64, State Route 30, Georgetown Road and Dalton Pike.

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