The bittersweet business of redistricting

On February 1, 2012, in News 2012, by Mark Norris

By Mark Norris, TN Senate Majority Leader
February 1, 2012

Once every 10 years, the General Assembly is responsible for revisiting, and usually redrawing, the lines which make the boundaries of the districts we serve in the Senate and House, as well as nine Congressional districts across the state.

It is so because, with each decennial census tracking changes in population and shifting demographics, you are entitled to adjustments designed to guarantee your right of equal representation.

The United States Supreme Court calls it “one man, one vote.” Its genesis is the Constitution of the United States as balanced with the Constitution of the State of Tennessee and the federal Voting Rights Act.

It was Shelby County Commission Chairman Charles Baker of Millington who sued for the right, and the landmark case of Baker v. Carr changed history. It also changed my life because, when I met Charles Baker shortly before his death, little did I know that, as Senate Majority Leader, I would be responsible for carrying the redistricting legislation years later.

We finished our redistricting work in Nashville in recent weeks and, with it, made history in several respects.

For the first time in Tennessee, the Democratic Party was not in charge of drawing the maps. Put another way, Republicans “held the pen.” The state plans finally adopted engage in less gerrymandering and restore regional integrity and communities of interest more than the previous maps.

We also created a new, Majority-Minority district meaning that, for the first time in state history, we could have four African-American state senators, three of whom could be from Shelby County.

No longer will the suburban municipalities be split between Senate districts; instead, all of Millington will be in Senate District 29, Germantown in District 31, and Bartlett, Collierville, Arlington and Lakeland will all be in Senate District 32.

But there is “bitter” with the sweet.

All of us have to lose some neighborhoods, precincts or towns we’ve been privileged to represent during the last decade. In my case, two entire counties (Dyer and Lauderdale) will be represented by someone else come November.

Shelby County loses an entire Senate seat because we have not gained population as fast as other counties, particularly in middle Tennessee. There are the inevitable “pairings” of incumbents in some cases, and a few have lost districts altogether.

In the final analysis, however, we adopted what we believe to be a fair and legal plan; one with the lowest deviation from optimum population (192,300 in the Senate) in state history. There may be challenges ahead, but last week’s Supreme Court ruling recognizing that”(r)edistricting is primarily the duty and responsibility of the state” may bode well for us to now move forward with balancing the budget and passing Governor Haslam’s legislative initiatives for the year.

Mark Norris is a Republican state senator from Collierville.

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