State Redistricting Wrinkles Save Kyle’s Seat But Continue Debate

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

By Bill Dries, January 14, 2012 There was one very important change to the new district lines for the Tennessee State Senate as the week ended in Nashville with the legislature taking final action on the once a decade redistricting process. State Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis has a district once again […]

By Bill Dries,
January 14, 2012

There was one very important change to the new district lines for the Tennessee State Senate as the week ended in Nashville with the legislature taking final action on the once a decade redistricting process.

State Senate Democratic leader Jim Kyle of Memphis has a district once again in the new set of district lines for the legislature that won final approval Friday, Jan. 13, in the Tennessee State Senate.

But he shares it with Democratic incumbent Beverly Marrero of Memphis.

The new district lines for both chambers of the Tennessee legislature as well as the state’s Congressional delegation to Washington are awaiting the signature of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

Some legislators have described the importance of redistricting as elected incumbents selecting who will vote on their re-election. The district lines are also a key consideration for those who would challenge the incumbents or run for an open seat in which no incumbent is seeking re-election.

The specific change in the Republican plan approved Friday is an important one for Kyle who until the amendment was an incumbent without a district. The district number he represents had been attached to a new district in middle Tennessee, leaving him with nothing to run for as an incumbent in the 2012 legislative elections.

Before that, the original plan had combined Kyle in the same district as Republican incumbent Brian Kelsey of Germantown. That was changed when it became apparent Kelsey might not be able to run as an incumbent in the new majority Republican district.

Marrero was quick to say she intended to run for re-election this year even with the changes. Kyle had said he intended to run when he and Kelsey were in the same district. But he wasn’t as definite about a match-up with Marrero in the immediate aftermath of Friday’s Senate vote.

Much of the Senate debate was between Kyle and State Senate Republican leader Mark Norris of Collierville, although Marrero was a vocal part of the discussion.

“It seems that the maps have changed somewhat and they’ve only gotten worse,” Marrero said during the debate on the Democratic alternative presented by Kyle. “I’ve lost almost all of the district that I have represented since I’ve been in the district. … It’s sort of just been chopped up into an unrecognizable thing. I feel a great sadness and loss.”

Norris defended the plan by the Republican majority, saying that specifically in Shelby County, it remedies the splitting of the six suburban municipalities.

“This amendment cuts commuities, cuts municipalities in Shelby County in half,” Norris said of the Kyle plan specifically mentioning Lakeland. “I can’t tell what it does to Germantown. It puts Collierville in another district. There’s no municipal integrity in west Tennessee. … What this plan does as best I can tell … is to really overpopulate some of the rural areas and underpopulate some of the urban area, especially in Shelby County.”

The Democratic caucus plan was tabled, effectively killing it without what would have been an interesting vote among Memphis Democrats.

Kyle’s alternative plan would have made Kelsey’s district a majority African-American district, which Kyle termed “unfortunate” but saying Kelsey could “reacquaint himself” with black voters in such a district since he wouldn’t have to run until 2014.

Norris said the Republican plan approved creates an additional majority African-American district.

“That’s something that could have been done by the party that held the pen ten years ago,” Norris added, referring to the last redistricting process after the 2000 U.S. Census when Democrats were the majority in the House and Senate.

Democratic State Senator Ophelia Ford, at one point, said all decisions should be put on hold to get a closer look at the various district maps. Ford wondered aloud what the hurry was.

State legislative and Congressional primary elections are on the Aug. 2 ballot with the winners advancing to the Nov. 6 general election ballot. But county election commissions across the state begin issuing qualifying petitions for the races on Feb. 6 with an April 5 filing deadline.

Norris and Marrero clashed earlier in the debate leading to final approval of the new district lines for the state’s Congressional delegation to Washington.

Marrero proposed a change in district lines for the 9th Congressional district that would keep the vast majority of Memphis within the district now represented by Democrat Steve Cohen. The amendment, which was quickly tabled, would have undone the part of the Republican plan that moved the East Memphis Poplar corridor out of the 9th district and into the 8th district now represented by Republican Stephen Fincher.

Norris said the shift in the Republican plan is an improvement because Shelby County is currently split among three Congressional districts and the plan splits the county between two Congressional districts. He also took a swipe at Cohen who began the week by complaining that the shift took all of the Jewish temples out of his district and linking that to his status as the only Jewish Congressman in the state.

The link prompted several Republican critics to say Cohen was making a case that only a Jew could represent other Jews in a district that is majority African-American yet represented by Cohen, who is white.

“We think it unifies rather than divides,” Norris said of the Republican plan for Congressional representation with the East Memphis shift to the 8th district. “I know some things have been said about religion and some things have been said about race that I think later some folks may regret.”

Marrero argued the shift dilutes the political impact of Memphis.

“I think that this is a very divisive thing for Memphis the way this Congressional map has been laid out,” she said. “People are very, very unhappy the way they have been taken out of the district they’ve been in for 20 years.”

Meanwhile, Cohen was welcoming his new constituents in the Millington and Cordova areas on his Facebook page just hours after the Senate vote.

“I am looking forward to being your Congressman,” he posted shortly after the Friday, Jan. 13, vote on the redistricting plan.

He also reminded the new constituents they will be able to vote for him in the August Democratic primary in which he faces a challenge from countywide school board member Tomeka Hart. And he talked about his work with past Millington leaders including the late Leonard Dunavant, who served with Cohen in the State Senate and the late Millington civic leader Babe Howard.

Cohen also released a formal statement on his website after the State Senate vote saying he was “disappointed” in the splitting of Memphis between two Congressional districts. Cohen said the split “seems to callously disregard our shared history and needs.”

But Cohen again said he is ready to represent Millington and areas of Cordova that are also new to the 9th district.

“I am particularly pleased that I will be representing the Millington Naval Base,” he wrote.