Dispensing with the heavily politicized process of redistricting in its first week in session, the Legislature on Friday has approved a set of maps for state House and Senate and U.S. Congressional seats.
The maps, which will go to Gov. Bill Haslam for his sign-off, dictate the political makeup of voting districts throughout the state for the next 10 years.
“I think it’s the best we can do. It’s the fairest and most legal redistricting plan upon which we could agree,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, who sponsored the Republican maps in the Senate. “There’s something about this plan that just about everyone can dislike a little bit, and some dislike a lot.”
The Senate approved its GOP map, 21-12, with two high-ranking Democrats, Minority Leader Jim Kyle and Sen. Andy Berke of Chattanooga, voting in favor of the plan in exchange for a few concessions. Republican Sens. Kerry Roberts, of Springfield, and Mae Beavers, of Mt. Juliet, voted with Democrats.
“It was part of our negotiating,” Kyle, one of the GOP plan’s toughest critics, told reporters as Norris stood behind him to listen in. “The process of congeniality, accommodating. Folks need to be supportive of the process, and it came to pass, and I voted for the bill.”
The new Senate map lumps Kyle into the same Shelby County district as fellow Democrat Beverly Marrero. The plan also pairs Roberts and Jim Summerville, R-Dickson, in the same district. Roberts’ term is up in 2012, while Summerville’s is up in 2014, meaning Roberts would likely have to wait for another senate run.
The House did much of its heavy lifting on Thursday by approving its Republican-drawn map on a 67-25-3 vote largely along party lines — with the Democratic caucus leader voting in favor of the plan after some compromises. Six other Democrats also voted in favor of the new map.
Lawmakers are required to redraw the districts every decade in conjunction with the U.S. Census to ensure all districts represent roughly the same number of people. By law they must keep as many counties, as well as minority communities, as whole as possible.
Republicans in Tennessee have never been in a position to have complete control over the new district maps until this year. They’ve penciled in the new maps behind closed doors for months, all the while contending the process has been transparent. Democrats say Republicans could have used the Internet to share the maps more widely.
“Be careful what you ask for,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey. “Obviously, I will say this has been a grueling process, the whole redistricting issue, and it’s tough to draw districts that are both fair and legal — and I believe we did that — and yet have the constraints that we have both constitutionally and legally.”
Republican leaders in both chambers unveiled their chamber’s maps Jan. 4. A majority of both chambers approved the maps Jan. 13.
Republicans says they believe their maps can withstand any legal challenges launched by Democrats, who contend the newly plotted lines may violate the Voting Rights Act. Democratic leaders say they have yet to decide whether they’ll file any lawsuits.