House members of the legislative Black Caucus say Republicans have so far shut them out of discussions about redrawing their districts and are preparing to file a lawsuit if nothing changes.
But House Speaker Beth Harwell called those threats “counterproductive” and vowed that the GOP leadership’s goal is to vote in a new map with the full chamber support, despite comments from her top lieutenant that a much lower threshold is possible.
“It’s a work in progress, and I would like to request that work be allowed to continue without the threat of a lawsuit,” she said via email.
“As I’ve said before, our goal has always been to draw fair and legal lines, and to get 99 votes in the House.”
GOP Leader Gerald McCormick told TNReport earlier this month that redistricting inevitably brings some controversy.
“But we’ll work our way through it and eventually get something that 50 or more can vote for, and that’s what we’ll go with,” he told TNReport in an interview Oct. 12.
In 2002, the House OK’d the new House map 92-4.
In a press conference on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Black Caucus members said it is unrealistic to think that any party can fairly reshape their predominantly minority districts without their input.
“We don’t believe you can put all of the ingredients in a cake, then invite us in and ask whether we would want to put into it. Then you’ll end up with a mess,” said G.A. Hardaway, Caucus vice-chairman.
He said the caucus wants a seat at the table with Republican and Democratic leaders to ensure their districts are redrawn in line with the Voting Rights Act, which protects against unfairly marginalizing minorities.
“I don’t think there’s any other way to do it. Now, we don’t want to come in after the fact and tell you what’s wrong,” he said.
So far, few have had a front-and-center seat to watch leaders redraw the legislative maps, a process done after the U.S. Census every 10 years. Republican leaders in both chambers have said they are beginning to meet behind closed doors with members to talk about their district lines.
“It is well established that one of the many criteria we use in developing redistricting concepts is compliance with the Voting Rights Act, and it would be disingenuous to suggest otherwise,” said Harwell. “We are trying to work with every member of the General Assembly to hear their concerns, and there are no exceptions due to party or caucus.”
If the caucus’ arguments fall on deaf GOP ears, Hardaway said his members are prepared to challenge the new maps in court.