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Speaker Harwell: House GOP-Drawn Legislative Districts ‘Less Politically Gerrymandered’

After spending months drawing new legislative lines behind closed doors, GOP leaders from both chambers have revealed new maps that pit sitting Democrats against each other or Republicans in the 2012 election.

Republicans publicly unveiled their new legislative maps for the first time Wednesday, and to Democrats’ surprise, it wasn’t as bad as they expected.

That’s not to say they didn’t find aspects to complain about, though.

The House proposal pits 12 mostly Democratic incumbents against each other in six districts and pencils in another half-dozen empty districts prime for open legislative races.

Meanwhile the Senate map lumps the Democratic leader in the same district as an up-and-coming Republican and forces two other GOP members into a face off.

“We feel very good about a plan that is fair and certainly less politically gerrymandered than the way the districts are currently drawn,” Speaker Beth Harwell told reporters after an ad hoc committee approved the new maps Wednesday. “We’ve gone out of our way to be as fair as possible. I can’t control the demographics of this state.”

The House hopes to approve final redistricting plans next week, although Democrats say it will take them the better part of a month to run the numbers and understand what the new districts look like in practical political terms.

“I’m not real fond of it,” said Rep. Mike Turner, the Democratic Caucus Chairman from Old Hickory. “There are some districts I don’t like. There are some districts they’ve draw that actually, I think, give us a good opportunity to win. We’ve got to balance those out.”

Democrats say they’re concerned that the proposal would ultimately reduce the number of African American lawmakers as the new map forces four members into contested races against each other and another minority lawmaker into the same district as a fellow Democrat.

Former Speaker Kent Williams says the GOP’s redistricting plan may be “politically motivated,” but not as much as Democratic plans were in past.

House lawmakers approved the maps in an ad hoc redistricting committee and a State and Local Government subcommittee hearing with plans to take the maps up again next week when the Legislature returns to officially begin its 2012 legislative session.

Senate lawmakers plan to publicly review their proposed maps Tuesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s office. Republicans posted their maps online shortly after the House hearings.

“This is the first time that our members have seen any official redistricting maps, and the first opportunity to view this specific map,” said Jackson Democrat Lowe Finney, the Senate minority caucus chairman. “We are committed to an open and public process as this issue greets us at the beginning of a new legislative session.”

Under the House plan, six districts would be left without sitting representatives. They include the proposed:

  • District 29 in Hamilton County
  • District 37 in Rutherford County
  • District 59 in Davidson County
  • District 65 in Wilson County
  • District 89 in Knox County
  • District 92 in Marshall and parts of Lincoln, Franklin and Marion Counties.
The House plan also draws six districts with two incumbents in each. They include:
  • District 28 in Hamilton County; Chattanooga Democratic Reps. Tommie Brown, Joanne Favors
  • District 31 in Sequatchie, Blodsoe, Rhea and part of Roane Counties; Reps. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, and Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap
  • District 52 in Davidson County; Nashville Democratic Reps. Sherry Jones and Mike Stewart
  • District 71 in Hardin, Wayne and part of Lawrence and Giles Counties; Reps. Eddie Bass, D-Prospect and Vance Dennis, R-Savannah
  • District 86 in Shelby County; Memphis Democratic Reps. Barbara Cooper and G.A. Hardaway.
  • District 98 in Shelby County; Memphis Democratic Reps. Jeanne Richardson and Antonio Parkinson

In the Senate, the new districts would pin four lawmakers into two districts:

  • District 28 in Shelby County; Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, and Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis.
  • District 25 in Cheatham, Dickson, Robertson, Humphreys, Lewis, Perr Counties; Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield and Sen. Jim Summerville, R-Dickson.

5 replies on “Speaker Harwell: House GOP-Drawn Legislative Districts ‘Less Politically Gerrymandered’”

For the record, this is the first time that the Republicans in TN have been in charge of redistricting. At the start of this process they looked at the last 2 times the Dem’s went thru the process and have followed that process and time line. In addition to doing what was done the last 2 times by the other party, they also did 3 things different: 1 set up a page on their website so the public could track the process, 2 had a meeting open to the public at the start of the process, 3 made a request for the public to submit maps (and received 4 maps), and 4 gave every member of the house the chance to make recommendations (98 of the 99 members made recommendations).

Sure it’s easy to blame the Republicans for doing something wrong if you are a Democrat, but lets be honest about the facts and how the process was handled. Not only was the growth in the state not distributed evenly (resulting in some areas lousing and gaining seats), the demographics in TN have shifted more to the right.

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