“One of the worst maps I’ve ever seen.”
Fayette County’s redistricting plans continue to draw bipartisan criticism
Fayette County Courthouse. (Photo: Somervilletn.org)
After Fayette County’s redistricting plan drew backlash from civil-rights advocates, the county board of commissioners held another special session to create minority representation. In doing so, the board approved a map that was “visually offensive and electorally inadequate,” said Civil Watkins, a Black resident, school board member and president of the Fayette County Democratic Party.
The Fayette County Board of Commissioners was warned that the redistricting maps they were considering made no effort to represent the county’s Black residents, which account for 27% of the population, and would leave the county open to litigation from civil-rights groups.
Consideration of potential lawsuits led commissioners to retain a lawyer, who informed them that they had to create minority districts. Instead, the board voted 10-8 in favor of a new map that ignored minority representation and received bipartisan backlash from local officials, including Kevin Powers, the chair of the county Republican party, and Watkins.
On Tuesday night, commissioners went back to the drawing board and approved a new map that created District 7, a minority-majority district. But the map immediately received criticisms, and commissioners were once again informed by their attorney John Ryder from the Memphis law firm Harris Shelton and local leaders that the redistricting map would not hold up under litigation.
At 50.1%, District 7 meets the bare minimum to be considered a minority-majority district, stretched and manipulated to reach a quota.
“How dare you decide that 27%, a fourth of your population, can only have a district where you decide that 50.1% is just enough? I’m still so livid. I’m trying to say words that can be printed,” said Watkins, who attended the meeting.
“All the talking that I’ve done, all the letters that I wrote did not sway them, and that’s sad,” she added.
Other officials also spoke out against how the redistricting map will impact Black populations across the county over the next 10 years.
“It’s one of the worst maps I’ve ever seen,” said Mike Brown, mayor of Oakland.
I hate that the county commissioners have once again subjected this county to scrutiny for doing the wrongs things when it didn't have to be this way. This. . . gives us a black eye for doing the wrong thing.
– Mayor Judy Waters, Rossville
With Ford’s BlueOval City coming to parts of Fayette County, Watkins joins other elected officials and community leaders who fear that Black residents will be left out of the economic benefits slated to arrive with the company.
“If we’re second thoughts, or just barely thought about now, how can we trust that they’ll think about us when Ford shows up?” said Watkins.
“I hate that the county commissioners have once again subjected this county to scrutiny for doing the wrong things when it didn’t have to be this way,” said Rossville Mayor Judy Waters. “There’s a lot of great things happening in the county and this shines a very dark light and gives us a black eye for doing the wrong thing. I just don’t understand.”
The Tennessee NAACP and other civil rights groups have made no comments over whether they’ll be filing litigation, but Fayette County political watchers believe it’s only a matter of time.
“Considering that Fayette County has been under a desegregation lawsuit since 1965, the prospect of another lawsuit alleging further discrimination against minorities is not a flattering position for Fayette County to be in, especially considering the County commission was specifically advised by our lawyer to avoid the map that was adopted,” said Powers, who also serves as a county commissioner.
Watkins hopes the commissioners’ decisions will be reflected in the county’s upcoming elections and that more residents will be inspired to run against the commissioners who voted against the county’s Black residents under “the mentality that you can put black people where you want them and think they’ll be okay with it.”
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