House, Senate agree on redistricting plan to split Davidson

By: - January 11, 2022 6:07 pm
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper waits to speak to the Tennessee General Assembly's Ad Hoc Committee on Redistricting in October. (Photo: John Partipilo)

U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper waits to speak to the Tennessee General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on Redistricting in October. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Republican-drawn House and Senate redistricting maps match on a plan to split Davidson County into three congressional seats, the chambers’ top leaders said Tuesday.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and House Speaker Cameron Sexton both said their proposals mesh in a move to break up the 5th Congressional District, which has been represented by Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper for more than two decades.

McNally, R-Oak Ridge, contends the redistricting plan will follow the federal guidelines and the Tennessee Constitution. He spoke with reporters shortly after the 112th General Assembly convened for the 2022 session.

“I don’t think it’s an effort to eliminate a Democrat,” McNally said Tuesday. “It’s just that the districts on the east had to move west and the ones on the west had to move east, and then you’ve got the compression in Davidson County as to how you’re able to put the districts together.” 

Republicans control seven of nine U.S. congressional seats, with the only Democratic strongholds in Nashville and Memphis. Population losses in East Tennessee and West Tennessee forced map drawers to move district lines closer to Nashville and Middle Tennessee, which experienced heavy growth over the past decade.

The lieutenant governor said leaders in the Senate and House have reviewed each other’s congressional redistricting plans and are “in agreement with the way both are proceeding to come together.”

A House redistricting panel will review its proposal Wednesday and probably approve a congressional plan while a Senate redistricting committee is set to consider its congressional plan Thursday.

Twenty years ago, the state was blue, now it’s red. It’s up to the people to determine who they elect. It’s not up to us. They’ll have the opportunity to vote for whatever congressman they want to.

– Speaker of the House Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville

Sexton declined to say Tuesday whether Davidson would be split into two or three congressional districts. But the Tennessee Journal reported this week that the county seat will be broken up three ways, with Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Green’s 7th District moving into western Davidson County and Republican U.S. Rep. John Rose’s 6th District shifting westward into eastern Davidson County, possibly Old Hickory, Donelson and Madison.

Cooper, a Nashville Democrat, has asked lawmakers repeatedly to keep Davidson County whole, saying they shouldn’t kill “the goose that laid the golden egg,” a reference to Nashville’s position as capital city and a major economic engine in Tennessee.

Redistricting is necessary every decade when lawmakers use the latest federal census to equalize state and congressional districts to ensure “one man one vote.”

Democrats contend the Republican-controlled chambers are splitting up Davidson County in an attempt to water down the Democratic vote and give a Republican a chance to defeat Cooper. Democrats also contend Republicans at the national level want to bolster their numbers in Congress so they can regain a majority in the U.S. House.

Sexton scoffed at such an idea.

“You have elections so elections are the ones who decide whether people win or lose. A map has never made anybody lose,” Sexton said Tuesday, moments after the General Assembly gaveled into session for the year.

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally in Tennessee Senate Chambers. (Photo: John Partipilo)
Lt. Gov. Randy McNally:Hopes no sitting congressman loses a seat. (Photo: John Partipilo)

He pointed toward the redrawing of the 4th District 30 years ago to bolster the chances of a Democrat yet Republican Van Hilleary wound up winning the seat and holding it from 1995 to 2003.

House leaders took the Voting Rights Act into consideration and started drawing lines by working from the east and west and moving toward the center of the state where population growth has been the highest, Sexton said.

“And what was remaining became the 5th (District),” he said.

McNally said he hopes no sitting member of Congress will be drawn out of their district.

State Sen. Jeff Yarbro balked at the notion that politics don’t play any role in Republicans’ decision to split Davidson County. Some people have lamented the idea that someone who lives hours away from Nashville would represent a part of Davidson.

“It’s a 100% political endeavor that is an overreach. Voters don’t like being treated like subjects to be traded for the benefit of a political party,” Yarbro, D-Nashville, said Tuesday. 

He pointed out Davidson County has been kept whole within a congressional district for 140 years, with only one congressman dating back to the time Andrew Jackson served in Congress.

If districts have never caused anyone to win or lose an election, Yarbro said, “then why go through this absurd ordeal of splitting the capital city that hasn’t been split in the history of the state?”

Some political scientists say a move to split Davidson County could come back to haunt Republicans by moving Democrats into areas usually controlled by the GOP and enabling them to elect a Democrat within a decade.

Sexton barely responded to that idea.

“Twenty years ago, the state was blue, now it’s red. It’s up to the people to determine who they elect. It’s not up to us. They’ll have the opportunity to vote for whatever congressman they want to,” Sexton said.

Green is believed to be upset by the redistricting plan because it would put more Democrats into his district, but he has not commented publicly. 

It’s a 100% political endeavor that is an overreach. Voters don’t like being treated like subjects to be traded for the benefit of a political party.

– Sen. Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville

Asked if the congressional plan will “fly through” the Legislature, Sexton said that depends on the committee system, but he noted the House and Senate worked on a congressional map together and the one to be presented Wednesday has gotten Senate approval.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen’s 9th District in Memphis is expected to push north and east because of a stagnant population there. That means Republican U.S. Rep. David Kustoff of Collierville would shift east as well.

Cohen’s seat is about 70,000 people short of the optimum number for districts, 770,000 residents based on the census figures. That means his district would have to move into the 8th District, which was 50,000 people short. As a result, Kustoff would need to pick up some 100,000 people, according to Sexton.

“We feel like the changes made in Shelby County are within the rights of the Voting Rights Act, and it will be determined that was the case,” Sexton said.

 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Sam Stockard
Sam Stockard

Sam Stockard is a veteran Tennessee reporter and editor, having written for the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, where he served as lead editor when the paper won an award for being the state's best Sunday newspaper two years in a row. He has led the Capitol Hill bureau for The Daily Memphian. His awards include Best Single Editorial from the Tennessee Press Association.

MORE FROM AUTHOR