Tennessee GOP-drawn redistricting plan could cost Dems nine seats, officials say

Tennessee GOP-drawn redistricting plan could cost Dems nine seats, officials say

January 3rd, 2012 by Andy Sher in Local - Breaking News

NASHVILLE - State House Democrats could lose as many nine seats under a Republican-drawn legislative redistricting plan to be presented publicly for the first time Wednesday morning, Democrats said.

The GOP plan will put Democrats currently representing eight districts into four districts, forcing them to run against each other, House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville told caucus members.

In a fifth case, Republicans intend to put Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, into the 31st Legislative District held by Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City. It is expected to be a Republican-leaning district and Cobb, who represents all of Rhea County, is vacating the Hamilton County portion of his district.

Among the districts being merged are four now represented by four black Democrats, including previously disclosed plans to put Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, who now represents the 29th Legislative District, into the 28th Legislative District held by Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga.

Republicans also intend to put Reps. Barbara Cooper, D-Memphis, and G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, into the same district, Turner said. Both lawmakers are black.

"What really concerns me is the African-Americans will lose at least two seats," Turner said.

Because Tennessee's black population has grown, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, Democrats would explore whether there are any violations of the federal Voting Rights Act, he said.

While warning fellow Democrats they could lose seven to nine seats, Turner said a more likely "worst-case scenario" is a net Republican gain of four seats, depending on the 2012 elections.

"Some of the [Republican] freshmen have not had a real stellar first year," Turner said, and that should make them vulnerable.

House Republican Majority Leader Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga has previously said that folding the black population of Favors' district into Brown's is necessary because the percentage of minority voters in Brown's majority-black district now hovers around 50 percent. Favors' district is not majority black and does not enjoy Voting Rights Act protections, Republicans say.

Republicans, Turner said, also will seek to merge two Shelby County House districts now held by Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, who is black, and Rep. Jeannie Richardson, D-Memphis, who is white, in a single district.

In Davidson County, Republicans plan to put Rep. Mike Stewart, D-Nashville, into the same district as Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville. Both lawmakers are white. A new, Democratic-leaning open district will be created. Turner said because of that, the move is "punitive" and appears to personality-driven.

Republicans, meanwhile, hope to damage former Democratic House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh of Covington with a stroke of the redistricting pen. Plans call for making increasingly Republican Tipton County - Naifeh's home, which he lost in 2010 - into a single House district.

They're also putting Reps. Harry Tindell, D-Knoxville, and Gary Moore, D-Nashville, into Republican-leaning districts.

House Republicans currently have a 64-34 majority in the House. There is one independent, a former Republican.

For complete details, see tomorrow's Times Free Press.