Tennessee House OKs plan merging districts of Tommie Brown and JoAnne Favors

Tennessee House OKs plan merging districts of Tommie Brown and JoAnne Favors

January 13th, 2012 by Andy Sher in News

JoAnne Favors stands in the Times Free Press photo studio during a portrait session. Photo taken Jan. 16, 2009.

JoAnne Favors stands in the Times Free Press...

Photo by Patrick Smith /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE - The state House on Thursday approved a Republican redistricting plan that draws two black Chattanooga Democrats into the same district and does the same to two black lawmakers from Memphis.

Democrats fought the measure, which redraws all 99 House districts, but it passed on a 67-25 vote with the support of seven Democrats, including three black lawmakers from West Tennessee.

It now goes to the Senate. The House also approved a congressional redistricting plan that splits Bradley County between the 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts.

Regarding the House redistricting plan, Republican Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, of Chattanooga, said "in the end, we worked with [Democrats] on some things and we had a more bipartisan vote than otherwise."

Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, of Nashville, who voted with Republicans as part of the agreement, said Republicans agreed to changes for three Democrats, all of them white, but it remains to be seen whether a lawsuit will be filed.

Democrats filed an array of amendments seeking to redraw the entire plan and create another district containing a majority of black residents in Memphis. All were voted down easily.

"We're going to talk to the Democratic Party, we're going to talk to our Black Caucus and to the different interested parties, and we'll make that decision," Turner later said.

The plan draws Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, into the 28th Legislative District held by Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga.

Both lawmakers are black. Brown's district is majority black, and Republicans said because it is protected by the federal Voting Rights Act, it needed additional black voters from Favors' 29th District to ensure compliance.

While they sided with fellow Democrats in voting against the GOP plan out of loyalty, both lawmakers agreed in separate interviews this week the GOP plan best served Chattanooga's black community.

"They [constituents] believe, as drawn now, it is in the best interests ... that we have as strong as possible voting African-Americans," said Brown, who met over the weekend with residents.

House figures show that in the new district, adult black residents of voting age will account for 60.84 percent all people 18 and over. Currently the figure is around 50 percent. Black residents account for about a third of Favors' district.

"We've never had two African-American districts so we don't have the numbers justifying two majority African-American districts," Favors said, adding she was "happy to see a much strengthened African-American district."

Under the House plan, Hamilton County's current 51/2 districts will fall to five. Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, no longer will represent part of northern Hamilton County. Cobb's home county, Rhea now is joined with Sequatchie, Bledsoe and part of Roane counties. Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, whose own district was broken up, is in Sequatchie County.

Republicans redistributed Cobb's former Hamilton County area among themselves, and in a series of swaps turned Favors' current district into a GOP-leaning district.

It includes parts of Sale Creek, Ooltewah, College-dale and Birchwood, as well as sections of Brainerd and Tyner.

Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga

Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga

Photo by D. Patrick Harding

Republicans tweaked the map and changed plans that would have had two Democrats in Nashville and rural Middle Tennessee running against incumbents.

In a third case, they altered a Knoxville Democrat's district and made it slightly more to his liking.

But it remains to be seen whether Rep. G.A. Hardaway, a black Democrat from Memphis, files suit on grounds that Republicans' failure to add another black majority district in Memphis to the 13 existing ones statewide is a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Hardaway has been drawn into the same district as Rep. Barbara Cooper, another black lawmaker.

Bradley County Republicans are upset at the division of the heavily Republican county between the 3rd and 4th congressional districts. It currently rests in the 3rd.

The 4th District, now held by Republican U.S. Scott DesJarlais, of Jasper, now loses many counties and extends into Rutherford County. That was done at the insistence of Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, of Murfreesboro. Ketron said Rutherford wanted out of the 6th, but the move also benefits Ketron should he decide to challenge DesJarlais.

Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, unsuccessfully fought dividing Bradley in committee on Wednesday.

In the end, he said he reluctantly voted for the congressional plan.

"We fought the fight in committees, and we lost," Watson said, likening it to a budget battle.

Sen. Mike Bell, R-Cleveland, has said he has been unable to persuade Senate GOP colleagues to keep Bradley from being split both in congressional and Senate redistricting.

But Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Belvidere, plans to put Republicans to the test today.

Stewart, who is running for the 4th Congressional District Democratic nomination, has filed an amendment that keeps Bradley whole as well as in the 3rd District. It also would prevent Coffee County from being spun into the 6th District.