State legislators approve new political maps

State legislators approve new political maps

January 14th, 2012 by Andy Sher in News

Tennessee Republican state Sens. Randy McNally, seated, and Brian Kelsey, top left, look at proposed redistricting maps in the Senate chamber in Nashville on Friday. McNally is from Oak Ridge and Kelsey is from Germantown.

Photo by Associated Press /Times Free Press.

NASHVILLE -- Tennessee lawmakers gave final approval Friday to Republican-drawn political boundaries for all 99 state House districts, 33 state Senate districts and nine congressional districts.

All three bills now go to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, who is expected to sign them. The new maps are designed to add to GOP majorities in the state House and Senate.

Some Democrats, however, argue the House and Senate plans are vulnerable to legal challenge. They say the plans are unfair and run afoul of state constitutional provisions as well as federal Voting Rights Act requirements protecting minority voters.

Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey called the plans "fair, legal and logical." Unless blocked by a court, the new districts will be in place for this year's elections.

In one surprise twist, Senate Republicans agreed Friday to alter their plans, slightly, for the 10th Senatorial District held by Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, and a Memphis district represented by Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle.

The GOP's original map called for Berke to lose many of his Democratic-leaning precincts inside Chattanooga and to move the district into Republican strongholds in East Ridge and Collegedale and into a portion of Bradley County, another GOP bastion.

Berke's estimated 190,000-person district still will include about 38,000 Bradley residents.

Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, and other GOP leaders agreed to take back a number of GOP-leaning Hamilton County precincts the plan originally shifted to the 10th District from his own 11th Senatorial District.

The alternative plan restored a number of Democratic districts such as Avondale, Dalewood and Glenwood. It still includes GOP areas such as East Ridge, an Apison precinct and the Bradley portion.

"Sen. Watson and I sat down and looked at a number of the precincts in Hamilton County," Berke said. "There were a number of precincts that made more sense to be in the 10th District because of the commonality of interest. They didn't make all the changes I requested but they made some."

In exchange, Berke wound up voting for the GOP plan, which passed 21-12. Berke did side with Democrats on an unsuccessful major amendment that sought to rewrite the entire redistricting plan to treat Democrats more favorably.

The GOP plan makes the 10th a little more competitive for a Democrat, but Republicans say the new district was won in 2006 by U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., in his highly competitive statewide race with about 52 percent. Berke is considering running for mayor of Chattanooga and said keeping the city as united as possible was his main consideration.

Ramsey said Republicans asked both Berke and Kyle to vote for the plan, which both did.

"I guess anytime you're going to help improve their district, one of the preconditions is going to be if we improve your district in any way, you'll be obligated to vote for the plan," Ramsey said.

He quickly added he considered it "more of an understanding" than a precondition.

Kyle, whom Republicans originally threw into the heavily Republican district of Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, is now in a district held by Sen. Beverly Marrero, D-Memphis.

Republicans refused to agree to changes sought by two other Senate Democrats from Nashville, Douglas Henry and Joe Haynes, after they refused GOP requests to support the overall GOP plan.

Two Republican senators, Mae Beavers, of Mount Juliet, and Kerry Roberts, of Springfield, sided with most Democrats against the plan. Roberts' home county of Robertson has been moved into another Republican district not up until 2014.

Roberts' term, however, is up in November.

Meanwhile, the House GOP plan merges a number of black precincts currently in Chattanooga Democrat JoAnne Favors 29th Legislative District. It moves them into the 28th Legislative District, a majority-black seat held by Democratic Rep. Tommie Brown, also of Chattanooga.

Favors and Brown are in the same district. McCormick has said the move was necessary to protect the majority-black status of Brown's district. Both lawmakers agree.

The congressional plan again splits Republican Bradley, this time doling out chunks to the 3rd, which includes Hamilton County, and 4th Congressional Districts. It also maintains a strong presence in the north with the inclusion of Anderson County.