Tennessee Republicans release new US House map; Democrats promise to sue

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, speaks in a Tennessee House committee in this 2012 photo. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Tennessee Republicans on Wednesday released their plan to split fast-growing Nashville into multiple congressional seats, sparking alarm among Democratic leaders who warned that the new map unfairly affects Black voters and will face legal challenges.

"This is a vicious map," said Rep. Antonio Parkinson, a Memphis Democrat. "There was no stone unturned in this map to give a complete 100-year advantage to the majority party."

Tennessee's U.S. House delegation consists of seven Republicans and just two Democrats, whose districts center on Nashville and Memphis. For months, Democratic lawmakers and community activists have pleaded with GOP lawmakers to keep Nashville's seat whole, arguing that the Davidson County district has remained intact for nearly 200 years.

However, they've had very little sway inside the Republican-controlled General Assembly as it moves through it's once-a-decade task of carving new legislative and congressional districts.

Tennessee's 5th District is held by Democratic U.S. House Rep. Jim Cooper. It's long been centered on the state's capital city and has been a safe Democratic stronghold in a state overwhelmingly controlled by Republicans. It contains all of Davidson and Dickson counties, and part of Cheatham County.

Cooper on Wednesday said Republican lawmakers have "begun gerrymandering Nashville and Davidson County into political oblivion," pointing to an example that the city's NFL team, the Tennessee Titans, would have their stadium in one district and their practice facility in another.

"All Nashvillians should feel insulted and abused by the new map," Cooper said in a Twitter statement. "For 100 years, Nashvillians have freely chosen Democratic representatives in Congress, but that tradition is about to end. What Republicans could not win in local elections, they are stealing through gerrymandering."

Under the newly proposed map, Nashville would be split into three districts. The districts of Republican U.S. Reps. John Rose and Mark Green would include a portion of Nashville, and Cooper would be forced into a new district that includes a portion of Davidson, Williamson and Wilson counties, as well as all of Lewis, Marshall and Maury counties.

"While I'm sad to no longer represent the great people and areas I've come to love and admire, I'm excited for the opportunity to represent many new Tennesseans," Green said in a statement, adding that he plans on running for reelection this year.

Cooper's new district would be made up of about 11.8% Black residents out of those old enough to vote, and the other two would be 8.6% and 15.5%, according to Doug Himes, a House attorney. Davidson County has about a 27% Black population, with the 5th District hovering around a 24% Black population.

"Tennessee Republicans have split up Nashville's Congressional district, denying an entire community of shared interests a voice at the national level," the state's Democratic Party tweeted shortly after the new map was unveiled. "They are rigging the system for their own power and gain -- we'll see you in court."

Lt. Gov. Randy McNally expects the state Senate to present a similar congressional map, spokesperson Adam Kleinheider said.

The map proposals, shaped around state and federal requirements, must be approved by the House and Senate chambers before they can go before the governor for approval. Republican Gov. Bill Lee has veto power over the finalized plan, but he's not expected to put up many objections.

The last veto of a map was in 1982 by former Republican Gov. Lamar Alexander, which the Legislature eventually overrode.

"I've never gotten into the approach that having multiple people represent a big city is a bad thing," House Speaker Cameron Sexton said earlier this week.

Nationally, Republicans and Democrats are pushing to shore up congressional seats amid the fight over control of the U.S. House -- where Republicans need a net gain of just five seats to come out on top.