NASHVILLE — Explosive population growth in Metro Nashville and surrounding counties with corresponding stagnation or losses in the western, northeast and several other sections of Tennessee will bring major changes to the boundaries of many congressional and state legislative districts next year.
As a result, a number of congressional and legislative districts will shrink while others expand in order to meet new population requirements.
Statewide, the U.S. Census' findings are 6.91 million people now live in the Volunteer State, an increase of just more than 564,000 people in a decade. But given higher growth elsewhere in the U.S., Tennessee will continue with its current lineup of nine congressional seats with no additional seats added.
While state lawmakers must approve a plan prior to the April 7, 2022, deadline, Tennessee county and municipal governments must move more quickly to get their commission, council and school district seats drawn and approved by Jan. 1, 2022.
Population growth in select areas, primarily Davidson and nearby "doughnut" counties, will result in needing to redraw new congressional lines to reflect that as well as in many if not all of the state's 99 state House districts and 33 Senate districts as a result of the massive growth in Middle Tennessee.
Among other things, that likely would result in reuniting Bradley County, which is now split between the state's 3rd Congressional District and 4th Congressional District as a result of the last once-a-decade reapportionment and redistricting process back in 2012.
A portion of Bradley County lies in Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais' 4th District, which is estimated to exceed the ideal population of 767,871 by 8.2% or 62,976 people due to the district's inclusions of high-growth areas in Middle Tennessee, according to estimates of U.S. Census data by City University of New York.
That includes Rutherford County (Murfreesboro) near Nashville, which has seen huge growth, the second highest in Tennessee. Sherwood Republican DesJarlais is widely expected to have to jettison at least some of his Southeast Tennessee counties as his district leans more toward Nashville.
If that happens, the 3rd Congressional District's U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah, who has the remaining portion of Bradley County, would be expected to pick up all of a reunited Bradley County and possibly several other counties immediately west of Chattanooga while giving up some counties along the Kentucky border.
The 3rd Congressional District is 29,345 people short, or 3.83% below the ideal U.S. House seat number, according to CUNY projections.
Hamilton County legislative seats: No gain but no pain
In terms of the Tennessee General Assembly, Hamilton County will continue to keep its two state senators and five representatives.
But Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, whose 10th Senatorial District already includes a portion of Bradley, is likely to get more of the reliable Republican county's voters because of population shifts toward Nashville.
The state's average for a Senate district is 209,419. Gardenhire's district population of 200,295 people is 9,124 less, or 4.4% short, according to estimates by City College of New York.
"I'm going to have to pick up some in Bradley," Gardenhire said. The lawmaker said Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, who represents Senate District 11, will likely pick up some of his district. Watson's district is 1.4% below the average size of the Senate district. Efforts to reach Watson over the weekend were unsuccessful.
The multi-county Senate District 9, held by Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, also would need to take in more people. It's below the state median by 11,653, or minus 5.6%, according to CUNY estimates. Bell also has a portion of Bradley County.
While legislative districts can have a plus-or-minus variance of five percent, shifts in other parts of the state could dictate such changes.
State House members likely to need to shed territory and population include Rep. Esther Helton, R-East Ridge, whose House District 29 was pegged by CUNY at 74,602, which is 4,796 people above the state average with a 6.9% variance. Efforts to reach Helton on Sunday were unsuccessful.
Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, R-Signal Mountain, said she would prefer to keep her House District 27 as is. The district, which includes parts of Chattanooga and Lookout Mountain, is above the median figure by 1,125 people or 1.6%, according to CUNY estimates.
Rep. Robin Smith, a Hixson Republican who represents House District 26, is above the median by 2,194 or 3.1%.
Rep. Joan Carter, an Ooltewah Republican appointed to succeed her late husband in District 29, former House Civil Justice Committee Chair Mike Carter, is not seeking the seat.
Republican Greg Vital of Georgetown and Democrat DeAngelo Jelks are squaring off on Sept. 14 in a special election to serve the remainder of Mike Carter's term. It's a strongly Republican district. According to CUNY estimates, the district's population is 80,355, which is above the state average by a whopping 10,549 people or 15.1%.
Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, one of just three Democrats in all of East Tennessee, is below the average by 1,487 people or 2.1%. Hakeem said over the weekend that he is hoping to keep his Black-majority district largely as is.
Tennessee Democrats hold just six of the state Senate's 33 seats, while House Democrats have just 26 members in the 99-member chamber.
Last week, Democrats urged Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, the Republican Senate speaker, and House Speaker Cameron Sexton, a Crossville Republican, to commit to an open and transparent process with open hearings held well in advance of actual maps issued by Republicans.
Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro, D-Nashville, House Minority Karen Camper, D-Memphis, and the respective caucus chairs, Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, and Rep. Vincent Dixie, D-Nashville, urged the speaker to follow three "community-driven" principles including maintaining an "open and transparent process.
"Citizens deserve a districting process they can understand and trust, as well as information about how they will be able to engage with key decision makers," the Democrats stated. "In many states, this process includes a special committee that travels the state hosting public meetings, as well as a website that provides the public with the same updated information available to the legislative decision makers."
They also urged Republicans to provide public and community engagement opportunities, broadcast hearings online and provide digital tools for the public to offer input and submit their own map plans.
Democrats also called on Republicans to put out their first maps "this fall," noting that's done in a number of states.
McNally spokesman Adam Kleinheider said the Senate speaker is "committed to conducting an open and transparent redistricting process. Public input is a critical part of that."
Kleinheider said all legislators and members of the public "will have an opportunity to submit a plan" and that his boss "encourages that input and looks forward to the legislature creating a fair and legal plan based on the census numbers provided to us."
Doug Kufner, spokesman for House Republican Speaker Cameron Sexton, said Sexton "believes the redistricting process must be transparent, and public input is a critical component of the process — whether public commentary, the submission of maps, or other forms of communications.
"The speaker is confident this process will produce both fair and constitutional redistricting plans that are representative of all Tennesseans," Kufner added.
Contact Andy Sher at email@example.com or 615-255-0550. Follow on Twitter @AndySher1.
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