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U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, talks to reporters at his Nashville office, Feb. 16, 2018. Tennessee Republican lawmakers have approved a plan to carve fast-growing Nashville into multiple congressional seats. (AP Photo/Jonathan Mattise)

NASHVILLE — Tennessee House Republicans gave final approval Monday night to a congressional redistricting map dividing the Democratic stronghold of Nashville among three districts while also approving their plan to redraw state House districts as well as the state Senate's.

The action sends both the congressional and state Senate plans, previously passed by the state Senate, to Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican who is expected to sign it into law.

The redistricting plan for House seats now goes to the GOP-controlled Senate, where it is expected to win approval Wednesday.

In a surprise, the 73-member House GOP majority partially relented on its original plan for its own 99-member chamber. The Republican leaders' map had originally looped nine sitting Democrats from Nashville, Memphis and Knoxville into four districts.

The Republican amendment resulted in the unpairing of four Democrats in two Nashville state House districts who originally had been squeezed together into one district.

In yet a third Nashville-based district featuring two Democrats put in the same district, the plan remains the same with one of the Democrats already stating he won't seek re-election.

And the pairing of incumbents remains in Shelby County, where two Democrat representatives are being inserted into the same district seeking re-election.

"This really sends a message combining the two youngest coalition members of diverse leadership," said Rep. London Lamar, a Democrat from Memphis, who is being drawn into the same district as Rep. Torrey Harris, another Memphis Democrat. Both are African Americans, and Harris is one of just two openly gay members in the legislature.

Two Knoxville Democrats remain paired as well. Drawing two Democrats into one district chips away at the benefits of incumbency and creates an open seat elsewhere.

Rep. Gloria Johnson, one of the two Knoxville Democrats, charged the House plan "comes in and cracks the center of the African American community in Knoxville. A very important voice in Knox County has been diluted by the drawing of this map."

In Hamilton County, Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, a Chattanooga Democrat and only the third Democrat in all of East Tennessee, was largely left alone. Some high-growth downtown precincts in his district have been moved into other nearby districts.

Republicans argued the plan continues to retain 13 districts where African Americans form a majority and two "coalition" districts where Blacks, Hispanics and other minorities could band together and have a chance at winning.

The changes were adopted on a bipartisan 96-0 vote. One Democrat, Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, voted present, a soft no. The final House plan was approved on a largely partisan 70-26 vote.

 

Splitting Nashville

The congressional redistricting plan also drew objections from Democrats.

Republicans, who control seven of the state's nine congressional districts, have split Nashville, which for some 200 years has been whole, between the 5th Congressional District now held by U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, and the state's 6th and 7th Congressional districts, held by Republicans.

Democrats argued it made no sense to pair Nashville with rural areas.

"It's conceivable we could have the largest economic driver in this state not represented by somebody who's actually in that county," said House Democratic Caucus chair Vincent Dixie of Nashville.

It also splits communities, Dixie said, adding, "We would like to keep the cities and communities whole."

Rep. G.A. Hardaway, a Memphis Democrat, charged that the "only thing we're getting is the dilution of the Black voter."

Replied Rep. Pat Marsh, R-Shelbyville, who was in charge of House congressional redistricting efforts, said, "This complies with the Voting Rights Act and is constitutional," noting Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery, a Republican, had OK'd it.

Republicans drew the map this year among massive growth in Nashville and much of the surrounding counties in Middle Tennessee. The explosive growth drew districts at the state House, Senate and congressional areas into Middle Tennessee.

In East Tennessee, that resulted in the reuniting of Bradley County in the 3rd Congressional District held by U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Ooltewah. U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a Sherwood Republican, gave up his portion of Bradley with the district having seen massive growth in Rutherford County, which he retained.

Republicans also made changes in the 9th Congressional District, a Memphis-centered district, although they did add a portion of nearby Tipton County to the district.

Tennessee Democratic Party chair Hendrell Remus has said the party will challenge the congressional map in federal court.

 

State Senate map

Senate Republicans' map spared the six Democrats in the 33-member chamber.

But it nonetheless drew criticisms with Democrats objecting to, among other things, the splitting of Black voters in the Hamilton County-centered Senate District 10 held by Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga. A number of Black precincts were shifted from Gardenhire's district to Senate District 11, held by Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson.

Republicans also moved Gardenhire out of the southern portion of Bradley County, a staunchly Republican area that helped him win his 2020 race against Democrat Glenn Scruggs, a Black assistant Chattanooga chief of police. He now will represent Marion, Sequatchie and Bledsoe counties, also Republican areas.

The move largely reunited Bradley County in a newly named Senate District 2. A portion of one precinct was moved into the new Senate District 1 in order to keep population differences among the 33 Senate seats within legally allowed variances.

Contact Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.

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