Sometime in the next four months, Tennessee will receive census data needed to begin the process of re-aligning its nine congressional districts to have roughly the same number of people in each.
The same data will be used to redistrict seats in the state legislature and ultimately to redistrict county commission and city council districts.
In the nearly 60 years since the United States Supreme Court handed down its 1962 Baker v. Carr decision in a Tennessee case that — in time — mandated state legislatures to draw up districts based on the principle of one person, one vote, Republicans have controlled the redistricting process in the state exactly once — in 2010.
To hear Democrats, you'd think the GOP had been working for 60 years to make redistricting from the 2020 census the most corrupt yet.
Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Hendrell Remus, for example, recently told the Tennessee Lookout, "Obviously, we're anticipating the worst of the worst when it comes to putting our faith as a party in their hands when it comes to redistricting. We're prepared to seek injunctions and litigation to the fullest extent."
However, when Democrats controlled the process after the 1970 census, state Sen. Ray Albright, R-Chattanooga, described the input his party had this way: "It's terrible to have a train run over you with no consideration for the people."
Since then, numerous federal and state guidelines have been put in place to make the process as fair as possible.
But it's instructive to see how Democrats acted when they were in charge:
* 1970: With the census count, Tennessee lost a congressional district, so Democrat legislators tried their best to water down a previously Republican Memphis district. Republican Gov. Winfield Dunn vetoed the plan, but Democrats overrode his veto.
State Rep. (and later Gov.) Ned McWherter, D-Dresden, claimed his party tried to draw the district boundaries "as reasonable as we could" in order to elect as many Democrats as possible. He also told GOP members they could stall "all you want to, but we've got the votes and you don't, and come hell or high water we're going to pass it." Then-U.S. Sen. Bill Brock, a Chattanooga Republican, called the plan "a fraudulent, hypocritical law and a travesty of justice."
In the end, it didn't work out as Democrats hoped. Republicans retained the Memphis area seat, and the GOP won the district into which Democrats drew two of their own congressmen.
* 1980: Early plans had Democratic legislative redistricting acing out two Republicans and two independents. Ultimately, only one independent lost his seat. But it took numerous maps, a lawsuit that went to the state Supreme Court and a veto of the legislative plan by Republican Gov. Lamar Alexander, who called it "clearly unconstitutional," to get a plan passed.
Early on, state Rep. Bill Carter, R-Dayton, was appointed to draw a Republican alternative. In words oddly similar to those of Remus above, he said, "We're suspecting [Democrats] won't do everything according to the rules. We're therefore anticipating a lawsuit."
Ultimately, United Press International wrote that McWherter, by then the House speaker, planned to use "political blackmail" to get Republicans behind what was supposed to be a less partisan legislative plan or be forced to accept a "bastard" bill that would move five Hamilton County area legislative incumbents into two districts.
* 1990: Early Democratic congressional redistricting plans would have split Hamilton county into two districts, with Signal Mountain and portions of Hixson moving to the 4th Congressional District. That plan, fortunately, didn't survive.
In the Democratic legislative remapping, Hamilton County wasn't as fortunate. Across the state, 12 Republicans were forced into six districts. Among those were local state Reps. Ken Meyer and David Copeland in the 30th District, with Meyer eventually knocking off the 24-year veteran Copeland.
This page at the time called the plan "disreputable," and state Republicans went to court in an attempt to change the results.
* 2000: The legislative plan had both Republicans and Democrats fuming. State Rep. Bobby Wood, R-Harrison, likened the redistricting to a sexual assault, while state Rep. Tommie Brown, D-Chattanooga, said, "The only difference in the Democratic and Republican parties is, the Democrats will hang you from a lower branch of the tree."
Meanwhile, state Rep. Steve McDaniel, R-Parker's Crossroad, called Democratic House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh's plan highly favorable to Republican incumbents, but Joe Rowe, a primary challenger who lost by less than 300 votes to state Rep. Brenda Turner, D-Chattanooga, said "the whole redistricting ... cost me the race."
Memphis attorney John Ryder, who filed that year's Republican lawsuit to the Democratic plan, noted, "We're operating in a state that's spawned more redistricting challenges than any other state in the country," and the last three Democratic-drawn redistricting plans have been challenged in court.
Democrats in Tennessee have been at the redistricting game much longer than Republicans and would have been happy to tell you at the time that elections have consequences. With Republicans owning supermajorities in the legislature, though, Democrats don't want to hear that.
So be wary of the rhetoric ahead.