Tennessee Democrats got ahead of the state Republican legislative majority Monday by offering their own congressional redistricting map.
States are charged with drawing new congressional maps following each decennial census, and that task is currently in the hands of bipartisan Tennessee Senate and House committees. If either of those committees has formulated a new map, they have yet to reveal it in public.
But Democrats, with information from five meetings across the state and other smaller gatherings in which they received input, compiled their own map and will submit it to the General Assembly when it meets again early next year.
The map, at first blush, looks more like one in which geographical and sociological communities of interest are kept together than the one under which the current congressional districts are drawn.
It keeps the 1st District in the northeastern corner of the state and draws a relatively narrow 2nd District to include Oak Ridge, Maryville, Knoxville, Sevierville and Gatlinburg, over to the Great Smoky Mountains on the eastern border of the state.
The 3rd District, which includes Chattanooga, shifts to be only in the southeastern corner of the state. It would include all of Bradley, Hamilton, Loudon, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, Polk, Rhea, Roane counties and part of Blount County.
Gone is the squashed hourglass shape of the current district, which goes from the Georgia border to the Kentucky border and includes Oak Ridge and several counties at the top of the state.
The new 4th District would include the Nashville bedroom counties of Williamson and Wilson, most of Rutherford County (including the city of Murfreesboro), the city of Hendersonville in Seymour County and the city of Spring Hill along the Williamson-Maury County line.
The current 4th District, often said to resemble a dragon, starts in the west in Maury County in Middle Tennessee and goes south, then east, then north, then east, then south again to wind up in Bradley County, east of Chattanooga.
The Democrats' 5th District would be mainly Davidson County (Nashville) but also take in the city of La Vergne, the city of Goodlettsville along the Davidson-Sumner County line and the city of Millersville on the border of Sumner and Robertson counties.
The 6th District, largely rural, goes from the Kentucky border, taking in Middle Tennessee counties in the northern part of the state that are already in the district, and incorporates many in the southern part of the state that currently are in the 4th District.
The 7th District is perhaps the least changed, also running from the state's northern to southern borders but widening to the east to pick up some counties currently in the 4th District.
The 8th District is little changed, as well, running from the state's northern to southern borders and picking up a few new counties along the southern border.
The 9th District, fully in Shelby County around Memphis, shrinks in the north but also moves slightly east.
State Sen. Raumesh Akbari, the Democratic caucus chairwoman, said the party's primary goal with the map is to keep communities together.
"People want their elected officials to be responsive to the need of the community," she said in a statement. "So in addition to drawing districts that are near identical by population [which is required by law], we are proposing districts with deep community connections and shared needs — like housing, healthcare, education, transportation and job creation."
Democrats, like Republicans, would not submit a map that did not attempt to benefit them in some way. It's the way they drew maps when they ruled the General Assembly for most of the 20th century, and it's the way Republicans have drawn maps in the 20 years since.
We are not privy to all the criteria they used, but our best guess is they hope the new 4th District might become Democratic in the next 10 years. Vote totals from the 2020 presidential election do not show it to be such now.
Currently, Republicans hold a 7-2 lead in the state's congressional delegation. The state's only Democratic strongholds are in the current 5th and 9th Districts around Nashville and Memphis, respectively. However, Democrats may believe the fast-growing counties around liberal Davidson County could be persuaded to vote like Davidson County if kept together.
It appears the only current member of the state delegation who personally would be affected by the Democrats' map is U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais. He lives in the Sherwood community of Franklin County, but that county would be in the new 6th District, which is represented by second-term U.S. Rep. John Rose of Cookeville.
At this point, it looks like all congressional districts other than 5 and 9 would easily remain in Republican hands.
Before the census numbers were completed, it was said Republicans — if they chose — could find a way to divvy up the 5th District in order to get an eighth congressional representative.
Time will tell what will happen, but the public now at least has one map with which to ponder what the state's congressional future could look like.
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