On Monday, we learned that major changes are on the way in the form of political gerrymandering.
One headline said those major changes are likely in Tennessee's 3rd and 4th congressional district lines, as well as our state House and Senate district lines — thanks to the U.S. Census findings of explosive population growth in Metro Nashville and surrounding counties.
Another headline said 2020 census data shows racial diversity increasing in Hamilton County over the past decade, with the share of nonwhite residents rising from 29% in 2010 to nearly 32% last year. And even though Hamilton County and the Chattanooga area remained less racially diverse than America as a whole — 40% — an influx of other ethnic groups locally nearly doubled the county's diversity index. The index measures the probability that two people chosen at random will be from different racial and ethnic groups. Put another way, whites make up just under two-thirds of the population locally, and the other near third is either Black, Hispanic or Asian.
The upshot is clear. Tennessee, with only the additional growth of 564,000, will get no addition to its current nine congressional seats, but Nashville's growth will cause a shakeup in all the other districts in our area.
Experts say white population here and nationally is declining in part because birth rates are down, with more whites waiting longer to become parents or declining to have children at all. Some demographers also postulate that the white population may not be shrinking as much as shifting to multiracial identities. The number of people nationally who identified as belonging to two or more races more than tripled from 9 million people in 2010 to 33.8 million in 2020. They now account for 10% of the U.S. population.
Meanwhile, the Hispanic and Asian populations boomed. Perhaps most startling — and frankly refreshing, is the news that no racial or ethnic group dominates among those under 18, as the share of non-Hispanic whites in the age group dropped from 53.5% to 47.3% over the decade.
Importantly — red or yellow, black or white — we are all Americans. And we all deserve equal representation in our governments — whether we're new here or not, young or old, conservative or liberal.
In fact, that's the point of the U.S. Census counts — required in our U.S. Constitution. The numbers, recounted every 10 years, are intended to help ensure that the population of an area has the representation and resources needed from our $1.5 trillion in annual federal spending.
Here's where we get to gerrymandering. These numbers are sure to set off an intense partisan battle over representation, especially in a time of deep national division and fights over voting rights. At stake is control of the House in the 2022 elections and any electoral edge in all races for years to come.
Haven't Democrats gerrymandered, too? Sure. But history shows that our supermajority GOP redistricting process is particularly brutish. In 2012, then state Sen. Andy Berke was gob-smacked out of his almost assured re-election bid when the GOP lopped away Democratic-leaning Marion County from his 10th Senate District and pushed his district eastward through Republican areas including East Ridge, Apison and a major chunk of Republican-rich Bradley County. That same year, Tennessee House districts were redrawn to pit the then-former Rep. Tommie Brown and then-former Rep. Joanne Favors, both Black, against each other.
The sadly good news for Tennessee Democrats is that critics of gerrymandering say most red state maps already are so extremely manipulated it's hard to see how they might increase their partisan tilt.
In U.S. politics, similar shakeups are rippling across the nation. Texas and Florida, two Republican Sunbelt giants, added enough population to add U.S. congressional seats while colder climes like New York and Ohio saw slow growth and lost political muscle. California, too, lost a seat, a result of slowed migration to our most populous state, even while it for the first time became a minority-dominated state.
On the other hand, it's important to note that the decade's cross-country migrations may not mean automatic GOP wins: You might recall that Georgia's Senate seats and presidential choice did just flip blue — attributed to the Peach State's younger, more Democratic, more diverse newcomers. What might that mean for places like Texas, which already has been trending bluer and now sees its largest cities growing rapidly?
Every party in power seeks to keep its power. That's why we need a better way than legislative power-controlled district redrawing. That's why we need the For the People Act. It includes some protections against excessive partisan gerrymandering, including new enforceable criteria.
Until then, or until we find some other better way, we must remember that the Republican Party has become the former guy's party. This GOP, like its idol, has become more tribal, more extreme, more angry, more devious.
This GOP sees its white majority slipping, and to see a future, it stacks the courts, pushes voter suppression, opposes immigration, gerrymanders and even cheats. To win, this GOP needs its base to be white, afraid and angry.
Democrats and moderates, there's a lot to lose here. Fight the fear and anger in every way you can.