House map carving Nashville clears state Senate
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A plan to split fast-growing Nashville into multiple congressional seats cleared a key hurdle Thursday after state Senate Republicans signed off on the proposal despite objections from Democrats who warn the new map unfairly affects Black voters.
The move comes as the Republican-controlled General Assembly nears the end of its once-a-decade task of carving new legislative and congressional districts. While the process has taken months, the proposed maps weren’t released to the public until last week and have quickly advanced by Republican leaders ever since. House lawmakers are expected to vote on the maps early next week.
Currently, Tennessee’s U.S. House delegation consists of seven Republicans and just two Democrats, whose districts center on Nashville and Memphis.
Democrats and community activists have long pleaded to keep Nashville’s seat whole, arguing that the Davidson County seat has largely remained intact for 200 years. It’s a district that extends into two additional counties and has about a 24% Black population.
However, Republicans counter their plan complies with the law and will only boost Nashville’s influence inside Congress because it’ll have three House members instead of one. Doing so likely makes any Democrat, including longtime Nashville U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a significant underdog to retain his seat against a Republican.
Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson, a Republican from Franklin, suggested that critics were nitpicking.
“You can’t let perfection be the enemy of the good when doing this,” he said.
The new district where Cooper lives — jagging through slivers of southern and eastern Nashville as it branches in multiple directions into five other counties — would include about 11.8% Black residents out of those old enough to vote, according to Doug Himes, a House attorney. The other two would be 8.6% and 15.5% Black.
“This map, it actually hurts me as an African American because I think it undermines the equal protection of Black voters in ways that we have not seen in decades,” said Sen. Brenda Gilmore, a Democrat from Nashville, while debating against the proposed maps. “In every single instance of this new map, Black voters will not have an opportunity to vote for their candidate of choice.”
If approved by the House, the maps will also need the approval of Gov. Bill Lee. The Republican has said he sees “no reason that I wouldn’t be signing it” — thus securing the map for the next decade.
Nationally, Republicans need a net gain of five seats to flip U.S. House control.
While both parties have gerrymandered, these days Republicans have more opportunities. The GOP controls the line-drawing process in states representing 187 House seats compared with 75 for Democrats. The rest of the states use either independent commissions, have split government control or only one congressional seat.