GOP House Plan Unveiled; Aims at Unseating Six Incumbent Democrats; Creates Six Open Seats

The Republican state House redistricting plan unveiled today is designed to end the careers of at least six incumbent Democratic representatives while creating six new districts with no incumbent.
Legislation implementing the new House plan was given initial approval by a House subcommittee on Wednesday over Democratic objections within hours after being formally recommended by an all-Republican committee. Plans call for enacting it into law next week.
Redistricting plans for the state’s nine U.S. House seats remained under wraps, though House Speaker Beth Harwell said she anticipates unveiling of a congressional plan before the end of this week.
In the state House, eight current Democratic incumbents are paired in four news districts by the Republican plan, apparently assuring that at least four of the Democrats will lose in running against a fellow Democrat or abandon their seat to avoid such a contest.
The paired Democrats are Reps. Sherry Jones and Mike Stewart in Nashville, Reps. Antonio Parkinson and Jeannie Richardson in Memphis, Reps. Barbara Cooper and G.A. Hardaway in Memphis; and Reps. Tommie Brown and JoAnn Favors in Chattanooga.
In two other redesigned seats, an incumbent Democrat will be in the same district with an incumbent Republican. Harwell said she believes the new districts are aligned so that the Republicans, Reps. Jim Cobb of Spring City and Vance Dennis of Savannah, will prevail over the Democrats, Reps. Bill Harmon of Dunlap and Eddie Bass of Prospect.
The Cobb-Harmon pairing is in District 31, which would include a part of western Roane County along with all of Rhea, Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties.
There will be six districts without an incumbent representative under the plan. The most striking in geographic alignment is new District 92, which encompasses all of Marshall County in Middle Tennessee, then runs along the Alabama border to Marion County in East Tennessee – including parts of Lincoln and Franklin counties along the way.
Other new districts created without an incumbent are in Davidson, Hamilton, Knox, Rutherford and Williamson counties.
The new and open Knox County seat, as reported earlier, is in the northwest part of the county and includes the Karnes and Hardin Valley areas. It is designated as District 89 in the plan, a number previously assigned to a Shelby County seat.
The new Davidson County seat, including a part of Nashville, is deemed a “coalition district” where black and Hispanic voters combined would constitute a majority of the population. Republicans said it is the first such district created in Tennessee and provides minorities an opportunity for added representation in the Legislature.
State Democratic Chairman Chip Forrester, who watched the proceedings Wednesday, said the “coalition district” does not have any legal standing under voting rights laws and does not offset apparent minority losses elsewhere. In two of the paired incumbent districts – Cooper-Hardaway and Brown-Favors — black Democrats will be running against one another. In another, black Democrat Parkinson is paired with white Democrat Richardson.
The redistricting plan is based on 2010 U.S. Census data, which showed Tennessee’s population overall grew by 11.5 percent to 6,346,105. Ideally, each of the 99 House districts would have a population of 64,105.
Under the Republican plan, the highest population in a district is 67,297 in a Hamilton County district while the lowest population is 61,052 in a Williamson County district.
Court decisions have held that population variance can be no more than 10 percent from highest to lowest district. The Republican plan has a variance of 9.74 percent.
‘It is fair and certainly has less gerrymandering than the way the districts are currently drawn,” said Harwell.
The state constitution prohibits splitting counties in legislative districts, but courts have ruled that prohibition is overridden by the need for equal representation under the “one person, one vote” principle. The new plan splits 29 counties.

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