(Note: Expands, updates original post)
The Republican congressional redistricting plan for Tennessee, unveiled Friday, calls for a major reshuffling of counties alignments in most areas and would achieve somewhat more compact districts in much of the state.
House Speaker Beth Harwell and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, who made the plan public in a news release emailed to media. The release declares that the GOP proposal will “correct decades of illogical gerrymandering by Democratic-led legislatures and better recognize Tennessee’s regional distinctions.”
Harwell and Ramsey hope to move the plan rapidly through the Legislature next week – along with state House and Senate reapportionment – with final enactment by Thursday. The legislative session begins Tuesday.
The strongly-Republican 1st Congressional District in northeast Tennessee and the strongly-Democratic 9th District, anchored in Memphis, have the fewest changes from the current congressional map, adopted in 1992 by a Democrat-dominated Legislature.
The 5th District, now held by Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville, has revisions but keeps Davidson County intact after much speculation that it would be split to make Cooper a vulnerable to Republican challenge.
The other districts, however, are substantially changed.
In East Tennessee, the 2nd Congressional District represented by Republican Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr. of Knoxville, will stretch northwestward to take in Grainger, Claiborne and part of Campbell counties while losing McMinn and Monroe counties to the south. Also gone is a part of Sevier County now within the district.
Knox, Blount and Loudon counties remain within the 2nd District.
The 3rd District, represented by Republican Rep. Chuck Fleishman of Chattanooga, loses Rhea, Meigs, Claiborne and Grainger counties along with part of Bradley County while taking in Scott, Morgan, Campbell, Union and all of Roane County, which is now split between the 3rd and 4th Districts.
Perhaps the most politically-significant overhaul is in the 4th District, which now sprawls over 22 counties and has been represented by congressmen of both parties. Currently, it is held by Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Jasper, who defeated Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis in 2010.
The 4th District sprawl is reduced to 16 counties by the Republican plan, which takes seven Cumberland plateau counties away in the north while adding new voters in Middle Tennessee counties.
The most populous county in the realigned 4th District will be Rutherford, previously in the 6th District and home of Senate Republican Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron, who served on the Senate redistricting committee and who has declared an interest in running for Congress. If so, he would face DesJarlais in the Republican primary.
The new 4th District would also include Bedford County, home of Sen. Jim Tracey, R-Shelbyville, who ran unsuccessfully for the 6th District seat in 2010. Tracy, who is up for reelection as a senator this year, would have to give up his Senate seat to run for Congress. Ketron, in the middle of a four-year term, would not.
State Sen. Eric Stewart, D-Winchester, has already announced as a candidate for the Democratic nomination in the 4th District.
The 6th District, now held by freshman Republican Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin, loses Bedford, Rutherford and Marshall counties at the southern end of its current configuration while gaining Cumberland, Fentress, Pickett and White counties east of the current border.
The 7th District, held currently by Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Brentwood, loses Fayette and a portion of Shelby County at it current western end while gaining Benton, Houston, Stewart and Montgomery to the north.
The 8th District, held by Rep. Stephen Fincher of Frog Jump, takes in new turf lost by the 7th in Shelby and Fayette counties while giving up the counties gained by the 7th in the north.
Note: The congressional redistricting map is HERE.
The press release is below
News release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell:
(January 6, 2011, NASHVILLE) – Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) released their joint proposal to redraw Tennessee’s nine congressional districts on Wednesday to equalize populations and make them more compact and based on logical groupings of communities of common interest.
The 2010 census revealed that three of Tennessee’s districts deviated from their ideal population of 705,123 by more than 80,000 people. Federal law requires that congressional districts be exactly equal in population.
In addition to equalizing population counts, Harwell and Ramsey said their proposed map would correct decades of illogical gerrymandering by Democratic-led legislatures and better recognize Tennessee’s regional distinctions.
Under the Speakers’ proposal, all three East Tennessee districts would be entirely in East Tennessee and both West Tennessee districts would be entirely in the West Grand Division. Four districts would be anchored in Middle Tennessee and no district geographically resembles the sprawling 4th and 7th districts of the last two decades.
To meet the strict zero deviation population mandates set down by federal courts, the plan splits just eight counties, two fewer than the 10 counties split in the map approved in 2002.
Counties divided between two districts include: Shelby, Benton, Van Buren, Maury, Cheatham, Campbell, Bradley, and Jefferson. Four of those eight divided counties are predominantly located in one district, with less than two precincts separated into an adjacent district.
Shelby County, with a population of 927,644 is larger than a single congressional district by itself. For thirty years, Shelby’s population was scattered among three separate districts but under the Speakers’ plan, Shelby would be split between just two districts.
The voices of the state’s two large federal installations, Ft. Campbell and the Oak Ridge Department of Energy facilities, would become more unified under the Speakers’ map than they were in the 2002 map, with Roane and Anderson Counties, fully united in the Third District and Stewart and Montgomery Counties united in the 7th district.
Eight of the nine districts will have at populations that are at least 14% new if the map becomes law. Only the First District, cordoned into the state’s northeastern corner by North Carolina and Virginia, will remain essentially unchanged from the 2002 map.