By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — State lawmakers opposed to legislative redistricting plans are questioning the desire of Republican leaders to pass them so quickly.
GOP leaders hope their redistricting plans can come up for a vote early as Thursday after committees in both chambers passed the plans on to the House and Senate floors.
House Democrats complained that the proposal could reduce the number of African-Americans serving in the Legislature. Some Republicans have also raised concerns about new district boundaries.
House Speaker Beth Harwell, in a brief speech on the House floor, said Tuesday that she understands that not all members will be happy with the new district lines. But she argued that the new maps need to be approved so potential candidates can firm up their plans before the April 5 filing deadline.
“I hate starting the year in such a rush with a divisive topic, but I would like to remind you that we have responsibilities,” the Nashville Republican said. “One of those responsibilities every decade is to process these bills and get them out to the citizens.”
House Democrats signaled their unhappiness with the process by blocking a GOP motion to skip sending hundreds of pages of proposed changes to the bills to all 99 members.
Harwell called the Democrats’ move “silly” and designed to slow down the process. She said the documents could easily be viewed on lawmakers’ state-issued laptop computers.
The House GOP plan would create six new districts with no current incumbent, including one in Nashville where African-Americans and Hispanics would combine to make up a majority.
According to the U.S. Census, Tennessee’s black population grew by nearly 127,000 people between 2000 and 2010, increasing the African-American portion of the state’s population from 16.4 percent to 16.7 percent.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Nashville has said that under the plan there could be a loss of at least “two African-American representatives in Tennessee in a year where the African-American population has grown.”
Later Tuesday, Sen. Beverly Marrero told the Senate Judiciary Committee that not all lawmakers have seen the new plans.
“I’m just concerned,” said the Memphis Democrat. “I think we should all have an opportunity to see the districts before we vote.”
Freshman Republican Sen. Kerry Roberts of Springfield represents Robertson County and part of Sumner County. The Senate Republican plan calls for separating the two and putting Roberts and freshmen GOP Sen. Jim Summerville of Dickson in the same district.
Summerville isn’t up for re-election until 2014, meaning Roberts would be out of a seat once his term ends this year.
Roberts, who planned to make some suggestions to Republican leaders, said he’d also like for the state’s attorney general to examine the plans.
“I’m convinced we’re not considering all possible options,” he said.
The Senate plan would also place Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis, who made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2010, and Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown in the same odd-numbered district.
Kelsey is in the middle of a four-year term representing District 31 and will not be running for election this year. Kyle’s four-year term representing what is currently the even-numbered District 28 ends with the November election. District 31 is not up for election until 2014.
Under the plan released Tuesday, District 28 is a new Senate district without an incumbent in southern Middle Tennessee.
“Redistricting is inherently a partisan proposition,” Kyle said. “The question is whether it’s a legal proposition.”