A state House redistricting plan was revised Thursday to eliminate two incumbent-versus-incumbent races that would have been mandated by the original version and to make minor changes in the Knox County district now held by Rep. Harry Tindell.
After the last-minute revisions, the House redistricting bill (HB1555) was approved on a somewhat bipartisan 66-25 voted with four abstentions. A congressional redistricting bill (HB1558) was similarly approved 68-25.
(Note: The revised state House map is HERE.)
The House and Senate both plan to meet today to complete work on redistricting. Plans call for the Senate to act first on its own redistricting bill (SB1514), which will then go to the House for approval. The Senate will then act on the House and congressional redistricting plans already approved by the House.
The Republican-drafted House redistricting plan, as written when unveiled last week, would have paired 12 incumbent representatives in six districts, forcing six races of incumbents running against one another.
The new version eliminates two pairings – Democratic Reps. Mike Stewart and Sherry Jones in Nashville and Republican Rep. Vance Dennis of Savannah with Democratic Rep. Eddie Bass of Prospect in southern Middle Tennessee The other four pairings – three of Democrat-versus-Democrat matchups in Shelby County – remain.
Under the revised plan, Bass’ district would cover all of his home county, Giles, which was split under the earlier plan, and part of Lawrence that was to become part of Republican Rep. Joey Hensley’s district. This was apparently approved because Hensley, R-Hohenwald, has decided to run for a new, open state Senate seat being created in Middle Tennessee rather than seek reelection to the House.
The Knox County adjustments collectively involve shifting of only about 240 voters, Tindell said. The incumbent Democrat sought the changes, he said, because the original version had “sloppy map-making” that would inconvenience some voters. House Speaker Beth Harwell and other Republicans joined Democratic leaders in endorsing the changes.
Still, Tindell’s new district will include more Republican-oriented voters in the Sequoyah Hills, Bonny
Cate Kate and Mount Olive areas. Tindell said he will announce a decision next week on whether he will seek reelection in the realigned district.
The changes to House District 13, as described by Tindell, will keep the Pond Gap precinct wholly within the district whereas the original would have excluded about a dozen voters; put about eight voters in the 27th precinct of South Knoxville into Rep. Joe Armstrong’s district who otherwise would have been in the Tindell district and required establishment of a separate voting precinct; and move about 200 voters from the proposed District 13 back into Rep. Ryan Haynes’ district.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner and House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh both praised the Republican agreement to the changes “in areas where it didn’t impact their members,” which were hashed out in a series of private meetings. But they said the revisions do not necessarily change plans for a court challenge to the Republican-drafted redistricting because of concern over minority voting districts.
Turner said there was a deal with the Republicans – the changes would be adopted if he or Fitzhugh would agree to vote for the Republican bill. He voted for the bill after the two Democrats “did a rock-paper-scissors and I lost,” Turner said. Six other Democrats joined him.
Harwell characterized the Tindell changes as “truly a technical correction” and said “there was no deal cut” on the other revisions.
“I said (to the Democrats), ‘If we’re making these concessions for some of your members, it would be appreciated if some of your members voted for it’,” she said.
The resulting bipartisan vote, Harwell said, “sends a message” that the plan has been accepted by a substantial majority of representatives as meeting the GOP goal of being “fair and legal.”