Minorities underrepresented in legislatures of TN, most other states

A new analysis by The Associated Press finds minority residents are underrepresented — in terms of the numbers of seats they hold relative to their shares of state populations — in 47 state legislatures across the country, including Tennessee’s.

Richard Locker has taken the AP’s report and generated a Tennessee-oriented version carried in Gannet-owned state newspapers today as part of a package of stories under the title “Divided America.” An excerpt with the numbers portion:

White residents comprised 74.5 percent of Tennessee’s estimated 2014 population of 6,549,352, but white lawmakers held 84.7 percent of the total 132 seats in the state Legislature — a difference of about 10 percentage points, according to the AP analysis.

African-Americans comprise both the largest minority in Tennessee’s population and the largest bloc of seats held by minorities in the General Assembly. But they are underrepresented relative to their percentage of the state’s population: blacks comprise 16.8 percent of all Tennesseans but hold 13 percent of the legislative seats — 17 seats out of 132 (three of the Senate’s 33 seats and 14 in the 99-member House).

From there, the drop-off in minority representation is dramatic. There is an Indian-American and a Native Hawaiian in the House, counted as a minority in the AP analysis. And Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, a Texas native and granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, is considered the first Latina in the Legislature.

Despite those numbers, only 11 states have lower levels of white “overrepresentation” in their state legislatures than Tennessee. Thirty-five states have larger rates of overrepresentation by whites, several where whites hold more than 20 percent more seats than their share of populations. In three other states — Hawaii, Maine and Montana — whites hold fewer seats in their legislatures than their percentage of their state populations, according to the AP analysis.