Category Archives: Redistricting

Bill advances to cut diversity, buy ‘In God We Trust’ decals

A Tennessee House panel voted Tuesday to strip $100,000 from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion and instead direct the money for printing decals stating “In God We Trust” for placement on police cars, reports the Times-Free Press.

Members of the Education Administration and Planning Committee approved the bill, sponsored by Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Gray.

The bill also bars the university from using funds to promote the annual “Sex Week” observance or any “gender neutral pronoun” policy. Nor could funds be used to “promote or inhibit” celebrations of religious holidays.

…House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, told colleagues they were overreaching by moving to strip funds for non-education purposes.

“Is that what we’re going to do?” he asked. “We’re going to print some decals. Certainly we have the right, certainly we have the power. But sometimes power is best wielded when it’s not. These guys [UT] screwed up but we cannot have a knee-jerk reaction to this.”

Van Huss said his bill, which has been amended, is “definitely not a knee-jerk reaction. These are taxpayer funds. These are my constituents’ dollars going to fund this department.”

…Rep. Rick Womick, R-Murfreesboro, defended Van Huss’ bill and attacked suggestions that one official put on a UT website about use of non-gender-specific pronouns like “ze” and “hir.”

“That’s insanity,” Womick said. “That’s the English language. Just because someone had a sex change you’re not going to hurt their feelings.”

Apparently alluding to Sex Week, Womick said, “If you want to fornicate, go do it privately, not on tax dollars. That offends me.”

UPDATE/NOTE: In the Senate, sponsoring Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, has taken the bill “off notice” — generally a signal that he’s not going to pursue a vote on it. See The Tennessean account, HERE.

Court of Appeals tosses challenge to Shelby school board chairman’s election

The state Court of Appeals has upheld the result of Kevin Woods’ 2012 election to a Shelby County School Board seat, overturning a Memphis judge who had ordered a new election because hundreds of voters who did not live in the district had cast ballots, reports the Commercial Appeal.

In August 2013, former Chancery Court Judge Kenny Armstrong ruled that irregularities in the election required a special election.

In 2012, Woods and Rev. Kenneth Whalum ran against each other in District 4. Woods won by 106 votes, but hundreds of voters received the wrong ballot, including 556 who were allowed to vote in the race even though they no longer lived in the district.
The Shelby County Election Commission determined that 93 of the (wrong district) votes were for Woods and 277 were for Whalum. It could not sort out the remaining 186 ballots.

“The result of the District 4 school board election was neither affected nor rendered incurably uncertain as a result of the 186 allegedly illegal votes,” according to an appellate opinion signed by J. Steven Stafford. The court issued its ruling late Tuesday.

“Even taking into account these allegedly illegal votes, Mr. Woods remains the clear victor.”

Woods was seated by the school board in September 2012. When the vote was certified in October, the election commission noted that hundreds of ballots had been given to voters outside District 4 while many voters inside the district did not have the Whalum-Woods race on their ballots.

Whalum filed a suit. In August 2013, Armstrong ruled the election must be rerun, saying there “will always be legitimate questions about the actual winner.”

Woods appealed the decision. Weeks later, the school board elected him chairman.

“Lots of folks helped me with the election. Knowing that the cloud is now lifted over our election results is great news for all our volunteers,” he said in a text message.

Note: The full text of the majority decision is HERE. A separate opinion by Judge Frank Clement concurs in the result, but disagrees with part of the reasoning.

AP stories on congressional redistricting: Big boon for GOP elsewhere; not so much in TN

Note: The Associated Press has stories out today on congressional redistricting after the 2010 census. Nationwide, Republicans used redistricting to their advantage and it practically guarantees the U.S. House will remain in GOP control after this fall’s elections. In Tennessee, redistricting basically just assured that the status quo of GOP dominance will continue.

Here’s the start of the national story, followed by the Tennessee sidebar:

WASHINGTON (AP) — Even if Democrats recruit great candidates, raise gobs of money and run smart campaigns, they face an uphill fight to retake control of the House in this year’s congressional elections, regardless of the political climate in November.

The reason? Republican strategists spent years developing a plan to take advantage of the 2010 census, first by winning state legislatures and then redrawing House districts to tilt the playing field in their favor. Their success was unprecedented.

In states like Ohio, Michigan and North Carolina, Republicans were able to shape congressional maps to pack as many Democratic voters as possible into the fewest House districts. The practice is called gerrymandering, and it left fertile ground elsewhere in each state to spread Republican voters among more districts, increasing the GOP’s chances of winning more seats.

Geography helped in some states. Democratic voters are more likely to live in densely populated urban areas, making it easier to pack them into fewer districts.

The first payoff came in 2012, when Republicans kept control of the House despite a Democratic wave that swept President Barack Obama to a second term. The next payoff is likely to come this fall when candidates once again compete in House districts drawn by Republican legislators in key states.

Note: The full story is available HERE.

By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — While Republican lawmakers in some states may have benefited from congressional redistricting, the changes had little effect in Tennessee.

Republicans were able to give themselves a built-in advantage in House elections by doing well in the statewide elections in many states, then gerrymandering congressional districts in key states after the 2010 census. The strategy may prove to be advantageous going into the 2014 midterm elections and beyond, regardless of the political climate in November.

In Tennessee, for the most part, the redistricting solidified the Republican stronghold. The GOP occupies seven of the nine congressional seats.

“It essentially made the districts … which were already safe for one party or another to continue to be safe,” said Vanderbilt University political science professor Bruce Oppenheimer.

He noted one thing Tennessee Republicans didn't do was divide Nashville among several congressional seats, which was a relief to some Democrats. Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, one of two Democrats in Tennessee's nine-member congressional delegation, was among those who spoke out against breaking up the 5th District.

Cooper represents most of Nashville and parts of Cheatham and Wilson counties. If the change had occurred, Cooper would have lost Wilson County, and gained heavily Republican areas in the southern part of Nashville, plus more of Cheatham County and all of Dickson County.

"Thank you for keeping Nashville together. The 'Andrew Jackson District' is intact!" Cooper said after the decision not to break up the district.

Two Republican state lawmakers, Sens. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro and Jim Tracy of Shelbyville, had said they would consider the seat held by embattled incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais depending on the new maps. Both live in the new 4th District.

This year Tracy will challenge DesJarlais, a Jasper physician who was re-elected in 2012 despite disclosures that he had affairs with patients and once urged one of them to seek an abortion.

Tracy recently told The Associated Press that regardless of the effects of congressional redistricting, he still has a lot of ground to cover and expects a challenge in the election later this year.

"It's a challenge because it's a large area and you're trying to see as many people as you can," said Tracy, whose district includes all or parts of 16 counties in the central part of the state. "When you're running a grassroots campaign, you want to see people and let them ... know who you are."

The 4th District, which is 82 percent white, has the fifth highest poverty rate of all the Tennessee congressional districts at 12.7 percent.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen's 9th District in the southwest portion of the state is 65 percent black and has the highest poverty rate at 21.7 percent and the most uninsured residents at 19 percent.

While in the mostly rural northeastern part of Tennessee, Republican U.S. Rep. Phil Roe's 1st District — which is 2 percent black and 92 percent white — has a poverty rate of 14.9 percent and 15 percent uninsured.

TN congressional seats: From five swing districts to one (sorta) in 15 years

Excerpt from on a piece by Lenyard King of Gannett’s Washington bureau on the growing partisanship in Tennessee’s congressional districts – and nationally,, too, of course:

According to an analysis by Wasserman, Tennessee’s districts have grown decidedly more partisan over the past 15 years.

In 1998, five of Tennessee’s nine House members (Republicans Zach Wamp and Van Hilleary, and Democrats Bob Clement, Bart Gordon and John Tanner) held seats deemed competitive. By 2012, only Clement’s seat (now held by Cooper) remained a swing district.

The most partisan districts in the Volunteer State today are represented by Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen of Memphis and GOP Rep. Phil Roe of Johnson City, the analysis shows.

It helps explain why almost all House members from Tennessee voted with their party 97 percent of the time last year. Only GOP Rep. John Duncan of Knoxville (89 percent) and Cooper (81 percent) had relatively bipartisan voting records, according to an analysis by Congressional Quarterly.

Cooper joined a handful of moderates from both parties last week on a plan to end the government shutdown by repealing a tax on medical devices created to help fund the 2010 Affordable Care Act. The plan has gone nowhere so far.

The number of swing districts nationwide has plunged from 164 (out of 435) in 1998 to 90 last year. That means the real threat for nearly 80 percent of House members is a primary challenge, which tends to shove incumbents further toward their liberal or conservative base and further away from the middle, where compromise is usually forged.

House Kills Judicial Redistricting Bill

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to redraw Tennessee’s judicial districts for the first time since 1984 was killed on Friday when House members voted against it.
The lower chamber voted 66-28 to defeat the measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol. The companion bill was approved 27-4 earlier this month.
The plan from Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville would affect 22 counties in eight districts. The number of judicial districts has been reduced from 31 to 29.
Most of the House members against the measure said they felt if they were being dictated to by the Senate, particularly Ramsey.
“This bill came from the Senate, plain and simple,” said Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton. “They have been dictating from the get go how this session should run. Let’s draw a line in the sand. Vote no on the bill, because it’s not our bill.”
The proposal included input from the public and stakeholder groups and would have created separate judicial districts for Rutherford and Williamson counties because of population growth in the Nashville suburbs over the last three decades.
Two judicial districts in northeastern Tennessee made up of Lake, Dyer, Obion and Weakley county would be merged into a single district. Meanwhile, Coffee County would cease to have its own district and instead be folded into one with Cannon, Warren and Van Buren counties.
Ramsey has said the changes were not expected to affect the positions of existing judges, but that the elimination of two judicial districts will reduce the positions of two prosecutors and public defenders.
He estimated the cost savings of eliminating those four positions would be more than $600,000.
Rep. Tim Wirgau said before Friday’s vote that he’d like to see the measure held off for at least a year and lawmakers consider a plan where redistricting is done every two years or longer.
“Let’s put something in place so there’s a standard,” said the Buchanan Republican

Ramsey Judicial Redistricting Plan Changes 8 of 31 Current Districts

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey on Monday gave his proposal for redrawing Tennessee’s judicial districts for the first time since 1984.
The Blountville Republican’s plan would affect just eight of the existing 31 judicial districts. Ramsey said the plan had drawn the support of the association representing the state’s trial judges, who as recently as last week had opposed changing the current judicial map.
“We respect above all else the prerogative of the General Assembly to decide the judicial districts,” said Gary Wade, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court. “In one regard we are in perfect harmony, and that is to deliver to the people of Tennessee an accountable judiciary, one that works as efficiently as possible.”
The proposal would create separate judicial districts for Rutherford and Williamson counties because of population growth in the Nashville suburbs over the last three decades.
Two judicial districts in northeastern Tennessee made up of Lake, Dyer, Obion and Weakley county would be merged into a single district. Meanwhile, Coffee County would cease to have its own district and instead be folded into one with Cannon, Warren and Van Buren counties.
Ramsey said the plan was limited by not wanting to hurt grants and working groups like drug task forces that are based on the judicial districts.
“If you look at the plan we have here, I think it has minimal disruption,” he said. “There was an aggressive plan that we began with, but that was just a working blueprint.”
Ramsey said the changes are not expected to affect the positions of existing judges, but that the elimination of two judicial districts will eliminate the positions of two prosecutors and public defenders.
Ramsey estimated the cost savings of eliminating those four positions would be more than $600,000. A complete analysis on the overall cost or savings of the changes has yet to be conducted, he said.
Note: Ramsey news release below

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14 Judicial Redistricting Plans Submitted at Ramsey’s Invitation

News release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s office:
(March 8, 2013, NASHVILLE) Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) today praised both the general public as well as specific stakeholder groups for their participation in the open judicial redistricting process announced last month at a press conference at the State Capitol.
“The response we have gotten to our public call for judicial district maps is extremely encouraging,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “I would especially like to commend the Public Defenders Association as well as the Tennessee Bar Association for coming to the table and sharing their ideas.”
Fourteen statewide judicial redistricting proposals were submitted in accordance with the guidelines posted online. Those who asked for extensions past the original March 1 deadline were given until March 8 to submit their map.
“While I’m disappointed that the leadership of the Trial Judges Association and the District Attorney’s General Association refused to consider any changes to the 1984 map, I’m very pleased that many individual members of those groups contacted us to offer their ideas and help,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “Their individual input was helpful and appreciated.”
Tennessee currently has thirty-one judicial districts which determine the areas judges, district attorneys and public defenders serve. The last judicial redistricting occurred in 1984 — nearly thirty years ago.
“We came into this process with open minds and a desire to work with interested parties. The submitted maps have given us a lot of good ideas,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “I look forward to working with members of the House and Senate to create a map that takes into account both regional integrity and population growth to ensure Tennesseans receive the best possible service from their judges, district attorneys and public defenders.”
To be considered, submitted plans were required to use 2010 federal census data and redistrict the entire state. Regional integrity, geographic boundaries and ease of inter-county travel also had to be considered.
All maps submitted in accordance with the guideline and instructions on how to submit a judicial district plan are now available online at

Lawsuit Filed Against Senate Redistricting Plan

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Opponents of Republican-drawn lines for the Tennessee Senate are suing for the redistricting plan to be thrown out on the basis that it ignored proposals made by the Legislature’s Black Caucus, their lawyer said Friday.
Bob Tuke, attorney for the opponents and a former state Democratic Party chairman, told The Associated Press the lawsuit to halt the plan was filed in chancery court in Nashville.
The lawsuit names Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and state elections officials as defendants. Among the eight Shelby County plaintiffs is Rep. G.A. Hardaway, who was drawn together with another Memphis Democrat in the GOP plan, and who is considering challenging Democratic colleagues in both the House and Senate.
It will be heard by Davidson County Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle.

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Ramsey, McCormick Statements Found False by Politifact

Two fairly recent comments by legislative leaders are deemed false in recently-posted items on Politifact Tennessee.
From Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey: “This year’s redistricting has been the most open, interactive and transparent redistricting process in Tennessee history.” (Direct link: HERE)
From House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick: The state constitution “clearly says there’s not to be a state income tax in Tennessee.” (Direct link HERE)

More House Redistricting Data Available Online

News release from House Speaker Beth Harwell’s office:
Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) today announced that 2012 geographic redistricting data can now be accessed and downloaded online.
Geographic information system (GIS) users can now download the redistricting data in either Esri .shp files or Google .KML formats. Offering the data in these formats will allow users to overlay the boundaries in certain programs and to extrapolate statistical and other data from each district.
The electronic availability of these data products, in addition to the street-level statewide Google maps unveiled last week, is another first in the history of the state of Tennessee redistricting efforts.
“The release of this data is in continuation of the House of Representatives’ commitment to provide the most detailed, accurate, and accessible redistricting information to the citizens of Tennessee,” said Speaker Beth Harwell. “All of this information can now be accessed from the General Assembly’s redistricting map website or from the State’s TNMap portal.”
Detailed individual district maps will be available in PDF format in the coming week.
Citizens can access the new GIS data here:
The street-level statewide Google map data can be accessed here: