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VOL. 46 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 21, 2022

Tennessee lawmakers cast final vote on redistricting maps

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Republican lawmakers in Tennessee passed their state House map on Wednesday, finishing the final task in their once-a-decade state legislative and congressional redistricting work.

The Senate vote sends the House plan to Republican Gov. Bill Lee, who is expected to sign all three new maps.

The House plan puts Democratic incumbents in the same district twice and Republican incumbents are paired once, not including lawmakers leaving office. On the Democratic side, Reps. London Lamar and Torrey Harris would be in the same Memphis district and Reps. Gloria Johnson and Sam McKenzie would be in the same Knoxville district. Meanwhile, GOP Reps. Jerry Sexton and Rick Eldridge would be in the same district that includes Grainger County and part of Hamblen County.

Democrats argue the map dilutes the power of minority voters, particularly in how it divides up Memphis and Rutherford County, which includes suburbs of Nashville, a city and region that boomed since the last census. The map splits 30 counties, the maximum permitted for the state House.

Republicans contend their maps will withstand any court challenges. The GOP has supermajorities in both the state House and Senate.

Lawmakers have already passed state Senate and U.S. House maps. The congressional plan has drawn scrutiny for splitting fast-growing Nashville three ways, and prompted longtime Democratic U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper of Nashville to announce he won't run again. The redraw makes Democrats the underdog to hold Cooper's seat, which is one of two Democratic seats out of Tennessee's nine in the U.S. House.

The state Democratic Party has pledged to file a lawsuit over the U.S. House map and others may join, though there are significant legal hurdles for those lining up to sue. Cooper said he "explored every possible way, including lawsuits, to stop the gerrymandering and to win one of the three new congressional districts that now divide Nashville," but determined "there's no way, at least for me in this election cycle, but there may be a path for other worthy candidates."

The redrawn congressional seat, which extends from sections of Nashville through five other counties, has several Republicans mulling a run.

Republican video producer Robby Starbuck, who has U.S. Sen. Rand Paul's endorsement, is already running.

The same day Cooper announced he wouldn't run again, former President Donald Trump on Tuesday hailed a potential candidacy by Morgan Ortagus, who served as State Department spokesperson in his administration. Trump promised "my Complete and Total Endorsement if she decides to run."

Former Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell has expressed interest, as has National Guard Brig. Gen. Kurt Winstead. Another name being floated is Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles, who had been rumored as a possible primary opponent to Gov. Lee this year. Other names are likely to pop up, as well.

The Democratic side is less clear. Odessa Kelly, a Black gay community organizer from Nashville, had been running for Cooper's seat, and says she is now assessing what her next steps will be. She would live in one of the other two Nashville districts, though congressional candidates and members are not required to live in the district where they run or serve.

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