As state lawmakers begin the public redistricting process ahead of 2022 elections, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) brought his request that map drawers keep Nashville’s congressional district intact to the state Capitol.
Cooper asked the mostly Republican members of a new state House select redistricting committee to keep Tennessee 5th Congressional District more or less as it is in the face of the possibility that Republicans in the state legislature could seek to break Nashville up into several majority-GOP districts.
“In previous redistricting rounds, the general feeling was let’s keep districts as close as you can. I hope and pray for Nashville’s sake that that’s done this time,” Cooper told the committee members, gathering in public for the first time Wednesday at the Cordell Hull legislative office building. “Don’t ruin the recipe.”
Cooper, who is facing a primary challenge from local activist Odessa Kelly, has been warning about the possibility of state lawmakers splitting the district. No draft maps have been presented to the public, and some Republicans are fearful that getting too creative with Nashville’s mostly Democratic population could put other congressional districts in play down the road.
The 5th Congressional District includes Davidson, Dickson and part of Cheatham counties, though the vast majority of the district's population is in Nashville. Since the post-2010 redistricting cycle, Nashville has grown enough to about constitute an entire congressional district, if the state legislature chooses to keep it whole. Much of the state's population growth has occurred in the counties surrounding Nashville, and districts in West Tennessee have lost population, meaning that significant changes to the state's nine congressional districts could be on the way.
During a public comment period, representatives from several local organizations including the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and the Equity Alliance asked lawmakers for a transparent process. Some asked that lawmakers keep communities grouped together when redrawing district lines.
Jim Garrett, chair of the Davidson County Republican Party, said that he and other fellow Republicans feel “underrepresented” by existing state legislative maps, but he still urged the lawmakers to “divide by population and not by politics.”
The Wednesday meeting was the first of several expected hearings. Members of the public and community organizations can submit proposed maps of their own, through a sitting member of the legislature, until November, and the General Assembly is expected to approve new maps shortly after returning to session early next year.