Jan 11, 2022 - Politics

Republicans to redistrict Nashville's congressional map

House Speaker Cameron Sexton pledges allegiance or does something else with his hand over his heart.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton. Photo: Mark Humphrey/AP

Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly plan to break up Nashville's congressional district, paving the way for multiple conservative lawmakers to represent the liberal city in the U.S. House.

  • House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, confirmed to the Associated Press the broad strokes of the long-awaited plan.

Why it matters: The plan, to be revealed on Wednesday, will effectively dismantle what has been a reliable Democratic district for generations by splitting parts of Davidson County into districts with more conservative voters.

  • U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, a Democrat who has represented Tennessee's fifth congressional district since 2003, faces an uphill climb in a reconfigured district. Cooper has said he will run for reelection regardless of how the district lines are drawn.

What they're saying: Cooper has repeatedly urged the state redistricting committees to keep Nashville whole, but Sexton brushed aside potential criticism, telling the AP he has "never bought into the approach that having multiple people represent a big city is (a) bad thing."

  • Cooper responded with criticism, telling Axios "gerrymandering Nashville is an insult to all Nashvillians and likely to backfire on the Republican Party."
  • "It's not conservative to split a county that's been whole for 240 years," he added. "The speaker is not splitting his home county, so he can't be serious when he claims it's good for Nashville."

The big picture: Odessa Kelly, who is challenging Cooper for the Democratic nomination in the fifth district, says Republicans should "be careful what they wish for if they plan to draw communities like mine into more rural or suburban communities."

  • "The things I've been fighting for here in Nashville are impacting people all over this state," she said in a statement. "We can organize and we can win anywhere."

Zoom out: Even if the new Nashville districts remain safely Republican in the general election, GOP incumbents could be subject to primary challengers from wealthy Davidson County.

  • Dividing Nashville could also make mayor the most desirable job for a Democratic politician, increasing the field of possible challengers for Mayor Cooper in 2023.

Be smart: Republicans have a 7-2 edge in the state's U.S. House delegation. Redistricting Nashville could add another Republican vote and make it easier for the party to take control of the chamber after the midterms.

What's next: While state House leaders are set to discuss their redistricting plans in detail this week, the state Senate is working on its own plan to divide Nashville, per the Tennessee Journal.

  • The General Assembly and Gov. Bill Lee will have to sign off on a final plan during the legislative session.
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