As the Republican-dominated state legislature embarks on the ultra-politicized process of redistricting, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper and Mayor Karl Dean have joined forces in delivering a united message: Keep Nashville primarily within one congressional district.
In a letter sent last month to Republican Speaker of the House Beth Harwell of Green Hills, Dean wrote that while Harwell has made a “commitment to a fair, transparent process,” others such as state Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) and Tennessee Republican Party Chairman Chris Devaney have suggested "Davidson County should be divided to achieve particular political goals."
Dean makes the case severing Tennessee’s 5th congressional district, held by Cooper and encompassing the bulk of Davidson County, could have harmful economic ramifications.
“Splitting Davidson County would not only divide business interests and industry concerns, but would drive a stake in the heart of a cohesive and diverse (ethnically and politically) social and civic unit,” Dean wrote. “In addition, Davidson County's role as a regional leader could be significantly diminished.”
The state legislature redraws the lines of Tennessee’s political boundaries each decade using fresh U.S. Census Bureau figures. Because of recent Republican election sweeps, the legislature now has heavy majorities in both the House and Senate. New maps are expected to go before the legislature during the next session, which begins in January.
The City Paper over the weekend learned of one recently drafted map that splits Nashville-Davidson County into three congressional districts, with each district including various adjacent suburban counties. Cooper’s seat includes nearly all of Davidson County and parts of Wilson and Cheatham counties.
In this scenario, the hope for Republicans would be to turn what currently are two Democratic seats out of nine total into one, leaving Shelby County’s U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen-occupied seat as the lone Democratic congressional stronghold.
As a sign of their organized front, Cooper and Dean sat down with The Tennessean’s editorial board Monday morning to deliver their concerns to that publication.
“Davidson County plays a dominant role in the state's economy, and historical precedent has always kept the central economic units in our state intact,” Dean wrote in the July letter. “Based on recent census numbers, Davidson County currently has a population of just over 626,000, short of the new ideal size of 705,123. Davidson County, our home county and yours, is perfectly situated to continue to lead a single Middle Tennessee congressional district, in the same way that single districts in Chattanooga and Knoxville drive those parts of our state.”
Greg Hinote, Dean’s deputy mayor, previously served as Cooper’s chief of staff.
Asked to comment on Dean’s letter, Harwell said she appreciates the mayor’s input.
“The bottom line is, the 5th congressional district does not include all of Davidson County currently,” Harwell said. “So, Davidson County currently is not intact.”
As congressional districts are presently configured, Harwell pointed out the nine most Republican-concentrated Davidson County precincts — including areas she represents — are in the 7th congressional district held by Republican U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn.
“So, if we want to keep Davidson County intact, then I suggest we take those nine precincts and put them back in the 5th congressional district,” Harwell said, adding that she’s “absolutely” in favor of the proposal she described.
Harwell said she had not seen the map that would split Davidson County and adjacent counties into three congressional districts. She said it was not designed by the Tennessee General Assembly — neither the Senate nor the House.
“I know that Congressman Cooper is worried about his job, but the bottom line is, we are going to do what’s right by the people of the state of Tennessee,” she said. “We’re going to draw these lines fairly.”