Drawing Lines – State House and Senate Redistricting Released

State Maps are all Style with no substance
Yesterday the State House and Senate released their proposed maps for the decennial redistricting that comes right after the decennial census. You can view the State Senate Maps here and the State House Maps here.

There have been numerous reports about what’s going to happen to various locales. News outlets in Memphis have focused on the loss of two House seats and one Senate seat…something I wrote was probably going to happen back in 2009.

So while our standing in the State Legislative bodies may have been diminished, as has our percentage of the population, none of this should surprise anyone.

It also shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are a couple of Shelby Co. legislators drawn together in districts. That’s what happens when an area loses a seat or two. It is inevitable. I sympathize with those who are upset at this reality, but honestly, there’s little that can be done outside of court.

I’m not going to opine as to whether or not the districts are fair or not. Certainly, over the years since Baker v. Carr, the court case that made the state start districting based on population rather than land, there have been plenty of examples of bizarrely drawn districts passing muster. A quick look at the current maps in Shelby Co., particularly Dist. 90 as well as Dist. 83, 84, 95, 91, and 92, which run horizontally and whip and curl around in some cases, shows that shapes just don’t matter that much to the courts.

Of course, the old plan just had 6 of 16 districts in Shelby County shaped like a drawing from a blindfolded child. The proposed map has 8 of 14 districts that take a great deal of creativity to explain (84, 85, 87, 88, 90, 91, 93, & 97). That’s not to say the districts are unfair, but to say, at first glance, which is all we have, its very difficult to determine which district you might be in based on the information provided.

Maps Don’t Tell Me Anything

While its fun to look at these pretty pictures provided by the House and Senate leadership, they really don’t tell me much…except that a lot of precincts were split in the production of these maps. Anyone with an internet connection and Silverlight can draw a map if they so choose. It’s not that difficult. Translating a map from a drawing on the other hand is very difficult.

Since neither the House nor Senate saw fit to release the precinct information of the districts, all one can do is make a best guess as to what will happen should these districts be adopted. Putting out pretty maps with not so much as population data by district, tells the end user absolutely nothing except the color choices of the person drawing the map and some general ideas.

Sure, in the more rural areas its easier to determine what’s going on. Districts that include two or three counties to get to (or near) their magic number are pretty easy to analyze. Urban areas, where there are any number of existing and new lines possible (including Municipal boundaries, Precincts, Census blocks, Zip codes, etc.) are more difficult. 35 of the 99 members of the House hail from the top four largest counties in the state (Shelby, Davidson, Knox, and Hamilton). Throw in Rutherford, Williamson and Sullivan Counties and that number jumps to 44. But even those last 9 are relatively easy to determine.

Still, let’s not pretend this is transparency. It’s feigned transparency. Until some lists are released, none of this means anything. In fact, its probably more about cutting the wind out of the sails of last minute fundraisers than anything else.

Brazenly Jerkish

There are some things that irritate me about the maps, but that’s to be expected. Lumping Sherry Jones and Mike Stewart into the same district in Nashville only to create an open seat is one of them. This isn’t unfair from a legal point of view, just dickish. I’m sure we’ve done the same thing to folks in the past. This action follows the Republican strategy of attacking the oppositions strengths and turning them into a weakness, a strategy that perhaps we might want to think about.

The same can be said of what they did in Shelby. Three of the four Representatives in Shelby Co. that were lumped together in two districts are relatively new to the body. One has been there forever. But these new folks are also pretty strong voices, whether you like them or not. There are a lot of reasons they were targeted, and one of those reasons is that they are perceived as a threat.

Its interesting to me that the Republicans in the State Senate chose to undercut their youth factor. Kerry Roberts, who worked really hard to win last year, is lumped in with Jim Summerville. I have a sneaking suspicion that one of those two men have an exit strategy. Look for an appointment announcement sometime after session.

Here in Shelby Co., Minority Leader Jim Kyle and Serial Bacon Mailer Brian Kelsey are paired up. This will leave Kyle out in the cold for at least 2 years, while we wait for the term of Kelsey to expire in 2014. I’m not sure how this impacts the “even/odd” set up of the senate districts in the future, but at the very least Senate Republicans did what they wanted to do…screw over the Minority Leader.

Its an open question as to whether or not Kyle will challenge Kelsey in 2014. Since we don’t have any real data on the makeup of the district other than a visual representation, I can only guess about the partisan makeup of the district. Pretty sure its not pretty for Kyle.

One mildly humorous thing I saw in the Senate Districts, is what I call the “visual representation of what Senate Leadership is doing to Democrats”. Its made up of Districts 19 and 21. I don’t think I need to expound on that at all but I bet some State Senators are still laughing about that one.

What Does All This Mean?

Most people don’t think twice about this stuff. I’ve said it over and over again. I’ve experienced it as I wrote about City redistricting, and as I’ve observed the County process. Most folks just don’t think about how they end up in the districts they end up in, they think about who they want to represent them from the available choices, and may bemoan those choices from time to time.

Also, because redistricting comes only once every 10 years, its easy for people to forget, or even just ignore it. For the most part, only the most politically engaged geeks even care about it. Most folks feel it doesn’t impact them, but it does. It can absolutely impact those available choices so many bemoan every two or four years.

Now that the TNGOP has had their hand at this process, there’s little doubt that they’ll do everything possible to keep it. In fact, the very act of redistricting itself probably ensures they’ll stay in power for a while…and because political considerations aren’t covered in Federal law, outside of a few exceptions, I expect the maps to stand and generally agree that most people won’t see the problems.

The big takeaway from this is that other than some maps, we really don’t know all that much more than we did before, and won’t know that much more until the thing is passed and real maps and precinct lists hit the streets. Then we’ll have a better idea of where we stand as a state.

Even without more detail, Democrats know something. They know they’ve got an uphill battle. They know that its going to stink. They also know that Republicans came into power under maps drawn by Democrats, and that all is not lost if we get our game together.

There are a lot of ideas about what that means, but I’ll save that for another post.

See also:

Blue TN
Aunt B
Braisted, 2, 3, 4
Pith 2, 3, 4, 5

There are probably more, but that’s a start…

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