Dean to Harwell: Don’t split up Nashville’s congressional district

Monday, August 29, 2011 at 12:06pm

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.”

30 Comments on this post:

By: breathofdeath on 8/29/11 at 10:26

Contrary to what Dean and the City Paper believe, not all of Davidson County lies in the 5th congressional district. Parts of southern Davidson County, including but not limited to Oak Hill and Crieve Hall, are in the 7th district and have been since the last re-districting took place. Get your facts straight!

By: dangerlover on 8/29/11 at 11:03

Uh, the article mentions in a couple of places that the entire county isn't in the 5th district. You would have realized that if you actually read the article before complaining.

By: Nitzche on 8/29/11 at 11:09

it is ok, ole jim don't mind riding that bike to see his williamson county constituents....bye bye jimmy.we hardly knew ya!

By: tennliberal on 8/29/11 at 11:22

Yes, breathofdeath, try and actually know what you are talking about before admonishing someone to "get your facts straight." The City Paper story explicitly states the current district's makeup. And Cooper had nothing to do with the current makeup of the 5th District--that gerrymandering was done by then-Rep. Bart Gordon to suit his own interests, and he pretty much screwed Bob Clement to do it.

But, all that being said, this is what happens when you lose elections. The winners get to draw the lines. And as long as the Republicans draw districts equal in size, and as long as they don't try to screw minorities in an obvious way (and that would only be a potential problem in Memphis, if they tried to put it into three or four convoluted districts), the GOP can do what it likes.

I just wonder how Ketron wouldn't be screwing himself by taking in a part of Davidson County, starting necessarily with heavily Democratic Antioch. It seems to me to stretch from Rutherford to Marion County (where DeJarlais lives), he would rather not have a bunch of Nashville Democrats planning mischief from behind him. But no one ever accused Bill Ketron of being too bright.

By: shinestx on 8/29/11 at 11:23

Oh please, please, please Ms. Harwell!!! Please divide up Jim Stupor Cooper's district so that he doesn't stand a chance of being re-elected by the yeller-dupe Dem-wits! Please do your job as a Republican representative.

By: tennliberal on 8/29/11 at 11:48

OK, I just looked at the Ketromander map, and it's simply ridiculous--not because it splits Davidson. As I said, they might do that, and they certainly can if they want to. But if you think Jimmy Duncan will give up most of his current district, that Dian Black will not insist on the Mt Juliet Republicans, that the 9th would ever look anything like that, you're nuts. The Republicans themselves would never go for that map. Every incumbent would hate it.

What is Cooper really up to? He knows full well that this particular map was devised by some right-wing political junkie, not by anyone in the General Assembly. Is he crying wolf? Throwing out a red herring? A straw man argument?

Perhaps, because he certainly does fear splitting Davidson County into three or even four districts, he thinks that if he brings attention to this crazy map that unwittingly would actually screw the Republican incumbents, they will insist on giving him the district he wants. I wish that were so, but I think the GOP will have some knowledgeable and capable line-drawers working on a real map. Once they decide whether or not to carve up Davidson (and it could go either way), the rest will actually be pretty easy for them.

By: breathofdeath on 8/29/11 at 11:52

“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.”

Hmmm...sounds to me like Dean doesn't realize that Davidson County is already split, even if only by a little bit. Since this was in quotes I can assume that this is what Dean said. If you had read the article you would have seen that, too.

By: athometoday on 8/29/11 at 12:56

IMHO, it seems pretty unlikely that the 5th ends up as a majority R District. 7 R congressmen and women will draw the 5th. In order to make the 5th an R district , D's from the 5th have to go some where else. As a result, every R that gets put into the 5th means an additional D in the 4th, 5th or 6th. The 7 R's will be more concerned about having a safe election every two years than they will be concerned about adding one more R to Congress. Look for every D in middle Tennessee to be in the 5th - Clarksville, Springfield, Antioch Bordeaux, East Nashville, M'boro, etc. Look for the 7 R's to cruise to reelection for a generation. That's the beauty (ugliness) of pure political redistricting.

By: athometoday on 8/29/11 at 1:03

That's to say Dean and Coop's complaint is really not about which party controls the 5th. The issue is whether Nashville will have a voice in Congress. If Nashville remains the majority of 5, then Nashville will have a voice. If Nashville becomes the minority of 4,5, &6, then it will not. Seems like a legitimate concern to me.

By: conservarage on 8/29/11 at 1:31

to quote obama: "we won". time to chop chop chop!

By: JeffF on 8/29/11 at 2:04

To quote the president, "elections have consequences". Decades of political gerrymandering that kept a Republican state from sending a Republican majority to Washington and Nashville is about to crash down and now Nashville's rich Democratic power base is worrying about being unfairly split. No concern was ever expressed that Wilson County was split. Or Williamson. Or that one district ran through three media markets avoiding the dwindling Democratic castles in order to keep Tanner in office. No concern that two districts corkscrew around Franklin in order to help Davis get the few Democratic voters in Williamson county.

Tell you what, Cooper can keep his district once he tells us one accomplishment he has made in his time in office. Until then, good luck selling yourself to Wilson County full voting voting power with the help of the ex-cons and non citizens unable to vote in your current power base.

By: tennliberal on 8/29/11 at 2:33

Well JeffF, the glib assertion that "no concern was ever expressed" about the gerrymandering of 10 years ago is false and simply an expression of your idiotic dittohead-moron parroting of any nonsense you hear, but people like you can't think for themselves anyway. Plenty was said about the last Congressional redistricting, and lots of people--in fact, most of them--thought that it was crazy. While you falsely and stupidly say that "no concern" about Franklin was expressed, there was quite a lot of complaining about that and about what was done to Clarksville and Lebanon and southern Davidson County and the giraffe-shaped Third District. And a lot of that came from the Democrats who saw their towns split up then. I know you right-wingers routinely rewrite history and remember only what you want to remember, or what Rush tells you to remember, but please save your persecution complex paranonia for Phil Valentine and this afternoon's drive time call-in. And try to pay attention this time around.

But having put your foolishness aside, as I have said all along, if you win the election, you get to draw the lines. Yes, the Republicans have every right to gerrymander these districts as Democrats have in the past. They must make the districts exactly the same size (10 years ago there was only a 5-person difference between the smallest and largest Congressional district by census numbers; state level districts have more leeway). I am not bitching about it. I am not complaining. That's how it happens.

"Cooper can keep his district"? That's not up to you, JeffF. That's up to his constituents. Same as every other Member of Congress. Whether or not the General Assembly decides to split up Davidson County remains to be seen. The observations of Athometoday are pretty astute. That decision actually will be made by the seven current GOP members (or six plus Bill Ketron), and it will hinge on their own plans for reelection and their own desire for safe districts. And after they take care of themselves -- and ONLY then -- will they even give one little thought to Jim Cooper's future.

And that's just exactly what happened 10 years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

By: JeffF on 8/29/11 at 3:55

Will McNeely Piggot & Fox be remitting their invoice to Metro or the House of Representatives for their work in arranging the meeting with the Tennessean?

By: dogmrb on 8/29/11 at 5:19

Be careful what you wish for, JeffF! What goes round comes round ;-)

By: govskeptic on 8/29/11 at 6:44

As the newest large vote getter, hence darling of the Democratic party,
maybe the Lord Mayor wants to think about that Congressional Seat as
his own in 4 yrs. He certainly wouldn't want it to entail more of Williamson
or Rutherford or even Wilson County within the district. Statewide office is
apparently out of the question for the foreseeable future for most any
member of his party! It's save to say his crack political Public Relations
team will be supplying the majority of his Lordship's policies and positioning
on all issues for the next 4 yrs.!

By: Captain Nemo on 8/30/11 at 7:20

When changes take place and should the Democrats regain the state, the people saying redistrict is a good thing now will be the ones crying foul.

Life goes on

By: Nitzche on 8/30/11 at 7:34

I am sure dems would return the favor if they were drawing the map//////NOT!

By: macjedi on 8/30/11 at 7:48

The GOP will redistrict this state to exile the poor and ignorant into districts with self-serving rich people, attempt to break up liberal districts to weaken them, and gerrymander their way all across the state. Blackburn's disgusting white/rich ribbon of corrupt districting is an example that we should get used to seeing.

By: rawhide on 8/30/11 at 8:08

Wawawa. Blackburn made the most of the district she had. The truth is that Dem gerrymandering could only prop things up for Dems for so long. As our favorite pastor says, "The CHICKENNNNNS . . . are coming home to ROOST!"

By: jonw on 8/30/11 at 8:31

I'm sure Beth will be impressed by the wishes of carpetbagger Dean.

By: canthonymartin on 8/30/11 at 8:35


It might be instructive to see what the GOP has done once they won control of both houses in Georgia: Atlanta-Fulton County, once, essentially, one Congressional District, is now proposed to be 3 Congressional Districts (pending the Governor's signature and absent a Federal lawsuit), leaving the incumbent--John Lewis--with large concentrations of Black voters, and with the whites of Buckhead alongside their brethren whites of Marietta, and their their own Marsha Blackburn--Phil Gringrey. Now, how is that for "fair and balanced". However, in Georgia politics, race is a BIG issue, and the GOP would like nothing better than to split up Fulton County, and marginalize the loyal Democratic black vote. This is the GOP game plan for individual states: carve out the core Democratic voters, whether black, progressive, Hispanic, and marginalize them so that they have less and less representation in the U.S. Congress.

By: BenDover on 8/30/11 at 9:01

I think it should be 4 big circles around the metropolitan areas and then the other two seats divided sharing the east and west rural area. Adjust the size of the circles to balance the populations equally among the 6 seats.

By: budlight on 8/30/11 at 2:38

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.”

What is cohesive about politics in Nashville? Oh yeah, cohesive now that Dean has purchased the mayor's seat along with many council seats. Oh yeah, that's what he means.

By: localboy on 8/30/11 at 3:25

Actually, BenDover, what you propose makes too much sense to get any traction with this crew...

By: Nitzche on 8/30/11 at 4:49


By: Loner on 8/31/11 at 4:31

From the article: “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.”

Wake up, Mayor Dean, Haslam and his Tea Party hatchet-men are deliberately attempting to "drive a stake into the heart of a cohesive and diverse (ethnically and politically) social and civic unit". All that GLBT rights stuff coming out of the Greater Nashville area has spooked the state government; they want to make the liberal stronghold, Nashville, absolutely irrelevant politically.

Splitting Greater Nashville into three competing districts should drive a stake into the hearts of the bleeding heart liberals of Davidson County...that's the plan, better deal with it; Nashville is under real duress....Tea Party snipers have Nashville in their cross-hairs.

By: Nitzche on 8/31/11 at 7:12

keep hope alive!!!!

By: pswindle on 8/31/11 at 8:18

Yes, let's get rid of the smart and productive membes of Congress, and go with the right-wing nuts that were elected in 2010.

By: govskeptic on 8/31/11 at 8:32

Smart and productive members?????

By: joe41 on 9/1/11 at 2:39

This would be seen as punitive if Davidson County would be split up. It would invite a lawsuit.