After Deal to Spare a Few Democrats, House Redistricting Plan Rolls

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After a week of heated backroom quarrelling over state House reapportionment, it all ended with a game of rock-paper-scissors.

Republicans agreed to accommodate Democrats, redrawing district lines to help three incumbents keep their seats. In return, they asked Democrats to go along with speeding the plan through the House this week. And one more thing: they demanded that either House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh or his top lieutenant, Mike Turner, vote for the plan.

“I thought it was worth doing that to save a couple of our members,” Turner said a few minutes ago after the House voted 67-25 for the plan. “We discussed this back and forth, which one of us was going to do it. We did rock-paper-scissors, and I lost.”

Turner speculated that House leaders wanted to embarrass one of their adversaries for putting Republicans through so much hassle over redistricting.

“It was a little punitive maybe,” he said. “There was some discussion pretty hot and heavy. There were actually some pretty colorful words. One night it really got blown up pretty bad. There were some things said. Maybe they felt like they had to have something back. Maybe they wanted to hit one of us.”

The plan, which originally endangered the careers of at least nine Democrats, now gives new life to three of them: Reps. Sherry Jones of Nashville, Eddie Bass of Pulaski, and Harry Tindell of Knoxville. Jones, who had been tossed into Rep. Mike Stewart’s East Nashville district, is redrawn into one of her own. Bass no longer is shoved into a Republican incumbent’s district, and Tindell’s district also is made more to his liking.

Democrats said they will decide later whether to go to court to try to overturn the plan for under-representing blacks. Tennessee's black population grew by 127,000 people between 2000 and 2010. Yet the Republican plan keeps 13 majority-minority districts, the same as before. Democrats contend the plan should have added two more.

Fitzhugh also complained about the secrecy and speed of the process. The plan, hatched behind closed doors, was whisked through the House only nine days after it was made public.

“We understand to the victor goes the spoils,” he said. “And we understand this is an inside baseball process that probably people in this building care more about than people across the state do. But the problem that we have with it was that the people across the state didn’t have the opportunity to care about it because it was pretty much a closed deal until the very end. It just didn’t have the transparency that things in Tennessee state government ought to have. But we did not have the votes and we knew that, so we just made the best of the situation.”

The House also adopted the congressional redistricting plan. The Senate takes up redistricting tomorrow.

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