published Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Lawmakers to redraw districts based upon 2010 population

Tennessee’s population gains since 2000 will likely keep the state with nine congressional seats.

But partisan and population shifts within the Volunteer State could still bring some political realignment after the 2010 U.S. Census results are in.

Population projections by the University of Tennessee suggest that the 1st and 3rd congressional districts in East Tennessee and the 8th and 9th congressional districts in West Tennessee are growing slower than the statewide average.

To help equalize the population among congressional districts following the 2010 redistricting, the slower-growing districts will have to be redrawn to bring in more residents.

Some of the fastest growing counties are the suburban counties around Nashville which are moving more toward GOP control than in the past and also could be carved up differently among Tennessee’s congressional districts to redistribute power.

“It’s the Legislature’s task to redistrict every 10 years and it gets into the real gamesmanship of the political process,” said Bob Swansbrough, a political scientist at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. “With the Republican control of the Legislature, it will be different than it was in the past. Even though you don’t have any more seats, the borders could be cut to make it more favorable for the GOP.”

Over the past two decades, the 3rd and 4th congressional districts in Tennessee have shifted boundaries and political parties.

In the last congressional redistricting completed in 2002, the 4th congressional district, which spans much of Middle and East Tennessee, was redrawn to make it more Democratic, Dr. Swansbrough said. The 3rd congressional district, which stretches from Chattanooga through Oak Ridge up to the Kentucky border, was made more Republican.

Following the redistricting of Tennessee’s 4th congressional district after the 2000 census, U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis, a Democrat, was elected to succeed Republican Van Hilleary, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2002.

In the 3rd congressional district, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, a Republican, was elected in 1994 to replace Democrat Marilyn Lloyd, who retired after 20 years in the Congress.

“The 3rd congressional district changed more physically than any district in the state after the 2000 census,” Rep. Wamp said Tuesday. “There was a shift of about one-third of the population in the district and a dramatic change in its geography.”

Rep. Wamp, who is running in the GOP gubernatorial primary in 2010, said he hopes Republicans keep control of the Legislature in 2010.

Since many of the fastest-growing communities in the state are Republican-leaning suburbs in the ring around Nashville, Rep. Wamp said, “I think we have a real shot at picking up another seat for the Republicans” after the next redistricting.

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