Fair Maps: Lawmakers ask community for input on Rutherford County needs, new political districts
Sen. Raumesh Akbari, Rep. Vincent Dixie and Rep. Jason Powell are gathering information to keep communities whole through community districting
RUTHERFORD COUNTY — What community needs should lawmakers be focused on? That’s the question a group of legislators, who will soon consider new political maps, want answered this Thursday.
Rutherford County residents can make their voices heard Thursday at noon CST during an online public meeting hosted by Sen. Raumesh Akbari, Rep. Vincent Dixie and Rep. Jason Powell.
The discussion will be focused on community districting and how the legislature could better serve the needs of Rutherford County, where the population grew by 30 percent since 2010.
Community districting — also called redistricting or reapportionment — happens every 10 years after federal census officials release data showing the population of every county, city and town in the nation. A good district map reflects a whole community or a community of shared interests, such as a city, neighborhood or group of people who have common policy concerns that would benefit from being drawn into a single district.
These legislators will use the input they learn from residents to better inform the legislature on how to draw fair state and federal districts that best represent Rutherford County communities for the coming decade.
The goal of community districting is to produce new political maps where districts at each level of government have an equal population. But it is also an opportunity to make sure districts are responsive to the needs of whole communities and neighborhoods, lawmakers say.
“Whether you’re fighting for school funding, child care or affordable housing, the electoral maps drawn by the state legislature will affect every issue this community cares about for a decade,” said meeting host Sen. Akbari. “If we want a legislature that is responsive to our needs, that starts by enacting fair maps, where communities are whole and voters can hold their elected leaders accountable.”
In the past, Tennessee mapmakers have drawn electoral lines that minimize the influence of communities in favor of one political party — a practice, akin to rigging an election, called gerrymandering.
A tell tale sign of gerrymandering? Split cities.
In 2011, House mapmakers split both La Vergne and Smyrna two ways. The city of Murfreesboro was split four ways.
Participating in community districting is as important as voting or advocating for civil rights, according to Rep. Vincent Dixie.
“We can create lasting change in Tennessee when we band together and make our voices heard — just like the fight for civil rights and at the ballot box in the last election,” Rep. Dixie said. “Some politicians would prefer to keep Rutherford County communities divided in an attempt to silence families based on where they live. We have to join together and speak out for fair districts to ensure our communities thrive for the next 10 years and the generations that follow.”
The Rutherford County community districting meeting is the third in a series of public meetings being hosted by Democrats in the Tennessee General Assembly. In the coming weeks, lawmakers will also host public meetings in Nashville and Memphis, among other places.
Democratic leaders have encouraged the Republican majority, which controls the mapmaking process in the legislature, to host bipartisan or independent public meetings across the state to gather information about community districting. So far, only one meeting in Nashville has been held.