As Tennessee's congressional and state legislative district boundaries are redrawn by the Republican-dominated state legislature, local voices are stepping up in opposition, calling the new plan a product of gerrymandering.
The new districts, planned to take effect during the state's next election in November, will remain in place over the course of the next decade, adding immense political weight to the process.
So far, the new voting map has been approved by the House on a party-line vote Monday. The Republican-led Senate approved the state's new senate and congressional districts last week.
To pass, the new House districts still require approval by the Senate, which could cast a vote as early as Wednesday.
Gov. Bill Lee is expected to sign the legislation when it is passed by the General Assembly.
What changes for voters in Maury County?
Voters in Maury County will now be divided between District 64, held by Rep. Scott Cepicky, R-Culloeka, and District 71, held by Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, removing a wedge of central Maury County previously represented by Rep. Michael Curcio, R-Dickson.
Embattled lawmaker Byrd is expected to retire at the end of his term.
State Senate District 28, held by Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald, which currently includes Maury, Giles, Lawrence, Lewis, Perry and Wayne Counties, will be trimmed.
Lawrence and Wayne will move to District 26, currently held by Page Walley, R-Somerville, joining other counties on the state's southwestern edge. Perry County will join District 25, currently represented by Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, which will encompass a central band that curves to the northwestern edge of Lake County.
While losing two counties, the district will gain the communities of Spring Hill and Thompson Station in Williamson County.
When the new maps are approved, Maury County will now rest entirely within the 5th congressional district, held by the outgoing U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, after previously being divided by the 7th and 4th congressional districts represented by Congressman Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and Congressman Scott DesJarlais, R-Sherwood, respectively.
Community concerned new lines disenfranchise minority voters
The state's decennial redistricting process is particularly concerning to Columbia resident Paco Havard.
Havard, a longtime employee of General Motors and president of the Maury County Branch of the NAACP, said the change proposed by the state leaders will diminish the voting power of predominantly Black communities in Columbia and neighboring Mt. Pleasant.
"We understand that all politics are local," Havard said. "They are disenfranchising those voters who are in minority areas. Our main goal is to protect the rights to vote and make sure everyone is accessible to the ballot box."
By combining Maury County's urban high minority population areas into one district combined with more predominantly white rural areas, Havard said the combined 5th district weakens minority voter's ability to elect candidates of their choice.
He said this cycle's splitting of Metropolitan Nashville into three separate congressional districts serves as the primary example of his concern.
"We are not partisan, but we want to see this done fairly," Havard said. "They are trying to slant things for the next election. Sometimes you need to look at the morality of what is going on.
"This is going on all over the place, and it slices and dices to benefit the Republican Party."
The Maury County County Democratic Party also shared deep concern for state's new voting lines.
"These new maps – drawn with minimal public input by GOP legislative staffers – were drawn for the sole overarching purpose of disenfranchising minority voters and maximizing Republican gains," said James Dallas, chair of the Maury County Democratic Party. "We stand in solidarity with the Tennessee Democratic Party in condemning these new maps and will support the state party in challenging them."
Dallas said the new House District 64 is overpopulated with a deviation of about 5% from the ideal district population.
"The new maps dilute the votes of Maury County residents, and this will only get worse over time," Dallas said. "House District 71 stretches over 100 miles from Spring Hill to Savannah. This means that voters in the western part of Maury County will likely get represented by someone who has only the most minimal understanding of our needs and desires."
Dallas also shares concern for the new map's division of Nashville.
"We are aghast at the new Congressional map, which creates a bizarrely-shaped Fifth District – I call it the ‘eagle carrying a humvee’ – that will likely result in Nashville (the Home of Country Music) being deprived of its ability to influence the affairs of our great country," Dallas said.
Local Republican reassure fair process
Hensley said he is not fond of the new lines of his own district but emphasizes that the new maps are not a product of gerrymandering.
"I did not especially like the way the district was split, but overall, I think it was fair," Hensley said. "Over time, the population shifts and some changes have to be made. West Tennessee's districts lost population, and they had to be picked up some way. Maury County will certainly benefit with Spring Hill being a part of the district."
Hensley said the processes of creating the new districts was done equitably.
"Those districts have to be fair and they have to meet certain guidelines," Hensley said. "They are legal."
Hensley said the new districts more fairly represent Maury County, following the removal of House District 69's presence in the county.
"They looked at the populations and tried to get them together as much as they could," Hensley said. "We just had to do something because of the population shifts."
Cepicky stresses that the new districts are a product of the region's population growth over the past decade, which were drawn in a bipartisan way.
"There is really no easy way to do this," Cepicky said. "With the population growth, there is no way that one person can represent all of Maury County. It comes down to how much growth Maury County has had."
If the county's growth continues, Cepicky said there is a chance that Maury County will have two representatives within the county.
"The courts will decide whether these lines are constitutional or not," Cepicky said. "When someone calls me in asking for help, I never ask them if they are a Republican or a Democrat. I just help them. You are my constituent, and I will help you in whatever way I can. I am excited about the new districts."
Reach Mike Christen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeChristenCDH and on Instagram at @michaelmarco. Please consider supporting his work and that of other Daily Herald journalists by subscribing to the publication.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Herald: Maury County NAACP and Democratic Party oppose approved redistricting plan