Democrats

Dems submit congressional redistricting plan

Legislative Democrats are submitting a congressional redistricting plan that would avoid breaking up Nashville. The proposal would also reimagine the 4th District as being comprised of fast-growing suburban Williamson, Rutherford, and Wilson counties, while ceding most of its current rural population to the 6th and 3rd districts.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE — Middle Tennessee’s fast-growing suburban communities would elect their own member of the U.S. House of Representatives under a congressional map proposed by state Democrats on Monday.

While most of the map will look familiar, Democrats say their nine-seat congressional plan improves representation by keeping almost every city and county whole while also better connecting communities that have shared socio-economic interests — like Knoxville and the Smoky Mountains, rural West Tennessee and booming suburban Middle Tennessee communities along I-840.

“People all over the state shared the same message: please keep our community together,” said Sen. Raumesh Akbari, the Democratic caucus chairwoman. “People want their elected officials to be responsive to the needs of their community. So, in addition to drawing districts that are near identical by population, we are proposing districts with deep community connections and shared needs—like housing, healthcare, education, transportation and job creation.”

The biggest change recommended by Democrats is a new configuration for the 4th Congressional District that combines three Middle Tennessee counties, Williamson, Wilson, and most of Rutherford, along with the cities of Hendersonville and Spring Hill. The current district lines sprawl across southern Tennessee from Nashville’s southeastern border nearly to North Carolina.

“The 840 corridor encompassing Williamson, Rutherford & Wilson are facing the shared challenges of explosive growth, infrastructure and services spread thin, alongside effective regional coordination and collaboration. The future of these communities is inherently linked together regardless of county lines or city lines,” said Sen. Jeff Yarbro, the minority leader in the Senate. “The congressional lines is one way we can recognize and respond to that reality. It’s not only good for these communities experiencing rapid growth to have common leadership, but also more advantageous for other regions to address the different but equally complicated economic, education and health decisions they face.”

Democrats in the legislature held five meetings across the state and participated in dozens more meetings to gather public input from communities across the state. This proposed congressional map incorporates feedback from people who spoke at those hearings and submitted public comment in other ways.

“This map proposal is a reflection of real people and the concerns that are shared by underserved communities across the state,” said Rep. Karen Camper, the minority leader in the House. “We look forward to presenting their ideas and policy priorities to the General Assembly.”

Before the 2022 election cycle, the Tennessee General Assembly, by law, must draw political boundaries so that every congressional district in the state has an equal number of people.

The community districting process — also called redistricting or reapportionment — happens every 10 years after federal census officials release data showing the population of every city, town and county 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.

While Republicans who control legislature have so far kept their proposed congressional maps a secret, Democrats are making their draft congressional proposal available for public comment ahead of the next legislative session.

“We know Republicans are cutting deals on district lines behind closed doors and playing partisan politics with their maps, but that’s not going to stop us from engaging Tennesseans in a good faith process,” said Rep. Vincent Dixie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “We welcome input from the community because we want fair maps and a healthy democracy.”

To offer feedback on the congressional maps proposed by state Democrats, email maps@tndemocrats.org..

1st Congressional District

The 1st Congressional District proposal includes 11 counties from the current map: Carter, Cocke, Greene, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, Washington.

Additions: Claiborne, Grainger, Union and a portion of Campbell County just west of the city of LaFollette.

Other changes: Sevier County shifts to the 2nd Congressional District.

2nd Congressional District

The 2nd Congressional District proposal includes Knox, Anderson and Sevier counties as well as the city of Maryville in Blount County.

Knox County residents offered public comment making the case for including both Anderson and Sevier counties in a district with Knoxville due to the shared interests in those communities.

For example, the Great Smoky Mountains and Knoxville are tied together through tourism, and Knoxville’s innovation sector is intrinsically linked to the science being performed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

3rd Congressional District

This map would move the 3rd Congressional District into Tennessee’s southeast corner—rather than its current configuration which extends from downtown Chattanooga to the Kentucky border.

What’s in: Bradley, Hamilton, Loudon, McMinn, Meigs, Monroe, Polk, Rhea, Roane counties, the city of Maryville and part of Blount County.

What’s out: Everything north of Knox County — Scott, Campbell, Union, Morgan and Anderson counties.

4th Congressional District

The plan’s reimagined 4th Congressional District undergoes the biggest change to create a district for Middle Tennessee’s fast-growing suburban counties along the I-840 bypass.

Their shared status as booming suburban communities and similar growth-related needs make a strong case for these areas to be included in a single district.

What’s in: Williamson and Wilson counties, most of Rutherford County, as well as the city of Hendersonville and the city of Spring Hill, which straddles the Williamson-Maury County line.

5th Congressional District

Nashville-Davidson County is about 50,000 people short of qualifying to be its own congressional district.

To complete a full district, this plan draws from public comments that asked mapmakers to link Nashville to neighboring cities that are confronting similar challenges.

What’s in: Davidson County, the city of La Vergne, the city of Goodlettsville, which straddles the Davidson-Sumner County line, and Millersville, which shares a long border with the city of Nashville along I-65.

What’s out: Dickson and Cheatham counties.

6th Congressional

This plan expands Tennessee’s 6th Congressional District to the south, putting the shared interests of rural communities at the forefront.

What’s in: Bledsoe, Cannon, Clay, Coffee, Cumberland, DeKalb, Fentress, Franklin, Grundy, Jackson, Lincoln, Macon, Marion, Morgan, Overton, Pickett, Putnam, Scott, Sequatchie, Smith, Trousdale, Van Buren, Warren, White counties as well as portions of Sumner County and Campbell County.

What’s out: Wilson County.

7th Congressional District

This proposed map includes most areas of the current district, including Clarksville and Columbia, but it shifts away from counties in West Tennessee. Instead, the Tennessee River serves as a western boundary for most of district.

What’s in: Bedford, Cheatham, Dickson, Giles, Hickman, Houston, Humphreys, Lawrence, Lewis, Marshall, Maury, Montgomery, Perry, Robertson, Stewart, Wayne counties and most of Maury and Hardin counties.

What’s out: Benton, Chester, Decatur, Hardeman, Henderson and McNairy counties.

8th Congressional District

The 8th Congressional District would become the rural West Tennessee district. Bordered mostly by the Tennessee River on the east and the Mississippi River on the west.

What’s in: Benton, Carroll, Chester, Crockett, Decatur, Dyer, Fayette, Gibson, Hardeman, Haywood, Henry, Lake, Lauderdale, Madison, McNairy, Obion and Tipton counties, as well as a portion of Hardin County and the Shelby County cities of Arlington, Collierville, Germanton Lakeland and Millington.

What’s out: Parts of East Memphis.

9th Congressional District

In this map, the entire city of Memphis is included within the boundary of the 9th Congressional District.

To complete the district, the whole city of Bartlett is also included as well as some unincorporated areas of Shelby County.

Democratic Sen. Robinson convicted in federal fraud case

A federal jury has found Democratic state Sen. Katrina Robinson of Memphis guilty of four counts of wire fraud.

Katrina Robinson (Image credit: Tennessee General Assemlby)

Robinson’s prospects at trial had been looking up after the judge last week granted a defense motion to acquit her of 15 of the 20 counts she had been charged with. But the trial proceeded this week on the remainder of the case and the freshman senator was convicted after the jury of eight women and four men deliberated Thursday for five hours.

The dismissed counts include allegations Robinson had illegally spent grant money on her 2018 Senate campaign, legal fees for her divorce, and contributions to her retirement account.

What remained of the more than $600,000 prosecutors had alleged Robinson misspent were two counts of wire fraud related to $2,326 she paid an artist through a booking agent and $1,158 that went to a wedding makeup artist. Also surviving the judge’s ruling were three counts of wire fraud alleging Robinson made fraudulent representations in annual performance reports from 2017 through 2019. The jury acquitted Robinson of any wrongdoing on her 2018 report.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) called on Robinson to resign.

“While Senator Robinson’s convictions did not stem from actions taken while in office, they are nevertheless very serious,” McNally said in a statement. “As public servants, we are held to a higher standard. My personal opinion is that it would be in the best interest of the state and her constituents for Senator Robinson to step down at this time.”

Robinson faced up to 20 years in prison for the full set of wire fraud charges before she was acquitted of most of them. Sentencing is scheduled for January.

Memphis Councilman Smiley announces Democratic bid for governor

JB Smiley Jr. (Image credit: City of Memphis)

Memphis Councilman JB Smiley Jr. is officially joining the 2022 governor’s race in Tennessee. Smiley announced his bid for the Democratic nomination on Wednesday, joining Nashville physician Jason Martin, Greensboro pastor Casey Nicholson, and Memphis activist Carnita Atwater. Republican Gov. Bill Lee has yet to draw a primary opponent for his reelection bid.

Here’s the release from the Smiley campaign:

Memphis, TN — Today, Memphis City Councilman JB Smiley Jr. announced his campaign for Governor at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis and through the release of a launch video.

Here are excerpts from Democrat JB Smiley’s remarks:

“After dedicating the last several months to listening to Tennesseans across the state, it’s incredibly clear to me that we’re all feeling the discomfort of failed policies and inaction from our Governor. Tennesseans deserve better. Tennesseans demand better. And today I’m excited and humbled to announce I am running for governor to help guide us to a better Tennessee.”

“I truly believe that we are more alike than we are different. I believe that we all want to create more job opportunities for our next generation. We all want equitable access to healthcare – whether you live in an urban community or a rural part of our state. We all want better roads, stronger bridges, reliable internet to connect us to the rest of the world and each other. We all want better for our children, our families, and our future.”

“I decided to run for Governor because right now – we have too many gun shots fired, not enough COVID shots given and too few shots for our young people to reach their potential.”

“As Governor, I’ll reduce crime by investing in robust community policing, and I’ll fund prevention programs focused on those most likely to commit violent crime, because everyone deserves to be safe in their homes and communities.”

“I’ll encourage folks across the state to do right by each-other. That means getting vaccinated. And I’ll ensure Tennesseans have access to health care no matter where they live.“

“And I will prioritize giving our young people a real shot to succeed — with state-of-the-art vocational training in every high school and partnerships with our business leaders to create pathways to the jobs that will help our young people stay here in Tennessee”

“So today I’m announcing my campaign for Governor and I’m inviting all of you to come and go with me to a better Tennessee.”

Background on JB

A native Memphian, JB Smiley Jr. is an attorney and a member of the Memphis City Council. The son of a social worker and a Bronze Star army soldier, JB Smiley, Jr. knows the value of hard work and a healthy, supportive community.

After JB’s collegiate and semi-professional basketball career, he pursued a legal education, and later, a political career. But his life in serving the most vulnerable, started from a young age.

As his father taught him to “never forget the bridge that brought you over,” JB decided to stay in the region to attend college and then law school at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. While in law school, JB served as a member of the Law Review, Moot Court Board, and as Vice President of the Black Law Students Association. JB successfully passed Arkansas and the Tennessee Bar exams, while writing his first book, Born With It: Unleashing Your Greatness.

In 2017, in Memphis, JB started his law practice, Smiley & Associates, PLLC. The following year, JB was named to Memphis Flyer’s Top 20, Under 30 class. During that same year, JB was appointed policy advisor to the Shelby County Clerk and served in such capacity until his election to the Memphis City Council in October. As a council member, JB is Chair of the Public Works, Transportation, and General Services Committee and the council liaison for the Urban Art Commission. On the City Council, JB has delivered for his community, implementing the Memphis Academy of Civic Engagement, the Memphis Police Department Transparency Portal, and amending the Eviction Set Out Ordinance.

In his spare time, JB likes to play basketball, work out, binge watch Netfilix shows, and keep his dog, Mighty Mouse, and his nephew, Bryson Maxwell Smiley, smiling!

Dems call for transparency, community input for redistricting process

Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) attends a floor session to adjust the course of the legislative session in response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

With raw census data scheduled to be released on Thursday, Tennessee Democrats are calling for transparency in the once-per-decade redistricting process.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE — Tennessee communities should have a voice in mapping the state’s political future for the next decade, lawmakers said Tuesday in a letter to legislative leaders, and citizens should not have to wait until 2022 to see new proposed district lines.

The process of drawing new electoral boundaries for the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislative districts only happens once every 10 years after the U.S. Census releases local data.

While many states have laws that require political boundaries to be drawn with community input, Tennessee’s process is controlled entirely by the majority party in the legislature.

In a letter dated Aug. 10, Democratic leaders in the Tennessee General Assembly urged the Republican speakers of both chambers to commit to an open and transparent process that provides citizens with opportunities to offer feedback on proposed maps.

“Perhaps more than any other single decision, the drawing of district boundaries will shape the policies adopted by the state over the next decade,” the lawmakers wrote. “We believe Tennesseans understand their communities and deserve a voice in how their communities will be represented.”

The letter was signed by ​​Democratic leaders Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) and Rep. Karen Camper (D-Memphis) as well as both caucus chairs, Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis) and Rep. Vincent Dixie (D-Nashville).

In the letter, lawmakers called on the speakers to follow three community-driven principles for drawing Tennessee’s new legislative districts:

1. Maintain an open and transparent process. “Citizens deserve a districting process they can understand and trust, as well as information about how they will be able to engage with key decisionmakers. In many states, this process includes a special committee that travels the state hosting public meetings, as well as a website that provides the public with the same updated information available to the legislative decisionmakers.”

2. Offer public and community engagement opportunities. “Citizens deserve opportunities, prior to our regular legislative session, to engage on this issue. We would request that a series of public hearings be held across the state, and that these hearings also be broadcast online, and that the General Assembly employ digital tools to permit the public to offer input and even submit district map proposals.”

3. Seek public input on the first drafts of maps this fall. “Throughout the nation, it’s become common for citizens and communities to review proposed maps well in advance of final adoption. We would propose making first drafts available to the public this fall in an easily usable format, with updates released prior to any formal consideration. Community leaders and members of the public need time to review maps, offer input, and even suggest or request changes prior to any community districting legislation being voted upon.”

“The community districting process should be among the most public endeavors that our state government undertakes. The General Assembly has access to the technology to make this process transparent and even interactive,” the Democratic leaders wrote. “Far from slowing down the legislative work of drawing new district lines, we believe such efforts would not only build trust but also lead to a stronger final product.”

On Aug. 12, the ​​Census Bureau<https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2021/news-conference-2020-census-redistricting-data.html> will publish the first local level results from the 2020 Census, including data on race, ethnicity and the voting-age population.

Changes in population and demographics that have taken place over a decade will be used to draw new federal and state district maps — roughly equal in population.

Earlier this year, the nonpartisan group Think Tennessee<https://www.thinktennessee.org/research/elections-civic-life/> wrote about the benefits of a more public and transparent community districting process.

“Opening a window into Tennessee’s redistricting process to allow citizens to meaningfully participate would enhance their trust in the system,” Think wrote. “In a state that consistently ranks near the bottom of the country on voter registration and turnout, redistricting is a key opportunity to deepen civic engagement.”

Think also says Tennesseans historically have had fewer opportunities for public participation, and less access to draft district maps, than people in most other states.

“While most states proactively seek public input in the redistricting process, Tennesseans’ opportunities for engagement previously have been limited to submitting draft maps and sharing their opinions with their legislators,” the nonprofit wrote.

Democrat Potts won’t run for state House again next year

House members attend a floor session in Nashville on Jan. 12, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

State Rep. Jason Potts (D-Nashville) won’t seek another term in the General Assembly next year, The Tennesseans Natalie Allison reports. Potts missed 21 of 34 legislative days this session, telling the paper the job doesn’t pay enough, that he wants to spend more time with his young family, and that he was “discriminated against” by the Republican supermajority.

Potts is the second lawmaker to say he won’t be returning next year. Republican Rep. Bruce Griffey of Paris has said he wants to run for a judicial seat or district attorney general in 2022. Several other lawmakers are expected to step aside with redistricting looming.

“I’m not going to run again when I’m discriminated against every day,” Potts told the paper about his inability to get legislation passed.

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville) rejected Potts’ assertion as “utter nonsense.”

“In order to pass legislation, you should be in the General Assembly to actually run a bill,” Sexton said.

New PAC takes aim at Gov. Bill Lee’s re-election bid

(Image credit: Beat Bill Lee PAC)

A new political action committee called Beat Bill Lee takes aim at the Republican’s re-election efforts. The PAC is run by Emily Cupples, the former communications director of the Tennessee Democratic Party.

Lee is running for a second term next year. While limited polling has shown his popularity has slipped with Democrats, he remains popular with Republicans. No Democratic candidate has won a statewide race in Tennessee since 2006.

Here’s the release from the new PAC:

GROUP OF CONCERNED TENNESSEANS LAUNCH BEAT BILL LEE PAC
April 29th, 2021 (Tennessee) – Today, Tennesseans from across the state filed a political action committee against Governor Bill Lee’s bid for re-election in 2022. Funded by small dollar donations, the PAC will use funds raised to organize hard working families across Tennessee and America to mobilize against the power grab from Bill Lee and other fringe conservatives. This political action committee is composed of Tennesseans from all parts of the state and members include working families, single young folks, white collar professionals, politicians, and Tennesseans from all backgrounds united around the mission to beat Bill Lee in 2022. Beat Bill Lee will utilize a mixture of traditional and unconventional campaign tactics to lead a campaign against the current sitting governor.

“Since Bill Lee took office 7 rural hospitals closed, 4 during the COVID19 pandemic, unemployment reached an all time high, gun violence increased by 50%, and our student proficiency dropped. Spending $7 million taxpayer dollars on lawsuits, it’s evident Lee is serving dark interest groups and not Tennessee families. We cannot wait until 3 months out from election day, when the primary is over, to start mobilizing against Lee. We must stop Bill Lee and the dark money interest groups he represents from their continued destruction of Tennessee. The work to Beat Bill Lee begins today.” – Emily Cupples, Beat Bill Lee PAC Director.

Update: Dems force vote, abstain on re-election of Secretary of State Hargett

Secretary of State Tre Hargett speaks with Rep. Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) before Gov. Bill Haslam’s final State of the State address on Jan. 29, 2018 in Nashville. (Photo credit: Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee Democrats objected to re-electing Secretary of State Tre Hargett by acclamation, forcing a roll call vote on another four-year term. Hargett went on to win 112 votes out of a possible 132.

The move by Democrats was largely symbolic, as Republican supermajorities in both chambers.

“In the middle of a pandemic, the secretary of state used the power of his office to undermine voter safety and kill bipartisan election reforms that would have made voting easier and more accessible to all Tennesseans,” Senate Minority Leader Jeff Yarbro said in a statement. “We cannot, in good conscience, support his appointment to a new four-year term.”

The joint convention also re-elected David Lillard as treasurer and voted for Jason Mumpower to succeed Justin Wilson as comptroller.

Here’s the full release from the Democrats:


NASHVILLE – Democratic leadership in the General Assembly will cast a vote of no confidence on Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s nomination for a new four-year term citing his office’s record of pushing anti-democratic legislation and repeated court losses.

Members of the Tennessee General Assembly will appoint a secretary of state during a joint meeting of the Senate and House of Representatives today.

Democratic leaders from both chambers say they expect the secretary of state to a be figure who unites lawmakers around proposals that make it safer and easier for people to vote, regardless of party or zip code.

“In the middle of a pandemic, the secretary of state used the power of his office to undermine voter safety and kill bipartisan election reforms that would have made voting easier and more accessible to all Tennesseans,” Sen. Jeff Yarbro, the Senate minority leader, said. “We cannot, in good conscience, support his appointment to a new four-year term.”

“Tennessee has become one of the most difficult states to cast a vote in and, as a result, voter participation in Tennessee is among the worst in the nation,” House Democratic Leader Rep. Karen Camper said. “Our secretary of state should be a champion for voters, a leader who is consistently committed to ensuring every eligible voter has an equal chance to participate in our elections.”

“Too often over his tenure, Secretary Hargett’s office has entangled the state in costly and unnecessary lawsuits,” Rep. Vincent Dixie, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said. “Instead of pushing unconstitutional legislation that suppresses the vote and wastes our resources, we should be working in partnership to address real problems, like updating the many outdated and corruptible voting machines throughout the state.”

“Despite the outcome of today’s vote, our caucuses will continue working on common sense reforms that empower voters and protect our elections,” Sen. Raumesh Akbari, chairwoman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, said. “Voter registration should be automatic. Every voter should have the option to vote by mail. Every voter should be able to verify their votes on a paper ballot. We can make a lot of progress quickly if we work together.

Maps show relative strengths of Democratic presidential candidates

Friend-of-the-blog Don Johnson is out with his latest maps breaking down last week’s Democratic presidential primary results. Have a look!

Knoxville:

Shelby County:

Nashville:

Keep ’em coming, Don!

FBI searches nursing school founded by Democratic state senator

The FBI has executed search warrants at a Memphis  home and nursing school of Democratic state Sen. Katrina Robinson.

Toranio Bishop, who works at the nearby Detroit Barbershop, told the Commercial Appeal he said he saw what appeared to be FBI agents enter the nursing school at at 7 a.m. Friday.

“They came in like a parade,” Bishop told the paper, adding that  students arriving  at the school then left immediately.

The lawmaker didn’t immediately respond to questions from the Commercial Appeal or the Daily Memphian.

“We’ve been made aware of the investigation and have received no indication that it relates to the legislature or her legislative service,” said Senate Democratic Caucus spokesman Brandon Puttbrese. “Because the investigation is ongoing, we will not be making additional statements and will defer any further questions to Sen. Robinson’s attorney. Our thoughts are with Sen. Robinson and her family.”

Robinson founded the Healthcare Institute in 2015, according to its website. The for-profit school received at least $1.6 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Robinson in 2018 defeated incumbent Sen. Reginald Tate in the Democratic primary. Tate died last year.

Bloomberg to campaign in Chattanooga, Nashville on Wednesday

Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is scheduled to appear in Chattanooga and Nashville on Wednesday, the first day of early voting for Tennessee’s Super Tuesday presidential primary.

Bloomberg previously visited Memphis, Nashville, and Knoxville in December and January, while most of the other candidates have been focused on the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primaries. Bloomberg decided to sit those contests out in favor of concentrating on the far larger number of delegates available on Super Tuesday.

Bloomberg’s Tennessee events are being held at the  Bessie Smith Cultural Center in Chattanooga at 2 p.m. Eastern and at Rocketown in Nashville at 7 p.m. Central. The latter was a favorite among Republicans running for president in the 2016 cycle, including Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich.

Here’s the release from the Bloomberg campaign:

NASHVILLE — Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg will be in Chattanooga and Nashville on Wednesday, February 12 to hold rallies marking the start of early voting in the state ahead of the Super Tuesday primary.

This is Mike’s third trip to Tennessee since announcing his candidacy in late November.

In late December, Mike announced his national healthcare policy in Memphis and kicked off the grand opening of the state campaign headquarters in Nashville. He returned to the state on January 10 to open the Knoxville regional field office.

“The time, resources and attention Mike gives Tennessee shows his care and focus on Tennessee voters,” said Courtney Wheeler, Tennessee state director for Mike Bloomberg 2020. “We are glad to see he cares about our voices and are looking forward to giving him another big welcome this week.

The campaign’s deep presence in Tennessee is part of Bloomberg’s  campaign to engage voters, win delegates on Super Tuesday and defeat Donald Trump.