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New House for Bedford

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

State lawmakers on Friday approved redistricting plans for congressional and state legislative districts, and Gov. Bill Haslam is expected to sign the proposal.

The biggest change for Bedford County is that the county moves from the 6th Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. Diane Black (R-Gallatin), to the 4th, currently represented by Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-South Pittsburg).

A press release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Speaker of the State House Beth Harwell claims that the new congressional districts make more sense than the sprawling districts drawn up in past decades, when the General Assembly, and therefore the redistricting process, were under Democratic control. In the past, some snake-like districts stretched from West Tennessee to East Tennessee.

Fewer splits

Only eight Tennessee counties are split between districts under the new plan, as opposed to 10 in the current district maps. That includes Shelby County, which by law has to be split because its population is greater than the target population for a congressional district.

Democrats, however, criticized the plan as having been rushed through the legislature.

"With today's vote to approve redistricting maps in the Senate, the majority party rushed a process that amounted to a secret reverse election," said Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney of Jackson in a press release on Friday. "Even today, as these bills go to the Governor for his signature, members of the public have little idea who will represent them.

"The redistricting process should not be conducted this way. Tennesseans deserve openness and proper deliberation regarding such sweeping legislation."

Voters face change

The new districts will be the basis for voting in this year's elections. DesJarlais has already made an introductory visit to Rutherford County and was featured in a Murfreesboro newspaper on Sunday.

In terms of things like constituent services -- which congressional office to call for assistance in things like veterans' benefits, or to express your opinion on federal issues -- the timeline is a little different.

According to Stephanie Genco, a spokesperson for Black, constituents can still call Black's office for assistance until January 2013, when the new Congress takes office.

New districts

The new 4th Congressional District includes all of Bedford, Bledsoe, Franklin, Grundy, Lincoln, Marion, Marshall, Meigs, Moore, Rhea, Rutherford, Sequatchie and Warren counties, and parts of Bradley, Maury and Vam Buren counties.

In terms of the state legislature, Bedford County sees less of a change. The new map calls the Senate district into which Bedford County falls the 14th district instead of the 16th District, and it will now include Marshall and Lincoln counties and less of Rutherford County. But Republican 16th District Sen. Jim Tracy of Shelbyville is the only incumbent living in the new 14th District.

The county remains in the 62nd House District, which will lose its Rutherford County segment and gain additional portions of Lincoln County. Rep. Pat Marsh, a Republican from Shelbyville, is the incumbent.

Legislative districts must be redrawn every 10 years using the population figures from the U.S. Census. The intent is to account for changes in population and make sure that each district represents an equal amount of voters, a principle often referred to as "one man, one vote."