‘Power grab behind closed doors’: Knoxville lawmaker says she has to ask permission to see redistricting maps

Tennessee Politics

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – An East Tennessee lawmaker says the redistricting process in the Tennessee State House is being hidden from public view. Representative Gloria Johnson, who represents House District 13 in Knoxville, said she has to ask permission to view the redesigned district drafts – something not required by other legislators Johnson added.

Lawmakers are required to redraw legislative districts every 10 years, but what is supposed to be an open and transparent process is seemingly being done behind closed doors and with little input this year. “What we’re seeing is a power grab behind closed doors,” Johnson said.

The invitation to view the maps has to come from Republican Representative Patsy Hazlewood, who is the coordinator of the East Tennessee maps, to see changes in district mappings. Some lawmakers have been able to view the possible outcomes of their districts without preclearance. “If we’re going to be transparent about this process, let’s let the people who are concerned and interested in it, have access and certainly let the representative have access,” Johnson said.

Knoxville is no stranger to gerrymandering, the city of just under 200,000 is split into multiple House and Senate districts leading into the city and cutting through rural areas. “We should be keeping the city whole, just as we keep those surrounding county districts whole,” Johnson said.

Johnson is no stranger to backlash from Speaker Cameron Sexton. Earlier this year he assigned Johnson, who voted against his Speakership, to work out of a makeshift closet office.

“We’re supposed to be about letting the voters choose their representatives but instead we’re letting the supermajority choose their voters,” she said.

Currently, Republican lawmakers make up 73 seats in the Tennessee House of Representatives and they could carve out more to expand their supermajority.

“The reality is, it’s secret maps behind closed doors may or may not be final maps, but why can’t the citizens and all representatives see those maps as they’re working on them,” Johnson said. “Hear their thought processes on why they’re doing it.”

Johnson who has won and lost her seat by wide and slim margins says chopping up communities purposely dilute voters to shift power. “So all of these secret and nontransparent things that they do just much of it is to keep people from being interested and from holding their feet to the fire and making them accountable and we just have to do that,” Johnson said.

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Speaker Cameron Sexton released a statement in response saying:

“Members of the Select Committee on Redistricting continue to gather input from citizens, community organizations, and legislators to create redistricting plans that represent the distinctive voices of all Tennesseans. There is still a lot to do and plenty more members to meet with.  We are on target to have the final product finished in the coming months, which will also allow ample time to review any map that the general public submits prior to noon on Nov. 12.  This year’s process has been the most inclusive and transparent in the history of the Tennessee House of Representatives and one that will produce both a fair and constitutional redistricting plan.”

Lawmakers are going to vote on new maps next session.

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