NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Black college students once marched downtown from the northern Nashville neighborhood where Aaron Marble preaches, seated at counters reserved for whites to fight for civil rights. Soon, his historically black community will morph into a mostly rural, white 14-county territory, and he’ll likely have a Republican congressman.
Reality set in for Marble when longtime U.S. Representative Jim Cooper, a moderate white Democrat, said he wouldn’t run because even he couldn’t win any of Nashville’s three new seats drawn by Republicans when redistricting once a decade. to treat.
The new maps will represent a stark change for Nashville, which encompasses Davidson County. As one of three counties in Tennessee that backed President Joe Biden in 2020, it’s home to the kind of coalition of young progressives, white moderates and African Americans that Democrats have increasingly honed in on. supported.
Now voters there face the potential for representation mostly at odds with their political views, including broad support for better access to health care and immigrant rights. There are particular concerns that new lawmakers will be hostile to protecting voting rights, an issue particularly resonant in the city where John Lewis, Diane Nash and other civil rights leaders got their start.
“Black Nashvillians have been feeling the brunt of living in a red state for some time. But I think this redistricting will have profound and lasting negative effects on some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable populations,” said Marble, senior pastor of Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church.
The once sleepy southern city has fueled much of Tennessee’s population growth with thriving healthcare and tech industries. Construction cranes soar above new steel and glass structures that push into a Nashville skyline that looks radically different from the one Bob Dylan turned into the title of an album in 1969. The cost of living has soared in arrow.
Navigating that will be a challenge for lawmakers who will also represent rural and suburban communities, where mainstream politics range from moderate Republican to conservative Republican.
“I think Nashvillians are going to have more of a whiplash, of culture shock, of regret than people in almost any city in America, because going from 100 years of Democratic representation to three varieties of Trump representation is going to be a damn shock,” Cooper said in an interview.
What the Tennessee Republicans did in Nashville is a standard technique of gerrymandering known as cracking, which dilutes a party’s power by spreading its voters across multiple districts. The prototype of this approach for the past decade was Austin, which Texas Republicans have divided into six congressional districts.
This cycle, Republican attempts to smash Democratic cities like Charlotte and Cincinnati have violated anti-gerrymandering laws in North Carolina and Ohio, leading state supreme courts to throw out their cards. Tennessee, however, lacks similar provisions.
The model sometimes also works in favor of the Democrats. Portland, Oregon is split four ways on the new map drawn by Democrats to create as many liberal-leaning districts as possible.
This time around, Republicans control the process of drawing the lines in states representing 187 House seats compared to the Democrats’ 75. Others use independent commissions, have shared government control, or have only one seat in Congress.
Tennessee Democrats plan to challenge the cards, but face significant hurdles. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that federal courts will not arbitrate partisan gerrymandering.
Additionally, Nashville likely doesn’t have enough minority voters to constitute a district’s majority, a key argument under federal suffrage protections. A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Alabama further dampens Nashville’s prospects in court, as justices ruled the election was too imminent to consider changes to the state’s congressional map.
So far for Nashville, both GOP congressmen and open-seat Republican candidates have not struck a more subdued tone.
Republican Rep. Mark Green, from the Clarksville area about 50 miles from Nashville, will draw the predominantly black Marble neighborhood north of Nashville, as well as downtown and elsewhere. In an interview, Green said that Democratic policies “don’t serve anyone in the state of Tennessee” and that “conservative principles are just better.”
He sought to counter criticism that Republican representation in twisty new neighborhoods could reduce Nashville’s needs. It’s unclear which Democrats might seek the seats in Nashville.
“What I have to do is go in and listen to people and understand the challenges, and then I’ll put my brains into it,” Green said. “I mean, I’m a smart guy. If I look at the problem and see the problem, I will help find a solution.
Republican Representative John Rose will also inherit part of Nashville. He’s from Cookeville, about 80 miles to the east.
The crowded and growing field for the revamped version of Cooper’s seat includes Morgan Ortagus, a Nashville resident and former State Department spokesman under President Donald Trump, who endorsed it. His first video attacks the media, “Sleepy Joe” Biden and “radical socialists”.
“Some people may have different opinions. It’s OK,” Ortagus told The Associated Press. “I want to meet them. I want to knock on their door. I want to talk to them. … I really think you can have common ground with people.
Green and Rose’s records, and the rhetoric of those seeking Cooper’s seat, complicate any relationship with Nashville.
Both support Trump’s tough tone on immigration, including the construction of the US-Mexico border wall. They will represent a growing immigrant community in Nashville — it has the largest Kurdish population in the country — and will be asked to help people navigate immigration services.
Lisa Sherman Luna, of the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition Votes, said immigrant advocates are used to building their political clout in difficult territory.
“I think the price is going to be much higher for cheap nativist tactics for some of these people,” she said. “They could rise to the occasion, truly representing a neighborhood that is going to be increasingly diverse.”
Green and Rose voted against Biden’s infrastructure law. Green argued the vote doesn’t mean he opposes infrastructure spending, which Nashville officials say is badly needed.
“We are financially struggling with our debt right now. That’s part of the problem,” Green said. “We just have to be smart about it. But yes, if there is a need for infrastructure, we will find the money and we build it.
Cooper, more fiscally conservative than his party, has spent years navigating Nashville’s political complexities. A 2022 challenge from the left awaited him if the district was not cut. He also shifted certain political positions to the left over the years, following his city. He expressed the need to strengthen the protection of voting rights.
Cooper predicted that Republicans are unprepared for what awaits them as a representative from Nashville.
“They will pay lip service. They will engage in symbolism. They will try to oil the waters,” Cooper said. “But they will not be able to hide their voting results, current, past or future. And these will not go well.
Associated Press writer Nicholas Riccardi in Denver contributed to this report.
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