NASHVILLE, TN ­­– Republicans control the government in Southern states like Florida and Tennessee. They draw maps for Congressional districts, house and senate districts, county, city, and local school districts.  

How maps are drawn will effect how much political power communities of color will wield at every level for the next ten years. Those maps will determine how much money goes to local schools; how much money goes to affordable housing: they will determine how many minority-majority election districts there are, and how many minority candidates will be elected.

One quarter of Florida’s population is Latino. African Americans make up roughly one fifth of Tennessee’s population. Gerrymandering –drawing maps that split communities in two or pack them along racial lines—are violations of the Voting Rights Act but it doesn’t stop partisan politicians from doing it anyway. It assures their reelection. 

Incumbents don’t have to listen to the growing number of minority voters because they’ve been shut out of the game.  Since the last census, Latinos make up most of the population growth in Florida. Florida gets one more congressional district because of that growth. But state officials created a 28th Congressional District in a central rural part of Florida that is a majority white area. 

“Despite the rapid growth of the Latino population throughout the state, we do not have any additional minority majority seats, Latino seats,“ said Director Kira Romero-Craft, Southeast Region for LatinoJustice.

Southern Florida around Miami is largely Latino; not as many Cubans but immigrants from South American and the Caribbean countries have moved there as Cubans relocated north of Broward and Dade counties. 

Romero-Craft said that in the southern part of Florida, the way the maps are currently drawn, the Latino vote will be diluted by packing them into fewer districts.  

“Latinos are over 70, 80, 90% in certain districts in the southern part of the state. Therefore, our ask is to slow down the process. We have not been afforded an opportunity to testify on behalf of our communities to ensure that the legislature listens to underserved communities and that they have the opportunity to elect representatives of their choice,” she said. 

Latinos are underrepresented at practically all levels of government in Florida. Advocates want minority-majority districts to be drawn wherever possible. 

Romero-Craft supports a new Congressional district in Central Florid because that is where much of the Latino population lives. Puerto Ricans, for example, have immigrated to central Florida in recent years but that’s not where officials drew the new district. 

“This process happens behind close doors,” said Cecilia Gonzales, a student activist. She moved to Kissimmee four years ago from Venezuela and quickly realized Latinos don’t have a voice in their government. Gonzales said Kissimmee is 89% Latino and that Latinos need to have fair maps so they can not only run for office but win. 

“None of those maps look good for us… it’s making it look like we don’t exist,” said Father Jose Rodriguez. He is vicar of Jesus of Nazareth Episcopal Church in Oviedo, Fl. Rodriguez has been serving a Latino community that started arriving in Orlando’s Azalea Park neighborhood in 1987.  

“They artificially divide up our community; they diminish our voice; they keep neighbor from being able to join their voices to be heard,” he said.

Jose Rodriguez was born in Puerto Rico and grew up Orlando’s Azalea Park neighborhood. He is the vicar of Jesus of Nazareth Episcopal Church in Oviedo, Florida. He works with victims of hurricanes.

Rodriquez’s parish is divided into two election districts.  He said whenever they try to get something done they are told ‘No, this is that congressperson or that is the other congressperson’. We have all these unusual lines drawn. These lines exist to divide us up,” he said. 

Rodriquez said Florida has one party in control of redistricting and one population that votes contrary to that party.

“If they further divide us, our community will be further fragmented. We will be further diminished in its voice. It will be more difficult to obtains resources, for us to get help and for us to be fully represented in our democracy.”

Gerrymandering in Tennessee 

Most of Tennessee’s Black population lives around Memphis and Nashville with sizeable numbers in smaller cities like Jackson, Clarksville, and Chattanooga. Black representatives have been elected from Nashville and Memphis for years. 

This arrangement has guaranteed some safe Black seats in the House and Senate. But Blacks are still under-represented in the Legislature. African Americans make up 17% of the population. But Black state office holders only make up 9% of the seats in the Senate and 15% in the House of Representatives.

In the next two weeks the Legislature will vote on district maps proposed by Republicans with little input from anybody else. “Rigged” is how Ken Jobe described the process. He is the Democratic House Caucus Press Secretary. 

Democrats have proposed maps but Republican lawmakers who control the process have ignored them.  You can see those maps here: https://tnsenatedems.medium.com/tenn-democrats-update-congressional-map-proposal-fa55d67bcbf3

The Tennessee Republican Party presented their proposed maps January 12, 2022. There was very little public comment on redistricting and although a couple of people submitted their own maps, Republicans ignored them, too. 

“All three plans they accepted—the house, senate and congressional plan—no one had a chance to see their final version of the plans before the day they were recommended to the committee,” Jobe said. 

Ken Jobe is Tennessee Democratic House Caucus Press Secretary. He spends a lot of time on Capitol Hill and has closely watched the Republicans gerrymander Tennessee voting districts. The Senate will vote on proposed maps next week and the House will vote on House districts the following week.

He said there was no discussion, no input from others, and the Republicans had the Democrats on a short leash. 

“They want to talk about how transparent it was because they had a handful of Democrats on the committee who didn’t get to see the final product and were outnumbered when it came to voting. That is what they call transparent,“ Jobe said. 

The Tennessee Democratic Party says they will sue if the Republicans pass their proposed maps. Under the Republican plan, Congressional District 5, now represented by Rep. Jim Cooper, is broken into three districts.

“Not only did the break up the Democrats but they broke up minorities between three districts so you do not have not a chance to have real representation,” Jobe said. 

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1 Comment

  1. They do it because they know if they don’t they won’t win. I don’t understand why republicans can’t do what’s right instead of trying to rig everything to suit them. Just be fair. That’s all I ask.

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