The 2020 U.S. Census numbers have rolled in, and members of the Tennessee General Assembly are beginning the decennial redistricting process in which Williamson County is set to receive part of a fourth state House district and part of a second state Senate district.
Williamson County’s own state Rep. Sam Whitson (R-Franklin) and state Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) are serving on the redistricting committees for the state House and Senate, respectively, and both are anticipating their districts will shrink, though how they might shrink is yet uncertain.
“I have not seen the maps yet, so we don’t know what it’s going to look like,” Whitson said.
The redistricting process takes place every decade after the U.S. Census with the goal of providing equal representation across state House, state Senate and U.S. Congressional districts.
“The key instructions that we have been given by the chairman of the committee, Curtis Johnson, is that we want to make sure this is fair and constitutional. Those are the two keywords,” Whitson said, adding that the primary challenge for the committees will be accommodating the major population shifts throughout the state.
The total population of Tennessee clocks in around 6.91 million (8.9% growth over 10 years), making the ideal population of each state House district 69,806, each state Senate district 209,419 and each congressional district 767,871. As the state committees move through the redistricting process, each district must have a population within 10% (5% above or below) the ideal population.
While much of the western and northeastern parts of the state lost population since the last census, many of the Middle Tennessee counties (including Williamson County) grew more than 10%, which means that many districts in Middle Tennessee will shrink while others on the fringe of the state will grow.
Williamson County experienced over 35% population growth since 2010, up to a total population of 247,726, making it the highest growing county in the state under Trousdale, which grew almost 48%.
Because of this growth, currently all three state House districts and the one state Senate district in Williamson County are over the ideal population. House District 63, represented by Glen Casada (R-Franklin), has the highest population of any Tennessee House district, coming in almost 30,000 (nearly 43%) over the ideal number. Whitson’s District 65 is also well above the ideal and will lose about 6,500 residents (9.33%).
House District 61, represented by Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin), is only 2.63% over the ideal population, so because this is within the acceptable margin, the district lines may not change much. However, as the borders around it shift, it might face marginal changes.
“If you move one line in one county, it will have a ripple effect all across,” Whitson said.
Whitson said for the House redistricting committee, three area coordinators will lead the efforts, and for the sake of impartiality, the coordinators do not live in the region in which they are leading. For example, redistricting in Middle Tennessee will be coordinated by Kevin Vaughan of Shelby County.
Senate District 23, which encompasses all and only Williamson County and is represented by Johnson, is more than 38,000 (15.46%) over target, meaning it will have to shrink, and Williamson County will gain part of another Senate district.
While Williamson County is currently incorporated into U.S. Congressional District 7, represented by Mark Green, Whitson said he cannot yet predict how the congressional districts may change.
The qualifying deadline for the new district maps is April 7, 2022, but the new boundaries will not become effective until the November 2022 elections. The Tennessee General Assembly will convene its legislative session on Jan. 11, at which time the state’s nose will be truly put to the grindstone.
“After the committee comes up with their recommendation, it’s going to go first to the public service subcommittee, and then from there, it goes to the state government committee,” Whitson said. “We anticipate that will be done early on in session.”
Whitson said he encourages the community to visit the state redistricting webpages at www.capitol.tn.gov/senate/committees/redistricting.html and www.capitol.tn.gov/House/committees/Redistricting.aspx and follow along in the process.