LaVergne Lacks Voice in General Assembly

October 16, 2011 – DAILY NEWS JOURNAL, MURFREESBORO, TNState Rep. Mike Sparks wants Rutherford County’s new House district to give the city of La Vergne greater representation in the Tennessee General Assembly.

The new district, which is likely to go in the northwestern part of the county, would let a House member put more emphasis on

2010 Tennessee State House Districts

2010 Tennessee State House Districts

north Rutherford rather  than being spread too thin, Sparks said.

“Murfreesboro, you could argue, has three voices when La Vergne has one,” said Sparks, a first-term Republican from Smyrna whose district runs  from La Vergne through part of Smyrna and takes in a portion of northern Rutherford County before dipping into central Murfreesboro.

Because of its population growth to more than 262,000 residents in the 2010 census, Rutherford is slated to get four of its own House districts as part  of the statewide redistricting plan required for constitutional requirements of “one man, one vote,” the Voting Rights Act and state and U.S. constitutions.  The preferred population for districts is 64,102 with a range of plus or minus 10 percent, all three of Rutherford’s House districts easily  exceed that number.

Sparks hopes the new district takes in most of La Vergne, which grew by more than 27,000 in 10 years, and the western portion of Smyrna, which  grew by more than 50 percent from 25,569 in 2000 to roughly 40,000 now.

While Sparks doesn’t want to lose Murfreesboro constituents he got to know while campaigning, he also said living in Smyrna and representing  portions of inner Murfreesboro can stretch him thin because of the number of commitments.

“They seem to be open to me about having another voice for La Vergne,” Sparks said.

La Vergne Mayor Senna Mosley said the city “absolutely” needs a stronger voice in the Legislature because the city’s representatives have been spread across the county.

“I don’t think it’s actually soaked in, but we are now pushing 33,000 people,” Mosley said. She pointed toward the Waldron Road widening project as one example of the need for a state representative who can focus more on La Verge.

The 2012 session convenes January 10, and legislators hope to approve district lines soon thereafter to give candidates time to qualify for election campaigning by an April 5 deadline.  Current plans were enacted in the House on January 14 in 2002.

The House of Representatives is allowed to have only 30 districts that cross county lines, and because of Rutherford County’s growth rate since 2000, up some 44 percent from 182,023, it merits four full House districts. District 62, which is represented by Republican Pat Marsh of Shelbyville, would likely be dropped from the southwest and Rockvale areas of Rutherford.

Rep. Rick Womick, a Murfreesboro Republican who lives on New Salem Highway in the Rockvale area, is expected to pick up the southwestern part of the county, areas west of U.S. 231 South (Shelbyville Highway) and keep west Murfreesboro up to state Route 840.

Womick, whose District 34 is the largest in the state and must drop about 38,000 of his 101,480 constituents, predicts the new seat will be drawn out of the northern third of the county where he will lose the Almaville and west Smyrna areas.

“I’m going to be keeping everything south of 840,” Womick said last week.

State Rep. Joe Carr, a Lascassas Republican in his second term, projects his district, the 48th, will take in just about everything east of U.S. Highway 231 North and South (Lebanon Highway and Shelbyville Highway).

“That leaves everything west of 231 to be divided,” said Carr, who lives on Overall Creek Road in Lascassas.

The vast majority of growth in Rutherford County has come on the west side, Carr said, leaving that section as the clear area for a new seat.  Growth was heavy, too, in Smyrna and La Vergne, with those cities recording populations of nearly 39,724 and 32,558 in the census.

But while Sparks wants La Vergne to have a stronger voice in the House, Carr said it might be necessary for each district to dip into Murfreesboro.

“We’ve got some demographic issues,” Carr said. “We want to be open and fair.”

The Legislature is accepting public plans for redistricting through November 1.  Plans submitted for redistricting must have a report on the total population of each district, including the relative deviation from the ideal population, and the percentage of black, white and Hispanic residents, including those of voting age, in each district.

Most important, Carr said, is to use clear boundaries such as major highways and the Stones River to draw district lines.

“When it’s on a map, we want people to say that makes sense,” he said, “as opposed to some of the stuff we’ve got now.”

Carr believes Democrats drew lines previously to favor their party’s incumbents and says some of the district lines make no sense, such as running through a dry creek bed in the North Woods neighborhood of Murfreesboro.

Sparks called it “ingenious” how the 49th District was designed to dip down into Murfreesboro from La Vergne and Smyrna.  When districts are redrawn, he said he wants clear boundaries such as Murfreesboro Road (Lowry Street).

In Smyrna, for instance, people are often confused about which House member represents them, and they don’t know until they go to the polls, he said.

Rutherford County’s representation in the state Senate will remain split into at least two districts because of the county’s population.  Senate districts are supposed to have 190,000 to 194,000 residents, and with more than 262,000 residents, Rutherford County can’t be made into one district, state Sen. Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville said.

Tracy’s 16th District includes eastern and northern Rutherford, Bedford and Moore counties, Republican Sen. Bill Ketron’s 13th District includes the western half of Rutherford, Maury, Marshall and Lincoln counties.

In fact, both Ketron and Tracy will have to give up some of their constituents, because the 16th District, with 231,510 residents, is the second largest Senate district in Tennessee, and the 13th is the third largest with 227,448 people.

Ketron, who as chairman of the Senate Majority Caucus, is a regional coordinator of the Senate’s redistricting process.  “The working group in the Senate is still considering plans for state Senate and U.S. Congress.  We have opened the process for public input and will carefully review those plans as the final work product for fair and equitable districts is completed,” Ketron said in a statement.

Voting on the redistricting legislation will take place as soon as possible after the Legislature convenes, Ketron said.

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