Fair Maps: Lawmakers ask Chattanoogans for input on community needs, political districts


Rep. Yusuf Hakeem, Sen. Jeff Yarbro and Rep. Vincent Dixie gathering information to keep communities whole through
community districting

CHATTANOOGA — What community needs should lawmakers be focused on? That’s the question a group of legislators, who will soon consider new political maps, want answered this Thursday.

Chattanooga residents can make their voices heard Thursday at noon EST during an online public meeting hosted by Rep. Yusuf Hakeem (D-Chattanooga), Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) and Rep. Vincent Dixie (D-Nashville).

The discussion will be focused on community districting and how the legislature could better serve the needs of Chattanooga.

Community districting — also called redistricting or reapportionment — happens every 10 years after federal census officials release data showing the population of every county, city and town in the nation. A good district map reflects a whole community or a community of shared interests, such as a city, neighborhood or group of people who have common policy concerns that would benefit from being drawn into a single district.

These legislators will use the input they learn from residents to better inform the legislature on how to draw fair state and federal districts that best represent Knox County communities for the coming decade.

The goal of community districting is to produce new political maps where districts at each level of government have an equal population. But it is also an opportunity to make sure districts are responsive to the needs of whole communities and neighborhoods, lawmakers say.

“We want to hear from residents about the challenges that are holding back our families and community because the political maps drawn at the legislature will affect every issue our community cares about for 10 years,” said meeting host Rep. Hakeem (D-Chattanooga). “Solving these problems starts by enacting fair maps, where communities are whole and voters can hold their elected leaders accountable.”

Participating in community districting is as important as voting or advocating for civil rights, according to Rep. Sam McKenzie (D-Knoxville) who hosted a public meeting in Knoxville last week.

“From the fight for civil rights to making our voices heard in record numbers at the ballot box in the last election, when we band together, we can create lasting change,” Rep. McKenzie said. “But right now, some power-hungry politicians want to divide our communities in an attempt to silence some of our families based on where they live. We have to join together and speak out for fair districts to ensure our communities thrive for the next 10 years and generations that follow.”

The Chattanooga community districting meeting is the second in a series of public meetings being hosted by Democrats in the Tennessee General Assembly. In the coming weeks, lawmakers will also host public meetings in Nashville and Memphis, among other places.

Democratic leaders have encouraged the Republican majority, which controls the mapmaking process in the legislature, to host bipartisan or independent public meetings across the state to gather information about community districting. So far, only one meeting in Nashville has been held.

Democrats say public engagement is key to developing fair maps that keep cities and communities whole.