Published in the current issue of The Best Times.

By Jimmie Covington

Shelby County lost four state House of Representatives seats during the span of four 10-year federal censuses that started in 1980, and the 2020 Census numbers will likely result in one additional loss.

Reapportionment is based on population, and Middle Tennessee has been increasing in residents in much greater numbers than Shelby County and West Tennessee.

The primary reason for Shelby’s slow growth is people moving away from Memphis to other parts of the nation. A review of Tennessee Blue Books—an official manual of Tennessee state government published every other year by the Tennessee Secretary of State— shows there was no loss of a House seat after the 1990 Census.

The Blue Books show that after the 1980 Census, Shelby’s number of seats dropped from 18 to 17, and although boundaries of individual districts were changed to balance their populations, the total remained at 17 after the 1990 Census.

After the 1980 Census, Democrats, who remained in a majority in the General Assembly, shifted District 82 to Haywood and Lauderdale counties.

Democrats were still in a majority after the 2000 Census and District 94 was shifted to Fayette, Hardeman and Tipton counties, leaving Shelby with 16 House seats.

The Republican Party became the majority party in the Tennessee General Assembly after the 2010 Census and now holds super majorities in both houses. Republicans adopted a plan in 2012 that moved House Districts 89 and 92 elsewhere in the state. That move left Shelby with 14 seats.

District 92 was represented by Henri Brooks, a Black Democrat, before she moved to the County Commission. G. A. Hardaway, another Black Democrat, succeeded her in the House seat. The new 2012 lines placed Hardaway in District 86, where Black lawmaker Barbara Cooper has been the longtime representative.

Not wishing to run against Cooper, Hardaway moved to District 93, where Mike Kernell, a white Democrat, was the longtime House member. Hardaway defeated Kernell at which point there were no white Democrats in the county’s House delegation.

That situation changed in 2016 when white Democrat Dwayne Thompson defeated Republican incumbent Steve McManus in House District 96, which includes Cordova and Germantown. Thompson won re-election in 2018 and 2020.

The population of Tennessee’s ideal House district rose from 64,102 after the 2010 Census to 69,806 after the 2020 Census. Shelby County’s population only increased from 927,644 to 929,744.

It is unclear what might happen to Shelby’s districts in the state Senate. Shelby has four districts within its boundaries. Part of District 32 is in Shelby, including the Collierville area. The remainder includes all of Tipton County. The district is represented by Paul Rose of Covington, a Republican. The ideal population of Senate districts rose from 192,306 to 209,419.

Republicans are expected to make the final decision on a redistricting plan during next year’s legislative session.