Tennessee Republicans plan to carve up Nashville into as many as three congressional seats during redistricting this year, a state GOP leader said Monday.
“I won’t give an exact number, but it’s either two or three,” Republican House Speaker Cameron Sexton said of the possible district splits, in an interview with The Associated Press, adding that the new congressional maps would be released this week.
NBC News has reached out to Sexton's office for comment.
Democrats have warned for months that their GOP counterparts, who control the state legislature tasked with the redistricting, would draw new boundaries that are advantageous to Republicans as the party looks to bolster its prospects in the 2022 midterm elections and beyond.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that gerrymandering for partisan purposes is permissible under federal law.
Dividing up Nashville would threaten the re-election chances for Democratic Rep. Jim Cooper by pairing more conservative areas outside the state's largest city with the metropolitan area's more liberal voters. The resulting districts would likely create safe seats for Republicans.
“It’s highly likely they will gerrymander Tennessee and destroy Nashville’s identity and political clout,” Cooper, who has represented the 5th Congressional District since 2003, told NBC News last year. "It's a little bit like political looting. If you know that the store is open and nobody's watching, you're going to steal as much as you can."
Since the last redistricting cycle a decade ago, Middle Tennessee and Nashville, one of a handful of blue dots in a reliably red state, have exploded in population. The 5th district, which includes all of Davidson County, as well as the more rural Dickson County and parts of Cheatham County, now has too many residents and must be changed during redistricting. Davidson's population is now about the size of a standalone district, and Democrats have urged Republicans to keep the seat intact to preserve the political power of those voters.
But Sexton, in an interview with NBC News in the fall about the possibility of splitting the city, argued that having multiple lawmakers representing Nashville in Congress wouldn’t be a bad thing.
"If more than one person represents a county, then you have more voice in Washington," he said at the time.
Proponents of keeping Nashville as one district, however, argue that splitting the city's voters between multiple seats would dilute their voting power.
A decade ago, Republican lawmakers in North Carolina split the liberal city of Asheville — once a moderating force in the state's 11th Congressional District, which was represented at the time by a moderate Democrat — between two districts, creating two safe Republican seats in the process.