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Pickering pushes regional plan for congressional redistricting

Maintaining congressional districts with common geographies andinterests should be the focus as state lawmakers draw new lines,said Third District Rep. Chip Pickering Wednesday during a stop inBrookhaven.

“We want the legislature to look at the four distinctive regionsin Mississippi,” Pickering said following a speech before a jointLions-Kiwanis club meeting.

Due to slower population growth, state lawmakers must redrawU.S. congressional district lines for four representatives insteadof the current five. From plans currently being discussed,Pickering said it is a likely a new Third District will includeBrookhaven, which is now in the Fourth District.

Four regions that Pickering identified were the Hills of northMississippi, the Mississippi River and Delta counties, the PineyWoods area of southwest Mississippi and the east central part ofthe state, and the coastal south.

“These are distinctive regions with common interests andpriorities,” Pickering said.

With the state losing a U.S. representative, Pickering has beenfrequently been mentioned as one who will face a fellow incumbentunder new congressional lines. Several scenarios have him facingincumbent Fourth District Rep. Ronnie Shows next year.

A redistricting plan Pickering is favoring has Lincoln, Copiahand Amite on the western border of a new Third District. Thenorthern-most county would be Oktibbeha County.

The district would include Shows’ home county of Jefferson Davisand a portion of Jones County and Pickering’s home town ofLaurel.

Any redistricting plan must be approved by the U.S. JusticeDepartment, and Pickering pointed out the plan must not diluteminority voting strength. The plan Pickering mentioned wouldmaintain a 60 percent minority voting age percentage in District 2,which would stretch from Union County to Wilkinson County and alsoinclude Franklin County.

A state legislative committee is reviewing redistrictingproposals. A special session is expected to be called later thisyear, but a date has not been set.

The qualifying deadline for next year’s congressional electionsis March 1.

Redistricting was among a varieties of topics Pickering touchedon Wednesday.

Pickering praised the selection of former U.S. Rep. Mike Parker,of Brookhaven, as the President’s choice to lead the U.S. ArmyCorps of Engineers. Parker, whose confirmation is pending, willbring a principled and common sense approach to the job, Pickeringsaid.

“We’re very pleased he’s going have a strong leadership positionin the new Bush administration,” Pickering said.

Pickering said Bush has set forth a principled agenda as he andCongress address education, national defense, Social Security andother issues. He hailed passage of the $1.3 trillion tax cut andthe House version of the patients’ bill of rights.

The Senate has passed a different patients’ rights bill andconference will be needed to iron out differences. With itsindependent external review provisions, Pickering said the Houseversion strikes the right balance between patient care andlitigation when care is denied.

“That should filter out any frivolous lawsuits,” Pickering saidabout the review provisions. “We think that’s a fundamentalsafeguard we should maintain as we go into conference with theSenate.”

Pickering also touted pending legislation that would increasefunding for education while giving local districts and parents moreflexibility and freedom regarding where money is spent. With thatfreedom, though, would come increase accountabilityrequirements.

“We want to emphasize K-4,” Pickering said while mentioningconcerns about students who are not reading on grade level by thefourth grade.

In the area of energy, Pickering said the U.S. is now 56 percentdependent on foreign oil. If the U.S. does not address its energysituation, that percentage will increase to 66 percent in 20 years,he said.

That dependence threatens the economy, but more importantly,national security, Pickering said.

“We’re trying to make fundamental changes to be moreindependent, produce more and conserve more,” Pickering said.

The congressman was quizzed on foreign trade with China andCanada.

Pickering discounted the theory that trade with China wouldfurther open up that country’s economy to the U.S. and improve thecommunist country’s human rights record.

“Their human rights record is not getting better, it’s gettingworse,” Pickering said.

He added that China’s nuclear proliferation talks arecontinuing, and the country’s forced or subsidized labor makes itdifficult for the U.S. to compete.

“It puts us in a great economic disadvantage and an unevenplaying field,” Pickering said.

Of interest in the area and rest of the state, Pickeringapplauded recent action to apply a 20 percent tariff to timberimports from Canada. He said 12 Mississippi mills had gone out ofbusiness and the tariff and some other measures would helpstabilize the market.

Pickering said no one is against trade, but it has to be fairtrade.

“If it’s not fair, we’ve got to do a better job of balancing outtrade policy,” Pickering said.