Lawmakers set to tackle state’s redistricting job

Published 6:00 am Thursday, November 1, 2001

Some Lincoln County lawmakers say they are keeping their optionsopen as legislators convene in Jackson Thursday for a specialsession to redraw the state’s U.S. Congressional districtlines.

“I think everybody needs to go up there with an open mind,” saidDist. 39 Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith.

Because the state’s population grew more slowly than others,lawmakers must redraw U.S. Congressional district lines for fourrepresentatives instead of the current five.

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How that will be done, though, remains to be seen. A variety ofplans have been developed, some favoring Democrats and somefavoring Republicans, and still other plans could be possible.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what actually will be puton the table Thursday,” Hyde-Smith said.

As of Tuesday, Hyde-Smith said three plans were emerging aspossibilities. Those included a revision of a so-called “tornadoplan,” which would group Rankin County voters with those fromTupelo, a “block plan” proposed by Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, and the otherwas a plan being developed by Rep. Joe Ellzey, of Ellisville.

State Republicans Tuesday endorsed a plan developed by formerDemocratic state Sen. Henry Kirksey.

Hyde-Smith said she was expecting changes to various plansbefore Thursday.

“That’s the reason to wait and see what we’re dealing with andwhat comes up in the bill,” the senator said.

Like Hyde-Smith, Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett was notcommitting to any plan before the session. He wants to hear thedebate over the various plans.

“I’m going to listen to the arguments,” Barnett said.

Hyde-Smith said fairness to the state would be a factor in herredistricting plan consideration.

“I am really looking forward to hearing the debate on how theygot to where they are,” the senator said.

Limiting the number of counties divided between congressionaldistricts has been a concern for some lawmakers. Barnett saidLincoln County did not have to worry about that.

“We’re all right in every plan. We’re not split,” Barnettsaid.

Regarding interest from the public, Barnett and Hyde-Smithexpressed different situations.

“I haven’t heard from many people,” said Barnett, mentioning onecall from a resident urging him to support Tuck’s plan.

Hyde-Smith, however, said she was getting “lots of phone calls”about the special session and the plans. She said constituentcomments were split about 50-50 in support of either the tornadoplan or Tuck’s block plan.

“I think people who are calling are interested in protectingtheir party,” the senator said.

Redistricting speculation so far has been that areas currentlyrepresented by U.S. Reps. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, and ChipPickering, a Republican, could be combined as the state goes fromfive representatives to four. Areas represented by Reps. RogerWicker, Bennie Thompson and Gene Taylor would be enlarged but notgreatly changed.

How the newly-created districts’ vote could be determined inpart by their percentage of black voters. Voting trends show ahigher percentage of black voters favors Democrats while a lowerpercentage favors Republicans.

Barnett was expecting a time-consuming process as lawmakers workon redistricting.

Hyde-Smith said the special session is expected to take aboutthree days. She added, however, that the special session to be a”picnic” compared to budget-cutting decisions that lawmakers willhave to make during the 2002 regular session.

Any redistricting plan that lawmakers approve must also beapproved by Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and, because of Voting Rights Actprovisions, get pre-clearance from the U.S. Department of Justice.Barnett sounded a pessimistic note that legal challenges couldultimately decide the issue.

“I still think it may end up in the court system, I really do,”Barnett said.