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Lawmakers to redraw legislatives districts

While work on the state budget is predicted to dominate the 2011legislative session, at least one other issue will receivesignificant attention by necessity – redistricting.

Lawmakers will use the results of the decennial census to redrawthe lines of legislative districts across Mississippi, reshapingthe political boundaries that determine where citizens vote and whothey can vote for. Redistricting is already shaping up to becontentious, with Republican Senate leader Lt. Gov. Phil Bryantvowing to review the new House maps instead of automaticallyapproving them and Democratic House speaker Billy McCoy promisingthe Senate will have no say in the House plan.

The last time the House and Senate failed to agree on redistrictingplans was in the early 1990s, when the stalemate resulted in twoelections – one in 1991 in existing districts and another in 1992in the new districts.

“I think every effort is being made by the Senate and the Housemembers to make sure that doesn’t occur again,” said District 53Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto.

Next year will mark the third time Moak, who took office in 1984,has been involved in the decennial redistricting process, and whilehe remembers the blowup of the 1990s, he doesn’t think it willhappen again. Since Mississippi is one of the Voting Rights Actstates that must have redistricting plans approved by the U.S.Department of Justice, there will ultimately be a plan.

“The plan drawn by the Senate and House will meet federal muster,”Moak said. “Does that mean anybody can still file a lawsuit? Yes.Does that mean the suit will hold up the elections or besuccessful? No. As long as you meet federal requirements and it isagreed up on by a majority of the House and Senate, that is all ittakes.”

Moak does not envision a scenario where federal courts take controlof Mississippi’s redistricting process as the result of a lawsuit,especially if the House and Senate come to terms on the newdistrict maps.

“Courts have been very reluctant to enter into what they consider apolitical decision when legislators can agree on a plan,” hesaid.

Neither does Moak believe either side of the Legislature willseriously impede the passing of new district maps, the lieutenantgovernor included.

“Everybody is going to look at each other’s plans, but woe be theperson who would interject himself in order to hold the electionsand double the amount of taxpayer money it will require,” he said.”I won’t be the person to do that.”

District 91 Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello, isn’t so optimistic. Hethinks the issue will end up in court again, requiring a secondround of statewide elections in 2012.

“I hate that, I don’t want that to happen, but I think it’s areally good probability,” he said. “Phil Bryant has already statedthis year will be different. Generally, when one person up theremakes a statement like that, he gets his quid pro quo.”

District 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, believes the smallnature of changes to Mississippi’s population recorded by thecensus will make redistricting easier to deal with. According tocensus data, the state’s population stands at 2.96 million, anincrease of 4.3 percent.

“I don’t see very much changing. We may end up with one less(district) on the coast because of Hurricane Katrina, maybe onemore in DeSoto County,” Currie said. “But for the most part I don’tsee a lot changing.”