Redistrict plan wins House OK

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, March 6, 2011

He ought to fit in pretty good here.

He talks long and labored, with a deep voice and a thick drawl thatmakes the words leak slow off his lips like syrup. He’s no strangerto hard work, having spent years as a welder and volunteer firedepartment chief. He’s a former game warden, member of the NationalWild Turkey Federation, National Rifle Association and MississippiCattlemen’s Association.

District 100 Rep. Ken Morgan, a Republican from Morgantown, shouldfind himself right at home among the people of Big Springs, FairRiver, East Lincoln and Heuck’s Retreat, the four precincts inLincoln County he would represent if new legislative district mapsproposed by the House are approved.

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“It’s my kind of people. I can relate to them,” Morgan said. “We’reall basically from the same cut of cloth – outlying country folks,blue collar, hard-working. If it turns into my district, I welcomethem.”

The new boundaries proposed in House Joint Resolution 1 would seeMorgan’s District 100 spread across Lawrence County and intoLincoln County, encompassing the four communities currentlyincluded in Brookhaven Republican Becky Currie’s District 92 andmaking Lincoln County home to three representatives. Under theplan, District 100 would stretch across seven counties for morethan 70 miles, from Lake Lincoln to the southern outskirts ofHattiesburg.

The resolution passed the House mostly along party lines Friday bya vote of 65-56 and was held on a motion to reconsider. The motionwas tabled Saturday morning.

The resolution will go to the Senate, where Republican Lt. Gov.Phil Bryant – a candidate for governor – has promised to scrutinizeit. The House redistricting plan has thus far been the mostcontroversial subject of the 2011 session, and promises to getworse.

Since Mississippi is one of several states that must abide by theVoting Rights Act of 1965, state redistricting plans must beapproved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

To protect the one man, one vote stipulation, there must be nogreater than a 10 percent variance in population size between thebiggest and smallest of the state’s 122 House districts. The idealpopulation for each district is 24,322.

The rules also demand minority districts not be diluted.

If that approval doesn’t come before the legislative qualifyingdeadline on June 1, lawmakers could be facing two elections – onethis year in the current districts and another in 2012 in the newdistricts.

Morgan voted against the resolution Friday because the new map mademost of Columbia a part of District 73. Morgan said he carried fiveof the six precincts in that city in 2007.

“It just took my county seat away from me in Marion County,” hesaid. “With me being from Marion County, I should be representingmy county seat. Those people put a public trust in me to do what Ithought was right.”

Currie also voted against the resolution, calling the new mapsgerrymandering. She said the redistricting plan collapsesRepublican districts and was built to ensure Democrats maintaincontrol of the House for another 10 years.

“This is about 10 more years under this dictatorship, andMississippi deserves better,” she said. “We’re leaving this sessionwith 54 Republicans and we’ll be coming back with 46.”

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, voted for theresolution. He said the maps were drawn fairly according to therules of the Voting Rights Act and that Republicans had just asmuch input as Democrats.

“There was testimony from the floor, there was a record made to theU.S. Justice Department that Republicans as well as Democratspresented information from the floor,” he said. “(Friday) on theHouse floor, no Republicans made any comments whatsoever and therewas no alternative plan offered. Quite honestly, why would theywant to offer an alternative to a plan they helped draw?”

Moak pointed out the new maps increase the number of majority blackdistricts from 33 to 39 while dropping the number of splitprecincts from 449 to 189. District 53 picked up three precincts inJefferson County to replace the three lost to District 100 inLawrence County.

District 91 Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello, also voted for theresolution. His district – a protected majority black district -changed little. He said the new maps were drawn fairly according tojustice department guidelines.

“The Republicans don’t like them because they weren’t drawn tofavor them so they could pick up districts,” Evans said. “Earth toRepublicans … When you’re not in the majority, you’re not in theposition to have everything done your way.”