Redistricting plan for House on partisan path

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, March 6, 2011

The partisan path being pursued under a House redistricting planposes potential problems for Mississippi and its voters as a whole,and for individual parts of the state in particular.

On Friday, the House approved its plan to redraw legislativedistrict lines that will be in effect for the next 10 years.However, nearly every Republican – and even a few Democrats – votedagainst the proposal in the Democratic-controlled chamber.

Such a partisan practice sets the House plan at odds with Lt. Gov.Phil Bryant’s oft-stated intentions for the Senate to not simply”rubber stamp” it if he considers it unfair. With Bryant’s fellowRepublicans in the House voting almost en bloc against thatchamber’s plan, it would seem destined for a roadblock in theSenate.

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The Senate is expected to unveil its plan for redistricting thatchamber’s legislative lines on Monday. How those lines will look asdrawn up by the reapportionment committee remains to be seen.

As for the House plan, complaints of “gerrymandering” – thepractice of drawing voting lines to favor one party over another orto meet some specific goal – came from some of that chamber’sRepublicans.

While perhaps not obviously gerrymandering, it can be expected thatLincoln County lawmakers’ attention would be diverted under theHouse-passed plan.

After having a district wholly in the Southwest Mississippicounties of Lincoln, Franklin and Copiah, District 92 Rep. BeckyCurrie, R-Brookhaven, would have a larger chunk of Copiah Countyadded to her area in addition to a precinct as far away as northernSimpson County.

Democratic District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak would see a portion ofLawrence County removed from his district basically in exchange forsome of Jefferson County. Portions of Lincoln, Pike, Amite andFranklin counties would remain in the Bogue Chitto lawmaker’sterritory.

Furthermore, several eastern and northeastern Lincoln Countyprecincts would become part of a House district that includes partsof six other counties. Under the House plan, District 100 wouldstretch from the Heuck’s Retreat precinct in Lincoln County to anarea south of Hattiesburg in Lamar County.

Such divided districts as those involving Lincoln County createsthe potential for divided lawmaker loyalties when it comes toimportant votes in the Legislature. The needs of Lincoln County maynot necessarily be the same as those of, say, Marion County nearHattiesburg, so regional preferences or conflicts could come intoplay.

Also, due to the sheer size of some districts or the perceivedpolitical value of some areas, constituent services from or theavailability of one’s lawmaker may be diminished. Those outcomesmay not be intentional, but they are nevertheless possible.

So where does all of this leave Mississippi and the prospects forthis year’s elections? Not in a good place for anyone, itappears.

Assuming the Senate rejects the House redistricting plan, lawmakerscould return to the drawing board to tweak the plan to increase thefairness factor for all. The workload could be compounded if theHouse rejects the Senate plan.

Lawmakers are hoping to have redistricting plans approved by April1 in order to get them approved by the U.S. Department of Justiceunder Voting Rights Acts rules. June 1 is the legislative candidatequalifying deadline for this year’s elections.

Should plans not be approved in time, there is the possibility oflawmakers having to run again next year along with federalelections. For Democratic state lawmakers, that could be a perilouspath because they could be swept up – and out – in voter anger overthe state of national issues.

And a legal challenge is also not out the question. That wouldbring some unnecessary expenses because of lawmakers’ inability toreach a fair compromise over redrawn lines.

Given those considerations, it would be in everyone’s best interestto pursue a truly bipartisan solution to state redistrictingquestions.