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State redistricting process uncertain after plan deaths

The Senate Elections Committee axed the proposed legislativeredistricting plans of both the House and Senate Tuesday, resettingthe time-sensitive reapportionment process in a move that couldcause legislators to run for office this year and next.

Committee member Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Brookhaven, said the Senatewould next examine a similar redistricting map promoted byRepublican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant that would make changes to theHattiesburg area, where one Republican district was eliminated infavor of a majority-black district in the initial Senate plan.Bryant’s proposal and a proposed amendment would leave “90 to 95percent” of the initial map intact and would have little or nochanges for Hyde-Smith’s District 39, which includes LincolnCounty.

“There is a possibility the district could go north of LawrenceCounty and pick up a few precincts in Simpson County, almost likeit used to be,” she said. “Lincoln and Lawrence County would remainintact.”

Hyde-Smith said shelving the original Senate redistricting plan andexamining other proposals would allow for a full floordebate.

Generating more controversy was the committee’s vote to kill theHouse redistricting plan, a vote that goes against years of the”gentlemen’s agreement,” where each chamber automatically approvedthe other’s reapportionment plan. Hyde-Smith said the House planwas simply not fair.

“It just appeared to be very leaned toward incumbency and cuttingout opponents. It was amazing, absolutely amazing,” she said.”We’ll just wait and see what the House members send over, if theycome up with an alternative plan, how much they’re willing tonegotiate.”

But the House won’t be sending over anything new, said District 53Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto.

“We’ll simply wait here and see what the final Senate product is,”he said. “We don’t have any control over the Senate process. TheHouse is only in a position to deal with what the Senate sendsus.”

District 91 Rep. Bob Evans, D-Monticello, said the dead-end in theSenate would lead to a repeat of the elections in 1991 and 1992,where legislators couldn’t agree on a redistricting plan and ranonce under their old districts and again after new ones were drawnup.

Mississippi’s election plans must be approved by the U.S.Department of Justice under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, andapproval must come before the primary election on Aug. 2. Thejustice department can take up to four months to approve aplan.

“It can’t be sent to the justice department on time, which willnecessarily get the federal courts involved because of partisanpolitics,” Evans said. “The Republican Party is trying to do thebest it can to gain control of the House of Representatives. If itdoes that, it will basically be able to do anything in this stateit desires without any kind of oversight from anyone.”

Better to run twice than have an unfair redistricting plan, saidDistrict 92 Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven.

“Republicans are not in the minority in Mississippi, and that mapdid not reflect that,” she said. “Republicans and Democratsrecognized this just was not a fair map. We don’t have to havegerrymandering.”