The state redistricting process will likely see fireworks in the coming days. On Tuesday, the Mississippi Senate Elections Committee killed a redistricting map approved by the House of Representatives.
"I've never heard of anything like that before," said Marty Wiseman, director of Mississippi State University's John C. Stennis Institute of Government. "I was just telling someone that there are likely to be bullets flying from one side to the other over this."
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, who has served District 7 since 1984, said he had never witnessed a Senate committee kill a re-apportionment plan the House submitted.
"This is unprecedented," Bryan told the Jackson Free Press. He added, however, that a majority of the Senate wants the process to move as smoothly as possible to ensure timely elections this year. "The Legislature is still in session, and there are a number of us dedicated to having the four-year elections (on time), and we're still working with that."
The Senate Elections Committee also ignored a map the Senate Redistricting Committee submitted that would have created a majority-black Senate District 41 in Hattiesburg. The Senate Redistricting Committee map created District 41 with a majority-black voting population of 59.06 percent, up from 38.21 percent.
The committee instead favored a redistricting plan submitted by Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, which does not alter District 41, said Sen. David Jordan,
"The plan (Senate Redistricting Committee Chairman) Sen. Terry Burton came up with was a workable plan, but some Republicans were worried that African Americans would get a new (majority) district in the Hattiesburg area," Jordan said.
Sen. David Baria, D-Bay St. Louis, said Bryant is holding up the entire legislative session. "The story about this is that a Republican-appointed (Senate Redistricting Committee) chairman worked very hard for a year to get information to draw fair maps, but somebody didn't like it, and they prevailed upon (Bryant) to put the brakes on it," Baria said. "This will bog down everything, even budgeting, and everything will come to a standstill."
Bryant did not immediately return calls.
The U.S. Census Bureau recorded population changes for 2010 that force lawmakers to expand or shrink some state House and Senate districts to ensure that all districts contain similar populations. The population deviation can be no more than 10 percent between districts. To accomplish this after population shifts, some districts must expand their territory or surrender territory to other districts to maintain an even population distribution for elections.
The House plan is a boon to incumbents, even though some districts may end up moving into entirely different parts of the state. West Democratic Rep. Mary Ann Stevens' District 48 is one of the new districts moving north to Desoto County, meaning her current Holmes County district has essentially disappeared.
The same fate faces Rep. Jim Ellington, R-Raymond, whose District 73 currently includes a few communities in Hinds County. House leaders propose shifting Ellington's precinct to south Mississippi, to an area near Walthall County. District 63, which contains the black semi-rural populations of Edwards and Bolton.
Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, said House leaders had shown him the shape of his district and that he was happy with its new shape. Snowden's District 83. It still occupies the somewhat urban area surrounding the city of Meridian, but the black voting-age population of his district (18 and older) drops dramatically from 40.92 percent of the population to only 17.07 of the population in the new map--virtually assuring the Republican's re-election if he manages to survive a Republican opponent in the primaries. (Prospective legislators have until June 1 to qualify to run for election.)
Critics of the process say they worry that the new maps may create black or white super-majorities. "If what we end up with is supermajority white districts and supermajority black districts, then the state of Mississippi loses," said Jackson attorney Dorsey Carson, who has represented the Jackson Municipal Democratic Executive Committee in court battles and is running for the District 64 House seat.
Wiseman said black legislators may ultimately be hurting their voters by pressing for districts with 60 percent or more black voting populations and packing black influence into one district. "There are plenty of studies done over time saying you've got to get as close to 60 percent in a black majority district to reasonably assure that a black politician will get elected because of low voter turn-out in the community," Wiseman said. "There are better ways to drum up support, like the old-fashioned way of going door-to-door."
Arguments regarding packing districts with supermajorities sit on the wayside, however, as House leaders mull the prospect of shooting down the Senate redistricting plan in retaliation to the Senate Elections Committee's Tuesday failure to pass the House plan.
"I can't speak for them, but I would be mad as hell," Jordan said. "I wouldn't be surprised if that's what they did."
Complicating things or not, the House plan divided Starkville (the city with the largest Institute of Higher Learning) into multiple statehouse districts (5 I believe). That's just a ridiculous.
I'm for moving to a unicameral system anyways, who's with me?
Yes, more Hob Bryan please! He is a quote-a-minute.
Off topic: Did Adam ask him to elaborate on his views concerning the civil rights museum?