By Bill Minor
Rather than calling the redistricting plan passed by the 2012 Legislature gerrymandering, a more apt term would be “Dennymandered,” so named in honor of Rep. Bill Denny, the veteran Republican from Jackson.
At 82, the oldest state lawmaker, Denny has lusted to get his mitts on redrawing legislative districts a long time, but was inhibited by pesky Democrats who had a say-so in the matter. Now he and his fellow GOPers are in charge and they want to make Dems pay for their sins.
Repubs showed they were not very anxious about remapping legislative districts under the 2010 census, holding up any floor action on it to the very end of the session and then springing their map after it had been drawn behind closed doors without any input from Democrats.
Though crudely handled, the GOP plan was cleverly drawn by making black districts blacker. The dirty little secret behind their over-populating black majority districts, is to wipe out at least a half dozen rural white Democrats, formerly McCoy’s loyal core.
One other trick in the House plan is to pit incumbents against each other in four districts. In one of the four, chief architect Denny pits himself against Democrat Cecil Brown of Jackson, who is widely regarded as the ablest fiscal and education lawmaker.
Denny, who may step aside next election for some up-and-coming younger Republican to win a ready-made seat, loaded up the district with heavy-voting GOP precincts in the Madison County reservoir area. Denny, however, may have out-smarted himself by drastically cutting the black population of the district, a no-no with DOJ.
Also targeted in the GOP House plan is white Democrat Johnny Stringer of tiny Montrose. With 33 years House experience (eight as appropriations chair) he was tossed into a new district with another white rural Democrat, Bo Eaton of Taylorsville, who has spent 17 years in a seat once occupied by his grandfather.
“I don’t think this is going to be the final product, because of how they packed districts,” says Stringer, a farmer and contractor.
On the Senate side, their redistricting on balance is kinder to incumbent Democrats (proportionally fewer than in the House.) Significantly, the GOP plan creates a new black majority district in the Forrest-Jones-Jasper county area of south Mississippi. In 2011, when lawmakers first tackled redistricting after the 2010 census, a plan drawn by Sen. Terry Burton (R) Newton, which recognized the black population growth around Hattiesburg by creating a black-majority Senate district, won approval. But afterwards it was scuttled by then-Lt.Gov. Phil Bryant because it didn’t protect the three Republican-safe seats in the region.
Though no final decision has been made, NAACP attorney Carroll Rhodes fully expects to soon challenge the new remapping plan in the three-judge federal panel handling Mississippi redistricting.
What Republicans most fear is the court panel ordering new legislative elections now rather than allow lawmakers elected in 2011 to serve until the 2015 general election. What’s their fear? Under state law, it would be a special election in which candidates run without party designation.
Columnist Bill Minor has covered Mississippi politics since 1947. Contact him through Ed Inman at email@example.com.