Bryant's choices frustrate senators

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Black senators on Friday were sharply critical of Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant’s choices to negotiate a legislative redistricting plan with the House.
Bryant, the Republican lieutenant governor, selected Elections Chairman Terry Burton, R-Newton, Senate President Pro Tem Billy Hewes, R-Gulfport, and Chris McDaniel, R-Ellisville, to serve on a possible conference committee to work out a redistricting compromise.
The black senators said because blacks make up about 37 percent of the state’s population, they should have a voice if there is a conference committee.
“It’s about time for us to respect each other,” said Sen. Alice Harden, D-Jackson. “And the leadership is not doing that.”
Three senators took points of personal privilege to express their disappointment that Bryant’s selections lacked diversity.
Bryant said “I appreciate” the input, but noted that Burton and Hewes were selected because they chair the committees that dealt with legislative redistricting – Elections and Rules.
The selection of Burton was expected. But Bryant is acting outside the normal procedure by sending the redistricting proposal to Rules. That has not been the custom in past redistricting efforts.
Plus, Bryant said he selected McDaniel because he is an attorney who has experience in the federal courts, where the issue could be resolved if the current legislative deadlock continues.
The choices of Hewes and McDaniel raised concerns because, based on past votes, they might appear less willing to compromise with the House than other members of the Senate. They were two of seven senators who on final passage voted against the Senate redistricting plan developed by Burton.
They supported a plan developed by Bryant that, they argued, was more beneficial to Republicans.
Hewes said Friday he has a long legislative history of working to craft compromises.
While Bryant has announced his conferees, House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, has said he does not plan to participate in negotiations with the Senate. Legislative redistricting, which is done every 10 years, has never gone to conference before, he said.
In the past, each chamber has developed and passed its own plan and the other house has simply agreed to it.
Bryant indicated early in the process he would not sign off on the House plan.
While there is no official conference committee, it is believed that Burton and his counterpart, Rep. Tommy Reynolds, D-Water Valley, were planning to discuss the issue this weekend.
The Mississippi chapter of the NAACP already has filed a lawsuit, asking the courts to draw a plan if the Legislature cannot.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@journalinc.com.