EDITORIAL: A step for progress

By NEMS Daily Journal

The process of redrawing Mississippi’s legislative districts made significant strides Thursday afternoon with overwhelming, bipartisan adoption of a Senate map drawn under the leadership of Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, a co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Redistricting Committee.
The Burton plan, as it came to be known, passed on final vote with all but seven senators in the 52-member chamber in support.
Earlier, senators voted 35-16 to reject a plan drawn and favored by Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, a GOP gubernatorial candidate. The focus of his objections centered in the Hattiesburg/Pine Belt area because of a newly drawn proposed majority-black district that could lead to election of a Democrat from what currently is a GOP seat held by Sen. Tom King, who is running for Transportation Commissioner in the Southern District.
Burton said the district at issue – and the rest of the map – has his fingerprints all over it. Burton told the chamber the law and fairness drove the decision.
All Mississippi electoral changes must be pre-cleared under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The requirement, stemming directly from a long history of racial discrimination in voting, forbids dilution of minority voting strength.
Burton and other members of his committee were adamant in comments during debate that the state must avoid a court-decided redistricting plan and a probable second statewide legislative election in 2012 – if votes are held in 2011 under the existing alignments.
Essential work remains in both chambers before the issue is legislatively settled:
- A motion to reconsider has held the Senate plan at least overnight, and that motion must be tabled or defeated before the resolution can move to the House. Opponents are almost certain to work overnight to delay or stop the process.
- The House-passed plan of its disricts is dead in the Senate; it must be revived, probably in an amended Senate-approved map of its districts, when and if that resolution goes to the House for action.
- The House could work Friday afternoon, Saturday and Sunday if progress in the process is possible.
- Then, if approved, maps return to the Senate for floor action.
- Both chambers must agree on identical maps for the joint resolution to take effect.
- The maps could end up in a conference committee, where Gov. Barbour and Bryant probably would try to force the issue into the courts.
Mississippi law sets 2011 as the year for legislative elections. Obey the law.