EDITORIAL: Lost opportunity?

By NEMS Daily Journal

Defeat on Thursday in the Senate of a joint resolution redistricting both legislative chambers for the 2011 elections led almost immediately to the filing of a lawsuit by the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP and three other plaintiffs seeking new lines drawn by a federal court.
The lawsuit was not unexpected, given the level of politicization of the redistricting process, especially in the Senate, where a joint resolution containing new lines drawn by bipartisan committees was rejected Thursday.
The Senate voted 29-18 to invite conference, rejecting Republican Senate Elections Committee chairman Terry Burton’s motion to concur and end the now-angry process.
A conference committee could take up the issue, but House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said he has no intention of agreeing to the Senate’s invitation to have a conference. McCoy said the House would submit its plan for redistricting to the U.S. Justice Department under pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
It seems doubtful that the Justice Department would accept only half of a redistricting plan because it does not fulfill the requirements of the Mississippi constitution for approval by both legislative houses of identical plans for both chambers.
McCoy’s declaration on Wednesday against further negotiations does not reflect the good faith efforts of bipartisan negotiators in the House and Senate committees who tried to craft fair plans.
The Senate leadership, abetted by Gov. Barbour, also is undeniably injecting raw politics into the issue to gain approval of a House plan assuring a Republican majority and, thus, a Republican speaker in the 2012-2016 term. Or, the goal may be to push the elections to 2012, when it is anticipated that a surge of Republican voters opposing President Obama’s re-election would prevail in marginal districts, especially those with white Democratic representation. The tactic is overtly cynical, but it could be effective.
The better opportunity to achieve redistricting in the spirit of the Constitution is further negotiation in conference committee.
The Voting Rights Act requirement prohibits redistricting that systemically diminishes minority voting strength.
A legislative agreement is fully intended under the U.S. and Mississippi constitutions.
The defeat of the joint resolution changes nothing in terms of the political map.
The only legal plan is the alignment in force now, but Mississippi still must have districts redrawn to reflect the 2010 Census. A court battle could push new districts into 2012, requiring two legislative elections in two years.
A second election violates the expectations of the law, further damages collegiality and weakens what’s left of bipartisanship.