House panel joins suit over map

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – The House Apportionment and Elections Committee voted along party lines Monday to intervene in the redistricting lawsuit filed by the NAACP “to protect the committee’s interest.”
“It is the in the interest of the committee to be involved to protect the plan passed by the House,” said Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton.
Blackmon predicted that if the House and Senate cannot agree on a redistricting plan, the court is likely to adopt “somebody’s plan. This is just protecting what we have done as a committee.”
The four Republicans at the committee meeting voted against intervening while all 10 Democrats voted in favor of the action.
Rep. Mark Baker, R-Brandon, said that instead of getting involved in court action, the two sides need to work to resolve the issue during the final two weeks of the session.
“It seems to me to be a dog-and-pony show for whatever reason,” Baker said, referring to the committee’s action.
The issue ended up in federal court after the Senate refused to adopt the House redistricting plan. Led by Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, the Senate instead invited conference to try to reach a compromise.
But Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, has said the House will not participate in that process. McCoy said that would break a 50-year tradition of each chamber handling its own redistricting.
On Monday, House Apportionment and Elections Chair Tommy Reynolds, D-Water Valley, said he doesn’t particularly like the Senate redistricting plan, but passed it because of past precedent. The Senate, he said, should have done the same with the House plan.
The committee is hiring Jackson attorney Rob McDuff, who has been involved in redistricting fights in the past. Reynolds said the House committee intervened in a similar manner in 1991 when the issue ended up in court.
That year the court forced legislators to run under their old district lines and then run the following year under districts drawn by the new Legislature.
The NAACP is asking the court to adopt new House and Senate districts this year if the Legislature does not. The lawsuit claims to run under the old districts would deny equal representation because of the substantial population deviations founds in legislative districts by the 2010 census.
Reynolds said the committee’s goal in intervening in the lawsuit is for the court to approve a plan that would allow legislators to serve a four-year term and avoid the added expense of elections for two consecutive years.
Reynolds said McDuff and any other attorneys hired by the committee would not be paid with public funds.
“We are going to have to dig into our pockets to do it,” Reynolds said.