Leaders expect redistricting vote soon

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Redistricting plans for the Mississippi House and Senate could be unveiled and voted on as early as next week.
The chairmen of the Elections committees in both chambers said they are making progress in redrawing the state’s 122 House districts and 52 Senate districts to match population shifts found by the recently completed census.
“We have been working real hard,” said House Apportionment and Elections Chair Tommy Reynolds, D-Water Valley. “We have made substantial progress. It seems we are getting pretty close.
“We could bring up a plan as soon as next week.”
The redistricting, which must be done every 10 years after the federal census, always is contentious because it requires changes in boundaries that could affect an incumbent’s ability to get re-elected.
The speculation of a deadlock on redistricting has been intensified this year because Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, who presides over the Senate, had indicated that his chamber might block the House plan if he thinks it is unfair.
Bryant has said he advocates a plan with fewer split precincts and more compact districts.
In past efforts, each chamber has simply rubber-stamped the other’s plan.
But House leaders have said that if the Senate does not approve their plan, they will do the same to the Senate proposal. If that occurs, the issue could be thrown into courts, and legislators might have to run under the old districts later this year and again under the new districts in 2012.
The legislators had to run in back-to-back years in the early 1990s.
“Nobody wants that,” Senate Elections Chair Terry Burton, R-Newton, said.
Burton said the Senate plan could be ready next week, but more than likely it will be the following week.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, a member of the Joint Legislative Redistricting Committee, said, “There is a plan that Terry has that needs the finishing touches put on it. There are three or four areas where he needs to get members together and say, which one of these precincts do you want? It will not make any difference in the overall plan.”
Once that takes place, Bryan said, he believes Burton can pass the plan in the 52-member Senate with the support of 40 or more members.
Rep. Jim Beckett, R-Bruce, said most House members have seen the redistricting map in the area they represent, but not for the whole state.
“In my opinion, the district I represent would be drawn better (under the proposed new plan) than it currently is,” Beckett said. “It has far less split precincts and is somewhat more compact.”
Under the proposed new plan, Beckett said his district will encompass parts of three counties instead of four and will include all of his home county of Calhoun.
Rep. Brian Aldridge, R-Tupelo, said he also is pleased with how the proposed new plan would redraw Lee County.
“It would give me a lot of the same area I have now,” said Aldridge. “It also would give me portions of Tupelo that I had wanted to represent. I am very pleased.”
Aldridge said his district would pick up portions of northern Tupelo that previously was represented by Jerry Turner, R-Baldwyn. District 18, represented by Turner, most likely will lose areas of Tupelo because it has gained substantial population in the Saltillo area.
Districts represented by Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, and Aldridge would remain the only two confined to Lee County. District 19, represented by Mark DuVall, D-Mantachie, would add more people in Lee County than it has under the current map.
House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi, said redistricting is a tricky endeavor because legislators must take into account:
• The federal Voting Right Act that protects black-majority districts.
• The mandate of districts being as close “as practicable” in population.
• Political concerns.
“The politics of redistricting is always rough in every state,” McCoy said.
“Nobody will be totally happy.”
An ideal Senate district, based on the 2010 census, will have 57,063 people, up 2,358 from the redistricting after the 2000 census.
The ideal House district, based on the 2010 census, will have 24,322 people, up 1,005 from 2000.