Legislators: Redistricting can stay out of the courts

JACKSON – House and Senate leaders remain confident that the Legislature can redraw congressional and legislative districts without requiring judicial intervention.
They say an upcoming series of public hearings on redistricting will be important in that effort.
“This is an opportunity for us in Mississippi,” said House Apportionment and Elections Chair Tommy Reynolds, D-Water Valley. “Ten years ago for the first time since we have been a state we had a redistricting plan voted on by the Legislature and not court imposed…
“It is incumbent on us to try to succeed twice in a row.”
Reynolds said it will be less costly to the state for the Legislature to agree on a plan without it being tied up in a costly legal battle.
While Reynolds was correct that in 2001, the Legislature redrew its districts without court interference for the first time in state history, the same was not true for the congressional plan. It did end up in court after the Legislature could not agree on how to redraw the districts after the state lost a U.S. House seat.
This time around the state is not expected to lose a U.S. House seat and the process of redrawing the four congressional seats to match population shifts determined by the 2010 Census is not expected to be controversial.
But redrawing the 52 state Senate and 122 state House districts could be for a number of reasons.
First, the state Legislature is much more partisan than a decade ago and the redistricting plan could get bogged down in party politics.
And second, the Legislature will have limited time to act.
During a Monday afternoon news conference, highlighting the series of public hearings that start Aug. 16 at Coahoma Community College in Clarksdale, Senate Elections Chair Terry Burton, R-Newton, said the state would get the Census numbers in early February.
Then the Legislature must draw a plan and have it approved by the U.S. Department of Justice before the June qualifying deadline for legislative candidates.
“It is a tight time frame, but one we can reach,” Burton said. “We need to get it done and get it done right.”
Burton and Reynolds said the first part of that process begins with the 12 public hearings across the state that will be held during August and September.
At the public hearings, Burton said people can tell legislators on the Joint Redistricting Committee whether “they are receiving the type of representation they think they should.” from the way the districts are drawn now.
The goal, Burton and Reynolds said, is to have the districts as close to the ideal size as possible. That is current federal law.
During the hearings, people will have five minutes to speak to House and Senate members on the redistricting committee. They also can provide a written statement that can be submitted at the hearings or can be e-mailed to ted.booth@peer.state.ms.us.
Under the current plan, the ideal Senate district is 54,705 while the ideal House district is 23,317.
Based on preliminary census numbers, the state’s population will increase slightly, meaning those ideal sizes will increase moderately.
It appears the Delta areas and parts of east-central Mississippi and southwest Mississippi lost population while suburban Jackson and DeSoto County gained population during the past 10 years. The new districts will have to reflect those population shifts, Burton said.

Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or bobby.harrison@djournal.com.

Bobby Harrison / Daily Journal Jackson Bureau