Miss. Senate OKs redistricting plan from committee

By The Associated Press

JACKSON — Mississippi senators on Thursday rejected Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant’s redistricting plan before accepting a map drawn by one of their colleagues.

Both proposals for the 52-member Senate were drawn by Republicans, and both would increase the party’s voice statewide by adding a new district in fast-growing and heavily Republican DeSoto County and by reconfiguring a long, squiggly swing district near Gulf Coast into a more compact and Republican-leaning district.

The main difference between the Bryant plan and the one drawn by Senate redistricting chairman Terry Burton was in the Hattiesburg area.

The Bryant plan would have kept three mostly white, Republican-friendly districts in and around Hattiesburg, a majority-black city. Sixteen Republicans voted for the Bryant plan, while 24 Democrats and 11 Republicans voted against it.

The Burton plan, which passed the Senate, would create two majority-white districts and one majority-black district around Hattiesburg.

The Burton plan passed 44-7, with all the opposing votes coming from Republicans. Nine Republicans who had supported the Bryant plan turned around moments later and voted for the Burton plan.

The majority-black district would use some territory now represented by Sen. Tom King of Petal, who’s running for transportation commissioner. Some GOP leaders believe the new seat would tilt to Democrats because of historical voting patterns in the state.

Legislators are redrawing the 52 Senate districts and 122 House districts to account for population changes revealed by the 2010 Census.

Burton, of Newton, has been working on redistricting several months. He attended more than a dozen public hearings to hear people’s requests, and he said many told him they want a majority-black district around Hattiesburg, if possible.

Burton said his goal was to draw a map that’s fair to the entire state.

“We have done what we set out to do,” Burton said.

The three Republican senators from the Hattiesburg area — King, Joey Fillingane of Sumrall and Billy Hudson of Hattiesburg — argued Thursday that it’s not fair to decrease Republican representation in their area.

Fillingane said that every 10 years during redistricting, “an ox is gored,” and he thinks that happened to Hattiesburg under the Burton plan.

“I understand the NIMBY syndrome — not in my backyard,” Fillingane said.

Fillingane said other senators who voted for the Burton plan shouldn’t feel that their own areas will be protected as the House and Senate negotiate on final versions of maps for the two chambers.

Several senators praised Burton for working long days, nights and weekends to produce a map.

Hudson said he appreciated that Burton worked hard. He added, however, that his granddaddy’s mule worked hard, day after day, but never won the Kentucky Derby.

“At the end of the day he just worked hard,” Hudson said of the mule. “He didn’t work smart. He was still a jackass.”

Hudson’s comment was met by many blank stares in the Senate. A few people gasped.

Later, Burton responded calmly by saying he had grown up the poor son of a highway worker. He said when he was a young, he hooked himself up to a plow to pull it.

“I don’t mind being a work horse,” Burton said.

The Senate map was held for the possibility of more Senate debate, but Bryant said he doesn’t plan to make a serious effort to revive his plan. The Senate plan eventually will go to the House for consideration.

A Republican-led Senate committee has rejected a House map approved by the Democratic-controlled House. House leaders say they will try to revive their own map, but they wouldn’t say how.

Mississippi’s redistricting maps must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department, which checks to ensure that the plans don’t dilute minorities’ voting strength. Lawmakers say the approval generally takes at least 60 days. June 1 is candidates’ qualifying deadline for this year’s legislative elections.