No action on redistricting, but it's on 'radar screen'

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – No official action has been taken thus far on legislative redistricting, which both Republican and Democrats say is one of the top priorities facing the 2012 session.
“All members have it on the radar screen,” said Sen. Merle Flowers, R-Southaven, who was tabbed by Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves to head up the redistricting effort on the Senate side.
Flowers said he anticipates the Joint House and Senate Redistricting Committee will meet soon to officially begin the process of redrawing the 52 Senate districts and 122 House districts to adhere to population shifts found by the 2010 census.
“Both the House and Senate (redistricting members) already have been meeting with members on their respective districts,” Flowers said. “We will have a resolution before the 2012 session adjourns.”
The Legislature was supposed to redistrict during the 2011 session so candidates could run later that year under new districts. But due to partisan bickering, the House and Senate could not agree on a redistricting plan.
The issue ended up in federal court where a three-judge panel ordered legislative elections under the old, malapportioned districts. Presumably, the court will rule in the coming months on whether elections will be held later this year under newly drawn districts or whether legislators can serve for four years in districts that are not equal in population.
Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, a member of the redistricting committee, said whether the court will order new elections will depend on whether the judges want to make a new law.
“If you look at precedents, we will be running again,” said Blackmon, who was instrumental in court action in the early 1990s that led to more black majority districts in the state. “You never know what the courts will decide.”
House Apportionment and Elections Chair Bill Denny, R-Jackson, a member of the redistricting committee, said such issues as whether a new round of public hearings will be held has not been decided.
Denny said the Legislature will not deal with redrawing the four U.S. House seats this year. The Legislature also could not reach agreement on that in 2011.
The federal courts already have redrawn the U.S. House districts and it appears congressional elections will be held this year under that plan. Congressional primary elections are scheduled for March.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com