By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – Two Northeast Mississippi Democrats expressed disappointment they will be paired together under the new Senate redistricting plan released Tuesday.
The plan, drawn by the Republican Senate leadership, will pair Sens. Nickey Browning, D-Pontotoc, and Bill Stone, D-Ashland.
The Senate is expected to vote on the plan today.
Sen. Merle Flowers, R-Southaven, who heads the Senate’s redistricting effort, said a new district had to be created in DeSoto County where the population had increased more than 60,000 people in the past 10 years to 162,000. He said it “made perfect sense” to create the new district by using a portion of Stone’s District 2, which included Marshall County just east of DeSoto.
Browning and Stone are paired in a district that will consist of most of Pontotoc, and all of Union and Benton counties. More of the new district will include portions previously represented by Browning. Benton is the only area currently represented by Stone that will be in his new district.
“The district I had was a truly a community of interest – Benton, Marshall and part of Tippah. Certainly Benton and Marshall had a lot in common,” Stone said. Browning also expressed reservations with the new plan.
“I was hoping to keep more of Pontotoc County,” he said. “But that did not happen. I need to get up to Benton County and meet the people there.”
The state must redraw its legislative districts every 10 years to match population shifts revealed by the decennial census. The 52 Senate districts and 122 House districts were supposed to be redrawn last year, but the Legislature was unable to complete the task because of partisan bickering.
A three-judge panel ordered legislative elections held last year under the malapportioned districts. It is not clear whether new elections will be ordered by the federal judges this year under newly drawn districts.
The plan is expected to receive not only federal judicial scrutiny, but also must obtain approval from the U.S. Department of Justice to ensure it does not dilute minority voting strength.
The plan creates 15 black majority districts. There are currently 13 in the 52-member Senate.
“We believe this is a very good, fair plan for all of Mississippi,” Flowers said.
The plan reduces the number of split precincts from 129 to 14 and increases the number of counties that are not split from 38 to 43.
Under the new plan, Tishomingo County, which was split between districts represented by Rita Potts Parks, R-Corinth, and J.P. Wilemon, D-Belmont, would be solely represented by Wilemon. While Tippah, which was split between Parks and Stone would be solely represented by Parks.
The House passed its redistricting plan last week. Each chamber must pass the plan from the other house.
Black members criticized the House plan, charging that the Republican leadership “packed” districts by drawing districts with large black majorities and thus lessening their impact in other districts.
Under the House plan, the number of districts with a black population of more than 35 percent, but less than a majority decreased from 13 to two. The Senate proposal reduced the number of districts with black populations of more than 35 percent, but less than a majority from 11 to three.