By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal
JACKSON – For the second time in less than two weeks, the House has passed a redistricting plan proposed by the chamber’s majority Democratic leadership.
The difference between Tuesday’s 68-53 vote in favor of the leadership’s plan to redraw the 122 House districts and the vote earlier this month is that, this time, the Republicans offered an alternative.
Earlier this month most of the chamber’s 53 Republicans voted against the plan, but did not offer an alternative. Tuesday they did.
That Republican alternative plan was defeated, almost strictly along party lines, by a 68-54 margin. Two Democrats voted with the Republicans and one Republican switched to vote with the majority party.
On Tuesday, the House approved not only the plan to redraw its House districts, but to redraw the Senate’s 52 districts. The House did not alter – or even debate – the plan passed by the Senate to redraw that’s chamber’s districts.
If procedural hurdles are cleared today, the fight will return to the Senate as early as this afternoon or Thursday.
The Senate can either concur with the House and resolve the contentious issue in the legislative process or invite conference or negotiations.
Various Republican-leaning groups want to derail the House redistricting plan in the Senate.
Jim Herring, former chairman of the state Republican Party and now chair of Mississippians for Fair Redistricting, said, “A Senate vote to concur is a vote to accept a status-quo plan that does not serve the people’s best interest.”
He urged that the bill be sent to conference.
“A vote for conference,” he said, “will prevent the House leadership’s plan from being enacted and provide a chance to reach a better result.”
If the issue goes to conference, many believe there will be no legislative resolution this year and the redistricting issue will be transferred to courts.
House Apportionment and Elections Chairman Tommy Reynolds, D-Water Valley, said it would be a mistake to assume that the courts would order legislators to run this year under the old districts and next year under the new districts. That is what occurred in 1991-92.
Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, who played a key role in the court fight in the early 1990s over legislative redistricting, said because of population shifts that have left several districts substantially misapportioned, the chance “will be slim to none that we would run in the current districts if the courts have anything to do with it.”
The more likely scenario, he said, is that the courts, with input from the Department of Justice, would draw new districts.
Rep. Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, offered the Republican plan to the full chamber Tuesday. He said the plan was actually just a “tweak” of the House Democratic leaders’ plan and did not make major changes to most of the districts.
The Republican plan, he said, was more compact and removed two seats from the Delta, which is losing population, and added three seats in fast-growing DeSoto and Forrest counties.
The Republican plan also had fewer black-majority districts. Because of that, Reynolds said it would not garner mandated Justice Department approval.
“Our plan better reflects the population shifts since 2000,” said Gunn, who contended the plan submitted by Democrats might not survive a court challenge.
Reynolds said the Democrats’ plan was within the allowable population deviation margins. He said he also spent more time working with incumbent Republicans to ensure they were satisfied with their districts than he did working with Democrats.
He said he strived not to penalize any incumbent since constituents liked them enough to elect them in the first place.
Reynolds said in a prepared statement after the vote “we were ready to consider” changes offered by Republicans, but said “two facts are undeniable. The plan passed by the House does not target a single Republican. The Republican plan targets Democrats. The Republican plan is clearly the partisan plan.”
The House plan places two sets of incumbents in the same district. It places two Democrats – albeit one who votes with the Republicans – in the same district and a Democrat and Republican in the same district in another area.
The Republican plan left those two sets of incumbents in the same districts and placed two other sets of incumbents – all Democrats – in the same district.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.