EDITORIAL: No clear sailing

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Mississippi House’s passage on Tuesday of a resolution embracing reapportionment of both the House and Senate potentially shortens the road to adoption of up-to-date, federally approved districts for the August primaries and the November general election.
The 68-54 margin of passage for the committee plans was mostly along party lines, which was not wholly reflective of the spirit of cooperation that seemed to characterize work of the separate, bipartisan committees that drew new districts, using 2010 Census data.
An attempt by Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant to reject the GOP-chaired Senate Elections Committee’s plan and substitute one he had drawn was rejected on a bipartisan vote, 35-16, last week.
However, the Senate committee tabled the House-drawn plan of its districts, effectively killing it on the first attempt at passage.
Agreement by the Legislature on a joint resolution containing districts that can pass the required review of the federal government under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is clearly in Mississippi’s best interests. Both chambers must agree on exactly the same redistricting maps. If it goes to a conference committee, where full-court pressure for a fully politicized redistricting plan will be applied, it’s likely to end up in a federal court.
That’s the point at which the state loses control. The state and U.S. constitutions identify redistricting as a state function, and it can remain one if the good-faith, bipartisan effort of the legislators who drew the maps is honored and accepted.
At stake is accuracy in representation when legislative elections are held in 2011. If forced by delays to run under the existing districts all counties entitled by the Census count to increased representation – counties like DeSoto, Madison and Rankin, all Republican-leaning – won’t have full representation.
Then, when finally drawn by a federal court, Mississippians likely would vote again in 2012 under new apportionment. Campaigns and elections are expensive, time-consuming and divert energy away from the gritty details of governing our state, which faces problems larger than raw partisanship.
The Republican chairman of the Senate committee, Terry Burton of Newton, and the Democratic chairman of the House committee, Tommy Reynolds of Charleston, managed to produce balanced and approvable maps. They are not perfect; no redistricting map is. They are reflective of a fair spirit.
Voters are ready to elect a new Legislature, as the law prescribes. We hope the Senate concurs with the House and adopts new districts.