EDITORIAL: Redistricting

By NEMS Daily Journal

The Senate Elections Committee, apparently acting Tuesday in the interest of Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant’s campaign for governor, ignored the work and recommendations of the bipartisan Joint Legislative Committee on Redistricting, and ditched both the Senate and House reapportionment plans worked on for weeks by legislators.
The action – if not reversed, as possible, in a vote of the full Senate today or later in the week – could set up a prolonged, divisive, expensive, and racially polarizing fight over redrawn legislative districts which must conform to constitutional requirements under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. That fight could necessitate two elections for the Legislature – one this year under existing districts and another when the issue is finally resolved.
Bryant’s opposition focuses on a proposed majority-black Senate district encompassing the city of Hattiesburg, which is opposed by Republican leaders in the area, prompting Bryant’s response.
The remedy for this overly politicized version of redistricting is to adopt the plan drawn under the leadership of Republican Sen. Terry Burton of Newton, a Bryant appointee, and adopted by the joint committee.
Similarly, adopting the House-approved plan for House districts would set the whole redistricting process on a course toward federal approval.
That would mean the dramatically growing Republican counties like DeSoto in northern Mississippi would vote this year with increased legislative representation rather than under the old and outdated current electoral map.
The whole state, in fact, would be able to vote for new districts’ legislative candidates from both parties in a plan that has passed federal muster.
There’s no such thing as a perfect electoral map. Somebody involved is bound to be unhappy, but these are the key requirements:
• Meet the mandates of the Voting Rights Act.
• Achieve fairly drawn districts close to equal in population; nobody expects perfection.
• Achieve timely approval so that elections for the next four-year term are held in 2011, as scheduled.
The lieutenant governor has objected to the Voting Rights Act. Many people share his disdain, but it is the law because Mississippi has a long history of racial discrimination and must gain pre-clearance for voting changes. Congress renewed the act in 2006, and it was supported and signed by President George W. Bush.
The lieutenant governor says there’s no time for cutting deals.
He’s right.
The solution is obvious and bipartisan: Pass the Senate and House plans as recommended by bipartisan work, and a deal won’t be needed.
Qualifiers in both parties, including incumbents who seek re-election can make plans for their campaigns, file qualifying papers by June 1, and begin the races for nomination and election. A new term is only nine months ahead.