By NEMS Daily Journal
The Mississippi Legislature left Jackson last month without performing its basic responsibility of redrawing its own districts. It’s a once-a-decade requirement after each Census, but the politics of redistricting was too much for legislative leaders to sort out and agree upon.
As a result, a panel of federal judges is now poised to do the job, which resurrects a recurring pattern in Mississippi history: Legislative inaction requiring judicial intervention.
But another redistricting task the Legislature didn’t get to in the 2011 regular session should have been much easier to handle. Now it appears a special legislative session will be required to redraw the state’s four House U.S. House districts.
Ten years ago, congressional reapportionment was punted to the federal courts. Mississippi’s slow population growth resulted in the loss of a congressional seat for the state, so the five old districts had to be compressed into four. That meant throwing two incumbents together, which created a partisan impasse that the courts resolved.
This time, however, only the existing four districts must be reshuffled, and population shifts will require some adjustments to bring them into the 5 percent variance allowed. Even though congressional elections aren’t until 2012, the qualifying deadline for candidates is Jan. 1 of next year, so waiting until the next regular legislative session in January isn’t an option.
It’s too bad the Legislature couldn’t find time to take care of what should have been a relatively painless process during the 2011 regular session. It would have saved the expense of a special session. The only explanation is that with all the focus on state legislative redistricting – which of course was more important to legislators, since it directly affected them – the congressional remap job just didn’t get the required attention.
Legislative leaders say they’re waiting on the four incumbent congressmen to agree on a plan for redrawing their districts, which lawmakers then hope to be able to enact in a brief one-day special session.
The 1st Congressional District, which encompasses most of Northeast Mississippi, will have to give up some population since it’s 6.24 percent above the ideal size of just under 742,000. The Delta-dominated 2nd District lost significant population and is 9.92 percent below the ideal, so that loss will have to be made up from either the current 1st or 3rd districts.
At any rate, the task of redrawing those four districts pales in comparison to carving out 122 new districts in the state House and 52 in the Senate. It should have been accomplished without having to call lawmakers back to Jackson.