"We have decided not to regress from the current number of minority districts," said Sen. Terry Burton, chair of the Standing Joint Committee on Reapportionment. The committee came to Oxford this week for a public hearing about next year's reassignment of districts in the state House of Representatives and Senate.
It also conducted a hearing Friday in Fulton and will hold one today in Starkville.
"A district that has a deviation of more than 10 percent, largest to smallest - that gives the presumption that it violates the principle of one man, one vote," said Rep. Tommy Reynolds, vice chair of the committee.
Some residents of Mississippi's fastest-growing county believe it needs a majority-minority state House district. DeSoto County residents or sympathizers dominated the public comments with urgings for a House district that can elect an African-American legislator and admonitions ranged from Constitutional adherence to empathy.
Gwendolyn Baptist, a lawyer and multigenerational African-American DeSoto Countian, lamented the dearth of black elected officials in the county.
"Most of our interests in our community are in common with the rest of the community, but there are some particular concerns," she said.
"It is impossible at this time for any African-American to be elected to any office in DeSoto County," said Minister Nathaniel Partee, a member of the DeSoto County NAACP. "It is discouraging to go into a courtroom and not find anyone who could have sympathy for you."
Some residents of other areas echoed the concerns about minority representation.
"We would like a redistricting plan that would not have the effect of diluting racial, ethnic or language minority voting strength," said one African-American woman from Tupelo.
Kelly Jacobs, a white Hernando resident, said the county school district reflects a higher proportion of African-American students than the general population.
"My concern with the reapportionment is that you do a job that doesn't have to go back and be redone," she said. "I hope when you redistrict that you will give minorities the representation they deserve."
DeSoto residents were divided as to whether African-Americans in their county were concentrated enough to enable drawing a majority-minority district. Some noted that blacks live throughout the county, but Dr. Marco Robinson, an assistant professor of history at Rust College, asserted a district drawn along the Tennessee line would achieve the goal.
"Walls, Horn Lake, Southaven and Olive Branch ... that's where the concentration of African-Americans are," he said.
Burton reminded those in attendance that competing interests must be balanced.
"The word 'reapportion' means exactly what it says: We apportion the House and Senate according to population," he said. "That's what we're required to do under the Constitution and state and federal laws."
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Those who wish to submit written statements may do so by mail at The Standing Joint Committee on Reappointment, c/o Ted Booth, P.O. Box 1204, Jackson, MS. 39215-1204 or e-mail to email@example.com.