Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Fix Is In At The State Senate -- Again

September is something of a "pre-season" at the Mississippi State Legislature. The budget for FY 2011 will begin to be drafted, and legislators will begin thinking about bills to submit for the 2010 Regular Session. One of the most important topics on the agenda will be the beginning of the redistricting process for the State Legislative and Congressional districts.

That brings our attention once again to the Legislature. At the end of last session, Lt. Governor Bryant
appointed committees for the 2010 Session.

Here's the makeup of the committees governing redistricting:

Congressional Redistricting

Terry C. Burton, Chairman; Tommy Dickerson, Vice-Chairman

Members: Sidney Albritton; Hob Bryan; Eugene S. Clarke; Hillman Terome Frazier; Jack Gordon; Cindy Hyde-Smith; Walter Michel; T. O. Moffatt

Legislative Reapportionment

Terry C. Burton, Chairman; Tommy Dickerson, Vice-Chairman

Members: Sidney Albritton; Hob Bryan; Eugene S. Clarke; Hillman Terome Frazier; Jack Gordon; Cindy Hyde-Smith; Walter Michel; T. O. Moffatt

The notable fact is that there is only one African-American member of each committee (Senator Frazier), although the percentage of African-American legislators is over 25%.

Also, I think it's fair to say that many of the Democrats on these committees have been playing ball with the GOP Leadership (Dickerson, Hyde-Smith, and Gordon), and Hob Bryan, once a liberal stalwart, is also on the Bryant leadership team as Chair of the Health Committee.

So the game is on at the Capitol, once again. Forget about any kind of fair representation in the Senate's process -- which means that the Obama Justice Department will be giving strict scrutiny to any redistricting proposals that originate from the State Senate chamber.

It's long past time to consider a totally non-partisan approach to redistricting. The model is Iowa, which mandated such an approach in 1980. The website describes the Iowa model:

Under chapter 42 of the Iowa Code, enacted in 1980, the Iowa legislature has the final responsibility for enacting both congressional and state legislative district plans. However, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Bureau starts the process. The Bureau must develop up to three plans that can be accepted or rejected by the legislature. The four criteria for the Bureau's plans, in descending order of importance, are:

1 - population equality,

2 - contiguity,

3 - unity of counties and cities (maintaining county lines and “nesting” house districts within senate districts and senate districts within congressional districts),

and 4 - compactness.

Chapter 42 specifically forbids the use of political affiliation, previous election results, the addresses of incumbents, or any demographic information other than population in creating the redistricting proposals.

In order to make as much information as possible regarding the redistricting process available to the public, three public hearings are required to be held on the first proposed plan from the Legislative Service Bureau. Additionally, Iowans can request paper maps depicting proposed district lines from the Bureau.

A commission consisting of four civilian members chosen by each caucus in the legislature and a fifth chairperson, chosen by the commission itself, is responsible for advising the Bureau, but only upon the Bureau's request.

* * * *

Four out of Iowa's five new congressional districts are fairly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, mirroring the state's overall makeup. Only the 5th district, which runs down the state's western border, has a solid majority of Republican voters.

That's pretty impressive to me.

Can Mississippi climb out of the partisan divide and re-district in a way that gives voters a real choice at the polls? Not if pols like Lt. Gov. Bryant keep stacking the deck.

So while the GOP is out pushing an initiative for the 2010 ballot on voter ID, why not add an Iowa-style neutral redistricting mandate to the mix?


Casey Ann said...

It looks like there's only one woman on there, and we're 50% of the population.

Wedded Bliss said...

Fair redistricting is something we need on all levels in this state.

For that matter, we need to redistrict the courts.

Kingfish said...

Bennie's District needs to be changed. NW Jackson has no business being in the same district as the Delta. The Delta has always been its own region.

Jim Craig said...

The congressional districts are definitely one part of the puzzle. With four districts drawn under the principles used by Iowa, it's inconceivable that they would all be majority white. But by taking some of the supermajority away from District Two, the remaining districts would be far more competitive. Just for instance, moving all of Hinds County into District Three would immediately open up opportunities for a Democratic challenge to Gregg Harper.