Census results will force Mississippi to take a look at itself and its future
Dec. 31, 2000
The release of the official count from the 2000 Census contained less than sterling news for Mississippi. While the population of the state grew by more than 10 percent, it did not grow enough to keep pace with the growth of other states. In the South, Florida, Georgia and Texas were huge winners.
From all indications, Mississippi will lose one of its five members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Mississippi delegation in the U.S. House then will be one-half of what it was just a few scant decades ago.
The Census results have prompted a few immediate questions and some others which will be answered in due course.
For example, does the loss of a seat in Congress translate into a loss of influence in Washington? Do the new population statistics mean fewer federal dollars flowing into Mississippi? How will the political dynamics change in Mississippi if two fairly-equally paired incumbent congressmen are forced into running against each other?
The loss of one seat in the House is more than balanced by the stature and seniority of Mississippi's two U.S. senators, Thad Cochran and Trent Lott. They still have the combined power to influence any legislation with any impact on Mississippi, including appropriations in the major categories of agriculture and defense. Take one or both of them out of the equation and, yes, Mississippi's congressional delegation is weakened.
The most likely impact of the change is not political but financial. The flow of federal dollars into Mississippi for transportation, health and education programs could be reduced because of the new population figures. So many federal programs have population as a major element of their funding formulas under the theory of putting the most dollars into areas with the most people that Mississippi will almost certainly feel the impact.
Mississippi will, in effect, be penalized because the rate our population grew over the last decade was less than other states. This is unfortunate, because very real needs in Mississippi continue to stand in stark contrast to the needs of richer states. Rural states like ours still tend to get the short end of the stick.
Politically, if conventional wisdom holds, U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican of Laurel, and U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat of Bassfield, may face each other in the next congressional elections 2002. What a battle that could be.
No rush to judgment
But before anyone rushes to judgment on that issue, just know the state Legislature must draw new congressional district boundaries, which, in turn, must be blessed by the U.S. Justice Department.
Ideally, all of this will take place before the next cycle of elections in Mississippi, the municipal elections scheduled June 5. But, somehow, we tend to doubt it will be done before candidates for municipal office come up on the March 2 qualifying deadline.
The bottom line is the Mississippi Legislature faces a tough assignment at redrawing lines, an overtly political act that has huge ramifications well beyond the political realm.