Redistricting: Powerful politics at work
By By Buddy Bynum/The Meridian Star
Oct. 21, 2001
Mississippi's top two legislative leaders have outlined different approaches in a brewing political battle over redrawing boundaries for U.S. House seats in time for the 2002 elections.
On Friday, to jumpstart a stalled process, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck asked Gov. Ronnie Musgrove to call a special session of the Legislature for the week of Oct. 29. She unveiled a congressional redistricting plan she said was supported by the Senate members of a joint redistricting committee.
On Saturday, House Speaker Tim Ford asked Musgrove to wait on calling a special session until an expert hired by the House can draw a plan based on specific criteria.
Also on Saturday one incumbent likely to be involved in a tight race against another said he hopes the process isn't "hijacked" by the courts because the Legislature fails to act fairly.
In Meridian for the annual Navy Ball, U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering commended Tuck "for providing leadership to move the process forward. I do believe she was trying to be fair and trying to reach a midpoint between competing plans and competing political interests to do what in her view is the best for the state.
Pickering, a Republican from Laurel, would likely face U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat from Bassfield, in the redrawn central district, which under Tuck's plan would contain black voting age population of 34.35 percent.
At least one east Mississippi lawmaker likes what he sees in Tuck's plan.
Sate Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, said at first blush the plan outlined by Tuck was attractive because it keeps Lauderdale County and the Interstate 20 growth corridor intact. The federal highway's route through Meridian and into Rankin and Hinds counties has been heralded as attractive for automotive manufacturers or suppliers serving either a Mercedes plant in Alabama or Nissan in Mississippi.
Snowden said the percentage of black voting age population in the central district under Tuck's plan would likely make a Pickering-Shows faceoff a "horse race."
it should be we need an election, not a coronation," he said. "With the new district, either Shows or Pickering could serve the entire district, including this area, effectively and well.
Meanwhile, Ford, D-Baldwyn, said the House's expert is at work on a proposal that draws the current 1st, 2nd, and 5th districts with at least 90 percent of their current populations intact. The current 3rd and 4th districts would be merged whereby two incumbent congressmen of two differing parties have an equal chance of winning.''
House members feel expert input would be valuable at this time as we try to reach consensus with our Senate colleagues,'' Ford said.
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressmen because Mississippi's population did not grow as fast as that of some other states, according to the 2000 Census.
The only consensus is that much of the current 3rd District represented by Pickering and much of the current 4th District represented by Shows will be merged. That merger has created the current impasse that involves both political parties and geographic interests.
Buddy Bynum is editor of The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3213, or e-mail him at email@example.com. Staff writer Sheila Blackmon and The Associated Press contributed to this report.