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Hot political debate opens in Jackson today

By By Buddy Bynum/The Meridian Star
Nov. 1, 2001
Mississippi Republicans are continuing efforts to build support for a plan drawn by a longtime civil rights advocate, another in a series of odd political coalitions forming as lawmakers gather today to redraw congressional district lines.
Taking their campaign to the air Wednesday in the hottest political debate in the state this week, state GOP chairman Jim Herring and state Rep. Rita Martinson, R-Madison, stopped at Meridian Regional Airport for a news conference. They also traveled to Tupelo, Hattiesburg, the Coast and Jackson.
In Meridian, Herring and Martinson were joined by state Rep. Greg Snowden, R-Meridian, and Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith.
They endorsed a plan drawn by cartographer and retired state senator Henry Kirksey that would essentially create four new congressional districts based on Mississippi's distinct geographic, economic and historic regions. The Kirksey plan, which Herring conceded does not have enough votes to win, may at least be considered as lawmakers gather in Jackson at noon.
Snowden said he hoped the debate would rise above political considerations because Republicans are greatly outnumbered in the Democrat-controlled Legislature where the redrawing is to occur.
Only one county Lowndes  is split in the Kirksey plan. It would basically merge the current third and fourth districts and pit incumbent U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican, and Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, against each other next year in a new district with a black voting age population just more than 30 percent.
I don't think either one of them is going to get a slam dunk,'' state House Speaker Tim Ford, D-Baldwyn, predicted Wednesday.
The session will be watched by everyone from locals wanting to know the fate of their congressman to national party officials monitoring the balance of power in the U.S. House.
Meanwhile, Legislators return to tighter security at the century-old Capitol. Workers installed metal detectors at the main entrances Tuesday a response to the Sept. 11 attacks on America.
Mississippi is losing one of its House seats because it grew more slowly than many other states in the 1990s. It has had five congressional districts since the early 1960s, though the configuration of those districts has changed over the years.
Regardless of what happens, a court challenge could come from any citizen or group unhappy with the results. The U.S. Justice Department must also scrutinize the plan to make sure it's fair to minorities.
Buddy Bynum is editor of The Meridian Star. Call him at 693-1551, ext. 3213, or e-mail him at bbynum@themeridianstar.com.

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