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House fumbles on redistricting but game not over

By Staff
Nov. 6, 2001
Section 57, Mississippi Constitution of 1890
By meeting but not agreeing on where to draw new lines for the state's congressional districts, the Mississippi Legislature has given definition to the words "political gridlock." From the first day of the special session, it was apparent that any agreement would be hard to achieve without compromise because the two houses of the Legislature staked out such different ground.
Yesterday, with no compromise on the table and no immediate prospects for anything resembling a fair plan the House fumbled by voting to adjourn, sine die. Loosely translated, that means the House voted to close the barn door and go home. But, not so fast. The Senate voted later in the day to adjourn to a date specific this Thursday.
The parliamentary language is important because Section 57 of the state constitution says neither house can adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other. By voting to come back on Thursday, the Senate may be trying to force the House to come back, too, for renewed consideration of the most politically sensitive issue of the decade. But, even this seldom-used section of the state constitution may be open to interpretation.
Given the harsh political climate generated by fiercely-partisan debate, the mid-week break could amount to a cooling off period that will give all legislators a chance to more deeply explore their own hearts and minds.
The House was sticking to a position that ignored all of the good reasons for keeping distinct geographic, historic and economic areas of the state together. The House-passed plan treated east Mississippi rather shabbily and could actually threaten its economic future.
To her credit and in an encouraging show of resolve, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck essentially stuck to her original proposal, one that would retain the integrity of distinct areas, such as the I-20 corridor from Lauderdale County to Rankin County. Her plan, while not perfect, deserves support.
So what happens now?
It is possible that a compromise can be reached later this week. It is still possible that legislators can do their jobs in time for the U.S. Justice Department to approve the new lines before the March 1 qualifying deadline for the 2002 congressional elections.
It is also possible that a federal or state court will claim jurisdiction and start anew the task of redrawing Mississippi's congressional district lines because our elected state representatives and senators could not do it themselves. Hopefully, with real attention to basic fairness and equity, the Legislature can finish the job.