Jackson mayor praises county-splitting redistricting proposals

By Staff
From staff, wire reports
Dec. 15, 2001
JACKSON Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. says Mississippi's capital city is bolstered by having more than one congressman looking out for its interests in Washington.
We have several avenues to explore to get bills supported, and different members have different areas of expertise,'' Johnson testified on the opening day of a congressional redistricting trial in Hinds County Chancery Court.
State lawmakers from East Central Mississippi, however, say what's good for Jackson is bad for other parts of the state.
Going into a special legislative session last month during which lawmakers were unable to agree on a plan, the East Mississippi delegation wanted two things: First, they wanted to see all of Lauderdale County in one congressional district. And second, they hoped the county would be put in the central district, not a coastal district.
State Reps. Tommy Horne, Greg Snowden, Eric Robinson, and Charles Young all voted against the Tornado Plan during the failed special session a proposal which split Lauderdale County.
Horne and Snowden oppose any splitting of Lauderdale County.
Judge Patricia Wise, presiding over the trial in Jackson, is considering arguments over how to draw new political boundaries as Mississippi moves from five congressional districts to four. The state is losing a seat because of slow population growth in the 1990s.
Testimony started Friday and continues in an unusual Saturday court session. Wise has set aside several days for trial and says she'll file her proposed map by Dec. 21.
The trial comes after state lawmakers met in special session last month and couldn't agree on how to combine areas now represented by the state's two newest congressmen. Republican Chip Pickering's current district is in east central Mississippi and Democrat Ronnie Shows' is in the southwest.
Johnson, a Democrat, was called to testify by lawyers who filed the chancery court lawsuit on behalf of Democratic activists. Attorney Rob McDuff said he wanted the mayor's testimony to counter public statements by officials who object to having their cities or counties split into separate congressional districts.
Three U.S. House districts now meet in Jackson Pickering's, Shows' and Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson's.
The opposing sides in the redistricting battle are presenting maps for Wise to consider.
Grant Fox of Tupelo is an attorney for four Republicans who intervened as defendants in the chancery court case.
He said Friday that McDuff's plans are solely intended to re-elect Shows. Fox said they remind him of the Wizard of Oz, where a seemingly omnipotent man controls events from behind a current.
We're going to peek behind that curtain and eventually we're going to tear it down,'' Fox said.
McDuff told Wise his plans would create a compromise district that incorporates ideas approved separately by the House and Senate. He said the new district wouldn't favor a particular candidate.
We do believe it is a competitive district,'' McDuff told the court.
Much of Friday was spent in testimony from Cristina Correia, a Georgia lawyer and demographer who drew a map based on a list of requests from McDuff.
Correia said she followed guidelines requiring that all four new districts be practically equal in population and that they be compact and contiguous. She said McDuff also asked her to create a new, combined district that takes roughly equal population from the current Pickering and Shows districts and in which Democrat Al Gore won at least 40 percent of the vote in the 2000 presidential election.
Keith Ball of Louisville, who's working with Fox to represent Republican defendants, repeatedly asked Correia whether she had used race as a consideration in drawing her map. She repeatedly said she hadn't.
Correia's map has a north Mississippi district that stretches into parts of Madison and Rankin counties in the Jackson suburbs. The combined central district draws 47.17 percent of its population from Pickering's current district and 44.67 percent from Shows'.
Ball said the northern district is too long, tossing together Puckett in southern Rankin County with Iuka in the northeastern corner of the state. Ball said Iuka is closer to Kentucky's Churchill Downs racetrack than it is to Puckett.
A plan presented by Fox and Ball takes most of the population in the combined district from areas now represented by Pickering. Its northern district doesn't stretch as far toward central Mississippi.
Time to adopt a map is drawing tight because 2002 congressional candidates face a March 1 qualifying deadline. The U.S. Justice Department must approve Mississippi's new districts to ensure fairness to minorities.
Republican activists have a separate lawsuit pending in federal court. Three federal judges handling that lawsuit have said they'll take over the redistricting process Jan. 7 if they don't see signs that state authorities can resolve the problem before March 1.