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Federal remap trial expected to end today

By Staff
From staff and wire reports
Jan. 29, 2002
JACKSON Democrats are giving judges one map to consider in a federal redistricting trial, but Republicans are offering several plans.
Testimony is expected to conclude today; judges haven't said when they might rule. They say they want a new plan in place before the March 1 qualifying deadline for congressional candidates.
At issue: the fate of congressional districts in Mississippi after the 2000 Census. Because Mississippi grew slower than other states, it will lose one of its five congressional districts.
But the issue of redrawing districts has turned into a political nightmare as Republicans and Democrats have accused each other of supporting plans that would help their candidates win.
Skip Jernigan of Jackson, an attorney for the Republican plaintiffs, said Democrats are trying to grab a partisan advantage as Mississippi goes from five districts to four. We wanted to show them you can redistrict the state in compact districts and you can do that without gerrymandering,'' Jernigan said during a break on the trial's opening day.
Jernigan said the Republicans' favorite plan is one based on a map originally drawn by former state Sen. Henry Kirksey of Jackson, a Democrat.
Rob McDuff of Jackson, an attorney representing Democrats in redistricting, said it's ironic that Republicans are now getting ideas from Kirksey, a civil rights leader.
Most of the Republicans who are embracing his plan now were totally against him when he was arguing for creation of majority-black electoral districts in the 1960s, '70s and '80s,'' McDuff said in an interview Monday.
In testimony Monday, Kirksey said he didn't consider partisan advantage for Republicans or Democrats when he drew his map. Instead, he said he wanted to emphasize areas of poverty in the Delta.
Republicans spent the first day of the federal redistricting trial presenting their case to 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge E. Grady Jolly of Jackson and U.S. District Judges David Bramlette of Natchez and Henry T. Wingate of Jackson.
Democrats present their case today, and the trial is expected to conclude in the afternoon.
The judges might draw their own map if they're not satisfied with those proposed by the competing sides.
The Democrats' map is almost identical to a plan approved by a state court judge last month and awaiting endorsement by the U.S. Justice Department.
The Justice Department monitors Mississippi elections to ensure fairness to minorities. Officials say they don't know whether the department will rule on the state court plan before March 1.
Federal judges said they're moving forward with a new redistricting trial because they wanted to eliminate voter confusion. A plan approved by federal judges would not have to go to the Justice Department.
State lawmakers were supposed to draw new districts. But they deadlocked over how to combine areas now represented by Mississippi's two junior congressmen, Republican Chip Pickering and Democrat Ronnie Shows.
Separate lawsuits kicked redistricting into state and federal courts. Democrats sued in chancery court and Republicans sued in federal court.
Jolly, Bramlette and Wingate all were appointed to the bench by Republican presidents. Hinds County Chancery Judge Patricia Wise who heard the case on the state level was elected as an independent, as are all state judges, but she represents a largely Democratic district.
Wise heard a week of testimony before ruling on Dec. 21 to approve a map submitted by Democrats. It combines roughly equal parts of Pickering's current east central district and Shows' southwestern district.
In federal court Monday, Tupelo Mayor Larry Otis, a Republican, testified he wants a new congressional map that preserves northeast Mississippi's economic interests. He said the Democrats' plan wouldn't do that.
The judges also heard testimony from Bill Crawford of Meridian, leader of a community group that lobbied to keep Naval Station Meridian open in the 1990s. Crawford, a Republican, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1996.
He said it would be best to keep Meridian's military base and Columbus Air Force Base in separate districts. For at least the past decade, they've both been in the 3rd District.
A map the Republicans offered in chancery court had a new central district made up mostly of Pickering's constituents. It split Shows' territory among central, Delta and Gulf Coast districts.
That map was a variation of Kirksey's plan.