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Political intrigue escalates over redistricting

By By Buddy Bynum/editor
Feb. 9, 2002
The political intrigue over Mississippi's troubled redistricting effort escalated Friday as a Michigan congressmen waded into the squabble.
U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, joined other House members including Mississippi Democrats Ronnie Shows and Bennie Thompson in complaining that the Justice Department is playing favorites.
They say that Justice is delaying approval of a state court redistricting plan so that another plan drawn by three federal judges, all appointed by Republican presidents, can take effect.
Mississippi's redistricting effort, according to political observers, is now playing to a national audience. The stakes in Mississippi, said one observer, are high and may help determine which political party controls the U.S. House after this year's elections.
In a letter to the head of Justice's Civil Rights Division, Conyers sought release of communications between the Justice official, Ralph F. Boyd Jr., and attorneys representing Republicans in the contentious legal battle.
Supporting Conyers' move, Thompson and Shows wrote, "The public deserves to know whether officials at the department have deliberately slowed a ruling in order to allow a federal court to impose a Mississippi map preferred by Republicans."
Conyers asked Boyd for copies of meeting logs, telephone and electronic mail logs'' about the agency's review of Mississippi congressional redistricting plan, which has been under way since December.
Later in the day, two incumbent Republicans, U.S. Reps. Chip Pickering and Roger Wicker, both of Mississippi, called for "sunshine on the issues." In their own letter to Boyd, they wrote, "We request that if you make these records public that you make all records of communications public and not just those of any particular group."
Shows, who will likely face Pickering in a redrawn central Mississippi congressional district, and Thompson cited concern over possible abuse of the Voting Rights Act if Justice has aided Republican attempts to delay action until the federal plan takes effect. Conyers, Thompson and Shows were joined by such House
liberals U.S. Reps. Barney Frank, D-Mass., Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and Maxine Waters, D-Calif.
The Justice Department has had a state court redistricting plan under review since Dec. 26, and faces a Feb. 25 deadline to to accept, reject or seek more information on the plan.
The three-judge federal panel earlier this week released a separate plan that would be used if the Justice Department doesn't give timely'' approval to the state court plan. Their plan does not need Justice Department clearance.
A remap plan drawn by a Hinds County chancery court judge has a higher black voting age population in the central district than one drawn by the panel of three federal judges. A higher black voting age population generally helps Democrats while a lower one generally helps Republicans.
Meanwhile, candidates face a March 1 filing deadline.
The Associated Press quoted Mississippi GOP chairman Jim Herring of Canton as saying the Justice Department had invited comment from parties interested in the case and the GOP is one of those parties. Herring said Conyers' concern won't deter Republican opposition to the plan submitted by the state after a Hinds County chancellor's ruling in December.
The chancellor accepted a redistricting plan proposed by Democrats, saying its central district fairly combines areas now represented by Mississippi's two junior congressmen, Republican Pickering and Democrat Shows.
We're not afraid of sunshine,'' Herring said. Improper political influence is in the eye of the beholder.''
Mississippi is losing one of its five U.S. House seats because it grew more slowly than many other states in the 1990s.