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Where Does the Redistricting Battle Go From Here?

By Jeffrey Hess | Published 20 Mar 2011 10:19am | comments
Lawmakers closely examine redistricting maps.

Mississippi Could be looking at a court battle over its redistricting maps. The House and Senate have been going back and forth for three weeks over how to draw the lines. MPB's Jeffrey Hess reports on how the issue got to this heated level and where it goes from here.

"And the legislature has failed to do its obligation and redistrict in a timely manner,"

That's NAACP lawyer Carroll Rhodes explaining why they filed a lawsuit in an attempt to put a stop to this fall's election.

Rhodes says the state population has shifted so much in the last ten years that it would be an unconstitutional violation of the one-person-one-vote standards to have an election under current district lines.

"People who are in the over-populated district's votes do not count as much as the people in the under populated districts," Rhodes said.

The redistricting debate has ping-ponged back and forth between the House and Senate for three weeks, growing increasingly tense each time.

During floor debate in the House, Representative Ed Blackmon of Canton called for lawmakers to approve the maps and warned against too much partisanship.

"I don't care how good it feels. How good it looks. How much they sell it as a fair plan. At the end of the day the wolf is going to come along and the wolf is going to do what? Eat you up! Vote against the amendment," Blackmon declared.

After the House passed both its version and the Senate version of the maps, House speaker Billy McCoy issued an ultimatum to the Senate to accept the house plan or the house would refuse to to negotiate.

In the Senate floor debate that followed, president pro temp Billy Hewes of Gulf Port said this vote was too important for the Senate to be a rubber stamp of House plans.

"I believe the philosophical soul of the House is at stake. I believe the credibility of the Senate is at stake here. And I believe future of conservative policy in Mississippi hangs in the balance on this vote," Hewes said.

In the end, the Senate voted 29-18 to not accept the house plan as is, instead to go to conference to make changes....but Speaker McCoy so far has not budged.

Marty Wiseman, the director of the Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, says the battle is so intense because there could long term political consequences and Republicans see an opportunity to retake the house and the influential House speaker's chair for the first time since Reconstruction.

"That is the nature of the beast in both the Republican and Democrat camp is come out of this thing with the most seats that you can possibly get under the guidelines of the Justice Department and Voting Rights act. In fact, what would be surprising is if such a laborious effort were not made," Wiseman said.

Wiseman says 8 years of influential leadership from Governor Haley Barbour is also having an effect on the process.

"His desire to leave as his legacy to leave a thoroughly Republican-ized government in state of Mississippi. Meaning both a Republican House and Senate and Republicans in the state-wide offices. And he is coming close to accomplishing that. And you get a lot of pressure to pay close attention to those districts that could be carved out in the Republican side of the column," Wiseman said.

So where does the state go from here?

The federal court could step in and redraw voting maps or impose the maps already passed by the house, that would include both chamber's redistricting plans

Or lawmakers could fail to get approved maps by the June 1st deadline and run under current districts this year and run again next year under new districts.

Or they could sort out their differences, vote, get a map approved and move on.

Matt Steffey, a law professor at the Mississippi College school of Law, says at some point the courts and the Justice department will weigh in on the battle.

"At the end of the day, the involvement of the federal courts and the Department of Justice has the final say. And at that level, it is the most important voice," Steffey said.

Steffey says both sides could see a political advantage in having the courts or justice department step in.....The last time
that happened was following the 1990 census and that led elections in back to back years. 

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Lawmakers closely examine redistricting maps.


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