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Citizens, lawmakers call for fairness in redistricting

 

Jason Browne

 

The "Magical Mystery Map Tour" made stops in Starkville and Columbus Saturday, drawing citizens and legislators alike. 

 

That''s the title State Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton, used to describe the Standing Joint Legislative Committee On Redistricting and Reapportionment. Burton chairs the panel along with Rep. Tommy Reyolds, D-Charleston. Ten representatives and 10 senators were selected by Speaker of the House William McCoy and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, respectively, to travel the state and hear concerns from citizens over reapportioning representative, senate and federal congressional districts following the 2010 Census. 

 

The conversation in Starkville, where approximately 75 people turned out at the Colvard Student Union on the Mississippi State University campus, focused on consolidating the number of representative districts within the city limits from four to as few as possible and eliminating split districts altogether. 

 

Whether or not those are realistic propositions is up in the air.  

 

"Maybe it could get down to two, but certainly it could get down to three," said Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, of the four-way split in Starkville. 

 

Chism represents District 37, which stretches across Lowndes, Oktibbeha and Clay counties. He gave the reapportionment committee an earful when the floor was opened to comments about split precincts and the elimination of six Republican districts around the state during the last round of reapportionment. His obvious concern was a repeat loss for Republicans. 

 

"I see the Senate has five Democrats and five Republicans (on the committee). I see the House has nine Democrats and one Republican. We''d like a fair redistricting plan but fair, I reckon, is in the eye of the beholder," he said. 

 

Partisan concerns would be echoed by several additional speakers in Starkville, but the primary concern remained split districts, which are often apportioned with awkward or unconventional boundaries. 

 

"My district (on the district map) looks like someone stepped on a bug and wherever it went is where they drew the lines," said Jack Forbus, a Starkville citizen. 

 

Resident Mark Duncan told the story of how three different representative candidates visited his home during the last congressional election, illustrating that even the candidates don''t know where the lines are drawn. 

 

Starkville Circuit Clerk Angie McGinnis attempted to clarify the clutter. 

 

"I have 21 precincts. Because of the legislative split, I have some 155 ballot styles. Then you add the fact that the supervisors will redistrict (the county), then three justice court judges, municipal and county school districts, three chancery judges and three circuit judges. Thankfully, all those elections don''t occur at the same time. But given the fact that the legislators, supervisors and justice court judges do all happen at one time, it''s like a giant puzzle bringing it all together," she said. 

 

Marilyn Young, a community organizer with the non-profit Southern Echo, has been following the committee tour since Monday when it began in Coahoma County. Her plea to the committee at each meeting has been consideration of all the concerns presented with respect to the 1965 Voting Rights Act and the One-Man-One-Vote principle which creates parity among districts. 

 

Following the meeting, where 14 citizens spoke in addition to elected officials, Young, who sits on the Tunica County school board, spoke on the political motivations behind reapportionment. 

 

"Incumbents are going to want to keep their seats. However, if they have to give up something they should give it up. Because the seats don''t really belong to them. They belong to the community," she said. 

 

Several members of the reapportionment committee echoed those exact sentiments, but members of the crowd repeatedly asked that a fair method be devised to eliminate split districts, consolidate the number of representatives in Starkville and to keep all three corners of the Golden Triangle together in one congressional district. 

 

Concern over unity among Lowndes, Oktibbeha and Clay Counties was raised again during the Columbus meeting Saturday afternoon on the campus of Mississippi University for Women. 

 

"We do a lot of things together economic development-wise," said Nan Lott, Republican Party chair for Lowndes County. 

 

Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Columbus, who was one of approximately 30 in attendance at MUW, asked the committee to keep the Golden Triangle to "stay as compact as possible" with respect to its congressional district. Currently, Oktibbeha County is located atop the third congressional district bordered to the North, East and West by counties in district one. 

 

Ike Brown, a Noxubee citizen and activist with the East Mississippi and North Mississippi Voters Alliance, presented numbers to the committee regarding minority population growth in particular areas while appealing for fair representation. 

 

At the close of the meeting, Reynolds reminded citizens they still have an opportunity to submit their concerns by contacting the committee at 601-359-6555 or by visiting www.msjrc.state.ms.us.

 

 

 

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Reader Comments

Article Comment roscoe p. coltrain commented at 8/24/2010 8:03:00 AM:

Only in Mississippi would a POS like Ike be allowed anywhere near politics after what he has been found guilty of doing.

 

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