April 27, 2012 12:03:42 PM
Jeff Clark - [email protected]
The House on Thursday passed a state redistricting plan on a 70-49 vote. The plan was submitted by Rep. Bill Denny, R-Jackson, Apportionment and Elections Committee Chair. Commonly known as the "Denny Map," the plan will increase majority minority districts in the state from 43 to 44. The vote was seen as a victory for state Republicans, who hold a House majority.
"Redistricting is always very contentious," Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, said. "We Republicans are letting the Democrats say what they want. Last year we voted against them and we expect them to vote against us, but as the majority party, this will pass the Senate. (Denny) has gone out of his way to make this fair."
Opponents of the Denny Map say it was drawn up to the disadvantage of white Democrats. Five of the districts affected by the redistricting will place incumbents against incumbents with three of the five races placing white incumbent Democrats against one another.
But Rep. David Gibbs, D-West Point, who represents the 36th District, said the plan's creators could have ulterior motives.
"This plan takes most of Clay County out of my district," Gibbs said. "I don't like it. This was drawn up to help the Republican Party but it will pass the Senate, there's no doubt about it. It appears to me they are trying to make all white districts and all black districts. Clay County is a true majority minority district. They've busted up West Point so much that most of my district has gone to Gary Chism."
Seven House Democrats, including Preston Sulivan of Okolona, voted for the measure.
Local political analyst Marty Wiseman, Director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University said the Denny Map for redistricting is political payback.
"This is probably some payback for the redistricting in 2002," Wiseman said. "The Democrats set it up so that Gary Chism and Rob Robinson of Oktibbeha County had to go head to head. Gary ran a good campaign as he normally does, and he beat Rob. I would have a tendency to agree with the Democrats on this, but there are consequences that come along with an election."
Party politics aside, Wiseman said he feels Denny was fair in his plan, even placing himself against a strong incumbent.
"I think Denny was pretty careful to make sure the number of minority majority districts did not drop," said Wiseman. "I think this plan is actually good for Oktibbeha County. (Rep. Tyrone Ellis, D-Starkville) got a lot of the eastern district and that was perfect for him. Oktibbeha County will finally have a strong place in the legislature. But this is all about politics. I'm surprised Denny put himself in a district with Bennie Brown. These are two of our longest-serving legislators. One of them will have to go. It's a shame to lose either one of them."
"By simply drawing out four, five, six, seven Democrats, what they've done is not only enhance their chance to be a majority in the House, but to be three-fifths," said Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson.
Other incumbent versus incumbent scenarios in the plan are Kevin Horan, D-Grenada, against Linda Whittington, D-Schlater; Tommy Taylor, R-Boyle, against Robert Huddleston, D-Sumner; Bennett Malone, D-Carthage against D-West and Bo Eaton, D-Taylorsville, against Jason White, D-Carthage, against Johnny Stringer, D-Montrose.
Denny said he invited more than 110 of the House's 122 members to have input into how their district would be drawn. But he said that he invited fewer than 10 of the House's 22 white Democrats to have such input.
Denny also said he looked at the share of votes won by Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election and Democrat Johnny DuPree in the 2011 gubernatorial election in at least some districts to see how they would perform in future elections.
Electoral districts have to be redrawn every 10 years after the Census to account for population shifts. Denny's plan would increase the number of districts with a majority black voting age population from 41 to 42. That's 34 percent of House districts, almost identical with the state's 35 percent black voting age population.
The joint resolution (JR1) will now go to the Senate. Chism said the Senate will send its version, JR2, to the House. Both joint resolutions will have to pass the House and Senate. Gov. Phil Bryant will not have to sign the legislation Chism said. Once passed, it will be sent to the US Department of Justice for final approval.
This story includes some reporting by The Associated Press.