House approves district plan - Republican proposal cuts out some Democrats

Commercial Appeal, The (Memphis, TN) - Friday, April 27, 2012
Author: Phil West Special to DeSoto Appeal

JACKSON - After more than 4½ hours of debate, House members Thursday adopted a Republican-dominated redistricting plan that preserves black representation but gets rid of some white Democrats. 

House members approved the new plan for their 122 districts by a vote of 70-49, largely along party lines. 

Before adopting the Republican plan, House members rejected an alternative proposed by Rep. Omeria Scott, D-Laurel and chairwoman of the House Black Caucus. 

A handful of white Democrats, whose current districts were largely preserved, joined with 64 Republicans to pass the original plan. 

The plan now goes to the Senate, where approval is all but guaranteed - the Senate has a Republican majority whose leaders have agreed to go along with the House plan. 

In turn, House leaders have assured their Senate counterparts they will approve the Senate's plan to redraw its 52 districts. 

The final plans must be submitted to the Justice Department for approval, given Mississippi's history of voting rights violations. 

Redistricting is required after every census to accommodate population shifts and ensure no district has substantially more voters than another. 

After last fall's elections, Republicans hold majorities in the House and Senate, as well as the governor's mansion, for the first time since Reconstruction. 

That has created a major power shift that has shocked some Democrats, who have known only Democratic leadership during their time in office. 

Republicans hold a 64-58 majority in the House and 31-21 edge in the Senate. 

Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, and a former Education Committee chairman, has been the biggest thorn in the side of Republican leaders this legislative session. 

The new district map moves Brown, a certified public accountant, from his blue-collar Jackson base and puts him in an upscale Jackson district now represented by Republican Bill Denny, co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Reapportionment Committee, which drafted the House and Senate maps. 

Brown, whose incisive questioning and knowledge of parliamentary procedure has rankled Republicans this session, said the new plan's aim "is to draw out white Democrats." 

He noted that drawing the map to eliminate five to seven white Democrats appeases others who were not harmed and gives Republicans even more clout. 

"It's a political process. Make no mistake about it, that was the objective," Brown said. 

Rep. Willie Bailey, D-Greenville, said he and other black House members know how Republicans planned to render them ineffective while still meeting the requirements of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. 

Denny, who fielded questions for most of the day, said that no more than six Democrats were involved in drafting the new map. 

"We did the best we could do," he said.