Commercial Appeal: "NAACP suit challenges Ark. redistricting plan."
May 24, 2002
The Commercial Appeal
Two top officers of the state NAACP chapter filed a federal lawsuit Thursday alleging that Arkansas's new redistricting plan dilutes black voting strength.
The suit asks a judge to void the results of Tuesday's primary and bar the state from holding future elections under the plan adopted in September.
Secretary of State Sharon Priest, one of three members of the state Board of Apportionment that approved redistricting, said the plan was "totally defensible." She said she doubted that a judge would void the primary results.
The apportionment board is composed of Priest, Gov. Mike Huckabee and Atty. Gen. Mark Pryor. The secretary of state and attorney general voted for the plan. Huckabee voted against it.
The lawsuit filed by Dale Charles of Little Rock and Jimmie Wilson of Lake View contends that legislative districts drawn after the 2000 Census violated the federal Voting Rights Act and equal protection provisions in the 14th Amendment.
Charles is president of the Arkansas chapter of the NAACP and Wilson is the vice president.
"Instead of guaranteeing the right of full participation in the electoral process," the suit says, the plan "guarantees a reversal of opportunities for African-American persons to elect persons of their choice from their various communities throughout the state."
It accuses the board of contouring districts to the requests of white legislators and white potential candidates, and of adhering to the requests of white officials to exclude their areas from black-majority districts.
The plan actually could cause black citizens to lose ground in the legislature, the suit says.
Black people in eastern Arkansas challenged the 1981 redistricting plan on voting rights grounds and won. Federal courts ordered district boundaries redrawn to create black voting majorities in areas where the court determined the state had deliberately diluted the black vote.
As a result, the state created three black-majority Senate districts and 11 House districts with black majorities.
The 2001 plan added one majority-black Senate seat and two House seats. The board rejected an NAACP plan that would have added two black-majority Senate seats and four House seats.
At the time, Charles said the group would consider challenging the plan under the federal Voting Rights Act.
Huckabee noted Thursday that he also questioned the plan adopted.
"I voted against the reapportionment plan for some of the very reasons mentioned in the lawsuit," the governor said. "I supported a plan closer to what the NAACP preferred. That plan would have made it more likely for minorities to be elected to the legislature."
Huckabee proposed a separate plan with five black-majority Senate districts and 15 House districts.
Arkansas is 15.7 percent black.
The suit says census data indicate that the new redistricting plan should have increased the number of black-majority districts to six in the Senate and 17 in the House.
Board Still at Odds Over Redistricting
By Seth Blomeley
September 25, 2001
The redistricting point
person for Attorney General Mark Pryor said Monday that Gov. Mike
Huckabee's legislative redistricting plan amounts to a "gerrymandered"
Assistant Attorney General
Larry Crane said that to create another black Senate district, Huckabee's
plan has split Forrest City among three districts and also splits Osceola
Jim Harris, a spokesman for
the governor, differed, saying the governor listened to people across the
state when drawing his proposed map. "The governor's plan divides
districts fairly and gives minorities fair representation," he said.
The state Board of
Apportionment -- made up of Huckabee, a Republican, and Pryor and
Secretary of State Sharon Priest, both Democrats -- will meet Wednesday to
vote on what could be the final map for 100 House seats and 35 Senate
seats based on the 2000 U.S. Census. If more changes are needed, another
meeting may be required, Crane said.
majority black Senate district, proposed District 15, would contain
sections of Mississippi County that hug the Mississippi River and parts of
Crittenden, St. Francis and Cross counties.
The second majority black
district on Huckabee's plan, District 16, would contain the southern part
of Crittenden County and would follow the Mississippi River for almost 200
miles to eastern Ashley County, which borders Louisiana.
The board staff's District
16 would be less than 75 miles from north to south, containing parts of
Crittenden, St. Francis, Lee and Phillips counties.
About 15.5 percent of
Arkansas' 2.67 million people are black. Tim Humphries, Priest's point
person for redistricting, said drawing majority black districts is
difficult because blacks don't all live in the same place. He said the
U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that the black population can't be the
driving force when creating districts if to reach that goal voting
precincts and communities with similar interests have to be split.
The National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People has threatened to sue the state if
the board doesn't increase the number of majority black districts. The
board's staff has recommended four majority black Senate districts and 13
majority black House districts. The NAACP wants six majority black Senate
districts and 17 majority black House districts. Huckabee wants to split
Others complaining about
the Huckabee plan include state Rep. Dean Elliott, R-Maumelle, who wants
to run for the state Senate. He said Huckabee's plan would pair him with
incumbent Sen. Gilbert Baker, R-Conway. Elliott clashed with the governor
recently on the tobacco settlement spending plan. The board's staff
recommendation would place Elliott in an open Senate district that
includes Maumelle and parts of North Little Rock.
"When did Dean announce he
is running for the Senate?" Harris said. "He is a House member. His
district in the House is largely undisturbed by the governor's plan. When
did creating districts on the basis of what people might want to do in the
future become a goal of this process?"
State Rep. Tracy Steele,
D-North Little Rock, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said
Huckabee's plan to add more majority black districts would isolate the
black vote and make it easier to elect Republicans in other districts.
Harris disputed this.
The board was set to vote
on a map last Wednesday when Huckabee asked for numerous changes without
having a map showing the statewide effects of his local alterations. Pryor
and Priest said they wouldn't vote to accept those changes until Huckabee
and the board's staff produced such a map. The board finished the map on
Since the meeting last
week, the board's staff made a change to satisfy state Rep. Jerry Taylor,
D-Pine Bluff. Taylor, who is white, didn't want to be in a district with
state Rep. Booker Clemons, D-Pine Bluff, who is black.
Staff for Priest, Pryor and Huckabee all agreed to accommodate Taylor by extending into Taylor's Pine Bluff neighborhood a section of a proposed district that mostly includes chunks of Cleveland, Lincoln and Drew counties.
Black Groups at Odds on Redistricting
By Seth Blomeley
September 23, 2001
The NAACP wants more
majority black state House and Senate districts in Arkansas, but the
chairman of the legislative Black Caucus isn't sold on the idea.
State Rep. Tracy
Steele, D-North Little Rock, said more districts with black majorities
could hurt blacks in the long run. He said black legislators in Georgia
and Mississippi have actually lost clout in those states. Their numbers
may have grown, but by isolating the black vote, more Republican districts
also are created. This means less strength for the Democratic Party in the
supportive of more majority-minority districts," Steele said Friday.
"However, all the members of the Legislative Black Caucus are obviously
African-American, but we're also Democrats, and that has to be a concern
The state Board of
Apportionment has scheduled a vote on Wednesday for deciding the new
boundaries of the 100 House and 35 Senate districts based on numbers from
the 2000 Census. A vote was expected last week, but the board delayed it
to study last-minute changes suggested by Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Responding to Steele,
Dale Charles, a president of the Little Rock branch of the National
Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said his organization
isn't worried about helping or hurting either the Republican or Democratic
parties in redistricting.
"We are not concerned
about parties," Charles said. "We're concerned about the maximum
representation of communities based on the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Certainly a lawsuit would be forthcoming depending on what the Board of
The board's staff has
recommended to the board a plan for 13 majority black House districts and
four majority black Senate districts. The NAACP has countered with a
proposal for 17 majority black House districts and six majority black
Senate districts. Blacks make up about 15.5 percent of the 2.67 million
people in Arkansas.
Also attending the
board meeting last week was John Walker of Little Rock, the lead attorney
for black students in the ongoing federal lawsuit over desegregation of
the Little Rock School District. Walker wasn't in his office Friday and
was unavailable for comment. Charles said he and Walker aren't working
together on redistricting.
Both the 1981 and the
1991 redistricting plans were challenged on grounds of racial
discrimination, said Tim Humphries, redistricting point person for
Secretary of State Sharon Priest.
Humphries said M.C.
Jeffers of Forrest City and others sued the state in 1989 on the 1981
redistricting map, which included about five majority black House district
and one such Senate district. In Jeffers v. Clinton, the U.S.
District Court in Little Rock ruled the state's map violated the federal
Voting Rights Act. The court ordered majority black House districts to
increase to 13 and majority black Senate districts to increase to three
for the 1990 election.
after the 1990 Census, the Board of Apportionment decided to keep that
same number of majority black districts. The same plaintiffs again
challenged the state map, seeking additional majority black districts. But
a three-judge panel -- made up of U.S District Judges Richard Arnold,
George Howard Jr. and G. Thomas Eisele -- ruled that the state's changes
At the board meeting
last week Huckabee asked for a compromise on the current NAACP proposal.
He seeks 15 majority black House districts and five majority black Senate
districts. But the Republican governor didn't have a detailed plan on how
that request, as well as numerous other changes he wanted, would affect
the statewide redistricting map. The other two members of the board,
Democrats Priest and Attorney General Mark Pryor, declined to vote on
Huckabee's request until he produced a detailed statewide map.
Larry Crane, Pryor's
redistricting point person, said the board is facing the same dilemma with
the NAACP plan. The organization's proposed maps highlight only the
majority black districts without showing their effect on other parts of
"[Changes to the map]
ripple all the way across the state," Crane said. "To come in and say,
'I'd like to see this in isolation' .... Well, there's a thousand things
that look good in isolation but consideration of those things with
everything else is how we got to [the final draft]."
Crane likened one
proposed NAACP Senate district to a "squashed bug." Its eastern half would
contain a portion of Nevada County, half of Ouachita County with two long
segments that reach into Columbia County and Union County. The district's
eastern half would connect to its western half by only a sliver in
northern Lafayette County. The western half contains parts of Miller,
Hempstead and Howard counties.
Charles said "the
other districts can be drawn around" the NAACP plan, which was put
together by the group's national attorneys and former state Rep. Jimmie
Sylvester Smith of
Camden, son of former 4th District congressional candidate Judy Smith,
told the board last week that there's a movement by blacks to retaliate
against the Democratic Party if the board does not approve more majority
black districts. "If we can't get more black elected officials then we've
been wasting our vote," Smith said.
But Pryor and Priest
said they've resigned themselves to the fact that they're not going to
make everybody happy in the redistricting process.
Pryor said he was glad
the board has decided to add a second majority black district in Pulaski
County, which currently has one black Senate district. "I think that's a
positive development for everybody," he said.
However, that second
majority black district could end up electing a white incumbent. The board
has agreed to include the Hillcrest neighborhood where Sen. John Riggs,
D-Little Rock, lives in the proposed district, which is mostly south of
Interstate 630. The district would be 60 percent black.
African-American and that's a good thing," Riggs said during the meeting.
"I'm not opposed to raising the threshold of African-Americans. That's
never been a contention with me. The [redistricting] staff will tell you
I've told them repeatedly it doesn't matter."
Steele said he
supports the concession made for Riggs. He said there's plenty of blacks
in the district to give a black candidate a good chance of winning. Plus,
he said he expects that Riggs would take care of the black interests if he
"He'll have to,"
Steele said. "Whoever wins will have the responsibility to represent the
needs of minority [people]. He'll have to campaign on that."
Steele said he plans to run for the other majority black Senate district in Pulaski County, provided the proposed lines for that district aren't changed at the last minute.
Proposals Delay Districting Vote
September 20, 2001
The chance of a final
vote Wednesday on a new legislative district map fell apart after Gov.
Mike Huckabee asked for numerous specific local changes but failed to
produce a detailed map showing the statewide effects of his proposals.
LR Senator Cries Foul Over Redistricting
By Seth Blomeley
September 6, 2001
The final draft of the legislative redistricting map released Wednesday puts two Little Rock state senators in the same district, infuriating one of them, who said staff for Secretary of State Sharon Priest and Attorney General Mark Pryor reneged on promises.
Under the plan, Sens. John Riggs and Jim Argue, both Democrats, would have to run against each other in proposed District 32, provided they didn't move or bow out. Riggs said the staff for Pryor and Priest told him that he and Argue would keep separate districts.
"Obviously there's a credibility problem," Riggs said.
Riggs and Argue would be the only incumbents to face each other in the Senate. There are four such potential matchups in the House.
Tim Humphries, a redistricting specialist for Priest, said staff never told lawmakers that they wouldn't have to face each other. "Everything's been in play," he said.
Humphries and Larry Crane, who works for Pryor, said that complaints from Jacksonville and North Little Rock residents about their cities being split among several legislative districts contributed to changes in proposed district lines that affected the Little Rock senators. Also, the goal of having a second majority black district in Pulaski County affected Riggs.
The redrawing of legislative districts comes every 10 years based on information from the U.S. Census. In Arkansas, the task falls to the Board of Apportionment, which is made up of the attorney general, the secretary of state and the governor. Priest and Pryor are Democrats and Gov. Mike Huckabee is a Republican.
Crane suggested that Riggs
could move and run in District 33 where he has his business, J.A. Riggs
Tractor Co. That district would be in southwest Little Rock and would be
59 percent black.
District 32 would encompass
west Little Rock north of Interstate 630 and the Heights and Hillcrest
neighborhoods. Only about 8,000 of its 73,599 residents are black. Both
Argue and Riggs are white.
In previous drafts, Riggs
would have been in District 33 without moving. At that point, the district
was 53 percent black, Crane said. Riggs said he didn't mind running in
such a district because he has support among blacks. But now Riggs said he
plans not to run at all.
"Jim Argue is one of my
closest friends, and I respect him highly," Riggs said. "I would never for
no amount of money run against him. I guess I'll go back to real life."
Argue said he didn't feel
deceived by the staffs of Priest or Pryor. Argue said he was friends with
Riggs and didn't want to run against him.
"We'll have to both
evaluate what our options are," Argue said.
Changes were precipitated
by Jacksonville and Searcy residents who were upset about being placed in
the same district. North Little Rock residents also complained because
their city was divided among three districts, one that included parts of
Maumelle and Conway and one that included substantial portions of Little
To mollify those cities,
the Board of Apportionment staff put most of North Little Rock in District
31, which also will include Maumelle. Jacksonville and Searcy will still
be in the same district but Jacksonville won't be divided by another
district. Some of North Little Rock will be included in the majority black
District 34 that goes to the southern end of Pulaski County.
Further limiting options,
Crane said that Lonoke County residents made clear to the board that they
didn't want Cabot spilt up by district lines. That led staff to start
adjusting Little Rock's lines.
Other changes from previous
drafts include removing Earle from the majority black District 16 in
eastern Arkansas, now represented by Sen. Alvin Simes, D-West Helena, and
putting it into the majority white District 17, which has no incumbent.
Also, District 18,
represented by Sen. Bob Johnson, D-Morrilton, will now encompass Heber
House members that want to seek re-election that would have to run against each other under the plan are:
Jeffress in previous drafts would have had to run against Rep. Russ Bennett, R-Lewisville. But Smith likely will run for the Senate, making it easier for staff to redraw these lines, Crane said.
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