Sun Herald: "Lieutenant
Governor: Iím Still a Democrat." November 13, 2001
Is Mississippi's Democratic lieutenant governor, Amy Tuck, switching to the Republican Party?
She says she's not. But rumors have been flying ever since she unveiled a congressional redistricting plan favoring the GOP's Chip Pickering over Democrat Ronnie Shows.
The two congressmen are likely to face each other next year as parts of their districts are combined when Mississippi goes from five U.S. House seats to four.
During the heat of the redistricting battle last week, Tuck acknowledged she had heard rumors that she might jump to the party of Pickering, Trent Lott and Thad Cochran.
"I have had no thoughts about switching anything," she told reporters. "The only thing I've tried to do is tried to get this job done and have a fair plan."
So, that means she's definitely remaining a Democrat?
"I have no plans to, no plans to change right now. I mean, certainly no plans to change," Tuck said.
Right now? Does that mean she's leaving the door open for a switch later?
"I have no plans to switch," Tuck said with a laugh. "Better nail that down."
Tuck is a down-home Democrat whose political appeal easily crosses party lines. A small-town gal with a loud voice and a firm handshake, she gained plenty of mileage with the most memorable bumper sticker of the 1999 political season: "Me and my truck are for Amy Tuck."
She's an anomaly in Mississippi politics - a woman in control of a male-dominated Legislature.
Her "go team" consists of a down-the-line Democrat, Appropriations Chairman Jack Gordon of Okolona; a couple of Democrats who occasionally sound like Republicans, President Pro Tempore Travis Little of Corinth and Finance Chairman Bill Minor of Holly Springs; and a former Democrat who became a Republican, Public Health and Welfare Chairman Bunky Huggins of Greenwood.
Tuck also has maintained strong working relationships with several Republican senators. Mike Chaney of Vicksburg and Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo helped sponsor fund-raising events last year to retire her 1999 campaign debt.
Redistricting is one of the toughest chores legislators will face this four-year term.
Mississippi is losing a congressional district because it grew more slowly than many other states in the past decade.
Tuck unveiled her redistricting proposal in mid-October, saying it would maintain "regional integrity" by splitting as few counties as possible.
A weeklong special session failed to yield a compromise between her plan and a House proposal.
House Apportionment and Elections Chairman Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, said he wanted a "fair fight" district tilted toward neither Pickering nor Shows.
Pickering's campaign chairman, Henry Barbour, said Reynolds wanted a "slam dunk" for Shows. Barbour also acknowledged that the Tuck plan would've favored Pickering by putting more of his constituents than Shows' into a new, combined district.
Shows, who campaigned for Tuck in 1999, made no secret of his displeasure with the lieutenant governor's proposal.
"To say I'm hurt and disappointed would be an understatement," Shows said in an interview last week.
He said he wasn't asking Tuck to hand him a district, but he didn't want her to hand one to Pickering, either.
He's not the only Democrat wondering why Tuck's congressional map looked the way it did. The redistricting battle continues, and the results could shape Tuck's political future as much as it does Pickering's or Shows'.
Back to the Drawing Board
Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) is urging state legislators to return to Jackson "as soon as possible" to finish a new House map that remained elusive during a special session that broke down last Wednesday.
Fearing the Democratic-controlled Legislature will remain deadlocked over two competing plans, a pair of Republican mayors filed suit in federal court in hopes of getting a three-judge panel to draw the lines instead. But that move drew criticism from state Attorney General Michael Moore (D). "Those cases are premature," he said. "Our Legislature needs to act and I think will act before any litigation."
Musgrove agreed, saying, "This issue needs to be settled in the Capitol, not a courtroom."
Although each chamber of the Legislature has approved its own map, a conference committee adjourned after it failed to reach a consensus, specifically over how to draw a central Mississippi district for Reps. Chip Pickering (R) and Ronnie Shows (D). Mississippi lost one of its five current House seats in reapportionment.
Mississippi's redistricting plan needs clearance from the Justice Department to ensure it is in compliance with the Voting Rights Act. Justice officials can take up to two months to consider the proposal and may request an extension. March 1 is the filing deadline for House candidates. State lawmakers could move that deadline, but Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck (D) said she'd prefer to keep it.
Some legislators appeared to hold out little hope of reaching an agreement. "The gap which divides us is so broad, we've not been able to bridge that gap," said state Sen. Hob Bryan (D), chairman of the state Senate redistricting committee. "This is just terrible."
After decades of turning to the federal courts to smash through Mississippi's recalcitrant political establishment, some prominent civil rights leaders here think a state courtroom should settle the fight over congressional redistricting.
Congressional reapportionment reduced Mississippi's delegation from five to four congressmen. Most agree that a new plan should place Democratic U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows and Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering in the same district.
But state lawmakers are deadlocked over how to draw the four districts, with a House-approved plan more favorable to Shows's re-election chances and a Senate-approved plan more favorable to Pickering's.
Now, in an ironic reminder of how federal intervention has given black Mississippians a greater voice here, the former president of the state NAACP and a longtime social activist are suing for justice. But this time they are in a state courtroom, not a federal one, and in front of an African-American judge.
And, this time, it is conservative Republicans who are turning to the federal courts, invoking the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in search of justice.
"It's kind of a switch," acknowledged Rims Barber, a white Presbyterian minister who moved here in the 1960s to push for civil rights and now heads the Mississippi Human Services Coalition. Barber and former NAACP president Bea Branch filed suit in Hinds County, asking a judge to take over the redistricting process if the Legislature fails to reach an agreement.
"But given that the (federal) judges are mainly appointed by Republican presidents, they (Republicans) want to go to federal court," said Barber.
Two Republican mayors did just that, seeking a special, three-judge panel to either draw new districts or order all candidates for Congress to run statewide.
(While Republican presidents appointed all of the judges that would normally serve on such a panel, many might not feel comfortable with the case. Their colleague, U.S. Dist. Judge Charles Pickering, is the father of Congressman Pickering, whose future is at the heart of this fight.)
"We think the federal court has jurisdiction over this matter," said attorney Skip Jernigan, who is representing the Republican mayors.
Jernigan declined to go into the specifics of his arguments as to why the federal courts should take jurisdiction, other than to say "the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is involved."
"We're hopeful the court will at least hear us preliminarily in the next two or three weeks," said Jernigan.
Atty. Gen. Mike Moore said last week he plans to ask that both lawsuits be dismissed, and he remained hopeful the issue would remain in the statehouse rather than the courthouse.
The premise behind the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was that if African-Americans were given equal access to power, they could protect their own interests.
In many respects, this fight illustrates the point. A decade or two ago, it would have been hard to imagine African-American leaders trusting state courts with their rights and power. Times have changed.
"I think it's a state court matter," said state Rep. George Flaggs (D-Vicksburg), a member of the legislative black caucus who served on the joint committee that tried to build a House-Senate consensus. "It's a state court matter because voting procedures and the drawing of districts is set in the state Constitution."
The federal courts and the U.S. Department of Justice have, at times with guns drawn, broken through Mississippi's old segregationist bureaucracy and power structure, prosecuting Ku Klux Klan members, ordering schools desegregated and congressional and legislative district boundaries redrawn on behalf of black voters.
The settlement of a federal lawsuit resulted in the creation of majority black judicial subdistricts that paved the way for more black judges in the state, including Hinds County Chancellor Patricia Wise, who has this case.
Attorney Rob McDuff, an advocate for causes ranging from indigent defense to voting rights, has been involved in 15 or 20 redistricting challenges over the years. Until now, he said, they were all in federal court.
"In the past," said McDuff, "we have usually been challenging plans drawn by the Legislature and (challenging them) on federal law grounds, and the federal court was the natural place to go.
"Here, the Legislature has not adopted a plan, and the logical place to go in that situation is another state court . . . because the states have the responsibility."
Similar deadlocks in Texas and Ohio have congressional redistricting maps in state courts, McDuff said.
He and his allies - nearly all of whom are Democrats - are prepared to cite the U.S. Supreme Court in defense of the state's rights.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that where both federal and state court cases have been filed, it is the state court rather than federal court that has primary responsibility for adopting the redistricting plan," McDuff said.
Contact Jackson, Miss., Bureau reporter Reed Branson at (601) 352-8631.
Attorney General Mike Moore says he'll ask courts to dismiss two lawsuits filed over Mississippi's redistricting process.
Both suits are against the state elections commission, of which Moore is a member.
"Those cases are premature," Moore said Thursday. "Our Legislature needs to act and I think will act before any litigation."
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional districts because it grew more slowly than many other states in the 1990s.
If legislators don't agree on districts by the end of the year, the 2002 election calendar could be in danger.
In a weeklong special session that ended Wednesday, state lawmakers were unable to reach consensus on a new map.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and other leaders are urging them to try again, and Musgrove might call another special session before the end of the year.
Civil rights activists Rims Barber and Bea Branch, both of Jackson, filed a suit Oct. 5 in Hinds County Chancery Court. The suit asks the court to draw new congressional lines, if lawmakers don't do so by early December.
Republican Mayors Shirley Hall of Richland and John Robert Smith of Meridian and banker Gene Walker of Forest filed suit Nov. 1 in U.S. District Court in Jackson. Their suit asks a panel of three federal judges to draw the new districts.
Moore said redistricting should be resolved at the Capitol.
"The truth of the matter is this is a job that the Legislature is supposed to do, not the court," he said.
The House and Senate deadlocked on several points while trying to set new congressional boundaries.
Senate leaders didn't want to extend a north Mississippi district into the Jackson suburbs. House leaders said that had to be done because putting southern Madison County precincts into a new central district would give Republicans an advantage.
Mississippi's two newest congressmen, Republican Chip Pickering and Democrat Ronnie Shows, are expected to compete next year in a new central district.
Senate Elections Chairman Hob Bryan, D-Amory, and House Apportionment and Elections Chairman Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, say they'll continue negotiating.
"It is my hope that they will work very hard and produce a plan as soon as possible," Musgrove said Thursday.
Mississippi's redistricting plan needs U.S. Justice Department approval to ensure fairness to minorities.
Justice officials get up to two months to consider the plan and can ask for an extension.
March 1 is the qualifying deadline for congressional candidates. Lawmakers could change that deadline, but Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck said she'd prefer to keep it.
Tuck is urging the six negotiators ó three from the House and three from the Senate ó to work some more. "We'll keep trying," she said.
Mississippi lawmakers are poised to dump on the courts a duty that should be their own: redrawing congressional district lines to bring equal numbers of voters together in compact, contiguous geographical areas.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove told lawmakers Tuesday that if they don't reach a redistricting deal by noon today, he will adjourn the special session called for that purpose. That seems likely; negotiators have failed to make progress and most House members already have gone home.
Basic principles of representative government get unfortunately scant attention during the redistricting process, which follows every census. Compact congressional districts can have acceptable political and ethnic diversity, while joining communities that share economic and cultural characteristics. Candidates can campaign in such districts at much less expense than they can in elongated districts drawn to satisfy partisan interests.
Some gerrymandering can't be avoided - when it serves to assure proportionate minority representation, for instance. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed districts deliberately designed to dilute black voting strength. The U.S. Supreme Court this year upheld the constitutionality of a majority-black district in North Carolina drawn after the 1990 census.
Otherwise, political leaders should strive to draw districts that make geographical sense and conform to the mandate that every congressional district must have roughly the same number of people, to ensure equal representation. Instead, too often they approach the process with the main objective of gaining political advantage for a party or candidate.
The stalemate in the Mississippi Legislature came after months of public and private negotiations over how to make the transition from five to four U.S. House districts in the state - an outcome of the congressional reapportionment process resulting from new census figures.
One of those four districts is expected to be a battleground between two incumbents, Democrat Ronnie Shows and Republican Chip Pickering. The primary question is which congressman the new district lines will favor. But the domino effects are many.
One plan, favored by the state House, would redraw the First District, represented by Republican Rep. Roger Wicker, so that it stretches from Northeast Mississippi to the suburbs of Jackson. Dubbed the "tornado plan" for the twisted, funnel-like shape of the proposed First District, it concentrates conservative Republican voters from DeSoto and northern Rankin counties in one district to dilute their strength.
The plan, which appears to give a slight edge to Shows in the new central Mississippi district, is based on the argument it would produce a "fair fight" between Shows and Pickering next year - an argument that has nothing to offer voters for the long term. The Senate, by contrast, has approved a plan that puts all of Rankin County in the new district and appears to give an edge to Pickering.
The political argument revolves around the racial composition of the proposed districts. The central Mississippi congressional district in the Senate version has a black voting-age population of about 34 percent, while in the House version it is 38 percent. Since African-American voters are considered reliably Democratic, the House version gives Democrats an edge.
By the beginning of this week, negotiators for each chamber were pointing fingers at the other side, claiming their counterparts were unwilling to compromise. The issue appears to be headed to a state or federal courtroom.
Although federal court decisions on voting issues are nothing new to Mississippians, the Legislature's withdrawal simply increases the cost of redistricting, delays congressional campaigns, and dampens confidence among Mississippi voters in state government - at least in the ability of the Legislature to fulfill its duties.
The redistricting process should belong to voters, not candidates. Voters should demand that their interests take precedence. If it takes the courts to handle a job that lawmakers are supposed to do, it seems the wrong people are in elected office.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove ended Mississippi's redistricting special session late Wednesday after House and Senate leaders said they couldn't reach consensus.
"The gap which divides us is so broad that we have not been able to bridge it," said Senate Elections Chairman Hob Bryan, D-Amory.
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional seats because it grew more slowly than many other states in the 1990s.
A redistricting special session started last Thursday. After a weekend of talks produced no plan, the House adjourned on Monday, but the Senate wanted to return to the Capitol this Thursday.
The state constitution says that if the House and Senate disagree on when to adjourn a special session, the governor decides when to send them home. Musgrove said there was no point in bringing lawmakers back to Jackson without consensus on a plan.
Most of the 174 members went home Monday and were awaiting word on whether to return to the Capitol. Bringing the entire House and Senate back for a day would have cost about $48,000.
"I have asked that the joint committee continue its work and they have assured me they will do so," Musgrove said Wednesday. "I will call the full Legislature back in session at the appropriate time to complete its responsibility to the people of Mississippi."
Bryan said informal negotiations will continue, possibly with phone calls among lawmakers.
Musgrove had set a noon Wednesday deadline for a half dozen negotiators to agree on a plan. He was in Biloxi making an afternoon speech and let the deadline pass quietly as lawmakers continued to work.
House and Senate negotiators on Wednesday exchanged plans that offered different boundaries for a new central district combining parts of districts now represented by Republican Chip Pickering and Democrat Ronnie Shows.
Pickering's current district is in east central Mississippi and Shows' stretches from parts of Jackson to the southwest corner.
The main points of contention were what to do with the predominantly Republican Jackson suburbs and how high to set the black voting age population in the new combined district.
A higher black voting population helps Democrats and hurts Republicans. Putting Republican precincts of southern Madison County in the new, combined central district helps Republicans and hurts Democrats.
Bryan noted that the last House offer had a north Mississippi district with a narrow finger of land stretching into southern Madison County. The northern district is now represented by Republican Roger Wicker.
"We're giving you an arm and a leg and it looks like all you're giving us is this little finger," Bryan said.
House Apportionment and Elections Chairman Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, replied with a smile: "Negotiating with the Senate _ it seems like negotiating with Lucille Ball. It is a moving target."
Reynolds said the latest Senate offer wasn't compact. He objected to its moving Walthall and Marion counties into a Gulf Coast district. For years, those counties have been in a southwestern district.
The House plan Reynolds offered hours later put Walthall and Marion counties into the new central district. In exchange, it moved Lauderdale County into a coast district now represented by Democrat Gene Taylor.
Both plans put the black voting age population at about 36 percent in the new, combined central district. That split the difference between the Senate's original offer of about 34 percent and the House's original offer of 38 percent.
Reynolds said the House had tried to work with the Senate.
"We do feel that we made every effort to come to their position," he said.
If lawmakers can't agree on a redistricting plan, the issue could be decided in court.
"This issue needs to be decided in the Capitol, not a courtroom," Musgrove said Wednesday.
Democratic activists filed a lawsuit in early October in Hinds County Chancery Court, asking that court to draw district lines if lawmakers haven't done so by Dec. 3. Republican activists filed one last week in U.S. District Court in Jackson asking a three-judge federal panel to draw the lines.
It isn't clear which suit would take precedent.
The Mississippi Legislature remained deadlocked Monday over new congressional redistricting, dramatically raising the prospects that a state or federal court will draw the new districts.
After negotiations stalled Monday, the House voted 82-39 to adjourn a special session. Senators voted by voice to try to force their colleagues to return on Thursday for further talks, but House leaders said they'd resist returning without a compromise to present the membership.
The stalemate comes despite months of public and private negotiations over how to shape a new central Mississippi district that is likely to pit incumbent U.S. representatives Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, and Chip Pickering, a Republican. Congressional reapportionment reduced the number of Mississippi congressmen from five to four.
Anticipating the deadlock, Democratic activists last month filed suit in a Hinds County Chancery Court while Republican activists filed suit in federal district court here. It remained unclear which court would ultimately settle the issue.
"A court will impose districts in time for people to run. It happens in states all around the nation . . . mostly in states with divided parties controlling the legislatures," said House Elections chairman Rep. Tommy Reynolds (D-Charleston).
In Mississippi, though, the development is particularly curious. Democrats are a majority of both chambers, making the battle more curious and raising questions about the loyalties of legislative leaders in the Senate.
In the House, Reynolds said the priority among a majority of members was producing a new central Mississippi district that would provide a "fair fight" between Shows and Pick ering.
He argued the House plan, which has a central Mississippi district with a 38 percent black voting age population, would be such a district. To achieve that, though, House members would include a number of conservative Jackson suburbs in a district otherwise made up of northeast Mississippi and DeSoto County.
Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, a Democrat, has pushed for her own district plan that she said would be more geographically compact while still providing Democrats with a shot.
Tuck's plan would divide the Jackson metropolitan area into two congressional districts - as it is now - but not include any part of it in the Northeast Mississippi district.
"We want to maintain the regional integrity of this state," said Tuck.
Tuck's proposal is more widely favored among Republicans and Pickering's supporters, prompting many Democrats here to question her motivations.
On Monday, Tuck put down rumors that she was considering switching parties, saying first, "I have no plans to change, right now - no plans to change."
Later, she went to lengths to make the point, saying she would "absolutely not" switch parties. "People say I have not been fair to the party. I have. I've been fair to the state," she said.
In both chambers, negotiators argued that while they had been willing to compromise, those in the other chamber had not.
The House voted before noon to adjourn the special session.
Hours later, the Senate voted instead to adjourn until Thursday, invoking a provision of the state Constitution that prohibits one chamber from adjourning for more than three days without the permission of the other chamber.
House leaders then turned to another provision of the Constitution that said the governor can dissolve a special session if the House and Senate can't agree to do so.
"The House and Senate had three days to reach a compromise and were unable to do so. What good would three more days do?" said House Speaker Tim Ford (D-Baldwyn). "It's not my intent to call House members back to the Capitol until an agreement on congressional redistricting has been reached . . . that would be too costly to the taxpayers of the state of Mississippi.''
Contact Jackson, Miss., Bureau reporter Reed Branson at (601) 352-8631.
House and Senate leaders, divided for months over how to draw four new congressional districts in Mississippi, appeared late Saturday to be moving finally toward a compromise.
But whether their memberships, who return to Jackson Monday morning, will go along with even preliminary proposals on the table today remained far from certain. If lawmakers fail to reach a consensus, it is widely assumed here that either state or federal courts will draw the plan.
Population shifts over the last decade resulted in Mississippi losing one congressional seat. While the districts now in the Delta, Northeast Mississippi and on the Gulf Coast are expected to remain largely intact, lawmakers are fighting over the makeup of a new, central Mississippi district that would sweep from Natchez to Columbus.
"Any fair minded person would have to say we're making progress - for the first time since the census data was released," said Senate Elections Chairman Hob Bryan (D-Amory).
On Thursday, the full House approved a new congressional district plan that would appear to give more of an edge to a Democratic candidate, presumably Rep. Ronnie Shows. The full Senate approved a plan that would appear to give more of an edge to a Republican candidate, presumably Rep. Chip Pickering.
On Saturday, Senate negotiators proposed a new plan that would include more Democratic voters in the new district - a key House concern - but that keeps the Republican-leaning suburbs of Jackson in a central Mississippi district.
The House negotiators proposed a plan that would keep one suburban Jackson county, Rankin, in the central Mississippi district. It would include other Republican suburbs of Jackson in neighboring Madison County in a district that is otherwise largely made up of voters in Northeast Mississippi.
Senate leaders say they oppose putting the Jackson metropolitan area in a Northeast district.
While Bryan and state House Elections Chairman Tommy Reynolds (D-Charleston) agreed that the proposals represented progress, both acknowledged that selling even their first proposals - much less a final plan that would compromise House and Senate plans further - to their memberships would be tough.
For example, Sen. Dean Kirby (R-Pearl) said he did not believe Republicans and many Democrats from Northeast Mississippi in the Senate would go along with even the first compromise proposal from Senate negotiators.
"I'm not sure I can get the Senate to go along with moving (the black voting age population of likely Democratic voters) from 34 percent to 35.5 percent," said Kirby.
Across the rotunda, there were similar sentiments. Rep. George Flaggs (D-Vicksburg) said he would not recommend the black members support the House's compromise proposal.
"I just don't think with the political participation of Republicans in Rankin County, you can offer to put it in the new district and say it's a fair district," said Flaggs.
Contact Reed Branson at (601) 352-8631.
The state House and Senate adopted different proposed congressional maps in a special session that started Thursday, setting up what's likely to be fiery debate over the next several days among members of a joint legislative committee charged with working out the differences.
After separate proposals backed by Republicans and Democrats failed, the Senate adopted a plan offered by Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck as a compromise and a starting point to negotiations with the House.
"The lieutenant governor has done a great job of coming up with a compromise plan," said Sen. Tommy Moffatt, R-Gautier. "I definitely hope we don't compromise any more."
Sen. Debbie Dawkins, D-Pass Christian, who voted against the Senate plan, said she questions whether the Senate's map would pass legal muster.
"It needs work," she said.
Because of its history of voting rights infringements, Mississippi is one of 13 states that must have its voting districts approved by the U.S. Justice Department. The state is losing one of its five congressional seats because it grew more slowly than other Southeastern states during the 1990s, according to the 2000 Census.
The conference committee met briefly after the votes in each chamber and will resume deliberations today.
Tuck appointed Sens. Hob Bryan, D-Amory; Bennie Turner, D-West Point; and Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, to the committee.
House Speaker Tim Ford appointed Reps. Ferr Smith, D-Carthage; Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston; and Bobby Moody, D-Louisville.
The committee appears to be far apart headed into conference.
A version of the Senate plan failed in the House by an 84-37 vote Thursday. A version of the House plan failed in the Senate, 38-13.
All of the Senate's 18 Republicans backed the map the Senate adopted. But in the House, only one Republican, Tommy Woods of Byhalia, backed that chamber's adopted plan.
"Anyone who thinks partisan politics doesn't play a role in congressional redistricting needs to go back to government 101," Bryan said during Thursday's deliberations.
All of the proposed plans have combined districts 3 and 4, represented respectively by Republican Chip Pickering of Laurel and Democrat Ronnie Shows of Bassfield. The two incumbents will face each other in next year's election.
The fight could shape how political parties fare not only in Mississippi, but in Congress as well. Republicans hold a narrow majority, 219-210, in the U.S. House.
Both national parties are in a political dogfight to control the House after next year's elections.
Mississippi has two Republican congressmen, Pickering and Roger Wicker of Pontotoc, and three Democrats, Shows, Gene Taylor of Bay St. Louis and Bennie Thompson of Bolton.
Neither map adopted by state lawmakers Thursday puts both Keesler Air Force Base and Meridian Naval Air Station in Taylor's Coast district.
The state Republican Party, as well as business people and public officials on the Coast and in Lauderdale County, had rallied against a plan supported by the Legislative Black Caucus and other Democrats. They said putting both bases in one district, as the proposed plan does, could put one of the bases in jeopardy of closing or loss of federal money because they would share a congressman.
Sen. Bobby Dearing, R-Natchez, said he didn't buy that argument, since Pickering had represented Meridian Naval Air Station and Columbus Air Force Base.
He said that if the Democrats did seize the majority in the House, Taylor, if re-elected, would likely become chairman of the House Armed Services subcommittee on military installations, research and development.
"I would want Mr. Taylor representing those two bases," Dearing said.
They were once rural counties but filled rapidly in recent years with suburban families who pack the malls, commute to work and vote for Republicans in impressive numbers.
These days, DeSoto and Rankin counties are also similar in one more way: They want nothing to do with each other when it comes to congressional redistricting plans on the table during a special session of the state Legislature.
House and Senate negotiators struggled here Friday to reach a compromise in their efforts to draw new districts. They are expected to meet through the weekend, and the full membership returns Monday.
Congressional reapportionment reduced Mississippi from five to four congressmen, dramatically reshaping the political landscape here and pitting parties, philosophies and communities against one another as the new district maps are drawn.
While many variables are on the table, one of the most vexing questions is whether to include the Jackson suburbs in Rankin County within a congressional district that otherwise comprises DeSoto County and Northeast Mississippi.
"There are not but about two issues that could hang it up. And one is whether you split up Rankin County," said House Speaker Tim Ford (D-Baldwyn), whose chamber on Thursday voted for a plan that put many Rankin County voters in that northeast district.
The Senate, by contrast, approved a plan that would leave Rankin in a new, central Mississippi district. It is widely favored by Republicans and leaders in both DeSoto and Rankin County.
"That's a very strong position the Senate has and I don't know of any ditch in which the Senate is more prepared to die in than that ditch," Senate Elections chairman Hob Bryan (D-Amory) told fellow senators Friday.
"I'd like DeSoto County and Rankin County not to be in the same district," said Rep. Wanda Jennings (R-Southaven) during a break in proceedings here Friday. "Those are two of the strong, conservative counties in the state. It (putting them together) lessens conservatives' influence over the entire state."
Consider their similarities. Among Mississippi's 82 counties, Rankin is ranked fourth in population, DeSoto is fifth. DeSoto is ranked fifth in number of manufacturing jobs, Rankin is sixth. In both counties, more than 70 percent of the adult population has a high school diploma, well above the state average of 64 percent.
And, the two counties are wealthier, more conservative and far more Republican than the state as a whole. In fact, the similarities are used by many Democrats here to justify putting them in the same congressional district.
"They are a community of (like) interests," said Rep. George Flaggs (D-Vicksburg). "They developed the same way. DeSoto County derives out of people leaving Memphis and Rankin County derives out of people leaving Jackson . . . plus they have the same, identical voting pattern behavior. They don't elect Democrats."
But to Republican insiders, it is a waste of voting power that could be used to elect two congressmen instead of one. "That would be very unfair for both large, Republican counties to be together," said Rep. Valeria Robertson (R-Olive Branch).
Sen. Robert Chamberlin (R-Hernando) said, "This is what I hear most . . . We just feel that would dilute both our voting strengths. It takes away from both counties to have an impact on a congressional district."
DeSoto Republicans have an ally in the thick of the fight. State Sen. Dean Kirby (R-Pearl) is from Rankin County, and he is one of three senators on the Senate negotiating team.
It's not personal, he stressed. He once served as a deskmate in the state Senate to now-U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). But he doesn't want the Tupelo Republican as his congressman.
"He's a good friend," said Kirby. "But we feel better about the way (the congressional map) is now. I don't think we should be in the (Northeast Mississippi) congressional district."
Contact Jackson Bureau reporter Reed Branson at (601) 352-8631.
Six members of the House and Senate will resume the tough task this morning of finding a compromise between two competing maps of what Mississippi's new congressional districts should look like.
The conference committee began working late Thursday afternoon after each chamber adopted separate maps on the first day of a special session.
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressmen because its population growth didn't keep pace with that of many other states.
How the new lines are drawn impacts the amount of federal dollars given to schools and communities.
Actions in the House and Senate followed predictions. The Senate adopted a plan that appears to give 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican, an edge over 4th District U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, in a race for a seat created by combining the two districts.
Following about an hour of debate, the House voted 78-43 to adopt the plan that would provide an equal opportunity for either Shows or Pickering to win in a possible showdown, according to House Apportionment and Elections Chairman Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston.
"This is not a work of perfection, but it is a work of fairness," Reynolds said.
But Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said the Senate's bill is a better compromise than the House map.
"Let it ring out to the other end of the hall this is a compromise, but I will not compromise any further," he said.
The Senate debated nearly three hours before adopting the plan supported by Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck. The vote was 31-19.
A key difference in the House and Senate plans is in how the Pickering/Shows district is combined.
The House map provides a black voting age population of 38.2 percent in the combined district. The black voting strength for the combined district in the Senate plan is 34.3 percent.
Also, the House map splits the existing 3rd District Republican strongholds of Rankin and Lauderdale counties.
The area currently represented by 1st District U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker, a Republican, dips south in both plans, and would take in part of Rankin County under the House plan. The Senate's map keeps all of Rankin County in the combined district.
Lauderdale County would be split between the new combined district and the area currently represented by 5th District U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, a Democrat.
Both plans preserve the majority black district represented by 2nd District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat.
Glenn Rushing, a Shows aide, said the congressman was "just elated and happy about the plan the House passed out. We're still holding out for the Senate to come through."
Pickering isn't thrilled about either plan, said his campaign manager, Henry Barbour. But if he had to choose, Pickering favors the Senate map because it would be a better compromise between what the House wants and the map designed by former Democratic Sen. Henry Kirksey, which Pickering prefers.
"They just didn't like the plan for partisan reasons," Barbour said.
Both the House and Senate rejected the Kirksey plan. The House also axed the Senate plan, and the Senate dismissed the Legislative Black Caucus map and the House's plan.
Sen. Barbara Blackmon, D-Canton, asked Senate Elections Committee Chairman Hob Bryan, D-Amory, if partisan politics played a role in shaping the Senate plan.
"Absolutely, partisan politics played a role from the word go," Bryan said. "If you don't think it is involved, you need to go back to Government 101."
Some senators were critical, saying the Senate plan would hurt rural communities in some congressional districts, lessen chances of re-electing a black congressman or hurt the re-election prospects of Shows in a possible showdown with Pickering.
Still, "this plan has the overwhelming support of the members of the (redistricting) committee," Bryan said.
Mississippi has three Democrats and two Republicans in the U.S. House.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove called the special session to allow lawmakers time to develop a map and avert having the court step in and draw the voting lines.
The plan must meet U.S. Department of Justice approval. The qualifying deadline for congressional candidates is March 1.
The cost of a special session is $47,460 for the first day and $33,710 for each additional day.
Marty Wiseman, director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University, said redistricting is a battle fought "from one sea to shining sea," and the fight over district lines isn't unique to Mississippi.
"The stakes are who gets to be predominant in their political philosophy. It's just not the kind of thing you compromise before you have a contest," he said.
The conference committee is expected to meet today at 9:30 a.m. The House conferees are Reynolds, Rep. Ferr Smith, D-Carthage, and Rep. Bobby Moody, D-Louisville.
The Senate conferees are Bryan, Sen. Bennie Turner, D-West Point, and Sen. Dean Kirby, R-Pearl.
If the conferees can't reach a decision by noon today, House Speaker Tim Ford said he will decide when the Legislature will return.
Adding to Thursday's events, a suspicious package was delivered to the Senate. According to a written statement from the governor's office, Capitol police were notified and the package has been taken for testing by the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Health for testing because of the heightened awareness about anthrax.
Results will be made available soon, the statement said.
One of them went on to become one of the most powerful congressmen in Washington, steering hundreds of millions of federal dollars to this poorest of Southern states.
The other became a political martyr to the ideology of racial moderation, observing the world from his cozy, used-books store near downtown Jackson.
The two are former U.S. representatives Jamie Whitten and Frank Smith, now both deceased. But four decades ago, in a situation similar to the one facing the state's congressional delegation today, the men were pitted against one another after census data left Mississippi with one less congressman.
As 174 state lawmakers return to Jackson in a special session today to once again face the unpleasant task of shrinking the state's congressional delegation - this time from five to four - the legacies of Whitten and Smith are silent reminders of the sweeping and often unpredictable consequences of this process.
"Every time you've lost a seat, in my experience, it has had long-lasting effects,'' said Bill Minor, a veteran Mississippi journalist who has twice before been witness to state lawmakers faced with eliminating a congressman.
"It was outrageous,'' recalled Minor of the newly drawn district that so heavily favored Whitten in 1962. "It was done by the Ross Barnett Dixiecrats to deal a body blow to the national Democrats. Jamie Whitten was thought not to be a national Democrat because he played footsie with the Dixiecrats.
"The irony is," noted Minor, "not long after that, Whitten became a national Democrat in his voting record'' and as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee ultimately funneled federal spending on projects large and small to Mississippi. He also set a new record for longevity in Congress, serving 53 years.
Population shifts tracked by the 2000 census have once again reallocated the nation's congressmen in a manner that leaves Mississippi with only four.
The state legislative leadership here, with substantial pressure and influence from Republicans and Democrats alike, has struggled all summer to build a consensus behind a plan for new congressional districts.
So far, none has emerged.
And this time, instead of Whitten and Smith, the battle is between Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, and Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican. And it is over which voters will make up a district stretching from Natchez to Columbus.
Shows, 54, was elected in 1998 to represent the Fourth Congressional District in central and southwest Mississippi. It has a 47 percent black population and leans Democratic. He has styled himself as a conservative Democrat, joining the Blue Dog caucus in Washington and tending to vote more conservative on social issues.
Pickering, 38, was elected in 1996 to represent the Third Congressional District in east and central Mississippi. It is 65 percent white and largely Republican. Pickering, a close ally of Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), has a "very conservative" voting record, according to the Almanac of American Politics.
Now, state lawmakers here must draw new congressional districts that pit these colleagues against one another. Geography and the Voting Rights Act would seem to assure Reps. Bennie Thompson and Gene Taylor, both Democrats, and Roger Wicker, a Republican, will retain the overwhelming majority of their current supporters under a new plan.
A plan likely to have enough votes for passage in the House would seem to favor Shows. A plan likely to have enough votes for passage in the Senate, however, appears to favor Pickering.
"To come out with a plan, both sides are going to have to feel they have to work hard to win (an election). I think that will be the compromise,'' predicted House Speaker Tim Ford (D-Baldwyn). "If we haven't got a (compromise) by Sunday, I don't think we'll get one.''
Contact Jackson Bureau reporter Reed Branson at (601) 352-8631.
A divided state Legislature meets at noon today in special session to begin carving Mississippi into four congressional districts.
Many lawmakers have their fingers crossed that the House and Senate can reach a consensus on a plan.
Senate members of the joint legislative redistricting committee support a plan that seems to give 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican, an edge over 4th District U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, in a new combined district.
The map the House is leaning toward appears to give Shows a greater opportunity to win in a combined Shows/Pickering district.
In a Democrat-controlled Legislature, many lawmakers want to make sure a Democrat wins in a combined district.
Mississippi is losing one of its five seats because its population growth lagged behind that of many other states.
Moss Point resident Roderick Moore, 26, said Mississippians should keep in mind that behind the political wrangling is a congressional plan that will impact the state for at least a decade. The new districts will affect who will serve as the citizens' representatives on the federal level and how much money will go to schools and communities.
"People need to ask, 'Do the legislators have the community interests at heart?,' " Moore said.
In adopting a plan, legislators are facing political party pressure and constituents' demands. They also must protect black voting power and make sure a plan is submitted to the Department of Justice for approval in time to meet a March 1 candidate qualifying deadline.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove, who must sign off on a final congressional map, said he hopes lawmakers can produce a plan.
Musgrove said he didn't call a special session earlier because he wanted to give lawmakers time to work out their differences.
"The Legislature should produce a plan because it's in the best interest of Mississippi. (Legislators) do not need to abdicate that responsibility to the federal court," he said.
It won't be an easy task. Republicans don't want to lose their turf, and Democrats don't want to lose theirs in the new district combined from the 3rd and 4th districts.
House Speaker Tim Ford said constituent concerns are of top importance to many House members and will weigh heavily in their decisions.
"The biggest problem we've had is making our constituents understand that everybody has got to be represented by somebody. They'd all like to have their old district lines, but that's just not possible when you go from five to four," Ford said.
Ford said the other hurdles are whether Rankin County should be whole or split and what the black voting age population should be in the new district.
Rankin County is at the center of the tug-of-war because it's a large Republican stronghold.
There's debate over whether to put it in the combined district or split part of it into the 1st District, which is currently represented by a Republican.
"I don't know if there's enough will in the two houses to resolve that problem. It's a difficult bridge to cross. I'm hopeful we can cross it, but not optimistic," said Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton.
Although Ford said he reserves the right to amend the bill, he would support a plan that divides Rankin County, and that plan is likely to pass the House.
The House Apportionment and Elections Committee met Wednesday afternoon to agree on drafting the so-called Ellzey plan into a bill for consideration.
The map offered by Rep. Joe Ellzey, D-Ellisville, splits Rankin County and would give the combined district a black voting age population of 38.2 percent.
"I don't think either one of them is going to get a slam dunk," Ford said of Shows and Pickering.
Rep. Tommy Reynolds, chairman of the Joint Legislative Reapportionment and Congressional Redistricting Committee, said the Ellzey plan gives Pickering and
Shows a fair chance at winning because the district includes 60 percent of both the current 3rd and 4th districts.
It also maintains 90 percent of the current 1st, 2nd and 5th districts.
"The purpose is to give a fair fight," Reynolds said.
The House may also consider five other plans, including one from the state Legislative Black Caucus.
In the Senate, the only plan Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck knows will be presented is the one she supports. That plan provides a 34.3 percent black voting age population in the combined district.
Unlike the Ellzey plan, the Senate plan has all of Rankin County in the combined district and splits Lowndes County.
Tuck said the map is fair and addresses regional concerns. "It's a road map, so certainly it's open to amendments."
How long the special session will last is unknown. If the House adopts the Ellzey plan and the Senate adopts Tuck's plan, lawmakers will end up in a conference committee of three senators and three representatives who will work out final compromises.
Rival congressional redistricting plans moved swiftly through the Mississippi House and Senate Thursday, clearing the way for behind-the-scenes work to reach a compromise.
Both plans preserve a majority-black Delta district and both combine parts of the existing 3rd District in east central Mississippi with parts of the existing 4th District in the southwest.
The plans differed in details, and three members from each chamber are expected to huddle in coming days to try to work toward a consensus.
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional districts because it grew more slowly than many other states in the 1990s.
The House voted 77-44 for a plan that House Elections Committee Tommy Reynolds called a fair fight proposal for the two congressmen who are likely to face each other in 2002 ó Republican Chip Pickering and Democrat Ronnie Shows.
This is not a plan to anoint someone for that seat, said Reynolds, D-Charleston.
The House voted down other redistricting proposals.
A plan approved by the Senate Elections Committee was drafted by Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, a Democrat. Some Democrats have complained Tucks plan gives Pickering an advantage in the new, combined district.
It also did not have unanimous support.
The new district does not give Democrats ó and I am a Democrat ó the best opportunity or a reasonable opportunity to elect a congressman of their choice, said Sen. Johnnie Walls, D-Greenville.
The Senate was debating the Tuck plan late Thursday.
Leaders of the Mississippi Republican and Democratic parties were watching action at the Capitol, as were staff members and campaign managers for congressmen.
The Mississippi Republican Party on Tuesday endorsed a congressional redistricting map drawn by a longtime Democrat and civil rights activist.
Some Democratic lawmakers were surprised to hear the Republicans praise former Sen. Henry Kirksey's plan. Rep. Diane Peranich, D-Pass Christian, said considering Kirksey's background as a Democratic firebrand, the endorsement seems strange.
"It gives truth to the old saying that politics makes strange bedfellows," she said.
Mississippi must redraw its congressional boundary lines, reducing from five districts to four, because the state's population has not grown as fast as many other states.
The endorsement of Kirksey's plan came two days before lawmakers are set to go into special session on redistricting, and it is the second plan backed by Republicans.
Kirksey's plan has compact districts and includes only one split county, Lowndes. It also combines the 3rd and 4th districts to include most of the current district served by 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering. The black voting age population for the area is 30.4 percent, and the new district encompasses Rankin, Madison and Pickering's home county of Jones.
"We feel that, looking at all of the plans together, this makes the most sense," said Republican Party Chairman Jim Herring.
Five Republican legislators stood with Herring at Tuesday's news conference. None of them is a member of the Joint Legislative Reapportionment and Congressional Redistricting Committee.
Kirksey, now 86, said he didn't draw a plan with Republicans or Democrats in mind. He said he wanted to do what's best for all Mississippians, and he's appreciative of Republican support.
"I'm honored that they would do that, not that I want it to be a big thing for Henry Kirksey. It should be done for the people," he said.
In the 1970s, Kirksey fought for reapportionment changes that helped elect a record number of black legislators. He also played an important role in helping to draw district lines that resulted in the election of the state's first black congressman, Mike Espy in the 2nd Congressional District.
Pickering has consistently stated his support of Kirksey's plan, and he emphasized his preference in a written statement.
"Sen. Kirksey has drawn a plan that results in compact districts, keeps communities of interest together and best positions the state for growth in the years to come," he said.
On Thursday, a group of Republican lawmakers unveiled a congressional redistricting plan that they said strikes a balance with other plans being proposed. Herring said that plan wasn't endorsed by the party, but it offered an alternative to the plan supported by the House.
Trying to force Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck (D) to back off a House map she drafted to favor Rep. Chip Pickering (R) in a race against Rep. Ronnie Shows (D), Democrats were spreading the word last week that Shows might challenge Tuck in 2003.
A spokesman denied Shows has plans to do so. But the feverish pitch the rumor reached revealed the level at which Democrats are working to scuttle Tuck's plan, which would throw Shows and Pickering into a GOP-leaning district. Tuck, a party maverick, serves as president of the state Senate, so she controls the remap in the upper chamber.
The intraparty battle will play out this week in Jackson, where Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) has ordered the Democratic-controlled Legislature to convene Thursday for a special session just on redistricting.
Democrats in the state House are backing two plans, both of which favor Shows by maintaining a strong presence of black voters in the district. Tuck is pushing an alternative that would help Pickering by including Rankin County, a suburban GOP stronghold, in the district and reducing the percentage of black voters from 43 percent to 34 percent.
It's simply called congressional redistricting and the subject evokes either intense passion or withering apathy among the voters.
Congressional redistricting is one of the least understood and most hotly-debated of political topics.
Redistricting impacts how the federal revenue pie is divided and by whom. It impacts political patronage jobs across the board and the availability of federal grants and spending initiatives among competing interests in a given state or congressional district.
It impacts research spending at the state's universities and colleges, defense spending at the state's military bases and defense plants and federal assistance programs from Social Security to Medicaid to Veterans Administration benefits.
It is a measure of the strength and health of political parties.
At the most elemental level, it's about who has the power, the "juice" or the advantage in the ebb and flow of politics ó and partisan politics cannot be exorcised from the process.
In Mississippi over the next week, it will be the center of the state's political universe.
Both Democrats and Republicans from the local to the national level want desperately to "win" the redistricting exercise ó for the stakes range from simple control of one Mississippi congressional seat to control of the entire U.S. House of Representatives.
The Dorsey Dictionary of American Government and Politics defines the process thusly: "The action of a state legislature (or a court if the legislature fails to act) in redrawing congressional district boundaries in response to a reapportionment of congressional seats among the states.
"The U.S. Constitution in Article I, Section 2 requires that an 'enumeration,' a census, be undertaken every 10 years specifically for the purpose of adjusting the number of congressional seats to which each state is entitled.
"This is a major means by which national political power peacefully follows the population as it shifts from one state or region to another. The reassignment of the numbers of congressional seats that each state will have is reapportionment; a state's redrawing of its congressional districts is redistricting."
The 1962 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Baker vs. Carr extended the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the redistricting process ó making both congressional and state legislative reapportionment and redistricting matters subject to the dictates of the federal courts.
The Baker case also provided the basis for the concept of "one person, one vote" established in the 1964 Reynolds vs. Sims decision by the Supreme Court which held that "one man, one vote is the guiding criteria for legislative reapportionment."
The Reynolds decision, which contained the now famous language that legislative bodies "represent people, not trees or acres," was the key judicial decision that curbed rural bias in state legislatures ó a clearly identifiable problem in Mississippi during the "Jim Crow" era.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 extended voting rights to minority groups. The key sections included Section 4 ó providing for automatic coverage of jurisdictions with low minority voter participation ó and Section 5, which required Justice Department preclearance of all voting law changes, prescibed federal examiners to guarantee the right to vote and federal monitors to observe elections.
Mississippi elections have been inextricably intertwined in Justice Department preclearance and monitoring for more than 35 years and those safeguards remain today.
Mississippi's final redistricting plan will require Justice Department preclearance. Why?
The Almanac of American Politics defines the situation concisely:
"In 1984, Mississippi was the first state to get a redistricting plan dictated by the dominant interpretation of the 1982 amendments to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The result was the black majority 2nd District, which duly elected (black Democrat) Mike Espy. Ironically, Espy wanted to hold down the black percentage in the 2nd District in the 1991 redistricting plan, because he was winning white votes and wanted more black influence in other districts. But civil rights organization apparatchiks said no."
The evolution of the 2nd District as a district configured to achieve racial balance in congressional representation is dramatic.
In 1982, the 2nd District was drawn to create a 53 percent black voting age population (BVAP). In 1986, it was redrawn to create a 54 percent BVAP. In 1991, it was redrawn to create a 58 percent BVAP.
"Gerrymandering" is defined by The Dorsey Dictionary as the reshaping "of an electoral district to enhance the political fortunes of the party in power(or incumbents), as opposed to creating a district with geographic compactness.
But in 1986, the Supreme Court ruled in Davis vs. Bandemer that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional when the electoral system is arranged in a manner that will consistently degrade a voter's or whole group of voters' influence on the political process as a whole.
Earlier this year, the Supreme Court spoke to that issue again in the Hunt vs. Cromartie decision in North Carolina. It held that while gerrymandering for racial purposes remained unconstitutional, gerrymandering to achieve partisan political goals was, indeed, constitutional. In short, Democrats redistricting to help Democrats and Republicans redistricting to help Republicans is not unconstitutional.
The reduction in congressional apportionment from five seats to four after the completion of the 2000 Census has set the table for controversy in the current redistricting battle.
The realities are these:
Democrats control the Mississippi Legislature.
Each of the new four congressional districts must contain approximately 710,000 voters.
The new 2nd District must protect the black voting age population (BVAP) at least at the level it exists today, which would require between 58 and 59 percent. If not, it is virtually assured that the Justice Department will reject it.
The new amalgamated district ó which basically consists of the old 3rd District seat held by incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering and old 4th District seat held by incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows ó must achieve a significant BVAP that doesn't dilute black voting strength. The 1991 BVAP in the old 3rd District is 28 percent and the 1991 BVAP in the old 4th District is 36 percent. The average BVAP between the 1991 numbers in those districts is 32 percent.
The 2000 Census numbers indicate that the BVAP in the old 3rd would be 29.3 percent today while the BVAP in the old 4th would be 42.7 percent. The average BVAP between the 2000 Census numbers in those districts is 36 percent.
Lawmakers will struggle to agree on what an appropriate BVAP in the new combination district will be ó but the range, based on debate thus far, is expected to be between 34.5 percent and 38.25. House Speaker Tim Ford said Tuesday that he believed the Legislature might compromise at a 36 percent BVAP in the amalgamated district.
Republicans contend that the concept of "retrogression" ó the dilution of existing black voting strength within a political subdivision ó is applicable only in the black-majority 2nd District. But Democrats contend retrogression applies to all districts ó including the new amalgamated district ó and that is a central disagreement.
Regional and economic considerations such as putting universities and military bases in separate districts are concerns, but will be subjegated to racial concerns over Justice Department preclearance and partisan political pressures.
Should the redistricting process break down in the Legislature, the remedy lies ultimately in the federal courts. The federal courts are the venue in which Republicans do hold the advantage. Most of the federal judges from the district level to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court are Republican appointees.
Regardless the outcome of the Nov. 1 special session, many believe that Mississippi's redistricting is headed to the federal courts and few are willing to wager whether it will be Republicans, Democrats or both parties who seek judicial redress.
A group of Republican state lawmakers Thursday unveiled a congressional redistricting plan they said strikes a balance with other plans being proposed.
Mississippi's five congressional seats are being reduced to four. The black voting age population in a new district carved from combining the current 3rd and 4th districts is a major sticking point.
A Senate-backed plan would put the black voting age population at 34 percent and a plan pushed by some House members would put it at 38 percent.
The Republican "Expert Criteria" plan would give the new district a 30.5 percent black voting age population. The amount in the other three new districts would be: 1st district, 23.6 percent; 2nd district, 59.4 percent; and 4th district, 20.1 percent.
"If a candidate's only criterion for a plan is how high the black voting age population is in his district, maybe he is in the wrong line of work," the lawmakers said in a written statement. "Mississippians appreciate politicians who reach across party, racial and cultural lines and that is certainly our intent with our proposal."
The Republican lawmakers who issued the statement are: Reps. Jep Barbour of Yazoo City, Jim Ellington of Jackson, Danny Guice and Hank Zuber, both of Ocean Springs, Michael Janus of Biloxi, Rita Martinson of Madison, Keith Montgomery of Clinton, John Moore of Brandon and Greg Snowden of Meridian; and Sen. Alan Nunnelee of Tupelo.
Reps. Ronnie Shows (D) and Chip Pickering (R) would face each other in a new, central Mississippi district under either one of the maps the state's Democratic-controlled Legislature is set to approve this week.
In a fast-moving round of redistricting last week that featured racially charged rhetoric and gubernatorial politics, six legislative conferees wrangled late Friday in Jackson over rival plans drawn by the state House and Senate that offer dramatically different prospects for each House Member. One certainty that emerged last week, however, is that Shows and Pickering are headed for one of the most competitive House races of the 2002 cycle.
Preparing for a map that would force him to face off with Shows in a district with a large share of black voters, Pickering, 38, who had $936,000 on hand
June 30, is also keeping open the option to challenge Rep. Gene Taylor (D) instead.
"Most likely he would run in a new district against Shows. But there's been some talk that he would run against Gene Taylor, and we're definitely not ruling that out," said Pickering spokesman Quentin Dickerson on Friday.
Shows, 54, who banked $190,000 at June's end, said he would run against Pickering respectfully but aggressively, regardless of how the new district is configured.
"In Jones County you're either a kin to a Shows or a Pickering. Heck, [Pickering's] district director is a Shows, so we have a lot of family history and a lot of mutual respect," Shows said. "I respect him, but I'm not afraid of him, and I'm certainly not afraid to run against him. I've had my test in politics. I'm ready to go. If it's me and him, so be it. We'll go out and run hard."
The state House approved a map Thursday that draws Shows and Pickering into a Democratic-leaning district with a 39 percent black voting-age population. Based in Jackson, the district includes most of Shows' current 4th district in southwest Mississippi. It stretches east across the state to the Alabama border, taking in several majority-black localities in east-central Mississippi.
"This is not a work of perfection, but it is a work of fairness," said state Rep. Tommy Reynolds (D), chairman of the chamber's redistricting committee.
Reynolds is a leader of the six-member conference committee, which includes five Democrats and one Republican. Two of those Democrats are black.
Also on Thursday, the state Senate approved a far different measure drafted by Democratic Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, whose GOP-leaning plan would aid Pickering.
Unlike the state House plan, the Tuck plan would include all of Rankin County east of Jackson, and all of Lauderdale County on the state's Alabama border, in the Shows/Pickering district. Rankin and Lauderdale are heavily populated localities that vote reliably Republican. With a combined population of nearly 200,000, they would dominate the character of the new district, which Shows said would hurt his current constituents in southwest Mississippi.
Black voters would make up 34 percent of the new district's population under the state Senate plan.
State Sen. Alan Nunnelee (R) said his chamber's bill is a better compromise than the House map. "Let it ring out to the other end of the hall [that] this is a compromise, but I will not compromise any further," he said.
Currently Shows' 4th district is 42 percent black; Pickering's 3rd district is 29 percent black. Each chamber's plan also creates a majority-black Delta district with a roughly 60 percent black-voter population. African-American Rep. Bennie Thompson (D) plans to run there.
The black voting-age population under both chambers' plans for the state's other two House districts would be roughly 20 percent, which marks little change from the existing constituents of Reps. Taylor and Roger Wicker (R).
A compelling subplot in the Mississippi redistricting has been the unusual antics of Tuck, a political maverick who has left open the possibility of challenging Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D) in 2003, either as a Democrat or a Republican.
Democrats were circulating rumors in Jackson and Washington last week that Tuck, in exchange for her redistricting plan, has already secured the promise of Republican leaders that she would face a clear primary field in the 2003 race and solid financial support from the party. Notably, she was the only Democratic statewide official not to endorse changing the Mississippi flag before a ballot referendum this year. She took no stand.
Shows said he was dismayed by his longtime ally's moves to threaten his House career. "I honestly don't know what she's trying to do. I've always been a supporter of hers. I've had a lot of Members come up and ask me about her,"
Shows said. "When she ran for lieutenant governor, we really worked hard to help her win."
Asked if he would help Tuck in future political campaigns, Shows demurred. "Well, we'll see how this thing goes," he said.
The outcome of the Mississippi map may not be settled this week, even if the state Legislature approves a plan. Indeed, Shows supporters are already laying the groundwork for a possible federal court challenge to the state Senate plan, arguing that it would dramatically dilute the influence of black voters.
"That's a huge difference for black voters, and the question needs to be asked, how does that impact minorities?" said Shows spokesman Burns Strider. If the state Senate plan passes, "They could be faced with some retrogression challenges."
Trying to dodge such charges, at least politically, state GOP leaders backed a map last month drawn by former state Sen. Henry Kirksey (D), an African-American who helped draw the House map in the 1980s that led to the election of ex-Rep. Mike Espy (D), the state's first black House Member since Reconstruction.
Kirksey's plan, which was rejected by the Legislature, would have aided Pickering by putting more of his base into the new district. It also gives the combined district a black voting-age population of just 30 percent.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove on Tuesday called a Nov. 1 special session in an attempt to push lawmakers to agree on new boundaries for what will be the state's four congressional districts.
The governor called the session amid talks of the possibility that a judge will have to draw the state's congressional redistricting map.
A joint legislative panel has failed to agree on a plan to present to the full 174-member Legislature.
"The legislators have worked and researched this for six months," Musgrove said at an afternoon Capitol news conference. "One hundred seventy-four legislators can draw a plan that is fair and accurate rather than abdicate that responsibility to the federal courts."
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional seats because its population growth didn't keep up with other states', according to the 2000 census.
Musgrove called the session in time for a plan to be presented to the U.S. Department of Justice for approval so candidates may qualify as scheduled by March 1 for congressional elections.
The Justice Department needs at least 60 days to consider a new plan.
The state has three Democratic U.S. representatives and two Republicans.
Three of the current districts ó the 1st, 2nd and 5th ó are expected to remain largely recognizable. Another district is expected to be created by combining the 3rd and 4th districts, represented by the state's newest congressional members.
House and Senate redistricting committee members differ mainly about the racial composition of voters in the combined 3rd and 4th districts because, historically, it has been a key indicator as to whether a Republican or Democrat can win.
The Senate plan calls for a 34.35 percent black voting-age population in the new combined district. It is perceived to favor Republican 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering.
House members favor a plan that gives the new district a 38 percent black voting power. It is perceived to favor 4th District U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat.
Rep. George Flaggs, D-Vicksburg, said a special session can help lawmakers erase differences and merge plans. "The only way to resolve this is to put us all together and vote on the two versions of the plan," said Flaggs, a House redistricting committee member. "I am confident that we will approve a plan ... We're not that far apart."
Musgrove said he could not predict how long the session will take.
House Speaker Tim Ford and Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, who presides over the Senate, agreed to the date, Musgrove said.
Ford, D-Baldwyn, said neither he nor any of the House members ó Republican or Democrat ó with whom he has spoken wants redistricting to end up in court.
Mississippi Republican Party Chairman Jim Herring on Tuesday, however, specifically accused Ford, Shows and redistricting committee chairman Rep. Tommy Reynolds of purposely trying to keep the redistricting issue stalled so a judge can draw the lines.
"I have been advised by very reputable sources that the overall plan is to create an impasse and throw the matter into Hinds County Chancery Court," Herring said at a news conference before Musgrove's news conference. He would not name those sources.
"This is an absolute attempt to elect three Democrats and one Republican in the next election," Herring said. "We already have one gerrymandered district to make sure (2nd District U.S. Rep.) Bennie Thompson gets elected. We don't need three."
Ford called Herring's claim "laughable. It shows how desperate these parties are at attaining or retaining control of Congress. I think it is quickly turning into a political fight fueled by the national parties," he said.
Burns Strider, spokesman for Shows, said Shows is not involved in any Democratic conspiracy.
"Congressman Shows supports the (Mississippi Legislative) Black Caucus plan as being the best plan," he said, "because it tears down regional boundaries and creates a map where working Mississippians have a voice."
The Black Caucus plan, which was among three House plans rejected Oct. 5, would give a combined 3rd and 4th district a 39 percent black voting-age population.
Ford told The Clarion-Ledger that, if a compromise can be reached, he thinks the black voting-age population will be 36 or 37 percent.
The Senate plan, unveiled by Tuck last week, has drawn opposition from not only the Democratic Party but also the NAACP. The state NAACP's executive committee passed a resolution opposing the Senate plan for reasons including "it dilutes minority voting strength in the 2nd Congressional District" and "does not preserve the community of interest in the 2nd Congressional District."
State NAACP leaders say they strongly oppose Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck's congressional redistricting plan, the latest proposal to come under fire at the Capitol in a political fight that could wind up in federal court.
The state NAACP's executive committee has passed a resolution opposing the Tuck plan, and will announce details today, said Eugene Bryant, the Mississippi NAACP president. He would not elaborate Monday.
Critics say the plan Tuck unveiled Friday is inconsistent with the first-term Democratic lieutenant governor's own party, mainly because of low black voting power in a proposed new district. Black voting strength has been a consistent gauge for judging whether a district will go Democratic or Republican.
Opponents say the plan favors 3rd District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican, over 4th District U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat ó the state's two newest members of Congress.
Mississippi is losing one of its five U.S. House members because its population didn't grow as fast as other states'.
Tuck would not comment Monday. She was sticking to what she said when presenting the redistricting plan Friday, a spokeswoman said. She said then, "It has been our goal all along to make sure that this is a very fair map. This is a road map. It begins the process."
With no date set for the House and Senate members to iron out differences, some officials fear the congress-ional redistricting matter could go to federal court and delay the March 1 qualifying deadline for congressional candidates.
Pickering on Monday urged Shows to "stand with me in opposing one Jackson judge or a panel of federal judges from taking over Mississippi's congressional redistricting effort.''
Added Pickering: "Mississippians want the state Legislature to do their job in this process.''
In response, Shows spokesman Burns Strider said Pickering's comments "seem a bit premature.''
Strider said redistricting is a "legislative matter'' and is hopeful it is resolved soon. "It seems to be moving.''
To force lawmakers to work out their differences, Tuck said last week she would ask the governor to call a special legislative session by Oct. 30 . Her plan came two weeks after the Senate redistricting committee members rejected House members' proposals.
House Speaker Tim Ford, however, said Friday he wanted the governor to wait until House members receive a map drawn by an on-staff redistricting expert. That map should be completed by the end of this week.
Ford could not be reached Monday for comment.
Gov. Ronnie Musgrove is saying little about when he will call a special session on congressional redistricting, his spokesman John Sewell said Monday.
Tuck's plan calls for a 34.3 percent black voting-age population in the new combined district. The House favors a "compromise plan" that gives the new district 38 percent black voting power.
"It is pretty obvious. It won't give the Democrat a fair chance,'' said Rep. Ferr Smith, D-Carthage, a Black Caucus member and vice chairman of the House redistricting committee.
It would only waste taxpayer money to go into a special session with nothing on the table that's close to agreement, Smith said. "We would just be spinning our wheels,'' he said. "I don't think we can hammer something in.''
The Black Caucus has its own redistricting plan, but it, like others, has failed to gain the OK of the joint legislative redistricting committee.
Rep. Tommy Reynolds, D-Charleston, chairman of the Joint Legislative Redistricting Committee, also raised concerns about the Tuck plan.
"It does seem to be two-thirds of the district from Pickering and one-third from Shows,'' Reynolds said Monday.
Reynolds said there is a "strong possibility'' of a special session being called "within a reasonable amount of time. I will leave that in his (Musgrove's) discretion.''
It could be next week or the following before a special session occurs, Reynolds said.
Sen. Terry Burton, D-Newton, said Friday he thinks the Senate plan is fair because it takes personalities and political parties out of the process. It was designed to allow anyone who wanted to run for a seat to do just that, he said.
"So it's probably pretty close to what we need if no parties are for this plan," he said.
House Speaker Tim Ford said Wednesday he wants lawmakers to agree on a congressional redistricting plan by Nov. 1.
"Until the members realize everybody is not going to be happy, we're not going to be able to get through this," Ford said.
Mississippi is losing one of its five congressional seats because its population lagged behind many other states.
Before the joint legislative redistricting committee can reach a consensus members must get past two hurdles, Ford said. One is constituents from north Mississippi don't want to share a district with metro Jackson. But Ford said he would vote for a plan that puts DeSoto and Rankin counties in the same district ó something that business, civic and political leaders from northeast Mississippi, from where Ford is elected, have opposed.
The other issue is that some legislators want to leave three districts ó the 1st, 2nd and 5th ó pretty much as they are now, and carve a new Democratic district from the 3rd and 4th districts, while others oppose that plan. The 3rd and 4th districts are now represented by the two newest members of Congress, Chip Pickering, a Republican, and Ronnie Shows, a Democrat.
Carving out the new district can't happen without dipping into the Jackson metropolitan area for the reshaped 1st district.
The Justice Department, which must approve any redistricting plan for Mississippi, needs at least 60 days to consider a proposed map.
The state's congressional delegation doesn't want redistricting to fall into the hands of the court or to delay the qualifying deadline from March 1.
So far House redistricting members have backed a compromise plan, but senators have rejected it. Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck said the Senate has a number of plans, but she did not elaborate. Tuck said she met with Ford Wednesday and plans to meet with him again today. Committee members have been meeting just about every day.
With a narrow 219-210 Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, Republicans and Democrats alike are focusing on redistricting battles here and in pivotal states around the country, offering technical advice and legal assistance where needed.
Their efforts illustrate that drawing new congressional district boundaries is about far more than connecting geographical communities.
Rather, loyalists in both parties are most concerned about whether redrawn districts are packed with Democratic- or Republican-leaning voters.
"This is a key process for the (2002) elections right now," said Carl Forti, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee in Washington. "We believe we'll pick up 8 to 10 seats through the redistricting process."
Democrats are equally focused.
"This is a real priority for Democrats, clearly," said Greg Speed, a spokesman for Impac 2000, a national Democratic committee focusing solely on redistricting efforts around the country.
"It is an opportunity to craft a fair district that (Mississippi Democratic U.S. Rep.) Ronnie Shows can win, and we've been thus far primarily working with the delegation and providing a forum for them to share their concerns."
States handle congressional redistricting in a variety of ways. In some states, special commissions draw the maps. In many, such as Mississippi and Tennessee, state lawmakers do it. Regardless, the key is which party is in charge.
That control, said Speed, is split rather evenly around the country. In the Mid-South, though, it is controlled by statehouses dominated by Democrats, but often driven by other interests.
Arkansas state legislators completed the task earlier, essentially preserving the status quo, a 3-to-1 Democratic advantage. Mississippi lawmakers are expected to address the issue in a special session later this year. And Tennessee lawmakers may address it when they return in January.
Mississippi is of particular note, though. Because it is losing one of its five congressional seats due to national population shifts, the outcome here will be crucial in the battle for control of the U.S. House. Most observers predict the reduction in the number of districts will put Shows and Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican, in the same district.
Democrats here currently hold three of five House seats. And supporters of Shows, who has a base in Southeast Mississippi, and Pickering, representing East-Central Mississippi, are battling over how to merge the two districts.
Legislative leadership appears at an impasse.
In large measure, that comes because so many key players, from House Speaker Tim Ford (D-Baldwyn) to Senate President Pro Tem Travis Little (D-Corinth), are also from Northeast Mississippi.
And key players in that region vehemently opposed Democratic redistricting plans that lump them in with conservative Jackson suburbs.
In an interview Wednesday, Ford signaled his support for parts of a Democratic proposal that would include some Jackson suburbs in a predominantly Northeast Mississippi district.
"We've seen organized campaigns out of (congressional offices) to go one way or another. That's been a hindrance, but it's part of the political process,'' said Ford, who said a House-Senate compromise could emerge next week. "After that, all bets are off."
Party loyalists, both here and in Washington, are taking note, meeting privately with key leaders and testing loyalties.
"The pressure is immense from both sides," said Sen. Mike Chaney (R-Vicksburg), who serves on a committee seeking a consensus. Key House and Senate leaders are being deluged with telephone calls from partisan supporters as well as community leaders.
"It would be a travesty for a state led by a Democratic governor, a Democratic (House of Representatives) speaker and Democratic lieutenant governor to hand over three seats to the Republican Party," said state Rep. George Flaggs (D-Vicksburg), who serves on a joint panel now struggling to build consensus around a plan.
Flaggs argues that while a Democrat, U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, currently occupies the congressional district on the Coast, it is essentially a district that favors Republicans.
Taylor is among the most conservative Democrats in Congress.
While the national Republican and Democratic presence is not particularly visible on the ground here, their presence is nevertheless notable.
"We help put together legal strategies and fund legal efforts for states, and we provide technical assistance in terms of map drawing, providing members the opportunities to look at data and understand the affected potential maps may have,"Impac's Speed said.
"But more than anything else," he said, "we've been trying to work with delegations, get them on the same page and get them communicating. Mississippi is a great example of where we've seen success so far."
Indeed, the politically diverse Democratic delegation - especially Shows and U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), would appear to be working closely to communicate with state lawmakers.
Republicans here said state party officials are more active. But, on the national level, the party is ready for battle as well.
"We have legal counsel watching. The Republican National Committee has a separate redistricting office with counsel on staff," the NRCC's Forti said. "If anybody had to step in, they would."
Contact Jackson, Miss., Bureau reporter Reed Branson at (601) 352-8631.
No one thought it would be easy.
After all, it has been decades since Mississippi had to redraw congressional district lines after losing a seat. But here it is October with a March 1 candidate qualifying deadline approaching and no plan on which legislators can agree.
"I was all mentally ready for an August special session," said 1st District U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker. Lawmakers had predicted a trip to the state Capitol in August to adopt a congressional map, but August has come and gone. So has September.
Mississippi's congressional delegation may not concur on how district lines are drawn, but they all agree they are ready for some action. None of them wants to change the qualifying deadlines or see his political fate end up in court.
To avoid either possibility, some congressmen have been in touch with legislative redistricting committee members the last several days with hopes of speeding the process. Others have taken a hands-off approach to allow legislators time to work through differences.
"I think each member of the delegation would like to see it resolved fairly soon," Wicker said.
Rep. Tommy Reynolds, chairman of the 24-member Joint Legislative Reapportionment and Congressional Redistricting Committee, said it's not an easy process to redraw lines with one less congressman. Mississippi is losing a seat because its population growth didn't keep pace with other states.
The last two times it was done ó in 1952 and 1962 ó it was extremely difficult, Reynolds said.
"That was before one man, one vote. That was when one political party was in action. That was before the Voting Rights Act. So if the struggle back then to reapportion was very difficult, it's certainly even more so now," Reynolds said.
As a former state senator who had to draft a legislative redistricting plan nine years ago, Wicker said he can appreciate the tough task legislators have before them. He said he has been asking about redistricting plans, but he hasn't been as involved as other congressmen.
Third District U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican, and 4th District U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, have more at stake than Wicker. The areas they represent are likely to be the two collapsed into one district.
"We continue to communicate with members of the Legislature, trying to convey to them the principles we think would help as they go forward in the process," Pickering said. He hopes lawmakers adopt a plan by Nov. 1.
The key to coming up with a plan, he says, is to have Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and House Speaker Tim Ford agree upon something as leaders of each house. To the greatest extent possible, Pickering wants legislators to keep regional interests in mind, such as maintaining the integrity of the Gulf Coast and central Mississippi areas.
Pickering prefers compact districts and said he likes a plan put forth by former state Sen. Henry Kirksey. It would give the combined 3rd and 4th districts about a 30 percent black voting age population and includes all of Madison, Rankin and Pickering's home county of Jones. It would be difficult for Shows to win with southern Madison and Rankin counties in one district since they traditionally vote Republican.
"It meets the principal of compactness," Pickering said. Of course, Kirksey's plan would be detrimental to Shows, who favors the Legislative Black Caucus plan.
"It more represents our constituents than any other," Shows said. The Black Caucus plan would give a combined 3rd and 4th district a 39 percent black voting age population, and it would be bordered by Chickasaw County and part of Monroe County in the northern end and then wind southwest to Wilkinson County on the western end of the state.
Generally, too, the higher the percentage of black voters, the greater the odds for a Democrat to win since, historically, black Mississippians have allied with the Democratic Party.
Shows, who has been in touch with legislators over the last few months, said he's not overly concerned that a plan hasn't been agreed upon yet. "A lot of times things don't get going 'til the end," he said.
Second District U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson joins Shows in his approval of the Black Caucus plan. The Bolton Democrat said it provided the best opportunity for black Mississippians to elect a candidate of their choice. Under the caucus plan, the district Thompson serves would have a 60 percent black voting population.
Lanier Avant, Thompson's legislative director, said the congressman hasn't been lobbying committee members since the meeting he attended Oct. 5. At that time, Thompson said he would submit a redistricting proposal should the committee reach an impasse.
"It's unfortunate it's so late in the game," Avant said. He said the delay sets the stage for a changed qualifying deadline for elections or a court decision. "We want neither of these to play out," Avant added.
One congressman who essentially has taken a back seat in the process is 5th District U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, who, like Shows, belongs to a group of conservative Democrats known as the "blue dog Democrats." His spokesman, Beau Gex, said Taylor has had minimal contact with legislators. The only thing he has asked is that the coast district remain as contiguous as possible with no split counties.
Gex said there's no worry about the time line for presenting a plan to the Legislature.
But some Mississippians are worried. Bea Branch of Jackson, former president of the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP, said a timely end to the redistricting process not only gives candidates time to prepare but allows citizens to know how their districts are drawn and which communities will compete for federal dollars.
"It's important for the state to move in an expeditious manner. I'm hopeful the Legislature is going to fulfill its obligation for the citizens of this state, if not, that's what the court is for," Branch said.
Branch and Rims Barber, director of the Mississippi Human Services Agenda, are plaintiffs in a complaint filed in Hinds County Chancery Court. It asks the court to intervene if lawmakers don't adopt a plan by Dec. 3.
Barber is no stranger to redistricting. He worked with Kirksey in 1992 to garner more seats for black legislators.
The U.S. Department of Justice needs 60 days or more to give a thumbs up or down to Mississippi's congressional map, and the Dec. 3 deadline provides ample time for that. In addition to the complaint, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove has hinted he may call a special legislative session without a plan approved by the committee.
Wicker, who stands by his preference of compact districts, said he hopes a fair proposal is adopted soon. He said the current 1st district is only 99,000 people short of the ideal size for a new district. He said it would make more sense to find two or three counties in north Mississippi to add than to dip into central Mississippi.
Wicker, Republican, is referring to the so-called "tornado" plan, which gets its name because it creates a tornado-shaped district winding from the Tennessee state line into Rankin County.
"We love the redistricting committee," Wicker said with a chuckle. "I'm confident that something will be adopted soon."