JACKSON — Mississippi will lose political clout when its representation in the U.S. House of Representatives drops from five to four, and the government landscape of the state will likely remain cloudy long after the redistricting lines are drawn.
But on Dec. 28, 2000, the news was official. Political observers had long surmised that the U.S. Census Bureau numbers might result in a reduction in congressional seats for the state.
Census figures showed the state with a population of 2,846,000 people, a 10.5% increase over 1990. But other states grew more, bumping one of Mississippi’s seats for the first time since 1852.
“Mississippi has two powerful senators and seasoned congressmen who, regardless of the census numbers, can secure federal funds to help meet the needs of our people,” said Gov. Ronnie Musgrove.
Speculation about how the districts will be redrawn — Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck and House Speaker Tim Ford will be key players — has swirled around the likely consolidation covering much of the Third and Fourth Districts, represented respectively by Congressmen Chip Pickering and Ronnie Shows. But other political pundits say Mississippi’s Second District, represented by Congressman Bennie Thompson, might be affected demographically, particularly if the lines are redrawn to include DeSoto County.
When Shows ran successfully against Republican candidate Dunn Lampton last fall, political analyst Matt Friedeman of Jackson predicted it would be more important to follow census news and congressional district reconfiguring than to watch the Shows-Lampton race.
“Shows, in the off-season of campaigning, has owned the media,” Friedeman said. “His press person ought to hold congressional staffer seminars on how to get positive press four times more than any other congressman, majority leader of the U.S. Senate included. This understood, it is not Shows-Lampton that is the race to watch, but with the almost certain census news and congressional district reconfiguring, Shows has been getting ready not for Lampton, but for Pickering. And Shows, with his media exposure, already has a head start.”
Pickering said it’s difficult to predict what might happen next.
“Of course, I’m disappointed that the count resulted in the loss of a congressional seat,” he said. “The good news for Mississippi is that we’ve had the best growth in recent history since our last census, which is a major indicator that Mississippi’s economy and growth have been strong. It gives us a good foundation to build for the next ten years. From a legislative perspective, we still have great leadership in the Senate, with Trent Lott and Thad Cochran, and the four remaining members of the House through 2002. We’ll have to work harder, with the loss of a congressional seat, but I think we can be very effective.”
State lawmakers will probably have new lines drawn by the summer. Then, the plan will be submitted to the Justice Department for review and approval, Pickering said.
“Early speculation has been to combine the Third and Fourth Districts, but there are so many ways it could be done that it’s hard to predict or assume one outcome or another, especially when the state Legislature will be looking at it with multiple factors to maximize representation for each region of our state,” he said.
Show said the news is reflective of what’s happening across the country.
“We’re losing rural representation and gaining urban representation,” he said. “We need to continue to do what’s best for the state and the country, and that’s the way we’ll approach it. We’ll be visiting a lot with the lieutenant governor, house speaker and legislative members to see that we get as good a district as possible.”
William M. Mounger, II, chairman of TeleCorp, one of the top 10 wireless providers in the nation, who graduated magna cum laude with a political science degree from Vanderbilt University, said if the redistricting resulted in a race between Shows and Pickering, it would be a tough choice.
“From a business perspective, we’ve certainly been successful with both congressmen in the past, and they’re both fine people,” he said. “Chip has been especially helpful, and is one of the most respected people on Capitol Hill in telecommunications. He has been very helpful for WorldCom, SkyTel and Tritel/TeleCorp., and he understands his district. That’s not to say that Ronnie couldn’t go forward. Ronnie’s only been in there for a few years, so I haven’t had a chance to work with him very much.”
Regardless of the candidates, one of the key issues will be the creation of jobs, Mounger said.
“The more congressmen we have, the better, so losing a seat, from a jobs perspective, will force voters to think hard about who could best represent the state from the perspective of creating jobs,” he said. “Of course, the new district will have to go through the legislative process – and there will be some political gerrymandering going on. We are in a great position to take Mississippi to the next level of economic growth. With the Nissan plant coming, the telecommunications infrastructure, communications/information technology base we’re building on, it will be important to have congressmen who are very astute and understand the importance of that for the entire Mississippi economy.”
Duane O’Neill, president of the MetroJackson Chamber of Commerce, said the news was expected and business leaders have been making preparations for months.
“(It) is not good news, there is no way around that,” he said. “However, we do take some satisfaction in the fact that our Congressional delegation – while small – is extremely effective and fills many leadership positions in Congress. Therefore, we are confident that Mississippi’s interests are – and will be – still represented and taken care of for years to come.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com or (601) 853-3967.