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House rejects redistricting proposal, revives original plan

JACKSON — The Democrat-controlled Mississippi House has rejected an alternative redistricting plan promoted by Republicans, calling it a veiled attempt to give the GOP two chances to win the chamber’s top leadership position.

The House chose instead to revive its original proposal that was derailed last week in the Senate. The House voted to insert its redistricting language into the Senate’s resolution and then approved the measure 69-52. The proposal has been held for more debate.

Lawmakers have said they’re under pressure to approve the new redistricting maps for the 122-member House and the 52-member Senate to reflect population shifts revealed in the 2010 Census. The plans have to withstand U.S. Justice Department scrutiny, and lawmakers say the agency could take up to 60 days to examine the plans. Candidates face a June 1 deadline to qualify for this year’s legislative races.

If the two sides can’t agree on the maps, lawmakers say Mississippi might have to conduct legislative elections two years in a row — this year in outdated districts that are not balanced by population, and next year in new districts, if the new maps are ready by then.

Rep. Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, said during debate the GOP plan was part of an attempt to break down the redistricting process in hopes of forcing two elections. He said that would give Republicans two opportunities to elect a Republican to succeed House Speaker Billy McCoy, D-Rienzi.

“They are saying what they want to do. This is a vote for speaker of the House,” Blackmon said. “What they don’t like is too many minority districts spread out across the state.”

Jim Herring, a former chairman of the Mississippi Republican Party who now heads Mississippians for Fair Redistricting, said in a news release the Senate shouldn’t accept the House’s plan.

“A Senate vote to concur is, simply, a vote to re-elect Speaker Billy McCoy. A Senate vote to concur is a vote to accept a status quo plan that does not serve the people’s best interest,” Herring said.

On the floor, Republicans said the alternative plan was about fairness.

Rep. Phillip Gunn, R-Clinton, said the alternative proposal was based on the original House plan. He said 45 districts were unchanged and several others had minimal reconfigurations.

“We feel like we made improvements to the (original) plan,” Gunn said. “There was great consideration on the impact of majority-minority districts.”

Rep. Tommy Reynolds, a Democrat from Charleston who is the House redistricting chairman, said the GOP plan would be rejected by the Justice Department, which checks to ensure minority voting strength isn’t diluted. He also said it was an attack on Democrats.

“We were ready to consider any change to improve a district represented by a Republican, or to reconfigure an open seat,” Reynolds said later in a statement. “The proposal did neither of these things. Their requested changes were attempts to pair incumbent Democrats, and to reconfigure the districts of many other Democratic incumbents to their detriment.”

The initial House plan goes from 39 majority-black districts to 44. The Republican plan had 42 majority-black districts, but it had fewer split precincts than the original House proposal.

The original House plan was tabled in the Senate Elections Committee chaired by Sen. Terry Burton, R-Newton. Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant had said he wouldn’t support the plan. The Senate approved its redistricting plan last week.

When the House plan is released, it will be up to the Senate to decide whether to accept the proposal or seek negotiations with the opposite, which could prolong the process.

Bryant said the House Republicans were “courageous” for placing “the people’s interest above their own. I expect the members of the Senate to do the same.”

The resolution is Joint Resolution 201.

Source: The Associated Press

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