As the fog finally lifts over the 2011 Mississippi elections it has become clear that for the first time ever Mississippi will have a Republican Party majority in the Mississippi House of Representatives, the Mississippi Senate, a Republican Lieutenant Governor and a Republican speaker of the house as well as a republican governor.
If Mississippi Republicans were to choose a “player of the game” then Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann would certainly merit strong consideration. Secretary Hosemann’s sense of timing and keen eye for a judicial keyhole to pass through has the prospects of the Mississippi Republican Party potentially shining brightly for years to come.
The reader will recall the failure of the Legislature to adopt legislative redistricting plans for the House and Senate during the 2011 regular legislative session. Redistricting plans are adopted by resolution. For decades, each house has accepted the plan of the other by gentlemen’s agreement and without question. In 2011, however, the Senate, led by then Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant, dug in rather than “rubber stamping” the House plan. Senate Republicans apparently sensed the need to position the Senate to take advantage of a political environment ripe for a shot at adding a Republican majority in the Mississippi House to that already existing in the Senate. Hence, the task of legislative redistricting headed to a panel of federal judges consisting of U.S. District judges Tom S. Lee and Louis Guirola and Judge E. Grady Jolly of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The three-judge panel was wrestling with possible solutions when Secretary of State Hosemann came before them citing language in the landmark Supreme Court legislative redistricting case, Reynolds V. Sims, that said 10 years was a reasonable minimum amount of time to require redistricting. Hosemann then pointed out that it had only been nine years, and not the minimum 10 since Mississippi had passed a legislative redistricting plan. The three-judge panel agreed and thus, the recent elections were held in the old, admittedly malapportioned districts.
Hosemann’s crafty judicial maneuver delayed the decennial redistricting process for one year, but more importantly left the redistricting task to be completed by a historically different legislature than would have been the case last year. Both houses and all of the leadership are now Republican. Redistricting has arguably become the most crucial political activity there is, aside from the election itself. Observers have opined that had the redistricting plan designed by the House in 2011, but refused by the Senate, gone into effect, the House could have likely stayed in Democratic hands. As it stands now, the Republicans can feel free to make use of computer technology to crunch the demographic data to create districts to their liking.
Apparently, some solid homework has already been done behind the scenes since Republicans in the know have stated that the Democratic-rich Mississippi Delta will lose two seats. The question remains as to whether the Republican majority can pull the redistricting gambit off in a way that avoids a series of overly enthusiastic objections. Although the Delta has seen another in a series of census declines in population, the African-American population has grown six percent. The tendency of African-Americans to vote Democratic remains in the mid-1990s on a percentage-wise basis. The U.S. Justice Department is a potential target of persuasion if there is evidence of dilution of minority voting strength whether intentional or not. Furthermore, the three-judge panel is poised to resume deliberations, if need be, now that the full 10 years has passed since the last redistricting plan was approved.
The production of an acceptable redistricting plan has many hurdles to clear. Partisan warfare may not be the only impetus for malapportionment, or unequal representation, claims that arise. There is even talk from fast growing areas of the state that the Republican plan does not adequately reflect the population growth in one or more of these rapidly growing areas, which are virtually totally loyal to the Republican Party. While the GOP hopes to navigate this treacherous process in such a way that elections will not take place again until they are regularly scheduled to be held in 2015, there are certainly no guarantees. If a new Republican-designed plan does not pass muster then an alternative plan from another source could well be put in place, and elections held again in 2012.
No doubt the Republicans are glad to be able to take their chances with their hands firmly on the controls. Nevertheless, some are realizing an ominous threat for a 2012 re-run. What will happen if a plan somewhat, or perhaps considerably, less favorable to the GOP is put into place and this time legislative elections share the ballot with the re-election campaign of Barack Obama?
It seems that the well of political intrigue never runs dry.