Redistricting Roundup: Mississippi mayhem as redistricting maps look destined for stalemate
By Geoff Pallay
Last week, a map of House districts passed the lower chamber over the objections of enraged Republicans. However, as soon as the Republican-controlled Senate got to consider the map, they killed it. Senators then shelved their own committee-prepared map in favor of a plan backed by Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant (R) and brought that bill to the full Senate. After the bill withered under bipartisan criticism, the senate finally revived the original committee plan, which passed yesterday, 44-7.
Historically, the House and Senate would ceremoniously rubber-stamp the other chamber's maps. But with no love lost between the Democratic House and the Republican Senate, the two chambers could theoretically veto one another's bills endlessly. Governor Haley Barbour (R), having a veto only over Congressional plans, can do nothing to break the impasse. With a June 1, 2011 deadline not only to complete state maps but to receive Justice Department approval, Mississippi is running out of time and could see a special back-up commission called into session.
|Who Received their Redistricting Data this week?|
This scenario happened in 2001, when the state could not complete redistricting and was forced to hold back-to-back elections for one-year terms. With the deadline rapidly approaching, legislators could soon find themselves running campaigns for one year in office. If the back-up commission does sit, it will have two Republicans and two Democrats along with the officially nonpartisan Chief Justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court. Under that scenario, the Justice's political leanings could have substantial influence on the boundaries that will shape Mississippi politics for the next decade.
This week, one redistricting lawsuit was filed in Georgia over the closing of 8 schools in Dekalb County. Overall, lawsuits pertaining to redistricting have been filed in 10 states -- Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana,Minnesota, Mississippi,Nevada, Oklahoma and Texas.
California, with 53 Congressional districts to reshape and 120 state legislative seats, received its local population data this week. The California Citizens Redistricting Commission can officially begin its work of completing maps before the August 15 deadline. The data revealed that eight senators have more than one million constituents -- six Republicans and two Democrats.
|Total Lawsuits filed: 10|
|Next state deadline?|| New Jersey|
|Maps submitted for vote: 2||(Mississippi House)(Mississippi Senate)|
|States that have completed redistricting||None|
In Dekalb County, Georgia, school officials adopted a plan to close 8 schools. One parent has already filed an injunction against the 7-2 vote of the school board.
Governor of Illinois Pat Quinn (D) signed a redistricting reform bill on March 7. The legislation has two parts. The first -- Illinois Voting Rights Act of 2011 -- is aimed at keeping communities of interest intact. The second -- Redistricting Transparency and Public Participation Act -- provides for four public hearings to be held across the state. However, some good-government groups insist that this is not enough of a concession in a state that has had a history of controversial redistricting.
Several former elected officials from Minnesota have begun pushing for a nonpartisan redistricting commission. Former Vice President Walter Mondale and former Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz are among the supporters, who are calling for a commission composed of retired judges. Legislators on both sides of the aisle have rejected the notion and supported the legislature's ability to redraw the maps. Ironically, due to legal challenges in each of the past 4 redistricting processes, courts have had to draw the maps that were ultimately approved for usage.
In New Jersey a bill was introduced that would move back the signature filing deadline for elections by one week -- from April 11 to April 18. If passed, the bill would require that in redistricting years, the filing deadline is 50 days before the primary. The legislation was advanced out of committee in light of the fact that the new maps will likely not be produced until April 4. New commission member Alan Rosenthal attended his first public meeting as the Democrats and Republicans continue to discuss compromises.
The battle over redistricting reform in New York continued this week. Senate Democrats attempted to advance the redistricting bill out of committee by calling for a public hearing on the bill. However, the Republican majority rejected the motion by the 11 minority Democrats on the Rules Committee.
Meanwhile, Republicans are considering a lawsuit against the federal government over prison-based redistricting. The GOP argues that not counting prisoners in the district where the prison is physically located will reduce federal funding for certain locations. Democrats contend that this issue is simply meant to distract from any real redistricting reform.
|This week in redistricting|
The Democratic boycott in Indiana over collective bargaining legislation could have ramifications on redistricting as well. The deadline to complete redistricting of Congressional districts is April 29. If no map is completed by that date, a 5-member commission is appointed to complete the process. That commission would almost certainly be composed entirely of Republicans.
Elected officials in Ohio received local census data this week. Of the five biggest cities in Ohio, four of them (Cleveland, Cincinnati, Toledo and Akron) saw population declines over the past decade. Cleveland took the biggest hit, with a 17.1 percent drop. These population swings could lead to a possible power shift away from elected officials in the cities within the Senate and House.
Additionally, the Congressional district for Marcia Fudge (D) might connect Akron and Cleveland in order to maintain the majority-minority district. The district shape has been speculated to look like a "barbell."
Legislators in Pennsylvania do not expect to have a map ready for Governor Tom Corbett before Christmas. The state will be drawing 18 Congressional districts, 50 Senate districts, and 203 House districts. Pennsylvania has a Republican trifecta in the legislature and the executive, just as they did in 2001. During that cycle, Republicans stretched themselves too thin and took heavy electoral losses only a few years later. Pennsylvania will have to cut one Congressional seat, but the GOP has limited options without risking already secure seats. With this week's announcement about the timeline for redistricting, Keystone Democrats now have plenty of time to ponder where they'll lose a dsitrict.
Virginia is facing a tight deadline this year, with state legislative elections in November. The bi-partisan advisory commission formed by Governor Bob McDonnell (R) has begun drafting some sample Congressional maps to provide to the legislature. Some of those maps have had aspects publicized, including two maps that might severely handicap the Republican Party in the next election. One map would displace three Republican Congressmen, locating their homes in different districts and removing their incumbency status unless they move. Another map would also displace Eric Cantor, the current U.S. House Majority Leader.
At the state legislative level, the Senate and House appear to have entered into a gentleman's agreement regarding their maps. Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D) has publicly announced a compromise with House GOP Leadership. Saslaw said each chamber has agreed to rubber stamp the other chamber's map -- although both will still require approval of McDonnell (R).