Mississippi House Democrats' redistricting bill is DOA with Senate Republicans

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March 8, 2011


By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

Jackson, MISSISSIPPI: What minority Republicans in the Mississippi House of Representatives could not do, their Senate colleagues have seen to. A map redistricting the state's 122 seats in the lower chamber narrowly passed on a voice vote in a special session on Saturday morning.[1] Today, it has been killed by the Senate Elections Committee, meaning it will not even go before the full Mississippi State Senate.[2]

Republicans, who had a single House member on the Standing Joint Redistricting Committee, complained bitterly over not being allowed to see the map as it developed and over being pushed to take a vote less than 24 hours after a Democratically influenced map came out of the Committee. Stymied in an attempt to present their own map as an amendment, they got a symbolic victory when the initial approval of the House plan, 65-56, was held over on a motion to reconsider last Friday.[3] However, the next day's special session lasted only minutes and had no debate. The map passed and went to the Senate.[4]

In the upper chamber, Republicans, who control the Senate this year for the first time in over a century, were crafting their own map and took on consideration of the House map with an eye to moving both plans this week. Ultimately, in addition to voting down the House plan, they rejected the Joint Committee's proposed Senate seats in favor of a plan backed by Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant (R).[5] The map for Mississippi's 52 Senate seats now goes to the full Senate while the House is effectively back to the drawing board.

Mississippi is on an extraordinarily tight schedule this year, needing to redraw its legislative maps in time for 2011 elections and also having to give the U.S. Justice Department enough time to approve those maps. Bryant, a Republican hoping to succeed Haley Barbour to the governorship in the upcoming elections, has been vocal about his displeasure with both the state's continuing obligations under the Voting Rights Act and with the House's tactics. The signature filing deadline for candidates seeking state office was originally March 1, but that was delayed until June 1. Now that deadline could be in doubt if maps are not approved by the Justice Department before that date. The primary is currently scheduled for August 2, 2011.

Going back to the beginning of the year, Bryant, whose office makes him the President of the Senate, was clear that he would not allow the Senate to continue a long-standing gentleman's agreement in Mississippi under which both the House and Senate draw their own maps and the opposing body signs off.[6] House Speaker William McCoy, a Democrat, demurred that he lacked the knowledge of the Senate to override their map and expected a similar courtesy when his plan went before the Senate. Bryant and his allies have now made good on their promise to scrutinize House maps, passing the ball to House Democrats as Mississippi's redistricting work rapidly descends into partisan brawl.

See also