Analysis: redistribution is not as difficult as it was 20 years ago

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Representative Robin Robinson, R-Laurel, listens to discussions in the House chamber regarding a Congressional Redistribution Bill, Thursday, Jan.6, 2022, at the Capitol in Jackson, Mississippi (AP Photo / Rogelio V. Solis)

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Mississippi’s current congressional redistribution effort is much less controversial than it was 20 years ago, when the state went from five seats in the US House to four.

The state lost a seat because the 2000 census showed that Mississippi’s population had grown only slightly over the previous decade, while several other states were growing rapidly.

Three Democrats and two Republicans represented Mississippi in the US House in 2000. Democrats still controlled the State Capitol, but Republicans were on the rise. This dynamic led to strife as state legislators attempted to draw new federal districts.

There was broad agreement that the two less senior Congressional incumbents – Democrat Ronnie Shows and Republican Chip Pickering – would be consolidated into a single new district and part of their territory would be distributed to other districts.

The shows had represented the 4th District, which included southwestern Mississippi, parts of the Pine Belt stretching to Jones County, and parts of the Jackson metropolitan area.

Pickering had represented District 3, which stretched from the eastern suburbs of Jackson in Rankin County to the Golden Triangle area of ​​Columbus, Starkville and West Point.

After lawmakers stalled without drawing a new map of Congress, the redistribution battle moved to federal court. The judges drew up four new districts, uniting Pickering and Shows into a new 3rd District that stretched diagonally from the southwestern corner of the state, through parts of Metro Jackson and all the way to Starkville.

Because the new 3rd District had a relatively small black voting age population, Republicans had an advantage based on Mississippi’s historic voting trends. Pickering defeated Shows in the 2002 election.

After the 2010 census, federal judges also changed the boundaries of Mississippi’s four congressional districts.

Mississippi was one of three states that lost population between 2010 and 2020, but the population loss was not large enough for Mississippi to lose another seat in the United States House.

The boundaries of the current four districts must change to reflect changes in where people live. The overall goal is to have an equal population, with approximately 740,320 people in each district. This means expanding the footprint of the predominantly black 2nd district, which has suffered significant population loss over the past decade.

Redistribution has long established standards. Neighborhoods are meant to be compact and contiguous, in other words, not sprawling out with weird wavy shapes. Districts are also meant to represent communities of interest, and they are not meant to dilute black voting power.

The only black member of the Mississippi congressional delegation, Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson, is also the state’s longest-serving current member, having served since winning the 2nd District seat in a special election. from 1993.

“I already have the largest neighborhood. … Expanding this district even more places a disproportionate burden on it, ”Thompson told The Associated Press on Nov. 12.

The 2nd arrondissement already owns most of Hinds County. Thompson said a simple expansion would be to include the remaining part of Hinds County and more of Madison County, which is densely populated. The NAACP also supports this.

However, the Republican-led redistribution committee proposed to expand District 2 by adding four sparsely populated counties from the southwestern corner of the state. This would extend the 2nd arrondissement over almost the entire western border, giving it 40% of the state’s landmass. It would also preserve three predominantly white districts that favor Republicans.

During a debate Thursday, Democratic Representative Robert Johnson of Natchez asked the State House to approve the plan that Thompson and the NAACP want. The Republican-controlled House rejected Johnson’s request and approved the card that gives Thompson four more counties.

The Republican-controlled Senate is expected to approve the same plan, sending it to the governor.

And, there is still the possibility that the NAACP or others will ask federal judges to revisit the redistribution plan, based on arguments that the new map dilutes the power of black voters to influence the outcome of elections in some. or all districts.

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Emily Wagster Pettus has been covering Mississippi government and politics since 1994. Follow her on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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