Speaking with a clear voice

Giving Starkville a clearer voice in Jackson and unifying the Golden Triangle’s representation in Washington were two messages many expressed Saturday to the panel reshaping legislative and congressional district lines next year.
The Standing Joint Committee on Reapportionment held a hearing the ballroom at Colvard Student Union on the Mississippi State University campus Saturday.
Citizens were allowed to speak to the panel on a variety of issues related to the concept of reapportionment — the realignment of legislative districts based on the 2010 Census count. The panel also heard from citizens about the reconfiguration of Mississippi’s congressional districts, particularly the First and Third.
Near the outset of Saturday’s hearing, panel chair state Sen. Terry C. Burton, R-Newton, outlined the process.
“We will apportion the population of the state in those various districts,” he said. “Those high-growth areas ... will have more members of the Senate, more of the House. Those who have population decreases ... might have fewer. That’s the way the system works. That’s what we’re called on to do. Congressional districts will be the same,” Burton said.
Among the positions and issues the panel heard were:
• Placing the Golden Triangle back into one congressional district.
Currently, Starkville resides in the Third District, while West Point and Columbus are in the First District.
“The people of this county have a lot more in common with the folks on the Tennessee border than we do the Louisiana border,” Starkville attorney Matt Wilson said.
• Political equity.
“Fair ... may be in the eyes of the beholder,” said state Rep. Gary Chism, R-Columbus, said. “I don’t even have my home precinct,” he said.
He said that “six Republicans got the shaft” in the last redistricting round and noted that the number of House members on the panel is weighted toward the Democrats.
Panel members countered that the net effect of the redistricting was four Republican-solid districts were created.
Also, with all the steps required for redistricting, “ ... I can’t sit here and believe that based off of all that ... the Democrats are able to shaft the Republicans the way you stand there and represent,” said state Rep. Adrienne Wooten, D-Canton.
“The facts are the facts,” Chism countered. “You’re right,” she said.
• Simplification.
Circuit Clerk Angie McGinnis laid out challenges facing voters in the county. The county has 21 precincts, 12 have at least three or more split precincts in legislative redistricting.
“I have several that have 20-plus splits,” she said. Then local districts such as the Board of Supervisors, judicial seats and educational representatives are added to the mix, she said.
“I would like to ask this committee as much possible ... to stay within precinct lines. Particularly, try not to split streets,” she said.
She entered into the record the county’s split district report.
• “One person, one vote.”
Cherraye Oats – who lives in Webster County and is a representative of Southern Echo and other organizations – asked the panel to consider alternative redistricting plans submitted to the panel, including those by minority groups.
“I would like ask that the ‘one person, one vote’ requirement ... also be recognized,” she said. “ ... We have come a long way. We have fought hard to end ... systematic exclusion from meaningful participation in the political process. The state has become a better state,” Oats said.
• Split representation for Starkville in Jackson. Currently, four House and two Senate seats hold territory in the community.
Wilson listed other communities – including Oxford and Southaven – which have single district representation.
“Starkville – four districts. ... Why are we divided? ... We’re not having a voice anymore in this state because when the lines are drawn up, we just don’t know who we’re voting for, so what’s the point in even going out and voting,” Wilson said.
Burton reiterated the timetable before the conclusion of Saturday’s discussion.
The House will draw its plan, the Senate will draw its redistricting scenario he said.
The qualifying deadline for all political campaigns – except for legislative districts – will be March 1, with the legislative deadline set for June 1.
“It’s going to be very, very important that we move quickly for Justice Department approval of the plan. We don’t want to go court. I’ve been through one of those situations where you run one year and then turn around and run the next. You don’t want that to happen and we’re going to do everything we can to avoid it,” Burton said.
Saturday’s hearing in Starkville was one of 12 scheduled around the state – three in each of the four congressional districts.
“We’re not necessarily required ... to have these meetings,” Burton said, adding that the panel could stay in Jackson and let people go there to speak, but “it’s better if we take the meetings to you.”
The first took place Monday in Clarksdale. The last will be Sept. 15 in Jackson.