By PAUL SIMS
A plan to split Oktibbeha County six ways in the state House of Representatives died in the Senate Tuesday, but not before evoking strong local opposition across party lines.
Late last summer, several area residents asked the Standing Joint Committee on Reapportionment to give Starkville more consolidated representation in Jackson when they appeared before the committee in a hearing at Mississippi State University. The area currently has two Senate and four House districts. Only one, House District 38, includes a Starkville-area resident – House Majority Leader Tyrone Ellis, a Democrat.
“We need one more representative from Oktibbeha County that’s home-based here and we need a resident senator,” Ellis said Wednesday night.
The proposal senators voted down Tuesday divided Starkville up between five districts, with a sixth district reaching in to pick up Sturgis, state Sen. Gary Jackson, R-French Camp said Wednesday.
Had the bill made it to the Senate floor, Jackson says he would have voted against it.
“There’s an old saying that ‘Everybody’s business is nobody’s business.’ And the house plan would have representatives in other counties and some cases as far as two or three counties away,” he said. “They may not have the same interests as Starkville people.”
Ellis added his voice those expressing displeasure.
“It’s disingenuous for one to think that it’s acceptable for residents in Oktibbeha County. ... I do not believe that you could get a majority of Oktibbeha County residents to embrace that plan because of the fact that it’s so fragmented,” he said.
The community’s Visitors and Convention Council voted Wednesday to draft a letter to House Redistricting Chairman Tommy Reynolds to express its view on the plan, Jeremiah Dumas said Wednesday afternoon.
“Obviously everybody thinks the House plan is awful. ... I think it’s absurd when you look at our growth and the other things which have happened with Oktibbeha County that we can’t get more solid representation by more contiguous districts,” Dumas said.
“What happened in Starkville is representative I think of what can be done when you’re gerrymandering districts,” Lt. Gov. Phil Byrant said.
Bryant says the House plan took 52 Republican districts made up of about 30,000 people, then gave the 70 remaining districts around 24,000 in people.
Bryant says this means “it will be nearly impossible to elect another Republican to the House of Representatives.”
Ellis – a member of the Joint Committee on redrawing the lines – disputed this idea.
“That is not true. As a matter of fact, the Republicans in the House embraced the plan as it was drafted. All I know is they changed and a majority of House Republicans voted against it at the last minute,” he said.
The Starkville-based representative says the explanation “given to us was that everything had to shift because the Delta lost roughly 40,000” residents. “As a result of that loss, the overall idea was to make that population shift up elsewhere and they started moving east and they started moving into central Mississippi and of course they did move to DeSoto County. Choctaw County lost their representative altogether. That district no longer exists,” Ellis said.
Bryant says he hopes the House leadership will work with “the 52 Republicans to see if they can reach an agreement” on their chamber’s plan.
On efforts to redraw senate district boundaries, senators voted a Bryant-backed plan out of the Rules Committee Wednesday.
It will go to the floor for a vote today, Bryant said.
His plan could be adopted or amended, he said, adding he believes the Senate will pass a plan today and will go on to the House for their consideration. Bryant adds his plan does not “collapse” any Republican or Democrat district.
Jackson says his district is largely intact in two proposals and would be renumbered under Bryant’s plan from 15 to 20.
“It’s everyone’s desire to run just once, to not have to run this year and then again next year,” Jackson said.