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Nothing less than the future at stake

By Staff
Nov. 4, 2001
Mississippi legislators are wrestling with major political sensitivities in their attempt to remap congressional district lines. Whatever plan they ultimately approve faces other tests, too, from the U.S. Department of Justice.
And, late last week, a preemptive federal court challenge was also filed by Meridian Mayor John Robert Smith and others. Presumably, he and other Republicans either believe they will be unhappy with whatever plan eventually wins approval by the Democrat-controlled Legislature, or, if the Legislature cannot pass a plan, they want new district lines drawn by a friendlier federal court instead of a state court in Hinds County.
It's too soon to tell whether this latest court challenge will clear or muddy the political waters washing through the legislative chambers in Jackson. Suffice it to say the fabric of non-partisanship has begun to fray.
Both houses last week passed different plans and six conferees were selected to try to hash out a plan that legislators can approve when they return to Jackson.
Despite all of the political jockeying, there is no mistaking the fact that this process carries important implications for the entire state. East Mississippi has the most to lose.
The plan passed by the House puts parts of Lauderdale County in a district with the Mississippi Coast, which has the strength of population and high growth patterns to dominate the district for the next decade. If this piece of the plan passes, local interests will almost certainly be subservient to Coast interests.
Many observers do not want to see NAS Meridian in the same district with Keesler Air Force Base, especially with another round of base closures looming.
On the political front, dividing Republican strongholds in Lauderdale and Rankin counties would make it much easier for U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, to beat U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican, in 2002. Most Democrats like the idea; Republicans don't.
Largely lost in the rhetorical smoke of debate last week were the basic issues of fairness and common interests, such as geographic, economic and historic ties. The plan that most substantially addressed those issues went down in both houses, although a semblance of fairness can be found in the plan drafted by Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck.
What the Legislature will do this week is anyone's guess. But at about $36,000 a day, we hope lawmakers adopt a good plan and end this special session as soon as possible.

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