Redistricting: What mischief is next?
Dec. 9, 2001
As it stands today, the first political test of the new year will come not at the ballot box, but in a courtroom. Maybe it's time to consider putting the issue to a direct vote of the people.
We may learn this week whether a federal three-judge panel will assume jurisdiction over Mississippi's beleaguered efforts to draw new congressional district boundaries. With the Legislature's utter failure to perform its constitutional duty, representatives of the state's two political parties have turned to courts in an attempt to reach some decision in time for candidates to qualify on March 1.
Suffice it to say, it would be helpful for candidates to know the lines of the districts they want to represent in the U.S. House. As it is, two incumbents likely to face each other next year U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, and U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, a Republican are making appearances all over, some in new territory that may not end up in the district.
While it may be a political necessity to woo potential voters in potential areas, it is blatantly unfair to both, especially when they also are expected to be in Washington casting votes on issues of real importance to the state and nation. We're sure neither minds politicking but, let's face it: There are just so many hours in a day.
Mississippi's redistricting issue should have been settled months ago, yet the clock continues to tick toward a courtroom showdown unless the Legislature assumes responsibility for its error and does the job it should have done in the first place.
The fact that state and federal courts are being encouraged by the various political interests to resolve the redistricting issue is a sign of political stalemate in Mississippi, perhaps an unanticipated result of a strong two-party system. Remember, it was the Mississippi House of Representatives, not the voters, which put Ronnie Musgrove in the governor's mansion two years ago. Neither Musgrove nor Republican Mike Parker received a majority in the state's electoral college so the election was decided by the House pretty much along party lines.
And that is precisely what the state House is trying to do with redistricting. Working with its huge Democrat majority under a strategy devised by House Speaker Tim Ford, the House approved a sorry redistricting plan that could have been bested by monkeys in the Jackson zoo. To her credit, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck stood firm for a much more balanced and reasonable plan hence, the legislative impasse.
Plenty of blame
If voters wanted to assign blame for the current situation, they need look no further than the Speaker's office. His aim apparently is to protect the Democrat Party's political interests at all costs.
This week is important because Hinds County Chancery Court judge Patricia Wise has set a Friday trial date on redistricting. A federal panel said it would take the case unless the Legislature acted before Jan. 7. Because Wise's action is scheduled first, the federal judges may have to decide whether they wants to get into the case at all.
In the meantime, the Legislature returns for its regular session in a few weeks and will have the first few days of January to adopt a plan, if it so chooses.
Our elected legislators should do their jobs. But, as it stands today, it is much more likely that the first political test of the new year will come not at the ballot box, but in a courtroom.
Maybe it's time to put the issue to a vote of the people.
Stay tuned. The lawyers are on the case, and their meters are running.