Despite the posturing and fireworks over redistricting earlier this year, the House and Senate failed to redraw the lines of Mississippi's four congressional districts to reflect population shifts revealed in the 2010 Census. The lines have to be in place for the 2012 congressional elections, the qualifying deadline for which - January 13 - is less than a month away. Were the legislature to pass a plan on their first day in session next month, they could not meet the deadline because the plan must be approved by the U.S. Justice Department as required for Mississippi under the Voting Rights Act.

Ten years ago, a federal three judge panel oversaw the last round of Mississippi's congressional redistricting. The politics of the 2002 map transcended mere partisanship because population changes cost Mississippi a congressional district creating an election with four districts but five incumbents. The resulting map secured Mississippi's Third Congressional District as a Republican seat. At the conclusion of the case, the three judge panel maintained jurisdiction over the issue, a matter of legal trivia until the GOP utilized it to reopen the case this year before that panel. Democrats, who likely would have otherwise drawn a panel more favorable to their interests, had been outmaneuvered.

Last month, the panel set a December 4 deadline for the legislature to act and a December 12 deadline for parties to object, or the judges would draw the maps. The legislature has not been in session and Governor Haley Barbour said he would not call them into session unless they had a redistricting plan on which there was widespread agreement. That has not happened; the deadline passed; without objections now the panel will draw the map.

The redistricting contention arises from the loss of population in Mississippi's Second Congressional District: the Mississippi Delta and most of Hinds County represented since 1993 by Bennie Thompson, the lone Democrat in the state's delegation. Mississippi's other three districts - all represented by Republicans - have been content in their discussions on shrinking and expanding their lines as necessary. The dispute is between Thompson and Third Congressional District Congressman Gregg Harper, primarily over the fate of Adams County, Wilkinson County and portions of Madison County and Hinds County.



A three-judge panel drew a fair map in 2002 and I am sure they will again. I hope next time the Legislature does its job instead of
passing the buck.



Thompson wants to annex some of Harper's precincts in Hinds County (Northeast Jackson) and swap some precincts and Madison County. Harper wants to keep that sliver of Hinds but instead give Thompson Adams County (Natchez) and Wilkinson County to boost his population to the necessary levels.

Politically, Thompson looks at the Republican part of Hinds County and realizes those voters - while certainly in full opposition to him - will not produce a likely threat to his election. A former mayor and supervisor from Hinds, the county has been and continues to be his power base. His only real threat comes from a Democratic Primary challenge from outside of Hinds County, currently, the Delta. Add Southwest Mississippi to his district and he could face a candidate uniting the Delta/Natchez areas. But exclude Natchez and instead add Hinds and he faces no additional threat.

For Harper, the political cost is not so threatening but still strategic. Like Thompson, Harper does not face a great threat in a general election. Adams and Wilkinson do produce more Democratic votes than Republican, but not so many to threaten the rest of the district. Unlike Thompson, Harper does not face a threat in the Republican Primary. But for Harper, who could harbor ambitions beyond his congressional seat, there is a political disadvantage in losing the Republican portions of Hinds County rich in both votes and campaign contributions. Certainly those donors will not disappear were they to leave Harper's district, but for some, losing the emotional or psychological link to supporting "their" congressman could diminish their spirit of giving. Politically, Harper wants those votes and that wealth in his corner.

Removing politics does not make the decision easier. The agricultural economies of Adams and Wilkinson differ substantially from that of the Delta. But the two regions share transportation and other river issues, plus adding Natchez to Thompson's district would unite the non-Choctaw, non-Coast gaming regions into one congressional district. Arguably, Adams and Wilkinson share more in common with river culture counties to their north (and even Louisiana) than the timber counties to their east. But politically they have been linked to the Southwest Mississippi district for decades.

Thompson claims he does not want Adams and Wilkinson counties because that would create a district that stretches from Tennessee to Louisiana. Ironically, he says that to Harper whose district, because of Adams and Wilkinson counties, currently stretches from Alabama to Louisiana.

In 2002, the three judge panel drew a fair map and I am sure they will again. I hope next time the legislature does its job instead of passing the buck.







Brian Perry is a partner in a public affairs firm. Contact him at reasonablyright@brianperry.ms.