Thursday, May 10, 2012
Marshall-Benton split in Senate plan
By SUE WATSON
Sen. Bill Stone met this week with the Marshall County Board of Supervisors to discuss the recently passed Senate redistricting plan that eliminates the Marshall-Benton-Tippah district.
Stone said Marshall and Benton counties have strong arguments they can use to fight the redrawing of their legislative district.
Benton County can argue that the proposed redistricting in Northeast Mississippi causes a dilution of its black voting population, he said. And Benton and Marshall counties can both argue that the redistricting plan breaks up communities of interest, he said.
He plans to write a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice and is asking local governments to write resolutions to Justice on behalf of keeping District 2 intact. It currently encompasses all of Marshall and Benton counties and portions of Tippah County.
The new plan would split District 19 between DeSoto and Marshall counties.
District 2 in the new plan is a newly created district all within DeSoto County and includes Southaven.
The plan would also enlarge District 10 to include much of Marshall County’s geographical area.
“This fight is not about Bill Stone, it’s about the voice of the people I represent,” he said. “Personally, I have several options if I choose to continue my political career. I have not ruled out the option of moving to Marshall County to stay in the Marshall County seat or I could choose to seek reelection in the district that I am now assigned to.
“Our first hope, though, for the people of Marshall and Benton counties, is that Justice will reject the plan.”
Stone said there are serious weaknesses in the redistricting plan, particularly in southeast Mississippi, all politically motivated.
The districts are still being gerrymandered, he said, but in a different direction in this plan than in the plan 10 years ago.
Stone believes there may be about a 5 percent chance that the court could require new elections before the 2015 election year.
The Marshall County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution expressing opposition to the Senate redistricting plan. Supervisors said DeSoto County would be favorably affected and Marshall County’s interests could be diminished if the new senator in 2015 is elected from DeSoto County.
The population in the new District 19 boundary will draw heavily from DeSoto County.
County lobbyist Gary Anderson sat with the senator during boardroom discussions Monday in which supervisors said the senator has been on top of every question they have needed answered and has been a regular visitor to report to the board since he took office in 2008.
Anderson said the redistricting plan is not a done deal.
“In my opinion, it’s far from over,” said Stone, adding that the debate in the House of Representatives shot holes in the redistricting plan.
Anderson said the plan has created 15 majority black districts and it will be interesting to see what Justice says about the plan.
Stone said the plan was put off last year in order to not upset elections and that the Senate worked up its plan behind closed doors and rolled it out about 15 minutes before it went up for a vote.
“It seems like they are force-feeding us,” said chancery clerk Chuck Thomas.
Stone said he is one of only five senators who voted against the Senate redistricting plan.
A big argument for keeping the Senate district the same was discussed.
Stone said Marshall and Benton counties had close ties while Tate County, which would gain some of Marshall’s district, does not have strong ties.
Supervisor Keith Taylor said some of his district and George Zinn’s district and Eddie Dixon’s district would be carved out of the present District 2 senate seat, with Taylor’s and Dixon’s portion going to DeSoto County and a portion of Zinn’s going to Tate county.
“I think you’ve been a great senator,” said Taylor and I’m all for a resolution.”
Stone said constituents in Tippah County have also voiced disapproval of the new plan. Compactness of districts is a second concern, he said. Less compact districts tend to be made up of rural populations and overly compact districts may not give rural populations a voice, he said.
Board attorney Kent Smith said a formal resolution would be prepared. He cited ways Marshall and Benton counties share common interests, including highways 78 and 72 and that people own land in both counties. The two counties jointly support a Job Center.
Taylor said DeSoto County’s delegation would probably not ask for things for Marshall County, which needs the push for economic growth.
Stone said the DeSoto County delegation “always is eager to ask for stuff,” but not so quick to support the requests of others in the Legislature.
Taylor said the new district boundaries were selected based on a Republican/Democratic party battle for control of the Legislature.
“They want to say, my bat’s bigger than yours,” he said.
Stone agreed that government is polarized by parties more now in the state.
“We see it in Washington and that’s what’s wrong in Jackson now,” Stone said. “Every vote is based on party lines.”
Anderson said this legislative session has focused on hot-button issues and he hopes next year the Legislature will be more focused on local economic needs.
“We are in place to be an economic entity not just as a county but in the state as well,” he said.
Stone agreed, adding that Gov. Phil Bryant is a friend of Marshall County and is excited about, supports and is interested in developments in Chickasaw Trail Industrial Park and the county overall.
Zinn pointed out that education has taken a beating in this session with Charter School legislation likely to draw dollars and students away from the public school districts.
Taylor worried that the newly drawn Senate district boundary, which adds a district to DeSoto County, will also compete with Marshall County for growth.
“These seats are important for Marshall County and it has taken 16 years to get Chickasaw Trail started up,” he said.
Anderson said industry tends to cluster near transportation routes.
“We want to make sure there is increased focus on what we are trying to do in Marshall County,” he said.
“We do not want Marshall County to be pushed to the back after 16 years,” Dixon said.
“We lost a voice when Commissioner Minor passed away,” Taylor said. “It’s very important to have a voice.”
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