Lawmaker won’t drop Ark. Dem redistricting effort

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.  — Three Republican-backed proposals to redraw Arkansas’ congressional districts were rejected by legislative committees Wednesday, and the sponsor of a plan to move the city of Fayetteville into the state’s only Democratic district said he’s confident he can get his measure passed, the Associated Press reports.

Rep. Clark Hall, chairman of the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he didn’t plan on dropping a proposal to move Fayetteville to the district represented by U.S. Rep. Mike Ross, the only Democratic member of the state’s congressional delegation.

The House State Agencies Committee approved a new version of the redistricting plan by Hall, which he said he plans to bring to the full House for a vote Thursday. The panel advanced the proposal by a 12-8 party line vote. “You’ve got to get 110,000 people out of northwest Arkansas, people,” Hall told reporters, referring to the population the 3rd congressional district must lose to keep the four districts relatively equal in size.

The idea faces heavy opposition from Republicans, who say it’s aimed at helping Democrats’ odds in next year’s election.

“It’s obviously a gerrymander, the definition of a gerrymander, and it just won’t stand,” said Sen. Bill Pritchard, R-Elkins.

Pritchard’s proposal was among two that were rejected by the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee earlier Wednesday. The measures by Republican Sens. Johnny Key of Mountain Home and Pritchard both received 4-2 votes, one vote shy of the five needed to advance to the Senate floor. The eight-person panel is evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

Hall’s committee also rejected for a second time a proposal by Rep. Andrea Lea, R-Russellville.

Congressional redistricting is one of the last major tasks for the Legislature before it ends this year’s session by a self-imposed Friday deadline. But lawmakers could approve a redistricting plan before they formally adjourn the session on April 27.

“No one is going to be completely happy with the maps that are out there,” Pritchard told the committee.

Pritchard’s map was similar to Lea’s bill. It would have moved Franklin County and part of Johnson County from the 3rd district to 4th district. It would have also moved Boone and Marion Counties from the 3rd district to the 1st district. Yell County would have moved from the 2nd district to the 4th District, and it would have split Arkansas County between 1st and 4th districts.

Key’s bills would have split up Franklin County in northwestern Arkansas between the 3rd and 4th Congressional Districts. The plan would move Marion, Van Buren and White counties to the 1st District; Prairie, Monroe, Phillips and Arkansas counties to the 4th District; and Newton and Pope counties to the 2nd District.

Republicans currently hold the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts, while Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Ross represents the 4th District.

Activists from eastern Arkansas said they wanted lawmakers to find a way to have the Delta region of the state concentrated in one district, instead of being split up as it is now between the 1st and 4th districts.

“There needs to be a predominantly Delta district,” said Lee Powell, director of the Delta Grassroots Caucus.

Pritchard said afterward that he wasn’t surprised by his proposal failing before the committee, but said he still wanted to have the idea aired.

“I’m an eternal optimist, but it doesn’t look like” lawmakers will agree on a redistricting plan before Friday, Pritchard said.

Hall, however, said he believed the work could be done by then.

“I’ve packed my bags,” Hall said, when asked how confident he was.

Adding another wrinkle, a group of Democrats on the Senate panel handling redistricting hoped to unveil its own proposal Thursday morning. Sen. Robert Thompson, the top Democrat in the Senate and a member of the panel, said he was hopeful that the committee could find a compromise that could get at least one Republican vote to advance it to the chamber.

“It’s the most difficult thing I’ve worked on since I’ve been down here,” said Thompson, D-Paragould. “You solve one problem and you create two more somewhere else on the map. There’s a real not in my backyard mentality with these bills in some way or the other.”

The proposal to move Fayetteville — dubbed the “Fayetteville Finger” by one sponsor — had been backed by the House panel last week and that bill was sent back to the committee on Wednesday to consider an amendment. The bill endorsed Wednesday is an alternative proposal, and Hall said he may try amending the original bill if the alternative bill isn’t approved by the House.

Using the latest census figures, the ideal population for each of the state’s congressional districts would be about 728,980 people. To meet that goal, the 2nd Congressional District in central Arkansas would have to lose at least 14,000 people and the 3rd District in northwest Arkansas would have to lose at least 100,000 people.

(This article was written by Associated Press reporter Andrew DeMillo.)

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