Albritton comments on redistricting process

Published 2:33 am Sunday, April 17, 2011

State Sen. Sid Albritton (R-Picayune), who represents Senate District 40 in the State Legislature — which includes Pearl River, Walthall and Marion counties — said on Friday that he did not have an opponent, Angela Hill, deliberately drawn out of his district, and that he did attempt to have Pearl River County divided up into two Senate districts, one housing State Sen. Ezell Lee and the other himself, which would have given Pearl River County two local senators.

However, he says his suggestion was rejected.

Lee earlier said that he had an understanding with Albritton that a dividing line would have been run down U.S. Highway 11, which splits the county into east and west sections. Albritton is on the Senate Redistricting Committee.

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Albritton, in an extended interview with the Item, said that tradeoffs of population in other portions of his district, and other districts, resulted in Hill being drawn out of District 40 and placed Lee (R-Picayune) in State Sen. David Baria’s (D-Bay St. Louis) District 46, which covers most of Hancock County. Hill has filed to run against Albritton in the current District 40.

“Most people think you just walk in and tell them what you want — I want this, this and this — but that is not the way it is. Moving the lines in other districts to balance off the districts, population-wise, makes it impossible to take in some sections in other portions of your district,” said Albritton, who is a member of the Senate Redistricting Committee, headed by Sen. Terry C. Burton (R-Newton).

For instance, he could not take most of Picayune because of population adjustments in Walthall and Marion counties, under what is called the Burton plan, and Lee’s District 47 was collapsed in Pearl River County and consolidated in Stone County to balance out a section of Jackson County, said Albritton.

In addition, a portion of Lee’s old District 47 dipped into Baria’s district, making it what is called “light”, thus necessitating it to take neighborhoods in and around Picayune.

In the adjustment, Albritton, under the Burton plan, represents all of Poplarville and 69 percent of PRC. State Sen. Billy Hudson’s District 45 takes up the remainder of an eastern section of the county. Hudson is a Republican from Hattiesburg.

“It’s complicated and  hard to understand,” admitted Albritton.

“I am not the reason Pearl River County is chopped up so badly. I have tried my best to hold it together with two Senators, but I was not able to,” he said.

He said the dividing up of Pearl River County into a number of legislative districts began after the 1990 redistricting, long before he was elected in 2003, and progressed to where the county now has six legislative districts taking portions of its population.

“In order to consolidate Pearl River County into one whole district,” said Albritton, “the redistricting committee would have to start with Pearl River County first and cast it as a district whole, like Hancock, and then fan out, and I can tell you, that will not happen,” he said.

He said that forming a minority district in and around Hattiesburg, collapsed portions of districts connected to that area, and like a chain reaction resulted in tradeoffs in Pearl River County to balance out other districts.

Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, campaigning in Picayune last week for governor, called the redistricting process “a mess,” and GOP candidate for lieutenant governor, State Treasurer Tate Reeves, told a Pearl River County Republican Women’s group on Thursday that he would rather have no plan at all than have an unfair redistricting plan.

The legislature adjourned last week without completing the legislative redistricting work, after the House and Senate couldn’t agree on a plan.

Albritton on Friday said he had no idea what might happen. “It could be drawn by the court, or the courts might tell the legislature to try again. There is just no telling,” he said.

Complicating the matter further is an NAACP lawsuit filed in federal court seeking to block this year’s legislative elections, saying the plans violate the constitutional principle of one-person, one-vote.

The suit was first assigned to U.S. District Judge Dan Jordan but he recused himself, citing a conflict of interest, and next U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves also stepped down, saying he had joined the NAACP a long time ago as a life member.

The House Apportionment and Elections Committee and the Senate Democratic Caucus have both joined the suit.

The Associated Press reported that it remains unclear whether lawmakers will make another attempt at redrawing the maps during a special session or whether or not the courts will end up redrawing the lines.

The NAACP case at the end of the week was assigned to a three-judge panel, consisting of Judges Tom Lee, Grady Jolly and Louis Guirola.

The high points regarding the redistricting, as it affects Pearl River County, Albritton said, are:

“No. 1 — For decades Pearl River County had been entirely in Senate District 47 and made up the majority of that district.

“No. 2 — After the 1990 census, some of the western precincts of PRC were placed in District 40, while the vast majority of the county remained in District 47 and made up the largest portion of 47.

“No. 3. — Major change occurred with the 2000 census redistricting. Most of the Republican favoring areas were removed from District 47, and divided between District 40, which had historically represented primarily Marion-Walthall county areas, and District 45, which historically represented the Hattiesburg areas. This plan also split nine precincts in PRC, and butchered the cities of Picayune and Poplarville. As a result of the 2000 redistricting, PRC was no longer the majority portion of any Senate district. It made up about 44 percent of District 40, 23 percent of District 47 and 16 percent of District 45.

“No. 4 — After the completion of this redistricting plan (the Burton Plan), Pearl River County, according to the proposed Senate plan, would make up 69 percent of District 40, 16 percent of District 46, and six percent of District 45. There is only one split precinct that affects about 51. It also puts the City of Poplarville back intact and protected most communities of interest.”