by Max Brantley
John Walker says he has filed his federal lawsuit over Little Rock city director zones. He wants to do away with the three-at large seats and go to single-member districts for the 10 directors.
The city might want to be amenable to negotiation. For one thing, Walker has won a couple of similar Arkansas cases upheld on appeal. For another, a variety of city leaders have paid lip service to ward elections. For another, a successful lawsuit -- coupled with districts drawn to plaintiffs' wishes -- could instantly produce mionority representation in a majority of board seats, even though the city is still majority white, though barely. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but there are clearly many business people who think that it is, given recent school board election events.
The increasingly segregated housing in the city gives rise to this. The western reaches of the city and other higher-income neighborhoods are nearly 100 percent white. Concentrations like this tend to dilute a group's impact over a larger area. This is why Republicans tried for years to draw congressional districts with super majorities of black voters. That guaranteed election of some black representatives, but removed black voters as factors in other districts. The packing here has occurred naturally, but the shoe is on a different foot racially.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are retired educators Lou Ethel Nauden, J.J. Lacey and Thomas Brannon, Dr. Andre Guerrero of the Arkansas Department of Education and Robert Whitfield, a plaintiff when Walker sued the University of Arkansas in the 1960s to desegregate student housing.