by Max Brantley
Sen. Sue Madison confirms (sorry only subscribers can read full story) that congressional redistricting plans under consideration include one that would grow the Fourth through Franklin, Johnson and Madison counties into Fayetteville.
I looked askance at this idea yesterday; even thought it potentially a hoax. Various involved have caused me to at least moderate my initial shock. They insist it's a real, viable and defensible idea.
The first thing you need to remember is the dislocation that comes whenever redistricting upsets the old order. But it is required. In 1974, when Bill Clinton lived in Fayetteville and ran for Third District Congress, he had to campaign in Hot Springs (a good thing for him.) The Fourth District, full of dying counties, is already enormous. Given the pockets of population growth in essentially three areas — Northwest Arkansas, Central Arkansas and Jonesboro/Paragould — the coming realignment by necessity will require some districts to grow to include disparate parts. They will mix Delta and hills; predominantly black and predominantly white; farmland and pine plantations; rich and poor.
A growth into Fayetteville will, of course, be political if Democrats can get their plan adopted. But it will only annex the one part of Northwest Arkansas that is still mostly Democratic in voting inclination. I don't think Rep. Steve Womack would actually mind losing that territory from the 3rd, though he might say otherwise. I'm told the map won't look as odd as I might think. Counties will be split in many locations. Helping Mike Ross in this manner doesn't seem likely to be of much help for Democrats in the 2nd District, stuck with Karl Rove's hatchet man.
A key issue in all this talk is where the black legislative caucus eventually comes down. Democrats continue to insist you can't come up with better than a 39 percent black legislative district. The fear — which none wants to speak aloud — is that this would produce a black primary winner and a Republican general election winner. They think it better to draw lines in a way that produce the best possible alignment for the long term in at least three districts. But they'd be happy to pack Republicans in Sebastian, Crawford, the balance of Washington, Benton and Boone into a tight little enclave of Yellow Dog Republicans. Much like Republicans would like to pack blacks into a single district.
But the inclusion of Fayetteville shouldn't be viewed as something surreal, my sources insist. Is it any more strange than putting Little Rock in the Fourth? Or Jonesboro? Some population is going to have to be found somewhere.
Legislative math is challenging. The committee that considers districting in the Senate is split 4-4 on partisan lines. It might take a majority vote of the Senate to pull out a redistricting plan, presuming Republicans and Democrats can't agree. That's where an alliance of black legislators and Republicans could prove problematic. The House committee is majority Democratic.