by Max Brantley
John Brummett echoes
adopts the Republican talking point that it is a perverse gerrymander to run a peninsula up to Washington County to capture Fayetteville for the Fourth District. That map would look a little strange, yes.
But to assert there is a "natural" way for existing congressional districts to grow is a fallacy based on nothing. Why should the 1st "naturally" grow further north into the hills? It would be far more "natural," if some sort of geoconsistency were the measure, for the 1st District to grow from its western border in Lonoke County right up to the end of the Delta at Ozark Point in Little Rock, capturing all the final bits of flat land (and many thousands of black voters) in Pulaski County. (I'm not recommending that, by the way, just saying.)
Congressional redistricting is and always has been political in every state. That is the only "natural" part of it. The current "natural" kinship between Van Buren and Pulaski in the Second and between Mountain Home and Gillett in the 1st? Nothing natural about it and there never will be when you take the three states or four states of Arkansas (Delta, hills, coastal plain, river valley) and its scattered pockets of dense population and try to divide them on a representational basis. Talk about unnatural — that would be the Johnny Key Republican plan to sever a bunch of Delta counties from their historic home in the 1st and give them to Mike Ross in the 4th. The aim is obvious — to make the 1st more Republican with the loss of Democratic counties and a pickup of Republican White. This is just as "natural" as Democrats seeking to add a Democratic pocket in Fayetteville to the Fourth. Political perversion is in the eye of the beholder. I'd like to see the district populations in the Key plan and see if they meet the "not-one-vote" variation that Sen. Gilbert Baker has insisted should be the standard for redistricting.UPDATE: Note that Senator Key has supplied the population figures in his plan. The variance, as a percentage, is small, but a population swing among districts wider than 3,000 in one case. This was described to me as unacceptable in one conversation I had with Sen. Gilbert Baker, but he's already pronounced Key's plan wonderful, so perhaps his outlook has changed on population variances. At least when it comes to Republican ideas.
You ask why Republicans would help Mike Ross? Because he votes with the GOP 50 percent of the time.