by Max Brantley
The legislature reconvened today to complete action on congressional redistricting. Action got fast and furious as both houses moved to attempt to complete action on the legislatin.
The House offered a compromise map (above) in the House State Agencies Committee when it finally met at 3:40 p.m., two hours later than originally planned. It was approved by the committee 11-2. There was some procedural wrangling that required a revote and it was approved again, this time without a sounding of the ballot. Then it moved to the House floor, where opponents again tried procedural delays.
At the same time, a Senate committee approved an identically amended bill, SB 972, without objection. On the floor, the amendment was quickly adopted by voice vote and a Senate vote followed about 5:15 p.m., after brief debate. The Senate approved the bill 23-12. It enjoyed bipartisan support.
The House adopted the amendment of the redistricting bill 63-19, also reflecting bipartisan support. Final House vote on the bill will be tomorrow. Looks like the long process will finally be completed tomorrow. Barring surprises. The House and Senate convene at 10 a.m. Each could pass the other's bill tomorrow.
House Speaker Robert Moore presented the new plan in the House committee. It keeps Fayetteville in the 3rd District, a hot bone of contention. Ashley County also will stay in the 4th district. A move of that county had been another obstacle to Senate approval. Moore's presence suggested he'd mustered votes in the House for approval. A somewhat similar plan passed the Senate previously, a key difference being that that plan, which enjoyed broad Republican support, split Pope rather than Sebastian County.
Lincoln County moves from the 4th to the 1st District in the compromise. The 4th will grow to the top of Madison County and take in some slices of Sebastian and Crawford counties. I call it the Farkle Finger in honor of Madison homeboy Orval Faubus' farkleberry bush and the even-more pronounced bird the 4th district now shoots at the state compared with the "Fayetteville finger."
Moore said five counties had to be split to balance population (Jefferson, Newton and Searcy also were split), but he said the maps avoided splits of cities. (It developed, however, that Alma was split.) The portion of Jefferson north of the Arkansas River was moved to the 1st District.
"You cannot make everyone happy," Rep. Eddie Cheatham said in supporting the bill. Rep. Tracy Pennartz complained about the move of Sebastian outside Fort Smith to the 4th.
Rep. Clark Hall, sounding not too happy about ditching the original bill he'd worked so hard to pass, got in a dig at Northwest Arkansas chamber of commerce types, in the room and silent over the split of Sebastian County. They had screamed bloody murder about how the split of Washington County, even as Sebastian stayed in the 3rd, ripped asunder their "community of interest." The chamber never cared that much about Sebastian, no matter what they said. The silent proof today was eloquent.