by Max Brantley
The House this morning approved the compromise congressional redistricting bill 64-28. The vote followed more than an hour of debate that moved no one but gave legislators a chance to represent home folks. The Senate should complete action on an identical bill this afternoon and send it to the governor.
Rep. Clark Hall, sponsor of the House bill, acknowledged that the final product of congressional redistricting is a compromise forced by Senate resistance to the bill passed by the House. He said it was still a "good bill." He acknowledged it won't make everyone happy. The "math problems" dictate moving people from one district to another.
Hall said that an amendment was necessary to correct a bill drafting error — discovered by blogger Jason Tolbert — that left two precincts in Jefferson County stranded in the 1st District, cut off from a portion of the county moved to the 4th. The plan was for the House to pass its bill and send it to the Senate for passage, where the correction was made. The Senate then returndc the bill to the House for concurrence in its amendment. The House this afternoon concurred and promptly sent the bill back to the Senate. There a routine vote to concur was all that was necessary to send the completed plan to the governor. That vote got done shortly before 4 p.m. The bill passed 24-9.
Senate President Paul Bookout had announced in the morning that leadership of both houses had agreed that each house would pass both bills. The agreement meant that the session can't end today because, under the rules, the House bill can't be considered in the Senate until tomorrow.
During House debate, Fort Smith legislators Denny Altes and Tracy Pennartz objected to the compromise plan, which splits Sebastian and four other counties. Others from western Arkansas pitched in, too, including Rep. Leslee Milam Post of Ozark, who represents Alma. That city is cut between two districts by Highway 71. "There's gotta be a better option," she said.
House Speaker Robert Moore went to the well to defend the compromise as a bipartisan effort that took geographic and other considerations into account. He said it was "quite beneficial" to be a legislator for a district with two congressmen to call for help. In a time of great mobility, he said regionalism was not a compelling reason to vote against the bill. "Wherever this border goes it's going to touch somebody." He said the plan was fair geographically and politically. "If we stay here another week, another month, another year is everybody going to be satisfied? No. The diversity of the opposition suggests we've done as good a job as we can do."
The House committee heard the Senate-passed bill this afternoon at 2 p.m. and that provided 15 minutes for speakers from Sebastian County and Crawford County to complain.
The moaning about split counties is simply quaint. 47 states split counties. Moaning by legislators about having constituents in more than one congressional district is empty rhetoric. 1) It's unavoidable. 2) It's largely irrelevant. The current legislative districts are meaningless and subject to change later this year in reapportionment.
The larger issue that all the complainers overlooked is that 200,000 people will have to move to another district. All think they are special. But somebody has to go.