Columns » John Brummett

Democrats gesture toward Fayetteville


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Considering that it now appears we might end up living with this wild concoction for the next 10 years, let us begin with a definition of terms. 

Pig Trail: The popular nickname of a meandering roadway, at once illogical and oddly convenient, that one can take northward from Interstate 40 toward Fayetteville. 

Gerrymander: An imaginative or abnormal drawing of a political district solely for the purpose of enhancing one party's electoral prospects. 

Thus the Pig Trail Gerrymander, meaning the proposed extension of the 4th Congressional District from southern Arkansas northward along a conspicuous and narrow path to pick up the city of Fayetteville. 

It is plainly for the purpose of shoring up Democratic votes for the 4th District in exchange for taking from that district a few Southeast Arkansas Delta counties and giving those to the 1st District to shore up Democratic votes there.  

All of that is to try to produce a 2-2 split in Democratic and Republican congressmen instead of the 3-to-1 Republican advantage the voters produced in a right-wing snit and in the existing districts last year. 

Some leading Democrats, peeved at my Pig Trail moniker, contend that this redrawing is not any more illogical, or even as illogical, as putting Harrison of the northwest mountains into the 1st District with Helena-West Helena, snug against the river on the southeast.  

But the Harrison/Helena configuration would be a logical progression of our redistricting pattern of recent decades, one that already puts Helena with Mountain Home in the 1st District. It is what you would do if you wanted to disturb the status quo as little as possible.  

But adding Harrison to the 1st District lessens the Democratic chance of taking out Rick Crawford. On the other hand, that chance is improved by adding southern Delta counties to the 1st by taking them from the 4th and, in turn, rotating the 4th clockwise up this conspicuous swath to Fayetteville. 

This little extension looks like a single stubby finger extended from a fat hand, as if to produce a gesture. 

The question is who is getting this gesture. The Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce is, for sure. 

Democrats have abandoned the more logical notion of extending the 4th to Fort Smith, which is far less Democratic than Fayetteville. That is because, they say, Fort Smith civic leaders are dead set against it.  

So why oblige Fort Smith's civic leadership and stick it to Fayetteville's? Well, there is some thought that Fort Smith's legislative delegation would never give you even a single vote for its redistricting, but that Fayetteville's just might. There is a Democratic constituency in Fayetteville that may not object as much as does the chamber of commerce, and it is that the University of Arkansas might not mind so much having two congressmen, in a way. 

The Pig Trail Gerrymander has now advanced to the point at which its passage, so outlandish a thought a few days ago, actually can be envisioned. One thing that has happened is that African-American legislators seem to be accepting that any concentration of their votes in a district serves Republican interests everywhere else.

These plans must go to the respective State Agencies Committees. The one in the House contains 12 Democrats and eight Republicans and the chairman is a Delta farmer and Democrat who favors the Pig Trail Gerrymander.  

It is therefore likely to get voted out of that committee and is a threat to get 51 votes on the House floor.

It would then go to the Senate State Agencies Committee, with four Democrats and four Republicans, and get hung up. 

But Senate rules permit that a bill may be pulled out of committee by a simple majority vote of 18 senators. Despite the Republican gains, Democrats still hold a 20-15 advantage.

A caveat: If the Senate dares to pull one bill out of committee, then someone might want to excise another, and then another, and so forth.

If Democrats intend to pass this thing, I'm thinking April 1 might be a good day for it.


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