By Russell Hood The Webster Progress-Times
Webster County has officially picked up a new seat in the House of Representatives with the U.S. Justice Department’s approval of Mississippi’s legislative redistricting.
Legislative leaders received word of the approval Friday, The Associated Press reported.
The 122 House districts and 52 Senate districts had to be redrawn to reflect population shifts revealed by the 2010 Census.
Lawmakers approved new plans in the spring. The Justice Department must approve any election changes in Mississippi to ensure the plans don’t dilute minority voting strength because of the state’s history of racial discrimination.
Senate District 15 Webster County, under the plan upheld by the Justice Department, will continue to be represented entirely by Senate District 15. Gary Jackson of French Camp is the current officeholder in District 15.
The district had included Attala, Calhoun, Choctaw, Montgomery, Oktibbeha, Webster and Winston counties.
As redrawn, it comprises all of Choctaw and Webster counties, and portions of Montgomery and Oktibbeha, including the Maben precinct in the latter county.
Webster County is now included in three House districts instead of two, the new one being District 46. This is the breakdown of each of those House districts by county (old and new maps), precincts now represented in Webster and the current officeholder:
House District 23 Jim Beckett of Bruce • Old map: Calhoun, Clay, Oktibbeha and Webster • New map: all of Calhoun, and parts of Grenada, Lafayette and Webster (Bellefontaine, Clarkson, Cumberland, Fame, Mantee and Walthall precincts) House District 35 Joey Hood of Ackerman • Old map: Choctaw, Grenada, Oktibbeha and Webster • New map: all of Choctaw, and parts of Attala, Winston and Webster (Big Black, Eupora 1, Eupora 2, Eupora 3, Grady, Maben, Mathiston and Tomnolen precincts) House District 46 Bobby Howell of Kilmichael • Old map: Attala, Carroll, Grenada, Leflore and Montgomery • New map: all of Montgomery, and parts of Carroll, Grenada, Leflore and Webster (Bluff Springs, Cadaretta and Fay precincts) Sen. Jackson and Reps. Beckett, Hood and Howell are all Republicans.
Compact Districts Many Democrats complained that the plan pushed through by the new Republican majority diluted black voting strength by “packing” black voters in fewer districts. Mississippi’s population is 37 percent black, and its voting-age population is 35 percent black.
Republican Rep. Bill Denny of Jackson, who led the House redistricting effort, told The Associated Press on Friday that he worked closely with attorneys and professors who are experts in redistricting. Denny said the districts met the required standards: They’re compact, they uphold communities with common interests and they don’t weaken black voting strength.
Republican Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, the Senate’s presiding officer, said he’s pleased about the Justice Department approval. “The plan drawn by our redistricting committee received overwhelming bipartisan support from the Senate because it was fair and representative of the entire state,” Reeves said in a statement.
The Justice Department did not agree the redistricting diminished minority voting strength in a discriminatory way. Approval of the redistricting plans doesn’t prevent anyone from suing to try to block the maps from being used. The next legislative elections are scheduled for 2015.
This article includes reporting by The Associated Press and the Mississippi Business Journal.