The state’s Joint Legislative Redistricting Committee, ignoring the wishes of Mississippi’s lone African American U.S. House member, approved a congressional redistricting plan Wednesday that extends the length of Black majority Congressional District 2 by about 60 miles.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat, had proposed that all of his home county of Hinds be placed in District 2 to maintain some compactness for the district. Instead, the committee opted to extend District 2 nearly the entire length of the state, adding Adams, Amite, Franklin and Walthall counties in southwest Mississippi to the district.
The proposed district would extend more than 300 miles from Tunica in northwest Mississippi to the Louisiana-Mississippi border in southwest Mississippi. The only county that borders the Mississippi River not in the district is heavily Republican DeSoto County.
(Story continues below the proposed map. The state’s current congressional map can be found at the bottom of this story.)
District 2, which has long been a majority-Black district, is the only one of the state’s four congressional districts to lose population based on the 2020 Census — more than 9% in 10 years, or about 65,000 people.
Based on federal and state law, the districts have to be redrawn to ensure near equal population representation.
Senate Pro Tem Dean Kirby, R-Pearl, who is co-chair of the redistricting committee, and House Pro Tem Jason White, R-West, who is a member of the committee, said they expect the congressional redistricting plan will be offered to the full Legislature for possible passage in the first or second week of the 2022 session that begins Jan. 4.
“But I heard of about 10 things (to be taken up) in the first week of the session,” White quipped.
The urgency to take up the congressional plan is that elections are slated earlier this year and the deadline for candidates to qualify to run for the congressional seats is March 1. Legislators are expected to take up a plan to redraw their own 174 House and Senate districts later in the session since their elections are not until 2023.
The three African American members of the Redistricting Committee who were present Wednesday all voted against the plan extending District 2 further into southwest Mississippi. Others on the 20-member committee voted for the plan.
Sen. Angela Turner-Ford, D-West Point, said she voted against the plan because of the issue of compactness.
No alternative was offered for consideration by the committee. But Kirby said he expects alternatives to be offered to the full Legislature for consideration.
Rep. Robert Johnson, D-Natchez, who is the House minority leader, said that there would be an effort to amend the plan during the legislative session. Johnson’s state House district includes the area added to U.S. House District 2 in the committee plan.
“It makes it quite a large district that would be difficult to govern,” Johnson said.
White, who presented the plan to the committee, said the plan makes the other three districts more compact.
He said no incumbent congressman “got everything they wanted” in the redistricting, but that District 3 Rep. Michael Guest of Rankin County opposed Thompson’s plan to move all of Hinds into his district. Guest wanted the heavily Republican northeast Jackson area of Hinds.
In addition, White said Guest wanted to maintain a Republican area of south Madison County in his district. A proposal offered by the state chapter of the NAACP would have moved all of Hinds and that portion of south Madison into Thompson’s district.
White also said it makes sense to add southwest Mississippi into the 2nd because as river counties they had many of the same interests as other counties along the Mississippi River in Thompson’s district.
Under the plan approved by the committee, the Black voting-age population of District 2 will be 61.05%, slightly higher than that proposed by the NAACP. The current Black voting-age population of District 2 is 62.27%.
Federal law most likely would mandate that Mississippi, the state with the nation’s highest Black population, maintain an African American majority district.