Mixed feelings about House reapportionment plan
by Eddie Burkhalter
May 23, 2012 | 4006 views |  0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Changes in both ends of Calhoun County’s legislative district lines under a proposed redistricting plan have some up in arms, but the feeling is there isn’t much they can do about it.

Piedmont Mayor Brian Young is not thrilled that his town is being shifted from Alabama House of Representatives District 40, currently represented by Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, to District 39, now represented by Richard Lindsey, D-Centre.

The proposed changes would also see District 40 pick up the Friendship community and portions of Oxford.

Young worries the shift will further isolate Piedmont, a town that he says is already too separated from the rest of the county by geography.

“I just think we’re going to be a little fish in a big pond,” Young said by phone Monday. “I don’t think we would get the representation we need.”

The Alabama House voted Monday to approve new House district lines drafted by Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville. But the proposed changes stalled in the senate Monday, with Democratic Sen. Marc Keahey requiring a full read of the more than 300-page bill. The reading picked back up Tuesday morning.

The plan won’t be up for a vote in the Senate until Thursday, according to a report from the Associated Press.

“I think it’s a fair plan. It goes plus, minus 1 percent of deviation of districts. It preserves minority districts that is required by the Justice Department, and we made sure that not a single senator was drawn out of their district,” Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said Tuesday afternoon.

Marsh said that once the Senate votes, he is optimistic the U.S. Justice Department will approve the plan. The federal agency reviews election-related changes in Alabama and other Southern states to guard against racial discrimi-nation, part of the legacy of the civil rights era.

Democrats have called foul on Republicans, saying the plan is creating largely white, Republican-voting districts.

Under the proposed changes, Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden, representing District 29 will gain a major section of rural northern Calhoun County, shifting her district from 17 percent black to 3.5 percent black. Efforts to reach Nordgren Tuesday were unsuccessful.

However, House District 28, which includes central parts of Etowah County including Gadsden, would see a sharp increase in the percentage of black residents under the plan, jumping to 29.4 percent from 18.7 percent. Efforts to reach Rep. Craig Ford, a white Democrat from Gadsden who currently represents District 28, also were unsuccessful Tuesday.

District 32 Rep. Barbara Boyd, a black Democrat from Anniston, could see her district’s black population rise from to 60 percent from 53 percent.

“That’s what we call stacking and packing,” Boyd said. “And that’s not what the Justice Department likes.”

But the trend does not hold for all districts. The percentage of the black population in District 40 would rise from 18.7 percent to 29.4 percent.

Other districts would see little change with regard to racial makeup under Dial’s plan, with Districts 24, 26, 69, 35 and 36 changing only slightly.

On the Senate side, District 11, represented by Sen. Jerry Fielding, a white Democrat from Talladega, would see a decrease in the percentage of black population from 34 percent to 15 percent.

Lori Owens, head of the political science department at Jacksonville State University, said no matter which political party is in control, every 10 years cries of gerrymandering districts are to be expected.

“No matter how it shakes out, somebody is going to be unhappy,” Owens said.

District lines must be redrawn every 10 years to reflect changes in the population. “Gerrymandering” is a term used to describe the often-contorted-looking districts drawn by legislators to protect or advance their interests during reapportionment. It is named after Elbridge Gerry, a 19th-century Massachusetts governor accused of helping to create such districts in his state.

Lindsey’s district stretches through Cherokee, Cleburne and DeKalb counties, and that’s a lot of voters to look after, Young said. Adding another county to Lindsey’s plate will only make it harder for Piedmont’s needs to be heard, said Young, Piedmont’s mayor.

“It’s just politics,” he said. “The politician is going to work to take care of the people that elected him.”

Changes in the census meant Brown’s district had to lose 5,000 people, he said by phone Tuesday.

At just under 5,000 residents, Piedmont was an obvious choice, Brown said, “because it’s on the northern border and they can come down and get it without disrupting a lot of the rest of the district.”

“None of us are happy, but we all know that it’s got to happen,” he said.

Star staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @EBurkhalter_Star.

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