MONTGOMERY — In a bid to stall a plan to redraw most state House districts, Democrats in the Legislature on Tuesday evening asked that the Republican-drafted plan — hundreds of pages long — be read aloud.
“We’re doing it to show that we are serious about redistricting,” said Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston. “We want to get the attention of the reapportionment committee.”
Boyd is on that committee. She echoed what a series of Democrats said during debate of the redistricting plan from the House chamber well: that they weren’t included in its creation, and that they’d see it challenged in court. The current redrawing itself is court ordered, after black lawmakers sued the state for district maps they said packed black voters into a few districts.
The request for the bill’s reading came after nearly three and half hours of debate.
“We’re back in the same spot .... I’m ready to go to court,” Rep. John Rogers, D-Birmingham, said — the first of many references to a legal challenge.
“This gerrymandered plan will not sustain the scrutiny of the Supreme Court,” said Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery, who is head of the House’s Black Caucus.
So the debate went. Few Republicans spoke, and when they did, they praised the effort — as did Rep. Jim Patterson, R-Meridianville.
“We’re very happy with our plan,” Patterson told the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne. “We think it was very fair.”
Reading the entire bill would take more than 13 hours, according to the clerk of the House. The reading, by computer, was only expected to last until just before midnight, when the House was to adjourn until Thursday.
The tactic would only delay passage of the new map. Republicans, with a supermajority in the House, needed no Democratic votes to win that passage.
Those maps would shift districts in Calhoun County. The latest version of that map — accepted Tuesday — wasn’t available, but previous plans showed Boyd’s district would have a lower percentage of black voters.
A similar effect is seen in the districts of 10 other black lawmakers, according to information from Boyd.
Changes to her district mean changes to the neighboring districts of Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, and Rep. Randy Woods, R-Saks.
“I would’ve rather kept mine the way it was,” said Brown. His district no longer includes parts of Oxford, but he’s picked up areas of Weaver.
Brown disagrees with Boyd’s assessment that Democrats weren’t involved in the complicated redrawing process, asserting they had the same level of involvement as other members of the House.
While unable to block the measure from passage, Democrats’ foot-dragging was meant to build a case for any future court fight, Boyd said.
“It seems as if my state cannot begin to do the right thing without a court decision,” she said.
Jefferson County seems to be key to any future challenge.
Even before a recess Tuesday night, the Black Caucus in a statement called the section of the bill pertaining to that county “an unconstitutional racial gerrymander.”
The statement alleged that Republicans drafted a redesign of the county’s voting lines specifically to shift the balance of power on the legislative delegation.
Seven white and eight black lawmakers sit on that delegation, the statement noted. Under the new plan, the districts of two white lawmakers would extend into Jefferson County — making the balance 9-8.