Tweaking' suspected

in halls of state Capitol

ACKSON - Sports reporting is a fun gig.

Sports writers get to make predictions on which team will win. And when a sports writer misses his prediction, as is bound to happen, some people will call to give the humble scribe a difficult time about how on earth he could have picked a particular team to win when the other team had a much stronger defense and a wide receiver who was so fast he could turn off the switch and be in bed before the room got dark.

It's only when the readers take the predictions way too seriously that sports writing ceases to be fun.

I know. I was a sports writer.

Normally, in the realm of political reporting, we don't make predictions. That is for the sports department - affectionately known by many as the toy department.

But let me predict what will happen in the redistricting snafu where the state Legislature is deadlocked on how to redraw Mississippi's congressional districts.

First, before my prediction, I must point out the snafu is caused because Mississippi is losing one of its five U.S. House seats. The loss is occurring because Mississippi's population did not grow as fast as some other states, according to the 2000 Census.

Democrats in the state House - with the exception of many influential Northeast Mississippi Democrats - want to draw districts that will benefit Democrats. Republicans, on the other hand, want to draw districts that will help - guess who - Republicans.

Go figure.

There is a problem from the Republican perspective. There are a lot more Democrats in the House - like 86-33. But the Republicans do have some leverage because many of those pesky Northeast Mississippi House Democrats don't like the plan developed by Democrats from other parts of the state.

Under that plan, Tupelo and much of Northeast Mississippi would be placed in a district with parts of Rankin County, which is suburban Jackson. The plan used to be called the tornado plan. It has evolved into the boot plan.

But at any rate, many Northeast Mississippi officials oppose the plan, saying the area has nothing in common with metro Jackson.

In general terms, though, a majority of the House members favor the plan because it gives incumbent U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows, a Bassfield Democrat, an edge in an assumed election against fellow incumbent Chip Pickering, a Jones County Republican. It is generally believed that the result of redistricting is that Pickering and Shows will be thrown into the same district.

The deadlock is created because the Senate leadership does not support the Northeast Mississippi-metro Jackson district. Even though the Senate leaders are all Democrats - Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck of Maben, President Pro Tem Travis Little of Corinth and Appropriations Committee Chairman Jack Gordon of Okolona to name a few - they support a plan that is generally favored by Republicans.

(The reason for their support of the Republican plan is another column for another day.)

The Republican plan puts the metro Jackson areas of Rankin and south Madison counties in the central district where Shows and Pickering will square off. Those metro Jackson areas are heavily Republican and would give Pickering a big boost.

The Democrats in the House are not going for the Tuck/Senate leadership plan.

The result will be deadlock during the special session Gov. Ronnie Musgrove will be forced to call in the next few weeks. No plan will be passed and redistricting will wind up in court.

Wrong.

That's not what's going to happen, and here's why.

The leadership in both chambers want to pass a plan to prove they don't duck tough issues. And when the Legislature convenes there will be immense pressure to not spend taxpayer money for nothing - for no plan.

And there is room to compromise. Currently, under the Tuck-Senate leadership plan, the Shows-Pickering district in central Mississippi has a black voting-age population of 34.35 percent. Under the House plan, the district has a black voting-age population of about 38 percent, plus it takes portions of heavily Republican and heavily voting metro Jackson out of the Shows-Pickering district.

In essence, the House plan gives Shows close to a slam dunk.

The compromise is to take the Tuck/Senate leadership plan and "tweak it around the edges'' as they say and move the black voting-age population to 37 percent or above. But at the same time, leave all of or most of metro Jackson out of the district with Northeast Mississippi.

That makes the Northeast Mississippi Democrats happy and gives a majority of legislators a plan they can support.

Of course, the plan still may end up in court. After all, anybody with a few bucks and an attorney can go to court.

But that's a way a plan can be passed.

Hey, this prediction business is more fun than I can remember. Now let me tell you who will win that Ole Miss-LSU game ...

Bobby Harrison is chief of the Daily Journal's Capitol Bureau.

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