Holland's idea

Legislator wants action

on redistricting issue

Lee County Rep. Steve Holland nailed the issue when he said the Legislature can do a better job with congressional redistricting than any court.

Can, and should.

As the clock ticks toward the Jan. 8 opening of the 2002 session and the Jan. 7 federal court deadline for state action on the partisan, contentious, divisive issue, the possibilities become more complex and the prospect of legislative action more difficult.

Hinds County Chancellor Patricia Wise ruled Dec. 21 with a redistricting map favoring Democratic interests and placing 127,000 metropolitan Jackson residents in the First Congressional District - for decades a predominantly Northeast Mississippi district held, successively, by a Democrat and a Republican.

Northeast Mississippi's interests sit mid-stream in the controversy, in company with the merging of incumbent Congressmen Chip Pickering's and Ronnie Shows' districts. Pickering is a Republican from Laurel and Shows a Democrat from Bassfield. Throwing the two most junior members of the House delegation into a re-election confrontation stems from the loss of a House seat - from five to four.

It's expected that incumbents Bennie Thompson, D-Bolton, Gene Taylor, D-Bay St. Louis, and Roger Wicker, R-Tupelo, will have safe districts under any final configuration.

Wise's plan is under appeal by Republican partisans to the Mississippi Supreme Court and the federal courts. It also must be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Holland, a member of the joint Legislative Redistricting Committee, believes the Legislature can act early in the regular session and supplant court action by exercising its constitutional obligation to redistrict.

Holland and his House colleagues on the redistricting committee made the last, best offer during a November special session. That plan, flatly rejected by the Senate conferees and leadership, would have placed about 36,000 people in Madison County in the First District. The proposed district wasn't ideally, regionally compact, but it was a reasonable compromise.

We believe the last House offer would be a reasonable starting point for renewed, intense, intentional negotiation leading to agreement.

Northeast Mississippians, especially voters, have a stake and a say in the issue because their ballots placed responsibility for redistricting on incumbent legislators.

We believe a legislatively approved and acceptable plan, as Holland said, would be better than any court plan because it would have the imprint of representative government on it rather than judicial decree.

Time is short, but in the world of constitutional law, it has not run out.

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