From: Sam Cameron
Date: March 15, 2011 1:12:18 PM CDT
Subject: Legislative Redistricting Updates
Legislative Redistricting Update
March 15, 2011
Many MHA members, state elected officials and the media have begun asking why MHA is so deeply engaged in the Legislative Redistricting process. I thought it time to address that question and to set the record straight on several points.
First we are engaged in redistricting simply because the composition of the State Legislature has a direct impact on the quality of health care offered every patient treated at our facilities. Regardless of how our efforts are being characterized by some, we are truly bi-partisan. Our mission is, and continues to be, the election of Pro-Hospital Designated candidates from Pro-Hospital Designated Districts (PHD’s from PHD’s).
As you know, the Legislature has been consumed with redrawing its district lines since the Census office delivered the 2010 population data back in early February. How district lines are drawn, which precincts are included in districts and which are not included, have much to do with an incumbent’s re-election chances. How district lines are drawn also determines essential leadership positions, such as Speaker of the House and Senate Pro Tempore. For these reasons redistricting has always been a tough process at the State Capitol.
This year, though, it’s an even tougher process because of partisan gamesmanship being played out in both the House and the Senate. Republican Party activists are trying to use redistricting to create House and Senate districts that would be favorable to their cause. In statements made by, among others, Republican Party Chairman Arnie Hederman, Lt. Governor Phil Bryant, and state Senator Joey Fillingane, the goal of the Party is to draw districts that will ensure its ability to elect a Republican Speaker of the House and to control the state Senate. These Republicans no longer pretend the Legislature should draw fair districts.
For as long as the Legislature has been redistricting itself, the strongly held tradition has been the House drafts the plan for its members, and the Senate drafts the plan for its members. And even though the legislative vehicle that enacts the plans into law must pass both houses, heretofore neither house has dared touch the plan of its opposite chamber. This year, the Republicans in the Senate, led by Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, have discarded that fifty year tradition and have sought to amend the House plan.
So, here is where we are: two weeks ago the House adopted its plan and sent it to the Senate. The vote was largely along party lines, though four Republicans did support the plan that was adopted. The Senate Elections Committee promptly killed that House plan. In the meantime, in a major showdown vote on the Senate floor, the Lt. Governor proposed a Senate plan that was in opposition to the plan drawn by the Republican Chairman of the Senate Elections Committee, Terry Burton. Last Thursday, the full Senate voted with the chairman, rebuffed the Lt. Governor, and sent to the House a plan that meets the one-person, one-vote test and the Voting Rights Act test.
This week, it gets even more interesting.
There will be a move in the House to add the House’s previously adopted plan to the Senate legislation and send it back to the Senate. If that happens, then the 52 Senators will be confronted with a vote to either concur in the House amendments or reject the House amendments and invite a conference committee. If the members concur, then the redistricting process is done, new districts will be adopted once they are approved by the Department of Justice under the Voting Rights Act, and we will have regularly scheduled elections later this summer and fall (using the new districts). If the Senators follow the lead of Lt. Governor Bryant and Pro Tem Senator Billy Hewes and reject the House amendments, then it means stalemate. Sending the bill to conference, in my opinion, kills the process because the House has said on any number of occasions that they are honoring the tradition and will not allow the Senate to draw their lines.
Killing the process means two elections. Courts will get involved. Lawsuits will be filed. And what happened twenty years ago will happen this year. Legislators will run in their current districts this year and the newly elected legislators will return to Jackson in January 2012 to draw new lines, and then they will run in those new districts in late 2012. These double elections will cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, plus the expense of all the lawyers the state will pay dealing with the courts.
While we are like most every other taxpayer in Mississippi and would want to avoid all of that additional cost, you should know that we here at MHA believe our election prospects in 2011 using the current districts would be a little better than having to support candidates in the new districts. We know the current districts, our campaign infrastructure is in place for the old districts, and the incumbents we would support are more comfortable in their current districts.
Also, MHA’s financial resources dedicated to campaigns and elections far outweigh those of any other group in Mississippi. Should the Legislature run again in 2012, I feel we’d be one of the last remaining groups able to support our candidates that year.
That being said, though, our position is that the Legislature should deal with redistricting now and avoid forcing the taxpayers to pay for two elections and a bunch of expensive lawyers. But, if the Republicans are successful in scuttling the whole process, your MHA campaign team will be ready and in a very good position to help elect legislators who will support a strong health care system for Mississippi.
Thank you for all you do to help our mission.
Sam W. Cameron