Despite a healthy Republican majority already in the Senate, everyone will be paying close attention to the chamber’s redistricting map. That will be the responsibility of Merle Flowers who takes over for Terry Burton who produced a good map for Republicans, but irritated many conservatives with his insistence of eliminating a solid Republican district in the Pine Belt to create an additional majority black district.
Generally speaking, much like the House seats, the districts that lost the most population and need a great deal of work done to them are held by Democrats while the growth occurred in the most Republican areas of the state. Of the 21 Democrats in the Senate, only three represent districts that have actually added residents over the past 10 years ago: Nickey Browning (SD 3), Steve Hale (SD 10), and David Blount (SD 29).
Here are the current deviations of the districts as they stand following the 2010 Census
And Blount is the only member to represent a majority-black district that gained population. As it stands right now, there are 14 majority-black districts in the state including two that moved in that direction over the past 10 years. One of those is held by Buck Clarke, the lone Republican in the Senate to occupy such a seat. Clarke’s district changed a good bit under the Burton map, stretching all the way to the Gluckstadt area of Madison county, but the demographics were pretty much the same under both plans. But his district is down more than 8,000 residents, or 14 percent, so something needs to be done.
A couple other Republican districts to pay attention to include SD 18 and SD 37. Giles Ward fended off a difficult challenge from Democrat Steven Kilgore in November and I wouldn’t be surprised to see his district slightly altered for the incumbent. Under the Burton map, his district would only take in the eastern half of Leake (rather than the entire county) and move north into Attala. And in SD 37, Melanie Sojourner knocked off longtime incumbent Bob Dearing in a district few were following when the maps were drawn. Wouldn’t be shocked to see the freshman get some help also.
For the Pine Belt, as I’ve said, that is the question. In creating a 15th majority-black district, the Burton map made Joey Fillingane’s district more favorable to the GOP but it’s not really an issue. Originally designed to elect a white Democrat, Fillingane won a special election mid-decade and isn’t in any danger of losing. We pay attention to demographics a lot for good reason, but that doesn’t always tell the whole story. In this case, a district that has a BVAP around 40 percent isn’t a concern for Republicans. If we were in another part of the state, it could be a different issue.
This year, we had an open seat with Tom King opting to run for Transportation Commission. It will be a different story if the GOP now eliminates one of their own, since I don’t see any open seats here.
Another major change was the addition of a Senate seat in Desoto county, something that was certainly well deserved and we will see in any map. The original plan did this by merging SD 8 and SD 14. At the time, most figured Jack Gordon would not run for re-election because of his illness. He has since passed away. SD 14 is held by Republican Lydia Chassanoil, and this new district was more favorable to Republicans but looked a lot different then her current district. Right now, her district runs from Tallahatchie county down to Attala. Under the Burton map, it would stretch east-to-west from Leflore to Lee. SD 8 is now held by Democrat Sen. Russell Jolly, who easily won a first term in November.
Madison and Rankin counties are close to getting a new district, but not there yet. By my count, SD 20, 25, and 30 added about 37,000 new residents. Under the Burton map, SD 20 would no longer reach into Madison and would now run from the Madison county line to the Simpson county line in east Rankin. SD 30 would be more compact extending just to Brandon now.
But that is just one way of doing things. As I’ve said, we will see what Flowers and his committee produces.