Who is to blame for the fact that our state leaders can’t come to an agreement on redistricting, setting up the strong possibility of taxpayers having to flip the expense of two elections? Is it Democrats, Republicans, Gov. Haley Barbour, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant or Speaker Billy McCoy?
All of the above is likely the best answer. That’s because all of the above have a lot riding on the outcome.
The Democrats are battling, quite pitifully I might add, to hang on to what little power in state government they have left.
I’m often reminded of the famous quote from Will Rogers – “I don’t belong to an organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”
Control of the House and the speaker’s position held by Billy McCoy are about all the Democrats have left at the Capitol. Both of those are likely to fall if redistricting doesn’t go their way.
Republicans have a lot on the line in that for the first time in state government, they see the opportunity to take control of both the House and Senate.
Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant has aspirations to move into the governor’s mansion. After jumping into the middle of this redistricting fight, the last thing he needs is to come out a loser.
And of course there’s Gov. Haley Barbour, who has hopes of parlaying his two terms of leading Mississippi Republicans to power into a successful run at the presidency. The last thing he needs is a redistricting lawsuit (NAACP vs Barbour) drawing national attention in the middle of his campaigning.
For the time being, all of those hopes and dreams by all involved sit in a stalemate with the redistricting issue. The Senate Republicans, along with Bryant and Barbour don’t like the plan passed by the House because it doesn’t favor them. They want to draw their own House plan.
The Speaker of the House feels that violates a “gentlemen’s agreement” that the House and Senate are supposed to mind their own business.
The Governor, Lt. Gov. and Senate Republicans don’t care about any half-century old agreement and want to “meddle” in the House’s business. So rather than stand up for what he believes at the negotiating table, Democratic leader McCoy’s strategy is to pack his stuff and go home – the old “silent treatment” if you will.
In the meantime, lawsuits are being filed, the parties involved aren’t talking and the taxpayers are getting ready to do what they always do when the legislature fails to do its job – pay out of their pocket.
The odd thing about this redistricting debate compared to those of the past is it has little to do with race. It will always play some role due to the requirement of federal approval of our district lines because of our state’s segregationist past. But the alleged gerrymandering of today doesn’t involve trying to dilute minority voting strength as much as it does straight partisan politics.
The irony is the plan approved by the House primarily protects all incumbents – Republican and Democrat. Based on Mississippi voting trends, that would likely result in Republican control of the House by the next election (2015), but that isn’t soon enough for Bryant, Barbour and the Republicans.
A compromise by the end of this session appears as likely as Gov. Barbour switching to the Democratic Party. The irony is if an agreement isn’t reached, there’s always a chance the courts could decide to draw the lines for the Legislature.
My guess is the Democrats would come out short term winners in that scenario. But the long term reality is that without some major organizing at the state level, the Democrats are going to eventually lose the House, the speaker’s race and find it incredibly difficult to get either back anytime soon.
And like Will said, the Democrats are not an “organized party.”
You may email Joel McNeece at firstname.lastname@example.org