New maps show growth in NWA, decline in state
The Arkansas legislature finally came to agreement on a new congressional district map, amid a session more focused on the foiling of any covid mandate by employers, cities, counties, school boards or other governance or employment entities.
As expected, the phenomenal population growth in the Third Congressional District – Northwestern Arkansas – saw much of the previous Third District split into the First and Fourth Congressional Districts.
Today, if the Cards hold a federal legal challenge to “gerrymandering” on the grounds of race or political subversion, the Third District will include Benton, Washington, Carroll, Madison, Crawford and most of Sebastian County. .
An area south of the Arkansas River in Sebastian County, specifically the Greenwood area, will now be in the Fourth Congressional District.
The entire populations of Marion, Boone, Newton, Pope, Johnson and Franklin counties disappeared from the former territory of the Third District.
One area of controversy was the division of the state’s most populous county, Pulaski County, into three different congressional districts.
A largely minority area of Pulaski County with black voters was annexed to the Fourth Congressional District.
Another area of the southeastern part of Pulaski County has been annexed to the First Congressional District, while most of Pulaski County remains in the Second Congressional District.
This division of three different districts for Pulaski County, according to some lawmakers, will have an impact on black and other minority communities. That’s a fatal ‘no no’ to any federal lawsuit – like some court challenges in Texas and North Carolina in recent years, which have either delayed any Congressional district changes, unless the court approves it, or called for midterm elections to come under federal scrutiny for fairness.
It’s no surprise that some of the vocal Democratic members of the Pulaski County delegation did not hold back on this disregard for these changes.
“This map is hellish, prejudice, this is prejudice, this is petty,” Senator Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, said in a speech in the State Senate against the map.
Others, especially Republicans, have tried to quell the rhetoric that race was a motivator in dividing Pulaski County.
“I am truly disappointed that at every turn the conversation about race continues to feed into the discussion,” Rep. David Ray, R-Cabot, said during the debate.
Many television commentators, usually political science professors at local universities, noted that this was the first time since the reconstruction of the Civil War that Republicans had a majority in the state legislature while redrawing the congressional district map.
The question has been asked of those who do map after map of these redrawn lines: why divide the county from the most populous state?
One TV commentator, Professor Janine Parry of the University of Arkansas’ Department of Political Science, gave one reason – to dilute the power base.
“In this case,” Parry said in an interview with local television, “dividing the majority of population centers, in addition to dividing one of the main concentrations of reliable Democratic voters, which black voters generally continue to d ‘being, you are watering down the power of this Democratic stronghold. “
Other victory-right Republican leaders, such as State Senator Jason Rapert, R-Conway, have tried to deflect criticism by saying everyone is trying to do their best. “Could they make the card perfect?” Rapert asked in a TV interview. “No, but I’m sick of hearing allegations from members about all of this. They’ve done their best.”
Perhaps Senator Joyce Elliot, D-Little Rock, who ran two years ago for the seat of the Second Congressional District, carrying Pulaski County, before losing in the rural areas of the Second District, said it better.
“For us, to say that we cannot get a good map without dividing Pulaski County is not true,” Rapert’s remarks refuted in a TV interview.
“So I would appreciate it if people would say that we (the legislature) did it just because we (the legislature) can.”
But for which political party was this 10-year map really drawn as a power base?
Maybe we’ll see, in the next decade for sure.
–Maylon Rice is a former journalist who has worked for several Northwest Arkansas publications. He can be contacted by email at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.