Redistricting gives GOP chance to increase super majorities

Published 4:45 pm Saturday, May 21, 2022

Republicans have a reasonable chance of increasing their much ballyhooed super majorities, at least in the Mississippi House, in the 2023 elections based on the redrawing of the legislative districts earlier this year.

It might be more difficult for Republicans to increase their numbers in the Senate than in the House. Currently, 36 of the Senate’s 52 members and 77 of the House’s 122 members are Republican.

Not so long ago, there was a belief that a Democrat had at least an even-money chance of winning a white majority Mississippi legislative district with an African American population of 35% or more.

That most likely is no longer even money. Democrats have not been able to win statewide races in recent years even though the state’s African American population is about 38%. Elections in Mississippi have become increasingly more polarized with white voters supporting Republicans and Black voters backing Democrats.

Despite that polarization making Republican majorities near inevitable, the Republican leadership has not provided many opportunities to garner evidence of whether Democrats can still win in legislative districts with Black population of at least 35%, but less than a majority. They have not drawn many districts meeting that criteria.

The redistricting plan drawn earlier his year for the 122-member House has two white majority districts with African American population of more than 35%, and both of those are barely above that threshold. Two more districts are just below 35%.

It is worth noting that in 2011, when Democrats still controlled the House, they drew a plan with 13 districts with a Black population of more than 35% but less than a majority. But that plan was never enacted. The Senate controlled by Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant refused to take it up for a vote, violating the custom of each chamber rubber stamping the plan of the other house.

In the 52-member Senate, there were six districts with Black populations of more than 35% but less than a majority before this year’s redistricting. After redistricting there are four.

Carroll Rhodes, a Hazlehurst attorney and veteran of many redistricting battles, says the NAACP and other groups are still deciding whether to file a lawsuit challenging the redistricting maps approved this session on the grounds they dilute Black voter strength.

“There are additional districts to be created for Black voters to elect candidates of their choice,” Rhodes said recently.

Rhodes and other civil rights attorneys believe strongly that districts should be drawn in such a manner to ensure that they represent the racial demographics of the state. Under the current plan, 29% of the Senate districts and 34% of the House districts are Black majority. Based on the 2020 U.S. Census, the state’s African American and partially African American population is 38%, while the white population is 59%.

Rhodes added, though, that the districts should not be drawn in such a manner “to pack Black voters” — 75%, 80% or more in many instances — into districts to prevent them from having influence in other districts.

He believes that is what the House and Senate did in the redistricting plan drawn in the 2022 legislative session.

There are currently two white Democrats in the House representing white majority districts. District 33, represented by Democrat Tommy Reynolds, has a Black population of about 44%, perhaps ideal for a rural white Democrat. Reynolds is not running for re-election and his district is being moved to the fast growing Gulf Coast where it will have a Black population of about 25%.

The other white Democrat from a white majority district in the House, Tom Miles of Forest, is something of an anomaly. He was elected from a district with a Black population of about 26%. His new district will have similar demographics, but the Republican House leadership is moving his district partially into more Republican friendly Madison County.

Miles has hung on despite long odds in past elections.

The upcoming 2023 elections will determine whether he can do it again or whether his new district will result in more growth for the Republican supermajority.

Based on the 2022 redistricting effort, there is a possibility after the 2023 elections that there will not be any white Democrats in the House representing white majority districts.

In the Senate, Hob Bryan, D-Amory, is currently the lone white Democrat representing a white majority district. Bryan’s new district actually will be slightly more advantageous to his re-election effort in terms of having a higher percentage of Black voters.

After the 2023 elections, Bryan could be the only legislator left standing, re-enforcing that old belief that Democrats have a good chance of winning white majority districts with African American populations of at least 35%.

Perhaps Democrats can find candidates to prove these numbers wrong in 2023.

 

This analysis was produced by Mississippi Today, a nonprofit news organization that covers state government, public policy, politics and culture. Bobby Harrison is Mississippi Today’s senior Capitol reporter.