State must redraw its

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 2, 2001



Staff Writer

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Alabama lawmakers may have the education funding crisis on their minds, but some federal judges are adding more pressure for them to draw congressional districts.

This past summer, the Alabama Legislature failed to approve the state’s seven congressional districts during a special session. Now, three federal judges are setting a deadline of Jan. 28 for state officials to either come up with a plan or turn it over to the courts.

State senators and representatives will return to Montgomery Tuesday for a special session to consider $160 million in business taxes, but congressional districting is not on the governor’s agenda.

Current district lines were drawn in 1992 by a panel of three judges in a U.S. District Court. The legislature has not approved a Congressional redistricting plan in decades without intervention from federal courts.

Legislators, however, did draw their own districts in a special session that ended in July. That was the first time, the courts were not forced to draw those maps, as well.

"While the Alabama Legislature was unable to reach a consensus on congressional redistricting, I am hopeful that a map keeping the Second District intact will ultimately be approved," U.S. Rep. Terry Everett, , said after the summer special session.

"Clearly, attempts to radically redraw congressional district lines and alienate thousands of citizens with common interests were not popular with many state legislators or the people," Everette said.

Alabama’s seven congressmen

­ five Republicans and two Democrats ­ thought they had the answer and all signed a letter to Speaker of the House Seth Hammett outlining that plan.

In a letter written to members of the Alabama Legislature, the current districts and those proposed in the consensus plan, are "politically competitive and serve the needs and interests of Alabama’s citizens."

Under the plan presented by the congressional delegation, Everett would lose a portion of Montgomery County to make up for the shifts in population. The total population in the district, according to census figures, is 635,300.

"I was encouraged by the way the Alabama Congressional delegation came together in a bipartisan fashion early in the process to agree on a single redistricting plan which preserves the integrity of current congressional districts, including the Second. I shall continue to support this bipartisan congressional plan as we work toward a final agreement."

Like Everett, the Alabama Senate’s plan would have kept Pike County in the Second Congressional District, said State Sen. Wendell Mitchell, D-Luverne. But, that wasn’t the case in the Alabama House of Representatives.

The big obstacle was a disagreement between the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate.

Many of the Democratic legislators expressed content with the 5-2 GOP majority in Congress. They also acknowledged any plan they approved was likely to be challenged in court.

State senators approved a district plan that would leave most of the district lines as they are, including those around the counties represented by Everett, one of the five Republican congressmen.

Everett’s current district is made up of Autauga, Barbour, Bullock, Butler, Coffee, Conecuh, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Elmore, Geneva, Henry, Houston, Montgomery and Pike counties.

Under one plan before the House, Pike County was placed in the Third Congressional District being vacated by Bob Riley, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor. The district currently represented by Riley is made up of Bibb, Calhoun, Chambers, Chilton, Clay, Cleburne, Coosa, Lee, Macon, Randolph, Russell, St. Clair, Talladega and Tallapoosa counties.

"I couldn’t support that," State Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, said of putting Pike County in the Third Congressional District. "I’m not going to support a plan that takes Pike County out of the Second Congressional District."

Boothe said the only option is to "let the courts decide or come together in compromise" and the latter has not happened.

"I just don’t know what the answer will be," Boothe said.

The answer will be up to the courts, it appears.

"It’s no fault of the Senate," Mitchell said of the Alabama Legislature’s lack of action on the congressional districts. "I can tell you, the Senate did its job."

The Senate approved its plan with a resounding 30-1 vote; however, it died in the House.

In addition to failing to come up with congressional districts, lawmakers also failed to draw districts for the State Board of Education.

By law, the Legislature is given the job to draw congressional districts after each census, making sure populations are equal in each one.

Boothe admitted the Alabama Legislature "got tied up on too many other things" during the special session that was called by the governor to deal with drawing congressional and state school board districts.

The Alabama Legislature meets for its regular session on Jan. 8 and the deadline for candidates to sign up for the congressional races is April 5.