Redistricting tops list of critical issues

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 6, 2002

Staff Writer

Legislators are expected to be a bit tight-fisted when it comes to setting budgets during the upcoming session of the Alabama Legislature.

State lawmakers will be returning to the Alabama State House on Tuesday, just over two weeks after finishing a debate-filled special session called to find money for the Education Trust Fund.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

During that special session, legislators ended up overriding the governor’s veto in order to come up with $160 million needed for the education budget facing crisis.

Although representatives and senators are expected to continue the search for ways to put money into the General Fund and Education budgets, there are some other things Speaker of the House Seth Hammett wants to accomplish.

For State Rep. Alan Boothe, D-Troy, the issue of Congressional redistricting is the main issue on the agenda.

Last summer, the Alabama Legislature failed to approve the state’s seven congressional districts during a special session and legislators are facing deadline the end of this month.

Late last year, three federal judges gave lawmakers until Jan. 28 to either come up with a plan or turn it over to the courts.

"The Congressional districts concern me more than anything else," Boothe said.

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 2001. 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, R-Enterprise said.

"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."

Alabama’s seven congressmen

­ five Republicans and two Democrats ­ thought they had the answer and all signed a letter to 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."

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 put 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," Boothe 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.

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

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

The deadline for candidates to sign up for the congressional races is April 5 that is why this January deadline is so important to those seeking congressional seats.