Legislature ‘did right’ with redistricting

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, August 11, 2011

Legislators must redraw congressional lines every 10 years after the census to equalize populations in each district. Every state in the union is required to have their new district lines drawn prior to next year’s congressional elections. While most states are in the throes of addressing congressional redistricting, Alabama is not one of them. Ours is done and ready for the 2012 elections. Alabama’s new Republican majority legislature saved the state about $500,000 by addressing congressional reapportionment in the regular session instead of in a special session, which most states require.

During the past decade, Alabama’s population basically kept pace with the national population growth. Therefore, we will keep our same seven seats. Each congressperson will represent approximately 683,000 people, up from 635,000 last decade.

It became obvious early on that the mission to redraw the new districts would be void of serious controversy. It appears that efforts were made to appease the current sitting congressional members. There are very few changes to most of the state’s seven districts. It was easy work to keep and subtly tweak the districts to essentially ensure that the six to one Republican advantage remains.

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Rep. Jim McClendon of St. Clair County did an excellent job putting like minded and common interest counties together. There are very few split counties. The only divided metropolitan counties are Montgomery and Tuscaloosa. Montgomerians are not overjoyed to continue to be divided into three districts. However, Tuscaloosa probably likes their division because the majority of white Tuscaloosa voters were placed in the 4th District, which will give them a greater voice than they had in the 6th District.

The six Republicans will still represent vastly white and largely rural populations and the lone Democrat will still have a district that is almost two thirds black and even more urban. This 7th District Democratic seat is held by freshman Democrat Terri Sewell. Sewell is a Birmingham attorney and Selma native. She is Harvard educated and very articulate and astute.

This district was originally drawn in 1990 specifically to have a majority black population. Earl Hilliard occupied the seat for 12 years, and then Artur Davis represented it for eight. Sewell was elected last year. Her 7th District lost population from the last census so map drawers made up most of her shortage from Jefferson County. They also extended the district’s boundaries into the black neighborhoods of west Montgomery and picked up Lowndes County. These people probably prefer being in a Democratic district. Sewell’s 7th District is now 63.6 percent black.

The placing of more Jefferson County residents into the 7th District made 20 year veteran Republican Congressman Spencer Bachus’ 6th District less white. Bachus’ district goes from nearly 90% white to about 81% white. It was ranked as one of the most Republican districts in the country this past decade. At 80% white and encompassing all of the suburban enclaves of Jefferson and Shelby counties, it will remain reliably Republican.

Mike Rogers’ 3rd District in east Alabama received the most help to remain in Republican hands. By moving fast growing suburban St. Clair County out of the 6th and into the 3rd, the GOP control of this seat has been enhanced immensely. This district was drawn 10 years ago to give the Democrats their best chance to elect a white Democrat. The new lines move it from 64% white to 71 percent white.

The 2nd District of freshman Republican Martha Roby was also made more Republican by the removal of black voters in west Montgomery and Lowndes County into the 7th District. The white population in the 2nd District is at 66 percent with a sizeable 4 percent Hispanic population.

In North Alabama, the 5th District with Huntsville as the heart and center remains basically the same. It will be more homogeneous and Republican with the removal of Colbert and addition of Morgan. This district is highly dependent on the federal government. Redstone Arsenal is the driving force and economic stimulus. This district looks more like the Silicon Valley of California or the Research Triangle of North Carolina than Alabama.

Congressman Robert Aderholt’s 4th District was altered somewhat but remains basically the same. This district is 87 percent white and safely Republican. Aderholt is a rising star in Washington. He got there early and is a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee. He is on course to eventually be as powerful as his predecessor in the 4th District, Tom Bevill. Bevill was often referred to as Alabama’s third senator.

Republican Rep. Jo Bonner’s 1st District remains essentially unchanged. This Mobile/Baldwin seat is a safe Republican bastion. The new seat is 67 percent white and very conservative.

Our congressional delegation should have smooth sailing in 2012. The legislature did them right.

Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. He served 16 years in the state legislature. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.us.