By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
The special session addressing the decennial Alabama Legislature reapportionment is expected to begin on Thursday, if Alabama Governor Bentley calls for the anticipated special session. The Co-Chairmen of the Joint Committee on Reapportionment are Senator Gerald Dial (R) from Lineville and Representative Jim McClendon (R) from Springville. Chairman McClendon discussed the reapportionment process at length Sunday with ‘The Alabama Political Reporter.’
Rep. McClendon has prepared a proposed map of his recommended Alabama House of Representatives districts and Sen. Dial has prepared a proposed map of his recommend Senate Districts. At this point, both maps are just proposals. Rep. McClendon said, “Changes are going to be up to the committee. It is Up to the committee on Reapportionment whether to change the maps or not.”
Rep. McClendon said, “Any legislator can come before the committee and propose changes to the map, but they can’t come to the committee and just propose their perfect district because any change to any one district affects all the other districts. They have got to present a plan for the entire state.” “Don’t give us your perfect house district and then tell us to figure out what to do with the rest of the state.”
Regarding threats of lawsuits by some Alabama Democratic Party members of the state legislature, Representative McClendon said, “I have no idea know what the Democrats are going to do.” “We have gone out of our way to be compliant with the voting rights act” and all the court rulings about voting rights and reapportionment. Rep. McClendon said that he had a constitutional attorney present throughout the process of preparing his proposal.
McClendon did acknowledge that some Democrats have said that the committee had targeted White Democrats. Rep. McClendon said, “We did not target any district, any group of individuals, or any party.” Rep. McClendon said however that White Democrat legislators are not a group that is protected by the U.S. Justice Department. There are Justice Department rules regarding retrogression (decreasing the number of majority minority districts) with respect to Black Representation. “Retrogression does not mean that the Justice Department would throw out the plan, but it is a red flag for the Justice Department and you would have to explain your justification for why that occurred.” Rep. McClendon said that his proposal was very careful not do anything to decrease the number of majority Black districts in the state of Alabama.
The Alabama Political Reporter asked Rep. McClendon specifically about Senator Fielding’s (D) 11th Talladega County district which was sliced up six ways and the heavily Republican voting areas of St. Clair and South Shelby County were added to his district. We asked if the Sylacauga Democrat can he be reelected in that redrawn 11th District. Rep. McClendon replied, “All I can say is that heavily Republican voting areas tend to vote for Republicans. Sen. Fielding served as a judge as a Democrat. He ran for the Senate as a Democrat. I don’t know him and no one was targeting him. I do think he will have an uphill struggle being reelected.”
Rep. McClendon said that the reapportionment maps are a proposed statute and are treated like any other legislation. Thursday the Dial plan and the McClendon plan maps will both be brought before the Joint Committee on Reapportionment. There will be a public hearing, where members of the public may bring forth their ideas about reapportionment. Following the public hearing the Committee will meet again and can approve those maps as submitted or they can offer a substitute plan for reapportionment. What can’t be done is amending the plans. Any plan has to stay within a certain deviation on the number of people in each district. Whatever plan is accepted by the Committee will go to the floor of both the Alabama House of Representatives and the Alabama Senate.
Once reapportionment is on the floor of House or the Senate any legislator can offer a substitute plan. There are plenty of opportunities for the legislature to offer up alternatives to the plan that have been submitted. The legislature does not have to accept the plan that is recommended by the Committee. Rep. McClendon said that there is, “Not a hard and fast deadline’” for the legislature to approve the reapportionment plans.
Rep. McClendon did say though that the plan will be reviewed by the Justice Department and that that will likely take “At least 90 days.” It is possible that someone could file suit and that would take time to be adjudicated in the courts. “What we would like to have is clearance by the last day to qualify,” for the June 2014 Primary.
Rep. McClendon said that declining population in the City of Birmingham and in the Montgomery area cost both of them House districts. District 53 was moved from Birmingham to fast growing Madison County and District 73, represented by Rep. Joe Hubbard (D) is moving to growing Shelby County. “Nobody really knows what will happen, but areas that continue to lose population will lose more legislators,” in the 2022 reapportionment as well.