By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY– A approximately 4 a.m. Thursday morning the Alabama House of Representatives finally voted to pass the Dial/McClendon plan for reapportionment.
After the House Republicans invoked cloture Rep. Thomas Jackson, (D-Thomasville), an opponent of the plan, asked that the plan be read in it entirety. While this move was entirely within Jackson’s right, it was seen as a gesture fraught with futility. A costly measure that caused the MSN to heap condemnation on Democrat Senator Marc Keahey who had the act read for around 15 hours in the Senate.
Around 2 a.m. the computer voice began reading SB25.
However, after less than two hours of reading Rep. Jackson ask for the reading to be stopped and the House members immediately took up the vote.
The House voted 65-36 for SB25 25 which the Senate approved Tuesday night on a vote of 21-12.
The bill now goes to the Governor for sign. If Governor Bentley affixes his signature the act will become law.
After being up all night the resilient and resolute Co-Chairman of the Reapportionment Committee Representative Jim McClendon (R-Springville) spoke to the Alabama Political Reporter saying, “The House and Senate both saw fit to adopt the two plans that came out of the committees, the Dial plan and the McClendon plan, and they adopted those with no changes, no substitutes, no alterations at all.” McClendon continued by saying, “Once we got through the procedural roadblocks that the Democrats tried to throw up we went straight to the vote. It was a 2 to 1 margin of approval. So we have got it behind us now, the Governor still has to sign it but I don’t think there is going to be an issue there. Then we are going to see what happens next, but if the Governor signs them they are the law of the land.”
In a written statement Rep. Jackson said, “The Senate redistricting plans that the Republican supermajority has sponsored are wrought with political gerrymandering that violates the guidelines in our state’s constitution that require legislative districts be respectful of county boundaries and communities of interest.
This outrageous act of blatant political and racial gerrymandering is only matched by the hypocrisy of wasting the taxpayers’ dollars on a special session when the state’s constitution required redistricting to be addressed during the regular session of the legislature.”
It is a play that is re-enacted every ten years and every ten years reapportionment is beset by fights, accusations and lawsuits.
The 2012 reapportionment plan for Alabama has been no different except that for the first time in 136 years it is the Republican majority in control and not the Democrats.
When the districts were reapportioned in 2001, Dr. Loe Reed of the AEA, sent his plan to the State Legislature and it was passed. Not without a fight from the GOP members of the legislature but it passed. There was a lawsuit but it was not from the Republicans.
In the waning hours of Wednesday night the 2012 reapportionment act was finally passed. There seems to be little doubt that the Democratic leadership of Alabama will file a lawsuit to stop the plan from taking effect.
Alabama is one of the many Southern state that must be pre-cleared under the federal Voting Rights Act. State governments with a history of discrimination must obtain approval from the Justice Department or from a federal court in Washington for changes in election procedures.
According to redistrictingonline.org, the Standards to Obtain Preclearance are as follows: “In determining whether a proposed voting change has a discriminatory purpose or effect, the Justice Department must evaluate the totality of circumstances surrounding the change. Legal precedent interpreting Section 5 has established a “retrogression” test, which asks the question whether minorities are worse off under the proposed change. If the answer were yes, the change would not be precleared. Changes that maintain the status quo would receive preclearance. The administrative procedures for evaluating covered changes include a determination as to whether there is a “reasonable and legitimate” justification for the change and whether the jurisdiction followed objective guidelines and procedure when adopting the change.”
Veteran legislator Representative James E. Buskey (D-Mobile) had offered a substitutes to the House redistricting plan because he felt that the Republican plan was a prime example of Gerrymandering to establish unfair districts.
“I would like to see this plan go before the Department of Justice so I can officially appeal it and show why the plan should not be pre-cleared,” said Buskey. “Under this plan there is stacking and packing, they are packing black districts that are now at around 63 percent black and packing them so that they will be between 70 and 80 percent.”
According to the Oxford Dictionary of Politics, “stacking” and “packing” are strategies which seeks to minimize the influence of those likely to vote for opponents. ‘Stacking’ occurs when boundaries are drawn so opponents are grouped in constituencies where they are a minority; ‘packing’ is when opponents are concentrated in a small number of constituencies. Members of the Alabama Black Caucus are concerned that the Republican-drawn map is just this type of gerrymandering.
McClendon said he had heard the term stacking and packing for the first time when he was co-chair of the committee that redrew the lines for Congressional Districts.
“I think that what they mean by stacking and packing is that somehow the districts are unfair or targeting groups,” said McClendon. “I will tell you we have targeted no groups.” McClendon continued by saying, “The plan is fair to everyone and will be shown to be in compliance with the Justice Department.”
McClendon says he is confident that the plan is in compliance with all federal guidelines and the Alabama State Constitution.
Last week a lawsuit was filed in Montgomery to stop redistricting.
It is believed that Alabama Democrats are behind the suit following the old adage, “If you don’t have the votes, you litigate.”
According to the suit from McPhillips/Shinbaum on behalf of Landis Sexton and Cubie Rae Hayes, the plaintiffs contends that the the 1901 Alabama Constitution requires that reapportionment occur in the first Legislative Session following the Census. Because reapportionment is being handled in a Special Session the plaintiffs are asking for a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order with the goal of the Court taking over the reapportionment proceedings.
According to state records, in years passed the Democrat-controlled legislature has many times passed redistricting in special session. The motion for a halt to redistricting was denied in Montgomery court.
During the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting last Friday, two other alternate plans were presented. Senator Bobby Singleton (D-Greensboro) introduced the “Reed/Busky/Singleton Plan.” Senator Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham) introduced “Senate Reapportionment Plan 1.” Both were presented on the Senate Floor along with Dial Plan 2 on Monday as well as third plan presented by Senator Hank Sanders (D-Selma).
All of these substitute plans were defeated along party lines.
Senator Jabo Waggoner (R-Birmingham) said that he has been through several of these reapportionment debates.
“I’ve been on the other side that offers substitutes and amendments because the other side always thinks that it is unfair to the minority,” said Waggoner. “They have certain guidelines [they must follow such as] Senate districts have to be right at 137,000 people. I had to lose maybe 10,000 people and some senators had to gain 15,000 to 20,000 with this plan. It is not easy to draft a plan where you divide the state into 35 senate districts and each one of them are close to 137,000 people. It’s not easy but as population shifts and based on one man/one vote, by law we have to come up with something close to 137,000 people.”
Senate Bill 25, sponsored by Co-Chairman of the Reapportionment Committee Senator Gerald Dial (R-Lineville) was set for a final vote when Senator Sen. Marc Keahey (D-Grove Hill), asked for the bills reading. Under the rules of the legislature every senator or representative may ask for a full reading of any bill. The reading of the bill took around ten hours to complete and add another day to the special legislative session.
Keahey’s request caused great consternation among many Republicans who complained that the outcome was a forgone conclusion. Keahey was also vilified in the MSM for wasting taxpayer dollars.
Senate Minority Leader Roger Bedford (D-Russville) reminded the press that is was the GOP leadership who promised to bring in the vote for reapportionment in under the regular session.