By Sen. Jim McClendon
As House Chairman of the Redistricting Committee, I was not surprised that the Democrats decided to abandon their plans to sue to stop the redistricting process. They actually filed suit in Montgomery before the legislature approved the House and Senate plans, but that effort has apparently fizzled as well. It is my opinion that they don’t have a case.
The reason I am not surprised that the Democrats have decided not to sue in state court, is that the Redistricting Committee went out of its way to create fair districts that accurately represent the political leanings of Alabamians. The Redistricting Committee is composed of Republicans and Democrats, men and women, blacks and whites, all in proportion to the composition of the legislature.
Let me give you some examples of how the Redistricting committee went out of their way to conduct the redistricting process fairly, and create fair districts:
- Public input is important, so public hearings are held. The Redistricting Committee held 22 public hearings around the state. Ten years ago, with the Democrats in charge, 18 were held.
- Ten years ago, only staff members of the Redistricting Committee attended these hearings. This time, under Republican leadership, both the House Chairman, myself, and the Senate Chairman, Gerald Dial, attended every one of the 22 meetings. A court reporter recorded every word at every hearing and that testimony is available online to anyone interested.
- The House and Senate Chairmen personally met with every legislator to receive input.
- Prior to implementation, the two chairmen reviewed every decision with an Election Law attorney to assure compliance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
- The Redistricting Committee adopted a “deviation” of plus or minus 1%, enhancing the concept of one-man-one-vote. That means each House or Senate district could vary from the ideal population by only 1%. Ten years ago the Democrats accepted plus or minus 5%, which allows up to a total difference in population from one district to the next of 10%. We thought that unacceptable, and contrary to the concept of one-man-one-vote.
- The Department of Justice approved the Congressional districts we dealt with last year, and there were no legal challenges to the plan. The Committee followed the same guidelines for the House and Senate plans as we used for Congressional, and we adopted the same format for meetings, except significantly expanded the opportunity for public input.
- Of course, there is nothing like the bottom line, and the bottom line in this case is minority representation. The Justice Department and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 focuses on minority representation. Under the new Senate plan, the Alabama Senate will have exactly the same number of districts that have a majority of the voters that are minorities. The new House plan actually INCREASES that number. Let me repeat this most important statement: under the newly proposed House plan, there will be an increase in the number of districts where the majority of the voters are black.
The constitutional responsibility of the Redistricting Committee and the Legislature is to create fair districts that accurately represent the political will of the citizens of Alabama. My belief is that we have accomplished that objective, and I suspect that, just as the Justice Department approved our plan for Congressional (and State Board of Education) Districts, they will approve the plans as approved by the Alabama Legislature.
Sword rattling by the minority party seems almost rhetorical. It’s as if since Republicans are in the majority, the Democrats feel obligated to complain about the proposal. The law suit filed in Montgomery appears to have fizzled, and now they have retreated from additional legal challenges at the state level. We are now awaiting Justice Department approval, and it is my hope, and expectation, that it is only a matter of time.
Jim McClendon, O.D., House Chairman
Standing Committee on Redistricting